In the Time of the Butterflies
Thoughts on the season finale of Star Trek: Picard
(spoilers galore, read onward at your peril)
Loved the Picard season finale. This series has truly been the most well-written and engaging thing I’ve watched since Season 1 of Stranger Things, or Season 1 of Westworld…the ethos, of course, is different for Picard than for either of these shows, but the way it both honored and redefined Star Trek, with superb writing and acting, remained consistent all season long.
Picard the character maintains his fervent belief in the idealized values of an adventure show hero from the era before we started requiring our heroes to be dark and tormented and morally ambiguous. As I wrote about in an earlier blog, Picard is a man transplanted from that earlier, more optimistic show, and this new show continually challenges its viewer with its tension between presenting his words as out-of-place platitudes, and actually inspiring and moving…HE clearly believes in them, and it makes the other characters (and the viewer) wrestle with that little voice inside them that they buried, the one that really does want to believe that hope and love will triumph. The season finale finally proves him right…it is his ability to get Soji to believe that saves the day, and we get a classic megahappy ending of the cavalry to the rescue and the synth ban is lifted and all that fun stuff (hell, Picard even gets to come back from the dead).
But there is a reason the episode ended not with the closure of the portal or with the Romulans retreating, but with that masterful conversation between Picard and Data (Brent Spiner at his finest…brought tears to my eyes), where, in a massive ironic reveral, Data teaches PICARD something essential about being human: that those happy endings, that the peace and love and friendship and inspiration Picard has been clinging to all season, are doomed to failure sooner or later. And it is that transience that is precisely what makes them powerful, and worth fighting for.
A butterfly that lives forever is not a butterfly, we are told. A Star Trek show that remains forever in the much-missed days of 1990s scifi utopia eventually no longer becomes special…what’s special is the brief and occasional surfacing of those utopian ideas here and there in our own era, against all the odds and barriers of both reality and our own pessimistic version of realism.
“We have better weapons,” says Picard in an earlier episode. “Hope and love. They just have fear.”
He’s cut off during that speech by, well, reality asserting itself…but the season finale proves him right. As we hoped — heck, knew — it would.
We don’t read fantasy to be told there are dragons, Neil Gaiman once wrote (I think he was quoting someone else). We read fantasy to be told that dragons can be slain.
Because in our world, that’s also true. Maybe the peace that follows can’t last long, but it’s out there, it’s possible, and to pursue it redeems us and makes us better…and just might make the world a little better, too.
(Ok, just one grouse — Picard as an android synth? I realize the show needed some way to have a second season, but I would totally have been okay with Picard really dying at the end. It’s kind of a silly “cheat,” but maybe there will be particular consequences that will prove interesting…just remember, Michael Chabon, that a hero who always cheats death isn’t a hero at all…)