‘Star Trek: Picard’ Is A Trek Saved by Nostalgia
Apr 1, 2020   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Apr 1, 2020   •   Mikhail Lecaros
Building on the award-winning Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) and its four subsequent feature films (1994-2002), Patrick Stewart (X-Men) returns to the role that made him famous, in a brand-new adventure that sees him going where no one has gone before.
Read on to see if it’s worth your time, and check out our 8List of episodes to watch before catching this new series!
We open on retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, X-Men) on his ancestral vineyard in France, haunted by the lives he failed to save in an intergalactic catastrophe 12 years ago. His quiet existence is shattered when he crosses paths with Daj (Isa Briones, Broadway’s Hamilton), a young woman with an extraordinary secret. When Daj is killed, Picard decides to seek her twin, Soji, and enlists the help of former Starfleet officer Raffi (Michelle Hurd, Blindspot), and Rios (Santiago Cabrera, The Musketeers), a rogue pilot with a tortured past, to help him. With Romulan spies on their tail, Starfleet unwilling to help, and a conspiracy of galactic proportions threatening the safety of billions, the makeshift crew will have to figure out what makes Soji so special, and how she connects to Picard’s old friend, the long-dead Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner, Independence Day).
On its own, the first episode is extraordinary, a brilliant pilot in every sense, bringing us up to speed on the title character and his place in the universe, following his greatest failure. Stewart puts his skills to good use, showing us a man who may be older and slower but still very much recognizable as the leader who led the USS Enterprise across seven seasons and 4 films.
But then, after the pilot, there are nine episodes left.
There is a good show here, but it’s hidden behind a slipshod story, and too many attempts at making an edgy, modern product. Gratuitous violence, extravagant space battles, and implied incest aren’t necessarily bad things, mind you, but the manner in which they are implemented here comes across like someone watched Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, and said, “I want to do that.”
Production-wise, the show looks amazing, above and beyond what could have been done in The Next Generation’s heyday, but Star Trek was never about spectacle or intrigue. This is a franchise built on characters, ideas, and the notion that humanity can better itself in pursuit of a better tomorrow, and showrunner Michael Chabon nails that in his writing of Picard the character’s optimism and unwavering moral core.
Here, more than ever, the Shakespeare-trained Stewart proves himself the finest actor to ever don a Starfleet uniform – when he says something is the right thing to do, you believe it. Even when the plot around him doesn’t make a lick of sense, you can count on his Picard to be there, steadfast, and ready to do the right thing.
Simply put, the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. The crux of it is that the Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar, have an inner circle whose entire purpose is to seek out synthetic life in the universe, and destroy it. They are driven by an ancient, madness-inducing vision that tells of an extra-dimensional artificial intelligence that will destroy organic life once the (inevitable) conflict between man and machine takes place.
Now, all of this may be derivative of shows like Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), or video games like Mass Effect 3, but good execution is everything, and it probably could have worked if everyone on the show (aside from the title character) wasn’t written like a blithering idiot in the name of suspense and manufactured intrigue.
Now, the question of why anyone would go about their recruitment with a madness-inducing vision (instead of just explaining said vision to recruits and letting them join the cause without brain damage) is never answered, and neither are a whole bunch of other questions, to be honest, so I’ve listed some for your convenience:
It doesn’t help that the new characters are so underwritten as to feel like caricatures. Take Raffi’s “mysterious” reason for joining Picard, or Rios’ incredibly contrived backstory (which both tie conveniently into the main plot, because the universe is apparently that small) – neither is as affecting as Troi hugging her former captain, or what Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan, Boston Public) and Picard achieve in five well-written lines about their post-Borg lives.
Speaking of Seven, much was made of Ryan’s joining the cast, nearly twenty years after transcending her character’s catsuit on Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001). Ryan puts in a great performance, but, aside from a couple of iconic moments, she serves little purpose than to deliver an entirely different type of fan service. And the less said about Hugh and Icheb, the better.
But where Raffi, Rios, and Seven are played by talented actors doing their best to make the material work, the same cannot be said of Elnor, (Evan Avagora, Fantasy Island), a Romulan warrior whose overly-earnest personality fails in both writing and performance. The bad guys aren’t much better, depicted as being so cartoonish, they lack only mustaches to twirl, while the token attempt to craft a villain with depth is Narek (Harry Treadway, Penny Dreadful), who falls in love with Soji for no reason other than the script says he must, before the writers just give up and have him disappear 40 minutes into the finale.
Much like a Jackie Chan movie, the “plot” here exists merely as a clothesline on which to hang what the audience really came for — martial arts for Jackie Chan movies, nostalgia for Picard. Now, nostalgia does sell, and that’s fine, but from the beginning, the cast, crew, and marketing were adamant that they absolutely weren’t making a Next Generation follow-up. But, despite that, and Stewart’s publicly-stated disinterest in a sequel series, it is when the story centers around him and his old castmates that that the new show rings most true – the few scenes devoted to classic characters are, for the most part, fantastically-written, brilliantly-acted, and beautifully staged.
Intentionally or not, the show serves as a means of making up for the subpar big screen outings (Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis) that ended the Next Generation cast’s tenure 18 years ago, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Lt. Commander Data (Spiner). In a clever bit of narrative shorthand, the new show uses his lackluster passing in Nemesis as a springboard, giving his sacrifice a weight that it previously lacked. For this, Chabon and his team are to be commended; their finale grants the fan-favorite character a denouement that is as in-character as it is sublime. Bravo.
Dignity is likewise restored to former Next Generation shipmates Riker and Troi, who last appeared as guests in the cringeworthy finale to Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005). The characters appear here in irreproachable form, fully embracing their age and experience as they give aid to their former captain. These performers have been friends for decades, and it shows: Frakes and Sirtis exude such heartwarming familiarity, solidarity, and empathy in every interaction with Stewart, that it’s hard to tell where the actors end and the characters begin.
Given how wonderfully the classic characters are handled amidst ineffectual new characters and a scattershot plot, one can’t help but wonder why they didn’t just go with a straight-up Next Generation sequel in the first place, as nearly all of the emotional resonance here comes from the nostalgia that old viewers bring with them.
With Season 2 having been announced before the pilot premiered, and even more legacy characters expected to make appearances, one hopes that the writers do a better job of coming up with new stories and characters to push the franchise forward. After all, the last time Stewart, Frakes, Sirtis, and Spiner had to hold up a show’s terrible early seasons until it found its voice, that show was Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they’re not as young as they used to be, and we deserve more than just another nostalgia trip.
Star Trek: Picard is now showing on Amazon Prime.
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