Star Trek hasn’t been very good for decades, and it got much worse in 2017, when CBS made an attempt to go woke with the series Discovery. The show had all the strong female protagonists, persons of various colors, and gay love required to reassure liberals of the show’s progressivism and their own moral righteousness. The only Kirk-like, manly man was an evil monster from a parallel universe.
Compared with the worst Star Trek to date, the new series Star Trek: Picard is a breath of fresh air—well, it’s a show full of our nostalgia for Star Trek: The Next Generation, so “fresh” isn’t the right word. And everyone is old now—Picard, Riker and Troi, even Data—so it’s not reliving the past, either.
When the show begins, a catastrophe has turned the Federation away from optimistic liberalism. A deadly android rebellion, coupled with a foreign affairs catastrophe, led to Picard’s resignation from a Starfleet he came to loathe, and to mankind’s stagnation. But the old man is about to die, and he gets one last adventure.
The key to Picard’s appeal is how child-like the senescent Patrick Stewart looks, marveling at the many wonders of the universe and of the human heart in order to rekindle for Starfleet that flame of love, curiosity, and ambition that was its defining characteristic (and which defines American liberalism in the broad sense).
Picard gets a second chance to redeem the Federation from its back-story of failure and suffering. The show turns dangerously close to tragedy at times, making the men and women crewing his new ship almost seem human. But in the world of technological liberalism, there’s no tragedy. Picard’s rhetoric and generous heart eventually solve every problem, and only the equivalent of the original series’ “Red Shirts” die.
So maybe the future isn’t really in danger. Picard rescues liberalism by getting us robots so we can download our souls into machines. After all, you can’t break a machine’s heart. But this is Star Trek—technology is often more human than the human beings, so the androids at the core of the story turn out to be very human after all.
So far are we from tragedy, we’re actually toying with eternal life and power. There you begin to see the problem. In one mood, there is sadness at our faults and failures, a sense that maybe our moralism was too arrogant, not serious enough about the limits necessity and ultimately mortality impose on us. The universe is not simply the playground of our fantasies! But in the next mood, immortal powers solving the human problem are at the tip of our fingers, instantly resurrecting the dead and turning sacrifice into a cheap stunt.
Picard is also constantly apologizing, as though Boomers were all apologizing their Zoomer successors. The character’s nobility was sacrificed to advertising a fantasy. When Picard deals with his failures, choosing mortality, and accepting the limits of human nature, the show is quite impressive, not just affecting. You get glimpses of what mid-century liberalism was like when it was confident, generous, and ambitious. We were all going to go the stars—not suffering miserable epidemics, corrupt partisanship the media sells for advertising money, and endless Twitter hatred.
But the national mood has changed since the 90s. Replaying old fantasies won’t do. This is a pleasant, but disappointing show. Maybe hard knowledge about technology and our own nature is more important than good intentions and proclaiming hippie feelings.
I hope the next season—since there is always a next season—will be better. It should show more respect for the characters who have suffered so much for their liberal idealism—and try to spare us the tenets of liberal ideology. If they tell a good story about the wonders of technology, it might be less creepy than downloading your soul into a machine while preaching tolerance.
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