Star Trek: Picard - S1E01, a spoiler-free review and appreciation
3 out of 5
Yes, I'm a Trekker. I was hooked by the wagon-train to the stars from a very young age when I saw the original series with Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the BBC in the early seventies. The adventures of the crew of the Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D) drew me in. I loved the prescient technology. I loved the human relationships, the bickering, the trust, the support that the crew had for each other. I loved the diversity of the cast. And I loved that the stories were mostly parables for the ills of our times although I was too young to realise it at the time. These elements were repeated when the crew of the Enterprise D set sail in
Patrick Stewart played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a man for all seasons: action-hero, philosopher, diplomat, lover, father-figure, friend, sometime private-eye, and commander. For seven seasons and four feature films I admired his style as a leader and, truth be told, I admired it and have tried to use that style in my own career. The last time we saw Picard was in the 2002 Star Trek: Nemesis, a film that set up much of the plot and themes for this new series, Star Trek: Picard.
Episode 1 of this new series, Picard, is called Remembrance and there is a lot to remember. More on that later. As a series opener, we find ourselves at the end of the 24th Century, and 14 years after his retirement from Starfleet, Jean-Luc Picard is living a quiet life on his vineyard, Chateau Picard. A clever exposition tool in the form of a TV interview brings us up to date with why Picard left Starfleet and what he has been doing. His seemingly melancholic existence is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman who is in need of his help. It appears she may have connections to his past and like a private detective, he finds himself drawn into a dangerous world with a mystery to solve.
Production values are high and the episode is filmed with a gorgeous palette. Casting seems spot on with everyone sufficiently earnest and intriguing. Picard has two Romulan housekeepers and I'm sure we will get a more fleshed out back-story for them. The woman is played by Irish actor Orla Brady. It's lovely to hear a Romulan with an Irish lilt. But the star here is Patrick Stewart who seems to slip effortlessly into his former role, even if he looks a little frail these days and, true to life, he stops to catch his breath while running up some stairs.
The writing is what lets this episode down. Yes, it's the first episode in a new season and there is a lot of exposition to work through. For me, the whole Artificial Intelligence plot and "essence of Data" plot-line was very flimsy. Stuff just seems to happen because it can. It reminded me of the recent Star Wars; The Rise of Skywalker - oh, the Jedi can do that now? That's a thing? OK.
Chief writer Michael Chabon is clearly a Trekker too, and he has peppered this debut episode with lots of nods to Star Trek, and in particular, TNG lore. Forgive me as I wander through some of these - and there are no plot spoilers here.
The episode opens to the strains of Bing Crosby singing Blue Skies. It was this song that Data sang at the wedding of Riker and Troi in Star Trek: Nemesis. It's a nice bookend. Also nice is the nod to the final episode of TNG, All Good Things at the end of which Picard joins his crew for a game of poker for the first time and wishing he had joined them many years ago. Star Trek: Picard opens with Data and Picard playing poker in a nice nod to that last TNG scene.
For the eagle-eyed among you, there is a scene in Picard where he looks in a mirror to adjust his tie before his TV interview. In the background, on a hat stand is a grey fedora, the same type he wore when he played Dixon Hill on the Enterprise's holodeck. The gumshoe liked to solve mysteries and it's a nice tonal note because this is where Picard finds himself now: a private-eye with a mystery to solve.
When Picard visits his personal archive we see a model of his first command, the USS Stargazer, a model of the Captain's yacht from the Enterprise E, last seen in
Star Trek: Insurrection - a film where Picard resigns from Starfleet in protest over their handling of a race of people in need. Echoes of this abound in ST:Picard. His archive also had the banner used in Captain Picard Day, a day where the children of the Enterprise celebrated the captain through artwork. This was featured in the episode The Measure of a Man where Commander Bruce Maddox tries to take Data away for study. Guess who is part of the mystery that Picard now has to solve? Yep, Commander Maddox.
So it's this type of detailed interweaving of set-dressing, plot-points and nods to the canon that reassured me even though the overall plot is a bit loose.
I'm looking forward to episode 2.
(Star Trek: Picard is available in CBS All Access in North America and Amazon PRime in most other regions)