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Jonathan Frakes: Our Number One

Jonathan Frakes talks about Picard, Discovery, and the destiny of Riker/Troi.

By Silek Tue 28 Apr, 2020 8:40 PM
While he'll always be Number One in our hearts, Jonathan Frakes has cultivated a career over the past four decades that has firmly established himself as a top tier talent in not only the Star Trek Universe, but in Hollywood as well. With over 40 directing credits to his name and near 100 acting credits listed on his IMDB resume, Frakes has probably been involved in a lot more of your entertainment consumption than you've realized. From N.C.I.S. Los Angeles, The Librarians, Burn Notice and The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, to Leverage, Criminal Minds and The Orville, Frakes has never left the call to entertain, whether in front of the camera, or running things from behind it.

Frakes has been no stranger to our digital lives as well. You may have caught him in XCOM 2, Family Guy, or any number of Trek video games, as well as of his many appearances doing voice over work for Adventure Time, Futurama, Family Guy, or Gargoyles.

With all this however, he has never ventured too far from his Trek family. Most recently he starred in, and directed two episodes of Picard, and spoke of his affinity of Discovery, of which the three episodes he directed for season 3, will bring the total number of Discovery episodes he's helm-ed up to six.

Frakes spoke earlier this month saying, "Discovery has primarily to do with Sonequa's character, as you'll see. At the end of season two, we flash-forwarded I think 930 years. Michael Burnham has found a new core, not to mention a new partner in crime, so again, there's a big tonal shift on that show, less driven by the pain and guilt of her past and more about the magical reunification of the Discovery crew and wherever she went off to."

Although she was only briefly reunited with her mother Dr. Gabreille Burnham, played by Sonja Sohn, Michael continued her work.

"God knows where she went as the Red Angel," Frakes continued. "So those two things coming back together is very much the theme, and how grateful everyone is and what's next. It's got a lot of action-adventure and not so much pain. She's (also) had a life-changing experience over the break between seasons. The new season isn't driven by fears of the past. It’s driven primarily by this second chance that the crew of Discovery is given. It's brighter. More complex. I think it's thrilling."

Frakes has secured his place in continuing the story of the Enterprise crew in Picard as well. He spoke on the meticulous and careful planning of bringing Riker back to the screen and his collaboration with showrunner Michael Chabon saying, "I had very long, very specific conversations with Michael about Riker’s turn-of-phrase for every scene. He slipped me the script early, and I worked on it for a long time. We had a line-by-line, word-by-word process. He understood completely and what ended up on the page was a total collaboration. I didn’t change the story, but I changed certain rhythms. I’m not sure if they felt more like Frakes or more like Riker."

Frakes has made no secret of the fact he had always resented the way in which his relationship with Dienna Troi, played by Marina Sirtis, had been sidelined as The Next Generation continued in it's seasons.

He stated, "At the beginning of The Next Generation, Troi and Riker were lovers before they transferred to the Enterprise, and then that [story] was buried so that they could be whatever - available to relationships with random aliens, but, we held onto this relationship and insisted to each other that we maintain it. And as a result - I think - it resurfaced in the final movie Nemesis, in which the two characters were married. It was very important, this relationship, we take it very personally and we feel wonderfully vindicated to see them return. When they introduced this story that Marina - Counselor Troi and I - have a family and live on a planet that looks like rural Maine, it felt like a gift. The obvious gift being that we got to play together with our friends from 33 years ago, but it's also the idea that Marina and I had both held onto a very specific story for these characters. We held it close to our hearts for many years, and the writers had seemed to give up on it."

As well as bringing Riker back to us, Picard once again gave him the opportunity to prove his directing chops as a storyteller. In the first season, Frakes directed what many are calling it's two best episodes, Absolute Candor, and Stardust City Rag.

When asked about hopping from one side of the camera to the other Frakes said, "They could not have been more different in style. It was a wonderful challenge. 'Absolute Candor' felt like a classic Trek, and it also felt like a western. While 'Stardust City Rag,' had this noir-ish, night club, Westworld-vibe. The look and the cinematic influences on both were very different. And ironically, we shot them as a block, overlapping. So, we had to maintain an awareness that they were two different things."

Any discussion on the new Star Trek series, inevitably includes questions about the new tones struck by both the JJ Abrams inclusions and these new series. Many are quick to point out that a lot of this can be traced to his directorial choices in Star Trek: First Contact back in 1996.

Speaking to those who grew up with The Next Generation, Frakes has said, "A lot of the feedback is coming from your generation and maybe the one after it. If you grew up in a Star Trek house, our show was the Star Trek of your generation, and that has impacted the viewers of both Discovery and Picard, but specifically Picard. For the first time, the audience was inclined to be accepting and was looking forward to and not dreading it or suspicious which hasn't always been the case! Our show [TNG] was received with great skepticism, some would say, hostility. People wanted their Kirk, Bones, and Spock. Discovery was received with skepticism because fans had just adjusted to the J.J. world of Trek. But Picard brought with it, your generation, my generation, and whoever else we could bring along. There was a very palpable and positive appetite."

Like most, I couldn't be more excited to see Jonathan Frakes involved in whatever capacity we are lucky enough to get him in. Knowing he is involved in the future of each series, makes me look forward to it even more.

What did you think of this article? Let us know!

EDITED BY Infinity
Wed 29 Apr, 2020 8:52 AM
Great article, I thoroughly enjoyed the reprise of Riker and Troi, and the continuation of their relationship from Nemesis in Picard. Despite all these years, Jonathan Frakes hasn't stopped being Riker when playing the role. It's also fantastic that Frakes is continuing to take part in Trek as an actor and director, and as you said in your final line it's exciting that he's involved in the future of the franchise!
Wed 29 Apr, 2020 10:11 AM
When Frakes directs Trek, it's always that extra little bit special, he just gets and understands what it is, what it needs to be and it shows.
Wed 29 Apr, 2020 6:40 PM
Very good ^^
4 Weeks Ago
Riker was awesome and it was great he had some episodes in Picard. Nice article and I look forward to more from Frakes as he is phenomenal.