SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers from Star Trek: Picard S01E01
An admiral comes out of retirement
Eighteen years after his last appearance in a Starfleet uniform, Patrick Stewart returned to the screen this week as (retired) Admiral Jean-Luc Picard in the new CBS All-Access show Star Trek: Picard.
The series, nearly two years in the making, is set — coincidentally — 18 years after the events of the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Picard, who has since ascended to Starfleet Admiralship and subsequently retired under mysterious circumstances, lives on his vineyard in France, seemingly attempting to hide from the world and live a private life.
Several Trek-universe characters were long-rumored and later confirmed to make appearances in the new series, which has already been renewed for a second season. Among the guest star list are Brent Spiner (Lt. Cmdr. Data; The Next Generation), Jonathan Frakes (First Officer William Riker; TNG), Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi; TNG), Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine; Voyager) and Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh; TNG).
First episode not short on nostalgia
The series opens with a shot of Picard and Data playing poker aboard the old Enterprise-D, which was destroyed in Star Trek: Generations. A nice touch was the writers’ decision to include Bing Crosby’s “Blue Skies” in the opening sequence, the song Data sings at the end of Nemesis.
The conversation between the two characters is casual and reminiscent of The Next Generation episodes of old — although both characters look significantly older. The scene is soon revealed to be a dream, however, as it begins to break down when Picard looks out the window and remarks that the Enterprise wasn’t supposed to be on course for Mars.
The planet is almost immediately engulfed in explosions and the camera pans to Data’s stoic face which, somehow, has a slight look of evil to it.
Picard wakes up back at his vineyard, surrounded by a staff helping tend the grounds while the former Admiral wastes away in his old age. A TV (or whatever the galaxy-wide equivalent is) crew arrives at Picard’s home to interview him on the 10th anniversary of the explosion of the Romulan sun and the failed evacuation of Romulus.
The conversation turns sour, however, when the news reporter brings up Picard’s retirement from Starfleet — a topic she previously promised to avoid, according to one of Picard’s caretakers.
But this is when we see Jean-Luc Picard return to life. The passionate, righteous captain shows his true form once again as he angrily explains to the camera why he left Starfleet — because the leadership pulled out of the evacuation of Romulus, resulting in thousands of deaths, after synthetic life forms launched a terrorist attack on Mars.
“It wasn’t Starfleet anymore,” he says through gritted teeth.
For every emotional moment in the first episode of Picard — and the writers did not go light on those — this was the one that inspired the most dramatic reaction. It’s plain to see the old captain of the Enterprise is still within the decrepit old man we meet at the beginning of the episode and does a good job of setting a tone for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, we meet Dahj, an apparent human female whose boyfriend is killed by assassins in her apartment. When the attackers begin to interrogate Dahj, she “activates” and goes on a killing spree of her own — all with a bag over her head.
After the carnage, she sees a vision of Picard and immediately begins a search for him, eventually ending up at his vineyard, where the two share a vague sense of familiarity.
Here, we see another side of the former Enterprise captain we came to know and love three decades ago. He takes in a young, confused Dahj, who doesn’t understand anything that’s just happened, and offers her a bed for the night so she can regroup. For all of the advice Deanna Troi doled out in The Next Generation, Picard was often the ship’s second counselor — if not its most effective one.
In the morning, however, Dahj is gone. With no way to trace her whereabouts, Picard heads to the San Fransisco Bay Area, the location of Starfleet headquarters, determined to follow up on a hunch.
There, in the archives, he discovers why Dahj felt so familiar. He uncovers a 30-year-old painting of Data’s — one titled simply “Daughter” that appears to depict the young woman — and puts two and two together.
Shorly after, Dahj tracks Picard to Starfleet HQ, although she has no idea how she did it. Tracking a former admiral requires a security clearance, after all. Picard sits her down and details his latest revelation.
Dahj is an android and the “daughter” of Lt. Cmdr. Data. Although she initially resists the explanation for her newfound abilities, Dahj begins to come around to the idea when she announces to Picard that more assassins have found them.
The assassins, only three of which showed up in her apartment days earlier, came in greater numbers this time around. They are revealed to be Romulan after one loses a helmet in the ensuing fight.
Using her superhuman abilities, she is able to take down most of them, before her last defeated enemy spits acid (acidic blood?) on her and the gun she has picked up, causing it to overload and explode — presumably killing Dahj and knocking Picard, who has been watching the action close by, unconscious.
Two questions here, which will hopefully be answered later: 1) Why would a Romulan be able to spit acid, let alone enough to begin to eat away at Dahj’s skin and eat through the military-grade metal of a gun? 2) How can an Android have non-synthetic skin that feels pain like a biological being?
Lucky for us, after waking up back home in France, Picard immediately travels to the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, Japan, in search of the answer to our latter question. He meets Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), one of the few remaining Starfleet scientists in the Synthetic Research Division, which has shriveled since the ban on synthetic life forms in the wake of the Mars attack.
Jurati brings us another TNG callback — a reference to Dr. Bruce Maddox, who showed a keen interest in Data and his positronic net in the episode “Measure of a Man.” After Picard shows Jurati a necklace worn by Dahj, the pair surmise she was created by Maddox as a tribute to Data. In a twist, however, Jurati also reveals Dahj was only part of a pair.
We meet her “twin,” who appears to be a counselor aboard an old Borg cube now retrofitted to be something called the “Romulan Reclamation Site.”
Picard will obviously continue the TNG theme of Romulan and Borg enemies, but the first episode offers a slick modernization of the story. It’s different from Star Trek‘s other new show, Discovery, in its cinematography and pacing, but not unlike the series in revamped effects and highly emotional storytelling.
For as many pilot episodes that struggle to find their footing these days, Picard does an excellent job of taking the old elements fans cherish and blending them with a strong statement of “things are a lot darker now.” If what we’ve seen from the first episode and trailers from this new series, the pilot did a good job of setting a tone for what’s to come.
We’ll find out for sure, however, with next week’s episode “Maps and Legends.”
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