Review: Star Trek: Picard Season 2 premiere “The Star Gazer”
Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is back on the silver screen, as Star Trek: Picard debuts its first episode of season two. Things are quite different from when we last saw Picard and his merry band of misfits. “The Star Gazer” wastes no time in jumping into action, delivering fans a primer for what to expect this season, with numerous easter eggs thrown in for good measure. Let’s break it down.
The episode’s cold open shows crew members on some unknown Federation starship scrambling during an attack. The camera follows three of them as they make their way to the bridge – a bridge that hosts a uniformed Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) in the center chair, along with Admiral Picard (Patrick Stewart) alongside him. Also on the chaotic bridge is Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), and it’s quickly clear that there is a Borg-like enemy on the bridge, and Picard initiates the self-destruct.
As far as cold opens go, this one is a doozy. By the end of it, major questions for the viewer already arise. Besides wondering what this threat is facing Picard, one has to wonder when Rios, the man who swore off Starfleet after its handling of a disastrous and personally devastating first contact scenario, regained his commission and took command of a starship. One also wonders what Dr. Jurati, the woman who killed her lover in an attempt to stop the much-feared day of reckoning by god-like synthetic beings, is doing on the bridge.
After the main titles (which are as beautiful as ever and surely contain many hints of what’s to come this season), we go back in time 48 hours, when Picard is celebrating an exciting day of the winery season. This pastoral life was how the first season began, but this time Picard is clearly more energetic. Remember, the series finale saw him assume control of a golem, a body that is in better health than his original flesh and blood. It’s appropriate, then, that this scene is accompanied by “Time Is On My Side” by Irma Thomas. Seeing this happier Picard is a welcome sight after witnessing him depressed and “waiting to die” for much of the first season.
After the day’s events, Picard sits down with Laris (Orla Brady) to decompress, and it’s in this scene that we are confronted with a major change, one that haunts Picard through the episode: he has developed feelings for Laris. What does Zhaban (Jamie McShane), Laris’ life-long partner and fellow former Tal Shiar operative, have to say about this? Nothing, because he’s dead. Yes, Picard’s writers decided to kill Zhaban off-screen, and we are never told how or why the housekeeper died. Alas, it provides an opportunity for Laris and Picard to begin to possibly kindle a romance, although Picard does stop himself from kissing the Romulan and opts instead to prepare for his big day tomorrow.
Next, we get a quick look into Picard’s mind, as he flashes back to a key moment in his childhood. The young Picard (Dylan Von Halle) apparently had a rough upbringing. His father appears to have been abusive toward Picard’s mom, Yvette (Madeline Wise), and Yvette seemed to be a stabling presence in Picard’s life. (Interestingly, Patrick Stewart has publicly discussed how his own father was abusive, so that aspect of the actor’s life has seemingly made its way into his Star Trek character.) One of Yvette’s favorite sayings to her son was to always “look up” at the stars to find answers. As present-day Picard looks up to the stars as he remembers his childhood, we see a far-flung area of space, where an innocent Akira-class ship gets knocked around by a green rift that forms in space.
The episode briefly touches on what Soji Asha (Isa Briones) has been doing since the Federation lifted the ban on synthetics. She has been playing diplomat, and she is currently meeting with a group of Deltans. Jurati is with her, but soon the pair are separated as Rios enlists Jurati for a mission. We also find out that the burgeoning relationship between Rios and Jurati that began in season one didn’t last in the year since, which leads to some awkward, if not comedic, tension between the two interact on the bridge.
Yes, the rift attracts the attention of more than just a random Akira-class: Rios’ new ship, grandly revealed to be the U.S.S. Stargazer (unless you watched a recent The Ready Room episode, in which case this surprise was spoiled.). This is a ship Rios captains with the same “make it so” exclamation as his predecessor, which Jurati keenly calls the “burden of legacy”. This Stargazer is clearly a refit of the ship that Picard once commanded, and she is striking. But she’s not just on-screen for show, as Rios is tasked with investigating that mysterious rift that formed in space. The rift emits a distorted signal that is actually multiple languages smashed together, and only after deciphering the signal does the message become clear: “Help us, Picard,” followed by the entirety of Article 15 – the section of the Federation Charter that allows entry into the organization.
Picard is keeping himself busy not just as a vineyard owner, but chancellor of Starfleet Academy – and again, it’s a pleasant sight to see a more invigorated Picard than who we saw in much of the first season. At a ceremony celebrating new Starfleet Academy graduates, Picard spotlights the first full-blooded Romulan graduate, Elnor (Evan Evagora), and invites them all to always “look up” at the stars, as Picard’s mother used to tell him. Elnor, remember, was just a boy when Picard first met him during the Romulan supernova disaster, and the Starfleet admiral became a father figure for the warrior. Now, Picard is clearly excited to see Elnor follow in his footsteps, and gifts him a book written by Spock about the Vulcan’s days as ambassador on Romulus.
“The older I get, the more I believe that the true Final Frontier is time. In command, as in life, what we do in crisis often weighs less heavily than what we wish we had done. What could have been. Time offers many opportunities, but it rarely offers second chances.” Picard to the Starfleet Academy graduating class, in what may very well be foreshadowing for how season two plays out for the admiral.
After the graduation ceremony, we learn what’s up with Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd). She is now back with Starfleet, and gets her own assignment on the… wait for it… U.S.S. Excelsior (the same ship Elnor is assigned to). Yes, this seems to be the namesake of the ship we saw in The Original Series movies, once captained by Hikaru Sulu. Other legacy ships we know, such as the ill-fated U.S.S Grissom, what appears to be the USS Shenzhou, and of course the Stargazer have refitted versions of those original ships. As you can imagine, knowing these vessels exist is a great bit of fan service. Hopefully, we’ll see these ships in action in the future.
Picard, as he ponders his romantic interests and how to precede, decides to visit an old friend, someone who he feels he can go to for advice. Arriving in Los Angeles, Picard walks into a bar on 10 Forward Avenue (of course), and meets Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), tending bar as always. Guinan detects Picard is bothered by something far more complex than the usual interstellar negotiations, hostile enemies, or anything else the pair have witnessed in their time together. It’s a matter of the heart that weighs down the admiral, and Giunan ultimately assesses that the answers he seeks are not in the stars, but in his heart, and that there is one final frontier he has yet to conquer.
To this show’s credit, Guinan’s cameo doesn’t seem like purely fan service, as some other cameos in recent Star Trek have (we’re looking at you, Tom Paris). Instead, the wise El-Aurian peers deeply into Picard’s soul and urge him to explore the feelings he is trying to simultaneously express and repress. Interestingly, we see that there is an aspect of Picard’s personal life that he has never talked about with Guinan, a reason why he is so hesitant to form committed relationships. Might it have something to do with the abusive relationship his parents had?
Back on Earth, Picard gets a visit from Admiral Sally Whitley (April Grace) and informs him that this signal is asking for him directly. Without even saying goodbye to Laris, Picard quickly makes the journey from his vineyard to the Stargazer to help Rios deal with the threat. It’s intriguing, to say the least, that an entity capable of opening holes in spacetime wants to join the Federation via Picard himself. On the Stargazer, Picard reunites with Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who had detected the rift on her ship, La Sirena. Yes, Seven now commands Rios’ former ship while the captain is on the Stargazer, as she continues working with the Fenris Rangers to help those in need.
Picard appreciates how sleek the newer ship looks (“the older these refits get, the newer they look”), but the rift doesn’t leave much time for much remembrance or reunions. Picard tries to contact the mysterious rift, and this communication triggers the arrival of a huge Borg ship and not a design we’ve seen before. Soon, the Federation sends a fleet (including the Excelsior) to rendezvous with the Stargazer in case this contact takes a wrong turn.
Seven of Nine asserts that the Borg ship must be destroyed, a stance she understandably takes thanks to her traumatic Borg history. However, Picard and Jurati both opine that there’s a chance to create an alliance with the Borg – at least, that’s what their message to Picard indicated – and that chance should not be wasted. Things go south, however, when the Borg demand their Queen comes aboard the Stargazer, even though Rios tries to stop it.
The entity that transports onto the Federation ship’s bridge is not at all like anything Borg we’ve seen before. She is clad in black, intricately shielded armor of some kind. Her face is hidden, and she quickly becomes aggressive when she tries to take control of not just the Stargazer, but the rest of the Federation fleet. Picard, knowing that the Borg cannot be allowed to control a Federation armada, arms the ship’s self-destruct. Before the Stargazer can be destroyed, however, the Borg Queen gets Picard’s attention and tells him to “look up.” Why would this entity know what Picard’s mom used to say to her son?
So, we’ve reached the point of the cold open, but now we see Picard transported somehow to what looks like his vineyard at home, but it’s not at all the same place he just left. The house is in disarray, the planet’s atmosphere above is protected by a solar shield, and Picard finds he has a synthetic servant, the kind of android we saw attack Mars in season one. Furthermore, Picard finds a painting of a younger, evil-looking version of himself, clad in a black Starfleet uniform.
Understandably, this alarms Picard, and in his confusion, he hears a familiar voice and sees a familiar face: Q (John de Lancie). A young, TNG-era Q, in fact, who immediately acknowledges Picard is much older than the last time the two crossed paths (in the TNG series finale) and quips that he will catch up to Picard’s age. In a flash of light, Q turns into the current day, John de Lancie. Q reminds Picard of their last encounter, where the god-like being asserted to the then-captain that humanity’s trial (to prove to the Q Continuum that they are not a savage race) never ends, and welcomes Picard to the “very end of the road not taken,” a reference presumably to what would have happened to Picard if he had made different choices in life.
So, Picard seems to be in for quite the journey. The admiral was understandably frustrated by seeing Q again, and we’re psyched to see what the trickster has in store for his old friend. It seems this season will explore parts of Picard that we haven’t really delved into before. His loneliness through his century-long life is catching up with him. Time is weighing on his mind, and his childhood experiences are bubbling to the surface in a way that is impacting his livelihood, but to what end? As far as premieres go, “The Star Gazer” works itself up to a frantic momentum and gets fans properly excited for what comes next, whatever that may be.
- Perhaps in response to criticism received for having a massive fleet of almost identical ships in the Picard season one finale, we were happy to see this episode feature numerous familiar Starfleet ships as they gathered near the rift. Just a few we noticed during the brief shots of the fleet were: Sovereign-class, Nebula-class, Luna-class, Inquiry-class, Excelsior-class, and Akira-class. Seeing these 24th century starships again is so great, especially since they were sorely missed in season one.
- Deltans, the species Soji is seen talking to, were first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as Lt. Ilia was a member of that species.
- Sulu gets a lot of love in this episode, as not only the namesake of his ship, the Excelsior, is in “The Star Gazer,” but we hear in one scene that there is a ship called the Hikaru Sulu.
- While we would normally say the arrival of most of our major characters at the rift would be a grand coincidence, we don’t know at this point how much of what we’ve seen is Q’s handiwork, so perhaps it’s all part of an elaborate plan. Leaning into coincidences was a major weakness of this show’s first season, so we’ll be on the lookout if season two improves in this way.
- Is it just us, or does Rios suffer from a severe lack of leadership during the Borg Queen attack on his bridge? All he does is stand there, and when he does issue orders (“stop firing!”) his crew does not follow them.
- Luckily, the younger version of Q looks quite okay. A keen eye will notice some indications that it is a deep fake, but in our opinion we’re glad they didn’t go for Picard‘s season one Data approach, where Brent Spiner was de-aged via CGI to mixed results. For Star Wars fans, we liken the quality of de-aged John de Lancie to The Book of Boba Fett’s Luke and not The Mandalorian’s Luke, which is a good thing.
- Another aspect of Patrick Stewart’s life that has been assimilated into Picard is the actor’s fondness for pit bulls, so it was nice to see Number One again after not seeing him since early in season one.
- April Grace previously played transporter chief Maggie Hubbell in five episodes of The Next Generation.
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Star Trek: Picard season two will consist of 10 episodes and will drop weekly on Thursdays. The cast includes Patrick Stewart, Alison Pill, Jeri Ryan, Michelle Hurd, Evan Evagora, Orla Brady, Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera, and Brent Spiner. This season’s cast also includes Annie Wersching and special guest stars Whoopi Goldberg and John de Lancie.
The series has already been picked up for a third season, which was filmed simultaneously alongside season 2.
Stay tuned to TrekNews.net for all the latest news on Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, and more.