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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Star Trek: Picard!

Set decades after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the new series Star Trek: Picard reintroduces us to Jean-Luc Picard.  No longer the captain of the Enterprise, or indeed a Starfleet officer of any kind, Picard lives out his days overseeing his family winery, assisted by two gentle aides.  But when a young woman on the run seeks him out, and Picard discovers that she shares a connection to one of his former Enterprise crew-mates, the former captain must re-enter the world he has been hiding from for so long.

I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I remember being so excited for the premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and I watched every episode of the series as it came out.  (Many of those episodes I have rewatched at least a dozen times, likely more!!)  I loved that show and I loved those characters.  I was disappointed that the movie franchise never really took off.  (I get a lot of enjoyment out of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, even though I think both films are deeply flawed.  Star Trek: Insurrection is forgettable and Star Trek: Nemesis is an abomination before the Lord.)  I never expected to see Patrick Stewart back in this role ever again.  But the creative and critical success of Logan, in which Mr. Stewart returned to portray an elderly version of Professor X, surely paved the way for his return, here, to the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

I was excited for this show, though very dubious.  I can’t say I have much faith in Alex Kurtzman, who is the current steward of the Star Trek franchise.  I didn’t love any of the three rebooted Trek films that Mr. Kurtzman was involved with (they’re fun but deeply flawed, and even when I love them they don’t really feel like true Star Trek to me); I have found Star Trek: Discovery to be a huge disappointment; and the “Short Trek” short films have been very hit-or-miss.

But I am pleased to report that I thought the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, titled “Remembrance,” was pretty great!!

It’s a pleasure to see Patrick Stewart back in this iconic role, and Mr. Stewart is, as always, fantastic.  He still has an incredible magnetism that is on full display whenever he is on-screen.  His commanding presence reaches out and grabs you.  It’s fascinating and sad to see Mr. Stewart play this older, damaged version of Picard.  This is still Picard — Mr. Stewart shows us Picard’s intelligence and empathy and warmth.  But this Picard has been changed by the events that have transpired since last we saw him.  Mr. Stewart is playing the same character and, at the same time, this is an all-new Picard.  This is a delicate balance, and so far Mr. Stewart (and the writers) have walked this line well.  (I liked seeing that Picard was out of breath during the chase scene late in the episode — it’s great that the show is embracing the fact that this Picard is an old man.)

Discovery played fast and loose with Star Trek canon, to my great dismay.  But so far, I was pleased by how many lovely connections this first episode of Picard drew to the events of The Next Generation and the movies.  (More on this below.)

The series also charts a new path.  This doesn’t look or feel anything like Next Generation.  But unlike Discovery, which was theoretically set in the years prior to the Original Star Trek, Picard takes place in the future.  And so I was happy to see a new look to the show and to the tech.  There are no continuity problems with that, since we’re decades past any Trek we’ve seen before.  There are all sorts of fun little futuristic flourishes in the episode that bring this late-24th-century setting to life.

More importantly, the show’s visual palette feels fresh and new.  This doesn’t look anything like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This feels like a very current, modern new sci-fi show.  Picard also, thankfully, doesn’t look much like Discovery… nor does it have that series’ relentless pace.  I was pleased that this first episode of Picard took its time, allowing us to slowly discover this world and learn about where Picard, and the Federation, are currently at.  (The only scene that was too frenetically-paced in the way Discovery so often is was the interview scene.  We got a lot of exposition in that scene, very fast, about the events that led to Picard’s retirement from Starfleet, and it all came much too fast for me to feel like I truly understood it.)

OK, I’m going to dive more deeply into this episode now, so beware SPOILERS if you haven’t yet seen it!

I enjoyed the two dream sequences with Brent Spiner back as Data.  It’s a delight to see Mr. Spiner back as Data on-screen!!  I liked the de-aging work they did.  (Though, to be honest, with the great de-aging I’ve seen in so many of the Marvel movies recently — especially Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel — and also in movies like The Irishman, I was expecting them to make Data look even more like he’d looked back in the show.  This Data looked a lot like the Data of 2002’s Nemesis, which is good, but that Data was frankly already looking a little too old for the character!  The second Data scene, in which we’re clearly supposed to be seeing the Data of the series — note the uniforms that he and Picard are wearing — is a great scene, but Data doesn’t really look much like the Data of the TNG era.)

I hate the movie Nemesis, and part of me was hoping this Picard series would have ignored the events of that movie, and had Data back alive, maybe just giving us a quick line of explanation (something like: “after I reconstituted myself in 2380…” or something like that).  But since they’re acknowledging Nemesis, I’m glad they’re going the other way, and really leaning into exploring the impact of the events of that film, showing us how Picard is still grieving the death of Data, even two decades later.

I LOVED the gorgeous shot of the Enterprise D in the opening moments of the show.

I love that Picard calls his dog “Number One”.

I love hearing Picard actually speak French!!  I think that’s a first.  (Jean-Luc Picard is of course supposed to be French, despite his being played by the very British Patrick Stewart.)

I noted above how much I enjoyed this episode’s continuity connections.  I loved that they opened with the song “Blue Skies” on the soundtrack — we heard this song in the closing moments of Nemesis, so that was a nice connection.  I loved seeing all of the items in Picard’s archive, most especially the “Captain Picard Day” banner (from the TNG episode “The Pegasus”).  I loved how the look of Picard’s vineyards felt very much of a piece with what we saw in the TNG finale, “All Good Things…”.  But my very favorite moment was the hugely surprising name-drop of Bruce Maddox, from the second season TNG episode “Measure of a Man”!!  That made me SO HAPPY!!  (Will we actually get to see Maddox in this show…?)

I enjoyed Isa Briones’ work as the young woman on the run, Dahj.  I was surprised the show killed her off, but I also rolled my eyes at that a bit, because I figured that due to her synthetic nature we’d likely see her again.  Sure enough, we met Dahj’s twin sister only a few minutes later.

I absolutely loved Picard’s two Romulan aides, Zhaban and Laris, played by Jamie McShane and Orla Brady.  They don’t really look or sound like any Romulan we’ve ever met before, but I don’t mind that.  (Most of the Romulans we’ve previously seen were in the military or the government; these two seem like they were civilians.)

I enjoyed the work of Alison Pill (The Newsroom) as the cyberneticist Dr. Jurati.  I’m eager to see more of her.  (Also: I liked seeing the pieces of B-4 and hearing Picard and Dr. Jurati discuss him, another nice connection to the events of Nemesis.)

(I did have one worry in her scene with Picard — that was her one line about the possibility that Maddox could recreate a positronic neural net from just one molecule of another positronic neural net.  That feels too much like silly plot magic, like Khan’s super-healing-blood from Star Trek Into Darkness.  I really hate that sort of plot laziness.  I know the science in Star Trek is made up, but Star Trek is generally known for its fake future science feeling real and plausible.  That’s important to the show.  I fear that line was put there to herald a future plot development that I’m not going to like…)

I loved how much we saw of Earth in this episode.  (I was especially jazzed to see Boston in the 24th century, a first for Star Trek!)  I really enjoyed the sets and costumes, which gave a nice futuristic vibe to the show without looking silly or fake.

The destruction of Romulus by a supernova was an important event in the “prime” timeline in 2009’s Star Trek.  I found that plot point to be a little absurd, actually — it’s one of my least favorite aspects of that film.  (I don’t think a supernova would really move so fast through space as depicted in that film; and wouldn’t the Romulan Empire’s advanced technology been able to predict if their sun was about to go nova?)  But like Data’s death in Nemesis, I do like the attention to continuity in the way they’ve made that event an important aspect of the backstory of this show.  I like that Picard was at the forefront of trying to help rescue as many Romulan refugees as possible.  And the show’s depiction of the Federation’s turn towards fear and isolationism gives the story strong parallels to today’s world.  That we learn that the Federation resisted aiding the Romulan refugees, and that many Federation members didn’t want these alien refugees settling on their planets, feels like a very clear statement about what’s happening today, in 2020.  The best Star Trek always has a moral message, and I like seeing that here.

(It could be seen as controversial to show the Federation behaving so poorly, but I am open to that.  I enjoyed seeing the cracks in the Federation’s utopian facade in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  In the final run of DS9 episodes, we learn that Starfleet officers were complicit in the attempted genocide of the Changelings — and we saw plenty of officers willing to go along with allowing that to happen, even if they weren’t responsible for it.  I don’t mind seeing the perfect future of Star Trek tested and pushed.  Although it is important for a Star Trek show for our heroes’ ideals to win out in the end, I feel.)

Because we saw a Borg ship in the trailers, I expected to learn that Dahj had some sort of connection to the Borg (and that was why she was seeing Picard’s face in her mind, because of his time as Locutus).  And so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that wasn’t where the show was going at all — rather, that Dahj is a synthetic like Data, perhaps created by someone who used Data’s own positronic net as a basis.  Despite Data’s incredible abilities, we never really saw many other androids in the TNG era of Star Trek, so it’s interesting to learn that “synthetics” grew more common in the years since we last saw this world.

I like both those stories.  The only problem is the awkward way they’re smushed together.  What did the Synth attack on Mars have to do with stopping the aid to Romulan refugees?  (Surely the destruction of the Utopia Planitia shipyards didn’t mean that Starfleet didn’t have ANY ships left to aid the Romulans?)  And the idea that, after the attack, the Federation turned to fear of Synthetics, seems like exactly the same story as the turn towards fear and xenophobia regarding the Romulan refugees.  I like both of these stories independently, but they don’t really work together for me.

My only other real complaint about the premiere is that I don’t love the choice made to show Picard as having essentially run and hid from Starfleet, after things turned bad with the Romulans and the Synths.  J.J. Abrams & co. made a similar decision with regards to aged heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in The Force Awakens and the sequel Star Wars trilogy — showing us that both former heroes ran away from the world when things got bad.  I didn’t like that there, and I don’t like it here.  It seems like a very un-Picard thing to do.  I wish they’d have made a different choice.  Why not have had Picard retire in triumph; perhaps after his crew scattered, post-Nemesis, he felt he’d done enough and it was time for him to step aside.  But then, watching from the sidelines for the past two decades, he’d have had a growing despair as the Federation fell into fear and isolation, and he felt powerless to do anything about it.  That could have set up the events of the show as well as — if not better — than the backstory they went with, and the rest of the story could have unfolded unchanged.  Wouldn’t that have been better?

I loved seeing the Borg cube at the end, though I’m confused at this point what the characters working on the cube are doing, or how that ties into either the Romulan or Synth stories.  But I look forward to seeing where these stories go.  The visual effects shot of the cube was very cool.

This episode wasn’t perfect, but it made me very happy!  The series was created by Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and Alex Kurtzman.  This first episode has a story credited to Mr. Goldsman, Mr. Chabon, Mr. Kurtzman and James Duff, and a script written by Mr. Goldsman and Mr. Duff.  It was directed by Hanelle Culpepper.  That’s a lot of cooks, but I am very pleased by what they and their team have pulled off here.

Now, I also really liked the first episode of Discovery, and things unfortunately went quickly downhill from there.  But I am hoping for the best and very excited for the second episode!  I hope future episodes build on the strong foundation of this premiere episode.  Make it so.  (I couldn’t resist, sorry!!)

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