From the moment this episode of Picard explodes onto the screen, one thing is shockingly clear: this isn’t the moribund, ponderous show we saw last season. Gone is Chabon’s intense need to stick it to everyone’s favourite Starfleet captain. The almost sizzling cruelty directed towards Jean Luc for his eminently understandable choice to stop playing the hero after being abandoned by the institution he loves is absent.
Instead, we’re hit full-force with the cinematic majesty and camaraderie of Star Trek: First Contact.
Season two of Picard is, in short, a stellar return to form.
Picard Season 2 Episode 1
When last we left Picard, he’d helped stave off a threat from beyond the borders of the known universe, intent on co-opting all synthetic life. He’d won over a new ragtag crew, he’d mended bridges with old friends, and he’d helped usher the digital remains of his dear friend Data into the synthetic afterlife. In the process, his ailing body had been replaced with an identical synthetic body of his own, complete (for some baffling reason) with the lifespan he would have had if he’d kept aging naturally.
Again, this seems like a side-effect of Chabon’s lachrymose morbidity, but regardless, the first season left Picard in a place ripe with potential.
Rarely has a season opener cashed a check with so much verve or panache. Akiva Goldsman and co. crank up the stakes immediately, with Picard and his crew about to die on the bridge of a Starfleet ship. Picard, through gritted teeth, looks at his friends for approval. They give it, grimly. He initiates self-destruct… and we’re flung into a new version of the opening credits, where Jeff Russo’s tricked out version of the Picard theme has undergone a similarly joyous and bombastic retrofit. Much like Picard himself, this new theme is full of life; not only that, but it ranks up there with the best Trek themes – instantly hummable, a call to adventure.
The episode then takes us back 48 hours, to a smiling Picard (there’s a lot of smiling in this episode – everyone seems deeply, profoundly happy to be around one another) traipsing happily through Chateau Picard, inspecting a new harvest. His utterly captivating Romulan friend slash housekeeper, Laris, is there (Zhaban, sadly, has passed away off-camera). Laris asks Jean Luc whether he’s ever wanted more than just the stars, and Jean Luc flashed back to a very promising subplot: memories of his mother, apparently assailed by some kind of illness, and/or monster.
There is, it seems, a great deal of trauma in Picard’s past.
Everyone else on Picard’s season one roster is doing great, by the way. I’d detail the specifics, but seeing how the showrunners have done a complete tonal about-face with such ease, such love, and such tenderness, left my head spinning. Jurati (Alison Pill) and Rios (Santiago Cabrera) are particular highlights, though to be fair, the whole cast really punches above their weight here. The episode gives each character a little hero moment, some time to breathe, to establish just how different they are. And, again, in case I haven’t reiterated this enough: nobody is mad at Picard.
Except, of course, for Q.
Thanks to the litany of trailers, we’re all aware by now that John DeLancie has returned as the best-known member of the Q Continuum, a cosmic trickster apparently playing a long game of sorts, returned to pluck Picard from the jaws of fate and present him with the “road not taken”. Picard has, apparently, done something wrong, and Q is there to show him the error of his ways, give him a chance to undo the damage he has (apparently) done.
There’s also the return of Guinan. Both hers and Q’s, scenes deal with the aging of ageless characters with such charm, such humour, that I marvelled at why it had never been done before. Guinan realised that not aging was freaking out her customers, so she let herself age a bit. Q realised Picard had aged and he hadn’t, so decided to mock Picard by becoming similarly wizened.
But it’s the content of these scenes which makes them really pop -the performances are pitch-perfect, and the dialogue is written with a wit and sagacity that would make Next Gen proud.
The A-plot of the episode does, of course, wind back to our opening scene, with Picard ordering the self-destruct of a ship hardcore Trekkies will be delighted to see. But is this Picard’s time-bending mistake? Or is Q referring, instead, to Picard’s memories of his mother?
Did he get her killed somehow? Could he have saved her? Or has Q finally snapped?
I’m lucky enough to have also seen episodes two and three. Two doubles down on the potential of the opener, propelling the show even further towards greatness.
Three, penned by two extremely green writers, falters pretty hard towards filler, but I have no concerns about the season as a whole. I’ve rarely seen a show come out of the gates as relentlessly hard as Picard season two.
I’ve often said that Deep Space Nine (the best Trek – there, I said it) took a season to get going, and told many friends that Picard would do the same. Well… talk about vindication.
Picard is officially must-watch television.