Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek” has been portrayed as mostly civilized, intellectual, and — at times — fairly buttoned-up for over four decades. Indeed, he does lose his cool. Certainly, he was careless when he was a young cadet years ago. Certainly, he gets his hands filthy or falls apart on occasion.
On last week’s episode of the streaming drama “Star Trek: Picard,” however, the Enterprise captain-turned-admiral moved into a new role. Now, he is a person who, to the surprise of some and the joy of others, has used a vulgarity that he would never have used in the 1990s: During a dramatic conversation in which Patrick Stewart’s character anticipates that everyone will soon perish, he states, “Ten f—ing torturous hours.”
The whole approach was consistent with the decade’s “Star Trek” sequels’ more intricate and sophisticated style. And the ensuing online discussion highlights the path a fictitious character takes from the constraints of network and syndicated television to high-end streaming entertainment.
“When ‘Star Trek’ was initially released, it was graded G. The Future Generation was pristine and hopeful. Vijaya Davé, a media studies expert at the University of Virginia and a longtime “Star Trek” fan, observes that “Picard” features a little bit more roughness.
This tension was echoed on “Star Trek” Twitter throughout the weekend.
“Completely out of character,” stated one message, echoing several others. Several objected that it cheapened the utopia envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, stating that humanity wouldn’t curse like that 400 years in the future and that a person as refined as Picard wouldn’t require such language.
“Part of the allure of Star Trek is how articulately characters speak. John Orquiola said on Sunday for the website Screen Rant, “Star Trek’s characters are intended to be better than this, so resorting to vulgar language feels like a step backward.” AP Top Stories 16 March This is the most recent information for March 16: The Pentagon discloses a video of a drone assault; Yellen asserts that the financial system is sound; France opposes an increase in the retirement age; and an American murder case in Italy is retried.
The response to the response followed. Christopher Monfette, co-executive producer of the Paramount+ program, wrote a detailed and convincing thread about the moment and why he thinks it succeeded.
“It’s easy to hear that elevated British tone escaping the mouth of a gentlemanly Shakespearean actor and assume some elevated intellectualism,” he said, while conceding: “Criticism of its use is fair even if it merely strikes a personal nerve — or if you’ve equated ‘Trek’ with more expansive, family-friendly storytelling. Nonetheless, cussing in the program is carefully considered and argued in the room or on site. We take the matter seriously.”
This season’s showrunner for “Star Trek: Picard,” Terry Matalas, stated that Picard’s use of the F-word was spontaneous and not rehearsed. Matalas stated that the outcome was “very genuine.”
“Whatever you do as an artist, as a writer or performer, and even as an editor, is genuine. That is what you want to experience, he told Collider. “I was quite conflicted because hearing that term from your boyhood idol, Captain Picard, is jarring. Oh my, is it potent!”
“Star Trek” has a lengthy history of pushing linguistic and cultural barriers.
Captain James T. Kirk remarked, “Let’s get the heck out of here” on network television in 1967, when the phrase was controversial. He had recently lost a loved one in the most difficult of circumstances. The irritable ship’s medic, Dr. McCoy, would frequently mutter, “Dammit, Jim.” Moreover, the original series danced cautiously with NBC censors on everything from women’s attire to racial, sexual, and war themes.
Yet, the crossing of the language barrier last week is an intriguing instance. It underscores the turmoil caused when a beloved character developed during the “family-friendly” television age matures against the streaming world, where limits are fewer and potential for uncompromising authenticity are higher.
“This is not only a revision of a fictitious universe. This is the same actor portraying the same character in the same environment. Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, notes that throughout the years, he has spoken and acted in a specific manner.
Occasionally, this shift occurs irregularly. Velma, a character from the Generation X-era Saturday morning cartoon “Scooby Doo,” recently appeared in a more multicultural animation revival on HBO Max with a high school shower scene and explicit sexual undertones. It has been widely criticized. When “Riverdale” debuted several years ago, the attempts to move Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica from the bright world of comics to the darker world of teen drama had inconsistent and occasionally startling results.
“Star Trek” exists, so to speak, in an entirely separate reality.
Famously, Roddenberry envisioned it as a utopian future in which the main characters avoided confrontation with one another, their society was not motivated by money, and mankind was viewed as inevitably progressing. Purists have condemned “new Trek” for creating a cosmos that is darker and more divided in recent years.
Contrary to popular belief, both allegory and language usage change with the times. Even seven decades ago, when Lucille Ball (and her character) were expecting a child on “I Love Lucy,” the term “pregnant” could not be said on national television — except, interestingly enough, in French.
And for many years before and after, Hollywood’s production code governed how morality and immorality might be represented in film, regulating everything from sexual innuendo to whether criminals were shown sympathetically to whether the good guys prevailed. Thus, the term “Hollywood ending” persists in many aspects of modern life.
All of this begs the question of whether the boundaries themselves, as opposed to their violation, contribute to the creation of memorable film and television.
Thompson states, “Star Trek had a certain degree of genuineness, almost like ‘the 23rd century would be a family-friendly era’.” “The question is what occurs when your characters outlive the norms of the media industry? How can you adapt to the reality that you’re no longer constrained without entirely betraying the universe you’ve created?”
Stewart has stated that he returned to the role because he believed there were new tales to tell. Just as he had matured twenty years since his last “Star Trek” appearance, so had Picard, along with all the corresponding changes.
The type of growth that may lead a guy facing his own death to pick a term that still holds a great deal of weight — even in today’s cursing, streaming culture. When Jean-Luc Picard uses this term, you can be certain he intends it.