Tag Archives: Jean Luc Picard

Star Trek gave me a favorite lullaby

Every time I sing Frère Jacques to the Geek Baby, I’m reminded that I learned the song from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the episode “Disaster.” Picard sings the song with the children he’s ended up stranded with… and it’s the only source I have for the song. I don’t speak French at all otherwise, which is especially apparent when I sing the third line…

The link should be to only one instance of them singing it (that video loops for 10 minutes!).

What songs do you only know from TV?


Let’s Talk About First Officers

This month’s Star Trek post is a collaboration with fellow contributor Rose B. Fischer. We’ve seen a lot of misinformation floating around about Starfleet’s first officers, so we’re here to spread some knowledge!

Space operas like Star Trek are drawn from westerns, swashbucklers, and naval/maritime epics. So the captain is a combination of tropes from those genres. Usually, it’s one part maverick, one part wandering hero, and one part charismatic leader. Star Trek adds a heavy dose of diplomat, since Starfleet is committed to peaceful exploration rather than conquest, intractable optimism and strong humanistic values. Those are Star Trek‘s defining characteristics and the captain is the show’s mouthpiece, so it makes sense that the character would also be the embodiment of the Federation’s mores. The captain’s first love is the ship, and every relationship is either built around or overshadowed by the siren song of space.

Headshots of Kirk and Picard.

The first officer shares the captain’s love of space, and is a composite of the same tropes as the captain. The first officer is supposed to be qualified to command to ship in the event that the captain is unfit for duty, and has the potential to be captain in their own right, so the two characters will have a lot of similarities in terms of skills sets, moral composition, and affinity for space. They’re meant to be complementary opposites, so their personalities and skills will usually mesh well and benefit the crew as a whole.

The captain’s personality informs the shipwide culture while the first officer’s function is usually to provide balance by meeting the needs of the ship and crew where the captain is less proficient. In TOS, Spock’s knowledge of science and ability to process information are assets to Kirk when the Enterprise encounters new life forms. His adherence to Vulcan logic makes him more apt to advise drastic action when the lives of the crew are at stake, while Kirk’s reluctance to engage in violence usually means the ship gets drawn further and further into trouble. In the end, it’s almost always a scientific edge that helps the crew out of hot water, and a lot of the solutions are facilitated by a combination of Spock’s knowledge and Kirk’s stubborn ingenuity.

"Insufficient facts always invite danger." -Spock

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.” -Spock

I see a lot of TNG critics (and fans) saying that Picard and Riker amount to nothing but a role reversed version of Kirk and Spock. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Riker was meant to be the more physically active of the pair, leading away teams and generally being in the position of the young, handsome hero, but his role is pretty different from both Kirk and Spock. Aside from leading away teams and a tendency to romance alien women, Riker is about as similar to Captain Kirk as I am to a sponge. He’s often shown managing crew assignments, is more approachable, and has a more casual way of interacting with subordinates than Kirk does. His job is as much to relate to the Enterprise crew and manage day to day operations as it is to lead away missions. Captain Picard has the crew’s respect as a leader, but it’s often clear that Picard himself isn’t comfortable with personal interactions where Riker excels. The TOS crew may not have always understood or related to Spock, but unlike Picard, Spock was not shown to be reluctant or uncomfortable with the crew. He related to them on his own terms, as a Vulcan.

"Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody." -Riker

“Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.” -Riker

The contrast between Spock and Riker especially stood out to me (Hannah) in my grand rewatch, because it’s such a distinct change. They’re very different characters — like Spock and Data are very different, despite constant comparisons — but they also show the transition between TOS and TNG. TOS was more conceptual, and there was less interest in showing a spaceship’s daily operations. Spock’s job as first officer was essentially to advise Kirk. He was technically second in command, but most of the time they were off on the same missions anyway. His role as science officer was much more important, and correlated to his role as the intellectual part of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy soul-mind-heart trio.

When TNG came along, narrative styles were changing, and the show was more interested in daily life. I love the more stylized TOS characters, but this step toward more-realistic ones is a huge factor in why Star Trek has had such longevity. Riker balances Picard’s skills, but he also seems to have a distinct function on the ship as first officer. He doesn’t have an additional role like science officer or anything else. The most obvious thing is that he leads away missions instead of the captain and first officer both endangering themselves, and he advises Picard as needed, but especially in the first season, the captain and first officer almost function like two departments of the ship. They’re advisory to each other, with the captain in charge of decisions, but the first officer in charge of personnel and planning. It makes the ship seem bigger, and gives them both something to do in these stories that include logistics as well as moral dilemmas.

Still of Ferengi and Captain Picard from "The Battle."

“The Battle” is a great episode for captains and first officers.

Most episodes understandably focus on ideas and characters over explaining the finer details of how Starfleet works, but it’s really super impressive how well they balance those story roles with ship functions as the show progresses. Plus the role of first officer is about to get even more interesting, since the main protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery is going to be the first officer. But no matter which show, keep an eye out next time you watch, and let us know what you think!

Star Trek Self-Help Books: A Thing?

The first time I came across a Star Trek-themed self-help book, I thought it was an interesting novelty. Perhaps something to review! Then I found a second one… then a third… and an honorable mention. So I read them all. For you, so you don’t have to do it yourself. Definitely not for my own enjoyment… Ahem.

Boldly LiveBoldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before: Unauthorized and Unexpected Life Lessons from Star Trek by Richard Raben (1995)

This book bills itself as a lesson on patterning yourself after heroic traits, as represented by Star Trek characters. It’s pretty generic, but if you want a pep talk with a Trek theme, here you go. It’s often simplistic, and while the four heroic types (Analysts, Leaders, Warriors, and Relaters) may line up with Trek to some extent, they don’t really match the full range of possible personalities in the real world. But I appreciated the lack of gender essentialism, and the open advocacy of taking fictional characters as mentors, not even just role models. Plus it spans the first four series, not just TOS or TNG.

Make It SoMake It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation by Wess Roberts and Bill Ross (1995)

Two from 1995? Apparently the Nineties thought Trek was really inspiring? I have no idea. Anyway, this book is written entirely as Captain Picard’s retellings of episodes as he reminisces on his life and the leadership skills he’s learned as a starship captain. It’s an… interesting choice. Put another way: Who thought this was a good idea? They make Picard sound like someone’s grandmother in a cozy mystery, for one thing, but also, who’s going to sit and read all this just to get some leadership lessons you could find basically anywhere? The funniest part of the whole book is the authors thinking they might have readers who’ve never seen Star Trek.

Quotable Star TrekQuotable Star Trek by Jill Sherwin (1999, republished 2010)

This one is the honorable mention, because it’s not really a self-help book, but ironically it’s the best book on this list. Sherwin went through the four Trek series and eight movies to collect the best quotes ever, sorting them into 32 categories (such as “The Human Condition,” “Humor,” “Technology,” and so on). I must’ve gotten my copy when the book had just been re-issued, and I actually picked it up on a regular basis to browse through and get a little inspired. I packed it in a box somewhere when I moved a couple of years ago, thinking I wouldn’t need it for a while, and I miss it ALL THE TIME, enough that I may just repurchase it if I don’t find it soon. Star Trek IS inspirational and motivational and philosophical, what better way to learn from it than in its own words?

What Would Captain Kirk DoWhat Would Captain Kirk Do? by Brandon T. Snider (2016)

I’m not actually super sure whether this is meant to be self-help, humor, or both. It’s nicely designed, full-page photographs with punchy typography on top, a different tip on each page. It’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, especially if you know some Trek background or you recognize the image Snider’s chosen as accompaniment to the advice. Some tips are very specific — “Have patience when a hostile Kelvan transforms your colleagues into porous cuboctahedron solids.” — and others are more general, as in “Boldly go, or don’t go at all.” Some things are more TOS tips than Kirk tips. But on the whole it’s oddly kind of inspiring? Not expensive, and a fun little book. The Picard version comes out in May!

So, it looks like Star Trek self-help books used to be kind of a thing, but not a very good one? Even so, if you know another title in this subgenre, let me know in the comments so I can read it! Um, for you…

Could Charlie Brown Grow Up To Be Captain Picard?


Last week’s post about Charlie Brown as Superboy got me thinking about other fun AU possibilities.  Charlie Brown as Captain Jean Luc Picard, for example.  That one seems like more of a stretch to me.  Despite the obvious physical similarities, Charlie Brown is just no Picard.  Perhaps he’s the kind of man that Charlie hopes to be one day.  Or maybe Peanuts Picard is a bit more like the “steady, reliable… punctual” Lieutenant Picard in the alternate timeline episode “Tapestry.”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation, First Impressions

Author’s Note: I watched all the original-cast movies with gusto, but have nothing to add. I suggest this series of articles on EW for insightful commentary on each one.

I love Star Trek: The Next Generation almost as much as the original series, but I’m much less familiar with it. I’ve seen seasons in bits and pieces, mostly when visiting family members who had cable when I was younger — some big swathes of episodes, some random ones here and there. I’ve just started watching the series from start to finish as part of my grand Star Trek watchthrough, and it’s cool to be coming to it straight off the original series. Here are my first impressions of Encounter at Farpoint, informed by memories of the rest of the show.

  • It’s awful. Painfully eager. The cast members hadn’t yet found depths for their characters, and their reactions are comically intense. But trying too hard is, perhaps, better than just being bad, or going off on the wrong track entirely. I do like the idea of having a new crew starting on a new mission, unknown to each other as well as the audience.
  • farpoint_hd_469Those long, lingering shots on their diversity — Vulcan down in engineering, Klingon on the bridge, female security chief. The “no one” replacing “no man” in the opening monologue. A scene describing Geordi’s visor usage in detail. They’re proud, and I’m proud they’re proud.
  • They’re already doing a better job of being an ensemble show, in the newer style that followed “permanent status quo” structures of the 1960s. Even with the one-note acting, they already give the impression of a crew of people with distinct interests, and there are glimmers of the strengths they’ll show later.
  • Picard is weirdly hardass…? He and Riker almost remind me of Gibbs and DiNozzo from NCIS. Which is fine, I love NCIS, but I like them better as themselves. We associate Picard much more with inspiring humanistic speeches. Again, we see some lovely hints, though: “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
  • Data is actually pretty well-formed. They’re not advertising “here’s our Spock,” but rather the newness of an android and what he’ll be able to do on the show. He has a childlike interpretation of events rather than a logical one.
  • farpoint_mccoyADMIRAL MCCOOOOY at age 137! The symbolic handoff is so important to legitimize the show, and Data was a great choice to represent the new generation. Data would be the last person to understand anything McCoy’s ever said, and as a childlike character listening to his elder, his presence creates a sense of newness and hope for the new show.
  • Long, lingering shots of the new set and ship, planets, the holodeck, people using the chest badges… and they disconnect the saucer in the first thirty minutes. They want to show off what the show can look like now.
  • The inclusion of families on the ship is a major change. I’ve always thought it was very unsafe, but I think it’s supposed to indicate Starfleet’s exploratory focus in a more believable way. But the leadership don’t have families, that’s still for scientists and extra people, not really compatible with Starfleet. (Except Dr. Crusher, and Wesley was awful at the beginning just because the lines seemed scripted for a much younger child… And she’s a female character consistently treated in a sexist manner in the early years). Picard makes a point to say he’s not comfortable with children, even. So it’s kind of mixed messages.
  • The plot recalls Star Trek’s first (successful) pilot, with themes of godhood and humanity. But it brings a greater sense of exploration, too. The core plot has that “classic sci-fi” feel, a little sterile but basically about discovering life forms incomprehensibly different from ourselves.
  • This episode is really boring, which makes the conclusion unintentionally funny: “Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir. Picard: Oh no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting.”

Conclusion: The show doesn’t feel grounded yet, and the pace often lags, but it’s got a lot of promise and a genuinely hopeful tone. Can’t wait for more!