Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Nemesis, and Voyager.
After such an incredibly strong start to Season 2 last week, there was almost nowhere left for Penance to go in terms of action and excitement! But the season continues in strong form with another excellent episode, one with a very different tone to its immediate predecessor.
After the explosive end to last week’s episode, Picard and the crew of the Stargazer found themselves transported – as if by magic – to a strange, twisted reality, one in which the human-centric Confederation reigns. But the surprising thing they learned (which had essentially been explained already in the trailers and teasers) is that this isn’t some alternate reality or parallel universe, but rather the prime universe after something or someone had changed the past.
The Confederation definitely strayed into Mirror Universe territory with its militaristic aesthetic, demagoguery, and clear love of violence, but I actually found it more interesting to watch as a viewer than practically any story set in the Mirror Universe. There’s one key reason for that, I think: practically all of the characters we spent time with in Penance were from the original timeline, meaning that the actors were playing their familiar, more complex and nuanced roles.
One of my primary complaints about the Mirror Universe in practically all of its appearances, from The Original Series right through to Discovery, is that it feels like hammy, over-the-top pantomime. It’s a setting that’s written in such a way that it tricks even great actors like Sonequa Martin-Green into putting in incredibly poor, one-dimensional performances as their Mirror Universe counterparts, and I think if we’d had to spend a lot of time with Confederation Picard or Confederation Rios, we could’ve been in a similar position in Penance.
Luckily that didn’t happen, so what we got is a genuinely interesting setting – it’s the Mirror Universe but also not the Mirror Universe at the same time. Q even used the familiar expression “through a mirror, darkly” (a riff on a similarly-titled Enterprise episode!) to describe the Confederation timeline, and similar themes of presenting our characters with a dark, twisted version of reality are present here, just as they are in the Mirror Universe.
In this case, though, it’s arguable that Picard and the crew might feel worse about how things have turned out. In the Mirror Universe, we’re dealing with similar-looking but very different people; dark counterparts to our familiar characters. But the Confederation timeline aims to say that Picard – our familiar Picard – would have behaved this way if he’d been born and raised here. Picard is confronted not with a doppelgänger, but with an alternate version of himself.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been here with Picard, if you think about it! In Nemesis, Picard had to deal with a clone of himself, and at one point in the film he came to the realisation that, if he had led the life that Shinzon had, he’d have turned out exactly the same way. Here, in the Confederation timeline, Picard must deal with the fact that this version of himself has been such an all-conquering general, subjugating alien races and bringing a xenophobic, human-centric ideology to the galaxy.
Speaking of “all-conquering,” something I’d be very interested to learn more about is the Confederation’s conquest of the Borg. Dr Jurati specifically stated in Penance that the Confederation’s technology is comparable to the Federation’s in the prime timeline, and we saw just last week how completely overpowering the Borg were when facing the Federation. So how did General Picard beat the Borg? And having destroyed literally the entire Borg Collective, why does the Confederation seem to be having such a problem keeping the planet Vulcan under control?
It’s possible that this will be explored in more detail in the episodes ahead, and there could be a connection here between the Borg of the Confederation timeline and the Borg in the prime timeline that we saw in The Star Gazer, perhaps. I’d certainly be interested to see a conversation between the captive Borg Queen and Picard on this subject; if she is the sole survivor of her entire people, she would certainly have a thing or two to say to him!
It’s also possible, of course, that the Confederation’s conquest of the Borg won’t be referenced again – and personally, I think that would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe Picard’s trip back in time – which seems to be coming in the next episode, despite the cliffhanger ending this week – will wipe out the Confederation timeline, and what we saw of it in Penance will be all we ever see. But as I’ve said before, as Trekkies who feel a connection to the Star Trek galaxy, we always want to dig deeper and learn more about this wonderful setting. To brush aside something as potentially huge as the Borg being defeated would be a shame.
Like The Star Gazer before it, Penance revelled in the lore and history of Star Trek. We got our first major references to Deep Space Nine since live-action Star Trek returned to the small screen thanks to mentions of Gul Dukat (also known in this timeline as “Skull Dukat!”) and General Martok; two of General Picard’s defeated adversaries. There was also a reference to one General Sisko, which was awesome! As a big fan of Deep Space Nine, it’s wonderful to see modern Star Trek make reference to it.
I doubt that we’ll see anyone from Deep Space Nine on screen this season, but the callbacks were definitely appreciated. Aside from Sarek, though, the conquests Q showed to Picard weren’t really characters or villains that I’d have associated very strongly with Picard himself. There was scope to reference someone like Dathon, the Tamarian captain from the episode Darmok, who has a stronger association with Picard than the likes of Gul Dukat or General Martok – characters we never saw him meet on screen. That’s not to be critical, though – I adored the Deep Space Nine references and for something relatively minor that most viewers won’t have thought twice about, it was a great way to include a couple of references to this part of Star Trek!
Was it a little bit of a contrivance that the characters were all able to find each other so soon after their arrival in this new timeline? And if we get really nitpicky about it, shouldn’t they have considered the possibility that someone else might’ve found themselves transported there too? Captain Rios didn’t seem to even consider looking for any of his officers or crew from the Stargazer, for example. It didn’t cross my mind during my first time watching Penance, but as I was going through it for a second time it gave me a moment’s pause.
That being said, I liked very much that the characters were all split up after their arrival in the Confederation timeline. Although we can call it somewhat of a contrivance that they were able to contact one another and get back together within a single episode, the fact that they all found themselves in different places, occupying very different roles, was something that Penance pulled off very well considering that it all had to be done in the runtime of a single episode.
Around the 23-minute mark, when Elnor has been cornered by Confederation security forces, there was a very odd visual moment where one brief shot looked very different – and of significantly lower quality – to the others. It hardly ruined the episode, but it was noticeable even on a first viewing that this one shot of Elnor didn’t look right. It seemed as if it was using a green screen and the shot had been spliced into the episode at the last minute.
Other than that, though, the visuals, CGI, and other special effects in Penance were outstanding. The battle Rios found himself engaged in over Vulcan was one of the most fast-paced that the Star Trek franchise has ever shown, and it had almost a Star Wars starfighter feel, as other ships of La Sirena’s class fought against Vulcan ships that drew on designs from Enterprise for their visual inspiration.
So let’s talk about Q: what could be going on with him? Picard seemed to think that there was something wrong; the implication being that Q, like Picard, is coming to the end of his life, perhaps? I’m not sure if this is the route the story will go, though, and I have a couple of theories that I’ll expand on in my next theory post. It was definitely a change to see a more aggressive, less jovial characterisation of Q, though. For all the puzzles and tricks Q has laid for Picard in the past, he never treated any of them in the same way as he did here. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Q was angry.
Could the root of this anger be a sense of disappointment that Q feels in Picard? When Season 1 kicked off, Picard had been in self-imposed isolation on his vineyard for more than a decade, having chosen to resign from Starfleet and cease participating in Federation and galactic affairs. As someone Q had taken a very strong personal interest in, could Q have taken that decision personally? Could he have felt that Picard was failing to live up to the potential that Q initially believed him to have? If so, perhaps that might explain Q’s attitude in Penance.
When I put together a list of episodes that I felt could be good background viewing for Picard Season 2, I deliberately included stories like Q Who, Tapestry, and All Good Things. These episodes I feel encapsulate the Q-Picard relationship; the adversarial but not villainous nature of Q, the way Q sees himself as a guide, the way Q has even tried, in his own twisted way, to help Picard. All of these things feel quite far removed from the way Q appeared in Penance, but as we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of him this season, I’m sure we’ll learn more about Q’s role and motivations.
We don’t even know for certain at this stage that it was Q who damaged the timeline. At most, I think we can say with reasonable certainty that Q used his powers to ensure that Picard and the rest of the crew were aware of the change that transpired, but the question of his guilt – or the extent of his complicity in these strange events – is still open.
Just like Sir Patrick Stewart makes it feel as if The Next Generation never ended, John de Lancie stepped back into the role of Q seamlessly. Yes, there’s a noticeable change in the way Q was characterised in Penance, but the performance was outstanding and hit all of the right notes for bringing back the Q that we remember. I’m thrilled to have Q back, and right now I’m genuinely curious to see where this new timeline and history-changing event go!
Dr Jurati provided some darkly comedic moments in Penance, and was strangely relatable. We’ve seen her anxious babbling before in Season 1; in a similar vein to characters like Discovery’s Tilly she has a tendency to overshare or not know when to stop talking! Those moments with Seven and the Magistrate were funny, but where I found Dr Jurati at her most relatable were her moments of vulnerability. The Borg Queen rounded on her, sensing how she feels like an outsider no matter what timeline she’s in – and I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to.
Feeling like an outsider, feeling like your “friends” aren’t really your friends, and so-called imposter syndrome are all things that any of us can feel at different points in our lives, but speaking as someone who is neurodivergent, I think it hits home in a different way. It seems like Penance is setting up a story about manipulation using Dr Jurati’s natural insecurities as a base, and we could see a very interesting allegory play out in future episodes, taking this complex dynamic between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen to different thematic places.
Notable by her absence was Soji. If this Confederation timeline only has basic F8-type synths (as we saw with Harvey at Picard’s vineyard, for example) then it’s not inconceivable to think that Soji may not exist at all. However, if Q’s statement to Picard about him being given a synthetic body in this timeline is correct – and we have no reason to think he’s lying about that, necessarily – then obviously the synth-creating process had reached the same level, and thus Soji may exist!
With Picard and the crew being prevented from going back in time in the closing seconds of Penance, I wonder if next week we’ll see Soji make an appearance. Otherwise she seems set to miss the entire adventure – and that would be a shame. Soji was a huge part of Season 1, but noticeably didn’t appear in a big way in any of the pre-season trailers and teasers. I wonder if that’s because she’s going to take on a different appearance, or whether there’s something even bigger going on with her that we don’t know at this stage. Time will tell!
Where The Star Gazer had deliberately embraced many different 24th Century Star Trek design elements, Penance was striking out in its own direction, trying something new. There was a definite “Mirror Universe” feel to some of it, but even then the Confederation felt distinct. The scenes with Raffi and Elnor definitely honed in on a very specific kind of dystopia – the police state – that we haven’t really explored in the Mirror Universe before, and it felt shocking and frightening as a result. The way that the sequence with Elnor immediately preceding his arrest was filmed was incredibly claustrophobic, and did an excellent job at communicating just how different this new timeline is.
Penance leaned into the “fish out of water” angle with most of its characters, too. Seven’s husband – the Magistrate – seemed to catch on very quickly that something wasn’t right, and kept her and everyone else under suspicion the entire time. Having him watching over her shoulder, and getting too close for comfort to Dr Jurati, Picard, and everyone else was successful at keeping the tension high, and Jon Jon Briones – father of Isa Briones, who plays Soji – put in a riveting performance as a villain. He was perfect for the role, and when he materialised on La Sirena at the end of the episode, it felt like the culmination of a wonderful performance that managed to be menacing and disconcerting but without ever falling into the Mirror Universe trap of hammy over-acting.
As a cat lover, Spot-73 was incredibly cute! Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt brought a lot of life to the cute animated critter, and although we didn’t get a lot of time with Spot-73, those moments were cute, funny, and also set up the apparent loneliness and isolation felt by this timeline’s version of Dr Jurati – something that, as noted, the Borg Queen was able to hone in on.
Does Laris’ apparent death in this timeline mean she won’t accompany Picard back in time? I had thought we might see more from her this season! It was clearly a moment that affected Picard greatly, and really hammered home just how different – and evil – this timeline’s version of the character is. Laris’ death also gives Picard an added motivation; he now has someone to save, and someone to get back to if he can save the future. Establishing their closeness last week was paid off in a very different and unexpected way here.
Overall, I had a great time with Penance. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to compare it directly with The Star Gazer; the two episodes are doing entirely different things, and both achieve the feelings and objectives that they were clearly aiming for. Purely subjectively, because of things like the design of the USS Stargazer and the excitement of the Borg’s return, I would probably say I had more fun last week – but Penance was an interesting exploration of a very different timeline, and also managed to include a lot of Star Trek references!
I have so many questions – and the story feels very unpredictable right now. Two episodes in and we’ve seen most of the scenes from the trailers already, with the exception of some of the 21st Century clips. The pre-season marketing did a great job of teasing just enough about the story to get fans interested and excited, but without spoiling big reveals like the Federation fleet, the USS Stargazer, and other key story elements.
There’s a lot to look forward to as Picard Season 2 finds its feet! Will Elnor survive his injury? What will the Magistrate do next? I can hardly wait to find out!
Sorry for the delay in getting to this review! With two episodes of Star Trek premiering within hours of each other (on Fridays in the UK, remember) writing two big reviews is a lot. This weekend I was also building my new computer, something that cut into my writing time quite a bit too. But it’s here now – and stay tuned for my weekly theory updates, too!
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, and Voyager.
It’s been a long road… getting from there to here. Picard Season 1 wrapped up two years ago this month, but thanks to the pandemic it’s taken until now for the show’s second season to be ready. I said over and over again in late 2019 and early 2020 that Picard was the series I’d been waiting for for eighteen years! As a Trekkie who first fell in love with the franchise thanks to The Next Generation, returning to that era and spending more time with Jean-Luc Picard (and other familiar faces) will always be something that gets me excited!
The Star Gazer was beyond fantastic, and by the time the credits rolled I was sitting there with a big stupid grin plastered across my face. Though there were a couple of slightly clunky lines of expository dialogue, the episode was an incredible ride from start to finish, and I’m so pleased that the season’s pre-release marketing managed to keep such a big secret. I went into The Star Gazer completely unprepared for what I was about to experience – and what I found was one of the best episodes of live-action Star Trek that I’ve seen in a long time.
Picard Season 1 had received some criticism for stepping away from the familiar 24th Century aesthetic that had defined the fifteen-year span that we call The Next Generation era, and the producers and designers have clearly taken all of that on board when crafting Season 2. The brand-new USS Stargazer recaptured that look, moving it along in subtle, incremental ways rather than throwing it out or trying to radically overhaul it. And both the CGI and practical designs used to bring that 24th Century look to life were absolutely perfect. Whether it was the design of the captain’s chair with its trademark cushion gap, the sleek lines of the helm and operations consoles at the front of the bridge, or the return to physical LCARS-based screens instead of an overreliance on holographic interfaces, this ship absolutely oozed “Star Trek” from every pore.
The fleet that assembled to face down the anomaly was also absolutely perfect. The Starfleet armada seen in the Season 1 finale was a copy-and-paste job, a large fleet but one comprised of only a single starship design. Again, the creators and producers took on board feedback provided by fans all around the world and changed things up, bringing to screen a smaller but far more visually impressive assortment of ships. The new design of the USS Stargazer is going to become iconic, I have no doubt, but there were also callbacks to past iterations of the franchise! I spied a Sovereign-class ship, a variant of the Excelsior-class, and at least one other that may have appeared either in Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War or possibly First Contact – alongside several new starships that I didn’t recognise. These ships all looked beautiful, with outstanding animation work used to bring them to life.
I don’t play Star Trek Online, so I don’t have the same connection that some fans of that game will have to some of the ships that appeared in the new fleet, but I’m so glad that the creatives reached out to the Star Trek Online team – the game even received a credit at the end of The Star Gazer. I’ve seen on social media that Star Trek Online has done a great job at designing ships – they’re one of the big in-game collectables – so it makes a ton of sense to work together on a project like this. The inclusion of Star Trek Online ships will mean a lot to fans of the game, and I’m so happy to see different parts of the Star Trek franchise linking up in this manner.
The biggest narrative beat that pre-release marketing had managed to conceal was the extent of the Borg’s return. Though the Borg vessel that subtitles identified as “Legion” was seen in the opening titles before it appeared on screen, the way in which the story unfolded was truly spectacular. Firstly, the emergence of a green-tinged anomaly set the scene. Green is a colour we’ve associated with the Borg since their early appearances, so this was the first hint that there could be Borg involvement. I also got just a hint – a feeling, maybe – that the anomaly had a vague resemblance to the beacon/portal that the super-synths used last season. Something about the edges of the anomaly, which were green here, looked at least slightly similar to the red portal seen in Et in Arcadia Ego, though that could just be a standard visual/CGI effect.
Next came the message being transmitted through the anomaly. It fell to Dr Jurati to clean up the message, which was in fact dozens of identical messages being broadcast all at once, but when she managed to isolate part of it, the voice that came through sounded eerily Borg-like. The distorted, mechanical voice had an inhuman quality, and reminded me of when we’ve heard the Borg send hails in past iterations of the franchise. No one acknowledged that in the moment, but it definitely felt like our second hint!
After Picard responded to the message, a large ship emerged. I’m glad it wasn’t a typical Borg cube; the design of this “Legion” vessel was phenomenal. The mechanical arms and insect-like design made it feel immediately threatening, like some kind of nightmarish monster, and its metallic grey exterior bathed in green light meant that we knew it was Borg long before Seven of Nine confirmed it.
I absolutely adore the design of this “Legion” ship. There were echoes of the Borg Queen’s complex that we saw in episodes like Dark Frontier and Endgame in the latter part of Voyager’s run, and although the design itself was new, it immediately felt “Borg” to me, and I would think that most longstanding Trekkies would have similar reactions. As with many Borg vessels, “Legion” is huge, towering over the entire Federation fleet that had been sent to meet it, employing a sense of scale that we seldom see in Star Trek outside of the Borg.
While we’re talking about designs, let’s also celebrate the brand-new USS Stargazer! The new ship borrowed from the original Constellation-class design which debuted in The Battle, a Season 1 episode of The Next Generation, but evolved it and took it forward. The familiar saucer-plus-four-nacelles design is still present, but the ship incorporates a number of aesthetic elements seen on vessels like the Prometheus- and Sovereign-classes. Not only that, but it shoots forward beyond those to feel like a brand-new design that’s even more highly advanced than those ships, both of which are now 25 years behind the times!
It’s wonderful that the creative team was able to build new sets for the Stargazer instead of relying on redresses of Discovery’s. On re-watching Et in Arcadia Ego, for example, the bridge of the USS Zheng He is noticeable as Discovery’s bridge – the captain’s chair in particular. So to see a brand-new set making full use of 24th Century design elements was absolutely fantastic. As mentioned, I loved the return to LCARS screens in place of holographic interfaces, and the Stargazer’s bridge felt like what I’d expect and want to see from the bridge of a Starfleet ship of this new era.
There were new uniforms to accompany the new ships and other aesthetic changes, but they were similar enough to last season’s design that I didn’t feel the change was too obtrusive. I had placed the Picard Season 1 designs on my list of my favourite Starfleet uniforms, and this new variant keeps most of the aesthetic elements that I found most appealing about them.
When I first saw the new uniforms shown off in a couple of promotional images, I wondered if they might’ve been a dress variant; they seemed to employ a style that didn’t seem out-of-place when compared to The Next Generation’s dress uniforms, and the fact that the couple of promo images that I saw seemed to feature officers at Starfleet Command could’ve meant that they weren’t the usual uniforms! But it seems that this design has been widely adopted by Starfleet as their main uniform as of the year 2400 (or is it 2401?)
Strange as it may sound, I actually get a bit of a Lower Decks vibe from the uniform jackets. I doubt that was intentional, and the idea of a uniform jacket over an undershirt is something we’ve seen going all the way back to The Wrath of Khan’s “monster maroon” uniforms! The mostly-black affair with coloured shoulders to denote division is neat, and it’s perhaps Star Trek’s most commonly-seen uniform design, having been seen in several seasons of Deep Space Nine, all of Voyager, and the film Generations. The Season 1 uniforms updated that basic concept, and the Season 2 uniforms feel like another iterative step from the same starting position.
Of course, having dedicated all of this time to talking about the Borg, the Stargazer, and new Starfleet uniforms, we’re not actually going to be spending a lot of time with them – at least as things stand! So let’s take a look at the episode’s story – because I think it’s one of the strongest season-openers in the Star Trek franchise.
Last season, I wrote that Remembrance was almost certainly the strongest premiere episode of any Star Trek show. It probably even eclipsed Emissary – the premiere of Deep Space Nine – which had been the previous high-water mark. Remembrance was a slow-burn episode with some fast-paced moments. It kicked off the story, but it didn’t introduce every character or every narrative thread, and it played its cards close to its chest. The Star Gazer, in contrast, started with a bang! The sequence at the beginning of the episode was explosive and action-packed, and really gave us a taste of what was to come.
The action then jumped back by 48 hours, and it was here that we slowed down and got more of those Remembrance vibes. Picard and Laris at the vineyard, a trip to Starfleet Academy, Picard’s dreams or reminiscences about his mother… all of those slower-paced moments felt great, and stood in stark contrast to the thrilling conflict with the Borg that bookended the episode.
I don’t want to compare The Star Gazer and Remembrance and try to say which was better. I don’t think there’s an answer to a question like that – as with other “which was better” questions in Star Trek, the answer to me is that they’re both fantastic in their own ways and both represent different kinds of stories. There’s a time when I want the slower pace of a story like Remembrance, just like there are times when I want other slower episodes or films. Then there are times where I want action and excitement like The Star Gazer delivered, and I don’t think it’s fair to say “this one was better than that one.” Both season openers do what they do exceptionally well, and trying to choose between them is always going to be something subjective. Not only that, but the answer will depend on what I’m in the mood for at a given moment!
In terms of The Star Gazer itself, the episode naturally put Picard at its centre, but all of the other main cast members got something to do. The only character who felt somewhat off to one side was Soji, who seemed to be taking part in some kind of diplomatic mission. I couldn’t tell if her Federation emblem combadge – which, by the way, is an awesome concept – means that she’s working for the Federation directly, or whether her mission to the planet Raritan IV was on behalf of the synths from Coppelius.
The callback to the Deltans – a race not seen since The Motion Picture over forty years ago – was a neat one, and it was nice to see them make a return. Like the reference to the Kzinti last season, Picard is drawing on some of the lesser-known parts of Star Trek’s canon. It’s possible that Soji is looking for a permanent home for the synths; she mentioned that “we” – i.e. she and someone else or a group – had been touring the galaxy since the ban ended, and with the unclear status of the Zhat Vash and Romulan attitudes to synths, it’s at least possible, in my opinion, that the synths might’ve had to leave Coppelius in order to keep themselves safe.
After their adventures with Admiral Picard, and the discovery of what really happened during the attack on Mars and aboard the USS Ibn Majid, both Raffi and Rios have rejoined Starfleet. Raffi’s last name – Musiker – was heard aloud for what I believe is the first time, which was pretty neat, and I like the way that Starfleet appears to have accepted them both. Both characters had fallen quite far as a result of what happened to them, but being proven right in Raffi’s case and discovering the truth for Rios seems to have settled them both, and set them on a pathway to rejoining the organisation.
In that sense, both characters have had comparable arcs across the series so far – with significant events taking place in the year or so of time that passed off-screen! In both cases, though, seeing them doing well, feeling stable, and having jobs with responsibility that they could take pride in was incredibly sweet; we saw both at such a low ebb, at points, that it feels fantastic to see how the events of Season 1 ultimately led to something positive for both of them.
Dr Jurati’s role is a little less clear; she was wearing a similar Federation emblem to Soji and was clearly working with her as part of her synth-adjacent mission, but in what capacity I’m not sure. She doesn’t seem to have continued to work with Dr Soong building new synths, and the question of whether it’s even possible to continue to build synths without Data’s neurons wasn’t addressed – and may not be any time soon.
Dr Jurati probably got the least successful lines of dialogue in The Star Gazer – her scene at the bar with the unnamed Deltan was very heavy on exposition. Such lines are necessary sometimes, though, and we did get a fair amount of information about Dr Jurati and Rios having broken up and how she’s not in legal jeopardy for killing Dr Maddox, both of which were open questions as the new season began. Given the time-jump (and just how long it’s been in between seasons for casual viewers who may not remember everything that happened) I guess some exposition was inevitable, and it was a short enough conversation to be inoffensive.
When Dr Jurati and Rios were together on the bridge of the Stargazer, I didn’t really feel the whole “never speak to me again” vibe that she and Soji had just been discussing. Santiago Cabrera and Alison Pill have great chemistry together, but in their moments together on the bridge leading up to the Borg or “Legion” message being received I didn’t really buy that they’ve just been through what sounded like an acrimonious split. Of course it’s possible for couples who have broken up to work together and maintain a level of civility and professionalism – but this seemed to be more than just that; they felt rather like friends. Perhaps it’s teeing up something that will be featured later in the season!
Is it a nitpick to ask why Captain Rios asked Dr Jurati to decode the message instead of giving the Stargazer’s literal communications officer time to do her job? I guess it probably is! And I liked the way the scene unfolded, with Dr Jurati clambering across the bridge in a very non-Starfleet way – still feeling the effects of the drinks she’d been having at the diplomatic reception! The way she cleared up the message and was able to pull out an intelligible voice was pure Star Trek, and reminded me of similar scenes with characters like Uhura and Worf in past iterations of the franchise. The only difference was we got to see a fairly detailed look at what she was doing this time, thanks to a holographic display.
Elnor joining Starfleet reminds me of the Nog storyline in Deep Space Nine, and I think it has potential. It certainly wasn’t a direction that I was expecting for his character, but it definitely beats returning to Vashti with the nuns – both as a story beat and, I’m sure, from Elnor’s point of view too! Being the first of his race to enlist could pose unique challenges – particularly in light of the difficult relationship between the Federation and the Romulan Empire/Romulan Free State following the attacks on Mars and Coppelius – and it will be interesting to see if we learn much more about his decision to apply to the Academy, what role he sees for himself in Starfleet, and how his studies at the Academy are progressing in the episodes that lie ahead. Nog found Academy life difficult, at first, as a Ferengi; there’s scope for an interesting story about a clash of cultures, perhaps.
Nog’s journey from petty thief to Starfleet officer was one of the best character arcs in Deep Space Nine – and in all of Star Trek, certainly up to that point in the franchise’s history. Elnor doesn’t start from quite such a lowly place, but it still feels like development for his character. Elnor was occasionally comedic in Season 1 – thanks in no small part to his rather sheltered and unique upbringing – but going to Starfleet Academy and learning new skills could set him up for having more to do in Season 2.
The only character who arguably regressed at the start of Season 2 was Seven of Nine. She hadn’t fallen back to her Voyager characterisation (thank goodness), but she was definitely back in her role as a Fenris Ranger; a vigilante operating outside of Starfleet’s jurisdiction and with much of the same passion – and anger – that we saw in Season 1. After the mission to Coppelius, I might’ve expected her to be working with the ex-Borg; there were still a number of survivors after the Artifact landed on the planet, and without Hugh or Soji they don’t really have an advocate. Seven of Nine seemed to be moving toward that role at times in Season 1, particularly in episodes like Broken Pieces and Et in Arcadia Ego – but if she did spend time with the xBs, that part of her life seems to be over.
With the Borg returning in what seems to be a pretty major way, there’s scope for the story to return to the Artifact and the xBs. The question of what happened to them is an interesting one that I’d be happy to see explored, and we now also have the idea of Starfleet using Borg technology in their new ships. That particular plot point has already proven to be very important, and I wonder whether we’ll go into more detail about that at some point this season.
When I first saw First Contact at the cinema in 1996, the Borg Queen was certainly a villain that I found intimidating. But whether it was in First Contact or her appearances in Voyager, I never had quite the same visceral, fearful reaction as I did to her appearance in The Star Gazer. The cloaked, hooded figure, dressed all in black, was absolutely terrifying, and the designers deserve so much credit for bringing a completely new style to this character. After more than thirty years as a Trekkie, I love that the Star Trek franchise can still evoke such reactions from me – even when returning to themes and characters we’ve seen before. There was something of the Grim Reaper in this robed design, and I think it combined with the mechanical elements to create a truly scary presentation.
The Borg work so well as villains because of how oversized, overpowered, and unstoppable they seem – and The Star Gazer punched us in the face with all of those things. The scale of the “Legion” ship, as previously mentioned, and its design were big parts of that, but the way the Borg Queen herself appeared – how her transporter beam could cut through the shields with ease, depositing her on the bridge, and then how she used her mechanical tentacles to seize control of the ship – all of these things ramped up the fear factor, and for the first time really since Enterprise’s second season episode Regeneration I felt that our heroes were in real danger from the Borg.
Mechanical tentacles are new for the Borg Queen, but they make perfect sense. The Borg are organic-machine hybrids, so giving them abilities and tools that humanoids wouldn’t have is perfectly logical – when you think about it, it’s surprising we haven’t seen something like it before! The look of the Queen’s appendages reminded me of oversized assimilation tubes – the kind we’d often see shooting out of Borg drones’ hands or wrists to assimilate unlucky crew members. And that makes sense given what the Queen was doing – she was basically trying to assimilate the ship.
In the days ahead I’ll have to write up some theories about what’s going on with the Borg. It was implied that the Collective has been weakened – perhaps as a result of the actions of Admiral Janeway in the Voyager series finale, but that wasn’t made explicitly clear. It seems as if the Federation has been able to observe or spy on the Borg since the events of Endgame, at least enough to know that they’re in a weakened state, but whether there’s been any further Borg-Federation contact wasn’t clear either. Have we seen the first hints that the Borg might be on their last legs, though? That’s an interesting thought to consider…
There was definitely something amiss with the Borg, and not just their claim to wish to speak with Picard or to join the Federation – a ludicrous idea, surely? I got the sense that this was some kind of desperation play on the Borg’s part, not only because of what their message said, but because of the way the Borg Queen was said to be stunning, rather than killing, the crew of the Stargazer. Whatever she was trying to do, she wanted to stop the security team interfering – but either lacked the will or the strength to kill them. Were they being stunned to be assimilated later? Or were they being stunned, not killed, as some kind of gesture of goodwill?
Even if we are dealing with a vastly weakened Borg Collective, they still possess technology that can outdo anything the Federation has. And we got a payoff, of a sort, to one of the big storylines from last season – the use of Borg “parts” and Borg technology. Apparently it was a bad idea to incorporate Borg tech into Federation ships… who knew?
There’s actually a very interesting real-world parallel here, and it’s one that harkens back to the original presentation of the Borg. As I wrote in my essay The Borg: Space Zombies a while ago, the Borg draw on many of the same ideas that inspired zombie fiction. The frightening idea at the core of an enemy like the Borg is our innate fear of losing ourselves and suffering a fate worse than death. Metaphorically, the Borg can be argued to represent an extreme form of brainwashing, something that here in the west we always accused the communists in the east of doing to their citizens. The Borg, created in the late 1980s at a time when Cold War jingoism had made a comeback, can be read as an American view of Soviet communists – brainwashed to all think alike, having no volition, no independence, and no freedom.
Here in The Star Gazer, we get to see how the Federation used Borg technology in their ships, and how that led to a “backdoor” for the Borg Queen to exploit. In recent years we’ve heard accusations levelled at companies like Huawei that they’re doing something similar. Popular social media app TikTok was even criticised for this, and there’s been a fear for the last few years of granting Chinese companies “too much” access to communications and technology here in the west. In the UK, for example, Huawei was recently denied the opportunity to construct the nation’s 5G mobile network, and another Chinese company was set to be replaced as an investor in a large nuclear power plant, with similar concerns being cited.
This is Star Trek at its best – using a sci-fi lens to touch on (or at least glance at) real-world issues. The idea of foreign companies or agencies potentially having “backdoor” access to important infrastructure is a very contentious one, as governments try to balance the need for investment with their concerns about hacking and cyber-warfare. In this most recent depiction of the Borg, we got to see a very “Star Trek” take on this concept. The Borg can certainly be seen as a manifestation of western fears about communism, so to include them in this kind of story about hacking, cyber-warfare, and technological “backdoors” based on their technology is one I take an interest in!
The music in The Star Gazer is worthy of a mention! It included a number of familiar musical motifs and melodies from past iterations of the franchise. I heard parts of the familiar theme from The Next Generation as well as figures and stings from The Original Series and First Contact. The episode also made great use of classical music to open Soji’s reception, a funky jazz number to set the scene at Guinan’s bar, and a haunting rendition of the classic French ballad Non, je ne regrette rien in the moments before the Stargazer’s self-destruct sequence was activated.
Speaking of the self-destruct, was it odd that Captain Rios didn’t order the crew to abandon ship? With a ten-second countdown, maybe most of them wouldn’t have had time – and those on the bridge would have stayed regardless – but perhaps some of those down on the lower decks, if they were lucky enough to be near an escape pod, might’ve been able to escape if they’d heard the order. It’s a very minor point in some respects in the context of the story, but it struck me as odd that the order wasn’t given.
I did like, though, that Picard’s authorisation code was exactly the same as Kirk’s in The Search for Spock. That callback was a really neat one, and one that seems to confirm that all admirals – even newly-reinstated ones – have the authority to set a ship to self-destruct. As the flag officer, the destruction order fell to Picard, even though the Stargazer was under Rios’ command, which is another point of note.
The discussion in the conference room was a genuinely interesting one, showing different perspectives on the Borg. If we assume that the Borg are in a weakened state because of what happened in Endgame, this meeting could be years in the making. The question I have is one of timing – are the Borg making this move now, singling out Picard by name, because they know he’s now a synth? Perhaps that’s something to save for my next theory post!
Seven of Nine was arguing for attacking the Borg ship outright, whereas Picard and Dr Jurati were seemingly willing to hear what they had to say. For Picard, who had been aggressively anti-Borg during the events of First Contact, and who was still processing his Borg trauma in Season 1, this feels like a pretty big step. Perhaps he’s pushing his feelings down, trying to remain objective and level-headed, willing to give the benefit of the doubt, even for a second, to an old and very personal enemy. I’m not sure. I think it worked well, though, and this felt like the Picard we remember – he wouldn’t sanction exterminating an enemy while they asked for help. He couldn’t support the Federation’s decision to withdraw and stop helping the Romulans, and he wouldn’t consider firing first on the Borg here for the same fundamental reason.
Picard’s other role the story was an interesting one. The setup for The Star Gazer used Picard’s lack of romantic entanglements during The Next Generation as its basis, asking the question: “why?” Why has Picard remained unattached throughout his life? Even going as far back as his time as an ensign, as shown in the episode Tapestry, Picard’s story mostly avoided sex and relationships – though he did strike up relationships with an officer under his command, Nella Daren, in the episode Lessons, with Anij in Insurrection, and of course came close with Dr Crusher.
It seems as though an exploration of Picard himself is going to be part of the story, figuring out why it is that he’s remained single and unattached throughout most of his life. We’ve seen Picard as someone dedicated to his work, but it seems as though The Star Gazer is suggesting there’s more to it than that. It would be very interesting if the answer was that Picard is asexual – perhaps even aromantic or on the aromantic spectrum – but I somehow doubt that’s the direction the story is going! It seems as though his unwillingness to commit to a relationship might be anchored to an event in his past, possibly something to do with his mother.
It was this idea – of embracing a new relationship and learning to love – that Guinan called Picard’s “one final frontier yet to come.” At least part of Picard’s story is going to be tackling whatever this past trauma is and overcoming it. Laris seems to be waiting in the wings for him if he can get to that point, which is certainly an interesting development in and of itself! I’d assumed that Guinan must have been referring to time travel when we heard that line in one of the recent trailers, so it was interesting that The Star Gazer took things in a very different direction.
Guinan also said that this was one of the few things that she and Picard had never discussed. It was great to see her back in this kind of unofficial counsellor role; the shoulder to cry on for Picard as he considered the situation between himself and Laris. We’ve seen Guinan willing to listen and offer advice to many characters – from Wesley Crusher to Data – on subjects like romance, so she felt like a natural fit for this side of the story.
The one thing I’m trying to put out of my mind, speaking as someone who’s asexual, is the idea that Picard is going down a somewhat familiar path. By saying that everyone must want a romantic and presumably sexual relationship, and that if they don’t they must offer some reason or justification – such as past trauma – to explain themselves, some stories in this mould can feel a tad uncomfortable sometimes. It depends how it plays out, and of course I never say that any character must be openly made to be asexual or aromantic! But it’s a trope that some stories can fall into.
As I was struggling with my own asexuality, television shows like The Next Generation and others in the Star Trek franchise held such an appeal for me specifically because the characters didn’t seem to spend all day every day trying to hook up or have sex. The idea that a character like Picard could be “like me” was an appealing one then, and even though he had relationships and near misses over the course of the show’s run, there was a distinction between him and Captain Kirk in that respect, or with other characters like Riker who were much more forward in their romantic liaisons. I’m absolutely interested to see what happened in Picard’s past that might’ve dissuaded him from pursuing a relationship, though, and I think such a story could go far deeper than a potential relationship with somebody like Laris.
As we saw in Season 1, Picard has a tendency to disappear from peoples’ lives. Whether it was Raffi, Elnor, the Romulans on Vashti, Hugh, or even Riker and Troi to an extent, Picard left them to their own devices when he encountered a problem he couldn’t solve; when his diplomatic skills failed him. We also saw as far back as The Next Generation that Picard kept most of his crew at arms’ length, trusting them but not being as close or friendly with them as Captain Kirk had been or as we’d see Captain Janeway be.
These things could be explained by a deeper dive into Picard’s past and his psyche. It could be connected to something in childhood – something to do with his mother. Or it could be something that’s tied to other events in his past, such as his time aboard the original USS Stargazer. We know that Dr Crusher isn’t going to appear in Season 2, so that seems to rule out the most significant event from the Stargazer that we know of – the death of Beverly’s husband Jack Crusher – but it’s certainly very interesting that the new season has brought back the name Stargazer. Is that a coincidence, or will there be some connection to the original ship?
There’s a lot to unpack, and my amateur hour Freudian analysis won’t do the trick! We’ll have to wait and see how this side of the story plays out – or whether it will be sidelined as Picard has to deal with Q’s shenanigans!
Speaking of Q, his inclusion in The Star Gazer was small, coming right at the end, but it was one of my favourite moments in the entire story. The dynamic between Q and Picard has real nuance and depth that takes it far beyond a simple “good-guy-versus-bad-guy” conflict. Q, despite his attitude and provocations, often seems to act out of curiosity – and even, as I’ve theorised, to be helpful. In his own way, Q sees himself as Picard’s friend and ally – and while we’ve seen hints that that might change, I certainly hope that there’s more to Q than just being a straight villain during Season 2.
When Q was first teased sometime last year, I wrote a piece here on the website saying that his appearance can change at will. In that piece I argued that, although the Star Wars franchise and others were doing fun things with digital de-ageing, I didn’t see a need for it in Star Trek, and that an older Q was fine with me. But when I saw the de-aged face of Q standing behind Picard I almost lost my mind. It looked fantastic, and although Q soon aged himself up to catch up with Picard, those few seconds of digital de-ageing made such a tremendous impact on the episode.
As this kind of technology continues to become more accessible, the potential for using CGI characters or de-aged characters becomes practically limitless, as we’ve seen over in the Star Wars franchise with shows like The Book of Boba Fett. Q was absolutely the perfect character to use this technique with, because he can change his appearance in any way he chooses. It fits with his impish sense of humour, too, that he’d want to look older to match with Picard – so to see him appear as we last saw him and then voluntarily age himself up was the perfect way to use this complicated visual effect. I absolutely loved it – it was one of the moments that won the biggest smile from me in The Star Gazer!
There were plenty of smaller references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. The Star Gazer crammed an awful lot into its fifty minutes – and I wonder if that’s because the jump to a different timeline and the mission back in time will mean that fewer such overt references will be possible in the episodes that lie ahead. The display at Starfleet Academy included a number of different familiar ships – and Raffi and Elnor were assigned to the USS Excelsior, which may be a new, refitted, or updated version of the ship first seen in The Search for Spock and later commanded by Captain Sulu.
The speech that Picard gave at the Academy felt like it was one he could’ve delivered at any time in The Next Generation, and really confirmed that he was back to his old self after a decade away from Starfleet and galactic affairs. I loved seeing his story in Season 1 – a story that shows us how heroes can fall, how depression can strike anyone, and how there is hope to find better days ahead. That story was a powerful one, and one absolutely worth telling. But this speech felt like it was drawing a line under that particular chapter of Picard’s life.
After his “rebirth” in a new synthetic body, Picard seems to have fully regained his passion for Starfleet, and while the whole Laris situation has definitely thrown him – as we saw through his conversation with Guinan – it was wonderful to see him getting back to his old self, enjoying his time with Starfleet again. Taking up a role as Chancellor of Starfleet Academy feels like the perfect next move for Picard in terms of his career, and again I felt this was handled perfectly within the story. Raffi said it was an excuse for Picard to get stuck into his work and ignore working on himself – but we all need things to do, sometimes, to distract ourselves! That doesn’t have to be the wholly negative thing it was presented as.
The Borg Queen’s intervention has completely changed things, though. Was it, as Seven of Nine suggested, simply an act of deception on the Borg’s part, using their technology to attempt to assimilate Federation ships in order to get back on their feet? Or is there something more going on? My gut says the latter – that we wouldn’t have heard from people like Dr Jurati, nor seen Picard willing to consider what the Borg had to say, if ultimately the story was going to be one of Borg deception and another attack on the Federation. But those questions are open right now, and the story could go in all manner of different directions from this point.
Though there can be mitigating circumstances, I’m never wild about a character being killed off-screen, which was unfortunately the fate that befell Zhaban. I don’t recall it being stated outright in Season 1 that he and Laris were married; I certainly didn’t get that impression. But if they were, it makes sense that he’d need to be shuffled out of the way to free up Laris and set up this romantic sub-plot and/or this dive into Picard’s past and personality. I would have liked to get a better goodbye with Zhaban, though, as he was an interesting character in his appearances last time.
I think we need to wrap things up – or I’ll never get anything else written! I adored The Star Gazer. It was the return to the world of Star Trek: Picard that I so desperately wanted, washing away the underwhelming end to Season 1 and setting the stage for what I hope will be a new and exciting story. It was dripping with nostalgia – but not so overloaded with it that it drowned out the plot. There’s a balancing act between doing something new and relying on what came before – and The Star Gazer nailed it.
There were so many fun callbacks and references to Star Trek’s past – not only from The Next Generation, but practically the entire franchise! I’m sure I’ve missed many of them, even after re-watching the episode a couple of times.
In terms of the look, sound, and feel of The Next Generation-era of Star Trek, I cannot fault The Star Gazer. The diversity of ships, the inclusion of ships from Star Trek Online, the design of the Stargazer’s bridge, the familiar musical motifs, the LCARS screens and panels, even the angled walls to the ship’s hallways – all of it felt absolutely pure Star Trek, and I adored every second I spent with Picard and the crew.
The Star Gazer also set up a story of inner conflict for Picard – one that interests me and has me curious to learn more. What happened to him in the past; what shaped his life to bring him to this point? And is it about to be changed or meddled with somehow – either by Q or someone else? Why did he seem to hear his mother’s voice speaking to him through the Borg Queen moments before the Stargazer blew up? Was it because the Borg had assimilated his mind in the past and were trying to manipulate him… or is there some other connection that will be revealed?
I cannot wait for the next episode – titled Penance. After such a strong start, I hope it can reach the high bar that The Star Gazer has set. If the rest of the season is this good then we’re in for one of the best sci-fi adventures I’ve ever seen.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and all of the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Minor spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, and Star Trek Into Darkness.
Hot on the heels of a slew of announcements and updates about current and upcoming Star Trek shows a few days ago, a new trailer for Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard debuted on social media! The show’s release date has been pushed back slightly from February to early March, something that seemed inevitable when it was hastily announced that Discovery Season 4 was taking a six-week hiatus. Even with the delay, Picard Season 2 is now less than six weeks away, though, so it’s time for ViacomCBS to start the marketing push and, for us as Trekkies, it’s time to start getting hyped for the return of Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena!
If you’re a regular reader, you might remember that I was less than impressed with the last trailer for Picard Season 2 when it was shown off at the Star Trek Day live broadcast back in September. The upcoming season of Picard seems to be combining two of my least-favourite Star Trek story tropes: time travel to the modern day and a setting that’s at least superficially reminiscent of the Mirror Universe. Those elements were still front-and-centre in the new trailer, but I felt that this time they were presented in a more mysterious and exciting way.
Sir Patrick Stewart had invited Whoopi Goldberg to reprise her role of Guinan during an appearance on The View a couple of years ago, but we’d seen and heard nothing of Guinan since. I wasn’t alone in speculating that perhaps the story of Season 2 may have gone in a different direction, or that Guinan might’ve been included in Season 3 instead of in Season 2. That was an incorrect assumption, though! Guinan made an appearance in the new trailer, working in her familiar role as a bartender – this time at a bar called “10” on Forward Avenue.
It was truly wonderful to welcome back Whoopi Goldberg to the role of Guinan. We haven’t seen her since Star Trek: Generations was in cinemas in 1994, and I’m hopeful that she’ll make a significant impact on the story this season. “Significant” doesn’t mean she has to appear in a lot of episodes or scenes, but rather that the scenes she does have with Admiral Picard will be meaningful. She was a dominant presence in the trailer, but the shots we saw of her all seemed to be taken from one sequence.
So let’s briefly step back and consider what we learned in the past couple of trailers. Something – possibly Q, but possibly not Q – has changed or damaged the timeline, leading to the rise of a “totalitarian state” which has replaced the Federation. Picard and the crew of La Sirena seem to be the only ones aware of the change – but I reckon this is where Guinan will come in. If you remember The Next Generation Season 3 episode Yesterday’s Enterprise, Guinan was the only member of the crew of the Enterprise-D who realised that the timeline had been changed. As an El-Aurian, her perceptiveness of such things was heightened compared to humans, so she may be one of the few people that Picard can turn to for help (other than Q and the crew of La Sirena) after the timelines shift.
I could be wrong about that, of course! There was just something about Guinan’s presence on Earth and the way Picard seemed to be seeking her out that makes me think we’re looking at something happening after the event that damaged the timeline. Guinan also repeated the words spoken by Picard in the first Season 2 teaser, referring to a “final frontier” that could mean time travel. Picard referred to time as “the true final frontier” in that teaser, and I wonder if he says that line after meeting with Guinan.
Speaking of time travel, it very much looks like La Sirena will be using the “slingshot method” to travel through time, as several shots in the trailer seemed to show the ship travelling very close to a star. Though this is a known method of time travel within the Star Trek universe, it’s one we haven’t seen used since Star Trek IV – all of the shows set in the 24th Century seemed to ignore this method, and time travel technology seemed to have not been developed until later on. This has always been a bit of a discrepancy within Star Trek’s internal canon, because The Original Series showed time travel several times, and depicted it as being something relatively easy to do with 23rd Century technology, yet by the 24th Century something seemed to have changed, making time travel far more difficult.
This could also have potential consequences for Discovery – a ban on time travel was introduced sometime prior to the 32nd Century following an event called the Temporal Wars. I don’t expect Picard Season 2 to tie into this in any major way, but it will certainly be interesting to see how the process of traveling through time is depicted in the show, considering the potential ramifications it could have elsewhere in the franchise. As I’ve already suggested, the Borg Queen may be connected to time travel technology as well, and may somehow facilitate La Sirena’s trip back in time.
I caught a very brief glimpse of a couple of guards or soldiers – possibly from the alternate timeline 25th Century – who seemed to be in the early stages of Borg assimilation. There could be more of a Borg aspect to the story of the season than has been teased thus far, and we could see, for example, the Borg Queen escape her confinement and go on an assimilation spree. If she isn’t the one responsible for assimilating the individuals shown, it raises the question of who is! Could other Borg be part of the story of the season? Is the trip back in time an attempt to prevent a Borg attack on the Federation at the dawn of the 25th Century? It’s also possible that the individuals shown are inhabitants of 21st Century Earth, and that they were assimilated in that time period. Or, of course, I’m wrong about the whole assimilation thing and these are just soldiers/guards!
Sticking with the Borg, we also got a slightly extended look at Elnor bathed in an eerie green light – something we associate with the Borg. I speculated last time that this scene could be taking place after Elnor has been attacked by the Borg Queen, and may be in the very early stages of assimilation. We didn’t see the consequences of his injury, but he appears to be in a great deal of pain.
The Borg Queen appears to be on the loose at least once, in a shot of her with Dr Jurati. The two of them were crawling on the ground, and Dr Jurati appeared to be wielding some kind of blunt object to defend herself. This looked like it was taking place aboard La Sirena, as the ship’s engine could be seen in the background.
Dr Jurati’s love of all things synthetic may come into play with the Borg Queen – something I theorised about last time. Could she be tricked, manipulated, or just talked into setting the Borg Queen free – or even helping her? After Dr Jurati’s brainwashing in Season 1 led her to commit murder, it would be quite the follow-up if in Season 2 she unleashed the Borg Queen on La Sirena’s crew! But this could account for the Borg Queen escaping, the potentially-assimilated humans on Earth, and even Elnor’s injury.
Season 2 has certainly teased us with a Borg connection! I had some half-formed Borg theories that I planned to write up, but when we learned more about time travel in one of the earlier trailers I put them on the back burner because the main thrust of the story seemed to be going in a different direction. While it doesn’t seem like the entire season will be all about the Borg, their influence – and that of the Borg Queen in particular – may be significant. Using Dr Jurati’s connection and love for synthetics to tee up this story could be interesting – but it will certainly need to be handled delicately! Dr Jurati is already a character we as the audience may mistrust based on what happened in Season 1; having her be the driving force behind unleashing the Borg, even accidentally, could take her to a familiar thematic place, one that could prove to be very difficult to write her out of in future stories.
Brent Spiner made an appearance in the trailer – and seemed to receive a strange glowing blue vial of something from Q. I’m going to posit that this character is not Altan Inigo Soong, the son of Data’s creator who we met in Season 1. Instead, I believe that this could be a brand-new character, perhaps another Soong ancestor who’s native to the 21st Century. We also glimpsed this character very briefly while Picard’s voiceover was talking about “moments upon which history turns” at the beginning of the trailer, and in that scene he might’ve had a facial scar.
If it’s true that this character is a 21st Century native, it seems that he may be involved – somehow – in the event that changes the timeline. Past iterations of Star Trek, most notably Enterprise, told us a little more about the history of human augmentation and the Soong family’s involvement with it. If Picard is going to stick closely to past canon, perhaps this member of the Soong family is working on augments, and Q has provided him with something to assist in that work – perhaps even something derived from Borg technology.
This could explain the “totalitarian state” that seems to have replaced the Federation by the 25th Century. If a dictatorship of human augments – like Khan – rose to power instead of United Earth, perhaps that government later evolved into the Mirror Universe-inspired fascistic replacement for the Federation that we saw in more detail in the previous trailer. We know from past iterations of Star Trek – including Star Trek Into Darkness a mere decade ago – that Khan would have established this kind of dictatorship had he remained in the 20th Century; perhaps this is the “single change” that the Borg Queen says is “vastly more dangerous than you realise!”
At one point we caught a glimpse of a human boy, seemingly wearing modern clothing, encountering a Vulcan or Romulan. As far as we know, there shouldn’t be Vulcans on Earth in 2024 – so this could also, somehow, be connected to the changed timeline. Season 1 used mind-melds to spread brainwashing and visions of the Zhat Vash prophecy, most notably to Dr Jurati and Sutra, so there could be a connection there – somehow. This sequence, showing the boy walking alone through a wooded area in the dark, gave me Flight of the Navigator vibes for a moment!
A new character who seems to have glowing white or silver eyes was seen very briefly with Admiral Picard. As far as I can tell, this character is brand-new and doesn’t belong to any known Star Trek race or faction. This scene seemed to be taking place in the 21st Century (based on what’s in the background), but that doesn’t exactly provide us with much of a clue! I would say that Picard seemed not to be bothered by his presence; had he simply not noticed him, or is this a newfound friend?
There was a shot of what looked like the interior of a 24th Century Starfleet ship suffering major damage. This could be one of the ships that La Sirena was seen engaging, but it could also be something from the past – perhaps even the USS Stargazer, as a model of that ship was shown off in the very first Season 2 teaser. Silly as it may sound, it was really neat to see the familiar Starfleet design of a hallway or room with angled walls. This design, which debuted with The Motion Picture, became synonymous with Starfleet ships throughout The Next Generation era, and it’s one of those little touches within Star Trek that makes the franchise feel like “home!”
I could be wrong with this, but a shot of what I think might be a Starfleet officer being blown up at a console might’ve been filmed on one of the Discovery sets; it just looks like that from the set decoration on the left. The console looks 24th Century in its design, and in the background we could very briefly see an Okudagram that looked like it could represent a Miranda-class or possibly a Nebula-class vessel.
Something important was again reiterated in voiceover: whatever is happening to the timeline is connected in some way to a significant event in Picard’s own past. “A moment on which history turns” is how the trailer described this event – and my inclination at this stage is to say that it’s probably something brand-new to Star Trek rather than something we’ve seen or heard about before.
There are moments in Picard’s past that we could look at as major historical events: assuming command of the USS Stargazer, defeating the Ferengi, encountering Q, his assimilation by the Borg, solving the anti-time puzzle, defeating the Borg in First Contact, defeating Shinzon, and preventing the super-synths’ arrival last season. But none of these moments, if changed, could lead to anything like what we see in the trailer. That’s why I think we must be dealing with something new.
Sticking with this, Picard’s voiceover also said that this moment was something that “haunted” him for all of his life. It could be an event we’re familiar with from The Next Generation – like his assimilation – but it’s an odd choice of words if that’s the case. Maybe I’m overreaching, but I think the way that this was phrased implies that it’s something from deep in his past, perhaps his childhood but certainly long before he assumed command of the Enterprise-D.
It can be tricky, when dealing with a long-established character, to add brand-new backstory, particularly if it’s some hugely significant revelation about their past. If Picard Season 2 is going to go down this route, it’s definitely something that will have to be handled with care so it doesn’t come across as being too convenient or contrived for the sake of the new story.
It was certainly neat to see several Federation (or “totalitarian state,” perhaps) starships in the trailer – but why were they firing at La Sirena? I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but one of the three ships in pursuit looked like a Nova-class ship, a design most famous for its inclusion in the Voyager two-parter Equinox. Described as a short-range science vessel in that story, this Nova-class (if indeed that’s what it is) seems to be more of a warship – or has at least been significantly upgraded!
La Sirena has also been changed – perhaps by the shift in the timeline. Gone is the red “hot rod” livery that we saw in Season 1, replaced with a silver-grey metallic colour similar to other starships. We saw La Sirena engaged in at least one dogfight and pulling off some very acrobatic moves!
There was a briefly-seen green light that illuminated La Sirena’s engine – I wonder if this could indicate that the ship has been fitted out with Borg technology, perhaps to facilitate the journey back in time. Green is, as mentioned, a colour strongly associated with the Borg, and green light in particular is a hallmark of Borg vessels and Borg technology.
After the timeline shifts, Picard seemed to find a painting of a different starship in his study, replacing the familiar Enterprise-D painting that we’d seen in his ready-room in The Next Generation – and in the first teaser for Season 2. This ship could be an alternate-timeline Enterprise, but it’s clearly a different design to the Galaxy-class, with a cut-out in its saucer section, different nacelles, and seemingly a lot more phaser banks!
It looked like this ship was engaged in a major battle, and this could be related to the interior shots of a ship under fire mentioned earlier. I think that the painting depicts the ship destroying one or more Borg vessels based on the size and colour of the debris seen around it, so perhaps this is the new timeline’s version of an event like the Battle of Wolf 359 or the Battle of Sector 001.
We caught a glimpse of what seems to be 25th Century Earth in the trailer, protected by a shield grid that was not unlike the one seen in Discovery’s 32nd Century. Moments of symmetry between Picard and its sister show were rare in Season 1, and while I don’t think this really counts in a big way, it was still interesting to see the same basic idea being used in both shows – albeit in different contexts.
We didn’t see much from Soji in the new trailer at all, and the clips we got of Raffi, Rios, and Elnor didn’t really seem to tell us much about the direction of any of these characters in the upcoming season. A few of the shots we got with each of them seemed to be extended or different angles of things we’d already seen in prior trailers: Seven of Nine at the wheel of a police car and waking up without her implants, Raffi and Elnor dealing with Elnor’s injury and again escaping through a marketplace while being fired upon, Dr Jurati interacting with the Borg Queen, and so on.
Keeping a tight lid on some of the season’s characters and mysteries is no bad thing, of course! This trailer was really here to showcase Guinan’s return, and thus it focused more on Guinan and Picard, with teases of the Borg Queen, Q, and Brent Spiner’s character. These clips perhaps came at the expense of seeing more from the new characters; Picard Season 2 will have to get that balance right and not give too much weight to returning characters from The Next Generation when it premieres in a few weeks’ time. As I said in 2020 in the run-up to Season 1: I’m not here for The Next Generation Season 8, and I want to give all of the new characters lots to do and a chance for each of them to become fan-favourites that we’re all excited to see return to the franchise thirty years down the line!
So we caught a glimpse of some of the upcoming season’s interesting moments – but we’re still a long way from figuring out what’s going on! Season 1 kept us guessing all the way to the finale, and I expect that Season 2 will follow a similar pattern, not showing us all of the story elements right away.
I have a few half-baked theories about the role Q might play in the upcoming season, the Borg Queen, and perhaps about Picard’s possible connection to all of this, so stay tuned. Between now and the season premiere some of them may get the full write-up treatment! For now, I think we’ve spent more than enough time talking about a trailer that was less than two minutes long! I enjoyed this trailer a lot more than the last one, and while I’m still not wild about a story where visiting the modern world is an important element, there’s nevertheless a lot to look forward to.
Right now I’m curious to see what roles the crew of La Sirena will have to play in all of this. Whatever changed the timeline left them untouched – and we don’t know why that may be. Are they the only ones who are aware of what happened? I have a lot of questions – but very few answers right now!
After the debacle around Discovery’s fourth season, it was good to see that (at this stage, anyway) an international broadcast on Amazon Prime Video is confirmed for Picard Season 2. Amazon’s social media channels have picked up the new trailer internationally, which is a good sign – but I’ll be at least a little worried until the premiere has officially arrived on Prime Video.
So I think that’s all I have to say about this one. It was an exciting, action-packed trailer that showed us just enough of the new season to jump-start the hype train. I hope that Picard Season 2 will deliver an engaging story when it debuts in a few weeks’ time.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March 2022 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 4th of March on Amazon Prime Video in the rest of the world. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series and its films, The Next Generation and its films, and Picard Season 1.
“The only question I ever thought was hard / Was do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?” So sang “Weird Al” Yankovic on his 2006 parody hit White & Nerdy. In those two lines, the comedy singer encapsulated a debate that has rumbled on in the Trekkie community since The Next Generation premiered in 1987! This is a question I’ve thought about many times, and today I’m finally going to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and lay out my thoughts on this classic Trekkie debate.
Though there have been at least a further six captains or protagonists who’ve joined the Star Trek franchise over the years – or more, depending on how you count things – the classic debate has always surrounded Picard versus Kirk, and I think that’s probably because the contrasts between the two characters and their approaches to leadership are so extreme. Most Star Trek captains who have followed embody elements of both Kirk and Picard’s styles of management and leadership while remaining distinct characters, but when it comes to the franchise’s first two captains, there seems to be a major clash of personalities.
My first contact with the Star Trek franchise was The Next Generation in the early 1990s. It was only later that I went back to watch The Original Series and its films, encountering Captain Kirk and his crew for the first time. The Next Generation made me a Star Trek fan, and while I can appreciate what The Original Series did and how entertaining it was, I just don’t have the same connection to it – or to any other Star Trek show, frankly – as I do to The Next Generation. So that’s my own bias stated up front as we go into this discussion!
I’ve always found this debate to be fascinating, but I try not to take it too seriously. Some fans can turn genuine and heartfelt passion into toxic or even aggressive negativity sometimes, attacking others who don’t share their precise views on the nature of Star Trek (or other franchises). Fandoms shouldn’t be a place for division, negativity, or toxicity; they should be a place where we can all come together to share something we love. It’s in that spirit that I enter this discussion – and I encourage everyone to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, and it’s supposed to be light-hearted fun!
So let’s get started, shall we? For reasons both alphabetical and chronological, Captain Kirk gets to go first!
The Case For Kirk
Captain Kirk will forever be Star Trek’s first captain, and thus he should be the yardstick that Trekkies use to judge the successes of any subsequent captain – Picard included. Without Kirk, there would never have even been Picard – because there would quite literally have been no Star Trek. Just look at the failure of The Cage, the first pilot shot for The Original Series, as a case in point: Star Trek only became successful when Captain Kirk was in command.
But Kirk isn’t the best just because he was first. James T. Kirk is a man of action: a tough-talking, villain-punching, decisive commander who stops at nothing to get the job done and protect his ship and crew. He’s not above a bit of rule-breaking, either; when you’re alone on a mission of exploration far beyond Federation space, what’s the point in Starfleet orders or the Prime Directive?
On board his ship, Captain Kirk made friends. He didn’t see his crew as mere underlings, but as people he actually liked spending time with. He even developed Star Trek’s first ever cross-species friendship, bridging the gap between emotional humans and stoic, logical Vulcans in the best way possible. His friendship and partnership with Spock became legendary – and frankly, Picard has no friends… or at least, he has no friendships that come anywhere close to matching the closeness between Kirk and Spock. This pair literally created the genre of slash fiction!
It wasn’t until the finale of The Next Generation that Picard was prepared to sit down with Riker and play a round of poker, but Kirk had those friendships from the start. His closeness with Spock has rightly become legendary, but he was also firm friends with Dr McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and even the young Chekov. Kirk’s crew would even risk their Starfleet careers to steal the USS Enterprise and follow him on a dangerous mission to the Genesis Planet in The Search For Spock.
As Star Trek’s first captain, Kirk made first contact with many different races and factions – including practically all of the franchise’s best-known and most famous aliens. He also introduced us as the audience to races like the Vulcans and the Klingons – two of Star Trek’s most iconic alien races. It’s through Kirk’s eyes that we first came to perceive many of the franchise’s classic factions; he gave us his perspective and allowed us as the audience to meet these aliens through his interactions with them.
Captain Kirk developed rivalries with some of Star Trek’s biggest and most notorious villains. The Romulan commander from Balance of Terror, Garth of Izar, who went on to inspire an entire fan-series, Dr Tolian Soran in Generations, and even “God” himself in The Final Frontier. Most significantly, of course, Kirk found his arch-enemy in one of the greatest villains ever put to screen in the whole of cinema: Khan. Picard’s enemies simply aren’t in the same league.
Captain Kirk recognised the dangers of space travel, and he blazed a trail that Picard and others merely followed. He knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to find a negotiated settlement to every problem, and wasn’t shy about pulling out his phaser – and his fists – to settle disputes. Do you think Captain Kirk would have been bossed around by the Sheliak, or by the Edo and their Mediators? Or would he have punched those alien menaces in the face and told them where to shove it?
In conclusion, Captain Kirk is a bona fide action hero, a man’s man, and the embodiment of the very best of Starfleet in the 23rd Century. He would consider peaceful options where they were available, but wasn’t above punching aliens in the face when he needed to. He would go above and beyond for the sake of his crew, even being reduced in rank by Starfleet for having the audacity to save Spock. He saved Earth on many occasions – and even saved the life of his rival, Captain Picard, and the entire crew of the Enterprise-D in his final act before dying a hero.
The Case For Picard
Let’s calm down, leave the toxic masculinity in the ’60s where it belongs, and let a grown-up take charge. Captain Picard is the Joe Biden to Captain Kirk’s Donald Trump – he’s level-headed, diplomatic, and professional. Captain Kirk may have been the archetypal action hero of the ’60s, but by the late ’80s, things had moved on. What fans wanted to see from someone in a position of authority was not someone who was quick to pull out their phaser or punch an alien in the face, but someone who could be diplomatic, courteous, and who could resolve situations without needing to resort to such barbarity. Embodying all of those traits was Captain Picard.
A new era of Star Trek not only needed a new face, but a whole new style of leadership, and Captain Picard delivered. If the 23rd Century had been the “wild west,” where anything was allowed and rules were made to be broken, the 24th Century saw Starfleet evolve and move beyond that. Civility could finally replace cowboys like Captain Kirk.
Did Captain Kirk ever pilot his own ship? In the episode Booby Trap, we saw for ourselves just how skilled Captain Picard was, and how intimately he knew his ship. Where someone like Kirk would have ordered maximum warp until the power was drained, Picard and his crew came up with a complex solution, then executed it perfectly. Picard made the Enterprise-D dance like a ballerina; Kirk could never have done anything like that.
Where is Star Trek: Kirk? Oh, that’s right: they never made that series. But they did make Star Trek: Picard, such was the overwhelming response from fans to this wonderful character. 176 episodes of The Next Generation and four films weren’t enough – fans were eager for more Captain Picard, and thus he became the first character in Star Trek’s history to get a new show named after him. More than thirty years after we first met Captain Picard, new adventures with the character are still being created, with at least two more seasons of the show in production.
While Kirk may have had fun with some villains like Khan, he never had to stare down the biggest, most devastating threat that the Federation ever faced. Captain Picard beat the Borg… and he did it twice. He even survived being assimilated and was able to push through his Borg programming to give his crew a piece of vital information that ultimately saved Earth. In First Contact, Picard brought the Enterprise-E to the Borg’s second invasion attempt, saving the day in the 24th Century and then again in the past. Forget the Klingons, the Gorn, the Romulans, and the people on that weird planet who all pretended it was Chicago in the ’20s: Captain Picard fought and defeated the most dangerous threat that the Federation has ever encountered.
Captain Picard realised that he can be on good terms with those under his command, but that as the captain he has to put the needs of the ship first. In the episode Lessons, he learned first-hand that having close relationships with subordinates is difficult for any commanding officer, and maintaining a friendly but respectful distance from his crew – even those whose advice he relied upon – was necessary to keep everyone safe and to allow him to be able to make the tough calls.
Captain Kirk got to make many first contacts – but he did so by default because he was first. Captain Picard actually made more first contacts than Kirk did – including with some very different forms of life. Whether it’s the Microbrains, the Exocomps, or the Q Continuum, Captain Picard was prepared to treat everyone he met with courtesy and respect, staying true to Starfleet’s mission of seeking out new life. But it doesn’t end there. Captain Picard introduced us as the audience to alien races like the Bajorans, Cardassians, and of course the Borg – and these would go on to be just as important to the Star Trek franchise overall as any of the aliens we met in The Original Series.
In conclusion, Captain Picard is a calm diplomat, the level-headed manager of a large crew, and the personification of the very best of 24th Century Starfleet. He guided his crew through some incredibly difficult and dangerous missions while maintaining his composure. He learned lessons about loss and grief that Kirk never had to learn. And he saved the lives of at least two of Kirk’s crew: Spock and Scotty. He also saved Earth from the Federation’s greatest threat, and even learned to perceive time in a non-linear fashion thanks to Q.
So Who Wins?
You’re going to hate me for this – but they both win. Everything I said above is true (in a roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way), but that doesn’t mean that one captain is better than the other! Like all of us, Kirk and Picard have strengths and weaknesses; things they do well and areas where they need to rely on others. There isn’t a definitive answer to a question like this, because the answer will always be “it depends on the circumstances.”
There are times when Captain Kirk’s approach to leadership is needed, and times when the way Picard approached a situation would lead to the best chance of success. As we saw in Generations, there was even a time when the only way to save the day was for both men to team up. The fact that each captain has his own set of skills and his own style of leadership isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength, one which benefits Star Trek as a whole.
I mentioned in my introduction that subsequent captains have incorporated elements from both Kirk and Picard, and that’s because both men have so many positive, upstanding qualities that Star Trek’s writers were keen to give to new characters as the franchise has continued to grow. Kirk was always ready for action, but that never came at the expense of being thoughtful and considering non-violent solutions. And Picard’s diplomatic, polite style could give way to ordering his crew to “fire at will” when the situation called for it. Both captains are adaptable, able to rise to meet the needs of all manner of incredibly difficult situations – even if that meant setting aside their usual ways of doing things.
No one can doubt Kirk or Picard were absolutely dedicated to their ships and crews, either. They may have shown that dedication in slightly different ways, and they may have expressed their appreciation and love for their friends and crewmates in different forms as well, but both of them were quite literally willing to lay down their lives and go down with the ship if necessary. Both men ultimately lost their ships – the original USS Enterprise and the Enterprise-D were both destroyed. But they both bounced back to take over new commands and go on to even greater things.
There are times when I’m in the mood for watching Captain Kirk get into a fist-fight with a Gorn or for seeing his epic stand-off against Khan. And there are moments where I want to see Picard use diplomacy to win an argument with the Sheliak or watch him wrangle with one of Q’s puzzles. But there are also times where I want to see Picard grab his phaser rifle and kick some Borg butt, and times where I can think of nothing better than seeing Kirk solve a scientific mystery like that of V’Ger. Both captains have given all of us so much enjoyment and entertainment over the years that I simply can’t crown one of them a winner and leave the other a loser. To me, they’ll always both be winners.
The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series, The Next Generation, and every episode and film 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.