The new Picard series has thus far been mediocre for me. I think it is brilliantly acted, I love all the characters, and it is very beautiful and polished – cinematic, even. But all of the episodes have felt uncharacteristically shallow for a Star Trek show.
I knew going in that they would retcon a ton of Romulan canon – that was inevitable (like there having explicitly been Romulan cybernetics researchers in TNG and Romulans converted into borg drones in Voyager), but it isn’t even really the retcons that bother me (for I have trained my mind to simultaneously accept two contradictory canons). It is how the whole show seems tonally dissonant with other Star Treks. It is more like an action hero movie with huge grandiose battles where the heroes are in no danger whatsoever as they effortlessly mow down hundreds of faceless bad guys. The Tal Shiar are now apparently the Stormtroopers of Star Trek, and they line themselves up politely for the heroes to pick them off one by one.
And what a strange choice for enormous hordes of faceless baddies to square off in combat with! The Romulans invented an assassination device which can be injected into the skin undetected, and remain dormant until the subject uses a teleporter. Then it scrambles the victim’s signal and they die. Subtle, clean, sinister. This is the sort of style we have come to expect from the Tal Shiar. And since the people in Picard apparently use teleporters all the time (to go all around the globe instantaneously), it seems an obvious choice in the arsenal of the Tal Shiar. But no, in Picard the Tal Shiar’s main strategy seems to be to send 50 guys in through the front door with guns blazing for every situation. Very disappointing.
Previous series have shown us that the Romulans tend to shy away from boots-on-the-ground combat, and will only engage as a last resort. If a goal can be reached via cunning trickery or quiet arts, they will absolutely go that route. This is a point of pride for them! They ridicule Klingons for simply throwing waves of men at a combat problem until it is solved. And yet that’s all they seem capable of now.
Beyond this being a terrible fit for Romulans (and the Tal Shiar especially), it doesn’t mesh with other Star Treks. I understand the sort of appeal of the Kung Fu hero who fights of waves upon waves of opponents and remains standing. It shows the hero is larger-than-life, mythic, powerful. But Star Trek isn’t for that, and historically the combat they have shown have tended to be small desperate chaotic skirmishes – more fitting for the tone and subject of humanity coming together collaboratively to be greater than the sum of its parts. I know that it is a silly trope these days about “redshirts dying” and perhaps their deaths are pretty cheap, but at least it does show that these skirmishes are not to be taken lightly as there are going to be casualties on both sides. I don’t think action films with the mythic hero are bad, but I do think the trope doesn’t fit in Star Trek.
As for the plot, it has been pretty shallow and absurd thus far. The Romulan Bulterian Jihad is silly and unconvincing, and doesn’t even come with all the cool what-if workarounds to AI like we got to see in Herbet’s Dune. And they have apparently crafted their entire society around the Butlerian Jihad to the point that the anti-AI police have a staggeringly limitless budget. For a ridiculous goal. I can believe that the Romulans might have prohibitions on AI (you could say they got skittish about it after the Borg War, or after Mars, or any number of things), but you’d expect the enforcement of this to be meted out by some regulatory office like the FDA. Not the Super Duper Ultra Tal Shiar. And not to be some ancient defining aspect of their entire culture (that somehow never came up before now). And WHY would people tell stories about this to scare children? What child would be scared by this? “Now Billy, be good, because the Super Duper Ultra Tal Shiar has placed several strict limitations and sanctions on AI research!” It is just so silly.
Before it started, I figured that Picard wouldn’t have the oomph of Deep Space Nine (big shoes to fill), but I think it doesn’t even manage to capture the depth of an average Next Generation episode. So I’ve been mostly disappointed by the overall blandness and mediocrity of the story, alas.