Star Trek: Picard: Boldly going to new, old frontiers
Ivan Radford | On 24, Jan 2020
“I came here to find safety, but one is never safe from the past.” Those are the words of Jean-Luc Picard, 18 years after we last saw him in action as the captain of the USS Starship Enterprise in the film Star Trek: Nemesis. That’s the overriding theme of Star Trek: Picard, a new sci-fi series that emerges not only as a chance to catch up with old friends, but also to reflect on their pasts.
That balance of history and its next generation is commonplace in today’s era of reboots, revivals and nostalgiaquels, from Star Wars to Terminator. But while they often play upon fan expectations and memories, Picard boldly goes into one character’s view of what’s gone before – and, crucially, what they’ve done. It’s a rare chance for an actor to return to the same role decades later and dwell upon the consequences of their actions – and, unlike, for example, 2017 film Logan, the small screen gives Picard ample time to do so.
“The last thing I wanted or needed was to return,” Patrick Stewart admitted at the show’s premiere in London, but it was the idea of an older Picard that intrigued him.
“I was prepared to meet them face-to-face to explain why I was so insistent on saying no,” Stewart explained. “And they talked and talked and they got my attention. I asked them to put on paper what they said.”
“Two days later 35 pages turned up,” he sighed, “and I was hooked.”
“What they were writing about was a vision of the future of Jean-Luc and Star Trek that I had never imagined before,” he added. “Under the overriding rule of what Star Trek is and isn’t. These guys were breaking these rules again and again.”
That starts with the way the show, which is located in the Prime timeline of Star Trek, continues with a key idea that formed the crux of the Kelvin timeline – the destruction of the planet Romulus, by a supernova in the year 2387. That opens up the world to the concept of refugees as well as grief.
Picard, meanwhile, has his own loss that he’s still dealing with, following the death of Data (Brent Spiner) in the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis. Spiner appears in the new series, briefly, in dreamlike sequences, and the chance to see the duo reunite on-screen isn’t merely a thrill for fans, but a moving prospect for Jean-Luc too, as he dearly misses his friend. It’s without Data that he had navigate a turn of events that comes back to haunt Picard, a man who has left Starfleet behind to live on his Chateau Picard vineyard in La Barre, France.
“In a sense I feel like I’ve been preparing to shoot Star Trek: Picard for the last 30 years,” observed Stewart, and he brings that lived-in experience and world-weary sense of perspective – positive and negative – to hang on Jean-Luc’s shoulders.
When we join him, he lives with some Romulan survivors, who admire and respect him in a way that his crew always did – and, in a delightfully poignant detail, he names his pitbull No 1, a sign of how much he still clings to his past.
By the time an exposition dump comes, courtesy of a news interview, we see the grumpy, resentful streak that has grown in the once-serene and purposeful leader. That transformation, that baggage, is both the central plot-point for the series and the thing that unites all the characters.
Isa Briones plays Dahj, a new character who arrives on Picard’s farm and asks for help.
Briones said at the premiere that she relished the chance to “really pick apart the ins and outs of trauma and her experiences”, and the story gives her lots of time to live and relive events, starting with a sequence in Greater Boston that promises more action than you might expect.
Indeed, space is the eventual frontier for Picard, even though director Hanelle Culpepper instills such a natural, grounded tone in the series opener, one that’s a marked departure from The Next Generation. Star Trek of old lingers on the horizon, waiting to be explored through new, old eyes – Stewart, at the premiere, teased that Jonathan Del Arco (returning as Hugh the Borg, alongside Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine and Jonathan Frakes’ Will Riker) will “have an impact on the show in the same way he had an impact on The Next Generation”.
“It never occurred to me that it would happen,” Ryan added of returning to her character. “I’m thrilled that it did.”
That notion of unexpectedly having the opportunity to come back to something unexpected is shared by the cast and writers as much as the characters.
“I want to do the next chapter of this man’s life,” exec-producer Alex Kurtzman explained at the premiere. “Picard’s living with regret and loss in a way that is profound. And the idea that he has this opportunity to right wrongs he feels he was a part of, a second chance to make amends. It’s a beautiful story. You almost never get to tell that story. Jean-Luc is almost 92 years old in Starfleet years. How many shows allow you to tell the story from the perspective of someone looking back at their life?”
The addition of Alison Pill as Dr Agnes Jurati and Harry Treadaway as the antagonistic Narek promises novel extensions of familiar mythology. But rooting everything in Jean-Luc’s journey is where the series named after him holds its potential; after impressing fans for years in challenging, complex and gripping two-parters, this six-part series is the kind of serialised story that Star Trek rarely delivers on TV, a chance to see Picard’s character at the same time as the puzzle-box plot. And, if Star Trek has always been about commenting on contemporary society, that’s where Picard finds its relevance to now: the notion that a man who has previously been so loyal to the Federation might come to the conclusion that the system can’t be trusted, and that it’s better to go it alone.
“We must do what has not been done before,” Kurtzman declared as his mission statement when approaching the series. Exploring why Jean-Luc also made that so? That promises to engage Star Trek fans all over again.
Star Trek: Picard is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription. Episodes arrive every Friday, within 24 hours of their US debut.