Friday, September 14, 2018

I think this Patrick Stewart guy may have a future in acting.

Patrick Stewart and Michelle Forbes in "Preemptive Strike"

Star Trek: The Next Generation's “Preemptive Strike” is a real study in how much acting can elevate an episode. “Ensign Ro” is a fantastic episode of television, but there’s something almost comical about watching Michelle Forbes do her nuanced, naturalistic In Treatment thing against Patrick Stewart’s British scenery chewing. They don’t even seem like they’re on the same show. When my sister watched the episode, she said that she thought that Stewart didn’t know how. He’s a great actor, but that’s just not what he does.

But then “Preemptive Strike” rolled around. It’s a great episode on the page, and I probably would’ve liked it no matter what performances Forbes and Stewart turned in. It's smart about the characters and the way they're informed by their broader contexts, in the way only a Ro Laren episode can be. It's also both quietly gutting and quietly condemnatory of Picard, always good qualities for a TNG episode.

But at least 15 percent of my love, I think, comes from their final scene together, in the bar, playacting as a hooker and potential client. I worried as I was watching, and for hours afterward, that there was something a little skeevy about that set-up. It certainly feels wrong, on a gut level, to watch Ro and Picard canoodling. But then Ro tries to back out of her mission, and Picard says, “Laren,” and the canoodling stops, and their body language goes still and wary, and they press their foreheads together. TNG was certainly capable of skeeviness, but I think this was about giving the characters a chance to do things and say things in ways that they never could have on the Enterprise. It’s a chance to let them physically show their affection and their desperation, and to be quiet and intense instead of professional and careful. This is the most important interaction these two characters will ever have — their last — so what a blessing to let them touch.

After three years working together on and off, Stewart and Forbes are on exactly the same level. It’s not quite In Treatment, but it sure as hell isn’t scenery chewing. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, they’re there together, and it’s electric. They milk every moment of eye contact. The world narrows to the space between them. When Picard leaves, his rejection — “I'm sorry. I don't have that kind of money.” — doesn’t actually have any thematic resonance, but Stewart delivers the line like it does, and Forbes sure as hell breaks like it does, and I tore the scene apart looking for it.

Stewart sure showed my sister, I guess.

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