As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…
It is at this point in Star Trek: Nemesis, as the final act and the final intended showdown with Shinzon begins, that any logical sense of narrative structure begins to collapse in on itself at a thalaron radiation level rate. We learn what has been hinted earlier in the film: Shinzon is dying.
Though John Logan’s script works hard to try and compare him to Khan Noonien Singh, as we’ve previously discussed, he owes perhaps more of a debt to Renard, the James Bond villain from The World is Not Enough played by Robert Carlyle. Struggling to remember him? That’s unsurprising. Ultimately, the bullet in his head that was slowly killing him is probably the most memorable aspect of the character, even with an actor as strong as Carlyle in the role. His entire rationale is fuelled by the reality he won’t be around to see the fruits of his terrorist actions. Shinzon is the same. Yet the difference is that Shinzon has the cure directly within his grasp.
When Jean-Luc Picard asks if his warped clone can be saved, Enterprise doctor Beverly Crusher informs him: “Nothing except a complete transfusion from the only donor with compatible DNA… you”. Picard then asserts that Shinzon will come for him, except… didn’t he just escape from Shinzon’s custody, having been very easily beamed off his own ship? Shinzon has always known he was dying, this isn’t news. Beverly concludes, after all: “Shinzon was created with temporal RNA sequencing. He was designed so that at a certain point, his aging process could be accelerated to reach your age more quickly. He was going to need to skip thirty years of his life, but when the temporal sequencing wasn’t activated his cellular structure started breaking down”. This is a neat science-fiction concept—a cloned spy who will rapidly age when triggered—which is utterly wasted as the explanation for Shinzon’s slow death. But if he knew, why not just drain Picard of his entire blood the moment he beamed him onto the Scimitar?
It makes little sense, purely designed to establish the conditions for what will make up the final act. Nemesis might have done well to not have Shinzon be dying at all because all it does is show up how cripplingly incompetent he is.
Maybe this is the curse of the revenge-seeking megalomaniac. Khan, as great a villain as he was thanks to the writing and performance, wasn’t all that effective when you break him down. He consistently fails to best Admiral Kirk before recursing to blow himself up when he has no other option.
Shinzon is little better in this regard. His entire plan is built on a house of cards. Perhaps he doesn’t want to survive, hence why he doesn’t take advantage of capturing Picard and delights in sparring with him rather than the full blood transfusion he should be doing, but he equally boasts about the ‘echo’ conquering the voice. He fully plans to cripple the Federation “beyond repair” even when the Romulan extremists who supported his coup start to get jittery about whether he can even deliver. Suran is impatient. Donatra, who with scant material has already been established as a Romulan willing to question Shinzon’s actions, is downright horrified: “Are you truly prepared to have your hands drenched in blood? He’s not planning to defeat Earth. He’s planning its annihilation. And his sins will mark us and our children for generations”. None of this sounds like a sinister plan working to the best of its ability.
It also further establishes how needed more interaction with the truly Romulan characters was needed in Nemesis. We discussed before how Shinzon is effectively being controlled, as extreme as he is, by his Romulan supporters, but Donatra here does not seem fine with his plan to take out Earth with the horrific thalaron radiation weapon at his disposal. Was this not discussed beforehand? They knew he was building the Scimitar to include this with the Remans, presumably providing him with cover and resources to do so. Why else would you get in bed with a nutter like Shinzon if you didn’t want to change the galactic paradigm and destroy the Federation? Is Donatra just naive, or have Romulan motivations been so thinly characterised as to make little sense at this point? In short, it feels a little late for them to develop a conscience.
Amidst these moments, Data finally does what they all probably should have done at the beginning and deactivates B-4, once they realise he has been a Trojan Android to help Shinzon from the beginning – which is about as surprising to the audience as a racist Donald Trump comment. It is hard to feel the requisite amount of sadness at the moment Data has to power down the brother he has only just met, simply because B-4 ended up little more than a caricature of Lennie from Of Mice and Men – the slow witted sibling who needs to be put down. Logan is no John Steinbeck, sadly. Data’s actions just feel inevitable and the entire B-4 plot-line demonstrates how difficult integrating an android personality into any narrative is, and how Brent Spiner makes it looks easy helping us care about Data. The investment in B-4 simply hasn’t been there for Data’s “a long time, brother” to carry weight.
There is a somewhat clumsy comparison made when Data discusses Shinzon with Picard, as the Enterprise prepares to enter the Bassen Rift in order to do battle with the Scimitar, as Picard wonders whether Shinzon was right about them being a ‘mirror’ of each other – quoting the Bible oddly enough, Corinthians: “For now we see but through a glass, darkly”. Logan is attempting to hammer home these connections and Data suggests Shinzon’s biological difference is as acute as his and B-4 synthetic one in terms of subjective life experience: “The B-4 is physically identical to me, although his neural pathways are not as advanced. But even if they were, he would not be me”. What’s interesting is that Data characterises the difference in terms of betterment – neither B-4 nor Shinzon seek to evolve in their own separate ways, and therefore cannot reach the sophisticated or even purely *good* level of our heroes.
This feels a little disquieting in some respect, and almost as tone deaf as what Deanna Troi must endure in this picture, which we previously talked about. Data is suggesting that B-4’s effective ‘retardation’ (for want of a better term, no pun intended) is a choice, and that he could aspire to be more than his programming, when all the evidence we’ve seen of B-4 lies to the contrary. His entire presentation has been designed to depict a slow-witted mechanical individual reprogrammed to serve devious ends. Shinzon certainly has a choice, and chooses not to embrace Picard’s hand of friendship, but the film has worked hard to suggest he is as much a victim as the Reman slaves who raised him – tormented by Romulan guards, created in a lab, forgotten when governments changed, and ultimately left to rot and die when nobody cared enough to check on the science that created him. So who here, truly, has a choice?
Even the Enterprise crew, the enlightened humans, come off as slow-witted in how long in takes them to figure out that Shinzon is going to use his weapon of mass destruction against Earth. Frankly, they all seem tired. Perhaps the fatigue of the actors aware the story isn’t quite working. Perhaps the fatigue of an ‘Earth in peril’ narrative that never rings true (Shinzon doesn’t even get to Earth!). Since when has Geordi responded to a question as to whether a cloak can be penetrated with a resigned “No”? What is intended as ominous, and designed to suggest the greatest threat the Federation has ever faced, just flatlines. Compare this with the energy of a similar point in The Wrath of Khan when Kirk and co return to the Enterprise from the Genesis Cave, and they rush into battle as the Reliant chases them into the Mutara Nebula. Everything crackles. Here, nobody much seems to care.
“And like a thousand other commanders on a thousand other battlefields, I wait for the dawn” Picard opines in his Captain’s log. If only Nemesis could deliver on the epic, magisterial conflict in the climactic confrontation those words deserve.
Don’t miss out on the previous parts of this series:
Or the rest of this series to come:
IX – Goodbye
X – Blue Skies