*****BORG CUBE-SIZED SPOILERS!!*****
I would’ve preferred to find some way of discussing the new CBS All Access series’ “Star Trek: Picard” in depth without going into spoilers, but given the number of revelations in the first hour alone, I’ve decided that’s more or less impossible, so I’m going to go full steam ahead and discuss the first hour with spoilers. I’m also going to cite some of the many callbacks to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG), as well as my own feelings on this new Star Trek series. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, dear and valued reader…
Right off, the series begins with what was the biggest spoiler revealed at last summer’s San Diego Comic Con… the revelation that Commander Data (Brent Spiner) makes a cameo in the series. Of course, Data sacrificed himself at the end of “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002), so this Data is part of a series of dreams as seen within the mind of their dreamer, a ninety-something Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). “Remembrance” opens aboard the USS Enterprise-D, in the ship’s “Ten Forward” lounge, with Data and Picard playing a game of poker (TNG’s “All Good Things” ended the series with Picard finally sitting in on his officer’s weekly poker game). The scene is like an exchange straight out of TNG, with Picard remarking how the android Data has a tell when he’s bluffing. A wistful Picard remarks, “I don’t want the game to end.”
Suddenly, violently, this pleasant dream turns into a nightmare, with the planet Mars coming into view in the window. Mars is being bombarded in a ruthless, all-out assault by revolting Synth workers (“Synths” are androids, much like the late Commander Data) in an attack seen in the recent Short Trek “Children of Mars.” This attack led to ban on production of any/all Synthetic life forms. Picard awakens violently at the memory, and walks to the window of his bedroom at his home, the Chateau Picard, in La Barre, France. The now-retired Picard spends his retirement days tending the vineyards, and writing books on history which, as he says, “No one reads.”
Meanwhile, in late 24th century Boston, a young woman named Daj (Isa Briones) is celebrating her acceptance to a fellowship at the prestigious “Daystrom Institute” in Okinawa (the Daystrom Institute is an oft-referenced Star Trek answer to MIT or Caltech). She is about to enjoy a drink with her kindly alien boyfriend when mysterious disguised assassins beam into her apartment and instantly kill the young man, then attempt to abduct her as well. Their attempt at abduction ‘activates’ her and she begins involuntarily fighting back with advanced combat techniques and inhumanly-fast reflexes, killing her would-be abductor/assassins in short order. The confused, terrified young woman flees the apartment…
Meanwhile, Picard is putting on a suit and tie to prepare for a rare media interview (so nice to see that 24th century humans no longer dress like 1980s sofas). In addition to Picard’s loyal pit bull “Number One”, we see two kindly Romulan caretakers (Romulans are the former enemies of the Federation who lost their homeward in 2009’s “Star Trek”) employed at Picard’s chateau, Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane). The two are well acquainted with Jean-Luc’s habits and have, by inference, served in his employ for a long while. Picard, already regretting his decision to give the interview, begins. The interview was supposed to be about the anniversary of the Romulan supernova, but it soon turns controversial as the journalist (Merrin Dungey) asks very uncomfortable questions, such as Picard’s controversial decision to pool Starfleet’s limited resources (after the Mars’ shipyard attacks alluded to earlier) to help Romulan refugees resettle into the Federation. Picard insists his decision to help the Romulans despite the cost in resources was morally correct, since there were lives at stake. The journalist adds, “Romulan lives”, to which Picard corrects, “No...lives.” Things get even testier when she brings up the ban on synthetic life forms such as his late friend Commander Data, which Picard still insists was an overreaction. Pressed as to why he resigned from Starfleet, Picard shouts angrily, “Because it was no longer Starfleet.” The interview is abruptly terminated, and a disgusted Picard leaves his chair. This scene crackles with the kind of dramatic electricity we’ve seen in Next Gen episodes such as “Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead.”
Meanwhile, Daj has made her way to Paris, where she passes Picard’s tense interview playing on a monitor. The visual image of Picard rekindles a feeling in the young woman that she experienced earlier, the instinct that first drove her to seek him out…like a deep-seated, almost genetic memory of the man. She’s never met Picard, but her vision compels her to seek him out.
Picard is mulling over his disastrous interview with his “Number One”, when he sees Daj come into the vineyard. He gets up and notices that the scared young woman is injured. He instantly takes her in, not knowing or particularly caring if she’s insane or delusional; as far as Picard is concerned, the young woman is troubled and has sought out his help; that’s all that matters. It’s the same guiding philosophy that drove him to help the Romulan refugees at all costs. Laris treats Daj’s wound with a dermal regenerator. Later, over a cup of Earl Grey (Picard’s universal remedy), the two talk and she discusses her vision of him. Picard isn’t sure why, but he feels immediately protective of the young stranger. Over their tea, she gives Picard a pendant she’s wearing…with a curious dual-oval design. Laris and Zhaban prepare a room for Daj to sleep. For now, she has sanctuary.
Picard once again has a dream where he sees his former android friend Data. This time, Data is near the vineyard painting a cloaked figure looking out into an ocean with a stormy sky overhead. Data turns and offers the brush to his former captain, telling him to finish the painting. Picard meekly offers, “I don’t know how,” to which Data replies, “That’s not true, sir.”
Picard then awakens, once again in his bedroom, clearly haunted by both his past and the meaning behind Daj. He looks at his wall and sees the very painting in his dream; a painting that Data had made for him over 30 years ago aboard the Enterprise. Laris and Zhaban tell the awakened Picard that Daj slipped away around 5 am, just before they awoke. Meanwhile, on the streets trying to evade pursuit, Daj receives a call from her mother (Sumalee Montano) who tells her to return to Picard’s vineyard. Daj stops…and realizes that she never told her mother she was at Chateau Picard. Disturbed, Daj nevertheless heeds her mother’s advice to seek out Picard again at all costs, insisting that he is the only one who can protect her. Daj feels that something is amiss, but good advice is good advice, and she uses all sorts of super-tracking software to locate Jean-Luc…
The next day, Picard takes a trip to the vast Starfleet Archives at San Francisco (the exterior of the building is actually the Anaheim Convention Center’s Arena auditorium). We see the iconic Golden Gate bridge covered end-to-end in solar paneling (oh, if only….) and some interesting Star Trek-style architecture that is a mix of both old and (very) new. The view reminds me of the early scenes of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979) which featured Admiral Kirk riding a futuristic ‘air tram’ into Starfleet Headquarters.
Once inside the archive, Picard is met by the holographic “Index” (Maya Eshet), who only walks with Picard until he reaches a privacy point, where she vanishes until called upon again. It’s a fascinating little moment that allows the viewer to infer that the holographic technology of Star Trek: Voyager’s Emergency Medical Holographic Doctor” (Robert Picardo) is in wide use throughout the Federation now. Just as the older Star Trek series championed current voice-interface technology decades before it came into common use (Siri, Alexa), newer Star Treks seems to be pointing the way towards widespread holographic interfaces. Picard’s reason for being at the archive is to understand the meaning of Data’s paining, remembering that he’d made two such paintings, the one at Chateau Picard and the other which was recovered from the Enterprise-E.
Picard looks inside of a sealed vault at his many artifacts from his service in Starfleet; miniatures of his various starships (the Stargazer, the Enterprises D and E, and even his ‘yacht’ seen in “Insurrection”), as well as a banner made by the Enterprise-D’s school children in celebration of “Captain Picard Day”… a ritual he loathed at the time, but seems to have made peace with now. This Picard is more thoughtful and reflective than the Picard we knew 20 years before (as someone getting up in years myself, I very much relate to this more pensive version of the character). He opens a hermetically-sealed container of Data’s painting which keeps contaminants (including air) from degrading its quality. This version of the illustration shows the hooded figure on the oceanside cliff turned around…it’s, of course, the face of Daj, painted years before the young woman was ever born (!). Picard calls up the holographic Index, and asks for details about the painting. Index replies that the paining was made by Commander Data, and was titled, “Daughter.” We know that Data had a created a short-lived android daughter named Lal back during his service on the Enterprise-D, but she didn’t survive. Somehow, someway, he succeeded…after his death.
As Picard exits the Archive building, he is met by Daj in front of Starfleet Headquarters (the Anaheim Convention Center itself, right across from Disneyland…). Reunited, he vows to do his best to protect the young woman, whom he now realizes may be a synthetic. Daj recoils at the thought of being a ‘soulless murdering machine’ but Picard points out that Data was also synthetic, yet gave his own life saving Picard’s. Daj insists she was born in Seattle, her father was a botanist, and that she has full memories of her childhood. Picard asks that she look deeply inside of herself to discover who she truly is. He believes her to be a unique individual.
Before long, several more disguised assassins beam to their location. Daj, instantly realizing their danger, grabs Picard by the arm and takes him up a flight of stairs. There is an interesting moment where Picard shows his age, as he struggles, winded, to catch up with the young woman (unlike his TNG-era self, who would’ve run up the steps with ease). As a man getting up in years myself, I very much appreciated that we see Picard not as a superhero, but as a realistically aging man. Kudos to Sir Patrick Stewart for eschewing the kind of vanity that a less secure actor might’ve otherwise felt about doing this scene.
The assassins are clearly interested only in Daj, as they single-mindedly chase her up to the rooftop, where she does inhuman leaps, and extreme hand-to-hand combat, easily besting her attackers, who (through a cracked helmet) are revealed to be Romulan. She hurls a knife into the chest of her last attacker, but not before he spits some sort of bloodied, acidic suicide capsule onto her and her newly acquired phaser rifle. The acid burns away her face and causes the weapon’s power cells to explode. Watching helplessly, Jean-Luc screams in rage as Daj is killed right before his eyes. He is blown back by the blast, and loses consciousness.
Awakening at Chateau Picard, Jean-Luc is being nursed back to health by his loyal friends Laris and Zhaban, whom he assures that he is alright. Realizing that the late Daj was some kind of biological synthetic, Picard takes a trip to Okinawa, Japan…home of the revered “Daystrom Institute” alluded to earlier.
The Daystrom Institute used to produce synthetics for labor at the Utopia Planitia shipyards at Mars before they were banned. Picard is met by Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill of “American Horror Story”), who used to work on creating Synths, and whose entire synthetics division is, as Picard observes, “a ghost town.” The research into artificial life can only be done theoretically and virtually in simulations, but functional prototypes are no longer allowed within the Federation.
Picard asks Dr. Jurati if it’s possible to create a biological synthetic life form. She laughs it off, until she realizes he is dead serious. Picard shows her the dual-oval pendant worn by Daj, and Jurati recognizes it as a symbol… a symbol denoting research done by Dr. Bruce Maddox (seen in the TNG episode, “The Measure of a Man”). Maddox had a theory with which he could use a single neuron from a postitronic android brain (like Data’s) to create a pair of grown biological synthetics from the original android’s positronic matrix. This implies that Daj was one of two biological synthetics. Picard realizes he has to find Daj’s sister… wherever she may be.
Aboard a large (apparent) space station designated the “Romulan Reclamation Site”, we see Daj’s doppelgänger, Soji, who wears the same necklace worn by her late sister… the dual-oval pendant. Soji is talking to a troubled young Romulan named Narek (Harry Treadaway), who doesn’t wish to burden Soji with his issues. She volunteers to listen, and as they talk, we see the camera pulls back, revealing the “Romulan Reclamation Site” to be a recovered Borg cube…being repaired and used by the Romulans for an as-yet unknown purpose. To be continued…
It’s the Little Things…
While “Star Trek: Picard” has many callbacks to TNG lore, it is not awash in it. It uses it merely as a launchpad. The era of TNG is seen in “Picard” as sort of a golden age…akin to the romanticized view of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s early “Camelot”… an era of new technologies and unbridled optimism where it felt like people could do almost anything. This romanticized view is revisited in “Picard” through a number of artifacts, references and little Easter Eggs, some of which I had the privilege of seeing in person this past summer at the “First Duty Starfleet Museum”, which toured both in San Diego and Las Vegas…
“I Can (almost) See Starfleet Headquarters From My House…”
One Minor Nit…
Summing It Up.
Created by Alex Kurtzman, Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman, with a script credited to James Duff and elegantly directed with feature-film quality by the very talented Hannale Culpepper, the opener of “Star Trek: Picard” knocks it out of the park in nearly every way. Unlike the troubled first season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Star Trek: Picard” is bold and confident in both its vision and talent reserve. Directly building off of the established lore of TNG as well as “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002) and “Star Trek” (2009), this is a forward-moving Star Trek…the first non-prequel Star Trek series since “Star Trek: Voyager” went off the air back in 2001 (!). Those expecting this to be a “Full House”-style TNG reunion might be disappointed, until they realize that what this new series is attempting is equally compelling. This isn’t the story of a band of heroes in their youthful prime boldly going where no one has gone before. This is the tale of a lone hero, well into his twilight years, reflecting back on a life well-lived, yet haunted by memories of things and events that prevent him from moving forward. As Picard states, “All these years writing books that no one reads. I wasn’t living, I was waiting to die.” Jean-Luc Picard returns, not as a stalwart action figure, but as a real flesh and blood human…fallible and mortal. The dream-state of the late 24th century Federation is still there as well, but in keeping with Star Trek’s tradition of reflecting our current western civilization, it’s got a corruptive cancer eating away at its heart. Rather than expanding outward as it did during the ‘golden age’ of TNG, the Federation of “Picard” has become withdrawn, xenophobic and fearful (that sounds all-too familiar to anyone living in the US or the UK right about now). But even when utopia is on the ropes, Jean-Luc Picard isn’t willing to throw in the towel just yet. “Star Trek: Picard” reminds us that sometimes all it takes is one person (no matter their age) to inspire and motivate others into action yet again. Despite the current state of its Federation, “Star Trek: Picard” still manages to evoke that old Star Trek optimism, at a divisive time when we need it most…
Images: CBSAllAccess Trekcore.com