The return of Patrick Stewart is probably the most exciting thing to have happened to Star Trek in years. Jean-Luc Picard is one of the franchise’s greatest characters, and the opportunity to explore him in his old age offers the possibility of a type of Star Trek that we’ve never seen before.
But what exactly will the show be? We’ve put together a few burning questions we think need to be addressed.
1. Is it a full series or mini?
In short, we don’t know. On stage at Star Trek Las Vegas, Alex Kurtzman described it as “the next Star Trek series,” which generally indicates an ongoing project, like Star Trek: Discovery. But, it is more likely that the Picard show is one of the projects described as a “limited series” when the CBS plan to expand their Star Trek TV universe was first announced in June. And earlier this month CBS Studios EVP of original content Julie McNamara confirmed: “We’re looking at limited series for some Trek shows and we are looking at ongoing series for some other Trek shows.”
Sir Patrick is also 78 years old, and now divides his time between Brooklyn, NY and the UK. It’s unlikely he’d want to relocate to either LA or Toronto long term. Our guess is a limited series of a half a dozen to ten episodes. And we shouldn’t necessarily assume they will fall into the standard format of around one hour, like Discovery. At San Diego Comic-Con in July, executive producer Heather Kadin told TrekMovie that formats other than one-hour dramas are being considered for various shows. She could mean the Picard series, or she could be referring to the recently announced Short Treks.
One thing we’re pretty sure of is that unlike TNG of yore, it will almost certainly be serialized and not episodic. This is a modern dramatic show, and it makes sense, especially if it is to be a mini series, that there’s an arc connecting the limited run of episodes.
2. If not a captain, then what?
“He may not, and I stress may not be a captain anymore. He may not be the Jean-Luc that you recognize and know so well. It may be a very different individual, someone who has been changed by his experiences. Twenty years will have passed, which is more or less exactly the time between the very last movie, Nemesis, and today.” So said Stewart in Las Vegas.
Should Picard still be in Starfleet, the logical assumption is that he’d be an admiral twenty years after Nemesis. While most of Next Generation’s admirals were notoriously either incompetent or corrupt, Picard could join the likes of Nechayev as a rare, honorable exception. As far back as season one’s “Coming Of Age” he was offered an admiralty and the position of Commandant of Starfleet Academy; a job like that would be perfect for an elder Picard.
Equally possible is that Picard may no longer be in Starfleet. He’s always had a keen interest in archaeology. Could he surpass Indiana Jones as the galaxy’s greatest geriatric archaeologist? Or will he follow the path suggested by “All Good Things…” and spend his twilight years tending the family vineyards? Of course, this goes against the advice Kirk gave him in Generations, to refuse retirement, promotion or anything that would take him away from the Enterprise. But who knows what the intervening years have done to him? According to his Starfleet file Picard would be in his 90’s.
One factor to consider is Picard’s health. The future Picard seen in “All Good Things…” suffered from Irumodic Syndrome – a form of dementia. And what about his heart? Picard’s was replaced with an artificial one following his youthful run-in with Nausicaans (“Samaritan Snare,” “Tapestry”). It’s not unreasonable to think this would cause him problems in his later years. There could also be problems with his remaining Borg implants. First Contact established that he’d never been fully disconnected from the Collective, and if Seven Of Nine’s implants couldn’t be fully removed, it’s a reasonable assumption that the former Locutus isn’t entirely Borg-free either. These could all be factors in him moving on from Starfleet.
It’s almost certain we won’t be getting Star Trek: The Next Generation mark 2, with Picard in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise-E (or F, or even G), but that’s probably not a bad thing. Picard is not a young man, and the show should acknowledge that he realistically past the age to be captaining a starship. A reasonable assumption is the series will explore Picard’s post-captaincy–and possibly post-Starfleet–life. This opens the series up to explore new corners of the Trek universe we’ve never seen before.
3. What will the tone be?
Another thing Patrick Stewart said at the announcement in Las Vegas is “It will be I promise you, I guarantee it, something very, very different.”
Stewart may be indicating more than just that he will be playing an older Picard in a different position and environment than we are used to seeing him. There’s a big question hanging out there: what kind of tone can we expect? Has our Picard has found himself in a dark place? If so, is that dark like Discovery in a world of peril, or dark in that things have taken a bad turn for him personally? Will he be struggling to accept this new phase of his life, or has he changed in some way?
Jean Luc-Picard was always the epitome of the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation. TNG was known for its positive, upbeat tone, and if this is going to be “something very, very different,” that might mean something significantly less cheery. While there are a lot of dramatic possibilities for a change in tone, it does, however, risks running into what we’ll call “The Last Jedi effect.” By exploring an older, different iteration of a beloved character, the show runs the risk of alienating a section of the fanbase who have their own preconceived notions of what that character’s future should hold.
4. What’s the state of the Federation and galaxy?
This is another massive “we don’t know.” The only canon Trek that takes place beyond Nemesis is the brief section in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek that features the destruction of Romulus, and Spock and Nero being sent back in time, kick-starting the Kelvin timeline. Those events took place in 2387, twelve years before the new series.
Assuming the new series acknowledges this (and there’s no reason to assume it won’t), it’s safe to assume this will have a profound effect on the balance of power. Will the Romulans have allied themselves with the Federation, as the Klingons did following the destruction of Praxis? Will they have agreed with Nero about blaming the Federation for Romulus’ destruction, and be at war? Will the Romulans even exist in a form that we recognize?
Then there are the other powers. We’ve seen little of the Cardassians since Deep Space Nine. Have they recovered from the Dominion War? Have the Klingons taken advantage of the Romulans’ new weakened position? How will the disaster that’s afflicted the Romulans affect their Vulcan cousins? And what of the Borg? They’ve been aware of the Federation for a long time now. Will they have launched a full-scale invasion of the Alpha Quadrant, or did Janeway’s actions at the end of Voyager deal them a lethal blow?
It’s potentially a fascinating time to set a series. The players are still the same, but the game could be very different. And if there is turmoil and possible cold or hot war flare-ups, that can have a big impact on the tone of the series, as we saw with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Discovery.
5. Will the Discovery aesthetic apply?
Modern Trek looks and feels considerably different from the Next Generation era. Aliens and ships have been redesigned, the universe has been given a darker, gritty makeover, the tone’s darker, and even the cinematography and editing is a world away from Trek of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Although Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all had their own aesthetic, they had enough common ground visually, stylistically, and tonally that they were obviously all part of the same fictional universe.
If the new show embraces an updated version of the TNG aesthetic we all know and love, it definitely won’t look anything like Discovery. It would also run the risk of looking deliberately retro, like The Orville. Then again, fully embracing Discovery’s look and feel could be problematic. A common criticism of Trek’s latest incarnation is that it’s too far from what’s gone before, something that would be even more jarring with a character we know and love.
A good compromise might be something close to the look and feel of the final three TNG movies. They had a darker, slicker, big-budget feel while still retaining the familiarity of the series. Arguably, Discovery already kind of seems like it could fit in with the later TNG-era movie look.
Obviously, that doesn’t solve the “Klingon issue.” They’re the most radically redesigned of Discovery’s aliens, and also the species used the most on TNG. Assuming Discovery’s upcoming redesign isn’t the same as TNG’s version, which design would they use? A hybrid maybe? Obviously, The Original Series survived a radical Klingon overhaul between the series and movies, but they didn’t have to contend with the possibility of Worf appearing without his luxurious hair.
6. Who else will we see?
The Picard series isn’t going to be a one-man show. It is reasonable to assume that the series will feature familiar characters in at least guest roles, if not as regulars or recurring roles. The possibilities are endless but there are a few that make particular sense.
One natural fit would be Beverly Crusher. Picard has a complex history with her, and the two share an attraction to each other. In a hypothetical future shown in “All Good Things…” Picard and Crusher marry and eventually divorce. A number of other non-canon books and even Star Trek Online have used the idea that the two tie the knot, so maybe this show will make it official. Gates McFadden seems open to the idea and is waiting to find out herself.
Another favorite character who is already getting fans excited at the possibilities is Guinan. The long-lived El-Aurian is a close friend and confidant of Jean-Luc; she has described their relationship as “beyond friendship and beyond family.” This new series could be the perfect opportunity to explore their complex relationship, assuming Whoopi Goldberg could be convinced to do it.
The Next Generation cast has famously remained close over the years since the show finished, so most of them would likely want to appear, given the opportunity. Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn have frequently stated they’d return to Trek if asked, with Dorn still advocating for his own Worf show. Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton were at the side of the stage in Vegas when Stewart made his announcement, and Frakes is still actively involved in the franchise, directing Discovery. Judging by Wil Wheaton’s enthusiastic tweet following the announcement, it seems safe to assume that Wesley Crusher would be back in a heartbeat.
The most problematic would be Brent Spiner, since Data died in Nemesis. However, the end of Nemesis implies that Data’s engram transfer to B4 may have worked. And he’s been resurrected (in different ways) in both books and comics. However, Spiner has said that he is too old to return to the part. But, finding a way to bring back everyone’s favorite android shouldn’t be too hard if they can come up with some reasonable reason Data has decided to look like he’s aging. Challenging, but not insurmountable.
Although at least some familiar Star Trek actors (regular and guest star, from TNG and other series) appearing is almost a certainty, the reason they’ve likely not been announced yet is that we’re still very early in the process. Stewart said scripts hadn’t yet been written, and it’s unlikely at this stage that the writers know exactly which characters their story needs.
7. Will any of the expanded universe works apply?
One of the people on the show’s creative team is Kirsten Beyer, one of the writers on Discovery and the author of several Trek novels. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon is also one of the new show’s writers. As authors themselves, they may be attracted to draw on some of the many novels set in post-Nemesis era, where Picard has had a number of adventures as captain of the Enterprise-E including marrying Beverly, having a son and even eliminating the Borg.
Some alternate timelines from the books have seen Picard promoted to admiral, given command of the Enterprise-F, being inflicted with Irumodic Syndrome, and even married to Vash. Star Trek Online has shown Picard retiring from Starfleet and returning to France. The Star Trek: Countdown comics, tied into the 2009 Star Trek movie, saw him becoming an ambassador and working with Spock to save Romulus from the Hobus supernova.
While the show isn’t bound by any of these things, we’re not ruling any of them out.
8. Will Picard die?
We’re as excited as anyone about the return of Picard, and much as we hate to put a downer on things, there’s a real possibility that Picard’s next adventure could also be his last. Trek has killed its sacred cows before of course, and if Kirk and Spock can die, then anyone can. Data, Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax and Trip Tucker were all taken from us prematurely. We saw Sarek die, too.
This is almost guaranteed to be Stewart’s last Trek appearance. As we mentioned earlier, he’s 78 years old, and surely doesn’t intend to play Picard forever. He’s a Shakespearean actor, and there’s nothing they tend to like more than a good death scene, plus he won plaudits last year for his final, tragic outing as Professor X in Logan. So, why not let Picard go out in a blaze of glory?
Assuming this is a limited run series, we’re guessing it will end with the death of Picard. After all, Generations ended with the death of Kirk, who passed the cinematic torch to the TNG cast. Much as we may not like the possibility, there’s a certain symmetry in having the Berman era’s greatest character pass the torch to Trek’s newest generation of shows.
9. How does he take his tea?
We all know our tastes change as we get older. Will a 20-years-older Picard still favor “tea, Earl Grey, hot?” Is that much caffeine good for a man Picard’s age? Maybe he’ll have switched to a nice chamomile? Or one of Aunt Adele’s milk toddies? More than anything else (ok, maybe, is Livingston the lionfish still alive?) this is the burning question we want the answer to.
To say we’re excited about the return of Picard is an understatement. He’s one of the franchise’s greatest characters, Stewart’s possibly the finest actor ever to don a Starfleet uniform, and after Nemesis failed to provide many fans with the finale they craved, it’s a chance for the Next Generation to go out in style. As Beverly Crusher once said, “He’s Jean Luc Picard, and if he wants to go on one more mission, that’s what we’re going to do!”
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