I realize that I did “Face of the Enemy” last week, and this week, I’m doing “Tapestry,” the following episode. I’m covering “Tapestry” not because I think it’s a fantastic episode, in fact, I don’t think this is one of TNG’s finest hours. What “Tapestry” does give us is Star Trek’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life, which is not actually a film I’ve ever seen, and in that snippet of film history, we also get a look at the Picard that was, that never should have been, and is. I truly believe that TNG is at its best when it gives its characters room to breathe. “The Inner Light” is arguably one of the best hours of television ever to air, and it’s literally about a character we love getting to live the life he didn’t choose. Conceptually, at least at the grossest of levels, these two episodes share that point in common, the difference being that “The Inner Light” successfully achieves its goals. “Tapestry” does not.
In the cold open, Riker and Worf beam back with various wounded from a failed Away mission. Worf holds an unconscious Captain Picard in his arms. Placing him on a biobed, Dr. Crusher informs everyone that there’s been extensive damage to Picard’s artificial heart. Then, everything fades to white, and Q appears to tell Captain Picard that he died. When the episode opens, Picard insists that the universe is not so badly designed as to have Q in charge of the afterlife, but Q offers Picard the opportunity to change his past to ensure greater longevity. He and Picard appear in a fairly standard room, and Q explains that he’s thrown Picard back into his past.
Picard has the opportunity to undo the bar fight with the Nausicaans that resulted in his artificial heart in the first place. We meet Marta Batanides and Corey Zweller, who are “Johnny”’s friends from the Academy. Corey apparently has a thing for dom-jot, and when the Nausicaans win, he suspects foul play. Corey attempts to reciprocate, and the much older Picard forces him to stand down. As a result, there is no bar fight, and Picard never gets an artificial heart. Q whisks him back to the present, in which he finds himself standing at the back of the bridge, wearing a blue uniform and the rank of Lieutenant, junior grade. Later, Picard encounters Troi and Riker in Ten Forward and suggests to them that he feels he would be suited for the Command track only to be told in polite but firm terms that he isn’t a good candidate. Picard calls out to Q that he would rather die than live the life he currently inhabits, and Q lets him languish long enough for LaForge to bark at Picard that he needs his analysis now before whisking him back to the past. Picard starts the fight with the Nausicaans, gets stabbed, laughs in relief, and wakes up in the present, perfectly fine. The episode ends with Picard opening up to Riker about his youthful misadventures.
The premise of the episode has so much promise on which it fails to capitalize. It’s a Wonderful Life asks the question of what would life be if you’d never been born, and “Tapestry” inquires what would life be if you’d never become you. The episode tries to address that theme, and there are some really fantastic conceits. Patrick Stewart plays himself as twenty-year old with only a costume change, so visually, he remains the more mature, older Picard that we’ve come to know. As a result, his complete and utter inability to mesh with Zweller and to a lesser extent, Batanides makes far more sense than it might otherwise. He stands out like a sore thumb, and frankly, keeping Stewart in the role is brilliant. Unfortunately, that same brilliance dulls a bit when Picard attempts to engage in a romantic relationship with Batanides. We’re meant to believe that she falls in love with the older, more mature Picard because as a character, he’s more seasoned and more settled. Unfortunately, in practice, the episode paints Batanides as a woman with a slight daddy kink who regrets indulging it the next morning. Perhaps if there were the slightest bit of chemistry with J.C. Brandy, the sequence might have worked. However, there is none, and frankly, Picard waking up next to Q is perhaps the least awkward part of that story arc, no matter what the episode’s writers want us to believe.
I dislike that segment because it’s unnecessary. Certainly, the story paints Picard as a bit of a lothario in his youth, which is very different than the Captain he becomes later, and his attempt at a relationship with Batanides serves both primary themes of the story in that Picard evidently regrets never doing so and that he manifestly fails to make a positive change in his past. However, the romance not only feels forced in terms of the script but also falls into the TNG trope that men and women simply cannot be friends. There must be some sort of romantic tension between them, and Batanides, rather than being a capable, 24th Century woman therefore gets sacrificed on the altar of TNG’s regressive attitudes regarding the sexes.
The other issue is that neither of the performances offered by J.C. Brandy nor Ned Vaughn can hold a candle to those provided by either John De Lancie or Patrick Stewart. Vaughn’s Zweller comes off not so much as callow as completely flat, and well, Brandy brings little beyond a certain youthful earnestness to Batanides, which renders Picard’s interest in her all the more confusing. Thus far, Picard’s love interests have had a certain roguish charm (Vash) or exuded competence (Nella Daren), so the match up with Batanides must be one steeped in nostalgia, which is a bit creepy.
The overall takeaway from the show—that we are a result of every decision we have made—seemed life-changing to a twelve year old version of myself, but at thirty eight, I’ve already learned this lesson. Plus, there’s too little invested in Picard’s life as a lieutenant for us to get a sense of how terrible it really is. Credit where credit is due, the conversation that takes place between O-2 Picard and Riker and Troi is a masterpiece of damnation by faint praise. There are plenty of examples in television in which less is more, but this isn’t one of them. The short duration of the sequence robs the rest of the episode of any real stakes. We know Q will return Captain Picard to his regular life, no matter how perfect a decision it may be to let him stew in the alternate future just a heartbeat too long. “Tapestry” falls too early in the season. The death of Captain Picard is at least season finale-worthy.
Furthermore, few of the “insights” we’re granted into a younger Picard make sense. Part of the downside of having Stewart play Picard playing himself in his twenties is that we never see that version of Picard. We’re told he’s a lothario, but he flubs every interaction with a potential romantic interest in the episode. We’re told he’s daring, which we already know, so his willingness to stand up for his friends isn’t particularly shocking. It all just falls flat.
Really, the scenes between Captain Picard and Q are the highlights of an otherwise dull episode. When Picard informs Q that he refuses to believe that Q is in charge of the afterlife? That’s possibly one of the best lines in TNG, if not all of Trek. De Lancie is everything we’ve come to expect of Q—mercurial, flighty, and yet working toward a greater purpose, and I have to admit that the decision to circle back to Picard’s laughter after he’s stabbed is inspired. I’m simply not convinced those sequences are enough to save what is otherwise a drearily predictable episode.
Two cups of tepid Earl Grey Tea and a slightly dirty saucer.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- If the name “Marta Batanides” sounds familiar, it should. She’s referenced in Star Trek: Picard as being Captain to Alonzo Vandermeer’s first officer in “Broken Pieces.”
- Yes, yes, I know that Crusher and Picard never engage in a romantic relationship, but let’s be honest. The romantic tension between them is so thick that it nearly strangles their characters.
- Clive Church is FANTASTIC as Maurice Picard, but really, who in his right mind could be disappointed by Picard????
- Y’all, I really, really want to like this episode, but I just can’t.