Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Captain's Trauma: The Podcast Episode Four Extra

Main characters in Star Trek are often subjected to hardships that in TV land only last the 44 minutes or so of a single episode but The Next Generation was bold and ambitious and took on the subject of trauma with both hands.

After Picard’s assimilation by the Borg at the end of season three/beginning of season four, most shows would have just moved on after the ‘rescue’ but in the next episode Family we get into the actual rehabilitation of the central character.

The story is interesting because it deals with some of the issues that people traumatized in combat deal with as they try to find themselves again.

In the story Captain Picard, in a very typical manner of someone traumatized by combat, believes that his injuries are healing.  Deanna Troi who serves as his counsellor of course, challenges him on his belief that he has recovered and his choice of where he wants to go to find himself again.

When Picard goes home it is not the confident starship captain who returns, but a man unsure of himself and where he fits in life.  His encounter with the Borg has changed him and he contrary to assurances to Counsellor Troi is still wounded. 

Only in The Next Generation could the writers be allowed the time to explore this, what I always loved was they resisted the temptation to always make episodes ‘thrilling’ or ‘action packed’. On the contrary, these episodes were nearly always the strongest, and gave us so much to experience (and enabled us to truly relate to these characters). Also, we are never given the easy option of a quick fix for the Captain, as in our own reality, he has to learn to ‘adapt’ ironically to his new mental state.

And as the years of The Next Generation continued we occasionally revisited Picard’s condition, naturally whenever the word ‘Borg’ was mentioned and when dealings with them became necessary. We even see a very stubborn and almost regressively childish Picard as he refused to even acknowledge Hugh the partially un-assimilated Borg (I Borg).

In this episode Picard becomes even annoying one might say, as we are able to see Hugh’s transition but he refuses to entertain the idea that such a thing is possible. We have come to admire and respect Picard for years, but in this episode he demonstrates prejudice (however understandable). In the way that true prejudicial attitudes work, Picard has labelled all Borg as ‘evil’ and beyond help. It seems he has forgotten that they are all victims of a terrible abuse just as he was himself.

But Picard has to form this ‘protective shell’ around himself; he feels that if he begins to feel any compassion or sympathy for one of these creatures, he will be exposing himself to what is now his greatest fear.

Picard always come through, the writers of The Next Generation always show that he is a truly extraordinary man, and whilst he never conquers his problems, he always progresses and pushes through to a point of resolution (no matter how painful)

Then a curveball of sorts for Picard’s life occurred (The Inner Light), in this episode he experiences a whole raft of psychological challenges. After being hit by a nucleonic beam form a mysterious space probe, Picard passes out on the Enterprise and we see him awaken as a man named ‘Kamin’ on another planet and another reality.

This episode is very popular favourite for good reason; the exploration of actually experiencing another reality, another existence is handled beautifully.

We see the passing years of Kamin’s life on the planet of Kataan and again there are similar challenges presented to this man as have been laid before Picard as we know him. He has to experience responsibility for the community, and frustration of not being believed by his people.

It was interesting that Kamin is often shown as being ridiculed and written off as being senile of mad when he tries to advise everyone of the planet’s coming crisis. There is also the anger and feelings of helplessness associated with Kamin’s fight against bureaucracy. These challenges echo our Picard’s own struggles in his position as captain, but also demonstrate perhaps a secret fear that he won’t be heard.

Maybe one could even say that Picard fears being powerless, he is accustomed to being the voice of authority and reason and Kamin’s situation is very much the opposite. Of course we actually see the decades pass for Kamin and his eventual death, but unlike Picard this man has had family, a home-life and a great degree of genuine happiness.

It reminded me of Picard’s brother in Family, he was almost living THAT life, a life he has often envied.

After Kamin’s death and Picard’s return to the Enterprise, it is revealed that only 20 minutes have passed for the captain, but he has not been unaffected, indeed Picard is left again with the enduring trauma and mental effects to deal with.

So on one hand it could be viewed that Jean-Luc has suffered yet another exhausting experience that would damage his mental health further. But, he does seem to have retained a certain serenity and introspection from his life as Kamin. Is it possible that all of this time and room for him to ‘breathe’ whilst living a peaceful family life allowed Picard to partially heal from the Borg trauma?

Not completely of course, but I do wonder if through Kamin, he was afforded a certain extra fortitude to deal with future Borg-related challenges.

It wasn’t just the Borg that provided the catalyst for the many psychological challenges of Jean Luc, he was to be tested again (Chain of Command). In these episodes after a failed secret mission, Picard is captured and tortured by the Cardassian, Gul Madred and against the laws of treaties and such, Madred proceeds to put the Captain through sadistic personally motivated torture.

Interestingly, it isn’t the actual torture , sleep deprivation and such that concerns us, after all we know that Jean-Luc Picard is a man of strong stuff, he has survived the Borg, so what can a petty minded despot really do to him?

No, as a viewer by this point we actually feel that it is the lasting effects that concern us, what will happen afterwards?, will this finally break Picard?

The back and forth between Madred and Picard goes on for a couple of days, and as we all know Picard is finally defiant and resolute (never giving in on the subject of ‘the four lights’). But at the end of the story, we again look in on Picard being counselled by Deanna Troi and his startling confession that he actually nearly gave in to Madred in order to end the suffering.

What is remarkable about this piece of writing is that we, as viewers expected him to reveal this. Far from demanding unreasonable heroism from Picard, we are proud of his humanity, enthralled by his honesty and strength.

Torture, captivity, ridicule, fear, physical abuse and violation have been part of Jean Luc Picard’s Starfleet career. The writers of The Next Generation never gave up on him as a person but also never shied away from the ‘curve’ of mental illness, how it evolves and changes over time, creating both weaknesses and new found strengths.

It culminates of course with a sort of ‘acceptance’ a kind of breakthrough point for Picard after the ‘victory’ over the Borg queen in Star Trek First ContactNow of course Picard is not alone in being put through the gauntlet of trauma and experience featured in Star Trek as a whole.

Listen to the full discussion as part of our fourth podcast available HERE right now!

Check out our podcast notes from episode four for more suggested episodes.

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