Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 7: Monsters

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 GenerationVoyagerFirst Contact, and Discovery.

I found Monsters to be a frustrating experience – with the odd moment of sheer brilliance. While the story edged along in incremental steps, overall this side-mission inside Picard’s mind seemed to drag just a little too long. That being said, when the amateur Freudian psychoanalysis let up, we got some interesting moments with Seven of Nine and Raffi as they hunted for Dr Jurati, and from Picard and Guinan as the episode drew to a close.

Despite having mixed feelings about the season overall – particularly its time travel story – some of the promotional images released for Monsters looked intriguing, so after a couple of weeks where I’d been uninterested to the point of near-apathy in Picard, this time around I managed to work up some excitement and interest for the latest outing. To summarise, I guess I’d say that Monsters didn’t deliver what I’d hoped for, and the show’s 21st Century setting continues to be a drag, but there were some genuinely insightful and interesting moments, especially as the episode neared its end.

The final few minutes of the episode were the best.

As last week’s episode drew to a close, I felt that there was potential in a story that explored some of Picard’s psyche, and that seemed to be borne out by a couple of the promotional images released before the episode aired. These pictures showed Picard sitting aboard a 24th Century vessel, meeting with a new character who was wearing what looked like a new Starfleet uniform variant. Based on those pictures and that setup, I was hopeful that a season which has been content to stay in the modern-day for the most part might actually show us a little more of Star Trek’s future – the part that I find a thousand times more interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

Unfortunately we didn’t really get any of that – at least, not in the way I had hoped. We returned to the château of Picard’s childhood, and spent a lot of time running around in the dungeons while monsters from low-budget horror films chased after Picard, his mother, and later Tallinn. I think the problem with this story is more fundamental than just its B-movie horror aesthetic, though. If a decision is made to psychoanalyse a character in this fashion, diving deeply into their subconscious mind and buried memories, by the time we reach the end we should feel like we learned something – anything, really – that could inform and educate us about why the character behaves a certain way or has a particular personality trait. We came to the end of this coma-dream with Picard awakening… and I don’t feel like I understand him any better than I did before watching this entire drawn-out storyline.

Tallinn was attacked by one of the B-movie monsters.

We’ve spent a lot of time with Picard over the past thirty-five years, and in that time we’ve seen him go through many significant and traumatic events. There are more things from his past that we’ve only heard about in passing; lines of dialogue in The Next Generation that informed a story or gave us a tidbit of information about the man and his personal history. This episode, and the framework it used, could have explored any of those. Just off the top of my head, we could’ve seen Picard wrangle with the death of Jack Crusher – husband of Beverly Crusher – during his time in command of the Stargazer. We could’ve seen him dealing with the trauma of Tasha Yar’s death, or the loss of his family in a fire at the château that we heard about in Generations.

Instead, Monsters chose to introduce a wholly new backstory element to Picard’s character, giving him a moment in his youth in which he was traumatised by being trapped in the passageways below his family’s château, as well as his mother’s mental health condition. I can deal with the fact that this seems to clash with depictions of Picard’s mother in The Next Generation; the two shows are very different, and while there’s definitely a major difference in tone, there’s nothing that stands out to me as being wholly contradictory. But what I find difficult to get on board with is the fact that this entire sequence feels meaningless to the story overall – we didn’t learn anything significant about Picard, nor did we unlock anything that might be key to understanding the story of the season.

A faded memory from Picard’s youth.

I don’t recall it ever being mentioned prior to Monsters that Picard had a fear of confined spaces. I can recall many occasions in the past where we’d seen him in the Jeffries’ tubes, for example, and that never seemed to bother him. If it had been mentioned even an episode or two ago we could’ve at least said that Season 2 was trying to set it up, but even that didn’t happen, so I find it being brought up here particularly odd. Not only that, but this supposed claustrophobia didn’t even feature in a big way in the story at all – there was no moment where Picard was in a confined space either in reality, in his mind, nor in his memories. The dungeon was certainly a frightening place, but young Picard seemed to be trapped in a pretty large room.

Obviously trauma and the development of phobias is a more complicated thing than that, and I get that. But even so, this attempt to depict Picard’s supposed trauma feels weak. More importantly, though, it doesn’t seem to have accomplished much of anything, certainly not enough to justify producing an entire episode dedicated to it.

Picard and Tallinn inside his subconscious mind.

Star Trek: Picard promised to show us the beloved character in his later years, going on new adventures with a new crew but still fundamentally the same man we remembered from his debut thirty-five years ago. There was scope in a story about memory and digging into someone’s trauma and psyche to draw on something from Star Trek’s past – either something that was underdeveloped during The Next Generation era or something merely referenced – to flesh out some unknown or unseen part of Picard’s character. This episode took that open goal and missed it by a country mile by telling a disconnected and just plain odd story that feels functionally and narratively irrelevant. A ten-episode series can’t afford to waste time – something Picard learned to its cost in Season 1 – so Monsters feels not only like a disappointment, but an episode that could potentially be a weight around the neck of the entire season.

When I deconstructed the failings of Et in Arcadia Ego (the two-part Season 1 finale) a few weeks ago, I concluded by saying that I hoped the lessons of that rushed pair of episodes had been learned. Whole storylines ran out of road, characters disappeared, new factions came and went in the blink of an eye, and narrative threads that could’ve been weaved together had there been more time ended the season just dangling, unresolved. With three episodes remaining in Season 2 to resolve this new story, I feel a sense of anxiety. The past three episodes essentially revolved around the astronauts’ party and its aftermath, without much input from Q or significant progression of the season’s main story arcs. There isn’t a lot of time to get back on track – especially if we get any more short episodes like the half-hour Two of One last week.

We’ve spent a significant chunk of the season’s runtime dealing with Picard’s comatose mind.

To return to the dungeon and the monsters, when this storyline kicked off with young Picard and his mother, it seemed like it had potential. As someone with mental heath issues myself, I briefly felt some of what I’ve experienced being reflected in the depiction of Yvette Picard. There was scope to expand upon this – and perhaps a future episode will tell us more about her nameless condition. Unfortunately, though, what we got in Monsters may have began in a relatable way – so much so that, for a brief moment, it felt uncomfortably close to my own personal experience – but it quickly descended into pantomime and farce.

Mental health conditions are not easy to depict in fiction. It takes time, it needs a nuanced portrayal, and it requires a creative team who all understand the condition in question and what the purpose of its depiction is. Yvette’s condition wasn’t shown for its own sake, and wasn’t even trying to be a sensitive or sympathetic depiction of whatever unnamed condition she suffered from. It existed purely to attempt to inform us as the audience about the trauma Picard himself feels from those events, and that already relegates it to a kind of secondary status that perhaps was always going to prevent a nuanced or at least decent attempt to portray it.

Yvette Picard’s mental health condition was basically a backdrop for other parts of the story.

The Star Trek franchise hasn’t always dealt with mental health particularly well. I noted as recently as Season 1 of Picard how the franchise can lean into unhelpful one-dimensional stereotypes, and Yvette feels barely a step ahead of that. The decision to include hallucinatory elements was potentially an interesting one – but to then turn around and make those hallucinations B-movie horror monsters rendered any impact it could’ve had utterly meaningless.

I’ve tried to be an advocate for better depictions of mental health in fiction, but more than once I’ve found myself exasperatedly saying that if a story can’t get it right – or at least make an effort to do better with the way mental health is depicted – then maybe it’s preferable to leave it alone. If there isn’t time in a series like Picard – which understandably has its focuses elsewhere – to show Yvette’s mental health condition in more detail and more sympathetically, then maybe this angle shouldn’t be included. With a few rewrites, the story could get to the same place while skipping over a pretty uninspired and occasionally problematic one-dimensional depiction of an unnamed but somewhat stereotypical “mental illness.” Otherwise it feels like the series is paying lip service to an important subject; touching on it in the most basic and meaningless of ways.

The nature of Yvette’s condition wasn’t revealed or explained.

So what was this story trying to say? That Picard’s desire to explore strange, new worlds is connected to trauma related to his mother? That seems incredibly clichéd and basic, even by the generally poor standards of mental health stories that we’ve just been talking about. I want to believe that this story has more to give; some twist or turn that will pull out a passable ending to a narrative thread that will otherwise be disappointing in the extreme. I’ve jumped the gun before with these kinds of things and been too quick to criticise, so I guess we need to wait and see what comes next. On its own merits, though, this part of Monsters – the part that took up the majority of the episode’s runtime – was poor.

There was a glimpse of something better (or at least something different) at the close of the episode. Picard visited Guinan’s bar to try to “summon” Q (or another member of the Q Continuum, this wasn’t 100% clear). I liked that we got callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek; Guinan’s “claw” pose that we saw in Q Who made a comeback, for example. And this part of the story filled in a blank from all the way back in The Next Generation’s second season, potentially explaining the animosity between Guinan and Q, or at least the El-Aurians and the Q Continuum.

We learned a little about the relationship between the El-Aurians and the Q Continuum this week.

This is the kind of thing I’d hoped Picard Season 2 would do more of. Season 1 had a fairly narrow focus on the Romulans and synths, and while we got a deeper dive into one aspect of Romulan culture in particular, there was a lot more that the last season could’ve done to connect its narrative threads to Star Trek’s broader canon. Because of how it quickly stepped out of the prime timeline and then shot back in time, Season 2 hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to do this, and when elements from Star Trek’s past have been introduced they haven’t really been explored or fleshed out in a substantial way; take Tallinn and the mysterious organisation she works for as a case in point. So I greatly appreciated the Guinan-Q connection here.

Picard and Guinan being apprehended may yet have a deeper significance to the story – if the “FBI Agent” isn’t who he claims to be, for example. Stay tuned for my theory post for more on that! But if it really is the FBI and 21st Century Earth authorities, I’m actually kind of glad that the story went down this road! Picard and the crew, despite their best intentions, have made a lot of noise since arriving in the 21st Century – so it makes perfect sense that, in the highly-surveilled world of 2024, the authorities would be attempting to track them.

Agent Wells, FBI.

We got several cute moments this week with Seven of Nine and Raffi. Their relationship, which had been teased at the end of Season 1, hadn’t developed as much as I’d hoped or expected this season, and with Seven being sidelined for the entirety of last week’s outing, I’m glad that the show’s writers haven’t entirely forgotten about this angle. We caught snippets of their conversation aboard La Sirena that suggested that their relationship is built on solid foundations, even if they don’t always have time to acknowledge it to each other, and I think in a busy episode with a lot of storylines on the go, I can accept such moments of exposition.

What I would say, though, is that we’re really feeling the impact of modern Star Trek’s shorter seasons, and I noticed that in particular with Seven and Raffi this week. After they returned to La Sirena, tracking down Dr Jurati, figuring out how the Borg code got into the ship’s computers, and coming up with a plan to counteract it and figure out what happened could’ve been an entire episode in itself during The Next Generation and Voyager eras. As it is, we got a couple of lines of dialogue and a cut-down sequence. That isn’t bad, but it’s definitely something that could’ve been expanded upon.

Raffi and Seven of Nine discovered that Dr Jurati has been assimilated.

Rios now officially irks me. His regression from the Starfleet captain we were reintroduced to in The Star Gazer to the Han Solo-inspired rogue that we met at the beginning of Season 1 had been bugging me all season long, but now it feels like there isn’t time to do anything about it. If we hadn’t seen Rios in such a different – and arguably better – state in The Star Gazer, I guess I’d just roll with his storyline. But because we’d got a glimpse of Rios at his best and seen what he can be, this Season 1 presentation feels wrong. The fact that he doesn’t seem to care at all about the ship and crew he left behind (on the brink of self-destruction and death, no less) is the icing on a particularly unpleasant cake.

One of Rios’ lines this week also felt unearned. He referred to Picard as a “father figure” that he had been seeking, but I just don’t feel that from Rios in any way. I can’t actually remember a significant moment that the two characters have shared in either season of the show, aside perhaps from Picard’s remark all the way back in Season 1 that Rios kept his ship to Starfleet standards. They’ve just been on different narrative trajectories, and while they seem quite happy to work together, I’ve never felt that Rios saw Picard that way.

Rios told Teresa how he feels about Picard.

“Show don’t tell” is the advice that creative writing teachers often give their students; show the audience how a character feels, what they’re thinking, etc. through their actions and behaviour, don’t just try to dump clumsy lines of expository dialogue and assume that’s good enough. And that’s basically the Rios situation. I’d seen nothing from him to make me feel he saw Picard as a father figure, so this line of dialogue didn’t land in the way it should’ve.

One of Rios’ lines this week was pitch-perfect, though, and continues a season-long trend of making references to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When Teresa was figuring out the truth about who Rios is, we got a riff on the lines spoken by Dr Gillian Taylor and Captain Kirk in that film when Rios told her that he’s from Chile, but works in outer space. It was an incredibly neat reference, and I genuinely wasn’t expecting to see The Voyage Home called back to in so many different and unexpected ways this season.

Rios probably got the episode’s best line while speaking to Teresa.

Was Rios right to tell Teresa the truth? And then, having done so, was taking her and Ricardo to La Sirena a good idea? Part of me feels that Rios will bring Teresa and Ricardo to the 25th Century with him – as Kirk did with Gillian Taylor – so stay tuned for my theory update for my thoughts on that! Regardless of whether it was a smart idea, the moment where Teresa materialised on La Sirena’s transporter pad was pitch-perfect, and Sol Rodriguez captured that moment wonderfully.

Dr Jurati was only glimpsed this week, but the Borg Queen’s influence is clearly growing. The “endorphin rush” concept is an interesting one, with the Borg Queen needing to trigger endorphins in order to speed up or help the assimilation process. I certainly hope we learn more about how this works, as well as what exactly the Borg Queen is doing. Is this, as Seven seemed to think, the “birth” of a new Borg Queen? If so, that presumably tees up Dr Jurati (or rather, her assimilated body) for being the masked Borg Queen seen in The Star Gazer at the beginning of the season! There’s also the possibility on this side of the story to learn more about the Borg and how Borg Queens work in a general sense.

Will Dr Jurati become the new Borg Queen?

I would’ve liked Monsters to spend more time on this side of the story. With the bulk of the story dealing with the coma-dream that Picard was experiencing, it feels as if the episode had its focus in the wrong place. Whatever’s happening with Q is clearly still important – but the potential for a Borg Queen to be loose in the 21st Century and growing in power should bring everything to a screeching halt. Picard and the crew need to tackle this problem, and they need to do so urgently! But as far as we know based on what we saw on screen this week, Seven of Nine and Raffi haven’t even told Rios or Picard what they’ve learned about Dr Jurati.

As I suggested in my last theory post, there’s all sorts of ways that this story could go. A Q-Picard truce or even a temporary alliance is one possibility, with a weakened Q working with Picard to prevent the assimilation of Earth. But it feels like the season is running out of road to tell all of the stories that have been set up. We didn’t get any advancement this week of Kore or Dr Soong’s stories, for example, and Q himself – despite being mentioned – was also absent. If we’re to see this Borg Queen story play out in anywhere close to as much depth as it deserves, a change in focus is urgently needed.

Picard in Monsters.

So I guess that was Monsters. It was an episode that dragged in places, one that feels like an unnecessary sojourn in a short season that really doesn’t have time for such indulgences. Yes, it’s possible that the story of Picard’s youthful trauma will come back later in the season in a way connected with Q. But even assuming that will be the case, Monsters feels like a gratuitous and self-indulgent look at this part of Picard’s backstory and psyche that simply ran too long.

I’m reminded in a way of Nepenthe and, to a lesser extent, Absolute Candor from Season 1. These two episodes advanced the main story of Season 1 in increments, but given the way the story ran out of road by the time we got to Et in Arcadia Ego, they feel somewhat like wasted time in retrospect. Monsters feels like it could end up the same way – but unlike the two Season 1 outings mentioned, it wasn’t a strong or particularly enjoyable episode in its own right. If we look back on the season later and feel that more time was needed to allow things like the Borg Queen story, Q’s story, or Kore and Dr Soong’s stories to play out, Monsters will feel like the standout example of what should’ve been cut.

There were interesting ideas here, and if the same framework or story concept had been used in a different way, I think we could’ve been looking at the episode in more of a positive light. But the barebones and clichéd depiction of Yvette’s mental health condition, the uninspired “haunted castle” and B-movie monsters, and the more interesting storylines being sidelined makes it one of the season’s most disappointing outings so far.

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.

17.04.22
Additional thought:

It only occurred to me as I was re-reading this review, but one thing to say about Monsters – and the season overall by extension – is that the season’s main characters, as well as important secondary characters all feel disconnected from one another. They don’t seem to be communicating at all, with Rios taking Teresa and Ricardo to La Sirena seemingly without consulting Picard or anyone else, and Raffi and Seven of Nine chasing Dr Jurati also without a word to Picard or Rios. This is in addition to Q doing his own thing away from everyone else, and Kore and Dr Soong off on their own, too. There are occasional bridges between these groups of characters; meetings or pairings in which they get together. But for the most part, everyone feels like they’re in their own little narrative box, taking part in their own story that’s disconnected from everything else. This is a very odd way to structure a season of television in a show like Star Trek: Picard.

The new Star Trek: Picard trailer… oof.

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and all of the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: First Contact.

As the dust settled on Star Trek Day, the Picard Season 2 trailer stuck in my mind. As exciting as it was to see the crew back in action, and to get a real tease of some of the upcoming season’s story elements, I was left with an unfamiliar and somewhat upsetting feeling. It took me 24 hours to really think it through, but I’m finally able to put it into words: I’m less excited for Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard than I had been before the Star Trek Day trailer.

This isn’t something I expected nor wanted from Star Trek Day. Picard Season 2 had been right at the top of my list when it came to the shows I’m most excited about – as I’ve said on more than one occasion. But the trailer showed off what are really two of my least-favourite Star Trek story tropes, and in its aftermath I’m finding it hard to remain as excited for the season as I was. None of this is to disparage the hard work all of the actors, directors, producers, and behind-the-scenes crew have put into the upcoming season of the show. I’m capable of separating my thoughts about individual story threads from the folks tasked with bringing them to the screen!

Seven of Nine in the new trailer.

More than once I’ve talked about how time travel – and in particular, time travel to the modern day – as well as Mirror Universe stories are among my least favourites in Star Trek. With a big disclaimer that what we saw in the trailer doesn’t seem to be the actual Mirror Universe, it borrowed from that setting both thematically and in terms of aesthetic, and combined with a time travel plot that will see Picard and the crew of La Sirena head to the modern day… suffice to say I was underwhelmed.

Star Trek is a franchise about the future, but more than that, it feels like it’s at least a semi-realistic future; that humanity could one day achieve many of the social and technological advancements that we see in the various shows and films. Stepping out of that to do a story set in the modern world has never sat right with me primarily for that reason, but I’d also add that any return to contemporary times naturally dates a story very quickly. Episodes like Enterprise’s Carpenter Street, the two-part Voyager episode Future’s End, and even Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home are stories which feel significantly more out-of-date than others made around the same time simply because they took Star Trek to what was, at the time, the modern day.

Visiting modern-day Los Angeles is on the cards in Season 2.

When it comes to the Mirror Universe – which, again, I’m not saying the “totalitarian state” shown in the trailer actually will be – the setting has long lent itself to over-the-top pantomime. Even recent Discovery episodes set in the Mirror Universe – like Season 3’s two-part story Terra Firma – fell victim to this, as actors seem almost encouraged or emboldened to over-act every scene and play up all of the villain tropes they remember from middle school drama classes.

Characters in the Mirror Universe have no nuance. The entire setting seems to be populated largely by violent sociopaths, with the occasional submissive alien thrown in for contrast. Though I believe that what we saw in the trailer isn’t the Mirror Universe, the “totalitarian state” borrows a great deal in terms of its aesthetic from that setting, and my fear is that Star Trek: Picard is going to fall into the familiar Mirror Universe trap of pantomime-level over-acting.

Picard will have to blend in as a senior figure in the “totalitarian state.”

In a nutshell, then, those are my concerns based on the latest Season 2 trailer. The season feels as though it may lurch from the excess of a Mirror Universe-inspired setting to the drab reality of the modern world – and unfortunately I’m finding it hard to get excited about either side of the story as things stand. I want to give Picard Season 2 a chance, and when it premieres in February I certainly will, but at the moment I can’t escape the sinking feeling of losing at least some of the excitement that I had for the project.

Though we were treated to a glimpse of the Borg Queen in the trailer, an alternate timeline (Mirror Universe or not) and a jaunt to the past don’t seem like settings where we’ll get to explore much of the 25th Century. I had hoped that the show might spend a little more time with Starfleet in Season 2, or perhaps take a look at one or more of the factions we remember from past iterations of Star Trek. Picard made many first contacts with alien races on The Next Generation, and has deep connections with the Klingons, for example, as well as the likes of the Bajorans.

Picard examines a portrait of his alternate timeline counterpart.

There was even the hope that an as-yet unannounced character might reprise their role in Season 2. Though Gates McFadden had ruled out Dr Crusher’s return a few weeks ago, there were characters like Riker, Troi, Wesley Crusher, Worf, or someone else who could yet make a welcome return to the franchise. That’s still possible, but the presence of an alternate timeline and a story involving time travel cuts into the potential screen time that any returning character could have.

Past iterations of Star Trek, which were primarily episodic, could do Mirror Universe or time travel stories relatively inoffensively from my point of view. The odd episode here or there that used one of those settings was gone within a week or two, even if I really didn’t enjoy it, so I wasn’t as upset to see such a story as one small part of a season with twenty-plus episodes to enjoy. But Picard isn’t an episodic series, and not only that it’s a shorter one (Season 1 clocked in at a mere ten episodes) so a time travel-meets-Mirror Universe story could run for practically the whole season. As the foundation for an entire season-long story arc… as I said above it’s just one that I personally don’t find particularly appealing.

Elnor, Raffi, and Picard in the “totalitarian state.”

I recognise that, so far, all of this must seem like whining. “Star Trek: Picard isn’t doing exactly what I want!” screams the petulant crybaby! But as an independent critic, I always say that I reserve the right to express my honest feelings on any of the shows, games, and films that I talk about; despite being an avid Trekkie and a fan of modern and classic Star Trek I’m not going to blindly sing the franchise’s praises when there are points of criticism or things that I don’t like. None of this means that Picard Season 2 is somehow invalid in my mind; despite my initial impressions from the trailer I will give it a chance to impress me. But I also want to share my honest thoughts, and right now I feel that the trailer seems to show a season-long story that rolls two of my least-favourite Star Trek tropes into one.

Having got all of that out of the way, let’s look at some of the points from the trailer that are more positive – or at the very least potentially interesting!

First up, the Borg Queen herself. I had half-written a bunch of Borg theories for Picard Season 2 following the announcement that the Borg Queen would be returning – almost all of which now feel extremely unlikely! The Borg Queen that we saw in the trailer appears to be a captive – my first thought was that it could be the reactivated remains of the Queen killed by Picard in First Contact. Episodes of Voyager and also Season 1 of Picard suggested that there may be more than one Borg Queen, or that she is capable of changing bodies with ease, so it could be a different Borg Queen altogether. Regardless, she seems to be a captive – how Picard came to capture her or know about her captive status is a story I’d quite like to follow!

Is the Borg Queen being held captive?

If the Borg Queen shown on screen is from after the timeline has been changed, perhaps we’ll see Picard and the crew of La Sirena lead a mission to capture her in order to facilitate their passage back in time. It seemed as though the Borg Queen is going to be used by Picard as a kind of time machine – though exactly how this would work isn’t clear. Perhaps the Borg Queen possesses unique knowledge of time travel, as we know she was personally present during the mission to Earth in First Contact. Maybe her presence is required for the Borg to travel through time?

As mentioned, the “totalitarian state” seems to me like it isn’t the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire, but rather a fascistic state that emerged – somehow – in place of the United Federation of Planets in the Prime Timeline. Picard ascribes its rise by the 25th Century as being caused by something Q did to change the past, so in my opinion we’re looking at an alternate version of the Prime Timeline and not the Mirror Universe. This is backed up by something Q said in the previous trailer – that Picard and his crew had come to “the very end of the road not taken.”

Q and Picard face off in the new trailer.

So that brings us to Q’s role in the season. During First Contact Day back in April, Sir Patrick Stewart hinted that Q may not be the cause of the event that shattered the timeline – but this seems to be contradicted by what we saw and heard in this new trailer. Q made reference to “the trial” – he put Picard and all of humanity on trial in Encounter at Farpoint and has periodically returned to provoke and tease him ever since. Though episodes like Q Who saw Q deliberately interfering and putting Picard and the Enterprise-D in danger, I would very much argue that other episodes like All Good Things saw Q assume a less antagonistic role. He didn’t cause the anti-time eruption, but he did give Picard just enough clues and a little bit of a push toward finding a solution.

Q is a trickster – and not someone to be trusted. But I’ve often got the impression that, in his own twisted way, he sees himself as a friend, ally, and mentor to Picard. He didn’t introduce Picard to the Borg in Q Who with a view to getting him killed or assimilated; he wanted to demonstrate that Picard and the Federation were unprepared for the dangers lying in wait out in the galaxy. He was pleasantly surprised to see Picard solve the Farpoint mystery in Encounter at Farpoint and the anti-time puzzle in All Good Things. In short, though Q’s methods may be extreme, and while he does have an impish sense of humour, he’s never been an out-and-out villain. For him to go back in time and break the timeline so severely is, perhaps, somewhat out of character.

Q and Picard in All Good Things.

So my inclination at this stage is still to say that there’s more to Q’s role than meets the eye. Picard may blame him for the changes to the timeline initially, but part of the mystery of the season’s storyline may be figuring out that Q isn’t to blame – someone or something else is. I’d argue this better fits with Q’s characterisation – but it wouldn’t be completely strange to see him as the season’s antagonist as well. So I guess we’ll find out!

Notable by her absence was Guinan. Guinan has knowledge of and history with both the Borg and Q, so bringing her back could have made a lot of sense for the story of the season. Guinan could have taken on an advisory role, as we see her do in episodes like Q Who, Time’s Arrow and in Star Trek: Generations. It’s possible she will still appear and that her role will be revealed at a later date. It’s also possible that she will make an appearance in Season 3 – which we now know is officially confirmed and in production – or that her role was ultimately cut and she won’t be coming back.

Picard and Guinan in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Measure of a Man.

We didn’t get a good sense of what any of the crew of La Sirena are up to in the trailer, really. All we can say is that there don’t appear to have been any legal consequences for Dr Jurati for murdering Bruce Maddox in Season 1 – perhaps the fact that she had been essentially brainwashed has meant that she won’t face prosecution for that act. We did see Jurati and the Borg Queen seemingly sharing a “moment” – could Dr Jurati’s love for all things synthetic give her a reason to feel sympathy for the captive Borg?

We saw very little of Soji, though she was present, and likewise not much from Elnor – though at one point he seemed to be in a medical facility possibly injured or sick. The green light of this scene could imply that the Borg are involved – perhaps the Borg Queen breaks out of her confinement, or perhaps Elnor was injured by the Borg somehow.

What has happened to Elnor?

The trailer seems to suggest an expanded role for Laris – one of Picard’s Romulan friends who stayed behind to look after the vineyard in Season 1. She spoke in voiceover at the beginning of the trailer and later appeared alongside Picard and Rios in what could be the past. It’s at least possible, then, that Laris will join Picard’s mission back in time.

At first I thought that an explosion and the collapse of a skyscraper was taking place in the future, but looking at that moment more carefully I think it’s actually something taking place in the 21st Century. Could that explosion mark the moment that everything changed? It could be that Picard and the crew have to prevent that from happening – or ensure that it does happen, which could lead to a dark, morally difficult storyline.

What is this explosion, and how does it connect to the story of the season?

Seven of Nine appeared – without her trademark Borg implants – along with Raffi. There wasn’t much of a hint at their relationship, but this is something that seems like it will be explored across the season, and I’m really quite excited to see how that comes across. They seemed to be having a disagreement when it came to driving a modern-day car, but that was played more as a comic moment than as a kind of dramatic fight between the pair.

And I think that’s all I have to say – at least for now. My head is already swimming with proto-theories, some of which may get the full write-up treatment in the weeks ahead. Despite feeling underwhelmed by the season’s premise, I’m still hopeful that Picard Season 2 will deliver enjoyment, entertainment, and drama. The underlying mystery of what happened to the timeline, what 21st Century event changed things for the worse, and what role Q played in all of that is interesting, and I’m curious to learn exactly what happened and why.

If I ultimately find Season 2 to be less enjoyable on the whole because of some of the things we’ve talked about today, at least I can look forward to Season 3! If Picard follows a similar path to Discovery then Season 3 will set aside much of what happened in Season 2 and tell a new self-contained story, so even in the worst case scenario there’s still much to be hopeful for when it comes to Star Trek: Picard.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world beginning in February 2022. Season 1 is available to stream now. 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.

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 – one year later

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.

The opening title card.

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.

Jean-Luc Picard.

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.

Moving the timeline forward beyond Nemesis was something I really wanted to see from Star Trek.

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.

The opening shot of the season.

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.

The crew of La Sirena at the end of Season 1.

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.

Elnor in Season 1. Recruiting him for the mission took up one episode.

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!

The super-synths were called off at the last moment.

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.

Hugh the Borg returned.

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 attack on Mars was a significant event in the years before Season 1 of Picard is set.

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!

Commodore Oh.

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.

Picard in the Season 1 premiere.

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.

Coppelius Station was the setting for the two-part finale.

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.

La Sirena.

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.

The surface of California… I mean Aia.

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.

Jean-Luc Picard.

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.

Dahj inspired Picard and gave him a cause to believe in.

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.

Data’s consciousness remained in the digital afterlife until Picard shut it down.

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.

Picard shut down the remaining part of Data permanently.

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.

Dr Jurati beams the crew of La Sirena aboard.

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.