Nostalgia is a tough beast to tame.
For people in my age range (let’s say mid-30s) the entire entertainment industry has us targeted to recapture that feeling from when we were younger, no matter what it is. Virtually every major media franchise that we consumed as children has been brought back, from Star Wars to Ghostbusters to Transformers, He-Man, which begs the question: why not the Star Trek that you knew and loved? Why not bring back Jean-Luc Picard?
Of course, in the case of Star Trek and a lot of other franchises, it’s not just confined by generational or age limitations. This is the age where anything that had a following and might make big bucks for entertainment companies is being continued or rebooted. Star Trek saw a long dark period before the JJ Abrams films were released, doing well enough to introduce a new generation to Star Trek, albeit a different flavor of Trek that doesn’t quite align with most classic Trek. Then came Discovery, which is complicated.
I’ve spilled a lot of ink regarding Star Trek: Discovery and my consensus was this: the first season was a tonal and narrative mess, the second season was a lot better and I’m anxious to see what they do with the third season. The original showrunner intended for the show to be done in the vein of FX’s Fargo or American Horror Story, where each season followed different characters from different eras of Star Trek only for the network to nix that idea, keep most of his original characters and go from there.
One of my main problems with Discovery was its distinct lack of identity. The show relied so heavily upon nostalgia that it became a muddled mess at times. The show’s link to Spock by rewriting his history, then introducing Captain Pike, made it easy to groan at the show’s lack of originality. Doing a full prequel as opposed to merely the anthology format creates logistical problems and binds the show to the time period it takes place in during the canon. That’s most likely why they’ve taken to traveling through time and the alternate universe because eventually they were going to run out of room to exist on its own right in the prime Star Trek timeline.
So now here we are with Picard.
Picard is a continuation of The Next Generation and the mainline film series by catching up with Jean-Luc Picard 20 years later. For a lot of fans, TNG was their entry point into Star Trek—I know it was for me—and helped to foster a love for Star Trek that only grows with time. While there have been a lot of great Starfleet captains, none have quite been so beloved as Picard over the years and in many ways, TNG and Picard are safety blankets for many people.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen TNG all the way through now, even though it takes a backseat to Deep Space 9 as my favorite Trek. The show remains iconic and a veritable goliath in the world of science fiction, making the return of Jean-Luc make sense but also make a fan like me weary.
Did we really need this?
After one episode it’s difficult to say definitively or not but my initial impression is that yes, we kind of needed Star Trek: Picard. Patrick Stewart himself has said that the show is a response to the changing world around us in the age of Donald Trump, Brexit and everything else that’s been going on. A bold statement like that is sure to upset a certain portion of the Trek fanbase.
The YouTube channel Renegade Cut went into how Star Trek has appealed to both progressive and conservative sensibilities through yes, being futuristic communism, but also heavily based on military merits. Both of those core pillars of Star Trek appeal to a certain subset of the audience, making Star Trek of the past feel apolitical, even if it wasn’t. Star Trek has always been political and, moving forward, will be as well.
Star Trek: Picard is absolutely political. If that upsets you then there’s a good chance you’ll want to skip out on this show. The show is about refugees, an isolationist government and media and fears about synthetic beings impeding upon organic lifeforms. That’s just the first episode. They’ve more or less made their line in the sand and said what the show is going to be about, the values that it intends to promote and what to expect. This will absolutely not sit well with some folks and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Picard also seems divorced from Starfleet and any sort of military in general.
That being said, how was the actual show? I went into this with tempered expectations. After grumbling about needing to resubscribe to CBS All Access and the prices have gone up since the last season of Discovery I was expecting to be ambivalent even if folks seemed happy about the show. Yet there really is something to Jean-Luc in his vineyard that feels special. This will not be a normal Star Trek, that much seems clear. Oh yeah, there’s action on the menu and there will be some weighty stuff that needs to be grappled with.
This episode relied heavily upon the death of Data, Picard’s guilt over it and his exit from Starfleet after an incident with synthetics destroying a Martian shipyard led to Starfleet taking on a more isolationist role in the galaxy and withdrawing support for relocating Romulan refugees after what I believe is referencing the first JJ Abrams Star Trek film? Or maybe just similar to that? It’s not really explained here. Regardless, we see a girl (Dahj) celebrating her acceptance into the Daystrom Institute with her boyfriend only for a group of heavily armored dudes to beam into the room, kill the boyfriend and talk about her “activating.” She then promptly kicks all of their asses, sees a flash of Jean-Luc and flees.
All the while, Jean-Luc is having flashbacks to Data by way of dreams where he’s seeing his old friend. He agrees to do an interview with a cable news network only for them to push him on his resignation from Starfleet and imply that helping refugee Romulans was not in the interest of humanity or Starfleet. Ouch.
They aren’t being subtle about most of this. There are upsides and downsides to that. The downside is that they are not being subtle about the links to modern political settings at all. The upside is that it’s easy to understand what they’re going for. I don’t have a problem knowing what the show is trying to say and how it’s going to say it, that’s really what a first episode is for: establishing the setting and characters that we’re going to be exploring.
Dahj finds her way to Picard’s all while Picard has another dream about Data and a painting he wants Picard to finish. Dahj freaks him out but he’s Jean-Luc Picard, of course he’s gonna take care of her. Only she runs away in the middle of the night. Just when Picard realizes the painting he has hung up is from Data and the face of the figure in it is, well, Dahj’s face. He heads to the archives to learn that the title of the painting was “Daughter.” Ahh, now it makes sense. Picard dashes off to find the girl who’s mother told her to go find Jean-Luc again, much to her astonishment, and they meet up where Picard gives her a touching story about Data, the painting and his theory as to who she is: Data’s daughter.
She seems resistant to it at first but just when she starts to understand she senses another hit squad coming after her, forcing a 90-something-year-old Picard to run up a few flights of stairs to a rooftop where a fight ensues. We’re given a hint at an unmasked baddie here: a Romulan. Ah ha. She’s able to fight them off only for one to swallow some sort of acid, which he spits on her and causes a large explosion that knocks Picard into the next day.
Picard needs to know more about this girl, so armed with just her necklace of two circle charms intertwined he heads to the Daystrom Institute for some answers. A woman there shows him that since the attack on Mars Starfleet shut down any sort of study involving synthetics, including showing us D-4, the android that Data sent his, erm, data to upon his destruction. We saw D-4 at the end of the last Trek film and Picard seemed satisfied with it, but apparently something went wrong since then. Agnes, the nice doctor, explains there was another doctor working on flesh-and-blood synthetics but they shut it down, then Picard showed her the necklace and she reveals that his research involved these beings created in pairs. Twins.
We briefly get a glimpse of her twin, Soji, welcoming a nice Romulan boy onto whatever ship or station she’s aboard only for the big zoom out to happen.
It’s a Borg Cube.
There’s a lot to unpack here, obviously, but the core of it is this: Picard does not follow in Star Trek tradition of being about a starship or a crew exploring the galaxy. DS9 somewhat broke from that tradition, although Benjamin Sisko was given a ship and the title of captain, eventually. This makes Picard a rather unique entry into the Star Trek universe. The previews of the rest of the season show Picard tossing together a crew, boarding a small vessel and heading off to rescue Soji from what he believes to be a Romulan threat to her.
The show deals with refugees from Romulus exploding, with there even being two that help out on his vineyard and take care of Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc is the character we all know him to be: kind, considerate, thoughtful, and a born leader. He briefly reflects on how he had spent the twenty years since his retirement loafing about, writing about history that no one cared about and waiting to die instead of being the good that the world needed. He watched his galaxy deteriorate while he himself sat back and let it happen.
If that doesn’t feel current, I’m not sure what does.
So he decides to take action, which we’ll be seeing in the next nine episodes.
Picard felt fresh while still feeling familiar. We were allowed to spend time with an old comforting friend and watch him remember what kind of good he could do in his galaxy. Sure, this is nostalgia, but they’re at least trying to make this different and special. I have a hard time faulting them for that.
I very much look forward to what Picard brings to the table for the rest of this season.
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