Breaking Bad: Picard

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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71 Responses

  1. pillsy says:

    This is a great piece.

    I’m a bit younger than you, so my introduction to Trek correlates with different life events and stages, but I loved TOS, which was in syndication when I would get home from school.[1] I even started reading the novels because I wanted more of it.[2] So when I learned that there was a new Trek show coming out I was extremely excited.

    And then I watched it. The two hour pilot episode, “Encounter of Farpoint”, was… pretty boring really, though Q seemed kind of cool. And the rest of the first season had a couple watchable episodes[3], but was, on balance, extremely bad. I remember that one the episodes, “Code of Honor”, was preempted by news coverage about a baby who had fallen down a well [4] and I was really mad about that at the time. But that episode, it turned out when I was able to watch it some years later, is just fucking incredibly bad. Even if you look past the part where it’s what pops up when you google “star trek tng episode racist” [5] it’s just pointlessly bad, also really sexist, and… features exactly this plot:

    In a world full of replicators and self-cleaning ships, angst over whether you can get to a planet in time to drop off supplies in time to stop a plague feels phony and manufactured.

    What I’m saying is that Baby Jessica did me a favor by falling into that well. (She ended up being fine! They rescued her and she’s all grown up with kids of her own now!)

    That was a lot of words to say that TNG kinda turned my off Star Trek after that. It definitely got better after the first two seasons, and I would watch it occasionally and caught some of the standout episodes when I did, but it went from something that I would get really upset about missing to something I wouldn’t even remember was on half the time.

    DS9 was better, though it didn’t really hook me in until it was in syndication when I was in grad school. But in a way, because the characters were allowed to conflict with each other and the writing was generally better and the stakes were higher, the unreality of the setting is even more glaring.

    Of course, being an obsessive nerd I couldn’t just let it go and enjoy the show, but I also liked the show so I had to figure out what was going on! What kind of society builds a thousand starships, crewed by probably a million sapient beings, watches them get blown up by temporal anomalies, bored godlike aliens, the Borg, the Dominion, and maybe the Klingons during a periodic breakdown in diplomatic relations, and builds a thousand more starships and sends a million more of their best and brightest out to die horribly?

    A society with unlimited energy and resources. A society spread across hundreds of worlds and which has citizens that likely number in the trillions.

    And who is going to crew those starships? Absolute fucking lunatics, that who. The literal one in a million thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, sociopaths, egomaniacs, and basically suicidal folks who decide that they want to step out of a life of almost unimaginable wealth, throw on a red shirt, and get turned into a styrofoam icosahedron by Cthulhu in a skin suit.

    Who are the kind of people who would bring their kids with them to a photon torpedo fight. Or decide that, Prime Directive or no Prime Directive, it’s actually an amazingly good idea to teach a plant full of aliens how to be literal Nazis complete with swastika arm bands.

    Does this make sense? I dunno. Maybe.

    But it means that I would watch the hell out of one of the highest functioning loonies in the galaxy getting old, returning to a safe, luxurious, rich, and utterly boring Earth, and trying not to go even crazier.

    [1] Followed by Magnum, PI, another show which I contend was great and remains great. It’s kind of hokey but it was kind of hokey when I was in third grade too.

    [2] Most are not good but there are a couple exceptions. In particular, John M. Ford’s How Much for Just the Planet? is hilarious.

    [3] Including one where Picard and Riker make a guy’s head explode by shooting him with their phasers, which was admittedly the coolest thing I had ever seen on TV at that age.

    [4] And I’m not saying you should because it was really racist to the point that the cast members describe it as, e.g., “a racist piece of shit”.Report

    • North in reply to pillsy says:

      Yeah a lot of the stuff that happened in TNG was supposed to be interesting because the things that were going wrong were supposed to rare. It’s supposed to be astonishing that transporters malfunction or that holodecks go rogue BECAUSE these techs never do that. It’s supposed to be normal for kids to be on the Enterprise because star ships aren’t THAT dangerous. Of course that’d be a boring as spit series and the episodes are all about the times things that don’t go wrong do go wrong. So the gist you get is that everything is dangerous.

      And I do agree that TNG especially rolled out the “the subspace particles are doing the monster mash and it’ll kill us” followed by “oh OF COURSE there were invisible deltron rays making the subspace particles do the monster mash, here’s how we fix it!” Which is interesting maybe one or two times but only if the side effects of those phenomena are intriguing. DS9 was enormously better because they bucked off a lot of those old over the top inhuman rules about future humanity.Report

      • George Turner in reply to North says:

        Ronald D Moore said the problem with TNG was that it was essentially a show about a technologically super-advanced crew that flies around fixing things – things that are broken. Since a show about the exploits of a handyman with a sonic screwdriver would be really boring, most episodes have to start off by breaking the screwdriver or coming up with some crazy reason that it can’t work in this particular situation.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to pillsy says:

      And who is going to crew those starships? Absolute fucking lunatics, that who.


      And that explains so much… like why the rest of society is thrilled with the idea of building semi-safe starships for them. If they’re on the ships, they’re not bothering the rest of us.Report

      • North in reply to Dark Matter says:

        Actually that’d really be a fascinating paradigm shift for a Star Trek series to have. In general past Treks haven’t really lingered at all on the lives of non-Star Fleet members.
        They could do a series that reveals that Federation civilians don’t view Star Fleet members the way current world civilians generally view military (admiration/gratitude) but rather that they consider them rather odd and crazy. Star Fleet isn’t hard to get into because their standards are rigorous (they are but civilians can meet those standards with some effort) but rather that it’s hard for most Federation civilians to have the right psychological aptitudes for Star Fleet culture.
        The angry father of the main character sits on the couch teeth clenched, hands trembling “Ten generations of our family have worked to advance our sprawling fan-fic that is enjoyed by millions. You have the writing chops but you want to throw your life away blasting aliens and blowing up star ships in Star Fleet?!? The mother dabs at her tears. “Where did we go wrong???”Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

      “Including one where Picard and Riker make a guy’s head explode by shooting him with their phasers, which was admittedly the coolest thing I had ever seen on TV at that age.”

      That was pretty harsh. (In fact, it was censored on UK television broadcast.) And, oddly, it was the end result of one of the show’s first multi-part arcs–Starfleet being infiltrated by the Body Snatchers, they got two episodes out of the idea –and it just completely disappeared after that. (Canon-miners used the idea for a few DS9 novels, rectonning it to be related to the Trill.)

      In fact it’s interesting to go back and read the summaries for the first season of TNG and see how many series cliches got started there:

      Oh No I’m Dying Let’s Talk About Our Feelings
      Crystalline Entities
      There’s Another Data?!
      This Arbitrary Custom Means You Must Die
      Our Technology Messed Everything Up Through Its Normal Operation (global warming / pollution allegory)
      Let’s Just (TECH) Oh Look Everything’s Fixed
      Holodeck People Become Self-AwareReport

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    I’ve never watched TNG, but if there wasn’t supposed to be interpersonal conflict, how did “Shut up, Wesley!” become a catch phrase?Report

    • pillsy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Because you can only do so much to keep writers from writing stories.

      Also, I think, Wesley’s status as an actual kid let him behave more obnoxiously, and adults around him react more sharply, without undermining the weird idea that utopia would be free of arguments.

      And, you know, living in a world where nobody ever gets mad seems like another thing that would cause you to get in a giant can with some barely contained antimatter, flout the laws of physics, and get the hell away at Warp Factor 6.

      Or Warp Factor 5, after that dumb episode where they discovered that going Warp Factor 6 was tearing up the fabric of spacetime and they had to stop in order to satisfy the Space EPA.Report

      • pillsy in reply to pillsy says:

        Or Warp Factor 5, after that dumb episode where they discovered that going Warp Factor 6 was tearing up the fabric of spacetime and they had to stop in order to satisfy the Space EPA.

        Actually, I don’t think there even was a Space EPA. They just all decided to stop in order to be good space citizens, which was completely in character for a civilization that accidentally built a planetbuster weapon because they wanted to be able to landscape entire planets in a few hours.Report

      • atomickristin in reply to pillsy says:

        I kinda liked that twist (thought it might act as a constraint to up tension) but then they did absolutely nothing any different with their storylines thereafter that I ever saw.Report

        • North in reply to atomickristin says:

          They fished around with their nacelles… supposedly Voyagers funky mode shifting nacelles were basically environmental pollution mitigation methods.Report

          • George Turner in reply to North says:

            That was completely silly. They just wanted to ship to look like it did something to go to warp, just like having X-wings go from monoplane to biplane to show they meant business. So the series re-used some scenes of Voyager moving the nacelles, over and over, and so far as I remember never said another word about it.

            What was doubly stupid is that the ship would’ve only moved the nacelles once, when it left the factory, and they’d have stayed in the “go” mode until the pivot the ship got cut up for scrap, rusted pivot bearings and all.

            At least Firefly’s moving nacelles made sense, just like a tilt rotor aircraft.Report

    • atomickristin in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I think it’s because so many of us watching wanted to SAY “shut up Wesley”Report

  3. Oscar Gordon says:

    This is why The Orville is the superior Star Trek.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I genuinely started liking Trek better when I realized that from the outside looking in, Star Fleet and the Federation must be absolutely terrifying.

      Like most of the time the vast majority of them are totally absorbed in their own incredibly safe and comfortable world, like the people from Wall-E[1], but if you actually threaten them they will engineer a plague that will wipe out your species unless you surrender.

      Which is something they’ve done on the show.


      [1] A movie where an adorable trash compactor falls in love with an iPod, and they team up to destroy utopia because the people living in it are fat.Report

      • North in reply to pillsy says:

        That’s mean! Wall-E and EVE just moved utopia planet side.Report

      • atomickristin in reply to pillsy says:

        So wish they would have played with that a little more. There is so much ethical meat in the universe, it’s such a waste to be stuck on the Holodeck with the safeties off.Report

      • James K in reply to pillsy says:

        Yeah, the more you think about it, the more you realise that the Federation is fundamentally terrifying.

        The best meditation on this comes from, no surprise, Deep Space 9:

      • DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

        I’m reminded of the various posts about how the galaxy looks at humans as crazy mad scientists whose stuff either blows up reality or saves the day and fixes everything and usually both at once.

        Vulcans: Why do you need another warp core
        Humans: We’re going to plug two of them together and see if we go twice as fast
        Vulcans: Last time we gave you a warp core you threw it into a sun to see if the sun would go twice as fast
        Humans: Hahaha yeah
        Humans: It did tho
        Vulcans: IT EXPLODED
        Humans: It exploded twice as fastReport

          • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

            Yes, just that.
            I also like the one about “Humans get mad when they see how other races depict them in fiction, and then the other races point out that humans developed antiviral treatments by injecting maybe-dead viruses into themselves, that their first nuclear reactor was an unshielded pile of uranium bricks that they stacked up by hand, that their idea of how to develop powered flight was to repeatedly crash planes until one didn’t, and don’t even get them fucking STARTED about electricity…”Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck says:

              Case in point, the Navy is going back to physical ship controls because the touch screen interfaces are just too confusing.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I can see that, honestly. Touch screens have no tactile feedback, so they really do feel (in a sense) alien. Like, if you lift something, you feel it’s weight. If you whack a nail with a hammer, the force goes up your arm. Likewise, turn a lever, there is a feel.

                Have you noticed that most video game controllers have actual buttons and triggers, not “touchpads.”

                In theory, a touchpad is a perfectly fine way to control a ship. In practice — well, it’s an empirical question.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

                It’s not so much about tactile response, but rather that the sailors don’t have low effort validations of state.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Actually that article mentions “tactile feedback” several times, so I think we’re both right, in the sense that the tactile feedback is meant to give “low effort validation of state.”

                (I like situations where everyone gets to be correct!)

                Obviously I don’t know shit about piloting a ship. That said, it seems like the more we can “map” an unfamiliar experience onto the natural human sense of motion and feedback, the better people will be able to “flow state” their actions. When things feel natural this way, people get to use areas of the brain that evolved for these kinds of tasks, instead of having to learn weird shit that has little natural analog. (Neural plasticity is not unbounded.)

                Or something. I know what I’m saying sounds pop-sciency and vague — because it is. (At least I didn’t mention mirror neurons.)

                But anyway, I can totally get why touch screens sucked for this kind of stuff.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

                I suppose tactile feedback would contribute to that.

                Remember how in TNG and later, the ships were all piloted by touch screen?Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                And now that you mention it, that did always seem weird to me, although I couldn’t have articulated it until you pointed it out. Even watching it kinda feels wonky, in ways I can’t describe.

                The inevitable justification will be “people in the future relate to tech differently from how we do today” — which fine. Sure. I don’t know. Are their brains that different from ours? They sill learn to walk as babies.

                I wonder if “kids today” relate to this differently. After all, I didn’t use my first touch screen until well into adulthood. Even as a kid, I didn’t play my first video game until I was maybe ten years old, and those were analog.

                (No really. The first video games I played were analog.)Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

                My thinking is that either A) Starfleet pilots get a ridiculous amount of training on piloting a touchscreen starship in high stress scenarios, or B) it’s hokum.

                The thing about physical controls is that they become an extension of your limbs. A joystick in one hand, a throttle in another, and perhaps foot pedals for other functions (yaw control, etc.). You always know what they are set at because you have an awareness of where your limbs are in relation to the rest of your body.

                That said, I could see a pilot with a VR setup being really good at controlling a ship without an abnormal amount of training.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                (I still haven’t trained myself away from nausea when moving around in VR.)Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sorry, not everyone is cut out to be a starship pilot.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Yeah, exactly. The vehicle becomes an extension of your body.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                …in TNG and later, the ships were all piloted by touch screen…

                And the guns weren’t allowed to look like guns. The ergonomics of those things were terrible.

                Post Kirk the Federation clearly went through a “demilitarization” thing and they wanted to get rid of guns but found that was tough in the army.Report

  4. TNG technobabble episodes always let me cold. “Oh, the decrombulator has unexpectedly broken. Maybe if we re-align the fnortner rod, it will work!” The best episodes like Inner Light worked on personal drama.

    Really, the first sign that this was going to be a problem series was when they a fricking counselor on the bridge just to make sure everyone’s feeling were OK. How very 80s.Report

    • George Turner in reply to Michael Siegel says:

      The counselor sitting next to the captain and first officer was bonkers. “Imma sit here and write up mental health reports about the decisions you makin’ in the big chair, but don’t second-guess yourself on account of me. Also, I can read your mind”

      ESP on the bridge as a standard part of their universe makes about a much sense as adding vampires, werewolves, voodoo, and demonic possession. Is it Star Trek or Kolchak in space?

      Once they’ve got Troi occupying a chair, they have to add her as part of ship-to-ship communications, which is lazy writing. Instead of Picard figuring out that the other captain is lying, Troi just says “He’s lying.” Whew, what was easy!

      Imagine how ESP would have ruined the TOS episode Balance of Terror with the Enterprise playing dead to lure in a cloaked Romulan ship, if the Romulans had a counselor who could just tell the Romulan captain “Kirk is just playing dead. Don’t fall for it.” Cleverness and mind games would go right out the window with all the other interesting story lines.Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    Jeff Goldblum flying into an alien ship to give them a computer virus with ridiculous ease.

    I saw that movie at a work outing. Goldblum had no trouble getting his Mac to talk to an alien spaceship, and I’d just spent all morning trying (unsuccessfully) to get one to talk to an IBM PC.Report

    • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Wasn’t your experience much like a bad techcentricTNG episode? Many of those could easily be rewritten as a crisis caused by an automatic Windows update. Transcribe a typical meeting where a an IT guy explains the morning’s tech problem to management, and then change the names to Gordi, Data, Troi, Beverly, Riker, and Picard, and you have a draft TNG script.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to George Turner says:

        Well, there was the episode with the Binars, a race that had basically merged with their Internet, and had to trick Picard into letting them use the Enterprise as backup so they could reboot their civilization.

        You just know that was inspired by some poor schlub that had to back up their docs, wipe the drive, and reinstall Windows after they caught a bad virus.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Seriously, the “Binars”? Were they named 0100101 and 1101001?Report

          • Road Scholar in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            I don’t recall if they even had names. They looked a little like stereotypical Greys, came in pairs, had brain implants, and spoke to each other in digital code (fast bloops and bleeps). They had merged so completely with their computer tech that they literally couldn’t live without it. Not terribly dissimilar to the Borg in that regard, but insular and benign.

            And I should amend my previous comment because I doubt if Windows was actually a thing yet when it was aired (late eighties probably without looking it up).Report

          • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Only if you want to be formal. The four Bynars in episode “11001001” were 11, 00, 01, and 01, thus the title. It’s apparently considered by many to be the best episode of season 1, perhaps in part due to Minuet, a holodeck figure the Bynars created as a way to keep Riker and Picard distracted.

            If off-site backup and click bait makes one of the best episodes, I shudder to think about the worst.Report

            • pillsy in reply to George Turner says:

              “Code of Honor” is the worst, but the one where the preview promised that they were going to confront the Romulans but the episode was about some 20th century asshole from Earth with a guitar, or the one where Wesley is gonna be executed for tripping over some flowers, or the one where Tasha Yar dies for no particularly sensible reason, or the one….

              OK. Season 1 was really bad.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to pillsy says:

                …Tasha Yar dies for no particularly sensible reason…

                Now that I liked. What they’re doing is dangerous, having a character die randomly when they don’t really know they’re in danger proves that.

                Now the actress was correct that her character was being abused by bad writing and leaving the show was probably the right move, but that’s a different issue.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

              “Hi, I’m 11. This is my brother 01, and this is my other brother 01.”Report

              • AggregatVier in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Zathras understand. Besides only 10 types of people – those understand binary and those not.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Weirdly that could be a serious option… although I expect they’d just rename one of them to avoid confusion.

                I assumed they communicated electronically and their basic concept of a “name” was so alien (or even absent) that they just used some unique indicator when they interacted with sound using creatures.

                You see this occasionally in fiction with creatures that communicate with smell or light reflections or something that just doesn’t have a translation, or where they don’t really have “individuals” as a concept.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Dark Matter says:

                If a computer culture wanted unique names they’d use UUIDs or a hash of the entity’s unique characteristics.

                “Hi, I’m 1b3e8367-e89b-1fd3-a436-426655440000, but my friends call me 549b9736_acf0f397_23b55afe_8d680ed0_ec6a09cd.”Report

              • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “Hi, I’m!”

                “That’s what your family calls you, but what’s your real name?”


    • DensityDuck in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      “Goldblum had no trouble getting his Mac to talk to an alien spaceship, and I’d just spent all morning trying (unsuccessfully) to get one to talk to an IBM PC.”

      You know that was a War Of The Worlds reference, right?

      No, seriously! In WotW the Martians never had viruses so they never evolved immune systems. Same deal in ID4; nobody had ever tried to hack the aliens’ computers so they had no defense against it.Report

      • Anyone writing real-time high-reliability high-availability code for something complex (eg, a star ship) is going to know all about writing defensive code. Not necessary because of an attacker, but to stop errors in one part of the code from propagating.

        Any complex organism is going to evolve an immune system of some sort, or die of cancer at a young age. Immune systems don’t look for specific pathogens, they look for anything that’s not a normal organism cell.

        I’m willing to cut the writers some slack for memes, but we all need to recognize that the real world doesn’t work that way.Report

        • JS in reply to Michael Cain says:

          “Anyone writing real-time high-reliability high-availability code for something complex (eg, a star ship) is going to know all about writing defensive code”

          That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Seriously, either they’ll have an AI doing it or it’ll end up exactly like Fire From the Deep, where there’s an actual job called “software archaeologist” wherein you dig into the millennia of libraries on top of libraries trying to find where someone cobbled together a hack on top of a hack to get something you can hack around with to do the job.

          And of course if you dig back far enough, you’ll find the time function still thinks 1/170 was the beginning of time, so god help you if you time travel.Report

  6. Damon says:

    Good post. I liked DS9 more because it seemed more real. I especially remember when Sisco made a deal to sell some biomemetic gel to some bad guys ’cause he had no other choice to get the job done. Hard situations make hard choices. And the story arc about Bashir getting recruited by Section 19 who almost committed genocide to keep the federation safe.Report

  7. AggregatVier says:

    Why argue about how bad Star Trek TNG is when you have The Expanse?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to AggregatVier says:

      Kids, you pay attention now – this is how you troll.Report

    • Trolled in reply to AggregatVier says:

      Since I very much liked the Expanse, except for the very stupid alien-tech I-eat-Humans, and omg, we can only test this stuff on space colonies instead of rats–stuff, I’m very sufficiently trolled. But, however, very many of my geeky friends just couldn’t get into it, so it must be me, right? RIGHT? Maybe I’m a sucker for pidgins and cool shots of grizzled space ships.Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    “maybe it had always been at a low point and my standards had gone up from watching Moonlighting.”

    Hey!… I get that joke.Report

  9. Fish says:

    Between this post and the Star Trek game my gaming group played this weekend, I now have the urge to rewatch the Star Trek series with the best captain: Voyager.

    Good post!Report

  10. Slade the Leveller says:

    I’ve been a fan of all of the Star Trek series. I caught the reruns of ToS when I was a kid, and watched the rest in real time. Of all of them, I will say ToS is my least favorite. Once TNG came on the air, with its up to date special effects, the original series looked laughable, like Dr. Who bad. And the overacting! Whew.

    As for conflict, I believe one of the tropes of the show was that humanity had moved past that stuff. Everything was pretty kumbaya in the 23rd (?) century. For conflict, you had to look at the interspecies interactions.

    That might be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever posted on this site.Report

  11. Michele Kerr says:

    I would argue that if you prefer ST:TOS to ST:TNG, you aren’t doing it right. Far too much of TOS is terrible. There are about 10 that hold up well, and I’m being generous.

    TNG isn’t nearly as fantastic as DS9 which is without question the best development of Trek–if only they had just let Dax die instead of bringing back that terrible copy–or better yet, kept the actress one more year.

    I agree that much of TNG suffers from the technocrat utopianism that others call it out for, and I also think that many of the episodes are almost as unwatchable as the TOS outside the top 10.

    But at its best, the situations they dreamed up were simply stunning, and far ahead of their time.

    Anyone who argues that more than one or two of TOS can compete with this list, well, that’s hard to take objectively seriously.

    Yesterday’s Enterprise
    Chain of Command
    Best of Both Worlds, Part I
    Ship in a Bottle
    Inner Light
    I, Borg
    All Good Things
    The Offspring
    Deja Q
    The Measure of a Man

    Note: Disaster, which I also enjoy, is not well-regarded generally.

    Best TOS episodes:
    City on the Edge of Forever
    Balance of Terror
    A Piece of the Action (far superior to Tribbles, which is only fun)
    Where No Man Has Gone Before

    There are others which are, well, ok, but incredibly influential in Trek universe and ST generally: Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, Space Seed,

    BTW, DS9 has relatively few episodes that are brilliant, simply because the greatness was in the multiple story arcs, but their brilliant ones far exceed most of TNG’s best.Report

  1. August 20, 2019

    […] Does this mean there could never be any new Star Treks? […]Report