Fan Collective Unimatrix 47 Blog – “Monsters”: The Stories We Tell

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Exploring the inside of a character’s mind is not new ground for Star Trek, as anyone who’s watched DS9 can attest, and again, Picard doesn’t exactly cover new ground. However, Picard does approach this story conceit from a radically different perspective. The episode explores Picard’s trauma from a child’s perspective, beautifully obscuring the events with the trappings of a fairy tale, but “Monsters” is the seventh episode in a ten episode season. As such, it should have offered slightly more payoff than it does, especially as the episode ends with yet another cliff-hanger ending that the show will need to resolve.

Plot Ahoy!

One can divide “Monsters” into roughly two stories, though this episode doesn’t particularly fit neatly into the A/B story format Star Trek frequently employs. The episode draws the division along the lines of “Picard” and everyone else.

Picard’s story centers on Picard facing his childhood memories of his mother, which an-as-yet-unnamed counselor attempts to draw out of him via the medium of a story Picard tells. The story opens with a queen telling a story to her son, the prince, and just as the queen gets to the lesson, a monster appears beyond the glass windows the Queen is painting. The Queen and the prince flee into a dark place underneath the castle, and the queen disappears, leaving the prince alone and caught in the darkness. Tallinn, who has used technology to enter Picard’s mind for the purposes of awakening him from his coma.

She finds herself rescuing the Prince who leads them through a door into the atrium with which we’ve become familiar. Picard, meanwhile, has been arguing with the therapist when the scene melts into the atrium. Tallinn finds Picard there and gets to watch as Picard fights with the therapist again. However, this time, they identify each other as father and son. Maurice Picard explains that his mother suffered from issues that made her dangerous. Maurice admits that the couldn’t save her, and Picard begins to understand that he may never have known his father at all.

Picard, awake, decides that all of this self-realization may have been Q’s plan, so he goes to Guinan to see if she can summon Q. She believes she can, but her attempt fails. However, a man from the FBI comes into the bar and shows them a video of Picard beaming into the alleyway. They are swarmed by law enforcement and arrested.

With respect to everyone else, Seven and Raffi head back to the Sirena, where they discover that the Borg Queen has begun assimilating Jurati. They go to try and find her. Rios must navigate Teresa’s understandable concerns regarding who these people are who have taken over her clinic. Rios explains that he works in outer space and takes Teresa and her son onto the Sirena after Teresa saves Picard’s life with a 24th century tool Rios has Raffi procure for them.

Meanwhile, incipient Queen Jurati remains at large in Los Angeles, apparently breaking bar windows to keep her endorphins flowing.

Analysis:

“Monsters” is an episode very much about fear: Picard’s childhood terror, Teresa’s fear of Rios turning out to be a bad decision, Seven’s issues with the Borg, and Raffi’s fear of whatever the future holds with Seven. Generally, I think Picard has handled the big emotional beats very well, but “Monsters”: is the seventh episode of a very, very short season. I find myself asking whether this is really the time as far as the season goes to spend an entire episode developing a character study over what otherwise might have driven the season’s plot forward.

There’s a moment when Orly Brady’s Tallinn looks up at Picard and reminds him that there’s more to the story about the white door, and I think that’s when “Monsters” lost me. I am by far the first person to admit that I love a good metaphor, and to be sure, I loved that the episode used the story conceit to allow a young Picard the opportunity to express the trauma in a child-appropriate way. However, “Monsters” offered less in terms of pay off and more of a belaboring of a point. Yes, we get it. Picard is at the center of the season. He’s literally the eponymous character; there’s no surprise there. We certainly understand that Picard’s emotional life remains at the season’s heart, but with only three episodes remaining in the season, I’m not convinced spending this much time developing a story and refusing to finish it makes much sense in terms of pacing.

I did really care for the way the episode alluded to The Voyage Home, with Rios not only paraphrasing Kirk but also bringing Teresa and Ricardo aboard the Sirena, but the moment when he admits to being a good man doesn’t quite work. Yes, we know that Rios is a good man, but where is the thing he’s developing with Teresa realistically going to go? Is a good man going to risk destroying the timeline to impress a lady? Does Rios intend to remain in 2024? This episode wants to raise so many questions, but honestly, at this point in the season, these episodes need to begin offering answers rather than more mysteries.

That said, I worry about what the rest of the season intends to do with the story of Yvette Picard. I find it interesting that everyone involved with Yvette’s tragedy–the show clearly expects us to find it a tragedy—but Yvette has had the opportunity to comment on her situation. Young Picard refers to his father as a monster for trying to separate Yvette from her son. Maurice defends his actions by intimating that he wanted to protect both Yvette and Picard from her mental illness and did the best he could, despite ultimately failing. Picard himself even accepts it. One could make the argument that Yvette hasn’t been given a voice because the entire story is built from Picard’s memories, and she therefore would not have an explicit voice. However, “Monsters” itself undercuts that argument by allowing Maurice to speak to his son on his own, even if he does so as a figment of Picard’s mind. The story could afford Yvette the same opportunity, but it doesn’t, instead using her character as the battleground on which Picard faces his father. “Monsters” makes Yvette a plot device to drive the stories of the two men in her life rather than her own.

“Monsters” treats none of its female characters well. When faced with the possibility that they could have loosed a new Borg Queen on an unsuspecting Earth, Seven, whom we know to be a competent, capable person does not respond to the deteriorating situation by either devising a potential solution on her own or even consulting her peers and form a plan of action. Rather, she simply tells Raffi, an accomplished tactical thinker in her own right, that “We need Picard.” Then, Rios manages to overcome Teresa’s justifiable mistrust with, what, his charm? He literally looms over her while professing to be a good man or at least one that would become a good man just to be what she needs? Heck, even Tallinn ends up staring adoringly up at Picard saying that he uses his well of childhood pain to save worlds. Casual sexism is never a good look, but it’s especially problematic in Star Trek, a franchise that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos.

Ito Agahayere’s youthful Guinan emerges as a highlight in what is otherwise a painful episode to watch. She’s as snarky as none would hope her to be, and she just feels so entirely real in an episode that has rendered these characters caricatures of themselves. However, someone please tell me why the FBI have involved themselves in this situation? Could this be one of Arik Soong’s machinations? Because otherwise, I don’t see the FBI getting bent enough around the axle to send out a retrieval team over what would be completely unbelievable footage.

Here’s hoping this week’s episode offers something more of substance.

Rating:

Two cups of Earl Grey Tea and a saucer

Stray Thoughts From the Couch:

  1. Did anyone notice the cameo by Sunny Ozell?
  2. I loved the callback to the Voyage Home.
  3. Oh, yes. Tallinn is Romulan, which somehow maybe serves as a way to keep the Picard/Laris romantic tension alive? Because dropping him back in his own time to explain to Laris that he “fell in love with her ancestress and could they please snog now” isn’t creepy in the slightest. Y’all, what’s going on with this season of Picard?

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