STAR TREK: PICARD gets 8/10 Engaging

Season 1 episode 1 Remembrance

Created by Kirsten Beyer, Michael Chabon, Akiva Goldsman, Gene Roddenberry
Starring Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Harry Treadway, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd

Picard or Kirk was one of those arguments that defined geeks at the birth of the internet. So it’s no surprise that the return of the captain of the starship Enterprise D (and E) to the screen would be cause for some excitement and trepidation. Would this sequel series to Star Trek: The Next Generation be a hot cup of Earl Grey or a stale plate of gagh?

It is decades since Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) commanded the flagship of the Federation, and much has changed. He’s retired to his family vineyard, to nurse his injured pride after a falling out with the Federation after it becomes isolationist and inwards looking, abandoning many of it’s core principals for political convenience. Yet on the anniversary of the terror attack by androids that set the Federation on this course, he’s visited by a mysterious young woman (Isa Briones) afraid for her life. A woman that for some reason reminds him very much of a dear departed friend, Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner).

Star Trek premiere episodes have always been a tricky proposition. Even Gene Roddenberry had to go back to the drawing board with the original series, and in the decades since then we have seen some terrible opening episodes (I’m looking at you, Encounter at Farpoint). Fortunately Star Trek: Picard is not burdened by the same fate as Star Trek: The Next Generation and launches with a strong and intriguing episode right out of the Spacedock.

Indeed, Remembrance may be one of the best Star Trek series launches to date (possibly only bested by Emissary). This is a slick production that knows how to utilises the two major resources it has at hand – that being the already established background world it has, and the familiarity the audience and the actor have with the central character.

As such, Star Trek: Picard is able to lay its groundwork with ease and launches into the central mystery that is at the heart of the show. All the world building for this is in covering the time that has elapsed since the last Star Trek: Next Generation film, albeit relying on the next two episodes to shore up that groundwork and flesh out new characters. It’s to Remembrance’s credit that it is even able to use aspects of Star Trek: Nemesis to actually build the central mystery at the heart of Picard. A minor miracle considering how qi’yah that film is. In fact although a few nods and Easter Eggs are expected, Picard has done well in diving into The Next Generation lore to create elements of it’s plot rather than just offer vapid fan service.

Picard is also promising to be a very different type of Trek in a number of ways. The first episode is one threaded with regret, and not the Utopian optimism that has often peppered the show. It is also one that has held off on the introduction of a ship and a mission, instead concentrating on the establishment (or re-establishment) of characters. This gives Patrick Stewart a lot of dramatic gristle to really sink his teeth into, making great use of the Thespian’s range and abilities. It’s certainly Stewart’s show, and audiences are going to be rewarded for this fact. However, as a reflection to both the actor and the character, this is also a more slowly paced and thoughtful show. One that will hopefully reward viewer’s patience as it grows and builds, but also one that is not afraid to re-examine and acknowledge the character’s flaws.

Unfortunately that has also meant that the newer characters are at this moment somewhat eclipsed. There’s certainly promise there, especially with episode two introducing Michelle Hurd’s embittered conspiracy theorist (warp plasma can’t melt plasteel beams), but they are going to need some dedicated episodes to break out from under Stewart’s shadow.

This is a promising start, and one that promises to build as the show goes on. The central mystery of Dahj’s (Isa Briones) identity, and the various conspiratorial groups tied to it are rich ground for storytelling, and exploration. Star Trek: Picard looks to be a slightly different take on Trek, without straying too far from the mould, and a chance to revisit old friends.