Happy New Year! There’s no doubt about it: 2019 is going to be the year of Picard.
Unless you’ve been hibernating, most Star Trek fans know that the next major Star Trek show to go into production is the new Jean-Luc Picard series, which will bring us the joys of Sir Patrick Stewart reprising his classic role as the stalwart captain. We don’t have a whole lot of details yet, but we know that Star Trek: Discovery‘s Kirsten Beyer and novelist Michael Chabon are two of the creative forces behind the show, it goes into production in April, will premiere late this year, and takes place 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis.
At the surprise announcement at STLV last August, Stewart told the crowd,
“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 who IS that Jean-Luc Picard we recognize and know so well? Over seven seasons, we watched him undergo both character-defining and character-changing adventures, so we’ve selected one episode from each season as essential viewing for the fan looking to get a primer on the great man before the new series … with some extras thrown in for background color.
Season 1 – “The Battle”
The first season of TNG gave us a more uptight, rigid Picard than we would eventually get to know, but this early episode reminded viewers–via some Ferengi-induced hallucinations–that his pre-Enterprise career included being a bridge officer on the USS Stargazer, which he would later describe to Scotty (in “Relics”) as an “overworked, underpowered vessel, always on the verge of flying apart at the seams.” Picard may have become the ultimate diplomat, but on the Stargazer, he was a warrior, taking over the ship and winning the battle with an undefeatable move later dubbed “The Picard Maneuver.” So while our Captain has a reputation as a great talker, he’s also the man you want on your side in a firefight.
Season 2 – “Where Silence Has Lease”
TNG’s second season didn’t see that much character development for the good Captain, but we got some insights into his past in “Samaritan Snare,” when he told Wesley about his days as an impulsive cadet who got himself stabbed in the heart in his early Starfleet Academy days. But we learned more about his broader views on life and mortality in “Where Silence Has Lease.” In this very creepy episode, an alien entity named Nagilum takes control of the Enterprise and announces it’s going to learn about death by observing “every kind of dying.” Nagilum says he will need a third (or “maybe half”) of the crew, and Picard won’t have it. He sets the ship to self-destruct in 20 minutes, refusing to allow his crew to become lab rats for a curious alien. Nagilum then manifests a fake Data and Troi to question Picard about his choice, and we get a bit of his philosophy on humanity as a result, along with his thoughts on what death might bring:
“Considering the marvelous complexity of our universe, its clockwork perfection, its balances of this against that, matter, energy, gravitation, time, dimension, I believe that our existence must be more than either of these philosophies. That what we are goes beyond Euclidian and other practical measuring systems and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what we understand now as reality.”
Season 3 – “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
Season three has some Picard gems in it: we see his disdain for the “Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear” when a primitive culture views him as a god in “Who Watches the Watchers,” and his lighter, romantic side when he cavorts with Vash in “Captain’s Holiday.” But his biggest episode this season is “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” in which we see how deeply he values and trusts Guinan–this is a connection that is “beyond friendship, beyond family.” He accepts that history has changed based simply on her gut feeling, and his trust in her means he’s willing to accept possibilities that others would not. He’s so convinced, in fact, that Captain Rachel Garrett and her crew agree to go back into a battle that they know they will lose … because his certainty and strength are incontrovertible.
Season 4 – “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”
There’s no doubt about it: being assimilated by the Borg and forced to lead an invasion to Earth as Locutus had a permanent effect on Jean-Luc Picard. The events of this episode would be revisited again in “Family,” “I Borg,” and in the film Star Trek: First Contact, and changed Picard forever. He was rescued by his crew and helped save the quadrant, but he was also profoundly affected by being so utterly defeated and owned by the Borg. Resistance, on his part, was indeed futile. How could this experience not change him? It became a fundamental part of who he is.
There are some other key episodes this season, though: his unique understanding of the Klingon Empire is seen in “Reunion,” when he is asked to arbitrate the selection of a new Klingon Chancellor, and his impenetrable sense of justice and morality is exemplified in “The Drumhead.” We also learn some of his personal history in “Family,” complete with sibling rivalry, a fight in the mud, and reconciliation, and see the truth behind the facade: that our captain is indeed vulnerable, and will have to confront and accept that if he wants to heal.
Season 5 – “The Inner Light”
Season 5 is rich with Picard episodes, giving us “Darmok” (a classic that shows ]off his ability to connect with an alien he can’t even understand), “Disaster” (in which he displays and then conquers his discomfort with children), “Conundrum” (where his moral code rises above his amnesia), and “The Perfect Mate” (in which he must choose duty over perfect love). But the events that would shape him the most happened in “The Inner Light,” where he experiences an entire lifetime on the planet Kataan. In 20 minutes, he has a wife, raises a family, struggles to save his planet, and dies. It’s not just the Ressikan flute that stays with him long after the probe has done its job and shut down.
Season 6 – “Starship Mine”
Yes, Picard fell in love in “Lessons” and learned not to have a romance with someone on his crew. And yes, he was tortured by Cardassians in “Chain of Command, Part II” and came THIS close to breaking down completely. And “Tapestry” showed us the incident once described in “Samaritan Snare,” as we saw a young and cocky Picard get stabbed in the heart by Nausicans and then, thanks to Q, understand how that event shaped the man he became. That said, we learned even more about his capabilities and the inner Picard in “Starship Mine,” Star Trek: TNG‘s version of Die Hard. Alone, he thwarted an attempt to turn trilithium resin from the warp core into a weapon and sell it, taking down multiple mercenaries single-handedly. He’s stealthy, he’s resourceful, he’s not to be messed with… and he knows how to use the Vulcan neck pinch as well as a crossbow.
Season 7 – “All Good Things… “
In “Gambit,” Picard goes undercover as a terrorist. In “Attached,” we find out that part of his command style is pretending to know what he’s doing. But in the series finale, “All Good Things…,” Jean-Luc Picard saves the universe by expanding his mind, accepting possibilities he’d never considered before, and getting versions of himself in multiple time periods to collaborate and save the day. So no matter what has happened to him in the 20-years-post-Nemesis future, there’s reason to hope that he’ll find his way back to the Picard who was able to see the impossible, and make it so.
A vision for the future
No question about it, the man has been through a lot. While Stewart’s description of Picard as someone who has been “changed by his experiences” may feel a little ominous, Chabon has encouraging words for TNG fans:
“Captain Picard is the hero we need right now. He exemplifies in some ways even more then James Kirk — and I’m not gonna get into the Kirk vs Picard argument because I love Captain Kirk, he was my first captain — but Picard is even more of an exemplar of everything that is best about Star Trek’s vision for the future.”
A changed Picard, a familiar Picard, a bold one, a silly one … everyone has their own must-see Picard episodes, so tell us what yours are in the comments. Engage!