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Star Trek Pic - Season 1 - Episode 09

Star Trek Pic - 1x09 - Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1

Originally Aired: 2020-3-18

Following an unconventional and dangerous transit, Picard and the crew finally arrive at Soji's home world, Coppelius. However, with Romulan warbirds on their tail, their arrival brings only greater danger as the crew discovers more than expected about the planet's inhabitants.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 3.15

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- The title of this episode is a Latin phrase that literally translates to "even in Arcadia, there am I." The "I" is typically interpreted to refer to death and "Arcadia" is typically interpreted to refer to a utopian land. It could thus be interpreted to mean something like "even in paradise, there is still death."

Remarkable Scenes
- The space battle with Narek.
- The Borg cube showing up and then getting immediately taken down by the orchids.
- Picard's astonishment upon meeting Dr. Alton Soong: "I feel as if I'm looking at Data."
- Alton Soong regarding Picard: "They didn't listen to him after the attack on Mars and they're not going to believe him now."

My Review
This is a slow story that focuses mostly on table setting for what is likely to be a more exciting second half. There's nothing necessarily wrong with table setting episodes, but what we get here is a bit of a mixed bag. The return of Brent Spiner playing yet another relative of the renowned Dr. Noonian Soong is a welcome addition to the story. It turns out that Data's father had a biological child too who was a total afterthought by comparison to his life's work perfecting androids. This new character is a clever addition to the Soong roster, as it is quite consistent with previous material depicting the Soong family. We know Noonian Soong was married from TNG: Inheritance and it's entirely consistent with his character that he would care more about his androids than his flesh and blood son.

On this new synth homeworld we see a delightful mix of earlier model androids and later model more human-like androids, giving us a visual sense of the technological progression of Soong's and Maddox' work. We also get a lot of exposition about just what the "admonition" was which resolves some irritating problems with the story but creates some new ones too. The narrative has finally given us a barely adequate redemption for Agnes' character: it appears as though she was not in fact fully in control of her actions when she murdered Maddox. But instead of the more compelling explanation being that Commodore Oh used mind control on her, we get the idiotic explanation that she went off the rails because the "admonition" was meant for synth minds rather than organic minds, which is a quite problematic distinction. The idea that even once you cross the AI "threshold" (whatever that is exactly) that it's still possible to distinguish between an organic or a synthetic mind runs counter to the fact that the entire point of creating Data and the more advanced androids derived from Data to begin with was to make the synths as human-like as possible; to directly contradict prejudice that they could somehow be fundamentally different. Basically the whole point of creating super advanced androids is to erase the distinctions between human and android. Yet the super synth Federation relies on the continued existence of these distinctions in order for its "admonition" to be received and understood by anybody.

The main message behind TNG: The Measure of a Man—the brilliant episode this season is serving as a sequel to—was also that there are no meaningful distinctions between the personhood of androids like Data or people who were born of flesh and blood. The notion that even now androids and organics can be separated into "us" and "them" categories so cleanly that tools can be built that can deliver telepathic messages effectively to one group but not the other because there's something genetically (so to speak) different about them undermines the original moral of the story here that any differences between these groups are more surface details than substantive. The moral of the story now is we're all the same, except oh wait there's something fundamental about your body that makes you irrevocably different from me. Yuck. The writers would've done better to have taken a page from Battlestar Galactica which—while it had serious flaws in its own writing in places–did well to make the point that the Cylons were equals to humans to such a degree that the distinctions between them were totally erased by the end of the story. As such the idea that Agnes was under the influence of mind control would've been a much better way to deal with this than this incredibly dumb "only synths can process the message" nonsense. A shame.

Another painful though minor detail was Raffi being given a magic tool to fix the La Sirena with and being told simply that it "fixes things" as though no further explanation should be required. What a marvel! Someone tell the Pakleds from TNG: Samaritan Snare. This is a tool that's on their intellectual level. They look for things. Things just like this. Things to make them go. Raffi thankfully was interested in a bit more nuance than Pakled-level simplicity and asked "how?" She was then told "you have to use your imagination." After that Raffi got as tired of that scene as the writers clearly were, shrugged, and moved on. Want to know what magic powers that Deus Ex Machina: The Tool has to offer? Tune in next week and we might find out!

This episode also continues the sad trend of relegating anything Borg-related to weak tea subplot status. It's curious that there already was a Borg transwarp conduit just above the synth homeworld, which implies the Borg have been to this planet before. Did the planet have an original population many years ago that was swept up in some kind of TNG: The Neutral Zone-style Borg Ragnarok ("Borg? Sounds Swedish...") assimilating everyone on the planet sometime before Alton Soong arrived and established it as the synth homeworld? Unfortunately the episode doesn't get into this, nor does anyone in the story appear to consider that the existence of a Börg transwarp conduit just above that planet continues to pose an ongoing threat to its population. Worse yet, Seven of Nine's commandeered Bjørg cube got taken out before it could do anything cool.

Lastly now that we've gotten a full explanation of just what the "admonition" was, the trend of anticlimactic payoff is continuing. Aside from the aforementioned borderline racist undertones that there will always be something fundamentally different between synths and organics, the idea that there's some secret synth super Federation out there spanning multiple galaxies just waiting to appear from nowhere to rescue synths from organic oppression is incredibly overwrought and unimaginative. Once again we're facing a threat to everyone everywhere that comes out of nowhere and will surely be disposed of from whence it came in short order. The writers of Discovery and now Picard seem to think that just constantly amping up the stakes is a good substitute for actual substance, but all it does is tip their hands that they're more interested in writing comic book pulp—complete with mustache-twirling villains like Sutra and Commodore Oh—than more thoughtful, deeper stories. So while this is an improvement over the last episode—they mostly fixed Agnes and the introduction of another Dr. Soong is a clever and welcome development—much of the rest of the payoff continues to be unfortunately underwhelming. Hopefully the next episode steps up the writing quality.

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