Welcome to the wiser and more reflective Star Trek: Picard blog, where I will be trying to keep you up to date with the continuing adventures of the venerable Jean-Luc Picard. I will be going into plot spoilers so needless to say if you haven’t watched episode one yet, or if you are trying to avoid speculation that strays into the undiscovered country that is spoiler town then turn back now, this blog ain’t for you. I have been looking forward to this show from almost the moment it was announced, and have followed the cast announcements and snapped up any little titbits the internet would throw to me.
Those who know me can attest to the fact that TNG is my show. In my imagination it trumps the other versions of Trek, it brings more excitement to me than any other franchise, including Star Wars. I was brought up on a diet of TOS reruns and the original cast films and I was eight when a strange announcement reached my ears, they were making a new Star Trek television series. Could this really be, a new Star Trek show? This was pre-internet kids and pre re-boot, so this was unheard of. My Dad, who was responsible for my love of this strange show from the 1960’s, and I speculated wildly about what it would be like. Would the original crew be involved, would there be a new starship, would there be a character like Spock, my favourite character at the time? I remember watching the first episode and loving it, I could not tell you what it was I loved about it, but part of it was the sense that this was a Star Trek show that belonged to me, it was called the Next Generation, that’s what I was.
I just enjoyed it, from the opening credits, to the ships and strange aliens, I lapped it all up. Eight year old me thought Geordi was cool, I loved Data, I was in love with Troi, Riker was kick ass, and I always liked Wesley, because he was me, I dreamed of being a kid allowed to help out on the Enterprise. Picard quickly became my favourite Captain, I am not sure what my eight year old self saw in him, maybe again it was the sense of ownership, he was my Captain. Forty year old me appreciates Picard’s sense of fairness, his values and his integrity. He is a man you can trust to do the right thing for the vulnerable and those most in need, plus he drinks Earl Grey Tea and quotes Shakespeare.
Toxic Fandom, those people who claim to love a show but will attack it no matter what, usually from a place of misogyny or racism, have become almost indivisible from the political trolls who seek to sow disharmony in our society.
Before the review proper I wanted to reflect on doing the Discovery blog as it highlighted to me the small element of the internet that is toxic fandom. Those that will attack a show or film whatever it does, in my mind they've become indivisible from the political trolls that have helped to make our politics so divisive and promote disharmony in our society. This discourse exhausted me and spoiled my enjoyment of Discovery, so I put the blog on hiatus, in a bid to rediscover (pun intended) my fans enthusiasm, isolated from all the noisy internet chatter. Discovery is a beautifully made show, thoughtfully written, with a wonderful cast. I remain a massive advocate of it, it is very much a show that belongs in the Trek universe.
I mention this for two reasons, number one reason is I'm going to approach my Picard coverage differently to other blogs and to my previous Trek coverage. I am hoping to take you on a narrative journey, charting the shape of the story and speculating on plot threads and looking at how the story might tie in to past TNG story lines. I am not interested in criticising the show, I approach it with love and a respect to all those involved in making it. It isn't going to be a scene by scene recap but it will capture the main points of interest and then reflect on some of the deeper meaning. This will be mirroring the thoughtful tone of the show and be consistent with the literature loving approach of Claytemple Media.
My second main reason for broaching the subject of toxic fandom is that Patrick Stewart in interviews promoting the show has made a great play of how the show will tackle current events, which could perhaps attract the attention of trolls on both sides of the fence and drag me back into my existential writer's funk. However based on the first episode I can concur with Stewart that they are being allegorical and confronting some of today's events (Trump, Brexit, treatment of refugees) and they are doing it subtly and in the finest humanist traditions of Trek. They appear to be rightly raising the flag for compassion towards our fellow humans, respect and dignity for all regardless of who you are, it's not clunking, it's thought provoking and it's excellent science fiction writing. Michael Chabon's influence is evident from the get go. So context dealt with let's get on with the review. Spoilers exist beyond the trailer below so turn back now if you haven't seen episode one yet.
"Regrets he's had a few."
The episode opens with a gorgeous shot of the Enterprise D. Picard and Data are playing Poker in Ten Forward and Picard teases Data about his tell, it is a poignant scene. And whilst Blue Skies is the song playing at the start of the episode by the end I couldn't help but think of My Way by Frank Sinatra because it is clear that, "regrets, he's had a few", is an apt way to describe Jean-Luc Picard when meet him 20 odd years after Star Trek Nemesis. He's in self-imposed retirement, disillusioned with Star fleet and still deeply mourning his friend Data, he is living on his vineyard with two Romulan housekeepers come personal assistants, but they may be people he saved and he has given them employment and refuge. He is haunted by dreams (or are they visions?) of Data and it is clear in a very confident and assured pilot that we have the beginnings of a story where Data will be central.
And for TNG fans this is welcome news. Their relationship was always the soul of the show, with Picard mentoring Data in the ways of humanity and Data challenging Picard's very notion of what it means to be alive. This feels like a show written by adults, and by that I mean we are going to get thoughtful story lines that treat the viewer with intelligence, it is meditative and the dialogue full of warmth. Any call backs to TNG are meant to be there and serve the story rather than being for nostalgia's sake. Patrick Stewart absolutely knocks his performance out of the park, he is revelling in every scene and savouring every word and in the mouth of Sir Patrick even the more expository dialogue is delivered with gravitas. This may be a sad Picard but it is still very much Picard, dignified, principled, but now haunted by his past. We don't yet know what has happened to his Starfleet family, did he and Beverley ever work out their feelings? Is Riker still on the Titan? Where are Worf and Geordi?
The main crux of where Picard finds himself is that the Romulan Supernova seen in the 2009 Star Trek film, saw Picard launch a daring rescue of the Romulan people, despite opposition from within Starfleet. But the armada he was building for the mission on the Mars shipyards was destroyed by a fleet of synthetics, leading to thousands of deaths on Mars and millions dying on Romulus, because following the attack on Mars Starfleet and the Federation withdrew their begrudging support for the Romulans. They also banned synthetic lifeforms and Picard quit in protest. He feels guilt and bitterness. He is particularly bitter toward Starfleet for turning their back on their previous principles and taking the attitude of why should they help their enemies anyway? Picard is appalled and somewhat broken, left wondering what any of it was for. It is also galling to him that synthetics are banned considering how he feels about Data. We don't yet know if the Mars attack is related to the Romulans, the first episode sets up a lot of mystery.
The question of helping enemies is put to Picard by a journalist interviewing him to mark the anniversary of the supernova, and it results in one of the best lines of the first episode. "You wanted to save Romulan lives?", "No, lives." Classic Picard integrity. He is forever the restorer, the diplomat and this shines through. Whatever his feelings as a result of his actions some Romulans see him as a hero still, he tried to save them. It's unclear whether they all feel that way. Picard is drawn out of his retirement by a mysterious girl called Dahj. She is attacked by black clad assassin's, and then "activated" and accesses hitherto unknown skills and kills the assassin's but her boyfriend dies, she has a strange vision of Picard and tracks him down. She feels connected to him somehow.
Picard himself is haunted by dreams or visions of Data and intriguingly in one of these dreams Data gives him the clue that helps Picard realise that Dahj is somehow Data's daughter. Dahj is an android made if flesh and blood. Shockingly Dahj is killed shortly after they travel together to Picard's archives where he has kept all his memorabilia from his career. After her death Picard visits the Daystrom institute and speaks with Dr Jurati who was recruited by none other than Bruce Maddox from classic TNG episode Measure of a Man, who's disappeared but may have created Dahj. Dr Jurati reveals if he had done this then there would have been a twin. We also see B-4 sadly dissembled in a draw, Data's attempts to plant his memories in him obviously failed. But if Data has a daughter is there still a chance that he may be resurrected somehow in the future, and did he help Maddox create this daughter in the image of a painting he painted over thirty years ago. And at the end of the episode we get another shock as we cut to Dahj's twin who is working aboard a refitted Borg cube, refitted by Romulans with an army of warbirds. Curious.
The Borg, Data and Romulans, how they all fit together is the mystery set up in the first episode. Picard the show like Picard the man is not afraid to take its time, there is action but there is plenty of thoughtful dialogue, and the central story arc intriguing enough to leave you immediately hooked. The series has ten episodes to explore everything and it is going to let you spend time with Picard and the new characters, which is interesting because for a quiet and slow opener they get through a lot, with plenty of Easter eggs to keep long time fans happy but not so many callbacks to make it inaccessible to the casual viewer. It feels like a police procedural in many ways, with Picard having to track down clues to solve the mystery, maybe Data will appear in his deerstalker?
So a wonderful start, and I can’t emphasise enough how connected this show is to TNG and at the same time it feels like a different thing, it’s an odd sort of alchemy, but based on the first episode they’ve pulled off something special. I can’t wait for the next episode and feel free to join me in the forum to discuss your thoughts around episode one.