“I remember you from tomorrow.”
For anyone who thinks that nostalgia’s not what it used to be, they could probably do with watching Star Trek: Picard, as it might just change their minds.
So far, Picard has managed to deftly walk the very fine line between being sheer continuity fan porn and discarding too much of its background in an attempt to try to attract new viewers without overwhelming them with a surfeit of Trek lore. All of the references to past events or characters – like Bruce Maddox, for example – have been strongly relevant to the story that they’re trying to tell, and they’ve all been explained within the narrative, as well as given context. As such, you don’t need to already know these things for the series to make sense.
However, there are also a few things sprinkled in here and there which will add to the experience if you’re a longtime follower of Star Trek, and still take nothing away from the casual viewer; the latest episode – entitled ‘The End Is The Beginning’ – is full of such lovely moments. For example, a brief recap of Picard’s major achievements – dealing with Q and the Borg, being Klingon Arbiter of Succession – is nice to have in there, not just as a reminder for fans, but it also helps emphasise his importance for everyone else.
There’s also a subtle nod where Picard briefly goes to sit in a Captain’s chair on a ship, and there’s a perfect beat where he pauses, and then moves past. It’s judged perfectly, and while it denies us what we fervently want to see, it also lets us remember that this isn’t The Next Generation, and he’s no longer in the same position he once was. In assembling a rather motley, ragtag crew, it’s taking us into new territory for Jean-Luc Picard, and also for Star Trek, as it’s all going on outside the safe confines of Starfleet for once.
Having spent so long slowly building up over the course of the first three episodes, however, it does feel as though the end of the episode is a moment which has been truly earnt, and that we’ve all been waiting patiently for. Even for non-devotees, there’s undeniably a palpable frisson when we get Picard delivering his infamous command of “Engage” as he heads back into deep space on a mission for the first time in almost a decade-and-a-half. The growing swell of the TNG theme caps the moment perfectly, and it heralds that the end of the episode really is the beginning, as a whole new chapter unfolds.
This is mirrored by the beginning of the episode being an end, as we flash back fourteen years, to the moment when Picard resigned from Starfleet, as his last desperate gamble to try and salvage his plan to rescue the Romulans after the supernova which threatened their very existence. It would take a true heart of stone not to feel that tangible thrill in seeing Picard in uniform once more – his Admiral’s one, to boot – along with his then-current first officer from the USS Verity, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), who’s in a very different place from when we see her now.
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Another lovely ‘Easter egg’ for aficionados is seeing Raffi’s home is located at Vasquez Rocks, which has been seen in Star Trek many times over the years, doubling for various alien locations (such as the time William Shatner threw a styrofoam rock at a man in a lizard suit); however, it’s the first occasion where it’s featured as itself, and is the perfect locale to reflect where Raffi’s at psychologically – remote, inhospitable and distant.
While Trek has addressed issues of addiction on a number of previous occasions, this is a much more starkly depicted portrayal of substance abuse, with drugs and borderline alcoholism forming part of Raffi’s current makeup. It not only shows just how far she’s fallen since being drummed out of Starfleet, but also the impact which Picard’s lack of involvement in her life afterwards had upon her downward spiral. Picard has taken great pains not to show him as an idealised paragon of virtue, but a flawed, vulnerable man, and is far better for it.
Despite her personal reservations, as well as her lingering bitterness and resentment towards ‘JL’, Raffi agrees to put Picard in touch with a pilot who has a ship – La Sirena – he can use for his quest. Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) is a little bit too thinly-drawn, and the performance delivered with rather broad brush strokes, in an attempt to portray him as a surly, cigar-chomping badass renegade type; it’s interesting, however, to see Cabrera get to show his acting chops by playing two lookalike Emergency Holograms – an English-accented Medical one, the other an Irish-brogued Navigational program.
Elsewhere, the mystery of the Romulans’ interest in ‘the Artifact’ – a deactivated Borg cube, entirely cut off from the Borg collective – continues to deepen, helped by the appearance of the Reclamation Project’s Executive Director, Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), himself a former Borg, first seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are more questions than answers here, as we don’t get to find out how Hugh has ended up aligning himself with the Romulans, and just what his true motivations are, so it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition is the introduction of a group of Romulan ‘XBs’ (or ‘ex-Borg’), apparently the only Romulans ever to have been assimilated, now struggling to come to terms with their enforced separation from the hive mind of the collective. One – Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky) – was the foremost expert on Romulan mythology, and it’s a fascinating touch to see how it relates to Soji (Isa Briones) and her deceased sister Dahj, hinting at the Romulans’ true motivation.
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Out of all the major Star Trek alien races, the Romulans are probably the ones most in need of some further depth and expansion. For too long, they’ve been treated solely as just ‘evil Vulcans’ or ‘not the Klingons’, so it’s nice to see them at the forefront in a meaningful way. It’s a shame Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady) are temporarily out of play; however, this might free up room for some much-needed focus on developing Narek (Harry Treadaway) and his sister (Peyton List).
Rightly at the centre of it all, Patrick Stewart is still utterly magnificent as Picard, bringing us new facets to a character we thought we knew inside and out. The visible shift we see in Picard through the episode as he gets nearer to returning to space is a delight to watch; it brings to mind how Larry Hagman played J.R. Ewing in TNT’s Dallas revival, starting out as a withdrawn, seemingly broken husk of a man, stuck in a retirement home, before returning to the height of his powers as his circumstances changed.
Now the pace is picking up, and the groundwork firmly laid in the first three episodes, we should start to see Star Trek: Picard moving from Impulse into Warp. We can only hope it manages to maintain its current momentum as we shift to the show’s next phase.