Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 1
Patrick Stewart’s iconic Jean Luc Picard returns in a brand new adventure picking up decades after the last time he led the franchise.
Star Trek: The Next Generation -hereafter referred to as TNG– was my Star Trek. It began airing the month I was born and I grew up gravitating to the characters as well as the stories they appeared in. The older I got the more meaning it held for me and my connection to it continues to grow even now. I enjoy the entirety of the franchise to varying degrees but, for me, all roads lead back to TNG and Jean Luc Picard is a big part of that. All of the captains have merit but Picard struck that special chord for me with his unflinching integrity, natural authority, strong core values and all the flaws that he constantly tries to rise above.
I felt it was important to establish some background before going into this review as perspectives on this show will vary depending on the viewer’s relationship to TNG. This is very much a sequel to that show and the movies that followed it so nostalgic callbacks are a fixture within the ongoing story. It isn’t the story of new characters with Picard supporting them, it’s Jean Luc Picard’s story which means that the life he led before this point is important to both the story and who he is. My perspective is that I know the character well and understand those callbacks but other viewers definitely won’t have that knowledge so I’ll try to factor that in with my analysis. Luckily I’m able to discuss with people who don’t have anywhere near the connection to what came before I have so that perspective is in my mind.
The first episode of this new show is largely about setting the tone and scene of what will follow. It establishes a mystery that Picard needs to solve and begins his journey towards answering those questions. It’s more deliberately paced than Star Trek: Discovery which puts it more in line with the storytelling pace of TNG which I found refreshing as time is taken to get inside Picard’s head, learn about his life so many years after his final cinematic mission in Star Trek: Nemesis and get something of a flavour of what the Star Trek universe has become since then. It’s table setting but very good table setting.
Picard is living out his golden years tending to his family’s vineyard in France under the care of two Romulans, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). A sense of comfort and familiarity between the three of them is immediately established which suggests a more familial connection than employer/staff. It’s really impressive how quickly the texture of Picard’s new life is developed to create a naturally lived in atmosphere. Picard’s routine is clearly well established and he cares as deeply for the two Romulans as they do for him. There’s also some weighty history between them as shown by Laris emphasising that she hasn’t forgotten what he did and the sort of man Picard is. She encourages him not to forget that about himself which establishes one of the major themes this show will explore; that of staying true to oneself. Zhaban urges him to be the Captain “they” remember; this obviously means those who see the interview but on a deeper level it’s an acknowledgement that the viewer of the show last saw Picard as Captain of the Enterprise so Zhaban is basically encouraging him to find his way back to that because that is how he is best known. I suspect there will be an exploration of Picard’s promotion to Admiral and how he feels about his contribution to the galaxy in that role as opposed to what he feels he accomplished as Captain.
Naturally there needs to be a shift in the status quo that begins the story and there are two key events that accomplish this. The first is an interview that Picard has agreed to on the anniversary of a supernova that destroyed the Romulan home world. Picard being interviewed is in itself a rarity though it is made clear that the event has deep personal significance for him. For me this interview is the strongest scene of the episode because it gives Patrick Stewart the opportunity to show his legendary range while also providing deeper insight into Jean Luc Picard as he is now. Even for those familiar with the character will be unfamiliar with what has become of his life so this scene is perfect as a primer for how different he will be in this new show.
The interview starts light with some generic information about the supernova and Picard’s reason for allowing to be interviewed. He is passionate about making others aware of the lingering impact of the disaster and had a major hand in spearheading the rescue effort. There’s a lot of subtext in the interview, particularly from the interviewer (Merrin Dungey) who betrays more than a little resentment in the way she phrases her questions. One of them points out the resistance to committing Federation resources to aid their “oldest enemy” and she tries to correct Picard’s statement about lives being in danger by clarifying that the lives were Romulan. Picard’s further correction by classifying them as simply “lives” is important because it very clearly shows that his core values haven’t been compromised while suggesting that the core values of the Federation itself have changed in some way. The interviewer making the distinction of the lives in danger being Romulan is a brief yet powerful insinuation that she holds isolationist views and sees Romulans as less important than those of Federation citizens.
There isn’t any time to digest it due to how quickly the interview progresses but it is something to keep an eye on as I feel that the isolationist viewpoint will be part of Picard’s reason for losing faith in the organisation he swore an oath to. Starfleet and the Federation was something he believed in to the very core of his being so something must have changed significantly for him to turn his back on that. He mentions in this same interview that Starfleet walked away from what it was supposed to stand for by calling off the Romulan rescue effort. The word “criminal” is used by him as he becomes angrier, as if reliving those memories is a trigger for him. Just before ending the interview completely he accuses the interviewer of not understanding history or War which brings to mind the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. He is making a point about complacency and assumptions creating apathy where he lived those events and is haunted by them. Patrick Stewart is captivating as Picard’s rage builds and he struggles to maintain his composure.
Before the interview takes place there is dialogue confirming things Picard isn’t willing to talk about. One of them is his decision to leave Starfleet though he starts to become defensive when the attack on Mars by synthetics is brought up. We don’t know much about the attack but we do know it led to a decision that banned synthetics which Picard disagreed with. At the moment there’s not enough information about synthetics and their function within the context of the Federation but it is along the same lines of isolationism while also making decisions based on fear of the unknown. It appears that rather than properly investigate the reasoning behind the attack there was simply a blanket ban which closed the case completely; almost as if a mystery was preferable to accepting what the truth of the matter is. Could this suggest a shameful secret that the Federation don’t want to admit? Much of this episode builds various mysteries and they are all fascinating including this one.
The second major call to action for Picard is a visit from a mysterious young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones). She goes to Picard seeking help because she has a vision of him following an attack on her and her boyfriend on a night she was supposed to be celebrating being accepted to the Daystrom Institute. Picard immediately welcomes her into his home and looks to do everything he can to help her though she is so afraid for her life that she leaves during the night. Further investigation leads Picard to the conclusion that she may be an Android made to perfectly mimic a Human and she is connected to Data (Brent Spiner) in some way. His working theory is that she’s Data’s daughter even though he doesn’t know how that might be possible.
Picard’s relationship with Data is a significant part of this episode and I wonder if this is where viewers unfamiliar with TNG might struggle. This episode does provide the necessary facts such as Data was an Android and a close friend of Picard who served under him but any sense of who Data was is a gap the viewer has to fill as he only exists here in terms of what he means to Picard. It’s probably enough for this stage of the story because the mystery surrounding Dahj is still being developed but I wonder how this will be handled over the coming episodes.
The episode details the Picard/Data relationship in compellingly artistic ways. It opens with a dream sequence where Picard is playing cards with Data and generally seems perfectly content to be in that moment with him. In this dream he deliberately prolongs the game because he doesn’t want it to end before he witnesses explosions on Mars through the window serving as a reminder that change is inevitable and cannot be delayed. It’s notable that they are playing this game on Picard’s old ship, the Enterprise-D as it very quickly establishes that Picard is haunted by his past while also longing for it. He even mentions that he loves the dreams and resents waking up which clearly suggests that he has a strong preference for his past and struggles with what his life has become. Picard’s arc for the season is about being true to himself and his preference for his dreams tells us that he yearns for the days where he felt he had purpose so he could be looking to find that again. This is supported by his very definitive speech confirming that he regrets the life he has chosen and how he sees it as waiting for death rather than actually living.
There is a second dream sequence featuring Data though this one informs the plot more obviously. Data is painting on his Vineyard and asks Picard if he would like to finish the painting because he knows what the end result is supposed to look like. Once again the past is very significant in this dream as they are both wearing their TNG era uniforms therefore continuing the idea that Picard has a strong preference for his past and a desire to return to a time where he felt he had purpose. Arguably this dream is a little too convenient as it leads Picard to the information he needs in order to continue the story but I’m willing to accept that he subconsciously recognised Dahj when he saw her and needed time for his mind to sort through the information. Once it does he realises that the answer has -almost literally- been staring him in the face and he is able to start the process of finding answers.
It would have been easy for Dahj to be a walking mystery box and she is to an extent but there’s also a compelling character wrapped around it. Isa Briones is excellent in the role. She plays the innocence and fear perfectly while switching to detached muscle memory in a believable way when the situation calls for it. Her interactions with Picard are well played on both sides of the conversation and the quick rapport built between them is really engaging. Picard’s soft tone around her as he continually assures her that she’s special and is likely very important to him because of where she came from is great as is his passionate curiosity when faced with the prospect of a mystery to solve. Unfortunately, Dahj doesn’t survive the episode but the mystery of what she is remains and her twin sister Soji means that Isa Briones will keep having the chance to impress with the depth of her performance. I would have liked to see more of the Picard/Dahj dynamic as it was shaping up really well but perhaps she will return in some way given the possible nature of her creation.
Synthetic life forms are mentioned a few times in this episode and are the subject of a really long conversation between Picard and Dr. Agnes Jurati. There’s still a lot to learn about when and why these synthetics were created and whether they were sentient or not. The suggestion is that they were though it’s made clear that none were as advanced as Data was. In a nice piece of nostalgia, the dismantled B-4 from Star Trek: Nemesis is shown to silence any possibility of Data being reincarnated through B-4 as was suggested at the end of Nemesis. Their discussion is around the possibility of an Android such as Dahj existing and being related to Data. Jurati doesn’t think that it’s possible though she talks about Bruce Maddox -he appeared in a landmark TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”- disappearing which makes it very likely that he somehow managed to perfect what he was working on and create Androids that look and feel Human.
There are a lot more questions posed by this episode than there are answers provided which may frustrate some but I felt that the various mysteries were teased organically and information wasn’t withheld unnecessarily. Picard is the focus of this show so the audience learns as he does when it comes to information that he doesn’t have access to. For the things he does know he talks to others as if they know it too which frees the episode from awkward exposition where characters explain in detail events and facts that they already know for the benefit of the audience. It’s likely the audience will have to learn about the attack on Mars, the Federation’s use of synthetics and Picard’s decision to leave Starfleet through context as the season progresses.
It bears mentioning that the visuals are absolutely stunning. The opening shot of the Enterprise-D is beautifully rendered, the general day to day technology looks great and the de-ageing used on Brent Spiner to give Data an ageless Android quality is practically seamless. Between this and Discovery all technical limitations that would occasionally hold the franchise back seem to be non existent. It’s great as a fan to see real money be spent on this franchise. The only issue I had was with the action sequences. There was some ropey effects work in the rooftop sequence where Dahj defended herself and Picard. Both actions sequences also suffered from the problem of rapid cutting which made them hard to follow as well.
With this being the continuation of an existing character from an old property there is the risk of alienating new viewers through the use of elements from that prior property. Nostalgia is very powerful with audiences as it is designed to remind fans of something they had an attachment to but it can also be a double edged sword as nostalgia is often used in place of story. The most recent Star Wars movie made the mistake of assuming that nostalgic callbacks would be an adequate substitute for story which is a cheap and manipulative way of making use of a beloved property. In this case the nostalgia informs the story, celebrates the history of Jean Luc Picard while using what came before to look forward and tell something new. It’s exactly the right way to make use of nostalgic elements though it’ll be interesting to see how new fans will feel about how this show uses the past.
A strong opening that expertly uses nostalgic elements to inform the new story and establishes compelling character arcs for Jean Luc Picard. The episode is very deliberately paced as it reintroduces Jean Luc Picard in this new context, shows us the world he inhabits, teases significant events and establishes his character arcs. A lot is packed in but it’s handled confidently while raising more questions than there are answers for at the moment. For a first episode that’s fine because it lays the groundwork for what the season will cover and gives audiences a lot to think about. Picard talks about the past to characters who already experienced it in realistic ways that suggest audiences will have to figure out what happened through context which is a good approach as it avoids the exposition trap. All of the conversations about the things he doesn’t understand are intriguing to contemplate and everything flows from Picard as a character. The strongest scene is the interview because of the subtext suggesting what the once proud Federation has become and Picard’s lack of comfort with that. Picard’s rapport with Dahj is all too brief but really engaging and well acted by both actors. In general, Patrick Stewart is superb in his return to this role.
The use of nostalgia may be distracting for some but I think there’s enough to go on through context in order to follow the important parts. Long time fans will get more out of it of course but nostalgia is used to inform the story rather than acting as a substitution for it. It’s visually very impressive with excellent de-ageing effects for Data, the beautifully rendered Enterprise-D and great looking displays of day to day technology. The action sequences don’t fare quite so well with some questionable effects work in the rooftop sequence and distracting rapid cutting in general during the two action sequences.
- Patrick Stewart’s excellent performance
- a strong interview sequence loaded with subtext
- setting up the world and Picard’s life in a really organic way
- teasing the various mysteries in compelling ways
- strong characterisation
- stunning visuals
- using nostalgic elements to inform the story
- questionable effects work in one of the action sequences
- distracting rapid cutting during action sequences
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