"The Only way to defeat fear, is to tell it No..."
The argument that Star Trek: Picard is too dark has been the subject of much debate since the show debuted in January. On top of that fans, especially ones who grew up with the original series and The Next Generation, seem to wonder what happened to the perfect paradise that was the United Federation of Planets. What happened to the idea of working to "better ourselves and the rest of humanity," as Captain Picard so eloquently put it to Lilly in Star Trek: First Contact. Therein lies the issue, doesn't it? Better ourselves and better humanity.
Gene Roddenberry was always very hesitant to portray conflict among humans when, in fact, it's always been there. Whether incidentally or because the writer's room found ways through what at least, in my opinion, was a narrow way of thinking, conflict has always been at the heart of Star Trek. More so, since the show first debuted in the 1960s, corruption and even xenophobia have slowly been creeping to the point where we now find ourselves in the 24th century: A Federation and Starfleet Command that abandoned the relocation of a people, enemy or not, at their most vulnerable time of need.
But it's not just the abandonment of the Romulan people; it's the fact that Starfleet was possibly complicit in the attack on its own people on Mars, just to use as an excuse not to help out an enemy. There is something deeper rooted here, and a connection between Starfleet Command and the Tal Shiar is almost inevitably going to reveal itself sooner rather than later.
Here's the thing. These actions are nothing new. Starfleet and the Federation have never been all sunshine and rainbows. Hell, before the Federation Charter gets written, Captain Archer was making less than rational decisions on behalf of certain races aboard the NX-01.
Let's take a look at the Enterprise episode, "Dear Doctor." The Enterprise comes across a pre-warp civilization that is in the middle of a species-wide epidemic. While their request for help building a warp engine is rightfully denied, Phlox almost immediately finding a cure, and withholding it is questionable at best. His reasoning is even more flawed, citing that the outbreak is not a foreign body, but genetic. Archer somehow agrees with this way of thinking, and quite literally dooms an entire species to die in the hope that within a decade, they can come up with a cure themselves.
In most cases of a pre-warp civilization, this stance would typically fall into the Prime Directive, and be the right move. But these people weren't just inventing the wheel. They were a little more advanced than we are now in 2020, sprawling cities, space-faring. An advanced civilization. And Archer for lack of a better term committed genocide. That's assuming this race didn't find a cure, which seemed unlikely at best.
This wouldn't be the last time genocide was on the table for the Federation. After the Battle of Wolf 359 and the loss of over 11,000 lives, Starfleet had a very hard line on the Borg, and you can't blame them. That's why in "I, Borg" and the discovery of Hugh, the crew of the Enterprise contemplated using the drone as a carrier for a program that would effectively wipe out the collective.
Hugh, a Borg drone disconnected from the Collective, could have been used a weapon to wipe out the Borg upon his reintegration
I don't agree with Picard's decision not to transmit the program. Reclaiming the entire collective of Borg would be next to impossible, and as we know, the Borg has one purpose and one purpose only, and that's to assimilate. There is no reasoning with them. The morality of the idea aside, the fact that the Federation, without a blink of an eye, ordered the complete and total destruction of the Borg in a later episode is not very…enlightened.
Though genocide seemed very much on the table and out in the open, Starfleet had its own secret police, Section 31. Much like the Romulan's Tal Shiar, Section 31 operates outside of Starfleet's jurisdiction. It's the subject of some debate as to whether or not Starfleet is aware of Section 31's existence. Still, seeing as they've been operating since before the previously mentioned Federation Charter, and claim to have been sanctioned in Article 14 of that charter, it's hard to believe that the Federation does not know about their operational status even in the 23rd century.
Look no closer than the special detail of Starfleet officers aboard the U.S.S. Discovery donning the famous black badges we're all now familiar with. It's a mix of both Starfleet Command and Section 31 that bring about the end of the Klingon War in the most unorthodox of ways: planting a bomb in the core of the Klingon homeworld, Qo'Nos. Yes, the Mirror Georgiou was not technically a Section 31 operative yet, but doing something along these lines is most certainly in their MO. As of 2375, Section 31 was still operating on the planet, monitoring Klingon covert operations.
Another conflict Section 31 tried to bring to a swift end? The Dominion War, which we will talk a lot about. What makes this even worse is that it worked. The organization deliberately infected Odo with a virus that ravaged the Founders and Great Link. It was only after Dr. Julian Bashir found a cure, and Odo linked with the Founder's leader to administer it to their people, that the Dominion surrendered and ended the war.
Former Emperor Philippa Georgiou of the Mirror Universe turned Section 31 operative.
It comes as no surprise that Starfleet has its own CIA, or that the Klingons and Romulans do as well. And look no further than the Obsidian Order of Cardassia. Every political organization has one, even if some operate in the shadows more than others. It's disturbing that Starfleet uses them to hide behind some of their more nefarious deeds, such as the abrupt end to the war and even political assassinations.
Then there's the Maquis, which for all intents and purposes, was a terrorist organization, even if they had the best of intentions. But their creation is a direct result of the Federation attempting numerous peace talks with the Cardassian Union via treaties and truces, and most importantly, the Federation's inability to listen to its people. You could go as far as to say that the Maquis and multiple conflicts with the Cardassians is one of Starfleet's most significant failures.
Think about some of the high profile names in the Maquis: Thomas Riker, Ro Laren, Chakotay. The Maquis also had the added benefit of being made up of multiple species, including humans, Bajorans, Klingons, and many more, giving their cause more legitimacy throughout the galaxy. Decorated Starfleet officers were resigning their commissions all because Starfleet abandoned colonies that were close to Cardassian settlements.
Starfleet turned a blind eye to the Cardassians, who were not keeping up their end of the armistice, leaving Federation citizens to die and be harassed. And for what? The treaties and armistices did jack all in the grand scheme of things. The Federation would ultimately be flung back into conflict in the bloodiest war in their history with the Dominion-backed Cardassians, and they almost lost.
Had the Federation listened to their people, worked with bringing the Maquis back into the fold, and possibly gone to war with the Cardassians earlier, the Dominion War may not have happened at all. Instead, Starfleet was spread way to thin by the increasingly rising threat of the Dominion, the Klingon-Cardassian War (with the Klingons also aiding the Maquis), and finally, the Maquis themselves, fighting in a conflict basically against their own people.
Did the Maquis continuesly cross the line? Yes, absolutely. Actions taken by the likes of Thomas Riker and Michael Eddington were especially heinous. Both men would ultimately pay for their actions, and the Maquis would be wiped out by the Dominion. Starfleet had every chance to make the situation right but played politics instead, costing thousands of innocent lives and perhaps millions upon millions of others who were casualties of the Dominion War, which saw a massive loss of life on all sides.
Michael Eddington was DS9's head of security, but later become one of the Maquis' most ruthless leaders.
On the subject of the Dominion War, Starfleet, at times, seemed almost as if they wanted it to happen. After a bombing on Earth that killed 27 people at the hands of the Founders, Admiral Leyton of Starfleet Command planned an elaborate coup d' état to overthrow the Federation Government and its President. The idea? Have Starfleet take over as the governing body of the Federation to better protect the immanent Dominion threat primarily through Martial Law. This wasn't a small operation; Leyton recruited Ben Sisko and had loyalists at every level of Starfleet, including the Academy.
Like all flawed coups, Leyton's fears were sound, but he went about finding solutions to quell those fears in all the wrong ways. Random blood screenings of high-level Starfleet officers and their families wasn't a bad implementation. The minute Leyton used cadets to disable Earth's power grid and stage it as a Dominion attack, any credibility he had was thrown out the window.
Leyton didn't stop there, though. While it's never explicitly stated, one can assume through his other actions that the Admiral was planning to assassinate the Federation President (not the first attempt, and we'll get to that). Through his very own words, we know Leyton was less than thrilled with a non-human serving as President (a Grazerite, Jaresh-Inyo), who he believed didn't have Earth's best interest at heart. A somewhat xenophobic point of view from a Starfleet Vice Admiral.
We already know that Leyton was never going to allow the President to make his speech. Judging by his willingness to sacrifice the crew of the Defiant for his cause, it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to think he was going to use "changelings" as a scapegoat.
Luckily, Ben Sisko is quite possibly the most loyal Starfleet has ever had in its ranks. Despite Leyton being his former commanding officer, he found him out and forced him to resign, at considerable risk to both his career and crew. One could argue that Leyton's punishment should have been much more severe.
A Vice Admiral who plotted to stage a coup, ordered the destruction of a Federation vessel, leading to casualties on both the Lakota and Defiant. It seems to me he should have been sent to a Federation Correctional Facility, which we know because of Tom Paris still existed. Instead, for what little information there is, it seems he literally got to walk out of his office, albeit without his rank. This appears to be a very typical Federation move.
The Lakota and Defiant fire on one another as Captain Sisko foils Leyton's coup.
And it's not the first time the Federation tired to sweep the wrongdoing of an officer under the rug. In fact, Commodore Stone used those exact words to Captain James Kirk after the apparent loss of Lt. Commander Finney aboard the Enterprise. Although the entire situation is an attempt by Finney (who was not, in fact, dead) to frame Kirk for his death, Stone was willing to let the whole thing go without a Court Martial because of Kirk's exemplary service to the Federation. Kirk is offered a desk job in exchange for his silence.
There are reasons for this, of course, although it doesn't make what Stone tried to do any better. In the same episode, as Kirk is being debriefed, Stone says, "the service can't afford to lose men like Lt. Commander Finney." Why? Well, the Klingon war, in which the Federation came days away from losing, was not even ten years removed.
The loss of life, which was low compared to conflicts like the Dominion War, was mainly confined to starships and starbases (though there were plenty of civilian deaths as well). This meant even years later, keeping good officers, especially Captains like James Kirk, was essential to Starfleet Command. The last thing Stone wanted to do was Court Martial, even at that time, the most decorated and famed Captain in the fleet.
Years later, Kirk would be caught in the middle of yet another Federation plot that almost cost him his career, legacy, and life. After the over-mining of the Klingon moon of Praxis and its subsequent destruction, there was a secret coalition within Starfleet led by Fleet Admiral Cartwright. The ultimate goal of that coalition was to let nature take its course, and let the Klingons die, something that would have happened in 50 years' time.
To Cartwright and his conspirators, peace talks, as well as the dismantling of starbases and space stations along the Neutral Zone, seemed to high a risk. For the Klingons, the economics on Qo'Nos didn't have the ability to combat what was essentially a severe climate emergency due to their military spending.
Admiral Cartwright and Enterprise helmsmen Lt. Valeris were directly responsible for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon, which almost killed the peace talks. Cartwright, with the help of General Chang, Gorkon's Chief of Staff, assumed framing Kirk, due to his own misgivings about the Klingon people and their role in the death of his son David, would put an end to the idea of peace. Still, the Admiral didn't account for Gorkon's daughter, Azetbur, to carry on her father's hope for peace.
This led to Cartwright and Chang having to go forward with a much bolder plan B: the attempted assassination of the Federation President on Khitomer. The idea was to make the assassination look like Klingon retaliation for the murder of Gorkon, but the plan was ultimately foiled by Kirk and the Enterprise, who were able to uncover the conspiracy thanks to Spock mind-melding with the now outed Lt. Valeris.
Azetbur, daughter of Chancellor Gorkon, was essential in keeping peace talks with the Federation alive.
Assassination attempts, genocide, coups, political maneuvering. It certainly doesn't sound like paradise. The paradise that exists on Earth is merely a facade. Earth has directly paid the price for some of Starfleet's mistakes on occasion. The Breen attack on Starfleet HQ, the Xindi Incident that killed seven million. The list goes on. Starfleet and the Federation have been on the slow road to collapse for decades, and it comes as no surprise that we see them painted in such a negative light during the events of Star Trek: Picard.
Paradise doesn't last. Gene Roddenberry's perfect utopia doesn't exist, and he knew that. Does that mean that we can never get back there? No, absolutely not. One thing Star Trek has always shown us is that the powers of good always prevail, even if that road sometimes is a little longer than others.
Things do look bad for the Federation right now, and they certainly have a history of doing some less than heroic deeds. That's never going to change. There is always going to be a secret organization, or people with bad intentions. What's important is that we eventually get back to a place of hope, and if Star Trek is good for one thing, it's giving us that hope. With that, I leave you with these wise words from Commander Burnham...