It takes virtually no time in any respect when speaking with Michael Chabon to comprehend that the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of “The Superb Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” is a die-hard “Star Trek” fan. On condition that he’s the showrunner of the most recent “Trek” iteration, “Star Trek: Picard,” the 56-year-old has discovered it significantly satisfying to have interaction with the huge “Trek” fandom as the primary season of “Picard” heads into its finale on Thursday.
“To get individuals’s tremendous nerdy and tremendous technical questions on what sort of class of starship is supposed to be in that one picture that you may solely see if you happen to freeze body, that’s been so enjoyable,” Chabon says through Skype whereas sitting in his dwelling workplace in Berkeley, the place he’s been sheltering in place along with his spouse, writer Ayelet Waldman, and two of their 4 youngsters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Picard” has been a significant success for CBS All Entry because the most-watched authentic title up to now for the streaming service. Exactly what number of viewers the present’s obtained stays a secret identified solely to ViacomCBS, however its reputation is not any shock contemplating “Picard” marks the return of Patrick Stewart’s revered Enterprise skipper, Jean-Luc Picard, to sequence tv, after seven seasons on “Star Trek: The Subsequent Technology” (1987–1994) and 4 characteristic movies spanning from 1994 to 2002.
However “Picard” hasn’t been a typical “Star Trek” present. Relatively than reunite Jean-Luc along with his previous crew from “TNG,” Chabon and his collaborators — govt producers Alex Kurtzman, Kirsten Beyer and Akiva Goldsman — launched the character to a brand-new forged, together with Isa Briones as Soji, a extremely superior android; Alison Tablet as Dr. Agnes Jurati, a high-strung cyberneticist; Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker, a former Starfleet colleague of Picard’s who has fallen on onerous instances; and Santiago Cabrera as Cristóbal Rios, the captain of the small starship Picard conscripts on a mission to seek out and shield Soji from a mysterious Romulan risk.
Much more unexpectedly, on the planet of “Picard,” Starfleet has turn out to be gripped by worry and overpassed its highest beliefs, and enormous pockets of the galaxy have fallen right into a sort of lawlessness unthinkable within the comforting quasi-utopia of “TNG.” It’s all in step with the mandate Chabon says Stewart gave him and his crew, to make “Picard” as totally different from the actor’s first “Trek” sequence as attainable.
In a candid and wide-ranging dialog with Variety — referring to every part from radically reimagining the Borg to the dearth of express queer characters to this point in “Picard” — Chabon mentioned the challenges, surprises, and rewards in boldly going the place no “Trek” had gone earlier than, and why he needed to go away the captain’s chair behind for Season 2.
Warning: This story incorporates spoilers for “Star Trek: Picard.”
Now that Season 1 of “Picard” is sort of executed, how have you ever been feeling concerning the season and seeing the fan response to it?
It’s been fairly thrilling. I believe inevitably I spent a good period of time trying round on Twitter and Reddit, you realize, attempting to get a way of individuals’s responses. Twitter’s sort of a horrible place, too, so I wasn’t actually inspired to spend an excessive amount of time trying round. However then I got here up with this discussion board, organising an Instagram story as soon as every week to take individuals’s questions. Certainly one of my youngsters confirmed me how you possibly can use Instagram in that manner, and that’s been actually enjoyable for me. As somebody who spent a good period of time over time on Reminiscence Alpha, trying on Reddit, having fun with the way in which individuals get pleasure from “Star Trek” on-line — it’s been so enjoyable to see [the show] getting absorbed into the sort of better corpus of “Star Trek.” What makes me really feel good is after I see it being handled, in a way, the identical by followers as earlier variations of the present.
That does lower each methods.
Proper. A part of what you’re speaking about is, for instance, the way in which that I felt about “Star Trek: The Subsequent Technology” when it premiered. I used to be sitting in entrance of my TV, watching “Encounter at Farpoint,” and I hated it. I sort of hate-watched it — though we didn’t have that time period then — for many of the first season. Sooner or later within the second season, I spotted, oh, wow, that was a great episode. The present truly did get higher. It takes some time to determine what a present is.
As somebody who’s watched lots of “Star Trek,” you’re evaluating one thing that you’ve got now seen as soon as with large expectations, to one thing that in some circumstances you’ve seen a whole bunch of instances. It takes some time so that you can shed your expectations, your biases, your prejudices. I used to be prejudiced in favor of Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy. It took a very long time to lose that.
So that you’re aware of the ways in which “Trek” followers can reply to new iterations of “Trek.”
I truly went again and appeared on Google Teams, which acquired Usenet, so you possibly can look by way of the previous Usenet teams and watch what individuals mentioned about “Deep Area 9” after which about “Voyager.” They f—ing hated it. They lacerated it. I imply, loads of individuals preferred it and liked it. However the criticisms which can be being leveled in opposition to “Deep Area 9,” after which in opposition to Janeway, feminine Captain, black Vulcan [Tim Russ’s Tuvok] — the entire issues that have been problematic for sure contingent of so known as “Star Trek” followers again then, the way in which that they assault one another and the way in which they assault the present — it’s equivalent to now. They might simply flip them into 140 characters or no matter it’s now on Twitter and you possibly can make tweets out of them and it might nonetheless work simply as properly for “Discovery” or “Picard.”
So have been there issues about “Picard” that you simply knew you needed to try this you possibly can sense would take a look at some boundaries for followers?
Certain. To the extent that I used to be conscious of the sort of poisonous fandom, the anti-SJW, you realize, unhappy little nook of fandom — you simply disregard that. Generally you’re motivated to have issues just because it’s probably going to piss off or provoke individuals who appear to have missed the memo about simply what precisely “Star Trek” is and at all times has been all about.
In the midst of this season, we present the demise of Icheb, who was a recurring character on “Voyager,” after which the demise of Hugh, who was a recurring character on “TNG.” Once we talked about it, we undoubtedly had a way of like, there’s in all probability going to be some people who find themselves upset that these characters have died. And we have been okay with that, as a result of we thought in each circumstances, neither demise was gratuitous. The demise of Icheb has now turn out to be a part of the story of Seven of 9. It felt utterly known as for and we couldn’t have advised her story with out it. I imply, the demise of Icheb is upsetting partly as a result of it’s pretty grotesque, which I perceive, but additionally as a result of, you realize, he’s so powerless, he has no company. He’s actually a sufferer. However that isn’t the case with the demise of Hugh. He dies attempting to do what he’s been attempting to do for his complete grownup life, which is assist former Borg. His demise felt significant.
I’ll say, I don’t suppose I fairly understood that there have been going to be individuals who can be upset a few character’s demise no matter how that character died. That merely the very fact of a personality dying — that was not okay with them. Even when I had identified that I’d have in the end dismissed it as a result of it appears — I simply don’t perceive tv in that manner.
You spent a lot of your profession as a novelist, and that is the primary time you’ve been in command of a season of tv the place you’re watching the story unfold, and seeing the response, over many weeks.
It’s bizarre, yeah! I imply, one attainable response that I may have had — and I believe a few of my companions on “Picard” do have — is to disregard all of it utterly. Or to simply take somewhat look, possibly have a look at Rotten Tomatoes, see what the sort of consensus of the critiques from the critics has been, which has been fairly darn favorable, and simply type of go away it at that.
As a result of I contemplate myself to be part of “Star Trek” fandom, and I’ve been since I used to be 10 years previous — I’ve learn fanfiction, I’ve collected fanzines — I’d by no means have denied myself the chance to take part in “Picard,” not simply because the as a co-creator, showrunner, producer, however as a fan, too. And so I do wish to be engaged. I’ve gone possibly half a dozen instances since this season began to look on Reddit. I’ll say, the standard of remark and of criticism on Reddit is a lot vastly greater than it’s on Twitter, even some fairly strongly destructive criticism. It tends to be significantly better reasoned, significantly better supported with proof, in a manner that I can respect and have interaction with and take heed to.
What has it been wish to expertise this type of storytelling, the place followers are reacting as issues are nonetheless in progress?
You recognize, if you happen to’re watching a one hour episode of [pre-2010s] “Star Trek,” all of them — aside from lengthy swaths of “Deep Area 9” towards the top of its run — have been episodic. It could possibly be a personality having [makes air-quotes] “darkish points.” You would even introduce a sure “dystopian” aspect into an episode of “Star Trek.” You would introduce that in Act One, and any fan can be keen to tolerate that. They might be keen to tolerate a personality having a substance abuse downside or not being good to their fellow crew members — so long as it bought put again to rights on the finish of the episode.
Whenever you do it in episode 1 or 2 of a 10-episode season, and that character’s downside doesn’t actually get resolved till the final couple episodes — lots of people can’t tolerate that. And that’s actually fascinating. Once more, it’s a query of expectations, of biases. You come to “Star Trek,” I believe, as a fan, particularly if you happen to’ve watched all of the episodes many, many instances, with this expectation that you simply gained’t should tolerate that sort of stage of “darkness” for that lengthy. And in order that when a present on this period asks you to do what you’re readily keen to do with a present like “Westworld” or “Breaking Dangerous” or no matter — someway, the mere incontrovertible fact that it’s “Star Trek” makes it onerous to simply accept.
And I truly get that. It’s somewhat bizarre for me, too. Each in conceiving this present, and typically, if I can provide myself sufficient distance as I’m watching the episodes as they’re dropping, I can really feel this deep wiring in my mind that desires “Star Trek” to be episodic. I can keep in mind how odd it felt watching these serialized episodes of “Deep Area 9.” I wasn’t fully certain I preferred it then, both. It was to this point forward of its time. I appreciated it as a result of they have been coping with a really drastically disturbed second within the historical past of the Federation with the Dominion battle. It felt acceptable, I revered it, and I understood it — and it made me uncomfortable as a “Star Trek” fan.
So it’s been fascinating for me, to get again to your authentic query, watching the response unfold in actual time and with the ability to perceive the place lots of that is coming from as a fan. It’s made it simpler for me to simply accept when followers categorical their displeasure. However it’s human nature to give attention to that stuff, and to sort of ignore the truth that the overwhelming majority of fan response appears to be actually constructive. And, you realize, I’ve additionally been gratified to see lots of people who do just like the present taking different individuals to process in order that I don’t should.
So all this fan suggestions that you simply’ve been absorbing over the previous few few months, has it knowledgeable on any stage how Season 2 ended up being conceived?
No, in no way. We’re true to what my expensive pal and collaborator and accomplice Akiva Goldsman calls the item. The article is “Star Trek: Picard.” It’s a present with an almost 80-year-old actor enjoying a 94-year-old man who is that if not within the closing phases of his profession, within the latter phases of his profession, who has a interval of nice dismay and disillusionment in his rapid rear view, who has allowed himself to let ties that have been previously essential to him slip or fade away, and who has now re-engaged with the drastically modified world wherein he finds himself. That’s the story we’re telling. And we’re telling that story as a result of it feels each fascinating and true, but additionally as a result of it displays the character of our star and each his needs and his capabilities. It was not ever going to be “The Subsequent Technology Half Two” in any manner. It was by no means going to have an everyday forged made up of LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes and Gates McFadden and Michael Dorn. It was by no means going to be set on the bridge of a starship in Starfleet. It was by no means going to be episodic in format. It was by no means going to be any of the issues that “TNG” was. Not solely couldn’t it’s these issues if it tried, however it wasn’t going to attempt. As a result of that’s not what we have now to do.
So what does Season 2 seem like?
It’s going to be totally different in some methods. It’s undoubtedly going to go in instructions that we didn’t see in Season 1. I believe we’ve been emboldened in some ways by the recognition of the present. I’ve solely executed this as soon as, however I’d think about it’s in all probability true for lots of tv exhibits particularly on this period: Season 1 was in lots of respects about studying easy methods to make “Star Trek: Picard.” Each in a manufacturing sense, but additionally by way of storytelling and who our forged is, how these characters find yourself forming shocking hyperlinks and attachments to one another.
It’s in a manner that I believe was in all probability true again with “TNG” and what I used to be speaking about — everybody agrees, as soon as Riker grew the beard, the present bought higher. It was as a result of they realized what they’d. Going ahead, we’re solely going to be doing extra of what we did, with better confidence and with a better sense of what this present appears like when it’s firing on all engines.
So I wish to ask a few couple particular episodes. First, “Nepenthe,” when Picard and Soji transport to the planet the place Picard’s previous colleagues from the Enterprise, Riker (Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis), have constructed a house to lift their household. That episode felt like a turning level for the present to me. It wasn’t simply because we bought to see Riker and Troi and study what turned of them and their relationship with Picard. It’s that the present actually let these characters simply be with one another, and in subsequent episodes, I’ve felt there have been extra moments like that. How did you arrive at that episode?
I imply, there’s at all times going to be a stress — and this is applicable whenever you’re writing novels, too. It’s a stress that every one writers expertise whenever you’re attempting to provide a sustained work of fiction, whether or not that’s on the web page or on display screen. I believe a helpful metaphor for desirous about it’s an Etch A Sketch. In the event you keep in mind, there are two dials on the Etch A Sketch, one is plot and one is character. What you’re attempting to do, and it’s actually onerous, is to show them precisely the identical quantity so that you simply’re getting an ideal 45 diploma angle. However as quickly as you decide to a plotted story, which we dedicated to from the opening scene of Episode 1, you’ve strapped your self to a plot-driven engine that you simply’re going to should push again in opposition to actually onerous to attempt to maintain it into that 45 diploma angle.
You recognize, personally talking, my very own tastes and inclination, I at all times mentioned once we have been within the earliest variations of the room for this present, if we may have simply executed an entire present about Picard and the canine on the winery in France, with no starships, no phasers, the one Romulans can be these two Romulans who work for him on the winery, and no politics — simply, like, there’s a funfair down within the village they usually all go, and possibly Picard solves a really low stakes thriller within the village, like, somebody has stolen the vintage bell out of the bell tower, or one thing like that? I’d have liked to jot down that present. Um. I don’t suppose the world’s fairly prepared for a “Star Trek” present like that, and there’s in all probability possibly not that large of an viewers for a “Star Trek” present like that.
In “Stardust Metropolis Rag,” there’s an implication that Seven of 9 (Jeri Ryan) and Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan) might need been lovers at one time. Given the historical past of the LGBTQ characters in your physique of labor, I questioned why there weren’t any extra type of explicitly queer characters this season?
Properly, the way in which that folks’s id is constructed with sexuality as a part of it, in my expertise, it emerges in a way more natural [way], and never like sporting a t-shirt that claims, you realize, Queer Energy — or the equal within the 24th century. We get to know these characters the way in which we get to know actual individuals. It emerges in dialog when it might emerge in dialog. Like their parentage, for instance. It’s actually vital to me who my dad and mom have been. I’m certain it was actually vital to you for shaping your id. We don’t know something about Jurati’s dad and mom besides that her father learn paper books and he or she used to interrupt him. We don’t know something about Raffi’s dad and mom. We don’t know that a lot about Picard’s dad and mom — even if you happen to’ve watched “TNG.” When it comes to the present, it simply doesn’t come up.
Properly, on “Star Trek: Discovery,” it was a really large deal that Lt. Stamets, the character performed by Anthony Rapp, is homosexual. So I believe there’s a sure subset of “Trek” fandom that was enthusiastic about seeing that perpetuate on “Picard.”
We’re doing it differently. We’re doing it in an natural manner — what feels natural to me. It emerged in that scene between Bjayzl and Seven. I believe it’s fairly express, however it’s express in a manner that feels actual. Bjayzl doesn’t say, “We have been lovers.” She doesn’t say, “We have been a pair,” or something like that. She says, “We have been extremely shut.” It felt, to me, pure. It felt like how any person would discuss a few years later, a relationship that was up to now.
And it’ll proceed to emerge. I believe it’s part of our understanding of Raffi’s character. In Raffi’s scene the place she calls into Starfleet to attempt to get entry for them to the Artifact, and calls that previous pal of hers, I imply, to me, the implication is there too of their relationship. However she doesn’t ever say, “I’m going to name this girl that I used to exit with,” and he or she doesn’t say, “Hey, keep in mind me. I was your girlfriend.”
You do have Jurati and Rios couple up at one level. Sure sexuality will get exercised on the present.
Solely in that one scene, although. In that case, it’s about Jurati, and what she’s executed [when she killed her former boyfriend convinced it was for the greater good]. It’s truly not about intercourse in any respect or sexuality, it’s about her devastation, her isolation, her guilt. She’s self-medicating, primarily, with intercourse. It’s not there to say, Hello, right here’s two characters they usually’re heterosexual. It’s there to say, right here’s a fucked up individual reaching out to the person who, with a restricted vary of candidates, not solely does she discover most engaging, however objectively talking, he’s extremely beautiful and he’s not sporting a shirt.
Once more, it’s about letting individuals’s identities emerge. I believe we’ll have extra time for that within the second season than we’ve had within the first season. We simply had so many characters and a lot story to inform on this first season, that lots of the type of extra private features of issues — together with once more, like individuals’s households, and all that stuff — simply all bought type of left [behind].
One of many largest surprises for me was how “Picard” took the Borg, the most important boogeymen of the “Trek” universe, and made them actually sympathetic. The place did that come from?
It actually goes again to watching “Star Trek: First Contract” the primary time within the theater, and being actually upset by a second in that film the place our heroes from the Enterprise are being menaced by the assimilated Starfleet personnel. And, roughly paraphrasing, Picard says, like, “You simply should kill them. They’re not your pal anymore. They’re not the person who you knew. They’re simply Borg.” And watching that scene — that’s so patently false, proper? We all know that’s a lie, since you noticed Picard get assimilated after which get restored again to himself. In order that’s bulls–t.
So now, we have now this clear mandate from Patrick for “Picard”: Something we’re going to do on this present, whether or not it’s bringing again one other legacy character or a key plot aspect from “TNG,” no matter it’s, it may well’t be the identical because it was. In order that meant if we ever have been going to convey the Borg again, and we sort of needed to convey the Borg again, we needed to discover a method to do it that felt totally different.
And as quickly as I checked out that mandate, I remembered this concept of taking a look at assimilation as a type of trauma. We determined to actually personal that concept, and to actually contemplate the previous Borg’s declare on the identical diploma of remedy that we might bestow on every other sentient creatures within the “Star Trek” world. That felt like a very inevitable method to go.
You have been going to step away as showrunner of “Picard” so as to make your Showtime sequence primarily based on “The Superb Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” along with your spouse Ayelet Waldman. The place are you with that?
In truth, you possibly can’t actually be the showrunner of a present and do the rest. It was all consuming. I liked each minute of it — the onerous components as a lot as the simple components. However I acknowledged that I couldn’t do it once more, and likewise end a novel, and likewise develop “Kavalier & Clay” and in the end co-showrun that with Ayelet. There’s simply no manner. So I’m nonetheless an govt producer on “Picard.” I’m writing two episodes. I used to be there breaking the second season, throughout. I used to be engaged, I believe, in precisely the identical diploma as I used to be on Season 1 as much as the purpose the place it’s time to begin manufacturing — and at that time, I can’t be doing the identical factor in any respect. I’ll simply be persevering with to provide notes and, and be concerned as an EP.
Now you’ve run a season of TV, what have you ever realized that you simply didn’t know earlier than you began, that you simply hope to use to “Kavalier & Clay”?
I can suppose by way of manufacturing in a manner that I couldn’t after I began engaged on “Picard.” Only one instance: the worth of a bottle episode. In the event you can have an episode that takes place fully on standing units, that you simply don’t should do any builds for, that you simply don’t have any places for — that’s such an incredible factor. It’s creatively a problem, but additionally by way of manufacturing, it’s such a present to your funds. That sort of considering is one thing I couldn’t have probably purchased to “Kavalier & Clay” with out having labored on Picard.
Lastly, I wish to ask the query we’re all asking proper now: How are you doing amid every part with the pandemic?
I’m doing nice. You recognize, except for the social disruption, and the people who find themselves sick and the fatalities, I imply, these are sort of like preferrred circumstances for me, personally. I don’t wish to go wherever or do something or speak to anybody. I identical to to remain dwelling and work and browse books and watch motion pictures and TV exhibits and cook dinner. I’m certain it can develop wearisome ultimately, however proper now, two of my 4 youngsters are dwelling. They’re adults, or quasi-adults. So I’m not dealing with the issue confronted by individuals who have little youngsters operating round and don’t know what to do with them. As normal, I’m very fortunate and privileged, and proper now, since we’re all wholesome, it’s okay.
It seems like there’s not been as a lot of an adjustment interval for you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.