The second season of Star Trek: Picard kicked off with a bang today with “The Star Gazer.” The new season reset the series characters, reintroduced some old characters, and set up some the season arc. To help guide us through it all, TrekMovie had an exclusive email exchange with executive producer and co-showrunner Terry Matalas, who also co-wrote the episode. While Matalas is new to Picard for season two, he got his start in the industry working on Star Trek: Voyager as a production assistant, and got his first story writing credits on Star Trek: Enterprise. He is a genuine fan, which shines through in our discussion.
[NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD]
“The Star Gazer” jumps forward around two years, did you want that time gap to sort of reset all the characters and the world, and move past the fallout from season one?
In many ways, season two of Picard is about characters on the precipice of choice or change. Some in their personal relationships, others in their professional lives, but Picard, most especially, finds himself trapped in the question: “What’s next?” He’s wrestling with–or better yet, ignoring–the puzzle-pieces of his past that are stopping him from embracing his future. Of course, the re-appearance of Q is going to force him to look inward and get to the bottom of some of these issues. One of the unexplored relationships in Picard’s life is his mother. So we are going to learn a lot more about what she meant to him.
The episode felt quite a bit different than season one with a lighter tone, and faster pace. Would you say this is indicative of season two as a whole?
I’m answering these questions as we’re literally just days away from the completion of season three, the gigantic high-stakes finale, so I have the benefit of some future perspective here… I think the tremendous thing about the three-part story of Picard is that each chapter, each season, feels incredibly distinct. Visually, tonally, narratively, thematically. They’re each deeply emotional pieces of character-driven sci-fi, but they’re also exploring very different things, asking different questions. I think Season 2 is similar to Season 1 as it deconstructs Picard in ways we’ve never explored before. So, for all the genre popcorn, there’s also a lot of psychology and–dare I say–romance.
Season one kicked off by setting up some of Picard’s regrets, which became his arc for the season, particularly with some closure on Data. This episode set up a different regret, one of his inability to build a lasting relationship. Should we see that as the season’s big character arc for him, and maybe for Seven and others too? With all the alternate timelines and Borg, is season two really about love?
I think it’s very much about what Star Trek has always been about–the horizon. Only, this season, it’s not the horizon of cosmic discovery or galactic politics, it’s about what’s next for us as people. Not as humanity, but as humans. What do we want in our careers, our relationships? How do we reconcile the dueling voices inside our heads, the push-pull within all of us that tells us to either stay or leave, fight or flight, love or let go? Q isn’t a plot character. He’s a character character. He’s the figure you introduce when your heroes need to face their truest selves. And that’s what Picard and his crew are forced to do this season–run the gauntlet, face themselves and decide who and what they want to become.
It was a bit of a surprise that episode one not only had de Lancie return as Q, but Whoopi as Guinan. Did you guys want to make a big bang by using the big guns in episode one, or was that just organic to the story?
It was very organic. In an episode in which Q is going to launch Picard into this strange future, it only felt right that Jean-Luc needed some perspective on his past. Who he is now, how he needs to change, why he’s so rife with indecision? And while Q provides the push, only Guinan can call Picard out on his own bullshit. She has the freedom to real-talk him in a way that even his closest crewmates never could. Guinan very much sets the emotional stakes for Picard in this first episode–she lays out the roadmap and Q places him on the path to an important, life-altering choice.
In addition to Q and Guinan, the episode had lots of little nods and touches to Trek canon. Obviously, yourself, Dave Blass, and many others are fans plus you have some vets in the art department. So how are you balancing the calls to nostalgia with the needs of the story?
I’ll admit, some of it–well, much of it–is just cheeky, nerdy fun. It’s also about honoring the world and the history and the legacy of Trek. It’s made such a huge difference in the lives of everybody who works on this series. Every little detail is a love letter and every easter egg is a thank you.
There has been a lot of talk about the updated Starfleet aesthetic, production design, and uniforms. Can you talk about the approach you are taking?
Everybody’s Star Trek is different. Everybody comes to Trek through a different series, a favorite film, a beloved character, a certain ideology. So, between myself and Akiva and Michael Chabon and the many writers and designers, we mostly tried to build a version of Trek that covered the common ground of what made us Trekkies in the first place. For me, I’m very much a Kirk movie-era and TNG fan, so I wanted to highlight certain throwback choices in the uniforms. Even the ship nacelles! And especially in season three, you’ll find nods to the more nautical, cat and mouse submarine-movie elements of those early Trek films, as well. It was really important to me that we include Mike and Denise Okuda – the return of LCARS – Doug Drexler and John Eaves. All folks I used to work with back when I was a PA on Voyager! It was exciting to bring back that aesthetic. When I first met with our production designer Dave Blass, it was a high priority for me – and he was 100% on board! He had all the original tech manuals and has been a Trek fan for years. I knew we’d be in good hands.
A point of clarification. Is Rios’ USS Stargazer an entirely new ship, or a refit of Picard’s original Stargazer? As both were said in the episode.
Like the TMP Enterprise, it’s a massively updated refit. I like to think of it as the story of the broom: If one day you replace the handle, and another day the brush, is it still the same broom? We thought of it as a vessel endlessly repaired and upgraded, brought in-line with current-future tech, so that somewhere underneath all the lights and polish are the bones of Picard’s original ship. Does it make sense? I don’t know. But I sure like the spirit of it.
We hardly got a chance to see her before Picard blew her up. Seems like a waste of new sets, so should we assume more Stargazer in the rest of the season, or maybe the next season? You do like posting pictures of a Starfleet ship on Twitter, after all.
I could totally tell you if we’ll see the Stargazer again later in the season, but that would be a massive spoiler, now wouldn’t it?
Can you give us an update on production on season 3?
We’ve very nearly completed production—by the time this runs, we’ll be days away from the finish line—and while I can’t say much, I will say: I think it’s shaping up to be an extraordinary season of television. It’s incredibly different from the two seasons before it and features quite possibly, one of the all-time great Star Trek villain performances we’ve seen to-date. But I don’t want to oversell it in the early stages! There’s miles yet to go. But I think—I hope—we’re concluding Picard’s story in the best, most appropriate, most satisfying way. I can’t wait for fans to see what we have in store.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Fridays where Paramount+ is available around the world. In Canada, it airs on CTV Sci-Fi Channel on streams on Crave on Thursdays. Picard is also available on Fridays on Amazon Prime Video around the world.
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