In his mansion in his vineyard in France, the old man sleeps, dreaming of old friends and the times they would share together, playing cards far beyond the blue skies; “The dreams are lovely,” the retired admiral tells a visitor, “it’s the waking up I’ve come to resent.” Across the world in Boston, the girl celebrates; studying the theory of artificial intelligence and quantum consciousness, she has been accepted into the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, Japan, but there are others who consider her potential and abilities differently.
And while the planet Mars burns, in deep space the survivors of another lost planet, destroyed by the blast of a supernova a decade years before, administer the refuge of the survivors of a damaged Borg cube severed from the collective, a process which carries unknown dangers which would not be risked were the actions solely altruistic, for since the great schism the Romulans have always been cautious isolationists.
It is thirty-three years since Sir Patrick Stewart first played Jean-Luc Picard in the opening episode of Star Trek The Next Generation and eighteen since he played him for what was, by his own declaration, to be the last time in Star Trek Nemesis, but in that intervening time the nature of episodic television has changed and new challenges and opportunities have grown.
The success of CBS All Access’ first direct streaming show Star Trek Discovery having eclipsed the memory of the diminishing returns of the last repetitive iterations on broadcast networks, Star Trek Picard sees the return of Stewart as both leading man and executive producer in the ten-episode show created by Star Trek Into Darkness’ Alex Kurtzman.
The first of the many spin-offs to specify that it is based upon Gene Roddenberry’s creation The Next Generation rather than the original, the first three episodes are directed by Hanelle M Culpepper with scripts credited to Akiva Goldsman and James Duff (Remembrance), Michael Chabon and Goldsman (Maps and Legends) and Chabon and Duff (The End is the Beginning), with Kurtzman and Kirsten Beyer also receiving story credits.
The opening scene obliquely picking up strands of both All Good Things… and Nemesis, it is telling that Picard’s strongest memories are of his time aboard the Galaxy class NCC-1701-D rather than the Sovereign class which succeeded it, his friend Data (Brent Spiner, also returning and digitally rejuvenated) behaving as he did before he installed Doctor Soong’s emotion chip, long before his death aboard the Scimitar where Data sacrificed himself so his friend might live.
Set in the world of The Next Generation in the year 2399 but with the ripples of the intervening years echoing forward, it is a universe changed and one in which Picard is no longer a young man, nor even a middle-aged man as when he commanded the Enterprise, retired from Starfleet and living in seclusion with his protective housekeepers Laris and Zhaban (Fringe‘s Orla Brady and The Passage‘s Jamie McShane, both delightful) and his dog, Number One.
The destruction of Romulus and the occasional lens flare acknowledgements of the recent alternative universe Kelvin film sequence, the roots of Picard are deep in The Next Generation but it has grown into something grander, washing over the viewer like the warm sunshine of La Barre, though like Deep Space Nine it is straining to reach beyond the comfort zone of the Federation, hearing the ceaseless call of the stars and longing for the unknown.
In contrast to the concurrently running Discovery, soon to begin its third season, these are not the voyages of junior officers but of veterans, experienced and perhaps jaded by the drift of Starfleet from the values upon which it was founded; unlike the third season of Enterprise which reflected American foreign policy of that era with the Federation displaying increased xenophobia and open hostility in the wake of an attack, contrary to the ethos the late Gene Roddenberry whose own scripts conveyed themes of tolerance, Picard has stayed true to the principles of the man who conceived him.
A man of passion and integrity, “of last, desperate, wild solutions” who offered help to those in need regardless of their affiliation, the measure of a man is his insistence on doing the right thing regardless of the personal consequences, and despite being at odds with Starfleet policy Jean-Luc Picard confirms his place as one of the great heroic figureheads of our time whose relevance is now even more pertinent as crises of conflict and climate change face entire populations.
At Picard’s side are Doctor Agnes Jurati (Snowpiercer‘s Alison Pill), an expert on advanced synthetic research at the Daystrom, Raffi Musiker (Daredevil‘s Michelle Hurd) and Cristobal Rios (Heroes‘ Santiago Cabrera), both former Starfleet officers whose career path has veered from the norm, now tied with Picard’s quest to understand the enigma of the girl named Dahj (Isa Briones) who has also caught the interest of the Romulan Narek (Honeymoon’s Harry Treadaway), and it is apparent that while Stewart is the core of the story it is the women with whom he principally interacts in every scene and who will drive the story.
The abstract main title sequence akin to that of Discovery, Jeff Russo’s theme is similarly bland and tuneless, perhaps the only disappointment in these three episodes which serve as a prelude to the grander adventure which is yet to come in a show which is comfortably aware of itself and the global audience who have matured along with characters, welcoming them back into “the therapeutic benefit of a shared mythical framework,” ready to inspire a returning and a new generation with excitement and wonder.
Star Trek Picard debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 24th January with new episodes following every week