Psychologising Picard

Ian Parker is a trekker, not a trekkie, OK? Spoiler Warning.

 

The final, tenth, episode of Picard season 2 has just been released on Amazon Prime, and – some plot spoilers ahead – it is a bit of a mess, throwing away some of the more intriguing themes woven into Jean-Luc Picard’s post-Federation star-ship captain career by the main writer of the first season, Michael Chabon.

What is most striking about this season 2, however, is the intensely ideological ‘psychologisation’ that suffuses the plot. Many reviewers ‘psychologise’ what they are describing when they pretend to delve into the innermost mental states of the characters – explaining why they might have done this or that – or tell us what the author ‘really’ meant when they wrote it. But ‘psychologisation’ is most present in a film or television series or novel when everything is made to seem to be the result of those mental or emotional states. Picard is a case in point.

Relational

This series homed in on Jean-Luc Picard’s childhood, and a narrative parallel to the main one (in which Q meddles with time and the Borg make contact with the Federation) concerns his painful repressed memory of his relationship with his mother. Patrick Stewart, who plays Picard, is older and his twinkly-eyed character is a little slower and gravelly-voiced now, and often more portentous.

This season, like the one before, and like most of the Star Trek franchise series before that, are organised around relationships, with the double-narrative usually tracing encounters and hurt feelings and the resolving of conflicts between different sets of characters. That is, psychologisation of some kind is already at work, with a message beamed to the audience about the importance of listening with respect and acknowledging what someone else, usually an alien, has to say to you.

In this case, in Picard season 2, psychologisation has a peculiarly psychoanalytic shape; that is, the message that we are being subjected to while we watch the encounter between the Federation and the Borg is that this, personal trauma and experience of a certain kind by someone making sense of it, is what really counts.

Picard goes into himself, back into his memory of his mother, and that narrative sequence is used to ‘explain’ why this guy grew up to be a star-ship captain. Along the way other things that trekkers will know about Picard are thrown into the mix and then discarded; like, we know that Picard himself was once assimilated into the Borg, but that past encounter, when he was ‘Locutus’, seems now to have no bearing on what he knows about himself or what the Borg know about him.

Trauma

Instead, the recovery of his traumatic memory is enabled by a big Daddy analyst figure, Q, who also at one point in the season does actually pretend to be a therapist, and the motif of relational connection between Q and Picard is supposed to provide a heart-warming culmination of their past cat-and-mouse relationship.

And this ‘relationship’, the need for connection as the fundamental driving force for human growth (and, it would seem, alien growth too) is replicated in the friendship between Seven of Nine (ex-Borg) and Raffi (an old Picard flame) who muse upon what it is to be alone and who then find each other. And it is replicated in the taunting banter between the Borg Queen and Dr Jurati who are both ‘alone’ in the universe and who are desperate for connection with others. The team that Picard heads back into the past is with, we are told ‘family’, and so everything eventually resolves itself at some point or other into that kind of little close-knit social unit as the model of what it is to be ‘connected’, to relate to others.

Whatever we think of psychoanalysis as something useful, we need to beware of how these motifs are woven into programmes like this, and how what should and could be a critical approach to the construction of our subjectivity under capitalism is turned into a soothing moral injunction; if you really want to be mentally healthy and happy, be like this.

Enjoyment

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this, but you need to have an idea what you are being emotionally gripped by when you watch this kind of thing if you are to stop yourself being entirely assimilated by it, if you can then step back from it and really imagine another world, other kinds of social relationships. Maybe that is the difference between ‘trekkies’ who are uncritically nerdish enthusiasts for anything trek, and ‘trekkers’ who carefully analyse what they are being sold. We are more reflective, like Picard himself haha.

There is much worse than this in Picard, of course. The idea that intergalactic peace relies on the ‘Federation’ as a quasi-UN body modelled on US-American values and on intervention into the life-worlds of other species is pretty bad; don’t get me started on that.


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Ian Parker is a Manchester-based psychoanalyist and a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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