Star Trek: Picard – A Season In Review

second picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has just concluded and it’s time to take a look at the season and the show itself. There will be many spoilers coming up, so if anyone has not seen the show streaming on CBS All Access or Amazon Prime then turn back. Otherwise, read on!

Star Trek: Picard naturally centers on the ongoing story of Admiral (retired) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he left behind a tranquil existence at his French vineyard for one more grand adventure/mission which will reshape the galaxy.

The show takes place in 2399, twenty years after the film, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the death of the android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner). Jean-Luc Picard angrily resigned from Starfleet fourteen years earlier and tends to his vineyard along with his Romulan employees, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). Picard meets Soji Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who turned out to be a synthetic person and Data’s daughter. She is killed by Romulan secret agents but Picard learned that Soji had a twin sister, Dahj, and sets out to rescue her before the Romulans get to her. It turns out that Dahj is working in a deactivated Borg cube operated by Romulans and ex-Borg drones.

During his sojourn to find Dahj and protect her from the Romulan agents, a team forms around Picard who come in and out of his story. They include Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), a cyberneticist; Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg last seen nearly twenty years ago in Star Trek: Voyager, and is now a space vigilante; Picard’s former crewmate Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who has a bit of an addiction problem; Elnor (Evan Evagora), a noble Romulan warrior devoted to protecting Picard; and Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet commander who pilots his own private spaceship La Sirena and is a roguish space pirate in the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds mode.

sirena and old romulan ship

The Romulans secret agents are after Dahj because they believe her to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy that spells doom for all organic life in the galaxy. They hope to learn from her the location of her homeworld in order to obliterate it and prevent the prophesy. Obviously it is up to the nonagenarian Picard to get back into the captain’s chair and save Dahj and the galaxy before time runs out.

Star Trek: PIcard is another welcome Star Trek spinoff that effortlessly picks up the story of Star Trek after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and parts of the Star Trek reboot. Doing this gives weight and meaning to the Star Trek Prime universe by exploring the ramifications of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld shown in the Star Trek reboot and the subsequent refugee status of many Romulans though their overall status of their government was unclear.It also gives a well balanced exploration of the Romulans themselves; something most of the other shows and films failed to do. Not all of them are one-dimensional, sneering villains.

The show is undeniably a sincere tribute to fans of the Star Trek Prime universe and of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some may complain that it’s too much of a tribute with its numerous references, Easter eggs and cameo appearances, but they’re all just background layering for the uninitiated while rewarding for fans.

The show is clearly a Star Trek show, yet it isn’t. How can that be? Well, the show is not focused on current Starfleet personnel but on civilians and former officers. Freed from regulations and decorum the characters give us a feel for how life is like in the Federation and nearby regions for non-Starfleet people. The vaunted Federation is not as revered or as noble as presented in other Star Trek shows. In fact, there is an underlying notion that the Federation may be entering a period of decay; that it’s best times are past. Hence, one of the reasons why Picard walked away from Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard is edgier than the typical Star Trek show; there is a lot of cursing including F bombs. Most of the characters are deeply flawed including the humans, which goes vehemently against the idealistic and ultimately unrealistic Roddenberry future utopia where humanity is completely without fault. This will make some fans uncomfortable but it helps make the show more real and relatable to most viewers.

What we’re left with is a show that feels a bit like Firefly in that it stars roguish types who disdain authority. These are some truly interesting characters with their own complex back stories. Standouts include Rios and Raffie, who are both broken souls with troubled pasts and unwittingly gain redemption by joining Picard’s quest. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are well performed. Other characters like Elnor seek a just cause or for something to believe in. And holding the group dynamic is Picard himself, the moral glue that holds them together.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart puts in a bravura performance in the role that made him famous. As always, he eloquently portrays the bitter and defeated old man who finds a real reason to go out and make a difference in the galaxy. Stewart is so comfortable and elegant playing Jean-Luc Picard, it truly is a shame he has not done the role in so long. But at least he is back to usher in a new era of the Star Trek Prime universe.

Unlike most Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Picard follows a serialized format that is essentially a mystery. The payoff in the final episodes (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts I and II”) felt a bit predictable but it had its fist-pumping moments with cinema-quality effects and cinematography; one of those standouts was when Admiral William Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also turned up in the season’s best episode “Napenthe”) literally shows up with the cavalry. Still, the payoff wasn’t as invigorating or as intense as “Such Sweet Sorrow” the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. Coming way from the finale its realized that certain plot elements were unresolved, which was annoying. Mother bit of a copout was how the show resolved the personal journey of Jean-Luc Picard. Without giving anything away, it was an interesting twist but it robbed much of the emotional impact of the fate of the former Starfleet admiral. Let’s leave it at that.

picard takes charge

Star Trek: Picard is a welcome return to the classic heyday of the uplifting era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its immediate spinoffs. In these times, the show provides a much-needed reminder of the wonderful potential of humankind and what we should aspire to.

José Soto

The Triumphant Return of Jean-Luc Picard

Star Trek: Picard showcases the return of the iconic Jean-Luc Picard to television after Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) ended in 1994 and the film Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and has an older and somewhat bitter former captain who is in retirement at his family winery in France. Spoilers will be included in this look at the pilot episode of Star Trek: Picard, which is called “Remembrance.”

This show takes place about 20 years after the events of Star Trek Nemesis, which featured the death of Data, an event that plays a part in what happens in this pilot episode. “Remembrance” tells us that Captain Picard led a rescue effort to save the population of Romulus from an impending supernova many years ago and was hailed as a hero for his actions. However, the episode also states that a group of synthetic humanoids went rogue and attacked colonies on Mars, killing thousands. This led Starfleet to abandon the rescue effort, which Picard saw as both dishonorable and criminal and he resigned his commission in protest, and also resulted in the Federation outlawing synthetic life forms. All of this is told during an interview with Picard during a commemoration of the rescue effort and shows Picard’s anger at Starfleet for their actions.

He is then visited by a mysterious girl named Dahj, who was attacked by Romulan assassins in Boston, but she fends them off and makes her way to Picard in France, who eventually finds out that she is the daughter of Data, which was accomplished through some kind of a cloning technique. The assassins eventually tracker her down in San Francisco where Picard was looking through his archives for information about Data. Picard later discovers that she has a twin sister Soji, who is a scientist working on a Romulan reclamation site, which at the end of the episode is revealed to be a Borg cube. All of this is setting up Picard’s return to action shown in the upcoming preview where he will attempt to help Data’s surviving daughter and unravel the mystery behind the assassins and along the way gather a new crew that will help him in his return to action.

Patrick Stewart’s return to his signature role is a real treat to see. He is much older now obviously but can still show Picard’s humanity and strength as well his regrets over how his life has ended up, after a self-imposed exile on Earth. The episode also has Brent Spiner returning as Data, in a dream sequence where Picard and Data are playing cards which is a nice shout out to TNG’s numerous scenes of the crew of the Enterprise playing poker and bonding. All of this hints that ideas like aging and a yearning for the past will be major themes that will be explored. This harkens back to previous Trek movies where Captain Kirk was struggling with his place in the galaxy after losing his ship and friend in Star Trek II and a return to form in later films. It will be interesting to see Picard go through this journey and show how he can get back to his younger, more idealistic self in a Federation that seemed to have lost its way.

The preview for later episodes also show both Will Riker and Deanna Troi returning to help Picard and is something to look forward too, as well as Seven of Nine, the former Borg from Star Trek: Voyager. Her role in all of this is unknown, but the revelation of the Borg cube at the end of the episode obviously means that TNG’s ultimate villainous race will have a role to play and Seven’s history as a Borg will no doubt be a major part of this.

Ultimately, it is great to see a sequel to TNG and to see the Star Trek timeline move forward after many years of series that were set in the past. This show is supposed to take place in 2399, so we will finally see the 25th century in the Star Trek universe, which is something new and highly anticipated. Having the Federation and Starfleet in a different place than what was shown in TNG is also interesting and timely. Meanwhile, Picard’s role in bringing them back to their original idealistic version should be a highlight for Star Trek: Picard.

C.S. Link

 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Boldly Went Where No Trek Had Gone Before

Twenty-five years ago, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) premiered on syndicated TV and right from the start this Star Trek spinoff charted its own unique direction. Unlike other Star Trek TV shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stood out beginning with its premise and later by taking advantage of it. The show did not take place onboard a starship that traveled to different planets each week. The main character was not even a captain and was deeply troubled. More than any other Star Trek show, this one truly focused on its ensemble cast to create a rich tapestry of characters who actually grew throughout the run of the series.

When executive producer Rick Berman and writer/producer Michael Piller set out to create a new spinoff after the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation they did not take the easy route. Instead of just recycling the elements of Star Trek that made it so phenomenal they tried something different. The result was a show based on a space station with fallible characters that did not always get along with each other. Instead of having the cast explore other planets, other races came to the station, some coming from a nearby wormhole, and often the consequences of meeting the aliens were explored.  Showrunners like Ira Steven Behr took over and ran with the premise. Simmering political, social and religious situations were explored. Tensions boiled over into a long-running arc where the Federation went to war with the formidable Dominion and the impact of the war was fully examined in the program. For the first time, Star Trek became more serialized as season-long arcs were introduced, a rarity in ’90s television.

Unlike the more safe Star Trek shows running at that time, DS9 was edgier, took more risks, and went where no Trek had gone before by exploring volatile issues like social injustice, ethnic and racial tensions, taboo relationships and more. In fact, for all the noise made about Star Trek: Discovery with its non-white lead, homosexual relationships and hot-button issues, it has to be mentioned that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine covered all of this twenty five years ago.

To say that DS9 was ahead of its time is an understatement, but it can help explain why it was not a huge hit back in its day. More attention was paid to Star Trek: The Next Generation and later to Star Trek: Voyager since the latter show featured Trek’s first female lead. Yet both shows played it safe with its storylines and characters. After a while fans noticed that their familiar premise of spaceships exploring the unknown was becoming too pedestrian and predictable. DS9 on the other hand, took chances and the result was some of the richest and most memorable Star Trek stories.

Unlike many programs, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged well and is as relevant today as ever. Many are discovering the show and appreciate what it set out to do, which is why its reputation has grown over the years. While most will claim that the original Star Trek is still the best, a valid argument can be made that DS9 is actually the best Star Trek ever. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend you sample it, even though the earlier episodes are the show’s weakest. However, DS9 comes into its own and before long, you will be binge watching it.

 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most groundbreaking Star Trek show ever made because it boldly went where no Trek had gone before with its unique premise and rich characters and stories.

Lewis T. Grove

Star Trek: The Next Generation Showed It Was Possible To Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice

As we’re getting ready for the return of Star Trek to TV (or rather Trek’s first foray into original streaming service) with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a prime time to look back at Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was Star Trek’s first foray in a then-unique syndication format. Devoted fans already know that it’s the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The series is almost as beloved as the original Star Trek, but many overlook the fact that when it debuted thirty years ago in syndicated televisionit was dismissed automatically. Fans of the original show were understandably skeptical about Star Trek: The Next Generation ever since it was announced. After all, it did not feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the other beloved characters and the first promo images looked strange. A bald captain? Klingons are no longer the enemies of the Federation? Why did the new Enterprise look ungainly? What was the deal with those weird one-piece uniforms and lounge chairs on the Enterprise bridge? People wondered what the creator Gene Roddenberry must have been thinking when he developed the new Trek incarnation. Even Leonard Nimoy wondered if the show would succeed. Citing that it was impossible to catch lightning twice in a bottle, Nimoy turned down the offer to develop the show before Roddenberry was approached.

When it finally premiered in September 1987, let’s say that many fans were underwhelmed by what they saw. The first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” was interesting and gave the main characters good introductions. Plus, it introduced the omni-powerful entity Q into Star Trek lore and thanks to John DeLancie’s sardonic line delivery, the character stood out. But more importantly, the main star of the show Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, made a powerful impression. Sure, he was not the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, but Stewart made his character uniquely different from Kirk while exuding a commanding and thoughtful presence in the show.

Still, Star Trek: The Next Generation was nearly derailed in its wobbly first season. What handicapped the first Star Trek spinoff were poorly written scripts and characters. One of them was especially hated by fans, young Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. In many episodes he came off as petulant, self-important Gary Sue who was a critical key in many plot lines. Some episodes were incredibly dull and did not go anywhere. The early episodes aped the worst qualities of the original show where the Enterprise crew would visit a planet of the week and solve that planet’s problems. The made-up societies they encountered were just unbelievable and its people reeked of caricatures. The show also had a problem with coming up with interesting villains, aside from Q.

Yet, the show showed promise. As the first season drew to a close, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to find its bearings. The characters were better developed with the breakout being Data (Brent Spiner), who emulated the Spock position of being the outsider who questioned humanity. The stories also became more interesting as Star Trek first toyed with the idea of episodes-spanning sub-plots. In this case, a nefarious conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the first hints of the Borg, a cybernetic race that would not appear until the second season. It took some risks such as the above-mentioned conspiracy storyline that upset some parents for its violent content. There was also the killing off of a major character in the show (Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby), which was a first for Star Trek.

Fans began to come around and eventually embraced the Star Trek spinoff. Although the original show continues to be regarded as the best Star Trek show, it cannot be denied that Star Trek: The Next Generation has achieved its share of greatness through the season. It stood apart from its predecessor for being more thoughtful, for better exploring themes and characters and for its updated special effects.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed it was supposed to have featured descendants of the original Enterprise crew. Thankfully, the show evolved away from that and went with all-new characters. References to the original show were extremely rare, which allowed the show to develop its own identity. It would have been all too easy to just continue the same formula, but Roddenberry knew that for the new show to succeed it had to follow a different path. That is why we’re celebrating the show thirty years later.

Enterprise D

Now as if to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a new Star Trek TV show will debut this month to pick up the baton. However, many fans are highly skeptical and dismissive of the new Star Trek: Discovery. The list of complaints continues growing as more details come to light, and many of them are valid. The core complaint is that the new show does not feel like Star Trek. But think about that, it’s the same gripe leveled at Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. The new show seems like it will take Star Trek in a new direction, just like the first Trek spinoff did. Star Trek: Discovery may not hit a homerun at first, but fans should keep an open mind and show some patience when it premieres. It may find its legs and be as memorable and great as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first Star Trek spinoff that proved it was possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Star Trek: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, Part One

original Star Trek cast

Star Trek turns 50 this year. Think about it. One of the greatest sci-fi franchises is now half a century old. While there are countless other sci-fi properties that are older than Star Trek, very few will match the popularity, relevance and staying power of Gene Roddenberry’s TV creation. As with other properties, Star Trek has had its highs and lows, but it has had a positive impact in our culture and society. That is why we are celebrating Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. Many of us will take this figure for granted but diehard fans know too well that Star Trek has often been on a touch and go basis, especially in its early years.

Noble, But Rocky Beginnings

From its inception Star Trek faced an uphill battle. The pilot episode “The Cage” was rejected by the network NBC for being too cerebral and having then-outrageous concepts like a woman in a leadership position and a character who looked like the devil. But Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, would not give up and fortunately, others recognized its potential.

Star Trek, the actual series, debuted on September 8, 1966 with the episode “The Man Trap”. Following the cold opening, a starfield filled TV screens, wistful music played, the iconic and majestic Enterprise spaceship appeared and William Shatner’s bold voiceover announced that we were witnessing the voyages of the starship Enterprise and its crew with a mission to explore space and “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

the Man TrapAt first glance, it looked like another schlocky monster-of-the-week episode that defined most sci-fi fare at that time. But this being Star Trek, there was more to the episode than some ugly monster that had to be destroyed. It had a moral dilemma for one of the show’s main characters, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), in that the monster took the shape of a former lover and he had to confront it. Then there was the morality of killing off an endangered species versus the threat of the creature to the crew of the starship Enterprise.

Other episodes also had even more intriguing and smart plots and multilayered characters that made Star Trek stand out from most genre efforts. A huge factor in the show’s appeal was not just its imaginative and provocative scripts but its characters. The suave and confident Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), the stoic and collected Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the opinionated Dr. “Bones” McCoy formed the perfect triumvirate as they explored new worlds. These were complicated people with strengths and weaknesses, and we identified with them. In fact, most of us wanted to be in their place as they explored the unknown.

At the same time, the show had wild imagery for its time. Star Trek technology impacts our livesThink of the time a giant hand appeared in space and grabbed hold of the Enterprise. Or when Abraham Lincoln showed up without warning or when ancient Roman soldiers donned firearms. Matching the imagery and action scenes were the fantastic plots that often dared viewers to think. Star Trek wasn’t afraid to make veiled social commentary and broke cultural and racial taboos. In the futuristic world of Star Trek, it was commonplace (as it is now) to see non-whites and women in prominent positions. We take it for granted now but this was groundbreaking for TV at the time and fortunately Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future was validated as our society began to catch up to his vision. We’re still not there yet, but we’re making progress.

For all these reasons, the show caught on with fans, who could enjoy it on many levels, but it wasn’t enough. After three seasons the show was killed due to low ratings, however, it would not stay dead.

Comebacks & Striking Gold Again

Fervent fandom kept the memory of the show alive as it dominated syndicated runs after cancellation. During the ’70s Star Trek increased its presence in the public consciousness thanks to the reruns, merchandising and a short-lived animated show. It wasn’t long (though it was long enough for fans) before Star Trek returned in the form of a successful film series starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

Star Trek TMP

By the time the franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary, Gene Roddenberry was given the chance to strike gold again. He returned to TV and created the first of many Trek spinoffs Star Trek: The Next Generation. When the show first aired in 1987, it had many detractors who complained that basically it wasn’t the old Star Trek because of undeveloped characters and dull and preachy scripts.

But ultimately the spinoff succeeded as the writing improved and the characters were allowed to grow. Now that Roddenberry had more of a free reign with his show, he indulged in creating his version of a more perfect futuristic society where no one squabbled over pettiness. Whether or not this utopian view is viable is besides the question. Being that humanity had evolved in Roddenberry’s viewpoint, the human conflicts were gone, which led to problems with the scripts that needed conflict.

Gone were the bombastic space captains and cantankerous frontier doctors. In some ways it was as if the stoic character of Mr. Spock was replicated many times over with most of the new characters. That is an exaggeration of course, but Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was the anti-Kirk in that he was more level headed, collected and cerebral than the swaggering Kirk we all love.

The Next Generation of Star Trek

Over time Picard and his crew won over new fans who saw the spinoff’s merits. People saw the value of creating a show that was decidedly different than its predecessor. Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991, but left behind a timeless legacy that was in competent hands (such as executives Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Ron Moore and others) who ensured that his vision remained intact. On the whole, Star Trek was reinvigorated since the original cast were obviously much older and passed the torch to the new generation. Meaning, that Star Trek: The Next Generation concluded its successful run in 1994 and the cast were graduated to the big screen starting with Star Trek Generations in the same year.

Trek At Its Peak

In the same time period of the early to mid ‘90s, Star Trek could be considered to be at its peak creatively and in popularity. Two more spinoffs debuted, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager and the Next Generation crew were promoted to the film series.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which premiered in 1993, set out to be the most distinct Star Trek show of all time. It didn’t take place on a spaceship, most of the main characters weren’t even human and its lead character was an African-American. Incredibly enough, back then there wasn’t much hoopla made about having the lead character be a non-white person and it shouldn’t have. The showmakers bravely let the character of Ben Sisko and the actor (Avery Brooks) sell the character who stood apart from Kirk and Picard as being more of a military commander with his own doubts but a similar thirst for knowledge and exploration. From the start, most viewers forgot about Sisko’s race when he was surrounded by a bunch of non-humans.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine cast

But Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had its detractors who complained they wanted to old familiar shtick of a spaceship-based show and that it was too dark. In reality, this darkness birthed many of Star Trek’s best and most complex episodes and is why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is very highly regarded by many today who recognize its merits. In fact, it can be argued that it was the best of the Star Trek shows, but that is for history and fans to decide.

As a further sign of the strength of Star Trek’s brand, Paramount Studios decided to produce yet another spinoff  which would be used to kickoff its new network UPN in 1995. Star Trek: Voyager premiered to a lot of hoopla and fanfare. This was due to the fact that the lead character was a woman named Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), a first for Star Trek. However, while the franchise was at its zenith at the time of its 30th anniversary, the first signs of problems began to seep in as it started to feel tired creatively. But like any solid property, Star Trek would weather the setbacks as it did in the past. Each time the franchise would find a way to reinvent itself and move beyond Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Wagon Train To The Stars.

José Soto

To Be Continued…