“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
– Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet, 23rd February 2015
So, here we are at the end of the first season of Star Trek: Picard. The final episode is demonstrative of all of the strengths and weaknesses on display during this debut run. Some poor character work, a mess of differing tones, deus ex machina writing, lazy fan service, and an uncertainty as to what the show really wants to be. Balanced against that is a wonderful lead performance, a beautiful (if somewhat frustrating) final act, and a closing shot that will make most fans ache for the arrival of season 2.
Following on from Part One, the race is on to stop the activation of a beacon that will summon the unseen (and, as it turns out, never seen) defenders of the synthetics. Jurati manages to spring Picard from his imprisonment, and they return to La Sirena to attempt to stall the Romulan fleet. Narek is now everyone’s best friend, and… well, let’s just say on a personal note, the daily outdoor exercise allowed each day during the current UK lockdown was taken about halfway through this episode. The first half is all about protecting those we don’t really care about from those we’ve never seen, with the addition of lazy plot devices and speechifying that changes even the hardest heart in a moment. Jean-Luc sacrifices himself, effectively, to get a message to Soji, in a move reminiscent of Leia doing the same to reach Ben in The Rise of Skywalker.
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It is weak storytelling, which recalls the repeated flaws in the writing of current overseer of the Trek universe, Alex Kurtzman. Although not credited on this script, it brings to mind so many of his scripts with Roberto Orci where long meaningless speeches substituted for character development or the exploration of decision making, and any holes in the plot or inconveniences were just waved away. To be clear, the first half of this episode is some of the weakest Star Trek since the relaunch.
The final act deals, however, with a deceased Jean-Luc meeting the stored consciousness of Data – in what is described as a quantum simulation – while Starfleet arrives, led by William Riker (for some reason), to discourage the Romulans from taking things any further. Though this is, again, somewhat lazy, and leads to the question: who is all this for? It is effective. Why Will would be leading the fleet is anyone’s guess, beyond the fact that it is an opportunity for fans to bask in the reflected glory of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s glorious history; something relatively meaningless to the newcomer. That said, as a long-time fan of that show, it was impossible not to enjoy the exchanges of Frakes and Stewart, and their 33 year shared history and friendship informed a lovely scene.
As for the Picard-Data scene. It is beautiful, and really brought to mind Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet on the transience of existence. Data can now leave on his terms – switched off by Jean-Luc – while he explains that the very essence of human life is in its fleeting nature. In his final scene Pinocchio has become a real boy. Picard is then put in a synthetic body in possibly the most signposted plot development in Star Trek history, and we’re ready to move on to season 2.
Such a slow and uneven season necessitated the plot being wrapped up at a rather indecent speed, with where we leave everyone seemingly just arrived at. Seven is implied to be in a relationship with the Raffi plot device, whilst Jurati is now 100% off the hook for murder, and Jean-Luc has a body identical to the old one, with the exact same life span (that they have just arrived at by a guess, it seems). In the key moments, the episode is beautiful and moving, with subtle call backs like ‘Blue Skies’ being genuinely moving, and the show reaching for the wider themes that Star Trek has always done so well. At its worst, it is just a series of things that just happen, seemingly at their own pace, with little explanation beyond “it just does, okay?”.
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Season One of Star Trek: Picard remains a qualified success, with a wonderful lead character portrayed with ever greater shades of grey, and with the plot allowing for that character to move on and to develop. The risk with all new Star Trek is that is disappears down the twin rabbit holes of mystery box storytelling – effectively just one long round of delayed gratification – and nostalgic call-backs. Seeing Riker was great, but although a Next Generation reunion may be what some fans want, it certainly isn’t what the property needs.
In its final moments, as our slowly gelling crew head off into the unknown, with a subtly refreshed Picard intoning “Engage”, it is difficult not to look forward to where we might go next. With the emotional stakes of this season really only existing as book-ends to a lot of busy work, however, it does feel like we just watched a ten hour long pilot. The lack of a utopic vision is fine, even welcome, but post-2017 Star Trek still needs to establish what it wants to be. Though stronger than Discovery, Star Trek: Picard is only part way there at this point.