Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery.
Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? It was one year ago today that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in the United States (and a day later in the rest of the world). It’s not unfair to say that I was incredibly excited about this series, which would take the Star Trek timeline forward in a significant way for the first time in eighteen years. Though I tried hard to keep my hype and expectations in check, there was no getting around how much I was looking forward to Star Trek: Picard.
As we hit the first anniversary, I thought it could be a good moment to look back on my remembrances (ha! get it?) of the show as well as what the first season achieved, what it did well, and where it came up short.
If you were a regular reader a year ago, you’ll recall from my reviews that the season started very strongly. In fact, I named Remembrance (the season premiere) the best Star Trek episode of 2020 – a year which, for all its problems, saw 33 episodes across three shows. I rank Remembrance very highly among modern Star Trek episodes, and I’d even compare it favourably to Deep Space Nine’s Emissary, perhaps placing them joint-first as the best Star Trek premieres.
The finale, on the other hand, let the season down somewhat. Carefully-established mysteries that the show had slowly build up over the preceding eight episodes felt rushed through in a two-part conclusion that dumped new characters, a new location, a new faction, and whole new storylines into play right at the very end. The season also ended with a plot hole unexplained – why Dr Maddox travelled to Freecloud – and the disappearance of main character Narek, whose storyline was dropped halfway through the second part of the finale.
So despite enjoying Picard overall, as I look back a year later at Season 1, I’m afraid I have to say that it was a mixed bag.
From the moment Star Trek: Picard was announced it shot to the top of my list of shows I was excited for. I may have talked about this in the run-up to the season, but I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed when Enterprise was announced in 1999. I wasn’t particularly interested in a Star Trek prequel, and while the show had heart and told some exciting stories, there was a sense really since Voyager ended and Nemesis had been in cinemas that Star Trek wasn’t moving forward.
Enterprise, the Kelvin reboot films, Discovery, and even Short Treks all told stories in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries, and though those stories were enjoyable and fun, there was a lot left behind in the 24th Century that was never explored. What would become of the characters we knew, of the Federation, of Starfleet, and all the other factions, races, and planets? The 24th Century had been Star Trek’s biggest era – with 517 episodes of television and four films starring three crews and a huge supporting cast of secondary and recurring characters.
The 24th Century was also “my” Star Trek era. The Next Generation was the first Star Trek series I watched, and it was literally my way into being a Trekkie. I have a great fondness for the shows of that era, and I consider it to be not only the time when Star Trek was at its most successful in terms of viewership (and finances) but also the closest the franchise has to a “Golden Age.” So to see that era abandoned for prequels and mid-quels wasn’t exactly disappointing, but it wasn’t something I was wild about.
So for eighteen years (Nemesis was released in 2002) Star Trek hadn’t moved forward in terms of the timeline. And even when Discovery launched and established itself with Short Treks and a spin-off, there was still no plan to revisit the 24th Century. Picard came along like a breath of fresh air, and I was incredibly excited, hyped up, and interested in what the series would bring. That was my mindset going into the premiere and each of the subsequent nine episodes.
Picard was not Season 8 of The Next Generation – and I didn’t want it to be. I was very keen that the new cast be given an opportunity to establish themselves within the franchise and become fan favourites for a new generation of Trekkies. What I hoped for was that, in thirty years’ time, people would be clamouring for a Dr Jurati series or Star Trek: Elnor with the same vigour I have for Picard. And I think, in that sense, we’ve begun to see at least the beginnings of that.
A lot of television shows don’t really settle in until Season 2, which is where the overused term “growing the beard” comes from. I’ve used that expression myself a few times, but in the aftermath of Discovery’s recent outing it seems to be the only phrase that critics are using to describe the show and it’s honestly put me off! But we’re off topic. There was perhaps a degree of leniency on my part going into Season 1 of Picard; a willingness to let some minor issues slide in order to see the show continue to build and grow. And as underwhelming as the Season 1 finale was, I’m hopeful that Season 2 can build on the foundation that has been laid.
Though there was the mystery of Dr Maddox’s location, the Romulans’ scheme, and later the beacon to contact the super-synths, what Season 1 really was, when you boil it down, was a team-up story. Picard, over the course of ten episodes, put together a new crew and gave them a reason to work together. Establishing each member of the crew, giving them a side-quest of their own, and binding them together to follow Picard was the primary accomplishment of the season.
I’ve used the analogy of the Mass Effect video game series once in relation to Star Trek: Picard already – when it comes to the basic existence of the super-synths and their beacon. But there is a second point of comparison that is interesting to me, and may be to you if you’ve played those games. In Mass Effect 2, much of the game is comprised of Commander Shepard recruiting a crew. Each member of the crew needs to be brought on board, then later a side-mission is given in which players can earn their loyalty. Picard Season 1 played out similarly.
Raffi wanted to go to Freecloud to reunite with her son. Dr Jurati had a secret plot to kill Dr Maddox. Elnor had to resolve his lingering emotional issues with Picard. Rios had to put together the pieces of what happened aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Seven of Nine wanted revenge for Icheb. Each of the main characters – at least those on the mission to save Soji – had to be recruited and then have their side-quest resolved before the story could reach its conclusion. This isn’t just a story from Mass Effect 2, it’s something many team-up stories do.
As I mentioned when considering some preliminary ideas for Season 2, finding a way to keep this crew together will be something that the next chapter of this story needs to address. Because they came together to do a single task – rescue Soji – and then continued to help the synths on Coppelius and prevent the arrival of the super-synths, they’re done. Their mission is complete, and Season 2 will have to find a believable reason for keeping them together. But that is a challenge for next time!
Each character we met was interesting, and none felt unoriginal or bland in the way some secondary characters can in a story which primarily focuses on one person. We’ll deal with Picard himself in a moment, but for now: Elnor was a lonely member of an all-female sect, and also had abandonment issues after Picard’s disappearance. Rios pretended to be the roguish “Han Solo” type, but had serious post-traumatic stress following his former captain’s murder-suicide while aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Raffi was a flawed genius whose drug problem had dominated her life and cost her her most important relationships. Dr Jurati had been brainwashed into murdering someone she loved. Narek was the spy with a heart of gold – but instead of being a cliché he turned that trope on its head by sticking to his mission to the end. Dahj and Soji were different from one another – androids unaware of their synthetic nature. One was drawn to Picard, the other deeply suspicious of him.
Then we had the reintroduction of several legacy characters. Dr Maddox, who we met in The Next Generation, had continued his research after his meeting with Data, and eventually was able to develop his own line of androids. Seven of Nine had helped Icheb become a Starfleet officer, but lost him when she was betrayed by Bjayzl. Riker and Troi, who had married in Nemesis, had a family – but their son had died. Hugh was perhaps the most successful of all the legacy characters, the ex-Borg who had taken full advantage of his own liberation to assist hundreds or possibly thousands of other ex-Borg on the Artifact.
There was tragedy and drama aplenty in each of the characters we met, but none of it felt forced or contrived in the way some drama shows can. This wasn’t a soap opera, it was hard-hitting. Picard Season 1 may not have followed the traditional episodic Star Trek formula, but it had a distinctly Star Trek tone – it used its sci-fi setting to examine real world issues. It did so in a tense, dramatic, and exciting way, and expanded on themes from The Next Generation and elsewhere in the franchise, looking at basic rights such as the right to life.
The attack on Mars can be analogous to many different recent and historical events, but the reaction to it is certainly reminiscent of the western world’s post-9/11 outlook. The aftermath of a tragedy allowed a nefarious faction to push through a prohibition on certain groups of people. Islam was not “banned” after 9/11, but as recently as 2016 Donald Trump talked of a “ban on people from Muslim countries” – these restrictions were in place for much of his term as President.
The theme of the season was in realising that we mustn’t judge whole groups of people by the actions of a few. This could apply just as much to the supporters and voters of Donald Trump in 2021 as it did to Muslims and others. The fanatics who attacked the United States Capitol a couple of weeks ago are no more representative of the 70+ million Trump voters as ISIS or al-Qaeda are of Islam. That is the message of this synthetic ban storyline: not to be so quick to judgement, and not to allow those with a pre-existing agenda to force the issue.
The Zhat Vash quietly infiltrated Starfleet, and slowly began poisoning the minds of Starfleet officers and Federation civilians. We have the literal expression of this metaphor via the mind-meld – this represents how those with an agenda are using propaganda and “fake news” to unduly influence the discourse. These themes are buried in the narrative, but they are there – and open to interpretation. This is how I see some of these storylines having real-world comparisons, but it may not be how you or someone else sees it. Fiction is always subjective, and that’s okay. If you disagree, that’s great!
As I’ve said before, a story doesn’t just have merit because it can be seen through a real-world lens. In some cases, pushing too far in that direction can lead to a narrative being less enjoyable. So Picard balanced out some of these contemporary metaphors with a truly engaging and mysterious Star Trek story.
We saw these events from Picard’s point of view, and he’s such a great character for telling this story because he didn’t know exactly what happened and why, just as much as we as the audience didn’t know. So when the synths attacked Mars, his life, his career, and his whole world fell apart. We meet him at the beginning of the season premiere as someone who’s fallen into a major depression. Dahj would be the catalyst for bringing him out of that – but it wasn’t until the mysteries and conspiracies had been unravelled and brought to light that he could truly move on.
We went on that journey with Picard. We began together, not knowing what had happened on Mars, not understanding why, and then along comes Dahj. She was equally mysterious: who was she, why was she seeking out Picard, who were the assassins that were trying to hurt her? And as we learned more about both of these elements of the story, this chapter of Picard’s life – and the lives of those around him – came into focus.
My criticisms of the season finale generally don’t stem from the fact that any of the narrative decisions were bad, but rather that I wanted to see more. We rushed through Sutra’s story, Dr Soong’s story, and the end of Narek’s story. We don’t know anything about the super-synths, and precious little about the civilisation on Coppelius. There was scope to know more if the season had been structured differently and perhaps extended by an episode or two, and that’s really where I felt things came unstuck.
From an aesthetic point of view, Picard blended The Next Generation-era elements with a style firmly centred in modern-day sci-fi. The design of La Sirena reflects this – it was clearly not a Starfleet ship. Inside and out, La Sirena has touches of Star Trek, but stands apart and very much does its own thing. Beginning with the redesign of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and carrying all the way through to Discovery, we’ve seen starship interiors with certain visual elements – angled corridors and hallways, grey or blue pastel carpeting, panels with distinctive lines, the warp core as a glowing column, and so forth. La Sirena has some hints at some of these, but is much closer to ships seen in The Expanse, for example, and other modern sci-fi properties in other ways.
Within the Star Trek fandom, starship designs and uniforms are both subjective things with a range of opinions on which are best. And before anyone rushes to judgement to say La Sirena looks bad or they dislike the mermaid-combadges, I’d say that we need to give the show time for its aesthetic to grow on us. There have only been ten episodes of Picard compared with 176 of The Next Generation, and those episodes are only a year old. Obviously nothing in Picard will feel as “iconic” yet – but as time goes by and we spend more time in this era that may happen.
I adored the design of La Sirena. It felt like a runabout mixed with a hot-rod, and I think that shows to some extent the personality of Captain Rios. This is his ship, and he’s put his personal stamp on it – as we saw in a very funny (and incredibly well-acted and well-filmed) sequence with five different Rios-holograms. After the blue boiler suits of Enterprise were followed up with another all-blue look in Discovery I was also glad to see more colour back in the two new Starfleet uniform designs which debuted in Picard. The one in the “current” time (that we saw people like Riker and Commodore Oh wearing) was my favourite of the two when compared to the design seen in flashbacks, but both were neat.
The only aesthetic problem I felt Season 1 had was its outdoor filming locations and their lack of variety. We visited locations on Earth which were supposedly in France, Japan, and North America, as well as half a dozen planets, and each looked exactly like southern California. Because Picard had ten episodes and almost all of them had some outdoor filming this was amplified far more than it had been in the likes of The Next Generation, which would see fewer outdoor shoots with more episodes in between them. But as the season progressed, the fact that each planet Picard visited was a barely-disguised location within a few miles of Los Angeles detracted from the look.
Some locations, like the planet of Aia, were beautifully created in CGI, but then ruined when scenes on the surface not only didn’t match the CGI creation of the planet (the colour and tone are way different). What made no sense to me about the Aia scenes in particular is with so little time spent there, why not use a sound stage? Rig up a planet that looks genuinely different instead of using an outdoor filming location. We only saw two or three scenes set on Aia, all around the beacon, and I honestly just thought it was a wasted opportunity. Vashti, Nepenthe, and Coppelius all felt very samey because of the decision to shoot outdoors in the same area, and that’s just a shame to me. I would love to see some more variety in Season 2 – either by travelling to shoot on location further afield, or by using indoor sound stages that can be made to look different each time.
So we come to the man himself: Jean-Luc Picard. I mentioned earlier that he was depressed, and the way this part of his story was conveyed was heartbreaking and wonderful. I recently wrote an article looking at the characterisation of Luke Skywalker in the 2017 film The Last Jedi, because he was also depressed in that story. It was one that some Star Wars fans hated, but it resonated with me. Picard’s story in Season 1 resonated with me too, for many of the same or similar reasons as I explained in that essay.
Depression and mental health are not easy subjects to convey in fiction, and Picard itself had a scene in the episode The End Is The Beginning which unfortunately painted a pretty stereotypical picture of mental health. But Picard’s story was much better, and very well done overall. It showed that anyone – no matter how heroic they have been in the past – can fall victim to depression. Picard lost his fleet, he lost his role in Starfleet, and instead of saying “no, the right thing to do is to help so I’m going to fight on,” he collapsed. He hit a problem that he couldn’t solve, suffered a humiliating defeat, and gave up. He spent years in quiet retirement – which was more like a self-imposed exile – because of how he felt.
That is powerful in itself, as it shows how anyone – even heroes that we want to put on a pedestal – can fall victim to depression. The same was true of Luke Skywalker. But what came next is equally important – Dahj gave Picard a reason to believe in something again. Not only was there a mystery to figure out, which can be tantalising in itself, but Picard was the only one capable and willing to help Soji – so he stepped up. Where he had fallen into the lowest point of his life, he found a reason to believe and that set him on the path to recovery. I find that a powerful and inspiring story.
There were two cathartic moments for me in Season 1 that I didn’t know I needed to see. The first was with Seven of Nine. During the latter part of Voyager’s run, Seven was my least-favourite character. She was annoying, arrogant, and worst of all, after learning some “lesson in how to be human” from Captain Janeway or the Doctor, she’d seemingly reset and forget it ever happened by the next episode, requiring her to “learn” the same lesson in being human many times over. She was repetitive and boring. But in Picard she had finally moved past her Borg years and embraced her humanity and emotions – even though she lost Icheb, seeing her get so genuinely angry and react in such a human way was something wonderful to see – and was performed beautifully by Jeri Ryan.
The second cathartic moment came from Data. His death in Nemesis wasn’t something I was happy about, but within the story of that film I remember feeling at the time that it worked. However, looking back I can see how, for example, seeing Picard and the rest of the crew laughing and moving on at the end of the film was perhaps not the right way to end the story. Data didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone – his sacrifice happened in a brief moment, and after saving Picard he was just gone.
Picard carried that regret with him in a far more significant way than the closing moments of Nemesis hinted at. Riker and Troi did too, and we got to see both of them express that. Picard poured his heart out to Data when he was in the digital afterlife, and the scene between the two of them was something incredible. It was something I as a fan needed to see, to put Data to rest properly after all these years.
In a sense, Picard and Data’s story is an inversion of the story Kirk and Spock went through in The Search For Spock and The Voyage Home. After Spock’s death, Kirk would stop at nothing to find a way to bring his friend back to life – even stealing the Enterprise. While Picard set out on his journey to save Data’s “daughter” from harm, what he ended up doing was bringing a final end to Data’s life. There was no way to save Data, nor to transfer whatever remained of him into a new body. The only thing Picard could to for his friend was finally allow him his mortality, and permit him to die. As Kirk might’ve said, that sounds like a “no-win scenario.” But as Kirk never really had to learn – at least until the moment of his own death – those scenarios exist every day. It might sound cool to say “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” and push to save everyone all the time, but that isn’t possible. It’s a fantasy – and Picard confronted the genuine reality of death in a way Kirk never had to.
Data had desperately yearned to be more human. From his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint when he struggled with whistling through to the introduction of his emotion chip in Generations and beyond, all Data wanted was to feel less like an android and more like a human. Mortality is one of humanity’s defining characteristics – especially when compared to machines and synthetic life. By shutting down Data’s remaining neurons and consciousness, Picard gave him perhaps the greatest gift he could give – and Data achieved his goal of getting as close to humanity as possible.
As I look back on Season 1 of Picard, I can see that it had some flaws and some issues. But none of them were catastrophic, and even though there was one episode that I described at the time as a “misfire and a dud,” the season as a whole was great. It started off with what is perhaps the best premiere of any Star Trek series, and though the ending was imperfect we got some amazing story-driven dramatic Star Trek.
Perhaps Season 1’s legacy will be defined by what comes next. Not only by future seasons of Picard, but by other shows and films set in or around this time period, expanding the Star Trek franchise and pushing it to new places. The Next Generation served as a launchpad for two other series and four films, and perhaps Picard has similarly laid a foundation upon which more Star Trek will be built. That’s my hope, at any rate.
Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Season 1 was an entertaining ride – with a few bumps in the road as mentioned. We got to learn a lot more about some of Star Trek’s factions – the Romulans in particular, but also the Borg – and meet some genuinely interesting new characters. Despite some leftover story threads from Season 1, Season 2 is potentially wide open to tell some new and interesting stories when it’s finally ready to be broadcast. I can’t wait for that!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.