Monday, July 25, 2011

"Tapestry;" It's A Wonderful Picard

The Good: Clever character development, Nice acting, Good plot
The Bad: Somewhat obvious and predictable
The Basics: When Q resurrects a just-killed Picard, he gives the Captain a chance to change his past and see the consequences of his actions.

Q, probably the most impressive villain Star Trek The Next Generation maintained as a villain throughout its seven years, was a wonderful concept mostly because he had so many facets. As a result, he tended to appear, be interesting, and disappear. In "Tapestry," Q does a great job of appearing and helping Picard explore the many facets of the captain's life. However, even as he does, Q loses some of his menace and presents a story that is well told, if obvious.

When Q appears to the recently-killed Jean-Luc Picard, he gives the Captain of the Enterprise a rare opportunity, the chance to go back and change his life. Picard, as we know from the second season "Samaritan Snare" (reviewed here!), has an artificial heart from an accident he had back in his Academy days when he got into a fight with some Naussicans. Picard's death comes when his heart is destroyed by a phaser beam and Q gives Picard the opportunity to go back and see how his life would have changed had he never lost his real heart. Picard comes to realize, through seeing how much his life changed by playing it safe once, how important risk is in his life. Picard's single choice costs him his past friends, his ability to obtain his ambitions and every significant bit of his future.

Essentially, this is It's A Wonderful Life, Star Trek style. A man is given the chance to see how his life would be had something important not happened. It's a pretty old plot. Somehow, though, the writers of this Star Trek The Next Generation episode manage to make it feel new. There is not the same schmaltzy, old tyme quality to "Tapestry." Instead, the episode progresses with a feeling of gravity. Picard's instantaneous regrets are very palatable and serious; had he not been a reckless youth, he would not have died when his artificial heart melted. Given the choice between life and death, he chooses life.

This raises the questions of quality of life, though, an argument too often missing from our debates these days on life and death. "Tapestry" explores what makes a man and questions if a life lived unremarkably is worth it as opposed to an extraordinary life that ends prematurely. It's a compelling question and "Tapestry" engages the viewer fully in its attempts to answer it.

Q, always a decent villain, has a great role here and he lends a reasonable menace to the episode that allows us to believe for most of the episode that there is the chance Picard will not be able to undo the damage he does to the timeline. Q, who is more mischievous than malicious by this point in the series, may be cleverly repaying Picard for saving his life a few years ago with his lesson and it's a compelling prize.

John de Lancie infuses a sense of fun into the character of Q in "Tapestry." The actor has a sense of comic timing that is decent and here he explores it, exchanging Q's serious menace for the opportunity to mock Picard. John de Lancie presents this new facet while maintaining the character enough that he is recognizable and still somewhat villainous.

The episode is essentially about Picard, though. We see here that his maturity came at a great price and the lessons he learned as a result of learning how to moderate between impulsiveness and restraint may cost him his life. Picard, however, realizes that the cost of not risking his life in the rash action that cost him his heart would be the life he knew. Without risking his life, he never would have appreciated life at all and he would never have risen through the ranks of StarFleet and achieved greatness.

This episode hinges on the performance of Patrick Stewart. Stewart sells us on a man who is first dead, then resurrected with regrets, then willing to die to simply be the man he truly is. Stewart's power is in convincing us of the transformations he undergoes as a result of being a rash youth and then a mature adult. He plays the Lieutenant j.g. Picard with an entirely different posture that makes us believe he has been unambitious and beaten down through the years.

"Tapestry" explores expertly the nature of the consequences to our many decisions in life by showing how one event, even if it is not the most essential, can change our entire life. This is an episode that may be enjoyed by anyone, young or adult. Indeed, this episode may be appreciated by anyone, even those who do not classically enjoy science fiction as all of the pieces in this episode are adequately explained and explored. This is a character driven episode that uses more of a supernatural than a science fiction premise.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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