The Star Trek: Picard Series Premiere Is What It Looks Like When Star Trek Distrusts Its Institutions: Review

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BY January 24, 2020

On January 23, 2020, fans of Star Trek got what they wanted. We can revisit Jean-Luc Picard, a generation’s favorite captain of the Enterprise. However, reaction to the Star Trek: Picard series premiere was a bit mixed. Some people absolutely loved the slow-burn drama about Picard and the loss of Data. Others, however, felt that the Star Trek: Picard series premiere is another in a long line of new projects that lack the optimism that defines Star Trek.

With only a single episode released thus far, it’s a little too early to offer up any judgment either way. As an hour of television, the series premiere of Star Trek: Picard is somewhat muddled. It feels like a second season premiere for a series whose first season we didn’t get to see. There are some fine moments of nostalgia, but this does not feel like the same Star Trek universe we last saw Picard in. Though, I think this is deliberate.

The Fundamental Point of Star Trek

Star Trek Picard Series Premiere San Francisco Image via screengrab

In our essay about the divide between Star Wars and Star Trek, I pointed out that it’s a difference of philosophy. Star Wars is all about how institutions and systems fail us. Star Trek is all about how, with the right kind of morality, we can build the perfect system. The Star Trek: Picard series premiere shows us a world, set in the prime timeline no less, where that faith the perfect system shatters.

Picard represents the moral ideal of Starfleet: a sense of exploration, compassion, and rising above feelings of fear and vengeance. Meanwhile, the Starfleet we return to has retreated from the galaxy in fear after the destruction of the Romulan home world and an attack on their Mars colony by synthetic life forms. In a way, it’s the first truly post-9/11 Star Trek story, reflecting the society America became in the wake of that terror attack that kicked off a war that still hasn’t ended two decades later.

The Two Stories In the Picard Series Premiere

Star Trek Picard Series Premiere Picard and Dahj Image via CBS All Access

The source of some of the discordance in the Picard series premiere is that the episode tries to tell two stories. The first is about Picard himself. After the attack on Mars and Starfleet’s decision to turn its back on the Romulans, Picard resigns. He goes back to his family’s vineyard, where he was in the alternate future of The Next Generation’s series finale. This story is about how Picard stops “nursing” his “offended dignity” and gets back into the fight.

The second story is about Isa Briones Dahj. She is a mysterious girl with a secret, one so deadly that assassins chase her. This story is the inciting incident of the Star Trek: Picard series premiere. It also appears that it will drive this first season, putting Picard at odds with Starfleet in a way he’s never been before. We won’t spoil the reveals made about this character in the episode. However, she definitely has the potential to completely break both Starfleet and the character of Picard himself.

Star Trek: Picard Has to Be About Finding Hope In a Hopeless World

Star Trek Picard Series Premiere Picard Being Fly Image via CBS All Access

At its best, Star Trek has offered us an optimistic reflection of our world. In the tumult of the 1960s, it used sci-fi allegory to address issues that polite society didn’t discuss. The Next Generation offered a vision of hope in the already-hopeful 1990s. However, today’s world doesn’t give us much hope about anything. From rank dishonesty and partisanship ruining government’s ability to address problems to the looming climate crisis, there is a lot to be scared of. Hopefully the Star Trek: Picard will use the framing of its series premiere to establish a parallel between our world and its fictional one. If we’re really lucky, Michael Chabon and the rest of the storytellers will be able to tell a tale about how nothing is ever truly hopeless. At worst, this will be a series that reunites us with beloved characters with a good story attached.

The Star Trek legacy is a difficult one to live up to. Yet, if any of the recent series can do it, Star Trek: Picard seems to be the one that will, though this may not be evident from the premiere alone.

What did you think of the first episode? Tell us your thoughts, reviews, and theories about if it feels like Star Trek in the comments below.

Featured image via CBS All Access

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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.

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