The Disappointment of “STAR TREK: PICARD” Season One Finale

THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF “STAR TREK: PICARD” SEASON ONE FINALE

The Season One finale for “STAR TREK: PICARD”, (1.10) “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, was such a disappointment to me. To be honest, I did not foresee my negative reaction. Yes, I will admit that the entire season was not perfect. But I still managed to enjoy it . . . until I saw the season finale. Let me be frank. I had several issues with it.

My first disappointment from “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” proved to be the death of the synthetic individual known as Sutra. Despite being built up as a dangerous antagonist for retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and his crew, her death proved to be so ridiculously anti-climatic that I found myself rolling my eyes. The moment Data’s creator, Dr. Noonian Soong, had discovered that she was responsible for the death of another synthetic and framed the Romulan spy Narek for it, he automatically shut her down. That was it. No conflict . . . nothing.

My second disappointment manifested in the appearances of both the Romulan and Starfleet fleets above the synthetics’ planet, Coppelius. Overdone much? I have not seen this many combatants appear for a single battle since Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films. Why did Starfleet Admiral (and Romulan mole) Oh sent such a large fleet of Romulan war birds against the planet? It was so unnecessary. And it made the ridiculously large fleet of Starfleet ships equally unnecessary to me. Which led me to another head scratcher . . . why was Will Riker in command of the Starfleet armada? Why? Aside from being a reservist officer, he had retired from full duty with Starfleet. Why would Starfleet send an reservist to a hot spot like Coppelius, when there were probably plenty of other competent on-duty commanders who could have led the armada to Coppelius?

My third disappointment was the fate of Dr. Agnes Jurati, a Daystrom Institute cyberneticist who had been recruited by Admiral Oh to spy on Picard. Why was she never turned over to Federation authority for the murder of her lover and fellow cyberneticist Dr. Bruce Maddox in (1.05) “Stardust City Rag”? She had confessed her crime to Picard and other members of the La Sierena crew, later in the season. Speaking of murder – did Picard and the others ever learn about the murder of black-marketeer Bjayzl at the hands of Seven-of-Nine, an ex-Borg and former member of the U.S.S. Voyager’s crew in the same episode? Seven had murdered her former lover for the torture and death of Seven’s protegee, ex-Borg and former Delta Quadrant resident, Icheb. If not, I can understand how she got away with murder. If Picard and the others had found out about Seven’s crime, why was she still free – like Agnes?

My fourth disappointment? Data’s death. Why was it necessary to relive his death in another STAR TREK production and in another setting? Was this scene all about Picard finally learning to accept his death? What made this ridiculous to me is that . . . Picard’s final acceptance of Data’s death had occurred within Picard’s consciousness following his own physical death. I mean . . . seriously? Besides, this entire scene was such a waste for me. I had learned to accept Data’s death after watching the 2002 movie, “STAR TREK: NEMESIS” for the first time.

My fifth disappointment? The Federation/Starfleet. The season had earlier hinted that the Federation was moving toward a less than ideal or less tolerant place. But this topic was never fully explored or exploited for that matter. And the showrunners reseted the organization’s status quo – much to my major disappointment – by sending Starfleet to come to the rescue of synthetics on Coppelia in the finale. Why? The Federation had spent most of Season One being hostile toward synthetics. How did the show runners suddenly do an 180-degree spin on this situation? They did this by having Picard expose Admiral Oh as a Romulan mole and the Romulans’ role in the destruction of the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards – an incident that led to the Federations’ hostility toward synthetics. Why did the show runners do this? I have no idea, but it is typical of the Star Trek franchise. When it comes to exploring the ugliness of humanity, the franchise always cops out in the end. Always.

My sixth disappointment with the episode? “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” featured a moment in its last scene in which Picard’s friend and former colleague Rafaella “Raffi” Musiker exchanged glances and held hands with Seven-of-Nine. Huh? When did that happen? This whole relationship had popped out from no where. Trek fans had spent years complaining about Seven’s last relationship with Voyager’s executive officer, Commander Chakotay, during the last few episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. I have come across very few complaints about the excessive speed of her romance with Raffi. Talk about queer baiting. What makes this so annoying is that this was the second time “PICARD” had pulled this stunt. Apparently, the series attempted to develop some kind of relationship between Agnes Jurati and the La Sirena’s captain and former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. I hate to say this but Santiago Cabrera and Alison Pill have no screen chemistry whatsoever. And I have also noticed the lack of romantic interaction between the pair since their only on-screen kiss, earlier in the season.

And my final complaint about “STAR TREK: PICARD”? The death of Jean-Luc Picard. Was it really necessary? Surely the series’ show runners could have saved this scenario for the series finale? As for moving Picard’s consciousness into a golem construct of his body . . . I was disgusted. I was disgusted that Dr. Soong and Agnes had committed this act without Picard’s consent. I would equate this action to Willow Rosenberg bringing Buffy Summers back from dead in Season Six of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. What I found even more disgusting is that Picard had never condemned either Soong and Agnes for fiddling with his consciousness – his self – without his consent. Many fans may have been thrilled by this action. I was not. Someone had pointed out that earlier in the season, Picard had expressed a desire to survive ailment that would eventually kill him. But I do not recall Picard giving anyone permission – verbal or written – to have his consciousness transferred from his dying body to an android or any other entity. To commit such a major act without any thought to or discussion about the moral consequences is just abhorrent to me. And lazy writing.For me, it was an act of violation of a person’s individuality. I hope that the series would address this issue in Season Two. But I suspect they will not.

Overall, I did enjoy Season One of “STAR TREK: PICARD”. But I can honestly say that I did not find it particularly mind-blowing. I also felt that it had a few episodes that seemed more of a miss than a hit. But for me, the biggest miss or disappointment was its finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”. I hope that the series does a better job in its second season.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1810s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1810s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1810s

1. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in this award winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton.

2. “Emma” (2009) – Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon starred in this excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The four-part miniseries was adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

3. “Vanity Fair” (1987) – Eve Matheson starred in this superb adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The sixteen-part miniseries was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and Michael Owen Morris; and adapted by Alexander Baron.

4. “Pride and Prejudice” (1980) – Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The five-part miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

5. “War and Peace” (2016) – Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred in this excellent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper.

6. “Vanity Fair” (1998) – Natasha Little starred in this award winning adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The six-part miniseries was directed by Marc Munden and adapted by Andrew Davies.

7. “Emma” (1972) – Doran Godwin and John Carson starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by John Glenister.

8. “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This sequel to the 1955 television movie, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”, conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Directed by Norman Foster, the TV movie starred Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York.

9. “War and Peace” (1972) – Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie starred in this superb adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The twenty-part miniseries was adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by John Davies.

10. “Poldark” (1996) – John Bowe and Mel Martin starred in this television adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1981 novel from his Poldark series, “The Stranger From the Sea”. The television movie was directed by Richard Laxton and adapted by Robin Mukherjee.

“TAP ROOTS” (1948) Review

“TAP ROOT” (1948) Review

I am sure that many are aware of Mississippi-born Confederate soldier-turned-Unionist Newton Knight and his formation of the “Free State of Jones”, which opposed Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War. I first heard about Knight and his men while watching Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, “THE CIVIL WAR”. But I had no idea that knowledge of this little corner of Civil War history went back even further.

Recently, Hollywood released a movie version about Knight and his followers in the 2016 historical drama, “FREE STATE OF JONES”. However . . . some seventy-four years earlier, a novel titled “Tap Roots”, which had been written by James H. Street, hit the bookstores. It told the story of a cotton planter, his family and a newspaper publisher; who had decided to remain neutral during the first year of the Civil War. Unfortunately, their decision to remain neutral led to disastrous consequences for the planter and his family, along with other local men who decided to follow them. Six years later in 1948, Universal Pictures made a movie adaptation of Street’s novel.

In a nutshell . . . “TAP ROOT” begins in the fall of 1860. Northern Mississippi plantation owner Big Sam Dabney and his son Hoab express concern over Abraham Lincoln’s election as the 16th president and the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union. Both men begin to consider having Levington County in Lebanon Valley, location of the family’s cotton plantation, remain neutral if a civil war breaks out. Meanwhile, Hoab’s older daughter, Morna Dabney, becomes engaged with Army officer, Clay McIvor. Younger sister Aven is jealous, due to also being in love with Clay. As for Morna, local newspaper owner Keith Alexander becomes attracted to her.

Before 1860 ends, Big Sam dies, leaving Hoab in full control of the family’s neutral stance. And poor Morna has a riding accident, leaving her physically disabled and her engagement to Clay in jeopardy. Apparently, the latter is unable to maintain interest in a disabled woman and transforms his sexual interest to Morna’s younger sister, Aven. This gives Keith the opportunity to court Morna and help her recover from Clay’s rejection. However, Mississippi secedes from the Union, driving Hoab, Keith and the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend, Tishomingo, to organize Levington County’s neutral stance and secession from Mississippi.

There are aspects of “TAP ROOTS” that I found admirable. Alexander Golitzen’s production designs for a Northern Mississippi community between 1860 and 1861 struck me as pretty admirable, if not mind blowing. I could say the same about Yvonne Wood’s costume designs. However, there were some signs of 1940s fashion getting in the way, especially in the men’s costumes. The shoulders for Van Heflin’s jackets struck me as so wide that I found myself wondering if he had portrayed a time traveler from the 1940s. On the other hand, I found Winton C. Hooch and Lionel Lindon’s photography of the Southern California and North Carolina locations rather beautiful, thanks to its sharp color. And I thought director George Marshall did an admirable job with the film’s action scenes. I was especially impressed by the final conflict between Levington County’s “rebels” and the local Confederate forces. Between Marshall’s direction, Hooch and Lindon’s photography, and Milton Carruth’s editing, that final action sequence proved to be one of the film’s finer aspects.

If I must be honest, I did not have any problems with the performances featured in “TAP ROOTS”. Well . . . with most of the performances. Van Heflin gave an entertaining, yet commanding performance as the cynical newspaper editor Keith Alexander. Susan Hayward was equally commanding as Southern belle Moana Dabney, who endured her own trials while her own personal life fell apart. I did not care for the character of Clay McIvor, who struck me as something of a jerk; but I cannot deny that Whitfield Connor did a solid job in bringing his character to life. A very young Julie London really held her own as Moana’s younger sister, Aven Dabney, who managed to win Clay’s love from Moana, following the latter’s riding accident. Russell Simpson gave a entertaining performance as Moana’s colorful grandfather, Big Sam Dabney. Ruby Dandridge, mother of Dorothy Dandridge, gave a solid performance as the Dabneys’ housekeeper, Dabby. And I can say the same about Richard Long’s portrayal of Moana’s younger brother, Bruce Dabney; Arthur Shields as Reverend Kirkland; and Sondra Rogers as Shellie Dabney.

Despite the solid performances that permeated “TAP ROOTS”, two of them proved to be problematic for me. First, there was Ward Bond’s portrayal of Hoab Dabney, the Mississippi planter who not only inherit the family’s cotton plantation following his father’s death, but also the latter’s plans for a neutral Mississippi. I might as well say it. I found Bond’s performance to be an exercise in histrionics. I found this surprising since Bond has never struck me as a hammy acting. I wish that director George Marshall had found a way to rein in his acting – especially in one scene in which Hoab came into conflict with Moana over her past relationship with Clay McIvor. Alas, I thought Bond gave his hammiest performance in that one scene. The other problematic performance came from Boris Karloff, who portrayed the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend and retainer, Tishomingo. Mind you, Karloff gave a competent and subtle performance as one of the few sensible characters in this movie. And although many may have been put off by a British actor portraying a Native American, I was surprised to discover that Karloff had possessed both English and East Indian ancestry from both of his parents. I do not know if that gave the actor a pass, considering he still lacked any Native American ancestry. But if I really had a problem with Karloff’s performance is that he had portrayed Tishomingo as if the character was an Englishman. Even if Karloff had been portraying a white American, I still would have found his performance slightly problematic.

And what about the narrative for “TAP ROOTS”? Did I like it? Honestly? No. For me, the 1948 movie had failed to impress me. And this is a pity. I believe the problem stemmed from the movie’s original source, the 1942 novel. Author James H. Street had claimed he was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, when he wrote his novel. However, out of fear that Knight’s life was too controversial – namely his common-law marriage to former slave Rachel Knight – Street changed the nature of Knight’s story. The leading characters of “TAP ROOTS” were portrayed as members of Mississippi’s planter class. They opposed slavery – at least one or two characters had claimed this – but also owned slaves. But aside from the Dabneys’ “faithful” housekeeper Dabby, all other slaves were minor characters who barely spoke. If a movie is going to have its main characters claim to be anti-slavery, why ignore the topic for the rest of the film? Newton Knight’s grandfather was a major slave owner in northern Mississippi during the early 19th century. But Knight and his father had opposed slavery and became yeoman farmers who never owned slaves. Knight had been an Army deserter and managed to successfully opposed the Confederate authority in Jones County between 1863 and 1865. The Daubey family and Keith Alexander had no such success in “TAP ROOTS”. And I never understood this. Why did Street and later, the movie’s writers did not follow Knight’s Civil War experiences? What was the point of creating this story if they were not willing to closely follow Knight’s conflict with the Confederate authorities? Why not allow the Daubey family to be yeoman farmers who opposed slavery? Street and the filmmakers could have still kept out Newton Knight’s relationship with Rachel Knight.

Instead, I found myself watching a movie in which the main protagonists claimed they opposed slavery, yet practiced it and barely touched upon the subject for most of the film. The movie literally dragged its feet between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. And although I disliked Moana Dabney’s romance with the unworthy Clay McIvor, I found Keith Alexander’s “courtship” of her rather troubling. In Keith’s attempt to get Moana to forget about Clay, he resorted to bouts of manhandling her that seemed to border on sexual assault. For some reason, this reminded me of the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler relationship from “GONE WITH THE WIND”. And not in a good way. I also had a problem with the film’s portrayal of Lebanon Valley’s citizens. I noticed that the film seemed to portray them as mindless citizens who followed the Dabneys’ anti-Confederate stance without any real explanation. Like the Dabney slaves, Hoab’s followers lacked any real agency. Did author James Street, along with the filmmakers of this movie really lacked the courage to convey a story about how a Southern-born yeoman farmer and others from his class had successfully fought against the Confederacy? Or even exploring his anti-slavery stance? Back in the 1940s?

In the end, this is my real problem with “TAP ROOTS”. James Street and producer Walter Wanger took a historical event from the Civil War and used fiction – a novel and its Hollywood adaptation – to render it toothless. Its main historical figure Newton Knight had been transformed into a borderline hysterical and controlling cotton planter and member of the elite. The story failed to explore what led many of the planter’s combatants to follow him. The story barely touched upon the topic of anti-slavery, while including slaves as minor and background characters. And the movie dumped some tepid attempt at a “GONE WITH THE WIND” clone romance to keep movie goers interested. The movie had some virtues. But in the end, the movie vague adaptation of Newton Knight’s Civil War experiences simply fell flat. I hope and pray I am never inclined to watch this film again.