Now that the season finale has aired and Trekkies once more have to play the waiting game for their next Starfleet fix, was revisiting Jean-Luc Picard worth the effort?
One thing is for certain about the first season of Star Trek Picard – it is stylish beyond belief. Clearly a great deal of care went into the visual side of making this television series a reality, but the more pressing question is did the same amount of thought go into conceptualisation and screenwriting? What started off strong, grew weaker, and then eventually came around again towards the finish line, indicates that perhaps this latest outing from CBS would have benefited from another round of revisions in the writer’s room.
When we meet (former) Captain Picard for the first time since Nemesis it is 2399 and he has retired to the vineyards of France. A synth-related catastrophe on Mars has brought taboo to the existence of such beloved characters like Commander Data, and Starfleet’s handling of the destruction of Romulus in 2387 has made intergalactic relations a little frostier than they were before.
It was surprising to see the recent trilogy of movies referenced in such a way, as fans of the franchise will no doubt remember seeing the aforementioned destruction of Romulus on-screen in the J. J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek over a decade ago. The first episode does well to introduce the audience to an aged Picard, haunted by the sacrifice of his synthetic friend (the death of whom we do not see, and for good reason by the time the finale rolls around) and also of the tragedy resulting from billions of Romulans around the universe suddenly lacking a homeworld. It is not long, however, until we meet Dahj, and from here a hint of action is injected into the otherwise slow and methodical narrative.
Dahj is a synth, identical in almost every way to her sister Soji, pictured right. Although we do not get to know her for very long once her killer instinct is activated and faces off with some very angry Romulans, it is Soji who captivates the audience for the remainder of the season.
Making Soji a scientist on a repurposed Borg Cube, with no knowledge of her true origin until it is crushingly revealed to her an episode or two later than would have been preferable, is a classic The Next Generation B-plot, and it is wonderful to see another side to the terrifying Borg. ‘The Artifact’ as it is known by its inhabitants is more a rehabilitation centre for former initiates into the Collective, and while we never quite get to see it in all of its former glory the presentation of this battle station is testament to the visual effects department at CBS. Taking a deep-dive into The Next Generation‘s history books and having Hugh, or Third of Five, be in charge of the station is a nice connection to the franchise’s past as it forges a new future for itself.
Unfortunately, this particular B-plot ends up dragging the show down somewhat. Serving little to no purpose for the remainder of the show after Soji’s epiphany, ‘The Artifact’ feels more like the show runners making use of an already-built set rather than actually advancing the plot.
This seems to be a running theme with Picard – spending a little too much time fleshing out the world around us and not enough actually getting on with the main story. Already shorter than the two seasons of Discovery that have graced our screens, Picard might even have been easier digested had it been eight, or even six episodes instead of the sometimes-dragging ten that it took to reach its conclusion. When your B-plot spawns a C-plot, and maybe even half of a D-plot, then you have a problem. Still, if it wasn’t for the Borg then we would not have been treated to the best use of indulging in fans’ nostalgia than making Seven of Nine a recurring character.
Not missing a beat from the last time she showed up in Voyager, this particular member of the Collective is still quite capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lending a sense of gravitas to any scene she steals.
Although brief, her stint as friendly Borg Queen will surely go down as one of the show’s most iconic moments, making it all the more tragic that nothing of note actually came of it. Another victim of fan service overpowering the show’s narrative.
That doesn’t mean that all of the show’s fan service is bad – far from it. When ex-commander William Riker takes the captain’s chair in the USS Zheng He in the finale to come to Jean-Luc’s aid, fan service is finally used in a way that is serviceable to the plot. It’s just a shame that it took ten episodes to do it.
What really makes the show shine, however, as with all entries in the Star Trek franchise, is the crew. The very definition of rag-tag in the beginning, by the finale viewers will have fallen in love with each member of the crew aboard the La Sirena for a variety of reasons. Be it Raffi’s past trauma, the gruff, Han Solo-esque nature of Rios, Elnor’s delightful use of absolute candor, or even Agnes’ amazement at even the most mundane elements of spacefaring, what will keep viewers waiting for next season is not the CGI or the space battles, but the people. People who, by the looks of things, have a lot of romancing to do after the high-stakes season finale if the hand-holding between Raffi and Seven of Nine and the long-teased kissing between Agnes and Rios is anything to go by. If this means more time can be spent developing Elnor and Soji as individuals then all the better for it. Even the final death of Data, more human and emotional than anything which could have been attached to his off-screen sacrifice, reminds us that you don’t always need fast-paced action to keep viewers glued to their screens.
Was Picard perfect? No. Far from it, in fact. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile. With a plot revolving around synthetic life learning what it means to be human being reminiscent of other recent media such as Blade Runner 2049 and Westworld, the story being told in this short season of Trek is ambitious to say the least. While it might miss a step here and there, when it lands it does so in captivating fashion. Whether or not the omnicidal synthetic overlords briefly seen in the finale will tie-in to Control in the time-hopping third season of Discovery is yet to be seen. However, for the time being fans can rest easy knowing that Patrick Stewart is just as impressive as Jean-Luc Picard now as he ever was.