Lieutenant Commander Data, resurrected as an old mandroid.

Blogging the Next Generation: Picard — “The Bounty”

This entry was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, this television series wouldn’t exist. To learn more, visit the SAG-AFTRA strike site.

“Can someone explain why a 19th-century villain is guarding a 25th-century black site?”

A whole-ass reunion episode, “The Bounty” brings everyone in the Next Generation family back onto the board in sixty minutes that are so ram-packed with incident that they genuinely make me dizzy (not in a good way). But screw it: Geordi’s here! LeVar Burton’s gorgeous peepers were last seen 21 years ago in Star Trek: Nemesis — so seeing him as Geordi again is one of the main reasons I turned up for this season in the first place. But the rest of the gang, variously, turns up as well: Raffi and Worf finally reach the Titan; the series’ third iteration of a maybe-Data (but this time, for real, it’s Data) forms the core of the episode plot; and Deanna joins Riker in prison, in the episode’s stinger. The latter three characters have been on the show to varying degrees before now; Geordi’s return, though, completes the Enterprise-D action figure set, which seems to have been Terry Matalas’ creative project all along.

LeVar Burton has become a stalwart ambassador for Star Trek as a whole, and has experienced a late-career popularity renaissance thanks to the one-two punch of multiple generations’ of love for Reading Rainbow paying off, and that whole thing where everyone wanted him to host Jeopardy!. It’s somehow fitting to make him the last of the original crew to move into place on Star Trek: Picard, which is not to say I wouldn’t always have loved to see more of him; just, to some degree, this return feels like it needed to be earned, and not given away. (Alternatively, Burton genuinely feels like the only member of the crew who could have said “screw it” to the offer to return, not out of any enmity, but merely out of no actual need to do any of this again.) Geordi was such an also-ran character on Next Gen, as much as I loved him; here, real-world LeVar and made-up-world Geordi have fused in a delightful, particular way — it feels like we’re just always happy to see this guy.

Geordi’s a Commodore now, and the head of the Starfleet Museum. Is it slightly reductive to cashier the Enterprise’s gearhead nerd, basically Jay Leno with a VISOR, into a late-career position so fanboyish that he keeps full-sized model spaceships in a ring around his Star Trek III-era Spacedock? Sure, a little. But what would you have rather seen? Geordi the warrior king? Geordi the broken hermit? I guess we never got Geordi the novelist, per “All Good Things…” (But on the upside, this also means that we have consigned to the rubbish heap the idea of Geordi marrying Leah Brahms.) Geordi arrives on the Titan with a second daughter in tow (this one played by Burton’s actual, real-life daughter, Mica), and a bit of freighted backstory between Geordi and daughter #1, Sidney, who’s been with us all season long (and has taken various Geordi-related comparisons and compliments from the aging cast) without mentioning that she and Dad aren’t getting along so well. Well, they aren’t, and Geordi doesn’t want to help Picard because he’s afraid of what it will mean for the safety of his daughters. He preaches some silliness about how the Titan crew isn’t Sidney’s family, which she (rightly) calls out as complete nonsense for the man who served with Picard on the Enterprise(s). This all feels de riguer and slightly unimaginative: what if, for once, there was no family tension here, and instead the three La Forges just came together to save the day as a kick-ass team?

Meanwhile, Jack has Irumodic Syndrome, or thinks he does. This is what Beverly turns up when Jack finally tells his mommy that he’s seeing red doors and creeping vines. Irumodic Syndrome played into the best Next Generation episode of all time (which also happened to be its last), as a way-in-the-future diagnosis of eventual senility and death for Picard (who, at the time, happened to be time-travelling way-into-the-future, so it was germane). Now, Jean-Luc thinks he’s passed it along to his kid. Irumodic Syndrome, weirdly enough, was never actually named in season one, when it was actively killing Picard. But I guess it’s safe to say the I-word again. And if I told you that Picard is about to play super fast and loose with Irumodic Syndrome by way of retconning it into a major, heretofore-unimagined plot driver for both Picard and his son, would you be surprised? No. Of course you wouldn’t.

Jack’s moping in that fucking bar again and, weirdly, he’s wearing the modified leather jacket Starfleet uniform that the entire Next Gen crew will end up in when they retake the Enterprise-D at the end of the season. (Patrick Stewart, notoriously, hates the “space suits” — regular Starfleet uniforms — and ruled them out for this show. I guess the distressed leather makes the old gang look “cool.”) It’s not the kind of thing you notice when watching the season for the first time, because what Jack’s wearing looks like just another costume at first; but now, it makes me think that the Next Gen oldsters took a look at Jack’s ‘fit in “The Bounty” and said, shit, why don’t we all do that. Raffi turns up wearing the gold version of the same leathers in the very next scene, so I guess it’s going around. Cool people don’t wear spandex, that’s for sure! Raffi’s also wearing Han Solo’s gun belt, for some reason, completing the picture: Star Trek is, once again, trying to be Star Wars. Because Star Wars is cool.

Worf and Raffi beam in, to join the fugitive team! (How did they find the Titan, if no one else can?) Beverly hugs Worf! Riker immediately starts giving Worf (unrelated) shit! The… third? Fifth? Hundredth?… joke about Chateau Picard wine sucking happens! Seven and Raffi’s will-they / won’t-they / what-the-fuck-is-going-on-now relationship continues to… do that! Worf and Raffi turn out to have been working for Ro the whole time, so her death last week is weighing on Worf. Good news: he’s brought a big info-dump, and he takes that dump right on the conference room table. Changelings, the Changeling virus, the end of the Dominion War, all backstory to the next thing our team’s gonna tackle, which is a heist of Daystrom Station (which is not, I think, the Daystrom Institute, which was, I think, where Agnes worked in season one?), because someone stole something important from there besides the portal weapon that Vadic’s been using all season.

Phew. We are, at best, fifteen minutes into the episode at this point. Like I said, a shitload happens in “The Bounty,” as though the writers’ room noticed they’d crossed the halfway mark on the season and realized that a lot of stuff in the white board “parking lot” had to get shoved into play pronto, or the story wouldn’t make it to the ending.

Riker and Worf go to heist the station with Raffi. Riker is still giving Worf shit. It’s calling back to their days as calisthenics pals, just a couple of dudes being bros; now, Riker’s not taking Worf’s conversion to pacifism well, which is making Will seem like a backsliding hick and a jerk of a friend. This all made me think of the only thing I can actually remember from the otherwise trivial Star Trek sequel novel, Imzadi II: Triangle, by Peter David: a POV prologue for Worf, set after the events of Star Trek: Insurrection, in which Worf reflects on the monumental amount of vaguely misogynist ball-busting that Riker gives him in that movie, a movie which — though no one made this connection be made at the time, certainly — takes place canonically about a month and a half after the death of Worf’s wife.

It’s… striking. (Seriously, re-watch all of Riker and Worf’s interactions in Insurrection, if you can stomach it, and think of all of Will’s choices from the standpoint of “my close friend just held his wife’s broken body in his arms, and I didn’t even bother turn up at their wedding.”) I never looked at Riker and Worf’s relationship the same after that book; nor do I look kindly on Riker’s behaviour here, as a result. I’m more of a Riker defender than not (and he remains my Beard Icon), and I don’t think the characterization in “The Bounty,” by either the writing or by Frakes, particularly fits within the larger sense of the man. But I suppose there is something to be said for the experience of reconnecting with friends you spent time with at a specific time in your life and almost impulsively regressing in how you behave around them; and being equally miffed (as Riker is here) when they do not give back as good as they get.

(Don’t worry: It all gets tied off later when Worf says perhaps the most bromantic thing in the history of Star Trek, vowing to retrieve Riker from captivity by telling Picard “I will find him, Admiral. I will bring William Riker home. And fearful be the god, man or beast that stands in my way.” This suggests that a) Worf wasn’t too bothered by Riker’s dickishness anyway, and b) maybe he’s done with pacifism, to boot.)

Anyway: the real MacGuffin here is Data, who’s in Daystrom Station waiting to be found by his buddies. On our way through the station — which is a Section 31 thing in addition to being a Daystrom thing, further cementing my belief that these writers don’t actually know what the Daystrom Institute is even meant to be —  we get various canon-busting Easter Eggs, including the Genesis device (which exploded) and Captain Kirk’s exhumed corpse (which… gross). Data’s dream-crows from “Birthright” start showing up, and then we finally get hit with Moriarty — whose return, teased prior to nearly any other information about season three, was a huge WTF moment for me when it was first announced. I might have read too much into it at the time, but I felt like the implication was that Daniel Davis was going to be the Big Bad for Picard’s final season; and what a bonkers pick that would have been, if it were so.

Instead, he’s little more than a threshold guardian here, a projection of Data’s sub-psyche, protecting the reconstituted android (the B-4 backup, plus an old-man body, cuz reasons) in the heart of the station. Alton Soong, one of Spiner’s innumerable roles across the length of this series, turns up to explain things — which, I’m realizing it, makes Spiner’s presence on Picard almost impossibly Peter Sellers-y. We learn that whatever the hell is standing before us, it’s not just B-4’s Data backup; it’s also Lal (heart emoji!), Soong, Lore, and Data’s body has been aged up, because aging is a “true human aesthetic.” I mean, fair enough; I just wish it felt a little bit less like “no seriously, Spiner’s sick of the makeup.” So many of Picard’s beats are frustratingly shy of feeling organic, and yet close enough that you can see it from there.

For absolutely no narrative reason, Seven takes Jack on a virtual tour of the relics in the Starfleet museum, which include Voyager and (the second) Defiant; and also inadvertently confirms that regardless of how the epilogue of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country plays, Captain Kirk did dutifully fly the Enterprise-A back to spacedock shortly thereafter and let her be decommissioned. Amusingly enough, the H.M.S. Bounty is here too, and whilst in the business of quoting other composers’ theme tunes, Stephen Barton hits us with Laurence Rosenthal’s underappreciated (and truly bonkers) refrain from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Now, I have no sense of the credibility of a stolen Klingon ship being put in Starfleet’s museum, nor the credibility that its 130-year-old cloaking device would somehow render the Titan perfectly invisible to the innumerable ships and factions chasing it around the cosmos. But, it’s the solution we’ve got, so the Picard and La Forge children steal that cloaking device, and La Forge senior helps install it on the new ship. A new creative project is being sketched out here: what if the Next Generation had a next generation, working with their parents to save the galaxy? Paging Kestra, Alexander, and Soji… 

Blogging the Next Generation: Picard runs Thursdays on as I work my way through every episode of Star Trek: Picard. The original BTNG did the same for Star Trek: The Next Generation. While you’re here, why not sign this petition, asking CBS to release Picard’s final season on 4K UHD disc, which it deserves. Fuck streaming for ruining Hollywood!