It can’t be overstated how hyped I have been for the debut of Star Trek: Picard. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Star Trek: The Next Generation was a phenomenon, a slice of sci-fi comfort that gave us heroes who were Good (TM) and could be counted on to do the right things in the face of any challenge.
As if leaving television on the back of one of the best series finales in “All Good Things” wasn’t enough (I can still remember watching it like it was yesterday, and somewhere I still have the VHS tape of the episode I recorded), the franchise lived on in movies for the next several years. We had a crossover with the original series (kind of) in Generations, we had arguably the best Trek film in First Contact, and then followed up with two movies of variable quality. When the crew signed off in 2002 with Nemesis, no one had yet envisioned a future where the changing landscape of television media could give rise to a continuation of their saga.
And yet here we are, thanks in part to the success of Star Trek: Discovery. And while the story of the Next Generation crew has continued in a series of novels and comic books, there is still something magical – if even a little bittersweet given the passage of time – at seeing the cast you remember and love reprising their iconic roles.
And with it comes the mixed feelings of getting together with a dear friend you hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Will the nostalgia glasses have outweighed reason and proper expectation? You really can’t go home again, right?
You can’t. And that’s what makes Picard work.
Warning: spoilers ahead…
Topical themes have been a staple of Trek since the beginning, and Picard wastes no time in chiming in with a weighty analogy of today’s world. An attack by synthetics causes a disaster on Mars that results in Starfleet withdrawing support for the evacuation of Romulus prior to its star’s supernova. A disgusted Picard, viewing the act as Starfleet turning its back on the very ideals it was founded upon, resigns his commission. This tied with synthetics / androids being banned – and oops of course there are some out there being hunted by Romulans – and we have not-too-subtle analogies to the rise of xenophobia and lack of empathy from major world governments over the past decade. It’s painful to watch – not because the production is bad (far from it), but because you know the world is in a bad place when Trek calls it out in its core body.
The callbacks and nostalgia are in full effect in “Remembrance”; honestly, a little too much (the Picard Day poster was a tad too on the nose). But the callbacks, for the most part, do in fact serve the story. From the opening sequence with Data on the Enterprise-D (even if Ten Forward looked a little too CGI), to the quantum archive (what, it’s in a state of superposition? What does that even mean?) with the model of the Stargazer and even name-dropping Bruce Maddox. In these ways, new fans may be a little lost, but frankly, Picard is not a show expecting to ease in viewers who have never seen Next Generation. You either accept that some of this is going to go over your head and you’ll be looking up Memory Alpha entries to catch up or you check out early.
The premiere moves at a breakneck speed. From Picard in retirement to his broadcast interview that goes awry to Dahj “activating”, getting all Jason Bourne and seeking Picard’s help, the episode is a whirlwind. By the time Dahj is dragging an elderly Picard up the stairs to escape, we as the audience feel just as winded as he does.
Which is good, because while Picard feels like a continuation of Next Generation, it takes its cues from Discovery in art direction and pacing. The formula that served Next Generation to Enterprise was well-worn and in need of retirement by the end, and thankfully Discovery has set a fresh and modern visual and thematic tone that Picard adapts and evolves. It is very much a story of a living legend at a low point of his life (the line about Picard “stopped living and was waiting to die” was fantastic) and the groundwork is all there for his journey back.
There was so much to enjoy in “Remembrance”; the action sequences and effects were well-done, Patrick Stewart hasn’t missed a step (well, figuratively) and the qualities that remind us of why we love the character (the humanity, the bravery in the face of overwhelming dissent, his grandfatherly care for Dahj)… it was all wonderful to take in.
“Remembrance” strikes a strong balance of nostalgia and forward-looking. It lays the foundation for a powerful – if slightly unsettling – narrative landscape against which to play off Picard’s new quest. The Federation we’ve returned to is not the one we left behind almost 20 years ago – and that’s okay. The questions it asks – and the mirror in which our society is reflected – are the ones we need today.