Star Trek: Picard - Season 1

★★★☆☆

I have mixed feelings about the first season of Star Trek: Picard.

Picard himself is, of course, fascinating to watch. There would be no point in doing this show if you couldn’t get Patrick Stewart back, and he’s not phoning it in. The new characters are appealing, and each of them has something they have to deal with over the course of the season: Raffi with her desperation to solve the mystery, Rios’ guilt complex, Dr. Jurati trying to keep her head above water, and Soji slowly becoming aware that something weird is going on around her.

And there’s action, and effects, and doing something different with the Borg, and easter eggs. (It’s possibly the first time Vasquez Rocks has appeared as Vasquez Rocks!)

But it’s kind of like the Star Wars sequel trilogy: On one hand, it’s nice to check in on these characters again after all this time and see what they’ve been up to. On the other…things haven’t turned out as well as one might hope. I mean, sure, Picard’s got his vineyard, but you always figured he’d retire from Starfleet with honors. Riker and Troi have a family, but there’s a tragedy they still haven’t quite moved past. Seven of Nine…well, she’s kicking butt and taking names, but at the end of the day she can’t escape the feeling that it’s not enough. And then there are some of the minor characters…

(I was reminded several times of the line from Sandman about how the secret to a happy ending was knowing where to stop, because if you keep going, eventually all stories end in death.)

And maybe that’s more realistic. ST:TNG, like the original series, was very optimistic about what could be accomplished, what could be solved…and it’s damn hard to stay optimistic these days. So it’s darker than TNG, and more introspective than Discovery. On one level, it’s “Picard rides again!” On another it’s deconstructing the idea of Jean-Luc Picard, looking at the pieces critically, and reassembling them.

And this is Patrick freaking Stewart. You don’t bring him back after 30 years just for a special effects extravaganza. You give him a chance to act. And they did. The plot is about Picard getting a ragtag crew together to find and protect synthetic androids from Romulan spies. But the story is about the heavy, personal cost of doing the right thing, even when opposed or ignored by those around you. They’re constantly faced with the question: was it worth it?

Like The Last Jedi, a lot of it is a grueling journey where we watch that tiny flame of hope flickering in a hurricane. And like The Last Jedi, it finishes on a positive note: Yes, it’s worth it, it tries to say.

But the finale is really abrupt. Motivations are opaque, and decisions are made for the sake of the plot. The story threads don’t all tie together (well, maybe if you stretch some of them like bungee cords). And most importantly: the pieces of the idealized Jean-Luc Picard appear to have been put back in place just the way they were before. Examined, yes, but with no indication that he’s learned anything from the process.

That said, it’s still better than The Rise of Skywalker, and handles the artificial intelligence/natural intelligence conflict at least somewhat better than season two of Discovery.

Update

Season Three (and to a lesser extent Season Two) has given me a new appreciation for the first season of the show. In large part because they added a lot of interesting ideas to the Star Trek canon:

  • Exploring the flip side of the event that kicked off the Kelvin timeline.
  • Picard’s role in the evacuation and resettlement process, Starfleet’s unfortunate response, and how he deals with it.
  • Seven of Nine trying to make her way in the galaxy.
  • The Zhat Vash and the Romulan history with silicon/synthetic life.
  • The Qowat Milat and the Way of Absolute Candor. (I can’t hear the phrase “choose to live” without thinking of Elnor’s warning.)
  • The Artifact and the team studying it, and trying to actually rehab ex-Borg into somewhat functional people again.
  • Linking the Romulans, the Borg, and Dr. Soongh’s work building synthetic humanoids.
  • Generally making the Romulans less monolithic. (And the simple explanation of the appearing/disappearing forehead ridges, making it just part of the normal variation within the species.)

I don’t think I’d bump it up to four stars, but maybe three and a half.