The Picard Season 1 Finale Is A Big, Beautiful Mess, but It’s Star Trek In The End: Review
We live in a remarkable age where beloved stories and characters are not allowed to come to an end. Storytellers keep going back to the same wells, bringing back old characters or rebooting them for a new generation. The season 1 finale of Picard wraps up a show that tried to do both at the same time, a very risky proposition.
What makes it risky, as fans of other returned franchises from The X-Files to Heroes to Trek’s ever-present rival Star Wars know, is that they don’t really want new stories. Sure, they like the idea of it. Whenever characters ride off into the proverbial sunset, they stay alive in our minds. Either the mystery of what happens after or our own fanfiction version of the story is more satisfying than an actual story can ever be. Put another way, these stories are almost certainly doomed to fail.
The CBS All Access Star Trek series all feel the brunt of that disappointment. “It doesn’t feel like Star Trek,” they’ll say. Arguably, part of the reason Star Trek disappeared from screens in the first place was that its audience wasn’t in the right place for its philosophy. The stories told under the Trek banner on screens big and small reflect a world that doesn’t trust its institutions. And Star Trek is all about building the perfect institution.
The season 1 finale of Picard delivers on the Star Trek philosophy in a way that the other series have failed to do. (Though, that’s not fair because Picard has former Trek actors, returning as beloved characters.) Still, it took a long, road to get there.
The Storytellers Struggled With the Vocabulary of Star Trek
Personally, I enjoyed Picard. I never begrudge one more shot with a beloved character or franchise. Also, showrunner Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers and a fellow University of Pittsburgh alum. Yet, looking at the series objectively, Chabon and his fellow writers struggled to tell a Star Trek story. The tonal shift is drastic from how we usually see these characters. It’s like if they reunited all six original Avengers for a movie, but it had the look and feel of a Fast and Furious film. There are areas of overlap, but things just feel wrong.
One problem, common sometimes with literary-minded writers, is that the audience never gets to love the characters as much as the writers do. Star Trek is complex but also simple in places. There is a lot of high-concept stuff to wrap your head around, so keeping characters easy-to-read is crucial. Picard is full of complex, damaged characters who we could grow to love. But we only ever care about them via their relationship to Jean-Luc Picard. We never get the chance to see for ourselves, what he sees in them.
Also, this version of the Star Trek world doesn’t fit with the world we saw peripherally in the shows. For example, Picard charters a private ship using money, despite the fact that the Federation stopped using money centuries ago. Broken characters in a perfect world or perfect characters in a broken one can still feel like Star Trek. Both at the same time, however, can deliver a different narrative experience than fans will want. Yet, all this aside, the writers delivered an incredible finale for the season. In fact, if we could let our favorites go, this might have been the perfect ending for our beloved captain.
Spoilers for Picard through the season 1 finale below.
The Season 1 Finale of Picard Was a Perfect Star Trek Episode
Thoughts on all of season 1 aside, the Picard finale was actually a perfect episode of Star Trek. There was a prison break, a caper, some nonsense science trickery, a galactic threat, and an emotional appeal to the better nature of humanity. In the end, the system worked. Embodied by Ryker, in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship this time, moral values and a respect for law prevented a massive loss of blood, treasure, and warp cores. Everyone in the Federation, not just the deep cover Romulan agent, dismissed Picard throughout the season. However, his official request for diplomatic relations with the planet of synthetic life forms put the mighty weight of Starfleet at his back.
What follows the mid-episode resolution, however, is an incredibly moving death scene for Picard. Now, we know that Picard will be back for a second season, under the auspices of former Enterprise producer and 12 Monkeys series co-creator Terry Matalas. We know that Picard won’t stay dead. Yet, he gives his life for the “children” of Brent Spiner’s Data. Then, we get a very touching scene that serves as a capstone of the Picard and Data relationship. Data, the synthetic who wanted nothing more than to be human, chooses to die rather than live on in a hard drive.
Then, in the end, thanks to more sci-fi magic, Picard lives again in a synthetic body that is also somehow just like his natural one. He neither has “superpowers,” nor will he be immortal. He just gets a little more time for a few more adventures with his friends. The perfect Star Trek ending.
Image via CBS All Access
What’s Next for Picard?
Matalas already started working on the next season of Picard. Michael Chabon left the show to make his comics-inspired The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay series. CBS pulled Matalas as showrunner for the fourth season of MacGyver so he could start on Picard right away. As wonderful as Chabon is (and the story he and his writers told), this is a great move for the series. First, 12 Monkeys is easily one of the best sci-fi series of the past 20 years, if not ever. Second, he worked on Voyager and Enterprise, which was a great series with a terrible, terrible theme song. Picard is in safe hands. Chabon will still write on the show, so his unique approach to Trek will be there as well. In a way, season 1 of Picard was like a ten-hour-long pilot episode.
If Matalas approaches Picard in the way he did 12 Monkeys, he can pull off telling a season-long story with discrete adventures in each episode. The reticence organics have about synthetic life will likely play a role. Yet, Picard and his new crew are off to do some “wandering,” which means we might go boldly where no one has gone before. The show will certainly retain its adult qualities, but we’ll at least start out with a much more hopeful main character than we did this time around. The season 1 finale would have been a fitting end for Jean-Luc Picard. Yet, instead, it might just be the beginning of something incredible. The last time Patrick Stewart and company led a Star Trek series, it spawned a new universe. Even more importantly, the seemingly antiquated values of Star Trek were made relevant for the next generation.
What did you think of the Picard season 1 finale? Did it feel like Star Trek to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured image via CBS All Access
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.