(Loss of) Commanding Presence

Of all of the fanboy nonsense I’ve read concerning the new season of Star Trek: Picard (of which episode five just aired, or dropped, or whatever you call it), the most fanboyishly nonsensical was from a Facebook commenter who complained that he realized that lead actor Patrick Stewart has aged, “but he no longer seems to have a commanding presence.”

Star Trek: Picard – Patrick Stewart (R) as a 90-something Jean Luc Picard is even more bewildered than ever by the machinations of his nemesis Q (John DeLancie, L).

I replied that, correct me if I’m wrong, but… isn’t one of the main themes of Picard that the title character has aged and no longer feels (or appears to those around him) that he has a “commanding presence”??

Five episodes into the second season, one thing that I love about Star Trek: Picard, which was true in its first season and is true thus far in this season as well, is Patrick Stewart’s performance in the title role. For you who haven’t watched the series, Picard has aged 30+ years since last we saw him onscreen in the Star Trek movies.

I’m trying to think of another elderly fictional character who has been depicted so realistically and played so well by the actor.

One thing I’ve always loved about Star Trek is that it never shied away from the topic of aging. The two best– to me– Trek movies featuring the original cast were the second one (The Wrath of Khan) where Kirk has to come to terms with his aging (think of Kirk grudgingly putting on fucking READING GLASSES so he can clearly see a navigator’s display panel while his nemesis Khan waits arrogantly on the comlink), and the last one (The Undiscovered Country) where all of the other characters are dealing with it as well (Spock’s beautiful line: “Might it be that you and I have grown so inflexible in our old age that we have outlived our usefulness?”).

Pop culture and pop entertainment is produced and consumed by and geared to the young. That’s because traditionally the young have the money and time to consume it. When elderly characters appear, they’re often a diversion, comic relief, etc. I don’t see a lot of pop entertainment where an elderly protagonist is the star attraction.

Stewart’s performance as a 90-something-year-old Picard resonates with the sort of bewilderment-about-self (“how did I get this old”) that anyone who’s dealt with someone in their 70s or 80s or older will recognize instantly.

The supporting cast seems to have gelled as well, but it’s the series’ title character that makes it worth watching.

If that’s not “commanding presence,” I don’t know what is.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Kirk (William Shatner, L) curses his reading glasses while Spock (Leonard Nimoy, center) and Saavik (Kirstie Alley, R) watch…

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