Produced by CBS All Access
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Allison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Evan Evagora, Harry Treadaway
Many fans had high hopes for “Picard” going into CBS All Access’s continuing voyage into the Star Trek franchise.
Fans wanted to see the lore finally expanded into the future after its previous three ventures (Enterprise, Abrams Trek, and Discovery) took place in the past, bring modern themes and ideas to Star Trek’s futurist’s world view in a way that felt fresh and relevant, but most importantly continue the story of the franchise’s greatest captain; Jean-Luc Picard, of course.
In some ways the new series succeeds at this. We get glimpses of the previously untouched world of Star Trek post “Nemesis,” new themes that are resonant with real world events and exploratory, even critical, of the Federation’s worldview, and of course plenty of Picard himself as he navigates the strange new galaxy he inhabits.
But Picard ultimately misses the mark due to rushed storytelling, half-baked side plots, and just plain poor execution overall. It’s sad because “Picard” and this very talented cast and production team have their moments throughout this first season’s ten episode run but somehow even with 10 episodes of content to work with fans still end up with a somewhat jumbled mess.
This isn’t to say “Picard” isn’t worth your time if you’re an avid Star Trek fan or just someone who likes Patrick Stewart in this role in general but the first season will leave you still hungry for more and not in a good way.
“Picard” continues the story of the titular captain, now retired admiral, many years after the events of “Nemesis” as a retired Jean Luc reflects on his life in Starfleet and of his late friend Data who gave his life for his. A synth ban has been enacted in Starfleet after a major riot on Mars some years prior and Picard is understandably sour on the idea, given his relationship with Data, while also fighting Starfleet on not helping the exodus of the Romulans after the supernova that wiped out their homeworld in “Star Trek (2009).” When a young woman comes seeking Picard’s aid after an attack by mysterious assailants, revealing that she is an android and the possible daughter of Data, and gets killed, it is up to the retired Admiral to find her twin sister before she suffers the same fate.
Before we get started let’s throw out some of the bad faith arguments on why this series wasn’t all that good.
“Picard” doesn’t suck because it has “politics” in it. At this point, if you are complaining about the existence of social viewpoints and political/philosophical discussions in your Star Trek, or let alone any series for that matter, I don’t know what the hell you’ve been watching the past few decades. Star Trek has always been more than just a show about cool-looking spaceships and laser beams, you neckbeards.
It’s also not bad because of female representation or “girl power.” Again, Star Trek has always had this and frankly having a few more instances of the women of Trek taking center stage doesn’t even come close to rebalancing the scales on the overall massive representation of cis white men across the genre and even the series anyways.
Also get the fuck over the use of curse words in this series. While certainly some instances in this show felt awkward, the use of the word “fuck” does not dilute Star Trek’s overall story.
Now that that’s out of way let’s get into the real reasons that, for me at least, the series fell short of an otherwise promising goal of delivering great new Star Trek.
The main problem stems from the series overall jumping off point in its first episode. Picard is understandably still upset about the death of Data and having him deal with survivor’s guilt is a great way to bring this character into the future and reexplore the humanist viewpoints Data touched on in the older series. But also having Picard deal with his fallout from Starfleet, both from the synth ban AND the Romulan exodus, creates chasmic diverging plotlines that never quite come together. The story really needed it to be one or the other. Either Picard wanting to advocate for the continued existence of synthetic life or the rescue of the Romulans post super nova. The latter is touched on a bit through the addition of the character Elnor but doesn’t quite work given that majority of the Romulans in this series are portrayed as villains.
There is definitely a post Brexit, anti-immigrant hysteria message being told there but not enough depth and nuance is given to make it look like Starfleet was particularly wrong here to abandon them given that they do end up being spies committing espionage in the Federation and the clear villains of the first season. The showrunners could have brought these two stories together by perhaps making Soji a Romulan bent on bringing down synthetic life because maybe her twin sister died in the riots on Mars, making Picard have to choose between his commitment to both minority groups abandoned by the Federation but of course, that’s not what the series goes with.
Also suddenly shoehorning in a convoluted anti-synth worldview into the already ultra-secretive Romulan empire was muddled to say the least.
Some of these ideas could’ve been saved through better editing and pacing though but not enough is done in this first season to mitigate these issues. Too much of plot is told through plain exposition; people sitting down and talking for five-ten minutes about prophecies and backstory instead of having the story simply show us instead. It makes the pacing often slow even by Trek standards and grinds the action to a halt even when there are lasers being shot at one another in the next scene.
Many of these plots get barely any attention too. The Borg cube, why it’s abandoned, and why Hugh is working for the Romulans through the Federation is given surface level development at best. Seven of Nine returns and at one point is momentarily hooked up to the Collective and she doesn’t really say much about it after it happens. The new character’s Rios and Raffi both have side stories given to their development that get touched on once and never brought up again. Dr. Jurati straight up murders her lover and is set to turn herself into the Federation and it’s just kind of forgotten about in the finale. And Elnor, well, he gets to do his best Legolas impression slicing and dicing fellow Romulans with his sword I guess.
The main co-star however, Soji the perfect android, has a particularly rushed development going from a scientist unknowing of her nature, to supposed prophet of doom, to predictably the savior all in one season. Her arc needed more time to develop with perhaps her Romulan love affair with Narek being the first season’s main driving force and her realization as an android being the climax.
Instead we get basically four seasons of Battlestar Galactica’s Sharon arc crammed into one season and it unfortunately makes the story feel half-baked.
Don’t get the wrong idea, all these new characters have great individual moments as well throughout the season but sooooo much side plot is shoved in already into a muddled overarching narrative that it feels like several seasons worth of storytelling stuffed and edited down into a ten episode arc. Why the series felt it needed to conclude this robust story about synth hating Romulans in “Picard’s” first season feels like an unforced error in this reviewer’s opinion even if Sir P Stew only has maybe a couple seasons of extensive acting left in him anyways.
But the season isn’t completely worthless, as much as this review has been spent dunking on its less than stellar parts. The cast is exceptional, even working with the spare parts they’ve been given. Episode 5’s “Stardust City Rag,” in particular, stands out as a good mix of old and new Trek, with a decent dosage of cheese featuring Patrick Stewart trying on a French accent in a space bar. Santiago Cabrera is delightful as the ship captain Rios while also playing various forms of himself in AI form in equally enjoyable roles. Evan Evagora is fun as the deadly yet somewhat aloof Elnor, even if his character doesn’t do all that much except cut up a few Romulans. Seeing Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprise their roles as Riker and Troi respectively in episode 6 was heartwarming and felt the most like TNG out of all the episodes. And Jeri Ryan seems liberated in this series in this version of Seven of Nine, no doubt glad to be rid of that restrictive corset and Rick Berman’s meddling hands.
The production value is obviously high level as Trek has rarely looked this good on the small screen. There’s some great cinematography throughout the season whether it’s Picard’s chateau winery, the haunting nature of the Borg cube, or the synth homeworld in the season’s final beats. The spaceships look cool as always and the world of the future feels well futuristic.
The musical score is also top notch, with a great opening theme that feels very much in line with Trek at its futurist glimpse into a hopeful cosmos.
The season’s best moments though are between Picard and Data and will remind you why they were more than likely your favorite characters on TNG. Generally speaking, exploring the humanist themes of artificial intelligence in new Trek was a good choice and having Picard deal with survivor’s guilt kept the pulse of the muddled story still beating. Brent Spiner is still great as Data and will remind you all again how talented he has always been as an actor and though his age seeps through the makeup a bit he is nonetheless still a perfect android.
Though the finale as a whole is underwhelming, the characters do share a nice final moment that is both touching and reminiscent of everything a fan loves about Star Trek. It’s a great cap to an otherwise ok return to Star Trek for TNG’s top characters and its truly touching in the best way that this franchise has always been known to be.
But great acting and high production value can only mask so many flaws with a convoluted plot and “Picard” unfortunately suffers from the bloated and uncooked nature of its many ideas. What the story really needed was three season arc not just ten episodes and it shows. I guess the plus side is with this particular plot wrapped up it leaves the door open for new ideas and a fresh start in the second season but it does feel like an overall miss for Picard’s homecoming back into the universe of Star Trek.
Overall, though there are worse ways a Star Trek fan can spend their quarantine than watching “Picard” and there’s certainly enough here for fans to latch onto and have hope for better things in the next season.
Hopefully things are less rushed or at least more focused in the second season and we can see a more proper return to form for both Picard and future Star Trek.
Here’s hoping the producers and writers make it so…
3 out of 5
Let’s hope we get a return of Q in the next season.