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…
The final few scenes of, roughly, the second and middle act of Star Trek: Nemesis underpin many of the issues about Stuart Baird’s film that we have already discussed, chiefly the tortured parallel between hero and villain.
Jean-Luc Picard, abducted by Shinzon and thrown in the brig of his gigantic warship the Scimitar, has the truthful showdown they danced around while speaking in the Romulan Senate. If that was Shinzon play-acting the diplomatic new leader, this is the outcast, spiteful clone child who never grew up in the bowels of his oversized toy, spitting venom at the man who encapsulates everything Shinzon is aggrieved by. And this conversation really does spell out that psychology: Shinzon hates what he is, and hates that he didn’t have the easier, more prosperous and respected life Picard had. All of Picard’s innate ego as a leader morphed and twisted into a nightmarish visage. “My life is meaningless as long as you’re still alive. What am I while you exist? A shadow? An echo?”. Nemesis is all about the darker id of our hero trying to assert itself.
Were we dealing with more of a skilled script that truly understood the film being made, we could suggest this is why Picard reacts so poorly to the violation of Deanna Troi, as discussed previously – a violation, indeed, that serves little purpose as B-4 contains the transponder needed to execute Shinzon’s plan, so mind-raping the Counselor just appears to be ‘sport’ for the villain, if it wasn’t distasteful a narrative choice enough. One could argue that Nemesis is attempting to literalise Picard’s internal darkness through Shinzon, a darkness we glimpsed in First Contact during his obsessive pursuit of the Borg (which Shinzon even alludes to here), but this would be giving the film too much psychological credit. John Logan is certainly shooting for those Jungian comparisons but you never truly feel, in any way, that Shinzon is some kind of Picard offshoot, except for the fact both men are folically challenged.
The fact is, Nemesis has already spent over half of the running time playing with a relationship that was clearly antagonistic from the very beginning, and now as those dominoes begin to fall, the emptiness of the film begins to show itself.
The personal and ideological battle between Picard and Shinzon does, as I say, have its roots in the theoretical work of legendary psychologist Carl Jung, particularly the idea of the antagonist—the nemesis—serving as a shadow of the protagonist, as he states in his work ‘Psychology and Religion’:
Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.
Shinzon is, in literal terms, that isolated shadow. The darkness within Picard given form by twisted Romulan science, nurtured by the ‘monstrous’ form of the Viceroy – the Remans from a visual production standpoint recall vampiric expressions from German impressionist film, particularly the Nosferatu of F.W. Murnau. Shinzon may look human, but as he says, he isn’t quite human. He is an aberration. Yet he remains wedded to the idea that he is a form of Picard. “It amazes me how little you know yourself” Shinzon accuses Picard during their honest conversation.
Does Nemesis work too hard to impose these dualities? That’s the question.
The Original Series would literalise the dark id via more science-fiction terms, such as the transporter accident in The Enemy Within which splits Kirk down the middle into a good and evil version, or indeed how the Mirror Universe of Mirror, Mirror (and later many Deep Space Nine episodes) flips our heroic characters on their head to visualise their darker parallel versions. Nemesis is trying, to its credit, to put a different spin on this idea, but having Picard clumsily show no sympathy to Deanna, or presenting Shinzon’s argument as “you’d use a deadly radiation weapon too, Jean-Luc, wouldn’t you wouldn’t you?” just doesn’t seem enough. “I am incapable of such an act” Picard sternly counters.
Of course he is. Shinzon’s point about nature vs nurture would hold weight if the Remans hadn’t cared for him, but they did. He wants Picard to believe their genetics, their “noble Picard blood” means both of them are capable of terrible deeds. But I just don’t buy it. Shinzon also attempts to frame his intended genocide as not just revolving around some twisted Picard vengeance, but the position of Reman influence in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. “We will not bow to anyone as slaves. Not the Romulans and not your mighty Federation”. It’s interesting that we’ve never heard anything more, canonically, about the Remans since Nemesis, particularly in Star Trek: Picard as to how they might have coped with the supernova. Were they wiped out? Did they help the evacuation? Are they now an integrated part of the so-called Romulan Free State?
The Remans feel a little airbrushed out of modern canonicity when it would have been intriguing to know how, post-Nemesis, they integrated back into the Romulan Empire after helping to murder the entire government and seize control of the state. It can’t have gone well. They almost certainly would have been whipped down and returned to their position of vassalage. Which also makes it difficult to truly accept them as powerful antagonists, despite references to them serving as Dominion War combat troops and Shinzon’s assertion they are “a race bred for war, and conquest”.
This sounds, honestly, decidedly Jem’Hadar-esque – they being the drug-addicted soldiers bred by the Changelings of the Dominion as their fighting force, and a major antagonist of Deep Space Nine. Did the Romulans create the Remans in a similar fashion, after they parted ways from ancient Vulcan? It would explain how vastly different the Remans look from Romulans, despite sharing a star system. Either way, Shinzon’s entire plan just doesn’t ring true.
It just feels such a disservice to make the Romulans central, for the first time, to a major Star Trek movie, and barely feature them or anything about their society. Shinzon could just as easily have been created by the Klingons or the Cardassians and it wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference. It makes sense that the Romulans would be sneaky enough to clone Picard and infiltrate the Federation, and exploring the Remans is an interesting touch, but Nemesis works hard to make a film set partly on Romulus and about a Romulan coup’d’etat not be about the Romulans. Almost as if it cannot conscience the idea the Romulans would suddenly break out and try to destroy Earth, but a rogue like Shinzon could. We’ll get into this more later.
Aside from Shinzon and Picard’s confrontation, there is little else truly of interest in the sequences where Picard, by necessity, must escape from the Scimitar and return to the Enterprise.
We learn that Data, of course, has been one step ahead of the Remans this whole time, posing as B-4 in order to trick Shinzon—who believes he knows the location of the entire Starfleet ship fleet and their communications through the android. The escape sequences are functional without being particularly exciting, once again tapping into the unsafe velocities obsession Stuart Baird seems keen on, replacing the Argo here with a Reman shuttlecraft. The Scimitar is as much an enemy base as it is a ship, with a vast, cavernous space which allows for these set-pieces.
These scenes if anything serve more as a way of highlighting Picard and Data’s unique working relationship – Data plays around, pretending to be a nasty, programmed B-4, or being fascinated by Reman language. “Alacrity would be appreciated, Commander!” Picard exclaims, tolerating but frustrated at Data’s asides. We have just seen these kind of interactions done before, and worked into plots which aren’t unremittingly dark, which creates a tonal imbalance Nemesis often falls into. More than anything, they seed in a plot point which will, of course, be crucial to the denouement – that the emergency transporter device can only be used by one person.
Nemesis, having gotten the deeper psychological work out of the way between hero and villain, actively gears up for the protracted battle of the final act. It just all, at this point, feels an inevitability as to where it will go.
Don’t miss out on the previous parts of this series:
Or the rest of this series to come: