Monday, May 16, 2022

Star Trek: Picard’s unraveling continuity is the result of an operator error

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The following contains moderate spoilers for the fourth episode of ‘Star Trek: Picardseason two.

Continuity is something that comes up a lot in geek media, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Star Wars to DC’s TV Arrowverse. It used to be something only hardcore nerds cared about, but now it’s gone mainstream, with fans of all stripes cheering on callbacks and pointing out inconsistencies. Star Trek was probably the first major example of an interconnected universe that most people were aware of, but as the franchise continues to grow, with at least five shows in active production and more on the way, consistent continuity is something it can keep up with. ?

Of all current shows, Star Trek: Picard probably has the strongest links to continuity at this point. It is billed as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation and follows the adventures of Jean-Luc Picard 20 years after we saw him and the Enterprise-E crew inside Nemesis† Season one found him a broken man, after a devastating attack on Mars and the banning of synthetic life. This storyline was actually a good sequel to the events of The next generationin which the rights of an artificial being like Data were constantly questioned.

CBS

Season two so far has decided to focus on the relationship between Q and Picard, with the almighty pushing the old admiral into an alternate reality similar to, but not identical to, the twisted mirror universe where everyone is evil. In this reality, Picard is an admired general in a genocidal empire. He makes the decision to travel back in time to the point of deviation from the reality he knows, an ordinary Star Trek plotting device.

It’s only natural for the episode to make two references to at least two other previous time travel adventures in the franchise: Seven and Raffi meet a punk on a bus with a boombox playing the song “I Hate You” at high volume, a recreation of a scene from The journey home (even with the same punk), and later discover that their colleague Rios is being taken to a “Sanctuary District”, a concept first introduced in the Deep Space Nine Two-Part “Past Tense”

Pictured: Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard from the original Paramount+ series STAR TREK: PICARD.  Photo Cr: Trae Patton/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS.  All rights reserved.

CBS

And yet there’s a whole storyline where Picard goes to a series of coordinates to arrive at 10 Forward Street, the location of Guinan’s bar in the season premiere. Picard even smiles when he sees the street sign, showing that even he is aware of the funny resemblance to the name of Guinan’s bar on the Enterprise-D† Star Trek is no stranger to coincidence, although the next scene makes me wonder if the writers knew Guinan’s bar is called 10 Forward because it was way up front on deck 10.

Even though it is 2024, Guinan is indeed here, although she is closing shop. But instead of a happy reunion between the two, this version of Guinan doesn’t recognize him at all. This doesn’t seem to bother Picard – he even withholds his name and where he really comes from so as not to disrupt the timeline.

Those who have been watching Trek viewers for a long time will immediately see the problem, namely in that other time travel adventure, the TNG two-part “Time Arrow”, Picard met Guinan in the 19th century. He even saved her life. And that adventure was actually an answer to a long-standing question about the show: how did the two become friends without ever meeting each other before setting foot on the Enterprise-D in season two of TNG† Guinan once said their relationship was “outside of friendship, outside of family” and while the whole adventure may not have been the ideal solution fans wanted, it was good enough at the time.

So when Picard walks into 10 Forward Street, it seems like the perfect opportunity to further deepen the connection between the two characters. Reunited after 131 years! It’s a level of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” that doctor who is known for and has managed to do work, most notably in establishing the relationship between the Doctor and River Song. When the bond between Guinan and Picard is “more than friendship, more than family”, there is room for a new adventure between the two to determine why they care so much about each other.

Pictured: Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard from the original Paramount+ series STAR TREK: PICARD.  Photo Cr: Trae Patton/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS.  All rights reserved.

CBS

Instead, it’s like they’re meeting again for the first time. This Guinan is jaded, almost mad at the state of the earth, which is why she is leaving now. It seems unusually bitter to her, who is usually a caring, curious person. And while Picard feels he can’t reveal details about the future to her, he does feel he must convince her not to leave Earth.

But why? Longtime fans know that at some point she returns to her homeworld, only to become a fugitive when the planet is attacked by (supposedly) the Borg. And when we saw her in “Time’s Arrow,” she was just visiting, and it was unlikely she would stay long, or her mom would show up to pick her up. There isn’t really any record that she would have hung out for another 131 years, even going so far as to open a business or have a dog.

Pictured: Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from the original Paramount+ series STAR TREK: PICARD.  Photo Cr: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS.  All rights reserved.

CBS

I’ve argued before that there’s a point where it becomes unrealistic to expect fans to keep up with all the continuity. There are nearly 30 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and there are days of TV shows to match. And it’s impractical to expect a new Star Trek writer to watch over 800 episodes of the old Trek before being allowed to write a single-word script.

But to watch at least a few episodes of the show that are relevant to the current storyline? That’s not a huge question, especially in a world where everything is available via streaming. We are long past the time when the BBC knew the tapes of Doctor Who or the original prints of films like Star Wars disappear into the void. And no longer are TV show archives locked up in corporate storage facilities or stacked in hardcore collectors’ basements. Just a few clicks on Paramount+ and every episode of a Star Trek series can be recalled on demand. Including ‘Time’s Arrow’.

Pictured: Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan from the original Paramount+ series STAR TREK: PICARD.  Photo Cr: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS.  All rights reserved.

CBS

In fact, it’s understandable that in times of time constraints, the writers may not have been able to watch every episode with Guinan. But even then the excuses are thin, as the writers could do what I did before writing this post: Google it. Bring out Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha, press ‘Guinan’ and scroll through the entry to get a full list of her appearances. There’s even a section specifically about Picard and Guinan’s friendship that would have alerted any reader to the existence of the two-part “Time’s Arrow” even if the writers had never heard of it for some reason.

With 56 years of history and the most writers born after the original series – and newer shows that even employ people born after The next generation – they cannot be expected to know everything. But even as everything becomes “forever available”, there are those who have made it their job to search everything and keep track of every little detail. Some writers argue that continuity can be stifling, and the jury is still out on how much it matters, but in the case of Guinan and Picard, the appeal is the characters’ shared history. A shared history that isn’t hard to look up on today’s internet.

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