Star Trek: Picard broke records for CBS All Access. Its series premiere was seen by more people than that of Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s received constant critical acclaim.
Why is this series so awesome? An obvious reason is the title character. Come on – it’s Jean-Luc Picard, one of the greatest captains in the franchise. But aside from nostalgia, the first season has a lot more to offer us.
Five elements stick out in particular that make Picard the Star Trek we’ve always wanted:
5. Paradise Lost
In the world of Star Trek, Starfleet is the paragon of virtue. The exploratory branch of the Federation is comprised of like-minded scientists, diplomats, and engineers from all species who generally get along pretty well. The battles and genocides seen throughout each series mostly involved groups outside of Starfleet such as the Romulans or the Borg, and it was usually up to Starfleet to restore peace and order. The organization is basically perfect. But Picard turns this notion on his head, which makes things all the more interesting.
As Jean-Luc says in the first episode, the institution is “no longer Starfleet”, but rather an uptight and paranoid collection of frightened bureaucrats, and at least one admiral that says the F-word (Starting with Discovery, the franchise took a decidedly adult approach). It all seems so much angrier – and so much more real. Of course, Starfleet still claims to be all about exploration and acceptance, but the new series reveals new sins that cast serious doubt on its purity.
We’ve seen Starfleet fail before. A Deep Space Nine episode, “In the Pale Moonlight” showcased Captain Sisko lying about an assassination attempt and refusing to bring the murderer to justice, all so the Romulans would side with the Federation in wartime. For the most part, moments like these are isolated incidents, and Starfleet as a whole shines through as a beacon of righteousness.
But Picard shows a Starfleet with even bigger problems. They refused to help evacuate the Romulans when their planet was destroyed, instead focusing only on the victims on Mars who were attacked by rogue synthetics. Synthetic lifeforms were then banned throughout the Federation. Admiral Picard saw all this as gravely immoral, and it led to his resignation from Starfleet. Now, Picard’s morality prevents him from trusting the institution he once served. And they’re not too fond of him, either.
Though Starfleet’s perfection was always admirable, the fact is that things get a lot more entertaining when conflict is thrown into the mix. Starfleet’s failings make Picard the most realistic series of the franchise.
4. Deep and Cinematic
At times, Picard feels more cinematic than the actual Star Trek movies. Landscapes, a grand scope, and action sequences make the series feel huge. The visual effects are just as good as what’s seen in Discovery, but in a different way. There are lots of awesome “money shots”, but it’s more subdued.
These visuals blend perfectly with the music, which is mostly classically informed. The soundtrack goes hand in hand with the depth of the series, which spends a lot of time on introspective character development.
We all love a good villain. No sci-fi story is complete without one, and it’s even better when there are a lot of them.
For fans of good vs. evil, Picard has you covered. The first season brought back two major forces of mayhem – the Borg and the Romulans. Admittedly, the Borg are more of a Season 1 plot device than a force of action, but it’s still great to see their technology again. The Romulans, on the other hand, are just as deceptive and cunning as we remember.
What’s interesting is that both of these races are basically not a threat anymore. The Borg haven’t been to the Alpha Quadrant in decades, and the Romulans live as refugees (their home planet was destroyed). But malevolence has a way of coming back when you least expect it.
It’s the Romulans who get things moving. They are in possession of a derelict Borg cube, studying it and selling its parts in order to rebuild their civilization. A subgroup of the Tal Shiar (Romulan secret police) known as the Zhat Vash is closely involved with this process, but they have a carefully hidden motive.
The Zhat Vash believe through prophecy that artificial life will destroy the galaxy. They seek to kill two unknowingly synthetic sisters, Dahj and Soji, believing one of them to be “The Destroyer” who will usher in the apocalypse. To carry out their plans, Romulans tend to work behind the scenes as masters of subterfuge and sabotage. In Picard, they make some of their boldest moves yet.
2. Old Friends
Picard’s chief strength is in its characters. And what’s even better, a few of them have been fan favorites for decades, but they haven’t been seen in a long time, which makes their return a cause for celebration. The new characters are great as well, but it’s the ones we grew up with that really excite us.
Jean-Luc Picard himself hasn’t been in any Star Trek media since 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. He’s still as wise and noble as ever, and Sir Patrick Stewart’s performance is top notch as usual.
Another returning character is just as awesome, but somewhat surprising. Jeri Ryan once again dons the ocular implant to play Seven of Nine, everyone’s favorite Borg. Using a Voyager character for a TNG sequel is certainly different from what we’d expect, but it turns out to be one of the best things about the series. It’s fascinating to see how she’s finally adapted as a human being, though she’s still something of a rebellious outcast.
We also get to see Will Riker and Deanna Troi. As always, these characters are great, and it really brings back memories for TNG fans. Other returning characters include Hugh (former Borg), Bruce Maddox, and another surprise Voyager character for a brief and heartbreaking scene.
But there’s one more returning character who deserves a spot of his own on this list.
1. Data…and All He Represents
Aside from Picard and Seven, Data is by far the greatest character of the new series. He’s always been that way – the lovable android is as iconic as Spock. Fans loved his journey from a blank-slated artificial being to a heroic friend who is actually a better human than everyone else. Like Pinocchio, he wants to be real – but he never quite succeeds to his own satisfaction.
But in Picard, Data comes closer than ever to his desire. And he also becomes an important metaphor for death, change, and love.
SEASON ONE SPOILERS AHEAD
Data actually isn’t in the series all that much. At first, he only shows up through dream sequences. But the moments he is shown speaking to Picard are perhaps the most poignant and touching moments in all of Star Trek.
It’s clear that Jean-Luc’s very soul is irrevocably linked to the android who sacrificed himself to save his captain. Data is constantly in Picard’s thoughts. Therefore, he’s the most important element to the plot. And without him, we wouldn’t even have a plot – it’s Data’s daughters, Dahj and Soji, who carry the story forward and bring Picard back from his self-made exile.
Throughout the season, an important point enters our thoughts. Is Data really dead? He was destroyed in Nemesis, but what about his consciousness? If an artificial being never dies, if his mind survives through even a mere particle of his structure, then can he ever really cross the ultimate bridge of humanity?
In the final episode of the season, “Et in Arcadia Ego: Part 2”, Data’s ultimate fate is revealed at last. After Picard and his gang save a colony of androids from the Romulans (with a little help from Will Riker, now reinstated as a captain), our hearts are torn asunder by Picard’s death. Many fans expected this, but it’s still heartbreaking watch him say his final goodbye to his friends. Data’s daughter, Soji, is particularly emotional. Thanks to his relationship with Data, Picard cared enough about Soji and the other synthetics to defy Starfleet, face the Romulans, and sacrifice his own life.
But here, Data comes into play again. After his death, we see Picard in a comfortably furnished room. It looks at first like some sort of afterlife, but then the scene touches our hearts more than we could’ve imagined.
Data is in the room with him. Just as we’re wondering if androids go to heaven, we learn from their conversation that the minds of both Data and Picard are existing within a simulation. Data has been there ever since Bruce Maddox started cloning his neurons, while Picard’s brain patterns were downloaded into the system by Drs. Soong (a descendant of Data’s creator, also played by Brent Spiner) and Jurati.
Not only does Picard finally tell Data how much he loves him, he also helps grant the android’s greatest wish – to be mortal. Picard is asked to turn off the program after he leaves, as Soong has a new synthetic body waiting for him in the real world. Picard does as he’s asked, and we see Data start to age like a human being. He finally dies as “Blue Skies” plays in the background.
The scene is beyond powerful, and it makes the episode one of the greatest Star Trek stories of all time. It brings some fans to tears, and it forces all who watch it to ponder the big questions of existence. Through his growth as a person, his friendship with Picard, his sacrifice 20 years ago, and especially his death, Data becomes the embodiment of everything we love about Star Trek- Friendship. Discovery. Hope. The reality that all life is important and that death is the greatest, most mysterious of journeys.
Did you enjoy the first season of Picard? Let us know in the comments, and Let Your Geek Sideshow.
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