After 10 episodes (and a fair bit of upheaval in the real world) Star Trek: Picard’s first season has come to an end, and after an initial three episodes that really appealed to me, I think it’s fair to say my opinion of the show has become more mixed in the weeks since.
Sure, there have been bits I liked – the return of Jonathan Frakes’ Riker and Marina Sirtis’ Troi and Santiago Cabrera’s Greek Chorus of holograms among them – but overall the series has felt a little too much like generic sci-fi with a distinctly non-Star Trek glum tone, accompanied by an unpleasant habit of cheerfully killing characters without much fanfare.
Gone was Star Trek’s traditional optimism, replaced with an almost amusing bleakness. The Next Generation and Voyager characters like Hugh, Icheb and Bruce Maddox were summarily murdered after brief returns alongside countless helpless Borg, while fan-favourite Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan, below) was presented as a depressed, hard-drinking vigilante, bearing little resemblance to the character she was before.
I almost laughed when the series concluded with Picard essentially euthanising Brent Spiner’s Data, nearly the perfect metaphor for this series’ habit of lovingly referencing old Easter Eggs then shooting them in the head (that I didn’t laugh was down to Spiner and Stewart’s great performances).
Everywhere Picard went, it felt like there was an alien or Starfleet official telling him to “F**k off!”. In fact, the amount of swearing (especially in the finale) is such that we must marvel at the self-control of The Next Generation’s crew, who didn’t offer the mildest of sailor talk when they were being constantly attacked, turned into Borg or teleported all over the galaxy.
Still, a darker Star Trek in of itself isn’t necessarily a bad idea – but when combined with a labyrinthine plot filled with Romulan prophecies, synthetic planets, the return of Data (wait, why did Soji and Dahj look like that painting again?) the resulting mix often fell flat.
At times, it sometimes felt less like we were exploring Picard himself and more like we were watching a generic Star Trek plot that someone had bolted Patrick Stewart onto later in the day. An odd experience when the show is literally named after the title character.
So what’s to be done for the already-confirmed season two? Well, there are definitely green shoots of hope. As I wrote a few weeks ago, an episode where a returning Riker and Troi challenged Picard on his weaknesses was a series highlight, managing to present a sympathetic portrait of two beloved characters while adding new shading from a family tragedy.
Going forward, I’d love to see more of what The Next Generation crew have been up to in their years offscreen, and not just in search of bland fan service. Examining how these principled, competent officers are navigating the more complex universe of Picard is a fascinating avenue to explore, while also offering a greater depth of feeling than just having Picard’s new crew (who we’ve known for all of a few episodes) cry over how much he meant to them, as they do in the season one finale.
Hopefully we can also leave behind the worlds of Romulan spies and snotty androids to explore some other corners of the galaxy, perhaps looking more closely at how Starfleet operates in this further future. Or, alternatively, the series could explore something new entirely, not just relying on familiar aliens and old storylines.
Personally? I think showrunner Michael Chabon had the best version of Picard at his fingertips the whole time…
But whatever they do end up going for, I have plenty of hope for Picard’s future, for one simple reason – they have Patrick Stewart. No matter what nonsense was going on around him, Stewart’s performance has stayed predictably stellar throughout, often raising the level of the material he’s working by virtue of his mere presence.
As long as Picard has Picard, the possibilities are endless to make a great show going forward. Fingers crossed they make it so.
All episodes of Picard are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video