My word, how marvellous this was.
I have been a fan of Star Trek since its earliest inception in my childhood, and watched The Next Generation rather religiously as a young man, always enraptured by the story, the characters and especially by Sir Patrick Stewart’s unparalleled performances. I was, needless to say, thrilled beyond measure when I heard he was reprising the role of Jean-Luc Picard for a new televised series. And I must say, it did not disappoint in the slightest.
Now, I can scarcely discuss this to the depth it deserves without some spoilers for Star Trek Picard, so I strongly recommend watching the series yourself prior to reading my thoughts on it. Trust me, it is well worth your time.
The premise of the programme is that roughly twenty years after the end of The Next Generation and its accompanying films, Admiral Picard is retired in his villa in France, having stepped away from his role in Starfleet after a dramatic betrayal—the Romulan sun was going supernova and, after having been convinced by Picard to lend ships to the rescue effort, Starfleet changed its mind after a tragedy on Mars, dooming countless Romulans. The tragedy in question is a mysterious attack by androids, which has triggered a Federation-wide ban on synthetic life.
Then, at the outset of the narrative, Picard meets a young woman named Dahj, who was attacked in her apartment in Boston by Romulan assassins. Dahj is revealed to be an android, created from the remnants of Picard’s dear friend Data, who died at the end of the last Next Generation film, Nemesis. Unfortunately, she is killed before Picard can obtain answers, sending him on a quest to find her twin sister, who is working in a Romulan science facility on a captured Borg cube, restoring former Borg drones to some semblance of life.
Denied help by Starfleet, Picard puts together a crew comprised of his former adjutant Raffi, former Starfleet officer turned independent pilot Rios, AI specialist Agnes, Romulan assassin-monk Elnor, and eventually former Borg drone turned vigilante lawkeeper Seven of Nine, a role reprised by the inestimable Jeri Ryan from her days on Star Trek Voyager.
Not to sideline the new characters, but Ryan especially deserves praise here. She was an outstanding addition to the Voyager cast, despite the concerns of many (myself included) that her inclusion was merely the programme’s attempt to increase sex appeal. Her character arc was simply fascinating, and she continues to be profoundly interesting in this new iteration, freed as she is from the restrictions of her spandex bodysuit and painful hairstyle. The creators have done wonderful and interesting things with her character, and both she and they deserve a great deal of praise.
In any case, over the course of the programme, Picard and his crew track down Dahj’s sister Soji, uncover a Romulan conspiracy behind the attack on Mars, orchestrated by a shadowy cabal hidden within the already shadowy cabal of the Tal Shiar, who are dedicated to wiping out synthetic life due to the belief that it will lead to the end of the universe. When a planet full of androids is discovered to be Dahj and Soji’s homeworld, it all comes down to a dramatic confrontation in which clearer heads and respect for life prevail, and the universe is saved.
There is a great deal more to the programme than that, but I should hardly want to tell you everything that happens. The narrative is well-crafted, and rewatching earlier episodes, as I have, shows the viewer a great deal of thought and planning going into the foreshadowing and characterization. This is clearly designed to be a coherent story from start to finish, which it very much is, and though there is a second season to come in the near future, one could easily see this as a complete series on its own.
The references to The Next Generation (and certain actors reprising roles) are, I feel, tastefully done without being too much. It is clear that this is a successor, and many characters and concepts from that series return in Picard, but by and large I don’t feel that they eclipse the narrative that the producers are trying to tell here. I will say that some of the new characters do not get quite the development that they deserve—Elnor especially has little to do or say throughout the series, as his arrival is immediately overshadowed by Seven of Nine’s first appearance, which is rather unfortunate, but I hope a second season will delve more into these interesting characters as well.
Now, I know a criticism of Picard has been the darkness with which certain concepts were dealt. Starfleet’s morality has been criticized and the show has been accused of taking a good concept and making it shadowy and dangerous for shock value, but I must say I disagree with this assessment. The faults in the Federation and in Starfleet that we see in Picard were always present, whether we were aware of them as faults or not. Starfleet has always been a military force dedicated to preserving a homogeneity of culture across the Federation from threats of dramatic difference. From its earliest days as an allegory for the American military, Starfleet has always had connotations of imperial power and American/human exceptionalism. The difference is not that this has been changed, but rather that we as a culture have grown more aware of the damage that this can cause, and of the inherent issues with an all-powerful governmental force being the arbiter of morality for everyone else. Of course Starfleet would abandon the Romulans and ban synthetics—those things were always within their moral purview and similar issues were often at the heart of some of the more challenging episodes of The Next Generation. It is merely that they are framed negatively here, rather than the writers allowing Starfleet off the hook, as it were.
Now, with the serious political commentary aside, allow me a moment of fan theorizing, if you will. The following paragraph especially is for those who have seen the whole season, and I anticipate it will not make much sense to those who have not.
As we know, the message received by the Romulans caused many of them to go mad, because it was not intended for organic life, but for a synthetic brain to process. This is given as the reasons why the Artifact has become derelict—the assimilation of Ramdha caused this information to be entered into the Borg collective, which triggered a submatrix collapse and the severing of this particular cube from the collective as a protective measure. But if I may be so bold, that does not follow from what we know of the Borg. There is no reason to assume that the Borg’s hive mind could not process the information in the message. Therefore, I posit the following theory: The Borg received the message, understood its content, and enacted a plan to gain access to the higher synthetic collective who had crafted it. I feel it is extremely notable that the Borg cube ended up on the planet in close proximity to the array that can open the portal—piloted there by Seven of Nine, but after her connection to it and the collective. A collective with supposedly no drones in it. The whole thing is simply far too suspicious for my liking, and though we know the Borg aren’t interested in assimilating synthetic life, or at least weren’t, it seems unlikely that they would be able to resist such a technologically advanced prize.
We will see more of the Borg in the future, mark my words. They are going to want to open that portal and summon the tentacular creatures on the other side of it (who I also note bear a striking resemblance to Discovery’s Control, which also seemed very much to be a proto-form of the Borg, creating an entire interesting venue for speculation as to whether the higher synthetic life is actually just a future form of Control/the Borg), for good or ill. It would be far from the first time the Borg have bitten off more than they can chew, after all.
In any case, I heartily recommend Star Trek Picard to all fans of Star Trek, Sir Patrick Stewart, or good storytelling. You will not regret watching it. Live long and prosper, everyone. And keep an eye on the Borg, mark my words.