Star Trek Guide

Soul of Star Trek: Star Trek Picard: Understanding Darkness

After two episodes, the dimensions of Star Trek: Picard success so far are clearer.  The first episode was not only widely watched, it was the most watched program in the short history of CBS All Access streaming.  And not only was the first episode well-received by critics, it scored an amazing 95% approval rating on the most monitored Rotten Tomatoes site.

The show has certainly brought interest back to Star Trek, and with that interest, a number of misconceptions are revealed.  For example, that all elements of the future portrayed in past Trek--including the Federation and Starfleet--were positive and "optimistic."

A GQ interviewer reflected this in a question to writer, executive producer and first season showrunner Michael Chabon: "Was there a conscious effort to include the sense of old-school optimism that’s so integral to Star Trek?"

Chabon, who knows his Trek, answered: "I think that optimism is an easily misunderstood term. There’s this misconception that Star Trek was always sunshine and roses. But its optimism was hard-won. It was always fairly clear-eyed about the darkness in the human soul. The potential for violence, for greed, for criminality, for hatred. All of that felt very much present from the very first episode of Star Trek in ‘66. It’s just that people are working their asses off to overcome it, and it’s a constant effort. It’s always there, even in the episode titles: “The Enemy Within.” “The Turnabout Intruder.” That dark side of human nature is always waiting to emerge again. So, is that optimism? It is optimism, but it’s a very sober optimism that understands darkness. It’s a deliberate, conscious optimism that goes hand-in-hand with the kind of clear-eyed vision that allows you to reflect the times that you’re living in."

The darkness in this show reflects the darkness of our time, and at least in a few aspects, the notable expression of that darkness, especially if "the synths" are seen as metaphors for migrant and immigrant populations. (A Borg connection is more than foreshadowed.)  But the awareness of darkness is the key. By seeing this through Picard's eyes, we can see it as darkness contrary to the soul of Star Trek.  I'm certainly staying tuned.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my First Contact review.  It should be up soon.