Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 26

Some leaders are born, others are made. Some are just written into the script. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard is one of these options. :)

Question: "What is Capt. Jean-Luc Picard's best quality as a leader?"


Andrew's Answer: I'm not a big fan of Picard's leadership. He is often ineffective and makes wrong decisions, and if it weren't for the fact he's the hero, his crew would be dead many times over. But he does display two things I really like. He's not afraid to get input from his staff, which too many self-described leaders don't do, and more importantly, he's patient. Patience is the true key to leadership. Never jump to conclusions. Don't act rashly before you know the real score. Don't act on rumor or emotion. He's patient and that's a great quality any solid leader needs.

Scott's Answer: I answer this question knowing that: a.) Captain Picard isn't the most popular guy 'round these parts, and b.) TNG was my original gateway into Star Trek. Having said that, I for one like Picard's skill with diplomacy and rhetoric, using force only when needed. There's a place for cowboy diplomacy but there's also a place for reasonable discussion. I must also point out that Kirk was Kirk from the very beginning, as if spawned fully-formed from the head of Zeus. Picard, on the other hand, grew over time. Not a lot, mind you, but it's noticeable. (He doesn't speechify nearly as much in later seasons.) I don't know if this was because of new writers constantly coming in, or Gene Roddenberry's declining influence, or Patrick Stewart's request for more fun and action for his character... but the answer probably involves all three.

50 comments:

shawn said...

I'll give it to Picard that he wasn't so bound by Federation edicts when it came to the safety of his crew (I'm looking at you Janeway). The best example of this being the episode Justice in which he defies Edo law and the Prime Directive to rescue Wesley.

DUQ said...

Shawn, he seemed to come and go depending on the needs of the plot what he wanted to follow and what he didn't.

DUQ said...

Scott, I don't really agree that Kirk was all about violence. I can't think of many times he wanted to fight.

ScottDS said...

DUQ -

I'll agree with that as well and I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

In our e-mail exchange, Andrew mentioned that the image of Kirk as hopelessly violent was something from the left, and my reply was:

With 46 years of Trek to reflect on, I admit it seems to be the defining view of Kirk whether we like it or not... "Kirk was the fighter, Picard was the philosopher, etc." Even subsequent Trek writers, directors, and actors all frame it in that context.

And when I mention Kirk was Kirk from the beginning, I'm not specifically talking about that aspect of his character - simply his character as a whole in comparison to Picard.

ScottDS said...

shawn -

Yeah, Janeway was rather inconsistent when it came to the Prime Directive.

I'm hoping one day Andrew and I can start covering the other shows but I think it's gonna be a while. Hell, I'd need to completely rewatch Voyager and Enterprise before embarking on such an... enterprise. :-)

tryanmax said...

Well, Picard never wore a silly lime-green wrap. Seriously though, when compared to Kirk--who was something of an ├╝bermensch--Picard had far more limitations, so he could be seen drawing on the varying strengths of his crew more often.

Also, when it was opportune, Picard exhibited a willingness to explain the rationale behind his orders, which I personally find useful in carrying instructions out, so it is a quality I admire and emulate when I am in leadership.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I get the feeling that whether or not they follow Federation edicts had more to do with the plot that any sort of consistent thinking on their parts.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I just said that! :)

And yes, I made the same point to Scott. This idea that TOS was just Kirk blasting away at things (cowboy diplomacy) is a myth meant to undermine the ideology of the original series. It would be akin to a lot of people calling 2001 just a film about some spaceships.

I think the problem is that Roddenberry turned on the series very quickly and began smearing it as a kid's show. And then liberalism changed and it began to see the original series as ideologically incomprehensible because it didn't conform to the new thinking. So they began to treat it like something no one should take seriously.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We did indeed have that discussion. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I need to catch up on the other shows first too if we're going to go into any sort of detail.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Those are good qualities and Picard certainly had them. He's certainly not a bad boss.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Yes, we did. And I always like giving people a little peek at the thought process that leads to this stuff (if you can call it a process). :-D

One day we'll run out of topics for TOS and TNG and I imagine we'll have to go on a Questionable Trek hiatus while we each catch up on the other shows.

But I don't see that happening for a looong time!

ellenB said...

I've enjoyed this entire series a lot and this is a good question. I think Picard defines the "consensus leader" -- someone who listens to input from the right people and then makes his decision. That's a good leadership style. Though I agree that his actual decisions aren't all that stellar and would have gotten the crew killed many times over in real life.

Seriously, how many times were they attacked and he didn't return fire, choosing instead to say, "wait, let's see what they want." In real life, the Enterprise would have been destroyed.

BIG MO said...

Hmm. Picard is certainly the philosopher captain. I usually view him like the gambler from the old Kenny Rogers song: "know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run." Meaning, Picard generally knew when to go to guns, when to negotiate and when to get the hell out of Dodge. Not perfectly, of course. He would often talk/negotiate to a fault.

(I'll think on this some more, though.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I don't mind sharing the thought process. I think that adds to the discussion. And I have outlined my position in response to DUQ above. I think the backwards look at Kirk which generated the stereotype is entirely false and is politically motivated. As I'm showing in the Politics of Trek series, the show was not at all what critics now try to claim it was.

And for the record, there was only once or twice where Kirk suggested violence as a course of action and it was usually before he came around.

Individualist said...

I have never really had a problem with Picard in TNG because the actor attempted to play the character with some meaning even when the script made him do ludicrous things.

The TNG character I had a problem with was Riker. His decisions seemed to be made for him by a liberal playbook and his only job was to employ them with enough exasperation. The shows in TNG that are the most unwatchable usually involve him in charge or Q shows up which pretty much destroys any hope of realism or quality coming across.

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, Picard definitely defines the idea of the consensus leader. The problem, however, is that the show gave him false tests and allowed him win without having to face hard choices. Basically, the bad guys would suddenly surrender for no reason whatsoever just to make the plots work. In reality, the Enterprise would have been destroyed many times.

Excellent example too about him not firing back. In episodes where the enemy was powerful -- like the Romulans, his ship would have been disabled or destroyed and then none of his plan to talk would have mattered. Fortunately for him, the writers just made it work each time where the other side suddenly stopped attacking for no reason whatsoever.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, I would agree because that is how he was presented. My problem, however, is that the aliens always bent to his schedule so that his leadership style could be shown to work. Most aggressors would have acted very differently than any of these aliens and then Picard's style would have result in total failure time and again.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I agree, and I don't want to seem too down on Picard. I like Patrick Stewart a lot and I think he made the character work no matter how silly the script. If you just look at the character as written, then I think he's incompetent. But Stewart brought enough gravitas to make the character believable.

On Riker, it always felt to me that the writers didn't know what they wanted to do with him. He kind of flips back and forth between the playboy and competent and never really found a footing.

Individualist said...

As to Kirk using cowboy diplomacy I find this meme laughable.

In the original series the Enterprise had a mission of exploration BUT the show recognized that

ONE: It was a Warship
TWO: The Federation was a Military Organization.

No Kirk did not hold a brainstorming session before every crisus but would the captain of a destoyer in the Gulf of Arabia hold a brainstorming session when a small boat was rusing toward his vessel with a tarp over crates.

Kirk made his decisions on the bridge and idf he needed help asked for it in private of people he trusted so that the rest of the crew did not get the idea their ship captain did not know what he was doing while on the edge of the nuetral zone.

This is the one major thing about TNG that always seemed strange. It was as if the crew forgot they were in a war ship or that they were part of a military.

They acted too much like legal attaches at an embassy. Something hard to do when you are sitting on photon torpedo tubes capable of decimating entire planets.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's actually something I always found really silly in TNG -- they are under attack, facing an enemy ship nose to nose.... so Picard orders everyone to the lounge so they can talk about what to do. Uh. Did they call a timeout or something? How do they know they aren't just going to be blasted the moment they leave the bridge?

Ed said...

I totally agree about that stupid conference room. I can understand meeting there each day or when you have some big decision upcoming, but right in the middle of a battle? How does that work? As you say Andrew, that's proof the writers wrote the script to reach certain results rather than write the script as it would really happen.

Joel Farnham said...

The one thing that stands out to me with Picard is that he didn't like the idea of whole families going on an exploration vessel that could at any time be deep in battle with unknown enemies. Also, Picard hated Wesley Crusher on sight. Not a bad thing in and of itself.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Like I said, they called a time out. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Those are very valid points! ;)

Ed said...

Joel, Good call. Those are the points that gave me hope in the first season that things would get better, that Picard wasn't this Captain Babysitter the show tried to make him.

ScottDS said...

I was never a Wesley hater, maybe because I was a kid when I got into this stuff... BUT I always liked in the first season when Picard would refer to Wesley as, "The boy!" :-)

And I've mentioned this before but, if the designers had gone with their original ideas (or Roddenberry's original ideas), we wouldn't be complaining about the conference room scenes - the original concept art called for a conference room right on the bridge!

(I posted a piece of artwork once but I can't find it at the moment.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That would have been an atrocity and I'll bet they would have dropped it right after the first season.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I actually had a similar thought when I watched the series. It gave me hope that Picard would eventually break free from the stupidity that surrounded so much of the show early on.

DUQ said...

You know, this is a harder question than it seems. I like Patrick Stewart and the way he played Picard, but I don't think I like much about the scripts/character he was handed. What I mean is that I see him ultimately as a weak leader who would end up producing a lot of chaos, and the only reason things didn't fall apart for him was that the writers made sure all the other characters responded in the most ideal way possible. But as soon as that isn't true, I think his leadership style falls apart because he doesn't actually lead.

Also, I found it disturbing that he would let any idiot blather on forever about their stupid ideas, but then when someone was talking sense (like Worf) he slams him down hard. Inconsistency is a bad trait for a leader and he had it.

ScyFyterry said...

His best quality? Hm. I'm going to split this baby and say that I agree with both Andrew and Scott. I think you've both outlined why he came across as an excellent starship captain and why he was the show's driving force.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, He is very much inconsistent. In fact, from week to week, he would change his most fundamental principles completely. I think the problem was that the writers never really defined him and then never bothered with staying consistent.

AndrewPrice said...

Nice brown nosing Terry! ;)

Commander Max said...

Frankly the Picard character was a bore. But that is my opinion of STNG, I was a regular viewer. Some episodes were better than others, the series lost me after, "The best of Both Worlds". The series degraded into the worst kind of PC milktoast. For me it never recovered, with each episode I was getting more frustrated. To the point where I stopped watching ST all together. I've never seen all of DS9, Voy, or Enterprise.

As for Picard as he was written he was never going to be an interesting character. I think that's why they had him going nuts in the films(inconsistent from the series). Strong leaders make for interesting stories. That means you have to go down some very non PC roads(Kirk sure did). Picard came across as never offending anybody, mainly trying to not offend most in the audience(except for us).


AndrewPrice said...

Max, I can't disagree with you. Picard was largely boring and the episodes really varied in quality a lot. They had some good patches, but they also had some real turkeys.

And you're right that good episodes require tough decisions and they never really gave him a tough decision. There was always some easy way out where the bad guys would get punished and the good guys would win. That is not something that appeals to human nature -- easy decisions.

Commander Max said...

Here is something that has been on my mind lately(kind of on topic).
I remember reading/hearing Roddenberry was wanting to leave ST behind, (this is perfectly normal as most creative folks want to do different things). But the pressure was on him for more ST, so he decided to carry on with Trek. Because that's what people(executives, fans) wanted.

This is the sort of comment that makes me suspicious. Why?

First, why say anything, just leave it alone. Nobody will think any different.

Second, it shows concern for how things are going. Could be construed as a critical comment.

Third, it veils that Roddenberry was resistant but went for the money. Sacrificing other ideas. Which is fine, but...

Fourth, TWOK was a real departure from the original series. Geared for a larger audience appeal, thus only being about the money, following the Lucas model.

ST never recovered it's roots, it turned into a drama set in space. Hence, "ship in a bottle" stories of STNG. Picard being an almost complete opposite of Kirk. They were trying to run away from anything of the original series(except for little bits here and there). You could take almost any of those stories, change the setting there would be no difference.

The question I find myself asking, was Roddenberry(+ others?) trying to sabotage the franchise?
Consciously or subconsciously, I can only wonder.
But when trying to watch some of this stuff, I'm looking at things against the original product. I'm really beginning to wonder. Did they want it fail, so they could do new projects. We like this stuff for a distraction/entertainment, imagine if it was your job? It would be(at some point) work.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Those are some interesting points you raise. I doubt they intentionally set out to sabotage anything. But I think it is very likely that if Roddenberry didn't want to do Trek that he either (1) tried to change the vision or (2) he didn't put a lot of effort into it. That tends to be what happens when you're forced to do something creative you really don't want and you end up with a bad product.

As to why he badmouthed the original, that I don't know. Partially politics. But even more likely, ego. He probably wanted to downplay TOS because the studio had so much control and he wanted to make himself out as the visionary who was hampered by the studio -- like Lucas has done with Star Wars.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew, I've often wondered about that Picard waiting to fire back thing.

Can you imagine the briefing books kept by the Romulans, etc. on him. "Fire first and he won't fire back." would be the first words out of the Romulan staff officer in his power point briefing.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Absolutely. There would be no reason not to fire first against Picard because you can destroy his shields and weapons while he's still saying, "hold on, Mr. Worf, let's see what they want." Boom!

That kind of thing only works against vastly outclassed opponents, but Picard did it all. . . the. . . time. . .!

PikeBishop said...

And Andrew, not to be a nag, but have you seen "The Rapture" yet? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That's ok, nag me. No, I haven't seen it yet. I've been buried in work and illness and just haven't had the chance to do much of anything.

ScottDS said...

Max and Andrew -

I do think Roddenberry was genuinely interested in creating a new Trek series. At this point, he had been shut out of the films (the "consultant" credit was more or less meaningless) and no doubt wanted to exert a greater degree of control.

The new documentary on the season 1 Blu-Ray set goes into detail about some of this stuff.

Roddenberry's health was in decline. I believe there was also some paranoia at work - Roddenberry was convinced other writers (like David Gerrold who quickly left) were going to take over the show and boot him upstairs, as the studio did to him after the first film was released.

Roddenberry also had a lawyer friend who seemed to always be hovering around and only a fool would've criticized something Gene did with this guy in the room!

I'm sure there's more but I don't think Roddenberry intentionally wanted to sabotage anything. It was just a bad combination of things. Once showrunner Michael Piller showed up in season 3, things began to stabilize.

shawn said...

I almost talked about how Picard wasn't always morally consistant- as best evidenced by the RedLetterMedia reviews, but I think that was mostly tv show vs movie characterization. It would be nice if the writers would creating something- maybe a series bible or something- and in it, write down defining characteristics and values of the central characters so that future writers would come along and maintain continuity. Perchance to dream...

I suppose I could have said that Picard gave lovely speeches, but that is due to Stewart's training more than anything else.

And then there is the Picard Manuever where he pulls down on his tunic before giving an order or a speech. He has that going for him.

ScottDS said...

shawn -

There was a series bible and you can read the pdf here.

Bibles are only a reference work and are rarely considered the Gospel. I imagine a lot of specific character details are left purposely vague so future writers don't feel boxed in. (That's why they never came up with a master list of starship names, for instance.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, As with all event, there are always multiple causes. I don't doubt that each of those things played into it too, but I do think that ultimately this all comes down to ego, with Roddenberry wanting to make sure that he was seen as a genius and could not be deposed. That is sadly a common story with people.

In fact, if you want to know who I think is a proxy for Roddenberry, think Dr. Daystrom in "The Ultimate Computers".... "rows and rows of fools, getting famous building on my work!"

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Even within the series, Picard was never consistent. When I start getting into the Politics of TNG, I'll point that out.

shawn said...

Sorry Scott, I was being sarcastic when I was talking about creating a series bible, I know that many series have a bible. I should have been clearer.

What I didn't know is how vague and useless they are. Just skimmed over the Next Gen bible and it's amazing how quickly they threw it in the trash as evidenced by this:
"The Script- what doesn't work- 4) We are not buying scripts about the original Star Trek characters. 7) Treating space as a local neighborhood. 9) No stories about warfare with Klingons or Romulans and no stories with Vulcans. 10) Stay true to the Prime Directive. 12) Mad scientists or stories in which technology is the villian".

Seems to me you would write down a better character discription than "Already a 24th century legend, Picard is an extraordinary man, much revered by his crew. He deserves the discription "distinguished" despite being in his youthful fifties." That's not much to go on, and certainly says nothing about his character. I can understand wanting to give your writing team room to breathe, but this is ridiculous. Not having a set blueprint of character traits is what lead to continuity errors as new writers may not have been familiar with 20, 30, 40 hours of on-going stories.



AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, How funny is that? What you've quoted is basically what the entire series was about from day one! LOL!

As for their characters, that's been a peeve of mine since forever. They built their characters wrong. Rather than showing you the content of their characters, they gave you minutia about their likes and dislikes and their hobbies.

Commander Max said...

One thing about DVD material, you have take it with a grain of salt. They are not going to tell you everything, plus they are only going to tell the most positive take on everything. After all it's Hollywood, it's their job to tell you a story.

From my friend that knew Gene Roddenberry, he had nothing but positive things to say. I never meet the man nor saw him speak, by reputation he was very giving to the fans. He even hired fans(that are qualified)to work on his projects. My observations are just that observations. Which would make sense because there were many who worked in Trek, but were not happy about it. Gene was a professional, but I'm sure anything you love can drive you nuts. If it does, it's a lot easier to do with proper compensation.

ScottDS said...

Max -

Ordinarily I would agree with you re: DVD extras, however the new documentary on the Blu-Ray is quite candid, more so than usual for this kind of thing. I was even once acquainted with one of the documentary producers when I lived in LA and he's a huge Trek fan who knows this stuff inside and out and he's also a fanboy who wants to hear everything.

The fact that they even mentioned the business with Roddenberry's lawyer is a bit of a miracle - I don't recall reading about him in any "authorized" publication.

I've mentioned it before but Ron Moore and Brannon Braga's audio commentary on Generations is equally candid, as they detail all the ways they screwed up.

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