star trek picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard was as frustratingly mixed as any first Trek season. As thrilling as it was to see Jean-Luc Picard return, its great ideas and story elements are tantalising moments amid a show that’s merely pretty good. The central story is solid. It’s the best-shot Star Trek show to date, shying away from shiny sci-fi precision in favour of earthy tones and messy spills of light. The inevitable moments of fan service mostly serve the story. And while its structure and texture is wildly different to any prior Treks, it still finds time to explore big ideas like the rest of them. 

So by way of organisation, here are five things we loved about the season, and three we didn’t (and by “we,” I mean “me”).

Liked: The Returning Cast

First and foremost: Patrick Stewart. Reprising his most famous role after nearly two decades, Stewart plays Picard as the same bookish, steadfastly ethical, self-consciously stiff decision-maker he was – but softened with age. This Picard savours moments, rather than optimising them, granting us a more personal look into the character. It’s a really unique progression of a hero from commanding officer to retiree.

Though no other Next Generation-era figures return as regulars, several pop up in recurring roles, most significantly Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco as former Borg Seven of Nine and Hugh. It makes perfect sense to match Picard up with his fellow “XBs,” and their scenes together are some of the season’s best. Ryan especially gets super-solid dramatic meat to sink her teeth into. Poor Seven of Nine.

Stewart’s TNG co-stars are also responsible for the season’s most delightful passage, in which Picard and hybrid android Soji drop in on Will Riker, Deanna Troi, and their daughter Kestra, to whose development they are devoted after losing their son to an incurable degenerative illness. Between their loss, Picard’s own incurable brain abnormality, and the presence of “Data’s daughter,” conversation naturally turns to life, death, age, love, and loss. Beyond seeing Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis again, it’s a surprising breather in a breathless show, allowing the characters to simply sit, talk, and enjoy some delicious wood-fired pizza. 

Liked: The New Cast

For a show trading so heavily on characters and concepts from a show that ended in 1994, Picard has a varied and interesting new cast. Santiago Cabrera delivers a cigar-chomping tour de force as Cristóbal Rios and his crew of holographic, variously-accented lookalikes: the season basically functions as a showreel for the actor. Ever-reliable ensemble player Alison Pill never delivers less than 110% in painting neurotic AI specialist Agnes Jurati’s unusual and emotional character arc. Romulan warrior-monk Elnor is a classic Star Trek character, defined initially by elemental characteristics (unbreakable loyalty and the inability to lie), and Aussie actor Evan Evagora’s wide-eyed earnestness sets him apart from the Legolas clone he was initially pegged as. 

Even the less-successful characters still emerge through solid performances. As Soji, Isa Briones serves a somewhat underwritten Spock/Data/Seven role, but acquits herself well; it’ll be interesting to see where Soji goes when the story isn’t entirely about her. Picard’s confidant Raffi Musiker – whose history with substance abuse is presented with discomfiting glibness – similarly lacks great material, but Michelle Hurd delivers a focused and likeable performance. Speed bumps aside, they’re a solid bunch, and I’ll happily watch them blossom in a second season.

Liked: The Borg as Survivors

Star Trek: Picard’s redesigned Borg Cube yields remarkable visuals, like shapeshifting interiors reminiscent of video game Control, and breathtaking exterior shots once it crashes onto a planet. But it’s the characters that matter, and the show examines the psychological after-effects of their assimilation closer than ever before.

Though Picard’s primary focus is on androids, the show’s ex-Borg characters get quite a bit of attention. After twenty years of increasing personality and persecution, Seven of Nine is now a lone mercenary type – she’s more “human” now, but with humanity comes pain. Hugh, who I wish received more screentime, offers a counterpoint, turning his energies toward rehabilitating other former Borg. And of course, both characters shed light on Picard’s own post-assimilation experience. 

Bringing Picard back to a Borg Cube under radically different circumstances helps continue an arc that began in “The Best Of Both Worlds” and sat uneasily after Star Trek: First Contact. It all comes down to truly treating individual Borg as victims, not villains. One of the season’s high points comes when Picard admits to Seven he hasn’t shaken the effects the Borg had on him – but asserts they’re working on it, day by day. What more can survivors do?

Liked: Interrogating Starfleet

One of Picard’s major criticisms – for depicting the Federation as a reactionary outfit that, through inaction, all but doomed an entire civilisation – is not new. Ever since Deep Space Nine dug into the complexities and compromises of interplanetary government, fandom has been divided as to how Gene Roddenberry’s future utopia should be depicted. But it’s hard for characters to exist without flaws – and the Federation is a character here. 

Picard’s premiere showed Starfleet cravenly abandoning Romulan refugees, and banning synthetic life, due to a disastrous android uprising. Though all that’s later revealed to have been caused by Romulan agents, it’s still controversial. It’s not even the first time Star Trek has bluntly invoked 9/11. But presenting Starfleet as regressing into deeply uncharacteristic and unhumanitarian cowardice is not just a realistic depiction of typical government backsliding; it’s also the start of an arc that, while not terrifically-executed, has a profound impact on Picard himself.

We see all this through Picard’s eyes. His disillusionment is why he retired; why he isolates himself on his vineyard; and why, failing to stoke Starfleet into action in the present, he takes matters into his own hands. Picard season one is about Jean-Luc’s path from reclusiveness to assertiveness, and for Picard personally, that arc works. For Starfleet, the destination is there – a fleet showing up to resolve the final conflict with no shots fired – but the journey largely comes thanks to the offscreen actions of Will Riker. I certainly admire the intent, though, and the way this all weighs on Picard is a major source of pain for a lifelong loyalist.

Liked: Life and Death

Playing 94 at the sprightly age of 79, Patrick Stewart is even less conventional a choice to play a sci-fi hero now than he was in The Next Generation. You rarely see high-budget genre shows about old people, and this one makes the most of that unique position.

Despite inviting comparisons to The Matrix Reloaded, Picard and Data’s conversation at the season’s end is classic Star Trek sci-philosophy mixed with startling emotional nakedness. It’s only right that their long-running discussions about life should conclude with a discussion about death. Picard’s declaration of love for Data is heart-wrenching, as is Data finally being given that which truly grants life meaning: death.

Data finally getting a proper death scene after a dispiriting exit in Star Trek: Nemesis is a classic example of actually-thoughtful fan service. Picard’s death and resurrection as a sort of organic/synthetic construct, too, is a fascinating turn for a character who spent a great portion of his career defending synthetic personhood. I only wish the resurrection was more transformational; this was truly an opportunity to send Picard where no one had gone before.

Disliked: The Mass Effect Effect

Picard resembles BioWare’s Mass Effect video game series in an eerie number of ways, and not just because the La Sirena resembles the Normandy more than any Starfleet vessel. Much of Mass Effect is concerned with artificial intelligence and its uneasy co-existence with biological life. So it is with Picard. Mass Effect’s major threat comes from extragalactic synthetic beings that intend to scour the galaxy of all life; Picard features a similar threat. Their structures are similar, with the hero putting together a team and going on a mission to stop that threat. Picard’s finale even recalls Mass Effect’s “synthesis” ending, in which artificial and organic life merge into something new.

These similarities make Picard feel overly familiar; while it might be different to other Treks, the sci-fi landscape is broader than that. Other recent sci-fi phenomena – Battlestar Galactica and Westworld, notably – also dealt heavily with artificial personhood, and did so more successfully. Picard simply doesn’t bring anything new to that particular table, other than musings on mortality that only emerge in the final minutes of the show.

Disliked: The Romulans

I’ve got nothing against the Romulans. Though overdone, they’ve repeatedly demonstrated good value as bad guys (and ambiguous guys). But the Romulans feel forced into Picard’s first season. The show not only introduces a hitherto unknown, apparently fundamental Romulan belief; it introduces a new faction of secret agents – even more secret than the otherwise identical Tal Shiar – solely to pursue that belief. There’s nothing inherently Romulan about the Zhat Vash, other than a general sense of superiority. Their anti-synthetic dogma could comfortably belong to any species or faction. 

The individual Romulans don’t fare better. Despite a couple solid monologues, moody oddball Harry Treadaway is wasted in a role that never feels truly three-dimensional. Narek is too obviously manipulative from the beginning, and his self-doubt and subsequent face-turn just aren’t given the time to play believably. His sister Narissa and Starfleet commodore Oh are cardboard cutout villains who make menacing overtures and do little else. Only Elnor and the rebellious Qowat Milat order make interesting additions to Romulan lore, with their “Way of Absolute Candor” and support only for lost causes. I’d watch more about them!

Disliked: The Finale

Picard’s final episode has solid ideas in it. But almost every positive is matched by a negative, ranging all the way to the truly embarrassing. Major story elements – Picard’s suddenly symptomatic brain abnormality; the existential synthetic threat; a conveniently all-purpose tool driven by fucking imagination – are shown briefly and simplistically, before being rushed offscreen in favour of something else. That doesn’t even benefit the action: though rendered with beautiful visual effects, the action beats are brief and – in the case of the Seven/Narissa fight – bland and disappointing. Most groan-inducing of all is the sudden and hollow Rise of Skywalker-esque last-minute appearance of the Federation fleet, with Will Riker playing Lando Calrissian. 

These ideas and plot points could have worked. But they’re just so rushed that nothing feels earned, no one feels developed, and the episode as a whole plays out like a plot outline rather than actual drama. It’s a rare Part 2 that feels like it should have been split into two parts itself.

I like a lot of what Picard is trying to do. Season one was shaky at times, but fundamentally I am not done with Jean-Luc Picard or these other characters just yet. In a second season, the cast has a chance to develop their roles, and the writers have a chance to correct the show’s wonky pacing. Whenever the television industry manages to get back up and running again, I’m totally down for season 2. After all, The Next Generation wasn’t great in its first season either. Maybe Elnor should grow a beard.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: