Screen Time [Captain Picard Day]: Star Trek: Picard (Season One)

As amusing detailed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 to 1994) episode “The Pegasus” (Burton, 1994), the crew and children of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D celebrate “Captain Picard Day” on Stardate 47457.1, which roughly translates to this day, the 16th of June. They do this by producing drawings, models, and paintings that the bewildered Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) must then judge. I, however, am using this as another good excuse to delve into some more Picard and Next Generation content.

Season One

Air Date: 23 January 2020 to 26 March 2020
UK Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Original Network: CBS All Access
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Evan Evagora, Harry Treadaway, Jeri Ryan, and Brent Spiner

The Background:
After the lacklustre critical performance of Star Trek: Nemesis (Baird, 2002) scarpered plans for further films featuring the lauded cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 to 1994), the Star Trek franchise (1966 to present) moved on to other shows before being expertly rebooted with Star Trek (Abrams, 2009). Star Trek returned to the series’ roots while still paying homage to the rich history and lore of the franchise with its split timeline. While the franchise saw something of a resurgence following this that generally explored the early days of Star Trek lore, showrunner Alex Kurtzman pushed to revisit the character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the original timeline and, alongside writer/director Akiva Goldsman, were able to convince Stewart to return to his famous role with the strength of their pitch. Upon being released, Star Trek: Picard immediately set a new streaming record on CBS All Access and was met with largely positive reviews. The show’s dark vision of Star Trek’s future was met with praise, as was Stewart’s performance, though some took exception to the pacing of the show; still, overall, the first season proved successful enough to justify the production of two further seasons.

The Plot:
Twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, Jean-Luc Picard, former admiral and captain of the U.S.S. EnterpriseE, has resigned from Starfleet and retired to an obscure life at his family vineyard. However, when the mysterious Dahj Asha (Briones) visits him seeking sanctuary, Picard is intrigued to find that she is an android created from the remains of Lieutenant Commander Data (Spiner) and drawn into a conspiracy to suppress all synthetic life.

The Review:
The season opens with Picard playing poker with Data on the Enterprise-D in an amusingly heart-warming scene that depicts two old friends engrossed in a friendly game; Picard is desperate for the game not to end but is woken from this dream by the violent destruction of Mars. Disturbed and haunted by this vision, Picard awakes on his vineyard in France where he lives in solitude with his faithful dog, Number One (Dinero) and a couple of Romulan aides, Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane), for company. They help prepare him for his first-ever sit-down interview to commemorate the day that Romulus was destroyed by a supernova (as seen in Star Trek), an event that he was tragically unable to prevent. When the interviewer calls into question his efforts to aid one the Federation’s most lethal enemies, and the subsequent actions of a rogue group of synthetics in destroying Mars, Picard defends his motivations to save lives and vehemently opposing the ban on synthetics, and adamantly condemns Starfleet’s dishonourable actions during both events. Meanwhile, in Boston, the gorgeous Dahj is suddenly attacked by insurgents who attempt to kidnap her and end up absolutely decimated when she showcases superhuman strength and speed. Confused, scared, and hurt, Dahj is suddenly bombarded by visions of Picard following this incident and, after seeing Picard’s emotional outburst while walking the streets, Dahj seeks him out and desperately asks for his help.

Picard is devastated when Dahj is killed but quickly learns that she has a twin sister out in the galaxy.

Sympathetic to her plight, Picard is intrigued by her visions and familiarity with him and immediately takes her in and cares for her, exuding a grandfatherly warmth towards her. Picard’s visions of Data lead him to his archives at Starfleet and the discovery that Dahj is his (as in Data’s) “daughter”; Dahj is overwhelmed by this as androids have been vilified over the last twenty years and she is frightened at the prospect of being a synthetic, but Picard reassures her that her “father”, Data, was one of the most courageous and human men he ever knew and vows to protect her and guide her towards the truth. Dahj’s pursuers are revealed to be Romulans and soon track them down; though she viciously attacks them, she is immolated when one of them spits corrosive blood on her and causes her to explode. Heartbroken and distraught, Picard laments his wasted years sitting in solitude and vows to get to the root of Dahj’s origins; to that end, he visits Doctor Agnes Jurati (Pill) at the Daystrom Institute, who explains that Dahj was the result of an experiment by her colleague, Doctor Bruce Maddox (John Ales), to create synthetic lifeforms in organic bodies from the remains of Data’s neural pathways using “fractal neuronic cloning”, which was summarily shut down after androids produced by the Daystrom Institute caused massive devastation on Mars that saw the creation of synthetics forbidden.

Soji works as part of a groundbreaking project to bring relief and help to former Borg drones.

This information leads Picard to discovering that Bahj was one of a pair and he begins to formulate a plan to track down her “sister”, Soji Asha (Briones), Dahj’s exact duplicate, who works in a Borg Cube (referred to as the “Artifact”) that has been reclaimed by Romulan refugees. Unlike Dahj, who was a frightened and confused girl, Soji is a lot more mischievous and confident, though she has a real empathy towards the deceased drones (derogatorily referred to by others as “The Nameless”) within the Cube. An inherently trusting individual, Soji forms a relationship with Narek (Harry Treadaway) and the two of them assist with the Romulan’s efforts to harvest and remove the Borg’s cybernetic technology from the Artifact and the drones. When her dedication and empathy attracts the attention of the Borg Reclamation Project’s director, Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), she is given the opportunity to interview Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky), a Romulan girl who has also been freed from the Borg, in an attempt to construct a shared mythical framework as a therapeutic tool for the reclaimed Borg. However, Ramdha becomes distressed during this session and tries to kill herself while claiming that Soji is “The Destroyer”, which greatly disturbs Soji and leads her to discovering her true nature. Meanwhile, Picard is told by his old friend, Doctor Moritz Benayoun (David Paymer), that he is suffering from a terminal illness; though clearly moved by the news of his impending death, Picard remains resolute to track down Soji to protect her from the clandestine “Zhat Vahs” organisation (a group of Romulan fanatics who hate all forms of synthetic life) and get to the bottom of the recent events in his life. However, his newfound mission is obstructed by Admiral Kirsten Clancy (Ann Magnuson), who vehemently refuses to give him a starship after being angered at his comments in his interview and his comments about the state of Starfleet.

After recruiting the warrior Elnor, Picard’s crew of misfits is assembled and ready to go.

Undeterred, Picard pays a visit to his former first officer, Rafaella “Raffi” Musiker (Hurd). Jaded, bitter, and resentful of Picard, she initially adamantly refuses to get involved after he walked away from her and refused to support her in the intervening years but, does, reluctantly, research his story and gives him the name of a freelance pilot: Cristobal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera). Rios, a rogue who holds a resentment towards Starfleet due to the horrific losses he suffered while serving in the Federation, is eventually persuaded to assist Picard by both the promise of profit and by the many holograms (also Cabrera) that make up his crew. After saving Picard from an attack by the Zhat Vahs, Jurati joins Picard’s crusade on Rios’s ship, La Sirena, though she initially has some trouble acclimatising to the monotony of space travel. Picard is also overjoyed when Raffi decides to come along on the mission, which first takes the ship to the planet Vashti to recruit a young Romulan warrior, Elnor (Evan Evagora), to join their misfit team. Despite having relocated millions of Romulan refugees to Vashti in the past, Picard is disturbed at the civil and societal unrest on the planet, to say the least, and Elnor, resentful at being abandoned by Picard as a child, initially refuses to “bind his sword” to Picard’s cause. However, when Picard’s presence inspires anger and bitterness in a group of Romulans who resent the Federation for deserting them to their fate, Elnor doesn’t hesitate to defend him with brutal efficiency and joins his crew since the mission promises to be a lost cause worthy of his blade. Picard, however, is incensed at Elnor’s use of lethal action and demands that he promises only to act when Picard gives the order. A strange combination of Lieutenant Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) and Mister Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Elnor’s social awkwardness and naivety are used for some comedic relief and offset by the cold, brutal efficiency of his combat skills.

The Zhat Vahs are determined to eradicate synthetic lifeforms by any means necessary.

Their journey also causes them to cross paths with Seven of Nine (Ryan), a former Borg drone who was once part of the crew of Voyager and now operates as a “Fenris Ranger”, something of a bounty hunter, who leads them to the neon-and-hologram-drenched world of Freecloud, where Maddox is being held by a black market dealer, Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan). Seven uses herself as bait to get close enough to Bjayzl to kill her to avenge Icheb (Manu Intiraymi), another former drone who was basically Seven’s surrogate son and whom Bjayzl ripped apart for his Borg implants after betraying her. At the same time, Raffi attempts to reconnect with her estranged son, Gabriel “Gabe” Hwang (Mason Gooding), who is also on Freecloud; however, Gabe is unable to forgive Raffi for her abandonment and obsession with the conspiracy against the synthetics and refuses to forgive her or to entertain her desire to make amends, so she returns to La Sirena heartbroken, turning to drink and substances to numb her pain. Seven parts ways with the crew amicably and gives Picard the means to contact her but, when they finally get Maddox to safety, he is murdered by his lover, Jurati, in an action that leaves her devastated by complex feelings of grief and regret. Struggling after killing her lover, Jurati begins a physical relationship with Rios and it is eventually revealed that she was manipulated by the half-Romulan Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), Starfleet’s security chief, who is a member of the Zhat Vahs and in league with Narissa (Peyton List) to hunt down the androids as part of a prophecy the Romulans discovered that foretold of a future where synthetics are the dominant lifeform and have destroying all organic life. In a bid to stop this future from coming to pass, Oh terrified Jurati with visions of this future and her Zhat Vahs allies, Narissa and Narek, work to locate the synthetic’s homeworld of Coppelius through manipulation and brute force. Narek seduces and deceives Soji into uncovering the planet’s location while Narissa brutally slaughters Hugh’s deassimilated drones aboard the Artifact.

Picard reunites with Riker and Troi and Soji bonds with their daughter, Kestra.

Relentlessly hunted by these forces, Picard and Soji escape to Nepenthe for sanctuary at the home of his old friends and crew mates, former Captain William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Commander Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis); Troi immediately senses Picard’s illness using her empathetic abilities and, upon embracing Picard, Riker activates the defence measures of their quaint little home and offers him sanctuary without question. Unquestionably loyal to Picard, Riker and Troi have lived with the grief of the death of their son, Thad, who was denied a lifesaving procedure because of the Federation’s ban on synthetics. Confused and hurt by the recent revelations in her life, Narek’s betrayal has left Soji broken and traumatised; feeling that everyone is lying to or using her, even through acts of kindness, she struggles with an existential crisis because her trusting nature has led to her being deceived and manipulated despite her forming forming a fast bond with Kestra Troi-Riker (Lulu Wilson), a quirky and likeable young girl playing the role of a wild maiden of the woods while with Soji. Though fearing for the safety of Kestra, Riker and Troi shelter him and Soji until La Sirena arrives to pick them up; Riker is intuitive enough to figure out that Picard is on the run from Romulans and desperate to protect Soji, who he instantly recognises as being Data’s progeny, and Deanna admonishes Picard for not recognising Soji’s pain and encourages him to be his true, compassionate self in order to earn her trust. Still, Soji’s presence causes Rios to suffer a sudden panic attack because she resembles a girl he travelled with during a traumatic mission that saw his beloved captain kill two people being committing suicide, an act that scarred Rios. However, Raffi puts together that these were actually synthetics and the crew head to Coppelius to protect her home and her family (her fellow androids) from the Zhat Vahs.

Picard is finally able to say goodbye to Data and then awakens in a renewed synthetic body.

Upon arriving, however, they find a colony of synthetics living in peace with Altan Inigo Soong (Spiner), the son of Data’s creator and Maddox’s partner, who guilt-trips Jurati for killing Maddox and offers her the chance at redemption to help him complete his work on transferring an organic mind to a synthetic body. Another of Soji’s duplicates, Sutra, manipulates her (and the other synthetics) into constructing a beacon to summon mysterious, Lovecraftian synthetic beings to eliminate all organic life before they can destroy them and Picard is forced to battle against his failing health and overwhelming odds before Riker arrives with the Federation armada and he (as in Picard) is able to finally convince Soji to shut down the beacon. Sadly, Picard’s ailment overcomes him and he dies peacefully while surrounded by his newfound friends. Thanks to Jurati and Soong’s work, however, Picard’s consciousness is salvaged and maintained in a “massively complex quantum simulation”, where he’s finally given the chance to properly say goodbye to Data (whose consciousness still lingers thanks to the efforts of Maddox and Soong and who requests that Picard shut him down for good) before awakening in his own synthetic body. Given a second chance at life in an artificial body that functions exactly like a human one rather than making him augmented or immortal, Picard fulfils Data’s last request (terminating the last strings of his consciousness to finally allow him to “die”); the Federation finally lifts the ban on synthetics and Picard returns to La Sirena with his new crew to continue his journey throughout the galaxy.

The Summary:
Star Trek: Picard is very different from other iterations of Star Trek that I have ever seen; returning to the original timeline is a breath of fresh air after all this time spent lingering on exploring and reinterpreting the events of the Original Series (1966 to 1969) and it’s pretty fantastic to see what happened post-Star Trek. This is, however, a vastly different world than we remember; normally, the Federation is all about peace and tolerance but, here, they’ve kind of lost their way a bit. Picard resigns as a last-ditch effort to try to convince them to aid the Romulan evacuation and they refuse, which seems incredibly out of character for them, and then they foster widespread xenophobia towards synthetics after the events on Mars rather than properly investigating it. You can tell that the world has taken a sudden shift away from the usual utopian depiction because Star Trek: Picard features an alarming amount of casual swearing; words like “shit”, “asshole”, “bullshit”, “fuck”, and “fucking” are dropped all over the place and even Picard says the phrase “pissing me off” at one point. I’m not sure I really appreciate that; I think maybe it would’ve been better to just have characters like Rios use curse words but, instead, everyone, even Starfleet admirals, toss out the “fucks” like nobody’s business.

Picard’s story is one of atonement and he finds a cause worth living, and dying, for.

Still, this is very much Picard’s story and his return to action; having walked away from the galaxy for some twenty years, Picard is haunted by his mistakes but jumps at the chance to do some good once again in an effort to atone for his past. Picard’s mental state is often called into question; characters comment on his seemingly irrational actions and suggest, more than once, that he is suffering from dementia or insanity. While he is suffering from a terminal illness of the brain throughout the season, he remains steadfast in his vow to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the Asha androids. Stubborn and fully believing that his actions are both just and noble, he uses his vaulted charisma and diplomatic abilities to sway even the most hardened rogues to his cause; even those like Raffi and Elnor, who have every reason to refuse to assist Picard, are convinced to aid him due to his reputation and conviction. Interactions with Soji help give Picard a measure of closure when she reveals that Data loved him and his relationship with her (and Dahj and many of the other new characters) is very similar to that of a father to a daughter; his desire to protect her and to make amends for walking away from his responsibilities is the driving force of his character and informs all of his actions and, in the process, he finds not only a reason to live once more but also to die.

Some familiar faces from the past show up radically changed in Picard.

Star Trek: Picard also sees the return of many other familiar faces in supporting roles to aid Picard on his quest; while it’s disappointing that B-4 was just scrapped and tossed aside rather than exploring the potential for Data to live on through his younger “brother”, it was great to see Data return as a figment of Picard’s imagination, a spiritual guide of sorts to hint at the events of the season, but his presence and legacy are very much at the heart of the story thanks to Dahj and Soji and the controversy surrounding synthetic life. Similarly, I enjoyed seeing the return of Riker, Troi, and Seven after all these years; older and very different from the last time we saw them, many of the characters have become hardened, jaded personalities. Only Riker and Troi are content to step away from the drama of space action and exploration to focus on their family life and truly seem content and happy for it; to be fair, Picard attempted this but, by his own admission, was simply hiding from the wider galaxy. Seven is a much different character than we last saw in Voyager; a rogue vigilante of sorts, she has carved a reputation for herself as notorious Ranger and seems to have settled into the life of a wanderer while still trying to avoid killing in cold blood. Riker and Troi, though, are perfectly happy living their idyllic family life; despite the grief at the loss of their son, they’re dedicated to keeping Kestra safe and take precautions to safeguard their home but, when Picard arrives, aid him without question out of their loyalty and friendship to him and Riker doesn’t hesitate to assist him in the finale.

Picard’s new crew is made up of some interesting characters, though some had unexplored potential.

Picard is also supported by a whole crew of entirely new characters. Obviously his fatherly relationship with Soji is a primary focus of the season but he has an interesting relationship with the rest of La Sirena’s crew: Raffi’s faith in Picard is shaken and she is carrying a lot of emotional baggage from the fallout of her previous relationship with him; Rios’ loyalty is often in doubt because of him having a resentment towards Starfleet; Jurati seems trustworthy and turns out to have been manipulated by Oh; and while Elnor seems to almost be a surrogate son to Picard, this isn’t really developed or focused on all that much and I feel his potential as a character was a bit wasted. A lot of this comes to a head in the final two episodes where many of these supporting characters take a backseat to the larger focus on Picard’s end and his relationship with Soji, which makes sense given that those are two pivotal aspects of the season, but it is a bit of a shame that there wasn’t a bit more for them to do in the end (though it was great to see them end the season as a full functioning unit rather than strangers forced to work together).

Enemies both deceptive, radical, and domestic dog Picard and his crew throughout the season.

Finally, there’s the season’s antagonists; Narissa and Narek are an interesting brother/sister who have complex relationships with many of the main characters. Narek’s choice to use seduction and deception to trick Soji and betray her trust makes him quite the reprehensible, slimy asshole but he actually ends up joining forces with the protagonists for the finale to stop the common threat posed by Sutra. Narissa, however, is a bad piece of work through and through; directly responsible for the death of a beloved Star Trek character, Narissa has no redeemable qualities at all and, like Bjayzl, fully deserved to be executed for her reprehensible actions. The main antagonistic race for the season is, of course, a contingent of Romulans but the officious and out of character nature of Starfleet also causes headaches for the main characters, to say nothing of the synths, who are easily swayed into conjuring God-knows-what to pre-emptively strike back at organics. There’s a lot happening and a lot of subterfuge at work in Star Trek: Picard but I was, for the most part, intrigued by the complexities of the villains and the Zhat Vash organisation and I’m interested to see where future seasons take the prophecy concept.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to the first season of Star Trek: Picard? Were you happy to see Patrick Stewart return to his iconic role and to finally return to the original Star Trek timeline or did the plot, swearing, and dark turn of the world put you off? Which of the returning and original characters was your favourite? What did you think to the prophecy regarding a nightmarish future for the characters? What other Star Trek characters would you like to see get their own spin-off? How are you celebrating Captain Picard Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Star Trek: Picard, let me know in the comments down below.

Talking Movies: Star Trek: First Contact

Talking Movies

Released: 22 November 1996
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $45 million
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, and Alice Krige

The Plot:
After intercepting an attempted invasion of Federation space by the Borg, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Stewart) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E pursue their foes back in time to the mid-21st century where the Borg, represented by their alluring Queen (Krige), intend to use their nanotechnology to assimilate the Earth and change the course of not just human history, but the history of the entire known galaxy by disrupting the fated first contact between humans and extraterrestrials on this day, 5 April, in 2063.

The Background:
It’s the age old question, isn’t? Which do you prefer; Star Trek (1966 to 1969) or Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 to 1994)? Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) or Captain Picard? Personally, since I grew up with the original series movies rather than the television show, I’ve always been more of a Next Generation and beyond kinda guy. Regardless, after Star Trek wrapped up, the original cast reunited for a series of movie spin-offs and executive and producers were able to coerce creator Gene Roddenberry to spearhead an all-new Star Trek television show to breathe new life into the franchise. Star Trek: The Next Generation became so popular that it too branched out into feature films, with the first being the appropriately-titled Star Trek Generations (Carson, 1994), which brought Kirk and Picard together but failed to impress critics despite performing relatively well at the box office.

First Contact allowed the New Generation crew to shine after a lacklustre crossover with Kirk.

For the next film in the franchise, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore decided to merge together their two most popular ideas for the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary: time travel and the Borg, with the two kicking around different ideas for the time period the movie would be set in and many different drafts of what would become the film’s final incarnation. Long-time cast member Jonathan Frakes, who had directed a number of episodes of the show, was chosen to helm the film, which delved into the Borg hierarchy, expanded upon their memorable appearance in the “Best of Both Worlds” (Bole, 1990) two-parter, and allowed the usually diplomatic and authoritarian Picard to become more of an action hero archetype. Star Trek: First Contact received widespread acclaim, particularly directed towards its gruesome special effects, and, filmed on what now seems like a paltry budget of $45 million (for comparison’s sake, Star Trek (Abrams, 2009) boasted a hefty $150 million budget), the film did very well at the box office, beating its predecessor by some $30 million.

The Review:
One of the things I’ve always respected about the Star Trek movies is how they don’t really waste a lot of time pandering to audiences who are unfamiliar with the concept or the television series; this generally allows the films to, largely, stand alone and work as products attached to, but also independent from, the show. Star Trek: First Contact differs from this formula in that it directly references, and is built off of, one of the most celebrated Next Generation episodes ever. Accordingly, the film opens with a brief revisitation of Picard trapped on the Borg Cube; if you didn’t know that he was transformed by the Borg, this is a quick and effective way to show that he is still haunted by memories of those experiences. Of course, if you’re not a fan of eye horror, this isn’t a scene for you but it also shows off the amazing updates to Borg technology and how their implants work going forward.

Star Trek: First Contact showcases a number of new sides of Picard’s character.

Of course, this opening sequence is just one of what is implied to be many recurring nightmares on Picard’s behalf and it is interrupted by the report of the Borg’s impending invasion. Despite the all-new, all-powerful Enterprise-E being the “most advanced ship in the fleet”, Picard is annoyed to inform his crew that they’re being kept out of the battle against the Borg; I love how the Romulan threat is so neutered by this point that even Counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is incredulous as to their assignment to patrol the Neutral Zone and that the Borg are considered such a threat that all it takes is one of their ships to be classified as an “invasion of the Federation”. This all sets up Picard’s tone, character arc, and conflict as Starfleet believes (rightly so, as it turns out) that he shouldn’t face the Borg again given the trauma he faced at their hands. While Commander William Riker (Frakes) disagrees, who gives a shit what he thinks? That guy couldn’t make a decision to save his life! Still, he’s right to an extent as Picard disobeys their orders and is then able to turn the tide against the Borg Cube using his knowledge of their defences and technology; however, as the film progresses and Picard launches guerrilla tactics against the Borg, it’s clear that he is driven by his rage, vengeance, and hatred of the cyborgs rather than his usual calm, measured demeanour.

The Borg Queen brings Data closer to humanity than he ever thought possible.

Just as the Original Series was often framed around Kirk, Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the Next Generation movies primarily revolved around Picard and Lieutenant Commander Data (Spiner), who, as an android struggling to understand and become more human, was very much The Next Generation’s version of Spock. Data still has his emotion chip installed, which was his big plot point in Star Trek Generations, and is manipulated here by the Borg Queen, who plays upon Data’s wish to be more human by appealing to his emotions, stimulating his sensations, and even grafting organic skin onto his outer shell. This forms Data’s character arc as he appears to give in to the Borg Queen’s temptation and allows them to turn him into something more akin to a cyborg. It is, of course, all a ruse on Data’s part to allow him the perfect opportunity to scupper the Borg Queen’s plans but, given what we saw of him in the “Descent” (Singer, 1993) two-parter, the way the film is framed, and that this is the closest to Data’s dream of becoming human, it’s very easy to believe that he has turned against his friends and crewmates.

Cochrane is a far cry from the near-mythical figure of Starfleet teachings.

Far from the legendary, near-mythical figure of Starfleet teachings, Zefram Cochrane (Cromwell) is a disillusioned, selfish, greedy drunkard; he plays along with the crew’s predictions of the future and assists them in completing the Phoenix but is scared of the fate they readily inform him off and angered that he becomes such an influential figure when his intentions were less than noble. He tries to literally run away from this fate and is convinced to see it all through but not by lectures about how the Phoenix ushers in this new, golden age for humanity, and, instead, partially off-screen and partially through the “don’t be a man” quote from Riker. Either way, in the end, he accepts his role as the figurehead for inter-species relationships.

Lily acts as the audience surrogate and Picard’s conscience.

Cochrane’s assistant, Lily Sloane (Woodard), starts out as an angry, confrontational revolutionary who initially believes she has been kidnapped by opposing forces but is quickly convinced of the Borg’s threat by Picard. For me, she’s probably the weakest part of the film; it’s not enough to drag it down in my estimation but I’ve never been a fan of the actress or her portrayal of the character, who comes across as annoying and a liability at some points. Still, she acts as both an audience surrogate through which the uninitiated are taught about the Borg, the ship, and the future world Picard is from.

Some cheeky cameos add to the film’s charm but there’s not much for the rest of the crew to do.

If there’s one downside to the film, it’s that the remainder of the crew don’t really get a lot to do since so much of the plot revolves around Picard overcoming his trauma and Data’s temptation by the Borg Queen. Beyond her amusing drunk scene, there’s not a lot for Deanna to do here, unfortunately; similarly, Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) exhausts most of her importance after fleeing the Borg attack, though she does later personify the crew’s general blind obedience to Picard’s orders. Riker, also, is largely inconsequential to the away team mission, with Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) getting most of the focus, though this is most likely because of Frakes pulling double duty behind the scenes as well. It’s therefore all the more obvious that the never-before-seen Lieutenant Hawk (Neal McDonough) is going to suffer the fate of most Star Trekredshirts” since he gets a lot of screen time and focus for a guy who isn’t a part of the main cast so you know he’s doomed even without a deep knowledge of Star Trek. Similarly, Geordi leaves Porter (Eric Steinberg) in charge of Engineering and he and his female co-worker are summarily assimilated but cameos by the Doctor (Robert Picardo) and Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) help to add to the film’s charm and expand the Star Trek world.

The Borg are treated as a gruesome, terrifying, and formidable force.

The film only has one space battle, which is disappointing, but it’s a fantastic way to showcase the slaughter that the Borg, even a single Cube, is capable of inflicting. The Borg are, apparently, now so advanced that they can just casually manifest a “temporal vortex” through unknown means to travel through time; it’s very convenient and not really explained much but it gets the plot moving quickly and is a much faster way to get everyone back to past. When the Borg are attacking and assimilating the crew, the film resembles a horror movie; the Borg are kept in shadows, attacking off-screen, and are not seen in full view until Picard leads a team to try and stop them before they can spread beyond Deck 16. It’s a very effective way to introduce some tension and horror and the stakes of the film since Picard emphatically orders his team to fire at will rather than leave any assimilated crew members alive despite the fact that de-assimilation is a thing and he knows that. The Borg are treated as a zombie-like, relentless force, one that will not attack unless provoked or they perceive a threat; once they do attack, there are slow and persistent, stoically allowing their numbers to fall until they learn to adapt and continuing their assault regardless, assimilating crew members without conscience or mercy.

The Borg Queen was an alluring, ghastly presence that altered the Borg dynamic.

The Borg Queen introduced a dynamic to the Borg “collective”; until this moment, the Borg were a unified voice, with no hierarchy or individuals. The closest they came to having such a central voice was Locutus and when Lore (Spiner) manipulated that rogue contingent in the aforementioned “Descent” episodes. Here, though, the exact nature of the Queen’s relationship is left somewhat vague; it appears as though she is merely a physical manifestation of the collective but she also orders the drones about and they adhere to her commands (and she refers to herself as “I”, indicating that she is their “leader”, as Data suggests). It’s clearly a filmmaking technique to allow audiences to have a clear antagonistic figurehead to focus on and, while it does work since it expands the nature of the Borg society, it does somewhat diminish the horror of their collective consciousness. Regardless, the Borg Queen is a charismatic, seductive, and manipulative presence; oozing confidence, sex appeal, and a gruesome body horror, she represents Data’s desires for humanity and Picard’s fears of the Borg since it is heavily implied that the Borg Queen personally supervised his assimilation, perhaps even sexually abused him, and that the Borg Queen has assumed numerous physical forms over the years. Her introduction is also one of the most horrific and impressive special effects shots in all of Star Trek and her make-up design looks both incredibly uncomfortable for the actress and ghastly in its execution.

The Nitty-Gritty:
There are a few conveniences, instances of hand-waving, and missed opportunities in the film, if I’m being brutally honest: there’s the aforementioned ease of time travel, the massively convenient explanation for getting Lieutenant Commander Worf (Dorn) back on the Enterprise, and I would have liked to see a little more exposition about how, why, and when Geordi decided to swap out his trademark visor.

First Contact added a high quality cinematic flair to the television show.

Still, one of the (many) things I enjoy about Star Trek: First Contact is the vastly improved uniforms for the cast and crew, despite how hot and uncomfortable they appear regardless of their high quality. Everything about the film is so much more cinematic and of a much higher quality than all of those that came before it; the Enterprise-E bridge is massive and far more detailed and the ship itself is much more like the traditional Enterprise but meaner and more capable of combat. Like the Klingons before them, the Borg benefitted greatly from the cinematic redesign; no longer appearing like pale men in black leotards with plastic attachments and hands in clear prosthetics, they appear as disgusting zombies with their cybernetic implants crafted into, or entirely replacing, their limbs in sequences that are extremely horrific for a 12-rated film and easily the most gruesome of any Star Trek production.

The zero-g sequence sticks out as a memorable and unique action scene.

The film mainly switches between the away team, led by Riker (who must work with Cochrane and convince him to help them and where the bulk of the film’s humour and levity is seen), and the main ship where Data is tempted by the Borg Queen and Picard becomes a far more pro-active and action-orientated individual in this film. Picard adopts a sleeveless variant of his uniform, showing off his physique for the first real time, and he is portrayed as an almost John McClane (Bruce Willis) type of action hero, hiding in engineering vents and striking against overwhelming odds. One of the film’s most engaging sequences is the space walk Picard, Hawk, and Worf are forced to take to keep the Borg from calling for reinforcements; it’s a rare instance of weakness for Worf, who dislikes the disorientation caused by zero-g environments, and unique in that the whole scene technically takes place upside down on the underside of the ship.

Picard’s obsession threatens to destroy him, his ship, and his crew and is the cause of much conflict.

Another memorable scene is, of course, the blazing confrontations between first Picard and Worf and then Lily and Picard. While the rest of the crew may disagree with Picard’s unwavering belief that they must fight the Borg no matter the cost, Worf is the only member of the crew to object to Picard’s orders, believing (rightly so) that Picard is letting his personal feelings influence his judgement. It’s an extremely tense moment as the two close allies and comrades almost come to blows, it seems, and leads to an awkward moment of reconciliation between the two after Picard reluctantly agrees to set the Enterprise-E to self-destruct. Lily (who acts as Picard’s conscience throughout the film, questioning his motivations and notes, with dry criticism, how aggressive and uncompromising his actions have become) also unashamedly criticises Picard’s decision and confronts him, leading to a dramatic and heated exchange between the two in which the extent of Picard’s obsession and pain is revealed. It’s a very humanising moment for Picard, usually so authoritarian and composed, and here stripped down to a tormented victim of unspeakable abuse.

Picard not only ensures the future of humanity but also confronts and overcomes his demons.

In the end, Picard mounts a solo effort to rescue Data and is willing to sacrifice himself, his ship, and Data to distract the Borg Queen and end her threat. Paralysed with fear and confusion regarding the Queen’s appearance, Picard is only able to win the day thanks to Data’s deception and subsequent release of plasma coolant to liquefy the Queen’s organic components and end her threat. Picard finds some closure in snapping the Queen’s neck and the two of them actually mourn her for her force of will and uniqueness amongst the generally zombie-like Borg. It’s a cathartic end to the trauma that has haunted Picard since his assimilation and allows him the chance to step away from the brink of self destruction and take proactive, measured action against one of the franchise’s most formidable foes.

The Summary:
Star Trek: First Contacts a fantastic Star Trek film (and a great science-fiction movie in general) that showcases a completely different side to Star Trek and, especially, Picard; ever since “The Best of Both Worlds”, Picard has been haunted by his experiences with the Borg but, while some episodes of The Next Generation dabbled in how his assimilation affected him, it was never explored as deeply as it is here. Picard is literally haunted by the Borg, able to sense their presence and hear the mutterings of the collective and is driven to animalistic rage whenever he battles them head-to-head. It drives him to an obsession that blinds him to the losses he is suffering; all he cares about is opposing the Borg rather than compromising as they have on so many other occasions. He wants them dead, to make them pay, and to take his revenge upon them no matter if it costs him his ship, his crew, or his life. It’s a powerful character arc, and series of scenes and moments, that humanises Picard and makes him a far more relatable character and a stronger man for it after he realises what his fixation with the Borg has turned him in to. In many ways, it’s a very small-scale film, much more concerned with such interpersonal deconstructions; the away team are simply constructing a warp-capable ship, Data faces temptation from the Borg Queen, and Picard is engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Borg. There’s only one space battle and no real star trekking, with even less diplomacy, making the film both grounded but also outlandish thanks to its time travel plot and the use of one of the franchise’s most horrific and persistent antagonists. It remains easily my favourite of the Next Generation films and, potentially, my favourite Star Trek movie because of its themes, presentation, and intensity of the plot.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Are you a fan of Star Trek: First Contact? Where does it rank for you compared to the other Star Trek movies? What did you think to the film’s time travel plot or the use of the Borg? What about Picard’s characterisation and Data’s character arc? Are you a fan of the Borg? If so, what are some of your favourite episodes and, if not, why is that and which enemy would you have preferred to see in the film? Where do you stand on the Kirk vs. Picard, Original Series vs. Next Generation debate? Whatever your thoughts on Star Trek: First Contact, or Star Trek in general, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check out my other Star Trek content.