Showrunner Michael Chabon admitted he wanted to “piss off or provoke people” with his first season of Star Trek: Picard.
These comments and more, came in a lengthy discussion the showrunner had with Variety to promote the final episode of Star Trek: Picard.
Variety’s Adam Vary went right for the one million dollar question and asked Chabon, “So were there things about “Picard” that you knew you wanted to do that you could sense would test some boundaries for fans?”
Chabon answered, “Sure. To the extent that I was aware of the kind of toxic fandom, the anti-SJW, you know, sad little corner of fandom — you just disregard that.”
He then added, “Sometimes you’re motivated to have things simply because it’s possibly going to piss off or provoke people who seem to have missed the memo about just what exactly “Star Trek” is and always has been all about.”
Chabon then specifically pointed out the deaths of Icheb and Hugh.
“In the course of this season, we show the death of Icheb, who was a recurring character on “Voyager,” and then the death of Hugh, who was a recurring character on “TNG.” When we talked about it, we definitely had a sense of like, there’s probably going to be some people who are upset that these characters have died.”
He justified Icheb’s saying, “The death of Icheb has now become part of the story of Seven of Nine. It felt completely called for and we couldn’t have told her story without it. I mean, the death of Icheb is upsetting partly because it’s fairly gruesome, which I understand, but also because, you know, he’s so powerless, he has no agency. He’s really a victim.”
He then justified Hugh’s death, “But that isn’t the case with the death of Hugh. He dies trying to do what he’s been trying to do for his entire adult life, which is help former Borg. His death felt meaningful.”
Chabon then detailed he did not understand that some fans would be upset about certain characters being killed:
“I will say, I don’t think I quite understood that there were going to be people who would be upset about a character’s death regardless of how that character died. That simply the fact of a character dying — that was not okay with them. Even if I had known that I would have ultimately dismissed it because it seems — I just don’t understand television in that way.”
Chabon appears to be missing the point about how fans are reacting to the characters’ deaths. It’s not that the characters died, but it’s the fact that these characters had already gone through deep character arcs in previous series. Chabon and Picard seem to have only included them in their story to kill them off. It looks and feels cheap.
Not only does it feel they included these characters to just kill them off, but the show uses gore in an attempt to add a shock value to their deaths. That’s a huge negative.
The way Picard treats death, it turns the show and Star Trek into a bargain bin version of Game of Thrones. It’s like Chabon saw Ned Stark’s death from Season 1 and wanted to clone the emotional feeling viewers got from it. However, he failed spectacularly.
The reactions to character deaths wasn’t the only fan reaction Chabon spoke about. He also went into detail on how he views those fan reactions, admitting he peruses Twitter and Reddit.
Chabon begins by saying that he probably should ignore fan reactions to the show like a number of his Picard partners.
” I mean, one possible response that I could have had — and I think some of my partners on “Picard” do have — is to ignore it all completely. Or to just take a little glance, maybe look at Rotten Tomatoes, see what the kind of consensus of the reviews from the critics has been, which has been pretty darn favorable, and just sort of leave it at that.”
He then reveals he peruses Reddit and Twitter.
“I’ve gone maybe half a dozen times since this season started to look on Reddit. I will say, the quality of comment and of criticism on Reddit is so much vastly higher than it is on Twitter, even some quite strongly negative criticism. It tends to be much better reasoned, much better supported with evidence, in a way that I can respect and engage with and listen to.”
However, earlier in the interview, Chabon noted he was excited about fan reactions.
“It’s been pretty exciting. I think inevitably I spent a fair amount of time looking around on Twitter and Reddit, you know, trying to get a sense of people’s responses. Twitter’s kind of a horrible place, too, so I wasn’t really encouraged to spend too much time looking around.”
He added, “As someone who spent a fair amount of time over the years on Memory Alpha, looking on Reddit, enjoying the way people enjoy “Star Trek” online — it’s been so fun to see [the show] getting absorbed into the kind of greater corpus of “Star Trek.” What makes me feel good is when I see it being treated, in a sense, the same by fans as previous versions of the show.”
As for the negative fan reaction, Chabon tries to explain it away saying other Star Trek shows were “hated” and “lacerated.”
“I actually went back and looked on Google Groups, which acquired Usenet, so you can look through the old Usenet groups and watch what people said about “Deep Space Nine” and then about “Voyager.” They f—ing hated it. They lacerated it. I mean, plenty of people liked it and loved it.”
He added, “But the criticisms that are being leveled against “Deep Space Nine,” and then against Janeway, female Captain, black Vulcan [Tim Russ’s Tuvok] — all of the things that were problematic for certain contingent of so called “Star Trek” fans back then, the way that they attack each other and the way they attack the show — it’s identical to now.”
He continued, “They could just turn them into 140 characters or whatever it is now on Twitter and you could make tweets out of them and it would still work just as well for “Discovery” or “Picard.””
However, maybe the biggest revelation is that Chabon admits he wanted to add darker, grimmer elements to Star Trek in the vein of Westworld and Breaking Bad.
Chabon explains, “You come to “Star Trek,” I think, as a fan, especially if you’ve watched all the episodes many, many times, with this expectation that you won’t have to tolerate that kind of level of “darkness” for that long.”
He continues, “And so that when a show in this era asks you to do what you are readily willing to do with a show like “Westworld” or “Breaking Bad” or whatever — somehow, the mere fact that it’s “Star Trek” makes it hard to accept.”
Chabon adds, “And I actually get that. It’s a little weird for me, too. Both in conceiving this show, and sometimes, if I can give myself enough distance as I’m watching the episodes as they’re dropping, I can feel this deep wiring in my brain that wants “Star Trek” to be episodic.”
Another interesting tidbit from the interview came when Variety’s Adam Vary notes that Picard had a mandate to depart from its roots in The Next Generation” He writes, “It’s all in keeping with the mandate Chabon says Stewart gave him and his team, to make “Picard” as different from the actor’s first “Trek” series as possible.”
Chabon has routinely placed the idea of the Picard show at the feet of Patrick Stewart. During a Q&A on Instagram last month, Chabon highlighted Stewart’s condition for being involved with the production:
“Sir Patrick was very clear and explicit with us, from the outset, that his returning to the role of Jean-Luc Picard, like his previous return to the role of Professor X in LOGAN, depended on our creating a series written and intended for an older, more mature audience, about an older, more battered hero, one that would accurately reflect and take into account the burden of years, disappointments, and regrets. So that is what we set about doing.”
In the interview Chabon also tried to deflect criticism from the show by detailing his initial reaction to the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He made it clear how he initially felt, “I was sitting in front of my TV, watching “Encounter at Farpoint,” and I hated it. I kind of hate-watched it — although we didn’t have that term then — for most of the first season.”
However, he then details that during the second season he came to the realization that the episode was actually good. “At some point in the second season, I realized, oh, wow, that was a good episode. The show actually did get better. It takes a while to figure out what a show is.”
That episode has one of the best cameos of the entire franchise. DeForest Kelley’s Bones explained the importance of the Enterprise to Lt. Commander Data. It was one of the greatest examples of passing the torch to a new generation I’ve ever seen.
While Chabon might attempt to deflect criticism with his own personal story, it’s not stopping hundreds of thousands of people from tuning out of the show.
What do you think of Chabon’s views on non-social justice fans? Does that attitude reflect a franchise such as Star Trek. Will you watch the second season of Star Trek: Picard?