“One impossible thing at a time.”
–Admiral Jean-Luc Picard
I’ve put my social distancing time to good use and recently finished watching the first season of Star Trek: Picard, so I now present to you a (relatively) spoiler-free review. Here are five winners and five losers from Season One:
- Family Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite television show ever. Not only did the characters and the stories capture my boyhood imagination, but TNG was also a show I watched with my family. In the lead-up to Picard, I had a great time showing my kids a bunch of old Next Generation episodes to get them up to speed because I was hoping to watch the new show with them too. No such luck. I’m not sure how Trek expects to cultivate another generation of fans when most of its new offerings are rated MA. I watched Picard using VidAngel filters to screen out objectionable content I didn’t want to see or hear, but even with the filters, it’s not hard to read lips when the head of Starfleet yells a big fat no-no word at Jean-Luc, and many of the situations presented in the series are downright dark and gritty. Filters or no, this is not a show I would want my young children to see.
- Utopia: And speaking of Picard not being a kids’ show, there are an awful lot of messed up human beings here for what is supposed to be a utopian society. In fact, pretty much every member of Picard’s new crew is really messed up. The show deals with such happy topics as poverty, prejudice, addiction, PTSD, and suicide. All of this may make for interesting storytelling that at least one of the show’s writers argues is actually meant to accentuate the light, but it’s hard not to pine for the bright and shining future that Star Trek used to represent.
- Seven of Nine: Picard succeeds as a series (so far, at least) in large part because it holds its titular hero in such high esteem. Seven of Nine, on the other hand, not so much. Voyager was never my favorite Trek show, but this version of Seven is a far cry from the one we watched in the ‘90s. Now she’s a bitter, cynical, vengeful killing machine, and while the writers have given us some gruesome back story to set this all up, if I cared about Seven as a character the way I care about Picard as a character, then I’d be really ticked off.
- The Criminal Justice System: An otherwise likable member of Picard’s new crew shockingly murders someone partway through the season. There are extenuating circumstances, sure, but by the end, the heinous crime is inexplicably forgiven or forgotten. I’m all for character redemption, but this was a bit much for the prosecutor in me to swallow.
- Jean-Luc Picard: The poor guy has been through the wringer. During his TNG days, he got assimilated by the Borg, tortured by the Cardassians, and zapped by an alien probe that forced him to live an entire lifetime in fifteen minutes. Well, he doesn’t exactly get much respite from the trauma in his old age, but, hey, he’s Jean-Luc Picard.
- Picard’s Romulan Servants: When we first drop in on Jean-Luc, he’s a grumpy old codger who has retired to the family vineyard in France, and it’s there that we’re introduced to the best new characters of the entire show. Picard now employs a couple of reformed Romulan assassins to oversee things on his chateau, and these two are warm, funny, and full of surprises. Sadly, we don’t see them after Episode Three, but as far as I’m concerned, they should have their own series.
- Good Storytelling (Mostly): Somehow amidst all the death, darkness, and destruction in Picard, there is some truly beautiful storytelling going on. In my mind, one of the greatest achievements of this show is how the writers create a real sense that time has passed. Picard is still Picard, yes, but he has in no way been living in a vacuum. He’s changed by his experience since we last saw him, and he’s on a very personal journey. In fact, most of the primary players in Picard are given interesting and emotional arcs. (If I have one complaint about the show’s story structure, however, it would be that the last couple of episodes seemed to discard what had been the show’s careful deliberateness in exchange for some fairly hasty resolution.)
- Will Riker and Family: While I love the entire Next Generation cast, let’s face it: TNG was basically a show about Picard and Data. (That probably has something to do with the fact the combined acting talent of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner exceeds that of the rest of their fellow cast-mates several times over.) Unsurprisingly then, the first season of the new show very much focuses on the Picard/Data relationship, but what is surprising is that Will Riker pretty much steals the show every time he’s onscreen. Episode Seven, much of which takes place on the planet where Riker and Troi have settled, is easily my favorite part of Season One and maybe one of the best Trek episodes ever.
- Star Trek: Nemesis: Up to now, Nemesis was the last time we got to see Picard and his TNG buddies. The trouble is the movie is almost universally loathed. While I personally don’t think Nemesis is quite as bad most fans make it out to be, Data’s death (hey, it’s not a spoiler if it happened close to twenty years ago) didn’t resonate the way it should have. Honestly, the end of Nemesis felt in so many ways like a cheap Wrath of Khan knock-off, and this is a problem the producers of Picard seemed bent on fixing. In large part, they succeeded, which somehow now renders Nemesis a lot more palatable. Eighteen years on, Picard, Data, and the fans finally get the emotional payoff they deserve.
- Jean-Luc Picard: Jean-Luc Picard still carries all the compassion and conviction of the Jean-Luc Picard we know and love. He’s just suffering from a crisis of confidence, and it’s a joy to watch him work through that over the course of ten episodes. There are some extraordinarily moving scenes in this show, and Jean-Luc is right there in the middle of most of them.
So, overall, I liked it, I really did. Just don’t watch Star Trek: Picard without the VidAngel filters set to stun.
Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six young children. Chris enjoys stories by Ray Bradbury, starry night skies, and cherry limeade. He has also watched every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation more than once. Chris is the author of Red: A Football Novel.