After much anticipation, some anxiety, and even more excitement, the first season of Star Trek: Picard has come and gone. I can safely say that, notwithstanding some missteps and a two-part finale that felt unnecessarily rushed, the inaugural season of Picard was a success.
Despite now having watched all 10 episodes multiple times, I still can’t quite believe, that Picard actually exists. Given Star Trek’s place in pop culture – and its cash cow status – its presence on our screens is all but a given these days. However, a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation starring Patrick Stewart himself was something that no fan would have even dreamt of two years ago.
The show is a focused character study. It’s a drama about a broken recluse who’s forcibly jolted back to action by past episodes of his life. The Picard in this series, is undoubtedly Picard. But he’s a Picard who’s much older, no longer in charge of the situation, and disillusioned with what Starfleet has become. This is a Picard who was beaten despite having delivered one of his big rousing speeches. Imagine if Picard would have been bested by Admiral Satie in “The Drumhead.” This is the Picard we got in this series – and precisely why this first season of this show was a success.
I could easily list dozens of details (those new deltas, those uniforms!) and story beats (Maddox resurfacing!) that I loved about the show; I’ve probably already done so on Twitter. But for the purposes of this blog, I’m deep diving into the seven things I enjoyed most and will stick with me well into the future. So sit back, take a deep puff of that snakeleaf, and engage!
1. Seven’s Brand of Justice
The fact that Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine is in Picard is not surprising. She’s a wildly popular character and her and Picard’s comparable Borg experiences were ripe for exploration. Plus, Seven’s a safe bet (let’s not forget that this show is a creative and commercial enterprise). What was surprising was how much Picard felt at times as much a sequel to Star Trek: Voyager as it was to TNG. In hindsight, given Kirsten Beyer’s involvement, this shouldn’t be shocking. Yet it was wonderfully unexpected at how much Picard furthers arcs from the various 24th century Trek shows; here’s hoping that Marc Bernardin’s involvement in season two means more DS9 nods.
From the moment she beams onto La Sirena, I immediately bought the “Seven as Robin Hood” story. This is due to both Ryan’s complete mastery over the character and the fact that this version of Seven is a natural evolution from the one we knew on Voyager. In fact, had it not been for Janeway’s steadying force, Seven would have taken matters into her own hands – always with aggressive tendencies – on many occasions. It’s believable that, without Janeway’s guidance, and after a string of disappointments and losses, Seven turned to dispensing her own brand of vigilante justice; no doubt Icheb’s death and Bjayzl’s betrayal were not the only tragic chapters Seven experienced post-Voyager. I look forward to seeing where the character goes from here and what other Voyager-related surprises are in store.
2. The Artifact
You couldn’t have a drama starring Jean-Luc Picard and not tackle the Borg head on – what Picard went through at their hands is chief among his (and the franchise’s) defining moments. What makes this new interpretation of the iconic villains and their involvement in Picard stand out is ‘The Artifact’ itself.
From a narrative perspective, ‘The Artifact’ is the house of horrors that much of our story takes place in. But that’s not why it’s memorable. What ‘The Artifact’ represents is what makes it unique. It’s canonically consistent that an abandoned, damaged Cube, in territory that belonged to the once mighty Romulan Empire, would serve as a hot spot for technological development, scientific research, and just plain old piracy. ‘The Artifact’ is akin to an old whale carcass at the bottom of the ocean that is picked clean, slowly but surely by hundreds of species. The Romulans exploit ‘The Artifact’ for their political and technological gain and welcome anyone who can pay the price of admission (no doubt serving to finance much of their operations). The sheer size and power of a Borg Cube is on full display in Picard and while it was inevitable that it would regenerate and fight back, it was smart to temporarily neuter the beast and present the Borg / Ex-Bs living inside it in a new light. Who thought we’d ever be rooting for the Borg?
3. Laris and Zhaban
Michael Chabon wrote on Instagram that he would’ve loved to have done an Earth-bound version of Picard focused on a mystery solving Jean-Luc, living on his vineyard, chillin’ with Laris and Zhaban. I admit that I’d watch the hell out of this never-to-be “Star Trek: Murder, He Wrote.” Not only would a low-stakes crime solving Picard be delightful, but this version of the show would guarantee hours of screen time for Laris and Zhaban (not to mention Laris’ amazing Romulan-Irish brogue).
Picard introduced a slew of great new characters into canon. Few were as memorable as Laris and Zhaban. Despite limited screen time – in only three episodes – Orla Brady and Jamie McShane, the actors who played Laris and Zhaban respectively, brought great depth and mystique to these two ex-Tal Shiar agents. It speaks volumes of the show’s writers and of the actors themselves that these brand new characters felt as lived-in in the Star Trek universe as Sir Patrick himself. Not only do I want to spend more time with Laris and Zhaban, but I want to see their story, their motivations, and their dynamic on-fold in detail on screen; no greater compliment can a fan give.
4. Cristobal Rios
One can’t write about Picard’s most memorable new characters and not mention Cristobal Rios. This ex-Starfleet Commander, perfectly embodied by Venezuelan-born Chilean actor Santiago Cabrera, represents a turning point in Star Trek characterization; one that’s extremely personal to me.
Characters of Latin / Spanish heritage are few and far between on Trek. Even when they appear, their heritage is usually confined to a surname – it’s never been integral to their personhood. Until now.
Rios is unabashedly who he is. For Star Trek fans who grew up in bilingual Spanish/English households, children of more than one culture, and there are many of us, Rios is a revelation. The joy I felt when he spoke – particularly when he cursed – in Spanish is hard to articulate. Star Trek has always done an admirable job when it came to representation but highlighting the cultural differences among its human characters has rarely been as prevalent as it is in Picard. Ten-year-old Carlos would never have believed that we would get a strong, layered lead saying ‘caramba,’ ‘mija,’ or singing ‘arroz con leche’ on Star Trek. Bravo.
5. The Death of Data’s ‘Essence’
I didn’t love the two-part season finale. In fact, they’re my least favorite Picard episodes. Some plot points that were meticulously constructed throughout the season, found quick, somewhat unsatisfactory resolutions, and in some cases no resolution at all (e.g. what happened to Narek? The synths ban was lifted just like that?). Despite this, I found everything to do with Data in the finale absolutely touching and beautifully done.
We learn, literally in the series’ first scene, that Picard has been haunted by Data’s death for close to 20 years. It’s a guilt that weighs on him and partially defines him now. That’s why the scene when Picard dies and he sees and talks to Data again – a Data at peace and confident of the decision he made to sacrifice himself so Picard could live – was so gratifying and emotional.
The two scenes with Data in the season finale are the culmination of 30 plus years of friendship and mutual respect between two fan-favorite characters. Thankfully, the scenes were handled with grace and respect. Data asking Picard – his mentor, his father figure – to deactivate the very last part of him that was still ‘on,’ so he could die and complete his life was the single best way, and the most Data way, for him to fully live and to complete his arc. It was pitch-perfect and brought a tear to my eye. Now that we know the ending, we’ll never watch Star Trek: Nemesis the same way ever again.
6. Picard’s Emotional Arc
The season’s key triumph was Picard’s emotional journey. This broken man learns, at the twilight of his life, that what ultimately matters – what will fix him and bring him closure – are the emotional bonds he shares with those he loves; bonds that he’s always actively shunned, much now to his regret. Picard season one took its cue from a memorable moment in the last scene of the last episode of TNG, “All Good Things,” when Picard finally joins a senior staff poker game, and successfully ran with it at warp speed.
Throughout TNG’s seven-year run, and indeed in the films, Patrick Stewart played Picard as largely stoic and emotionally distant from his crew. He was their leader and while he enjoyed their company, particularly Data’s and Beverly’s, he rarely fraternized, much less made his feelings known. In Picard, our Captain comes to accept and openly express his love and affection to those that matter to him. This is a Picard that faced with his mortality, actively reaches out and expresses emotion. Hearing him say he loved Data, seeing him embrace both Troi and Riker, opening to Seven, and actively seeking Soji’s affection – all of it signifies a man realizing that he’s done a few things wrong and now wants to remedy them. This arc was wonderful to experience, and it was beautifully played by Patrick Stewart. This was not a version Picard Sir Patrick had played before and no doubt what attracted him to the series in the first place.
Picard’s seventh episode, “Nepenthe,” is among the greatest hours of science fiction television made in the 21st century. Written by Samantha Humphrey and Michael Chabon and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, this is an episode that definitively proves that nostalgia can successfully drive a new story forward, all while honoring and celebrating the past.
Riker and Troi’s situation as depicted in “Nepenthe,” while both unforeseen and heartbreaking, is a perfectly natural evolution of their story. Their path took a turn we fans never expected, and both Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis have never been better, particularly Marina who injected Troi with a gravitas and melancholy the character previously lacked. It’s clear that these two beloved characters went through dark times, times that broke them, and have slowly put themselves back together again. Far from fan fiction, the episode deepened our affection for two already beloved characters, introduced a new one (in Kestra) that we immediately accepted, and furthered the plot in ingenious ways (with more than one wink to the early days of TNG). This was easily the standout episode of Picard for me as it paid thoughtful homage to what came before, all while boldly charging ahead.
While the above is not a definitive list – I feel like I could do a full blog on my love of the Argo-like shuttles at the beginning of “Maps and Legends” – it is meant to stir conversation and debate. So do let me and the TrekNews.net crew know what you think in the comments below.
In the meantime, LLAP!
Star Trek: Picard Season One Reviews
Episode 1 “Remembrance”
Episode 2 “Maps and Legends”
Episode 3 “The End is the Beginning”
Episode 4 “Absolute Candor”
Episode 5 “Stardust City Rag”
Episode 6 “The Impossible Box”
Episode 7 “Nepenthe”
Episode 8 “Broken Pieces”
Episode 9 “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1”
Episode 10 “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”
The first season of Star Trek: Picard starred Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), alongside Isa Briones (Dahj), Santiago Cabrera (Cristobal “Chris” Rios), Michelle Hurd (Raffi Musiker), Alison Pill (Agnes Jurati), Harry Treadaway (Narek) and Evan Evagora (Elnor). The series will also guest star Star Trek: The Next Generation alum Jonathan Frakes (William Riker), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Brent Spiner (Data/Alton Soong), Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh) along with Star Trek: Voyager‘s Jeri Ryan (Annika Hansen/Seven of Nine).
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When not drinking coffee or watching Star Trek (or other sci-fi), Carlos spends his time running around London working on several projects. He has incredibly rambunctious boy-girl twins (his wife foolishly did not let him name them Luke and Leia).
You can follow Carlos on Twitter @doublemacc.