Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 1 – Debuted Thursday, January 23, 2020
Teleplay by Akiva Goldsman and James Duff
Story by Akiva Goldsman & Michael Chabon & Kirsten Beyer & Alex Kurtzman and James Duff
Directed by Hanelle Culpepper
Jean-Luc Picard is back, and he’s had a lot of life experiences that he’s reflecting on in his retirement. Soon, the story picks up and we’re along for the ride, as various plot points start to come together. The episode is well paced, with a much less rushed feeling than Discovery. The producers have called this a “10-hour movie” and they aren’t kidding; this first episode takes plenty of time to let the characters inhabit the world and the plot eases us into Jean-Luc’s life in 2399. The next episode can’t come soon enough.
As has been said elsewhere, Picard is not Next Generation, nor is it Discovery—there are no spinning cameras—it’s clearly its own animal: thoughtful and deliberately paced, but with the modern dramatic sensibilities and visual style that an audience in 2020 expects.
[WARNING: Spoilers from here on]
Star Trek: Picard is off to a strong start. They had to convey a lot of information in this first episode, and there are moments where it’s a wee bit clunky, but it’s efficient; getting into the story as quickly as possible is essential.
There are strong performances from everyone, including Jamie McShane and Orla Brady, as Zhaban and Laris, who play the less glamorous roles of Picard’s Romulan companions on the vineyard. Newcomer Isa Briones deserves special praise as Dahj, who really conveys the confusion and panic of someone whose world is turned upside down and yet is also calmly certain that Jean-Luc Picard is the one person who can help her. Later, as Dahj’s twin Soji, Briones conveys a totally different air, one of expertise (she’s referred to as Doctor), flirtiness, and compassion when talking with Harry Treadaway’s Narek on the Borg cube that’s being harvested by the Romulans.
We know about the attacks on Mars (as seen in the Short Treks episode “Children of Mars”) and now we get more detail: “synths” attacked and countless people were killed, resulting in a ban on building more synthetic life forms. Picard, unsurprisingly, was against the ban.
Picard, of course, is still the same man he always was. He’s older… more physically frail, which neither the show nor Patrick Stewart himself shies away from. His moral compass is still strong as ever, as are the words he chooses, the compassion he shows, and his ability to think beyond what is right in front of him, so valued by Q in the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But he can’t keep up with Dahj in her race up to the rooftop, even as she drags him along, and the production is not afraid of close-ups which reveal, along with Jean-Luc’s emotions, the deep lines on his face. Bravo.
There are some nice touches. The show opens with Bing Crosby’s version of “Blue Skies,” accompanied by a new CGI render of the Enterprise-D, which looks great as we zoom into the Ten Forward windows. The song quickly becomes melancholy (despite the cheery lyrics) with Crosby’s trademark croon, and is a great way to tell us what to expect: something familiar, something we love, something that brings us joy and sadness at the same time. Like watching Data (in Nemesis uniform) and Picard (in present-day civilian clothing) play poker, in a familiar location. But with no one else around, and both of them visibly older (we’ll get into that later with Data), it’s pretty clear that that Picard is dreaming. This is confirmed when suddenly the dream turns into a nightmare as Jean-Luc sees the bombardment of Mars out the windows of Ten Forward.
Another one: his dog, Number One. It seemed like this was going to be a gimmick, drawing on Patrick Stewart’s love of pit bulls, but it’s actually a great choice for both character and story. When Picard awakes from his nightmare, his faithful canine companion Number One is by his side, sensing Picard’s disturbance. We get to see Picard’s affectionate side, how he’s softened a little. (Remember, this is the man whose only pet on the Enterprise was a fish.) And when Dahj shows up at the vineyard for the first time, and Number One alerts us (and Picard), there was a moment of wondering if this was going to be a Terminator thing: Will the dog be barking because Dahj is not quite what she seems, even before we find out who she is? No! Instead, Number One lets us know that she’s one of the good guys, because dogs can always tell. And Picard knows that, too.
The opening credits are beautiful and poignant, with striking music (we can’t praise this enough) and the “sky is falling” imagery indicating that things are about to change. The opening credits include a montage of difference fragments of Picard’s life. There’s a Borg cube, the destruction of Romulus, robotic pieces of androids, and more that all come together to form an image of Jean-Luc Picard.
Jeff Russo scored this episode beautifully, adding texture and color to an already lush and beautiful show. Whether it’s French vineyards or Borg cubes, the music makes it all the richer.
The costumes by Christine Bieselin Clark and her team are classic and innovative at the same time. They’re a smart update to the 24th century esthetic we saw in TNG-era Trek without the obvious 1990s influence (i.e. super bright colors, big shoulder pads, etc.). Bonus points go to Picard and Dahj’s outfits in the scene after he visits the archives. But there’s still a thrill when we see him in his Starfleet captain’s uniform, as he dreams of Data painting.
There are a few plot holes, the largest of which is that Dahj takes her necklace back and then Picard still has it later; even if we hadn’t seen him return it, it would still be strange for him to have kept a gift from her father that matters so much to her, especially after we see how much her twin treasures hers as well. It seems like we have to assume she carelessly left it behind when she fled Chateau Picard?
Not a plot hole, but more of a nitpick, and one that’s kind of unavoidable: Jean-Luc’s visions of Data in dreams give us a Data who has clearly aged. Of course Brent Spiner, like the rest of us, ages, but it doesn’t quite connect that this is how Picard would dream of him. They do a good job with Nemesis-era Data from the opening dream, but Data as he looked in TNG is harder (being an even younger version Spiner) and they don’t quite pull it off.
But these are just small missteps. Overall, the episode is a great leap into new territory. The pacing is perfect—we never feel like we’re rushing, and every moment feels earned, even as early on as episode one.
- Two bits of dialogue standout from the episode:
- Picard: “The dreams are lovely. It’s the waking up that I’m beginning to resent.”
- Dahj: “Have you ever been a stranger to yourself?”
Picard: “Many many times.”
- This single episode shows us more of Earth than any other Trek series or movie. We see San Fransisco and Boston in the USA, Le Barre and Paris in France, and Okinawa in Japan.
- The music that played during the camera pull out from Soji and Narek at the Reclamation Facility contains an homage to the TOS “Balance of Terror” Romulan theme.
- While adding the existence of Lal into the mix might just be confusing, a small line about how Data tried to procreate by making his own android from scratch unsuccessfully or something similar would have been nice.
- Dahj’s boyfriend is Xahean. The species was first introduced in the Short Treks episode “Runaway” with the character of Po. It looks like sometime in the hundred years since Discovery season 2, Xehea has joined the Federation.
- In the Boston skyline different logos can be seen on the side of buildings. One is of the Ferengi alliance. The other is a bit more of a deep cut easter egg: the logo of the London Kings. The Kings were a baseball team from the 21st century, the most famous player of which was “Buck” Bokai, who was still remembered by Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko as “one of the greats of the sport” in 24th century.
The Ready Room premieres
The first episode of The Ready Room also premiered today. Wil Wheaton is a great choice as host, and his interview with Hanelle Culpepper and Michael Chabon is fun; they reveal some tidbits about filming with the dog (it’s a rescue!) and some of the items in Picard’s archives, among other details. There are some behind-the-scenes packages, plus a trivia question, and a sneak peek of next week.
You can watch it here, as well as on other social media channels and the official Star Trek site:
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released on CBS All Access in the USA Thursdays at 12:01 AM PT/3:01 AM ET. In Canada it airs Thursdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel at 6PM PT /9PM ET and then is made available to stream on Crave. For the rest of the world it streams Fridays on Amazon Prime Video. Episodes are released weekly.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news at TrekMovie.