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.
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
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.
Twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, Jean-Luc Picard, former admiral and captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise–E, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.