Spoiler Alert for Picard
I read somewhere recently that the human brain is unable to distinguish the difference between real people and fictional ones, which is why we often get so attached to characters in the media we consume. I don’t remember where I saw that, and I didn’t do any further digging to see how reputable the website or the study it referenced were. It was just an interesting little tidbit that, based on the number of times I’ve cried over the death of someone who doesn’t actually exist, I could see being true.
I’d have to say that the best example of this phenomenon in my life is Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I’ve always been a Trekkie. I used to watch the original series in reruns on Sunday mornings whenever I could when I was a kid. This is a bigger deal than it sounds, as being caught by my father watching television during the day meant him, “finding something productive for you to do,” followed by being assigned a nasty make-work chore, which he would then sit in a lawn chair to “supervise” – aka, watch you like a hawk – and, “make sure you’re doing it right.” (Spoiler alert: you were never doing it right.)
But when my parents were having a rare Sunday morning lie-in, or my father was already working outside and looked likely to stay there, I’d sneak into the living room and turn on Star Trek. I’d sit on a footstool with my nose nearly touching the screen and have the volume so low I could barely hear it in an attempt not to get caught.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. But for some reason, when it came to Star Trek, even when my father did walk into the living room without me hearing him coming – another reason for the low volume was so I could shut things down and run when I heard his footsteps – he never pulled me away from the show right then. He’d tell me to come find him when it was over, and I knew I was going to pay for my transgression, but at least I’d get to finish the episode.
When I was 16, a new Star Trek hit the small screen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or TNG for short. I was very excited, and because by this time we had a second TV, I was able to watch it without my father vetoing it. (He always got the final say in what was playing in the living room.) Every Saturday night, my brother and I would watch it together. It was the best part of my week.
A couple of years later, two significant things happened: my brother moved out, and I started university. Not long after I started uni, my father went completely off the rails. Things at home got … bad. Really bad. Because I was the only kid still living at home, I bore a lot of the brunt of it.
At some point, my brother must have gotten wind of what was going on, because he started inviting me over. Like many students, I worked all weekend. My job was quite near to his apartment, so I’d leave home for work Saturday morning, spend Saturday night at my brother’s place, and I wouldn’t go back home until Sunday evening, after my shift.
And every Saturday night, we’d order Chinese food and watch TNG.
It was still the best part of my week. Only better.
I look back on it now, and realize how insanely generous my brother was, giving up his weekend, every weekend, to protect his little sister. I don’t know exactly how long it went on. If I had to guess, I’d say about a year. At the time, I was excited to be hanging out with my brother. As I got older, I realized the sacrifice he made, and how much of a lifeline he was.
When I heard the announcement that for Picard ‘s third season, nearly the entire original TNG cast will be reuniting I, in rather a surprise to myself, burst into tears. Like, full-on ugly crying. For several hours, I kept getting weepy about it. I spent most of my time writing this article wiping away tears.
And while, yeah, the teenager who was excited for new Trek still exists inside me and is thrilled to see my favourite cast from my favourite show together once again, it’s not the sort of thing that would normally bring me to tears. I might squee a little bit – okay, a lot – and bounce up and down in my seat.
But cry? That’s not the sort of thing that normally makes me cry.
I think I’ve figured out why I did, though. I think I do have trouble differentiating the characters in TNG from real people – not that I think they really exist, but in that I feel real feelings for them – and they’ve become entangled with a terrible time in my personal history and what got me through it.
My brothers and I were raised in the same abusive environment, and it’s left its mark on all of us. One of the results is that we aren’t particularly demonstrative towards one another. We don’t say “I love you,” there’s little physical contact, and since I moved away there are often long silences because we’re just not the reaching-out type. (This varies among the brothers, of course, but holds true for the one in this particular story.) So I don’t think it’s a surprise that the love I have towards the brother who protected me, that I could never really express to him, has shifted sideways and become attached to the characters in the show we used to watch together.
I suppose I could be reading too much into this. Maybe I’m just a geek, geeking out at the thing I love to geek out at, and being overly emotional because I thought I would never have the chance to geek anew at it. But I don’t think so, because I know what I felt when I heard the casting announcement, even if just for a moment. It was an echo of a memory of a feeling from thirty years ago.
I felt safe.
It’s a rare feeling in these times of COVID and war and climate change and rampant inflation. The uncertainty is overwhelming.
But now I am certain of at least one thing. I will watch season three of Picard with a sense of peace that I have not felt in a very long time, and all because my Protective Brother watched out for me, all those years ago.