Light Spoilers for Season One of Picard
Question: In our ultra-capitalist present, how do you ask people to buy into a future where Earth has outgrown the concept of money and people instead “work to better themselves and the rest of humanity?” How do you make Starfleet, champions of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, feel relevant in a time when a military Space Force is founded by an administration to whom “The Cage” isn’t Star Trek’s pilot episode but rather a perfectly acceptable place to keep refugee children?
Answer: You give Trek’s most famously even-tempered captain a few powerful reasons to get mad, starting with Starfleet’s abandonment of billions of refugees and continuing with a Federation-wide ban on “artificial life,” including androids like his old friend Commander Data.
The creative team behind Star Trek: Picard set itself the incredible challenge of reinventing one of TV’s most comforting science-fiction series for our modern dystopian age. As the show starts, we find the former Captain Jean-Luc Picard retired to his family’s vineyard in future France, bitter and disillusioned by a Federation that turned its back on its intergalactic neighbors in the wake of a tragedy at home. It takes a few episodes for Picard to find himself a new spaceship, and when he does it’s a dingy open-plan freighter, a far cry from any of the bright, benevolently military ships called Enterprise. Instead of a crew of professionals in the prime of their careers, each of Picard’s new shipmates is a lost soul in search of a purpose. Like Picard himself, every one of them has experienced the implosion of some previously meaningful life. Together they’ll find new reasons to engage with the galaxy (pun, as always, intended) and maybe remind those of us watching what that feels like.
And it works, mostly. Picard builds solidly on the foundation of previous Star Trek stories, even giving meaningful weight to The Next Generation crew’s last and worst film outing while giving depth and edge to its characters in a way we’ve rarely seen. And because it’s still Star Trek, none of our heroes are assholes. The show isn’t darker because the good guys have stopped caring, it’s darker because they care too much, and too much has happened, and they don’t always see a clear path to making the galaxy a better place.
But they try. A captain who walked away exhausted by a Starfleet that had lost sight of its ideals decides to throw himself back into the fight. A former intelligence officer dubbed paranoid for suspecting foreign interference in a vital mission works to prevent it from happening again. A scientist whose life’s work has been obstructed by politics realizes she must not only extrapolate truth from incomplete data but also determine which of her values to compromise. People whose personhood has been stripped from them fight to convince those in power that their lives matter. This is absolutely the Star Trek series for 2020, in all the worst and best ways.
At least until the two-part season finale, when the show suddenly rushes to wrap up segments of the plot that could easily have continued for multiple seasons. In the end, characters make choices that don’t always make sense or feel earned, as though the creative team felt they needed to clean the slate for next year. It’s jarring mostly because the series up to that point has felt so true. Still, Picard leaves its characters with a clear setup for further adventures, and we’re excited to follow them out there.
The season-one Blu-ray of Picard has a modest but fun collection of extras, including:
“Children of Mars,” a “Short Trek” minisode by showrunner Michael Chabon. If you’re coming into Picard unspoiled, we recommend watching this before the main series for maximum effect.
“Aliens Alive: the xBs,” a featurette on Picard’s former Borg. Look out for concept art featuring an xb that is a dead ringer for Ryan Gosling, a charming star hamming it up in the makeup chair, and an Easter egg pulled from one of our favorite non-Trek TV series.
“The Motley Crew,” a quick guide to our cast. Look out for Chabon waxing poetic on one of Jean-Luc Picard’s classic catchphrases.
A gag reel in which Sir Patrick Stewart and director Jonathan Frakes making fun of each other a whole lot.
Deleted scenes and story logs hidden under the individual Episodes menu rather than being listed with the other special features. There are only a few deleted scenes, but they provide some neat if nonessential new details. The story logs are quick three- to five-minute featurettes on a particular element of each episode. Look out for the featurette on Hanelle M. Culpepper, who directed the series’ first three episodes.
Video commentary for the first episode with Culpepper, Chabon and producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Kirsten Beyer. Look out for the secret stage origin of Isa Briones and how an offhand insight by Alison Pill reshaped the character of Agnes Jurati.
Taken as a whole, the behind-the-scenes features on the Picard: Season One Blu-ray make it clear how much everyone working on the show loves being a part of the Star Trek universe. The best TV shows come from creators who take genuine joy in what they do, and it shows in their respect for the work, the story, and the fans.
- The events of Picard’s last mission and the tragedy that brought it all crashing down are detailed in Una McCormack’s novel, The Last Best Hope, which we cannot recommend highly enough.
- For those craving even more behind-the-scenes content, check out the interview after-show The Ready Room, hosted by Wil Wheaton. This show is available on CBS All Access but is not included on the Blu-ray release.
- Michael Chabon, the showrunner and one of the writers of Picard, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and a number of other novels. The special features here make it clear he is right at home with the rest of us big old Star Trek nerds.