Star Trek: Picard arrives at a pivotal time in the world. And at a pivotal time for the Star Trek franchise.
For a lot of Trek fans, the franchise ended in 2005 with the end of the prequel series, Enterprise. And for a lot of other fans, it ended long before that.
With the divisive response to Star Trek: Discovery mirroring the all-around divisiveness of the world, the return of the even-keeled, thoughtful Captain Picard couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Remembrance,” the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard, keeps it simple. And after the emotionally-draining, action-heavy, and occasionally convoluted Discovery, that’s exactly as it should be.
Twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, the final cinematic adventure of the crew from The Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) has retreated to his family’s ancestral vineyard in France.
Retirement leaves Picard thoughtful about his past. Both the good times and the bad. And from the Captain’s general demeanor, the bad was very, very bad.
He finds himself haunted by the Romulan supernova that spurred the J.J. Abrams reboot films and memories of a disaster on Mars that led to his retreat from Starfleet. And, in many ways, the collapse of the Federation’s moral authority in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, in Boston, a young girl named Dahj (Isa Briones) is attacked in her apartment but somehow instinctively fights off her assailants with ease. That same instinct leads her to Picard – she doesn’t know why, but she knows she needs the Captain’s help.
All of this leads Picard to investigate as though the captain were acting out his favorite Dixon Hill holodeck stories in real time. A number of clues – including a painting of Data’s dating back to the Enterprise-D – drop hints of a massive conspiracy and cover-up at work involving the Romulans and the Federation. And maybe even the Borg.
Ultimately, everything revolves around Data. Or – to be more specific – Data’s legacy. Star Trek: Picard interprets that as legacy of his status as the galaxy’s first truly functional and adaptable artificial life, but there are also hints of “legacy” in terms of a very literal lineage for the android.
Stewart, at 79 years old, still owns the character of Jean-Luc Picard. And he still owns the screen whenever he appears. The quality of his performance was never in question, but this is a very different Picard.
A Picard who’s lost faith in Starfleet and the Federation. But it would be too easy for Stewart to play an old, bitter Picard. His performance conveys a man who still believes in what his career as captain of the Enterprise stood for, even if those who followed in his footsteps abandoned those beliefs.
It’s a complex, engaging (pun intended), and intense yet reserved take on the role Stewart made his own more than 30 years ago. His story is shaped by elements of his immense past. His fond memories of friends like Data (Brent Spiner) and Riker (Jonathan Frakes) are just as formative as his trauma from the supernova, the Mars incident, and even his damaging encounter with the Borg (who also have a role to play in Star Trek: Picard).
The rest of the cast of Star Trek: Picard is solid. Isa Briones is fairly basic as the modern sci-fi “girl with a secret in distress,” but she plays it in such a way where there’s clear room to grow. It’s a standard story, but Briones plays it with the subtlety and reverence for the unusual circumstances she’s facing.
Jamie McShane and Orla Brady portray the Romulans Zhaban and Laris, respectively. The story never makes it explicit, but it’s implied that they’re refugees taken in by Picard after the destruction of their home world. They act as both Picard’s caregivers and conscience, filling the void left by the absence of Picard’s loyal crew.
Their performances offer the real comfort and grounding to an already mostly-down-to-earth story. But their presence – despite being from literally another planet – is what helps keep Picard both human and relatable.
If I’m being honest, though, the real standout is Picard’s dog, Number One. Not really, but I do think it’s adorable that he essentially named his dog after Jonathan Frakes.
Writing And Presentation
The key phrase so far for Star Trek: Picard is deliberate.
It’s almost unrecognizable as what we generally consider science fiction in the modern era. If all you know of Trek is the Kelvin Timeline, it might not even be recognizable as Star Trek.
But don’t mistake the slower, more leisurely pace of Star Trek: Picard to mean that it’s boring. Quite the reverse. The show – like its direct ancestor, The Next Generation – takes a more thoughtful, complicated approach to its story. There’s intense action, to be sure. And visual effects to rival that you’d see in the biggest Marvel blockbusters.
It sets a tone that bodes well for the series to stand alongside with and in contrast of its modern-day Trek sibling, Star Trek: Discovery.
In the case of the writing, we get a handful of nods to Trek lore, but they don’t smack of that most nefarious of franchise-killers: fan service.
Star Trek: Picard uses the history and continuity of The Next Generation to build upon and expand the Trek universe. It isn’t just a series of “remember this?” moments – each trip into the 54-year-old legacy of Star Trek carries with it a purpose to the story of the episode and represents threads to pick up on over the duration of the series.
Executive Producer Michael Chabon has constructed more than a TNG sequel. He and Alex Kurtzman – whose success with Star Trek has been hit-and-miss (at best) – are on the verge of constructing an entirely new story.
There are, however, some instances where the story becomes a bit too deliberate. Picard’s visit to a renowned cyberneticist (Allison Pill) carries critical exposition and backstory, but it tells instead of shows, and it does make for a drain on the story’s momentum.
A minor complaint, however. In general, the pace of “Remembrance” is just right to set the tone for a more thoughtful Trek.
This series is unmistakably cut from the same cloth as the best of Star Trek, and yet Star Trek: Picard makes its own path.
It tells a story of a very different future for the Star Trek universe. One that unfortunately parallels our own world all too well. A Starfleet more interested in maintaining its reputation than upholding it, and a Federation that seemingly places its own interests ahead of its capability to help those who suffer.
But it never delves too far into doom-and-gloom territory. Star Trek: Picard – and its titular character – represent the hope that a dark world can be brightened.
Long story short? I didn’t realize how much I missed those classic Captain Picard speeches until I got to hear a new one.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard stream Thursdays on CBS All Access in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video the following day elsewhere in the world.
All images courtesy of CBS.