Star Trek: Picard – Season 2 Episode 1
“The Star Gazer”
Star Trek: Picard returns for a second season with questions of legacy and a new threat to take on.
The first season of this show started off really well with lots of promise and unravelled as it went. There were good things about it but on the whole the quality was questionable and left a sour taste in this fan’s mouth. The natural concern for a second season is if it would end up being more of the same and taint the character of Picard or if those mistakes can be learned from to create a more satisfying experience.
It’s too early to say either way but there is a general sense that the production team are doing some course correcting in this opening episode. Picard is back in Starfleet taking on the role of Chancellor of Starfleet Academy, Rios is the Captain of a Federation Starship, Raffi has resumed her career with Starfleet and there is an immediate focus on adventure rather than the reluctant meditative approach much of the first season took. Not that the meditative approach is a bad one; it actually worked very well for me at first but it became frustrating when the payoffs weren’t worth the wait.
This season literally begins in the middle of an action sequence setting up the mystery of how Picard and those around him got into that situation. The sequence takes place on a Federation starship which could be offering a promise to deliver more of what viewers might be looking for from this show. As said, it’s too early to say but the opening captures attention nicely.
Much of the episode spends time catching the viewer up on where the characters currently are. Picard is initially shown on the Vineyard echoing the first episode of season 1 while contrasting it with his demeanour being far more content rather than the man haunted by his past depicted there. His arc for the season is very quickly set up through a conversation between Picard and Laris about how lonely Picard is. Zhaban is nowhere to be seen with dialogue pointing to him passing away recently for reasons unknown. Laris misses him deeply but is handling it and Picard echoes her sentiment though seems more concerned for her emotional state than his own. Laris brings in an interesting detail of Romulan culture when it comes to losing loved ones.
The typical Human response to grief is to never really get over it where Romulans mourn then honour their lost love by loving someone else more deeply. It’s brief but welcome as it adds more texture to the Romulans. This show did a good job of expanding the Romulans beyond what had been seen previously so it’s good to see the commitment to doing that continued, particularly when it adds something meaningful to Laris as a character.
Laris strongly indicates that her affections have moved to Picard and he definitely shares her interest though is afraid to act on it. The conversation interrogates Picard’s status as a lifelong bachelor and forces him to ask why that has been the case for him. He talks about his commitment to exploration and that path preventing him from forging long term romantic bonds with anyone but the episode frames it as an excuse that doesn’t hold water.
As an arc this is interesting because it’s a side of Picard that hasn’t been seen before. In The Next Generation romances were mentioned and shown with particular attention going to his feelings for Beverly Crusher but it was always a background element that he didn’t put much stock in as his commitment to Starfleet comes first. Now that he’s older it makes sense for him to examine his life choices and wonder if he made the right ones.
This is what his speech at the academy is all about. There’s an obvious contrast between Picard’s advancing years and the youth of those he’s addressing that supports the theme being established. Picard is looking at the fresh faced cadets with their entire lives in front of them and thinking back to the point in his life where he was in their position considering where the future would take him. Now that he’s reflecting there are doubts on his mind and legacy is something that is weighing heavily on him. His speech makes specific reference to him being the last Picard and he quotes his mother as further indication that he’s thinking about his own family line.
The flashback/dream sequence involving his mother undoubtedly feeds into this. It establishes a possible origin for his desire to explore space -assuming what is depicted is reliable, more on that later- with it being a coping mechanism allowing him to distract from a harsh reality. Violent imagery is spliced into the flashback suggesting he lost his mother tragically but it’s such a jarring inclusion that it’s unclear if it actually happened or serves as a metaphor for something else. Signs point to his father being an abusive presence and his mother encouraging him to look to the stars for comfort. It helps him because it reminds him how insignificant he and his troubles are when considered on a cosmic scale. Effectively, things are better somewhere else in the universe so there is comfort to be found in being aware of that. Arguably he has been ignoring the real problem and it is now catching up with him.
It all feeds in -however loosely- to the examination of Picard as a lonely old man missing something in his life. Positioning Laris as a romantic interest for him is a bizarre choice that doesn’t flow from their previously established relationship. Laris and Zhaban disappeared after the third episode of the previous season and were only shown as caregivers repaying Picard for all he had done for them. That’s not to say an attraction didn’t exist between them but it wasn’t depicted in any prior interaction so it appears to come from nowhere here. Regardless, being confronted with the prospect of changing the nature of their relationship terrifies Picard and establishes that he suffers from a fear of commitment. Laris would rather see the subject dropped rather than live life in awkwardness but it’s something that Picard needs to explore and understand to be truly at peace.
In an attempt to resolve this, he seeks the guidance of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg); the wise Bartender on the Enterprise-D who could fix a person’s life in a single conversation. She’s enigmatic and incredibly insightful, helping most of the character in The Next Generation time and time again. She is one of the few people Picard can let his guard down around. The Picard and Guinan scene is great; an excellent callback to their relationship on the show and a succinct way of exploring Picard’s mindset. Guinan identifies his fear of commitment and asks him what caused him to be afraid to get truly close to someone else. Picard doesn’t answer her but his reaction to the question confirms that something did happen that he isn’t comfortable discussing. It could be related to the flashback/dream sequence or be something else entirely but part of completing this arc will be confronting what he experienced and putting it behind him in some way.
Guinan’s advice feeds into the theme of Picard as an emotionally damaged person with issues that need to be resolved; one of the themes the show has consistently explored. He has a lot of baggage that is catching up with him and in order to be at peace with himself he has to deal with it. Guinan urges him that the journey he needs to take is internal and exploring the stars was never the key to serenity for him. He very much has unfinished business and needs to hear it from someone like Guinan who can challenge him in unique ways. Whether this will be Whoopi Goldberg’s only appearance on the show remains to be seen but this was an excellent use of the character even if her appearance contained the unnecessary detail that El-Aurian’s can choose to physically age to explain why Guinan looks older than her last experience despite being the member of a long lived species. Often such things don’t require explanation and this was a particularly clumsy example of delivering the information.
Picard’s introspection is halted by the appearance of an anomaly. A message is broadcast through it naming him specifically so he reconnects with Rios who is now in command of the new U.S.S. Stargazer; the Stargazer was Picard’s first command so the name carries immense sentimental value for him. It neatly feeds into the theme of legacy as the name is passed onto a new ship to honour it. Rios mentions that taking command of the ship comes with baggage due to the association with Picard but it’s something he accepted because of their connection. Added to that is Picard trusting Rios to carry on the name which means he trusts Rios with an important part of his legacy. It isn’t explicitly stated but there is a father/son dynamic at play between them and clear pride exhibited from Picard seeing Rios in the Captain’s chair.
The appearance of the Borg ship looking to negotiate entry into the Federation sets up a compelling mystery. It surprises everyone concerned and there’s a lack of consensus over how to proceed. The argument is neatly divided with Picard and Jurati wanting to know more while Rios and Seven argue for destroying the Borg ship before it’s too late. Both sides have valid points while being emotionally driven from Picard and Seven. Picard’s measured approach is driven by his innate curiosity. He makes the point that they are at a potentially pivotal point in history with the decision made in this moment potentially shaping the future. If the Borg are genuine in their desire for peace then the benefits to the Federation are incalculable but if it’s a trick then the will continue to consume with no resistance.
Seven’s appeal for hostile action comes from her experience as a Borg drone. She is intimately aware of what the Borg do to people and passionately argues against allowing it to continue. Earlier in the episode she talks about her Borg implants making her feel like an outcast where she isn’t Borg but not quite Human either. It’s clear that what they took from her and what she has to live with is on her mind which feeds into her extreme reaction to the appearance of the Borg. To her mind hearing them out is too great a risk. Jeri Ryan’s portrayal of the PTSD experienced by Seven is excellent; Seven’s anger is overpowering and the discussion is far more dynamic as a result. Picard acting as the calm contrast to this helps it flow with Jurati backing him up and Rios being cautious because he’s worried about his crew. It’s a simple yet layered debate with no easy answer and makes great use of the established character traits while enhancing the mystery around this change in the Borg.
The ensuing set piece only serves to develop this mystery as it remains unclear whether the Borg Queen is acting out of hostility or desperation. Signs very much point to the latter as she says that before they negotiate they require power. A ticking clock is presented through the rapidly increasing percentage of the ship being assimilated and there are definite casualties so the Borg remain dangerous. Picard being driven to activate the self destruct sequence naturally flows from the action and it’s the right level of chaotic to create confusion while still being easy to follow.
Ending the episode with Picard finding himself in an alternate reality is deliberately confusing. How he got there from the destruction of the Stargazer and the accompanying fleet is completely unknown. The appearance of Q (John De Lancie) talking about the road not taken ties into everything that has been said about regrets and questioning life decisions while presumably placing Picard into a scenario where his life is very different to explore if it would be better had he done things differently over the course of his life. This is essentially what Q forced him to explore in the classic episode “Tapestry” but the setup where Picard is already actively questioning his life choices has potential for this to be a very different take on that idea. The episode ends with plenty of intrigue and a shift in the overall threat through Q’s appearance indicating that the situation is likely more severe than initially thought.
A strong opening to the season that sets up the ongoing themes well, has a strong grasp of character and presents a compelling mystery. In general the idea of Picard questioning his life choices and whether he made the right ones is set up with more specific attention given to his status as a lifelong bachelor. Laris indicates that she is romantically interested in him and he clearly shares her interest but is afraid to act on it. This opens up an opportunity to explore a never before side of Picard. His loneliness is directly interrogated with his commitment to exploration cited as preventing him from forging long term romantic bonds with anyone but it is framed as an excuse that doesn’t hold water. His speech at the academy furthers this through mention of legacy and him being the last Picard. There’s an obvious contrast between Picard’s advancing years and the young cadets. This causes him to consider his mindset when he was in that position and how he has regrets in his own life. The flashback/dream sequence involving his mother undoubtedly feeds into this albeit confusingly. Violent imagery is spliced into it suggesting that he lost his mother tragically but it’s such a jarring inclusion that it’s unclear if it actually happened. Signs point to his father being an abusive presence and his mother helping him cope with by encouraging him to look to the stars for comfort. The idea is that it reminds him how insignificant he and his troubles are on a cosmic scale. Arguably this ignores the real problem and it’s now catching up with him. It all feeds in -however loosely- to the examination of Picard’s loneliness. Positioning Laris as a romantic interest is a bizarre choice as it doesn’t flow from their previously established relationship. Her interest in him does introduce the idea of him having a fear of commitment but it’s difficult to accept. His conversation with Guinan is great. It allows for exploration of Picard’s difficulty resolving this internal conflict while offering an excellent showcase of their relationship. The conversation identifies that something happened to him and sets it up for later exploration.
Picard’s introspection is halted by the appearance of an anomaly broadcasting a message that names him specifically. His arrival on the new U.S.S. Stargazer neatly feeds into the legacy theme while creating a father/son dynamic between Picard and Rios with Rios taking the Stargazer name forward with his blessing. The appearance of the Borg ship looking to negotiate peace sets up a compelling mystery. It surprises everyone and there’s a lack of consensus over how to proceed. Picard and Seven occupying both sides of the argument with Jurati supporting Picard and Rios supporting Seven clearly presents the two valid sides. Picard’s measured approach is nicely contrasted with Seven’s passionate PTSD driven one with Rios concerned for his ship and Jurati as curious as Picard is. This flows naturally from established character traits while enhancing the mystery at hand. The ensuing set piece is impressively chaotic while still being easy to follow and developing the mystery. Ending the episode with Picard finding himself in an alternate reality is deliberately confusing. It’s an obvious link to the “road not taken” idea raised throughout the episode by presumably placing Picard in a scenario where his life is very different to explore if doing things differently would have produced better results. The episode ends with plenty of intrigue and a shift in the overall threat through Q’s appearance indicating that the situation is likely more severe than initially thought.
- neatly establishing the themes of regrets and legacy through Picard’s inner conflict
- starting to explore a new side to Picard by interrogating his status as a lifelong bachelor
- the excellent Picard/Guinan conversation
- the engaging Borg mystery
- outlining the argument in a clear and character driven way
- the Picard and Rios father/son dynamic with Rios trusted to carry on the legacy of the Stargazer name
- Picard and Seven in opposition and the portrayal of Seven’s PTSD
- a well put together chaotic yet coherent set piece
- plenty of intrigue in the ending
- things being explained that don’t need to be
- Laris being awkwardly positioned as a romantic interest
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