Star Trek: Picard–Series finds smart balance of the old and new with Old Man Picard

Review by C.J. Bunce

Now that everyone has seen it who likely was going to watch CBS All Access’s next Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek: Picard, it’s time to delve into the series.  If you haven’t yet, take advantage of the free CBS All Access offer while you can.  Series star Patrick Stewart has said he decided to bring his character back to the screen because of the role he performed for even more years than Picard–Charles Xavier in the X-Men series–specifically because of the strong finish he was able to give the character in James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated finale Logan, possibly Stewart’s strongest performance in his film and TV career opposite Old Man Logan as Old Man Charles.  Stewart succeeded, as Star Trek: Picard, already expecting at least another season, showcases the beloved character as Old Man Picard and wraps far better fans’ last meeting with not only Picard, but Data, Riker, and Troi, too.  And surprisingly it does that for Star Trek Voyager, specifically for Jeri Ryan′s Seven of Nine, who also had a rather anticlimactic finale in the last episode of that series.  Her new take is very different from before, but still lots of fun.

Star Trek Voyager is my own favorite Star Trek series, and like that show, this first season of Star Trek: Picard is among the best of all the freshman seasons of the franchise.  It also focuses on my favorite villains of the franchise, the Romulans, and introduces seven compelling new Romulans into the mix, the best of these the rather Irish Romulan ex-Tal Shiar agent Laris, played by Orla Brady (The Foreigner, Doctor Who, Fringe), and Narissa, a shifty, badass member of a new sect of Romulans, played by Peyton List (Charmed, Frequency, The Flash).  But matching the charismatic Stewart is the female co-star of the series, Isa Briones (American Crime Story), who plays three key characters, each sharply unique and intriguing.  In fact, hot on her heels in compelling performance and character development is another actor getting the Orphan Black multiple role treatment: Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, Merlin) who portrays Cristóbal Rios, a captain of the vessel La Sirena, and a motley myriad of holograms that make up his crew.

Rounding out the cast from the past is Jonathan Del Arco, re-creating one of the series’ best guest characters, Hugh.  He’ll be many fans’ favorite character of the season.  Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner all get to shine with clever dialogue and appropriate next phases for their characters.  We even get some good throwbacks to the NextGen two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds” and an expansion of the franchise’s cybernetic characters, The Borg.  Unfortunately another beloved character from Star Trek’s past doesn’t get the treatment fans would hope for, but you’ll need to watch Star Trek: Picard to find out who that is (and wince).  But it all balances out–along with Isa Briones’ young Soji, the new character Kestra, played by 12-year-old Lulu Wilson (Ready Player One), and Picard’s wuxia-inspired padawan Elnor, played by Evan Evagora (Fantasy Island), are both nice additions to the Wesley Crusher, Chekov, Naomi Wildman, Alexander Rozhenko, Jake Sisko, Nog, D’Tan (from the “Unification” two-parter), Ba-El and Toq (from the “Birthright” two-parter), and Toral (from the “Redemption” two-parter) of past Star Treks’ younger set.

Star Trek: Picard is a refreshing series for several reasons, especially for fans of Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and J.J. Abrams’ Kelvin timeline movies.  It had much to overcome, including a fan base as disparate, fierce, loyal, and argumentative as Star Wars or any other major franchise.  And 21st century Star Trek has real parallels to 21st century Star Wars.  Star Trek: Picard seems to be more in common in vibe, tone, and accessibility with The Mandalorian than the Star Wars third sequel films, which focused more on steering the narrative into new places and challenging canon like Star Trek: Discovery.  It makes sense this would happen with so many players in common behind the scenes.  Star Trek: Picard finds a nice balance, with adequate fan service via a believable continuation of beloved character storylines, coupled with the introduction of a new generation of characters both written well and supported with good acting talent.  It also pulls in tropes, maybe for the first time, seen more in the worlds of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and Firefly (actually an episode for each) and an updated look of science fiction we’ve seen in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, Minority Report, AMC’s Humans series, Orphan Black, and Altered Carbon.  Also… a nod to Starsky and Hutch?

Star Trek has also showed how a franchise can use comic book stories to fill in the blanks between films and series (check out our discussions of Star Trek: Picard Countdown here, Star Trek: Boldly Go here, Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness here, and the best of them all, Star Trek: Countdown, here).  Despite the Prime timeline and the Kelvin timelines as separate worlds, the franchise has told stories in similar ways (not just with lens flares), also spanning and interweaving the different parts of the whole with sets, costumes, props, and ships of a common vibe with the USS Franklin in Star Trek Beyond, the technology of the entire Abrams trilogy, the natives and themes of Star Trek: Insurrection, the Romulans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Nemesis, and Star Trek (2009), and the projected futures of these familiar characters foreseen in all the past series and films.

Every fan has his/her preferences–I found the series a bit long-winded with technobabble explanatory segments not as artfully concocted as in past series, the gore was excessive for the franchise, and the profanity was unnecessary, off-putting, and pulled me out of the story.  At times the episode felt less like Star Trek and more like Firefly or the other series listed above, but I found it more of a fun quirk than annoying.  Although LeVar Burton’s Geordi LaForge has been featured in segue comics, he’s missing from the series.  But the biggest omission is Gates McFadden’s Beverly Crusher, Picard’s wife in one timeline and a key piece of his life for the seven seasons and four films with Picard.  But no mention?  We’ve heard Whoopi Goldberg will be back next season.  How about Dr. Crusher, too?

And how about in the next season we see Picard bring along his dog, Number One?

Catch up with all ten episodes of Star Trek: Picard, streaming exclusively on CBS All Access and here via Amazon Prime.

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