Tuesday, April 10, 2007

At this point we finally learn what terrible message Picard received. A concerned Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) find him in his ready room, apparently still in denial, looking through a family scrapbook. In showing her photos of his older brother and his nephew, he suddenly breaks down, and admits that they were both “burned to death in a fire.”

The scene between Patrick Stewart and Marina Sirtis is beautifully played. The dialogue is different (shorter, sharper) from both the shooting script and the novelization. But the most shocking element of it is that Picard cries. His tears within the scene are dramatic and appropriate, and they help to account for the catharsis that evidently happens here, because after this scene, Picard is much more focused on the unfolding crisis. He starts to become a hero.

Later, in the impressive stellar cartography room, Picard will refuse Data’s request to be deactivated—Data’s emotion chip has indeed fused with his neural net, and after his episode of fear, followed by shame and guilt, he cannot cope with his insistent emotions. Picard will tell Data that dealing with emotions is part of being human, and acting in spite of distracting feelings is part of his duty as a Starfleet officer. Picard’s own tragedy gives important weight to these words.

In their commentary, Braga and Moore say that Picard crying was a mistake. In terms of Picard’s character and within the TNG saga, it is not—it’s part of TNG’s emphasis on the relationship of the inner and the outer, the importance of the psyche and of self-knowledge and self-expression in acting wisely as well as decisively. But in terms of this movie, it does not work as well as it could have, if Picard had been established as heroic in an earlier scene.

The ready room scene is the first extended statement of the theme of mortality, family and time. Like Kirk, Picard has given up having a family in order to pursue his vocation in Starfleet. Even though he is not retired from Starfleet, as Kirk was, he admits to Troi that he’d become aware that for him “there are fewer days ahead than there are behind”—in other words, that he is moving towards his death. But though, like Kirk, he had no children, he did have his nephew, Rene. (We saw them together on earth in the TNG episode, “Family,” where Rene’s dreams for his own life seemed to have more in common with his uncle’s than his father’s.)
He took solace, he said, in the idea that the family would go on. But now, it would not. The Picards had a long and proud history, but it would stop. His death would be an even greater finality.

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