The Path to Picard: Disaster
There’s a momentum building. Excitement, trepidation, concern. Lots of emotions, lots of thoughts. Picard is coming back!
Arguably, these feelings may not be as intense as those which we experienced whenStar Trek: Discovery was first announced, but it’s not far off. For me, it’s a different excitement and trepidation, because for the first time we are getting a sequel series to the The Next Generationera of Star Trek, one that has decades of continuity to build upon – and the very fact that the trailer for Star Trek: Picard has dropped our favorite Starfleet officer (ret.) back in his home vineyards in La Barre tells me already that they’re looking to get this right.
We here at Redshirts all hope that the Picard production team is doing its homework… and do you know something? Heck, we are, too. It’s also an excuse to revisit select episodes from the seven-year TNG run, to remind us (as if we need reminding) how damn amazing Patrick Stewart is and how Jean-Luc Picard is worthy of such a return.
I decided I wanted to see again ‘Disaster’, the fifth episode of Season 5, as I knew it featured the stoic, by-the-book Captain Picard stuck in a turbolift with three precocious kids. Borg? Nah. Romulans? Nah. Vash? Nah. This is Picard’s worst nightmare and as Chief O’Brien said, “I’m not sure who I feel sorry for, the Captain or the kids.”
It’s a straightforward story: a quantum filament cripples the Enterprise-D, rendering most of it without power (apart from life-support and keeping the lights on, which is lucky). There are a few non-fatal casualties among the crew and Ten-Forward becomes a make-shift sickbay (I’m assuming here that Sickbay itself is unreachable by most because Ten-Forward fills up pretty quick and Worf becomes midwife to Keiko O’Brien who gives birth to Molly).
Geordi and Bev are stuck in a hangar with a sudden and deadly radiation leak (which means La Forge doesn’t have the opportunity to say his catchphrase, “We’ve got a coolant leak!”). It’s Riker and Data who have the pleasure of such a leak while crawling around in a Jefferies Tube. Troi takes command as it’s only her, Chief O’Brien and grumpy Ro stuck on the bridge with no way off (come on, Starfleet, couldn’t you have the foresight to have installed a stairwell to/from one of the most important parts of the starship?) while Picard is trapped in a turbolift with the winners from a recent Science Fair and a broken ankle. All the characters are out of their comfort zones here and make for humor as well as drama and it’s the humor that brings out Picard’s softer side in a beautifully subtle way.
The look of horror on his face when confronted with his three little wards is priceless and it was going to be pretty obvious that he was going to be stuck in a turbolift with them throughout the majority of this episode.
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Yes, Stewart plays on the aloof side of Picard, one we were party to with his interactions with Wesley Crusher, and he clearly enjoys bringing out that spiky side of him. Soon he brings the young Enterprise passengers into line by adopting a heirarchical approach to dealing with their predicament. He’s not a famlly man in the normal sense (his family is the crew that reports to him) and in many ways he’s a lonely man, just as Kirk is (was?), so to make the best of a bad situation, he brings Starfleet protocols into play and makes his young colleagues ‘officers’, giving them all a ranking pip or two from his collar. The youngest, Paterson, he makes ‘executive officer in charge of radishes*’, based on the boy’s science project. This empowerment helps them deal with their assumption that they’re the only four still left alive. Picard, of course, is wider in his logical thinking and knows that someone is still onboard to help them.
Picard builds their trust in him over the episode, using a climbing song to motivate them and finding that they each begin to motivate and support the other. As uncomfortable as he is, he can see potential in all of them and they no longer doubt their own abilities.
Picard goes on a journey: from aloof, unfeeling by-the-numbers Starfleet to a warm and trusting mentor to the next Next Generation. His command crew already know this of him, we already know this of him, but there’s simplicity in seeing a person put into a situation where they need to adapt and adopt for the betterment and benefit of all. And that’s Picard: he can take an untried crew and turn them into the best they can be, whether that’s a First Officer of Starfleet’s flagship, or three kids stuck in a tube.
And finally, this is the first TNG episode I’ve watched since the Picard announcement and one thing that hit home for me was, knowing that Stewart won’t be surrounded by his TNG cohorts, I’m really going to miss Riker, Data, Crusher and co. from this new series.
Why Starfleet never adopted the very important rank of executive officer in charge of radishes as a permanent fixture aboard starships is anyone’s guess. Radishes are, after all, no better or worse than spores. “Number One…engage Radish Drive!”