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Star Trek Pic - Season 1 - Episode 10

Star Trek Pic - 1x10 - Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

Originally Aired: 2020-3-25

Synopsis:
A final confrontation on the synthetics' homeworld, Coppelius, pits Picard and his team against the Romulans, as well as the synths who seek to safeguard their existence at all costs.

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 3.1

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Problems
- The Romulan fleet is visible from the surface of the planet despite being shown to be in space the whole time.

Factoids
- 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."
- The Zheng He bridge set was adapted from the Discovery bridge. Jonathan Frakes filmed his appearance as Riker for this episode while directing an episode of Discovery's third season.

Remarkable Scenes
- Picard flying the La Sirena.
- Narissa: "Sad queen Annika. Six years old and all she got for her birthday was assimilated."
- Seven of Nine taking out Narissa.
- The orchids engaging the Romulan fleet.
- Riker showing up with the Federation fleet.
- Picard talking down Soji then collapsing from his brain disease.
- Picard meeting Data preserved in a simulation.
- Picard waking up in an android body.
- Picard killing Data's preserved consciousness.

My Review
Suddenly the synth ban that lasted for more than a decade is gone. Why? We don't really know. We see no public debate in the Federation. We see no media coverage of how others in Federation society perceived what went down on Coppelius. We don't see fearful conservatives on FNN (The Federation News Network originally shown in the pilot episode, remember that?) pleading with the Federation legislature not to sympathize with the synths since they clearly did have the power to destroy the Federation and indeed were moments away from pushing a button that would do exactly that. It all just gets hand waved away off-screen without a moment's reflection. While it's true that many of us may fantasize about the authoritarian right simply disappearing from political power wherever they wield it as soon as possible, the real world doesn't work that way. It ought to be obvious that a single dramatic event can't just magically overturn years of reactionary attitudes entrenched in the hearts of minds of an entire society overnight. Good fiction doesn't pander to our fantasies, it reflects the actual human condition. When Star Trek is at its best it lays bare who and what we are while also giving us a realistic taste of how much better we could be. This story was far from that.

And just what were those super synths anyway? Who knows. Clearly they were just a generic villain plot device. Nobody really cares about who they are and what their civilization is. So much for seeking out out new life and new civilizations, huh? Nobody's the least bit curious about a multi-galaxy synth civilization nor all that interested in possibly dissuading them from their apparent mandate to wipe out organics whenever they're summoned Ghostbusters-style. Just blow up the beacon, sweep the problem under the rug, and pretend it never happened. Likewise let's not at all concern ourselves with what happened to Narek who suddenly disappeared from the plot never to be seen again inexplicably after pleading with Soji to destroy the beacon. His sudden disappearance was almost as cheesy as the absurdly large copy-and-paste fleets of all precisely the same ship. Hundreds of identical ships is incredibly bland and feels like yet another cheap and unrealistic way to up the stakes artificially. DS9 showed us how to do this correctly with a bunch of different types of starships working together evoking a sense of real effort both on the part of the visual effects team but also the characters in bringing to bear whatever they could muster. It's also quite dumb that they all warp out as quickly as they warp in, without even a single ship sticking around to investigate this strange new world, establish diplomatic relations, or do anything remotely in line with first contact procedures. The whole thing felt incredibly rushed.

The laziness abounds elsewhere too. CommodoreGeneral Oh delivers generic evil mustache twirler lines constantly, including a cheesy order to use "Planetary Sterilization Pattern Number 5" along with the obligatory dramatic pause before ordering the fleet to fire, giving Riker's fleet time to arrive and intercede. The Deus Ex Machina: The Tool device from the previous episode turned out to be even more ridiculous a superpower than it seemed like it would be on two different occasions in this episode. Raffi and Rios even break the fourth wall when Raffi asks "What's happening?" after it's used for the first time and Rios replies "Nothing that makes sense." It was literally a plot device that we're supposed to just accept can do basically anything. The damn thing even wrecked what was otherwise a very charming scene when Agnes referenced the Picard maneuver from TNG: The Battle only for the scene to get overwhelmed by the magic of the all powerful space ocarina. Raffi and Seven of Nine get a bit short shrifted here too apparently somehow developing a relationship which is yet another important thing that happens off-screen. Seven does however have a touching scene with Rios shortly after Picard "dies" talking about how she promised herself she would never commit another murder but failed to resist temptation when presented with the opportunity to kill Narissa, but that is one of the only well-written scenes in the episode.

Of course the elephant in the room is the final death of Data and the death and resurrection of Picard, which while compellingly presented and incredibly moving to watch are utterly offensive in their implications. Picard and Data both essentially commit suicide in this episode (Picard's suicide merely on a time delay) while endorsing numerous platitudes about how mortality supposedly gives meaning to life. Data says that peace, love, and friendship are precious because we know they cannot endure and a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all. What the fuck? This is pseudo-intellectual garbage on par with the ending of Battlestar Galactica having all the characters throw their technology into the sun. The whole point of people inventing technology for as long as civilization has existed is to prolong the length and quality of life. While the title of the episode loosely translates to "even in paradise, there is still death," that isn't necessarily true anymore. The advent of highly advanced androids that are nearly indistinguishable from humans to whom any human consciousness can be transferred is one of the greatest inventions in human history because it could effectively make anybody immortal. And you can sure as hell bet that the vast majority of people would prefer to have themselves transferred into one of those bodies without a ten or twenty year death clock on it as Picard did shortly before euthanizing his best friend for no coherent reason.

This of course isn't the first time that Star Trek or even Data himself has mused about the value of mortality. Recall this exchange from TNG: Time's Arrow, Part 1. Data: "I have often wondered about my own mortality as I have seen others around me age. Until now it has been theoretically possible that I would live an unlimited period of time. And although some might find this attractive, to me it only reinforces the fact that I am artificial." Geordi: "I never knew how tough this must be for you. [...] Knowing that you would outlive all your friends." Data: "I expected to make new friends." Geordi: "True." Data: "And then to outlive them as well." Geordi: Now that you know that you might not?" Data: "It provides a sense of completion to my future. In a way, I am not that different from anyone else. I can now look forward to death." Geordi: "I never thought of it that way." Data: "One might also conclude that it brings me one step closer to being human. I am mortal." At first glance, it might seem as though Data valued the idea of being mortal as far back as that TNG episode. But if you look deeper at the exchange, the thing Data is expressing the most discomfort with is being different from his friends. He didn't want to be special by being immortal while everyone else must age and eventually die. But what if everyone could be as immortal as Data? It seems in that case the discomfort Data expresses in that exchange would be moot.

Better episodes of Star Trek have also more tastefully dealt with suicide. In Voy: Death Wish we see a much better version of the supposed torture that Data was said to be enduring trapped in the simulation in this episode. In that Voyager episode, a member of the Q continuum—a race of beings who are immortal—is imprisoned, suicidal, and prevented from killing himself for the rest of eternity which he argues is a kind of torture. Janeway decides to grant him asylum from the Q, then pleads with him not to kill himself with his newfound freedom from imprisonment. But he does so anyway and the narrative correctly treats this as a tragedy, in direct contrast to how the narrative glorified Data's death and Picard casually endorsing a time limit on his android body in this episode. Once upon a time Star Trek was about seeking out new life and regarding every death as a tragedy. Now it's apparently about how death is beautiful or something. To add insult to injury, this episode that celebrates Data's death and moralizes about the supposed beauty of death aired during the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. The writers should stop and think about how those dying in the hospital when this aired would've done anything to get an ageless android body and take that as a lesson to think through the implications of the stories they tell a bit more in the future.

At first this series showed a lot of promise, but it eventually fell into the same traps that too many TV shows do. The writers structured this story more as mystery than suspense. Then when we finally got answers to the mysteries they were unsatisfying because they were premised on overwrought threats to everyone everywhere that were quickly resolved with cheap reset buttons. A story that could've been a compelling exploration of the deeper systemic reasons why the Federation so often bans whole categories of technology in fearful, reactionary ways ended up just being 10 episodes that tried to make the same point that TNG: The Measure of a Man made 31 years ago, except in a considerably drawn out and dumbed down way. Hopefully the next season aims higher than this.

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