I dunno if you guys checking in here to Spunkybean know that I come from the marketing and advertising disciplines. One of my buddies from the old days asked me about artificial intelligence in a world where selling cans of apple juice to the kids seems more a computerized fait accompli with algorithms and whatnot nowadays than it used to be, and what I thought of all of that. Of course I reverted to metaphor and illustration using pop culture because you can remove the guy from the Borg Collective, but you can never really get the Borg out of the guy, right, Picard?
The Borg kinda suck as villains because although they ostensibly, originally, were presented as an unstoppable collective force, and the writers immediately devalued what made them cool by introducing “Hugh” and the Borg Queen as individuals. What made them such an unstoppable force is that they assimilated you into their culture. They made your biological and technological distinctiveness their own. That is a scary truth to address, to lose what makes you personally awesome in a wave of an unstoppable enemy. Defeating them is a triumph for the characters, and, by extension, the audience. The second you humanize them, the threat goes away. They might as well be loyal puppies, or hot girls on your side like Seven of Nine.
HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, other famous sci-fi AI, on the other hand, knows only what he is programmed to know. That, too, is scary, because that echoes the human condition, in that we are the sum total of our experiences and knowledge. So if you program HAL to keep the main point of the mission from the guys he’s supposed to protect, there is a deadly failure of communication, and the wheels come off the cart. Metaphorically.
You ask me, HAL is the greater lesson in terms of marketing: give everyone all the variables and there will be no problems. You might not like what they tell you, but at least no one will be making deadly errors in judgment because they don’t have access to all the variables.
So, speaking of marketing; do you know what the main difference is between Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard? Sure, some people might answer that the thirty years of audience goodwill that Patrick Stewart represents is an unstoppable force, and they’re not wrong. As assets to a company of players, he’s tantamount to having God on your side. But it’s scheduling, and we all hope CBS All Access has learned their lesson. With Star Trek: Discovery, CBSAA tried to maintain the delusion that “appointment TV” was a thing, still. If you wanted to watch it, you had to sit down at 5:30 pm PST on a Sunday and talk about it over the water cooler at work the next day. Which is a thing that hasn’t happened for fifteen years, at least, and certainly isn’t a thing any longer here, in the second decade of the 21st century. Not only have viewing habits changed with DVRs and time-shifting, and all, but with the advent of streaming television and paywalls, the entire landscape has shifted. The reason appointment television worked is because of advertisers. The toothpaste and oil can companies paid to expose their products to a captive audience in exchange for bread-and-circus entertainment. CBS All Access tried to continue that model without taking the cue from Netflix. When people pay you to access your content, they want it when they want to experience it. The only way you can manage that expectation is to tell the kids Daredevil Season Two is showing up at midnight on Thursday and let the chips fall. Entertainment companies have a global audience now and guess what? When it’s time to pick up your kid from school in San Francisco, it’s last March in New Zealand. For example; I’m not a scientist.
Point is, if you can tell everybody your stuff is live at midnight somewhere, the audience can make the personal adjustment for themselves a lot easier, and they know when they can talk about it with their friends over the virtual water cooler. And Star Trek: Picard is so much better at all of this than Discovery, I want to know if they changed water companies in the commissary or something.
Anyway, episode three.
Raffi is either my favorite character, or I’d throw her out the airlock. It’s not her fault, really; it’s the writers. No one…. nobody in history has ever said somebody’s name to them in a powerful, personal, possibly life-changing conversation to them five or six times in a ten minute conversation, like they need to remind themselves who they are talking to. I suppose I would let that slide if it was just in the idiotic snakeweed vamping conversation (BECAUSE SHE’S HIGH, RIGHT CHEECH AND CHONG?), but she did that first in the fourteen-years-ago flashback. Do you mean to tell me a Starfleet officer is on the future weed? Come on. That’s just stupid.
Then we get to Vasquez Rocks, which is a great nod, calling out that that’s where they actually are, but here, in the future, we’re supposed to just buy Raffi is vaping her home-grown? The current stewards of the property are just so obvious and sad. OK, she’s psychically bereft and emotionally at sea, and whatnot, and she’s Riggs in the first Lethal Weapon, living in a trailer with her grief and disappointment and whatever. Duly noted. She’s drunk and high and Picard needs her for one! last! mission! and that’s fine, but is it too much to ask for Kurtzman and his pals to make up some cool future vice and earn their money instead of phone it in? Maybe she slaps a patch on her arm, presses a button on a bracelet and do a bit of actor business selling she’s tamping down the voices of the past in her head only she can hear? Let the actress sell it with some dialogue?
If I write (which I’m about to) the words “birthday” and “Romulan Ale” right next to each other, you can’t tell me you can’t hear William Shatner’s voice in your head, tinged with years of regret laced with past triumph feared forgotten. Come on, Chabon! Let your actors act.
Anyway, the Romulan tarot cards displayed in the shape of a nine, foreshadowing Jeri Ryan’s impending return, and the collection of Romulan weapons in the chateau indicating previous security transgressions and the Emergency Navigational Hologram selling a lone rogue on the outskirts of space are all awesome notes which makes me think this one’s under control but I still think Picard as a character is going to meet his end at the end of this show.
And on that day, I will mourn.