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Picard Season 3 Prelude — Rewatching Star Trek: Insurrection

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Picard Season 3 Prelude — Rewatching Star Trek: Insurrection

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Picard Season 3 Prelude — Rewatching Star Trek: Insurrection

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Published on February 13, 2023

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures
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Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

In the lead up to season three of Star Trek: Picard, Keith R.A. DeCandido will  take a look at the last couple of times The Next Generation crew was together: the feature films Insurrection (1998) and Nemesis (2002). In addition, you can revisit his rewatches of Generations from 2017 and First Contact from 2013.

Star Trek: Insurrection
Written by Rick Berman & Michael Piller
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Original release date: December 11, 1998
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. A joint Starfleet/Son’a team is observing what appears to be an agrarian pre-warp society, the Bak’u. Some are watching behind a holographically concealed duckblind, others are observing in cloaked environmental suits among the Bak’u.

Data is there to observe for reasons the script never bothers to explain, and he’s apparently gone binky-bonkers, as he starts firing on other members of the team (which confuses the heck out of the Bak’u, who just see random weapons fire seemingly coming from thin air). Data removes his helmet, so he’s now a disembodied head, and there’s also a tear visible in his neck. He uses his phaser to expose the duckblind.

The Enterprise-E is on a diplomatic mission to welcome Evora into the Federation as a protectorate. They only just developed warp drive a year earlier, but with the losses to the Borg and the Dominion, the Federation needs all the allies they can get. Because the Diplomatic Corps is busy with the Dominion War, the Enterprise is taking up a lot of the ambassadorial slack.

Admiral Dougherty, who is in charge of the Bak’u observation, requests Data’s schematics so they can shut him down. Data is holding the observation team hostage on the Bak’u world. Picard complies, but then diverts from their next diplomatic mission to head to the Briar Patch, the anomalous region where the Bak’u planet is located. (Dougherty had to leave the Briar Patch just to send a communiqué.) Worf stopped by to visit the Enterprise when they were hosting the Evora, and Picard asks him to accompany them to the Briar Patch. He comes up with a way to deactivate Data once they’re near him. Meantime, Riker and Troi research the Son’a, and discover that they’re imperialistic, having conquered the Tarlac and Ellora, and they provide ketracel-white to the Dominion, raising the question of why Starfleet is collaborating with these shitheads.

Dougherty’s contentious conversation with the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, is interrupted by Data firing on Ru’afo’s ship. When the Enterprise arrives, Dougherty makes it clear that deactivating Data permanently may be necessary. Picard asks that he and Worf implement their plan to capture Data, and if it doesn’t work, Picard himself will deactivate him. It’s his duty both as his CO and his friend. Dougherty agrees.

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Data has not spoken a word the entire movie so far, and he refuses to respond to hails when Picard and Worf go after him in a shuttlecraft. However, when Picard sings “A British Tar” from HMS Pinafore, which Data was in rehearsals for a production of, the android responds by singing along. It distracts him long enough to allow the Enterprise shuttle to dock with Data’s ship. Data tries to shake them, but eventually Worf is able to board and disable Data.

Picard, Troi, Crusher, and a security detail beam down to “rescue” the hostages, who, it turns out, are enjoying a lovely meal in the company of the Bak’u. The Bak’u say that they could tell Data had damage to his positronic brain, but they couldn’t fix it. Picard is rather taken aback that the Bak’u know what a positronic brain even is.

Dougherty congratulates Picard on a successful rescue of his second officer and tells him to pack his bags and get out of the Briar Patch. Dougherty will stay behind to tie up a few loose ends.

La Forge examines Data and determines that he was injured in such a way that several of his memory engrams were damaged. The last thing Data recalls is following some children, but the only thing he remembers after that is singing “A British Tar.” Picard and Data beam down and retrace the android’s steps with Sojef, Anij, and Artim, the latter being one of the children Data was following. (Artim is also scared of Data, not without reason.) They go to a lake where they find a cloaked ship that has a holodeck inside—which has re-created the Bak’u village. It looks like the plan was to transport the Bak’u to the holoship without their realizing it and transport them to another planet.

A Son’a fires on the gang, but they stun him in short order. Picard is livid and beams back to the Enterprise.

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Riker and Troi have started flirting with each other for the first time in years, even going so far as to kiss—however, Troi doesn’t like kissing him with the beard, so he shaves it off. Worf oversleeps and develops a pimple on his cheek. La Forge’s ocular implants are acting up. This will all probably be important.

Dougherty wants Enterprise gone, but Picard isn’t going anywhere. Crusher reports that the Starfleet crew are all in phenomenally and inexplicably good shape, but the Son’a have refused to be examined—Crusher puts them all in quarantine. This will also probably all be important…

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Picard himself is feeling a bit frisky, and he beams down to the planet to question Anij. She reveals that the Bak’u used to travel the galaxy, but they came to this world to settle down and return to a technology-free existence. The metaphasic radiation in the rings of the planet have a restorative quality. The Bak’u are all centuries old (except the children—the radiation doesn’t affect them until they’re fully matured). This is why Worf is re-experiencing adolescence, why Troi and Riker and getting all smoochy-faced, and why La Forge is having ocular implant issues—his eyes are regenerating, and now he can see normally. Picard finds him watching a sunrise for the first time without the aid of technology.

Picard confronts Dougherty and Ru’afo, the latter angrily demanding that his people be returned. Dougherty explains more calmly that there’s no Prime Directive violation here, as the Bak’u aren’t native to the planet, and the radiation is actually interfering with their natural development. Picard calls bullshit, and reminds Dougherty that the history of forced relocation is universally awful. However, Picard’s threat to go to the Federation Council falls on unimpressed ears, as the admiral claims to be working under orders from the Council. The Son’a are the only ones who’ve been able to figure out a way to harvest the metaphasic radiation, but the process will make the planet uninhabitable. And there’s only six hundred of them…

Picard pointedly asks how many Bak’u there have to be before it becomes wrong, and Dougherty doesn’t really have an answer to that (nor should he), but instead tells him to lodge a protest, for all the good it’ll do.

Returning to his quarters, Picard removes his rank pips and then changes to civilian clothes, preparing to protect the Bak’u on his own. The rest of the senior staff figures it out, not being morons, and offer to help—and since he’s symbolically renounced his rank, they refuse to follow his order to not help him.

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Data, Worf, Crusher, and Troi beam down with him to evacuate the Bak’u to the mountains, which are laced with kelbonite that resist transporters and sensors, and also using transporter inhibitors. Picard orders Riker and La Forge to take the Enterprise out of the Briar Patch and contact the Federation Council to put a face on this mission, make it clear that this is an evil plan of evil.

Ru’afo goes to his ship’s “body shop,” where the Son’a undergo various surgical procedures to extend their lives. The duckblind crew is let out of quarantine and comes over from Enterprise and one of them, Gallatin, is reunited with Ru’afo. They talk about how hard it was to be among the Bak’u and Ru’afo tells him to get the holding cells ready, which is ominous…

Ru’afo convinces Dougherty to let his ships escort the Enterprise back to the Bak’u planet before they can contact Earth. He also sends ships down to beam the Bak’u offworld, which doesn’t entirely work, though they do destroy some of the transporter inhibitors. Gallatin suggests they use isolinear tags to break through the transporter inhibitors and the kelbonite.

The away team manages to get most of the Bak’u into the caves, though some of them are beamed to the Son’a ship after getting hit with the tags. Some Son’a attack frontally and are wounded. Crusher examines one and is stunned to realize that the Son’a and the Bak’u are the same species. Picard and Anij are hit with tags and beamed to the Son’a ship.

Two of Ru’afo’s ships attack Enterprise, including using a subspace weapon at one point—subspace weapons were banned by the Khitomer Accords—but La Forge saves them by detonating the warp core in the subspace tear created by the weapon. Riker then uses the ramscoop to gather up some of the funky dust in the Briar Patch and toss it at the Son’a, who ignite it with their weapons and blow themselves up. Enterprise then proceeds out of the Briar Patch.

Picard gets to the truth: the Son’a are Bak’u youth who rebelled and were kicked off the planet. They turned to surgical means to extend their lives once denied the metaphasic radiation, and became conquering assholes. Dougherty is appalled to realize that his search for the fountain of youth has instead put him in the middle of a blood feud. Ru’afo reminds us all that he’s the bad guy by killing Dougherty.

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Picard, however, manages to turn Gallatin—it’s not that hard, as he’s been having second thoughts ever since the Bak’u treated them so kindly when they were “hostages”—who helps Picard contact Data and Worf on the surface to engineer a plan. Data uses a shuttle to fire tachyon bursts at Ru’afo, forcing him to alter his shield harmonics. During the split second that he does that, Worf beams his bridge crew to the holoship, which has been reprogrammed to be a duplicate of Ru’afo’s bridge. Before Picard can destroy the collector, Ru’afo manages to regain control of his ship and beam over to the collector to activate it manually. Picard also beams over to stop him and destroy the collector manually. Ru’afo’s remaining crew takes the bridge keeping Worf from beaming Picard out, but Riker returns with Enterprise in the nick of time to rescue the captain just before the collector goes boom.

The Federation Council is reconsidering the whole thing. Picard promises to return to spend time with the Bak’u in general and Anij in particular. Worf also encourages Riker to continue his being all flirty-pants with Troi. And Gallatin is reunited with his mother.

The Enterprise leaves the Briar Patch. How they get very far without a warp core is left as an exercise for the viewer…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently messing with Data’s memory turns him into a silent revenge machine. Sure. Also subspace weapons are unpredictable and the only way to stop them is to be the hero of the story and therefore whatever crazy-ass notion you pull out of your ass will work because of plot armor.

Thank you, Counselor Obvious. Troi’s only contributions to the plot are to restart her relationship with Riker, research the Son’a, and have a ridiculous conversation with Crusher about how firm their boobs feel.

There is no honor in being pummeled. Where First Contact contrived a good excuse for Worf to be present for the Borg attack, this movie makes no such effort, just saying he’s there and stuff and having him leave his important post in the middle of a war to hare off to the Briar Patch and rescue Data. However, he does get to kick lots of ass, deactivating Data, blowing Son’a shit up, and holds his own when Ru’afo’s people take back the bridge (it’s like, five to one, and he lasts several minutes before being taken down). Because Worf isn’t allowed to be a complete badass, we make sure to give him a pimple, growing hair, mood swings, and crappy sleeping habits thanks to the metaphasic radiation…

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

If I only had a brain… Data has apparently not only figured out how to turn off the emotion chip, as established in First Contact, but remove it, as the only time it’s mentioned is when La Forge tells Picard that he didn’t bring it with him to the Bak’u world, as if it’s something in his toiletry bag. He and Artim eventually bond, with Data wishing he could experience the changeability of childhood.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. We’ve got Riker and Troi renewing their relationship (which will culminate in marriage, as seen in the next movie, and building a family, as seen on Picard), and we’ve got Picard and Anij making goo-goo eyes at each other all movie.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. The plan is to use a holoship to fool the Bak’u into thinking they haven’t left their planet. It’s not clear how they were going to explain away the lack of metaphasic radiation, but it’s likely that Dougherty came up with the holoship plan thinking the Bak’u were primitives, with Ru’afo not disabusing him of the notion.

In the driver’s seat. Having lost Hawk in First Contact, this time around the ship is flown by a Trill named Kell Perim. Though at one point, Riker takes on manual flight control, which is, I kid you not, a joystick. Sure.

I believe I said that.

“It took us centuries to learn that it doesn’t have to take centuries to learn.”

–Anij being deep.

Welcome aboard. Besides the usual gang, we’ve got the great F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo, Anthony Zerbe as Dougherty, Donna Murphy as Anij, Daniel Hugh Kelly as Sojef, and Michael Welch as Artim. Also here are past and future Trek guests Gregg Henry as Gallatin (also in Enterprise’s “Dawn”), Stephanie Niznik as Perim (also in Enterprise’s “Rogue Planet”), Michael Horton as Daniels (also in Voyager’s “Retrospect” and also previously playing Daniels in First Contact), Rick Worthy as an Elloran (also in Voyager’s “Prototype” and the “Equinoxtwo-parter, DS9’s “Soldiers of the Empire,” and the recurring role of Jannar in Enterprise’s third season), Bruce French as a Son’a (also in TNG’s “The Drumhead,” Voyager’s “Caretaker,” and Enterprise’s “The Andorian Incident”), and the late great Joseph Ruskin as a Son’a (also in the original series’ “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” DS9’s “The House of Quark,” “Improbable Cause,” “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places,” Voyager’s “Gravity,” and Enterprise’s “Broken Bow”).

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Trivial matters: The script for this movie was the last Trek work by Michael Piller—the show-runner for TNG from its third season onward, and the co-creator of DS9 and Voyager—before his death in 2005. The tumultuous process of writing the script was chronicled by Piller in a behind-the-scenes book that he wrote called Fade In: The Making of Star Trek Insurrection, but it wasn’t published during Piller’s lifetime due to its brutally honest nature. Piller’s widow Sandra finally published the book in 2016.

This is the first Trek movie to have no scenes taking place on Earth, and one of only two with that distinction, the other being Star Trek Beyond.

The movie has no stardate, so it’s not clear when it takes place in relation to DS9. Because Worf was absent for most of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” did not appear in “Prodigal Daughter,” and only his Mirror Universe counterpart appeared in “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” it’s assumed that the movie takes place at the same time as those three episodes, thus allowing for Worf’s absence.

The Briar Patch will be seen in Enterprise’s “The Augments,” where Dr. Arik Soong will coin the term for that region. That episode will also establish that this same region is called Klach D’Kel Bracht by the Klingons; a famous battle was fought there, according to DS9’s “Blood Oath.”

The Son’a are described as supplying ketracel-white to the Dominion. They are referenced as still doing such in DS9’s “Penumbra.” The Son’a Empire is also mentioned in the alternate timeline seen in Picard’s “Penance.” They also appear in the Terok Nor novel Day of the Vipers by James Swallow and the videogames Hidden Evil and Armada.

A Tarlac appears in Voyager’s “Life Line,” in a masseuse role similar to that of several female Tarlacs in this movie.

Evora are seen again onscreen as background extras in episodes of DS9, Voyager, and Lower Decks, and their homeplanet is visited in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Past Life by Robert Greenberger. Your humble rewatcher’s novel Articles of the Federation established that the first Evora in Starfleet was killed in action a few years after this movie.

The novel Section 31: Abyss by David Weddle & Jeffrey Lang establishes that the holoship was a creation of Section 31 and that Dougherty was working with the Son’a on 31’s behalf.

The period between this movie and Nemesis was chronicled in the nine-novel series A Time to…, written by John Vornholt, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Robert Greenberger, David Mack, and your humble rewatcher. Among other things, the miniseries chronicles the progression of Riker and Troi’s relationship that started in this movie and culminates in marriage in Nemesis.

Perim and Daniels appear in several works of tie-in fiction that take place around this movie. Perim in particular is developed in the aforementioned A Time to… miniseries, while Daniels is fleshed out in the Slings and Arrows miniseries of novellas by J. Steven York & Christina F. York, Phaedra M. Weldon, William Leisner, Terri Osborne, Robert Greenberger, and your humble rewatcher that chronicles the year leading up to First Contact.

The Khitomer Accords were signed shortly after The Undiscovered Country.

A scene was filmed with Armin Shimerman as Quark on the Bak’u planet at the end of the movie, but it was cut.

Your humble rewatcher had Picard use what Anij taught him about finding a perfect moment in time to help him get out of a bad situation in the novel Q & A.

Troi declares that she never kissed Riker with the beard, even though they kissed in TNG’s “Ménàge à Troi,” and Troi also kissed the bearded Tom Riker in TNG’s “Second Chances.”

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

Make it so. “Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?” On the one hand, of all the Trek movies, this has the most Trekkish plot: our heroes being heroes and saving people from a forced relocation which, as Picard pointedly tells both Dougherty and Anij, is icky.

I just wish it was the plot of a better movie.

I actually had more fun watching this movie this week than I did the last time I watched it, which was more than fifteen years ago, mainly because the message is a strong one. I also enjoyed the Riker-Troi flirting a lot more, particularly in light of having seen Riker and Troi as a married couple, not just in Nemesis as newlyweds and in Lower Decks on Titan, but mainly in the great Picard episode “Nepenthe.” (And there promises to be more of that in season three of Picard.) Though I do not understand why he shaved the beard (and am very glad he grew it back…).

One of Picard’s best lines was in, of all places, the dreadful first-season TNG episode “Justice”: when asked by Data if he’d sacrifice one life to save a thousand, he said, “I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that.” This movie embodies that, particularly when Dougherty tries to dismiss his objections because there are “only” six hundred Bak’u. And I like Ru’afo using the Federation’s recent troubles, not just in the last movie but on contemporary episodes of DS9 as an argument that the Federation is dying. Just in general, you can’t go wrong casting F. Murray Abraham as your villain (his Salieri in Amadeus remains one of the finest bad guys in cinema history), and he’s delightfully nasty here.

But the movie ultimately feels more like a middling episode of TNG than a feature film. There are far too many tired Trek tropes here, starting with the Evil Admiral, a well that TNG in particular dipped into way too often, and continuing to the technobabble-laden space battle that has all the excitement of a badly programmed eight-bit video game (complete with joystick!). Not helping the former is that Anthony Zerbe is precisely nowhere. I mean, if you’ve got to have an Evil Admiral, at least cast somebody with the chops of a Terry O’Quinn or a Jean Simmons in the role…

Plus, there are humorous bits shoved in that are, well, not funny. Worse, they mess with the tone of the story, whether it’s Picard, Data, and Worf inexplicably bursting into Gilbert & Sullivan or Crusher and Troi talking about their boobs (with Data then doing likewise with Worf, to make it even more cringe-y) or Worf’s pimple.

Then we have the regression of Data. It was Michael Piller who codified the notion that Data was emotionless when he took over as show-runner in season three of TNG, and he reverses Data to that point in the movie by casting the emotion chip aside and having Data act like the same struggling-to-be-more-human android he was on the show, casting aside years of development in order to have him bond with Artim. Snore.

One of the strengths of TNG was that it was a really good ensemble. One of the reasons for the anticipation of Picard’s upcoming third season is getting the band back together. And one of the weaknesses of the TNG films is that the ensemble is muted in favor of it being the Picard-Data-and-Worf show. On the original series films, this worked better because Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were always the Big Three, with Sulu, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov always being support staff, as it were. But the four TNG films reduce Riker, Troi, La Forge, and Crusher to near-irrelevance, and it’s not a good look for this cast in particular.

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing for and about Star Trek since the turn of the millennium, including 16 novels, 13 novellas, eight short stories, six comic books, a reference book, and a bunch of RPG material, as well as reviews, articles, think-pieces and rewatches for a variety of magazines, essay collections, and web sites, including on this site since 2011.

About the Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido

Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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