Star Trek Picard Meets “The Star Gazer”

Season 4 of Star Trek Discovery hasn’t yet wound down, yet season 2 of Star Trek Picard is already starting up. I’m not sure if I will continue to do episode by episode reviews of Picard or indeed any Star Trek, because it’s a lot of work and there is also simply too much Star Trek, let alone other SFF TV of interest, around to cover.

That said, you can find my thoughts on the season 2 premiere of Star Trek Picard below and my thoughts on season 1 here.

Warning! Spoilers below the cut!

Remember that I complained that season 4 of Star Trek Discovery moves too slowly in spite of a world-threatening menace to deal with? Well, you certainly can’t accuse Star Trek Picard of moving too slowly, for the first episode of season 2 contains more action than all of Star Trek Discovery since the mid-season break at least.

The episode begins with one of those flash forwards to some action scene which occurs later in the episode or during the climax. In the case, we see a Starfleet security team racing through the corridors of a ship that’s clearly under attack. The ship is nameless for now, though it is later revealed to be the USS Stargazer. Star Trek fans will remember the Stargazer as Picard’s first command. The poor security officers, who have redshirt written all over them, though their uniforms are yellow, head for the bridge in a turbolift and emerge into pandemonium. Picard is there in civilians clothes – yelling at everybody to hold their fire. Chris Rios is there as well in Starfleet uniform, as are Dr. Agnes Jurati and Seven of Nine, both in civilian garb. There’s a lot of shooting going on and then Picard orders the Stargazer to self-destruct and faces an unseen helmeted figure. Finally, the Stargazer apparently self-destructs in a flash of blinding white light. Cue credits.

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of flash forward intros (which were apparently invented by Aaron Sorkin, which explains a lot, since I have never liked the man or his work), because they feel unearned and are also used to cover up the fact that the beginning of a story is weak. Now the best way to fix a weak beginning is by making it more exciting. Never mind that a beginning doesn’t need a lot of explosions to be exciting.

Because the beginning of the episode proper is actually a very good one. The camera zooms in on Earth and particularly on France and Chateau Picard, as an old-fashioned record player (there still are functioning record players in the 24th century?) plays “Time Is On My Side” in what is either the 1964 Rolling Stones version or a cover that comes very close (the rights to Rolling Stones songs are expensive). It’s not Irma Thomas, the blues singer who recorded the song a year before the Stones, at any rate. Even though this is another example of “There was no popular culture worth remembering after 1965 in the Star Trek Universe”, it is oddly appropriate, a) because the song dates from the same era as the original Star Trek, b) it’s a song that Patrick Stewart may well have enjoyed as a young man, and c) lost time and second chances are one of the themes of the episode.

It’s harvest time at Chateau Picard. Jean-Luc Picard is back home, inspecting the grapes with his faithful bulldog Number One. The harvest itself is a charming mix of the traditional and the modern. The wine is still bottled and shipped in wooden crates, but the grapes are beamed from the vine onto a hovering drone and the labels are remote projected onto the bottles. Laris is there as well, exchanging smoldering looks with Picard, while Zhaban is notable by his absence.

We later learn that at least one and a half years have passed since the end of season 1 of Picard. Zhaban has died in the meantime and Laris is ready to move on, as is the Romulan way. She and Picard share a moment and I guess I wasn’t the only one yelling at the screen, “Go for it, Jean-Luc. There’s an attractive and lonely Romulan woman who’s interested in you, so what are you waiting for?”

Alas, Picard is still Picard and so he blows it, just as he has blown several similar moments with Beverly Crusher and a couple of others. The episode attempts to explain why Picard chose the stars, when he had a perfectly fine vineyard at home, and why he eschews committed romantic relationships. The explanation lies in Picard’s childhood, delivered via a flashback, which shows us young Jean-Luc (who for reasons unknown is dressed like a World War II refugee child) and his Mom in the otherwise empty chateau. They are standing in a somewhat dilapidated greenhouse – a greenhouse which is even more dilapidated in the present in spite of the otherwise excellent condition of the chateau. Picard’s Mom tells young Jean-Luc that this can be their secret place, that they can fix it up and paint on the glass panes. Then she tells him to look up and look at the stars and ends with “Let’s see what’s out there!”

We already know that Picard’s brother and father didn’t care for his passion for space exploration, though it seems his Mom – whom we’ve only seen once before as a vision of an elderly lady drinking tea in the Next Generation episode “Where No One Has Gone Before” – encouraged him. And so, in the present day, we see Picard picking up a shard of a shattered glass pane that’s painted with roses suggesting that Jean-Luc and his Mom did paint the greenhouse. We also get more flashbacks at scenes of domestic violence. So Picard’s Mom (and possible Jean-Luc and his brother as well) was a victim of domestic violence, which – it is implied – is the reason that Picard eschews committed relationships.

Sir Patrick Stewart has been very open about the fact that he witnesses domestic violence as he grew up, that it deeply affected him and that ending domestic violence is a cause close to his heart. We also know that Sir Patrick Stewart has input on the scripts of Picard, so the domestic violence backstory may well originate with him as an attempt to raise awareness for the issue. And this is laudable.

However, I dislike that stereotype that people who eschew committed relationships or any kind of relationships must have had unhappy childhoods and must have grown up in broken homes. Because there are plenty of people – and I’m speaking as someone who’s happily single myself and has been for a long time now – for whom committed relationships are simply not a priority in life. For starters, asexual and aromantic people exist and no, they don’t come from broken homes either. Since Picard clearly has had sexual and romantic relationships in the past, he’s not ace or aro. However, he has always struck me as someone who simply has other priorities (his career, Starfleet, the Federation, exploring space, making wine) which don’t mesh well with committed relationships and family life. Which is okay. Quite a few people value other things higher than committed relationships and no, they don’t all come from broken families or have experienced violence.

It’s still early in season and we don’t yet know where the subplot about Picard’s commitment issues and his family will go. I also have faith that the writers will handle the subject of domestic violence sensitively, especially since their star is a survivor of domestic violence. So let’s see where this goes.

Paul Levinson points out that Picard’s commitment issues may also be due to the fact that he died at the end of season 1 and now lives in an android body. Though having an android body stopped neither Data nor Grey from Discovery. Also, Picard was no different when he still had his original body.

After Picard blows his chances with Laris, he heads to San Francisco to give a speech at the Starfleet Academy graduation ceremony. One of the cadets is none other than Elnor, the young Romulan Qowat Milat warrior (it’s complicated), whom Picard took under his wing last season. I don’t know how long Starfleet Academy takes, but I suspect two years at the very least, suggesting once again that quite a bit of time has passed since the end of season 1. Elnor is also the first fully Romulan cadet Starfleet has ever had. Picard’s graduation gift to Elnor is a first edition of Spock’s biography, describing Spock’s struggles as one of the few Vulcans serving in Starfleet.

Raffi is at the ceremony as well, back in Starfleet uniform. She’s captain of the USS Excelsior, a ship (or series of ships) with a storied history that frequently pops up across the various versions of Star Trek. One of the Excelsior‘s previous captains was none other than Hikaru Sulu. Since Raffi sort of adopted Elnor over the course of season 1, she has made sure that the newly minted cadet is assigned to her ship, because – so she tells Picard – Elnor’s habit of always speaking the truth with absolute candour is sure to get him into trouble.

Raffi has been no more lucky in love than Picard, since we learn that her budding relationship with Seven of Nine broke up in the time between seasons 1 and 2. I for one find this a pity, because I would have loved to a mature lesbian couple star in “Elnor Has Two Mommies”. Though I suspect that Seven and Raffi will get back together before long.

As for Seven, she, too, has priorities other than romantic relationships, since she’s back doing humitarian work (with some muscle to back it up) for the Fenris Rangers. Seven has also taken over Rios’ old ship, the La Sirena, and kept his holograms. And so we get to watch as Seven and the Emmett, the Spanish-speaking, long-haired and tattooed engineering hologram, take out a bunch of space pirates who tried to steal medical supplies that Seven is delivering on behalf of the Fenris Rangers. Emmett the hologram tries to flirt with Seven, but she’s having none of that, since she’s got other priorities.

In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in badarse women in their 50s kicking arse and taking names, whether it’s Ming Na Wen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek Discovery and everything she’s been in really, Sandra Oh in Killing Eve and now Jeri Ryan in Star Trek Picard. As someone who’s closer to fifty than thirty myself, I love seeing older women kicking arse and taking names. It’s a far cry from not too long ago, when women over forty (and sometimes not even yet forty) were relegated to playing matriarchs and long suffering wives in soap operas or sitcom mothers. Because especially girls and young women need to see older women role models who show that life does not end at 40 or 45 and that there are things they can be other than wives and mothers, even if few women will become ex-Borg outlaws, ex-Imperial snipers, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents or former Empresses of the universe.

While we’re checking in one the rest of the main cast, we next see Soji and Dr. Agnes Jurati (who has been cleared from the murder charge for killing Dr. Maddox, since she was under Romulan telepathic influence at the time) on a good-will tour of the Federation, now that the ban on synthetic lifeforms has been lifted. Soji is enjoying dinner with what I initially thought was a group of Dora Milaje who’d wandered into the wrong franchise by mistake, but which then turns out to be a bunch of Deltans. I have to admit that I had completely forgotten the existence of the Deltans. I should be forgiven for that, because Star Trek never did much with the Deltans beyond Star Trek: The Motion Picture and they were always badly defined. All we know about the Deltans is that they are bald and supposedly so sexy that they drive everybody mad (though only everybody of the opposite gender in The Motionless Picture) and need to take an oath of celibacy before being allowed to serve in Starfleet at all. My younger self found this both infuriating – who is Starfleet to dictate to the Deltans how to live their sex life? – and baffling, for while Persis Khambatta, whom we lost too soon, was a very attractive woman, she was not very attractive when playing Ilia.

Agnes Jurati is also immune to the Deltan charms, for when a barkeeper tries to flirt with the very drunken Agnes, she blows him off with her disastrous relationship history. She broke up with her last boyfriend – Chris Rios – and killed the boyfriend before that – Dr. Maddox. Yes, it’s not just Picard who’s unlucky in love, it’s everybody in this show.

As for Chris Rios, he, too, is back with Starfleet now and captain of the USS Stargazer. He’s still chomping his cigar, too, which is odd since I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody smoke in Star Trek, not even during the Original Series, which was made at a time when smoking was still widely accepted. Star Trek fans will know that the Stargazer (a previous Stargazer, it turns out) was Jean-Luc Picard’s first command, before he became captain of the Enterprise. The Stargazer is ordered to investigate a spatial anomaly – a rip in the fabric of space and time – which has just popped up. At this point I groaned, for while spatial anomalies may be dime a dozen in the Star Trek universe (though Starfleet seems to have forgotten that by the 31st century), Star Trek Discovery has just spent an entire season trying to unravel the mystery of what is essentially a planet-eating evil black cloud. So if Picard was going to spend a whole season dealing with an evil black cloud edged in green, it would really be too much of an already tired plot device. Luckily, Star Trek Picard‘s evil green-edged black cloud is only the incicting incident which gets the plot proper moving.

For it turns out that this spatial anomaly is broadcasting something. Because Rios’ Bajoran communication officer can’t make head nor tails of it, Rios asks his ex-girlfriend Agnes Jurati for help. So a very drunk Agnes beams aboard the Stargazer, plops down in the first officer’s chair and then chases the poor Bajoran officer away from her console to analyse the signal. It turns out be three words, broadcast over and over again: “Picard, help us!”

Blissfully unaware of all this, Picard takes a detour to Los Angeles to visit an old friend, Guinan who now runs a retro bar. Picard claims that he only wants to deliver a bottle of his latest vintage, but he’s truly there to ask Guinan for advice about his romantic dilemma with Laris. Guinan realises that something is up at once and asks “Top shelf or hooch?” And so we get the very welcome return of Whoopi Goldberg to Star Trek. Of course, there’s no real reason for her to be here – Picard could have talked to Raffi or Riker or anybody else just as easily. But it’s Whoopi Goldberg, so any excuse to get her on the show will do.

Guinan’s appearance does create a problem, for while Guinan is an extremely long-lived alien and therefore shouldn’t have aged at all, Whoopi Goldberg is still human and clearly has aged in the 28 years since Star Trek: The Next Generation ended. The solution to this dilemma is elegant. It turns out that Guinan’s people can control their rate of aging and Guinan opts to age, so as not to freak her human friends and customers out.

Upon returning to Chateau Picard, Picard receives a visit from a female Starfleet Admiral who informs him about the Stargazer’s discovery. After beginning with “Help us, Picard”, the broadcast continues by quoting the entire article five of the Federation constituion, an article about worlds applying to join the Federation. Some unknown species wants to join the Federation and they will talk only to Picard about it.

So Picard is off to the Stargazer, where he is reunited with Rios, Agnes and Seven, who already was in the area when the anomaly appeared and shows up to help. Picard and Seven take a stroll through the corridors of the Stargazer, while crewmembers scramble out of the way – though whether it’s because they’re awed by Picard and terrified of Seven or both is not quite clear. Picard points out that the more these old ships are retrofitted, the more modern they look – a clear reference to the fact that the Starfleet ships seen in Discovery and Star Trek: Enteprise look a lot more modern than ships which supposedly date from later times.

Seven points out that the Stargazer is the first Starfleet vessel to incorporate technology scavenged from the wrecked Borg Cube seen in season 1. Seven is not at all happy with this and thinks it’s too dangerous, conveniently forgetting that she modified Voyager with Bog technology long before Starfleet did.  Meanwhile, the random mention that this particular Starfleet vessel happens to be equipped with Borg technology also serves as a huge red flashing signs that Chekhov’s (Anton, not Pavel) Borg technology will play a part later on. Especially since black and a sickly neon green are exactly the colours we associated with a certain cybernetic species.

Picard arrives on the bridge and hails whoever is on the other side of the anomaly, whereupon a sinister black and sickly neon green spidery spaceship emerges from the anomaly. Seven confirms that it’s a Borg ship, as if there was any doubt.

So the Borg want to join the Federation – or do they? Seven is sceptical and points out that the Borg are in pretty bad shape following the events of the Next Generation episodes I, Borg and Descent. Individuality introduced via Hugh is spreading like a virus through the Collective and more and more Borg are breaking away and becoming ex-Borg. And since the Borg can’t conquer by force anymore, they might well use trickery. Seven also points out that the Borg never join or cooperate, they only assimilate.

Picard is no fan of the Borg for obvious reasons, but he is at least willing to listen to what they have to say. That said, the appearance of a Borg ship in Federation space is cause for concern and brings much of Starfleet coming to the aid of the Stargazer, including the Excelsior with Raffi and Elnor on board.

It is notable that we have never seen a single Borg in season 3 and 4 of Discovery, suggesting that the Borg may no longer exist as we know them by the 31st century. So are we seeing the twilight of the Borg here? Or is something else going on?

The Borg declare that they will send an emissary to negotiate with Picard. Rios absolutely does not want any Borg on his ship, which everybody sympathises with. However, the Borg don’t respect shields and beam their emissary on board anyway. The emissary appears to be the Borg queen, only that she is wearing a black cloak and a full face mask/helmet now. The Borg queen declares that she will negotiate, but first she requires power. Then Doctor Octopus like tentacles (maybe the Borg assimilated a fan of vintage Marvel comics and got the idea from there) shoot out of her back and into the consoles of the Stargazer. A ship, you’ll remember, which has been modified with Borg technology.

So what has been signposted all along by the discussion about Starfleet ships using Borg technology happens: The Borg queen begins to take over and assimilate the Stargazer. And since the Stargazer is connected to the rest of the fleet, the same happens to them. Now we cut back to the flash forward scene from the very beginning of the episode. There’s pandemonium on the bridge, the bridge crew is ineffectively firing at the Borg queen, while the Stargazer and the whole fleet are slowly being assimilated.

“We can’t hand them an armada”, Seven says and everybody realises that she is right. So Picard triggers the automatic self-destruct. Of course, Picard is the highest ranking officer, but normally only captains and first officer can trigger the self-destruct. Which meanns Rios and whoever his first officer is. So can admirals trigger every single self-destruct mechanism in every Starfleet vessel? At any rate, Picard initiates the self-destruct, everybody braces themselves as the countdown goes down to zero and the Stargazer and the rest of the fleet explodes.

And now it’s revealed that season 2 of Star Trek Picard was merely a ruse and that we’re getting Star Trek: Strange New Worlds instead. No, not really.

Instead, Picard suddenly wakes up back at the chateau with the worst case of “It was all a dream” since a whole season of Dallas (and a pretty good one, too) was annulled as “Just a dream”, because viewers couldn’t live without Patrick Duffy.

However, the viewer – and Picard – quickly realise that something is wrong. For starters, Picard’s com badge looks different now. And a portrait of Picard in a black uniform hangs above the fireplace. Picard calls for Laris, only to be met by an android servant named Harvey, who has never heard of Laris.

And then, to make matters worse, Q shows up to inform Picard that they meet again, because the trial never ends and that this reality is the end of the road not taken. Cue season trailer for credits.

Like Guinan, Q is an alien who does not age, whereas John DeLancie is an actor who definitely does age, though he actually looks more handsome now than he did 28 years ago. The way around this is that Q realises that Picard has aged and adjusts his appearance accordingly.

The Guinan cameo was clearly just there to bring back a beloved character, whereas Q promises to play an important role in the plot. And a most welcome return it is, too, because Q was always a favourite of mine, annoying as he is.

And come to think of it, we have also never seen any members of the Q Continuum in th 31st century. Okay, so we haven’t seen any Klingons and any Deltans either (but then no one cares about the Deltans), but it’s still a notable pattern of absence.

The season trailer suggests that Picard and his friends have landed in an alternate reality which is a fascist dystopia. Which isn’t exactly original, but more original than “Here’s a scary black evil cloud, let’s figure out how to deal with it?”

All in all, I enjoyed this episode a lot. Unlike the glacial pace of season 4 of Discovery, it moves at a crisp pace, reintroduces all the characters and where they are now and offers plenty of new mysteries and threats to deal with. As reviewer Keith R.A. DeCandido points out, the climax with the Borg Queen assimilating the Stargazer was telegraphed way too blatantly and the fight on the bridge was clumsy. Also, why does everybody keep firing at the Borg Queen, when their phasers can’t penetrate her shields.

In the end, I enjoyed this episode a lot more than Keith R.A. DeCandido did. It’s a fun and action-packed start to a new season that promises to be a lot more fun than the rather lacklustre season 4 of Discovery.

So, to quote Picard’s Mom, let’s see what’s out there!

This entry was posted in TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Star Trek Picard Meets “The Star Gazer”

  1. Steve Wright says:

    Smoking in “Star Trek” – IIRC, Gene Roddenbery made a deliberate decision that nobody in his utopian future would smoke. It was controversial at the time, if only because it meant the show had no chance of getting sponsorship money from the tobacco industry.

    Presumably the utopian future now includes safe non-carcinogenic tobacco – which I seem to remember was a Thing in some “Golden Age” SF writing? My brain keeps throwing up a line about “the desired result was a cigarette that did not cause cancer”, and suggesting Isaac Asimov in this context, but I can’t quite remember where it comes from, exactly.

    • Cora says:

      The fact that tobacco was carcinogenic was defnitely known much earlier than most of us think, it was just ignored during the “golden age” of smoking, which also coincides with the golden age of science fiction. I remember an early episode of Mad Men where the characters are upset that new advertising regulations forbid them from mentioning that doctors recommend smoking in their tobacco ads. When Don Draper writes an open letter declaring that henceforth the company will no longer do tobacco advertisement, it causes a mini-scandal. This would have been around the same time Star Trek originally aired.

      Asbestos is an obvious parallel here. It was known to be carcinogenic much earlier than most of us assume and instead the ubiquituousness of asbestos happened at a time when the dangers were already known. The house where I live was built in 1971 and is as asbestos free as houses from the period can be (i.e. there probably is asbestos in mortar and the like, because it was that ubiquitous, but no asbestos was deliberately used). The reason is that the original owner worked in the shipbuilding industry where the dangers of asbestos were known much earlier than in the general public and refused to have any of that stuff in his house.

  2. Szwole?er says:

    I got impression that Star Trek Discovery sometimes had too litlle plot while Star Trek Picard at times had too much (and too many characters). It also seems to rely heavily on nostalgia and guest appearances of beloved characters. Still I believe Picard has potential to be decent, if somewhat uneven TV series, and it`s good that we get to see more of Patrick Stewart while we still can.

    Your reviews as always are thoughtful and entertaining, although I had doubts whether new Trek series are best choice of SFF TV series to follow.

    • Cora says:

      When Discovery started up in 2017, there were a lot fewer SFF TV series to follow than now. Since then, we’ve seen a massive explosion of good SFF TV due to the various streaming services, who seem to have realised that SFF may not attract as many viewers as crime dramas, medical dramas and soap operas, but that SFF fans have disposable income and are willing to pay more for entertainment. And by now it’s sort of a tradition.

      You’re right that Discovery has too little plot, while Picard has too much, though the season 2 premiere was promising. On the other hand, season 1 also started off promising and then fell apart at the end.

  3. You reminded me of a story of smoking in Trek. I attend a Rodenberry lecture in 1981. One of the stories he told was that a tobacco sponsor wanted to get cigarettes on the show. Roddenberry, a smoker at the time, thought we would move past that in the future. The rep from the company was determined and recommended a square cigarette to make it futuristic. Roddenberry held his ground. He ended the story by saying “I wonder were Star Trek would be today if Kirk was pumping a square cigarette.”

    One thing behind the scenes. Marc Bernardin is a Supervising Producer on this season. Bernardin is an African-American television writer and former entertainment journalist. I know him from being Kevin Smith’s co-host on The Fatman Beyond podcast (formerly Fatman on Batman). He has an excellent sense of story structure and is a great reviewer. He has written for show like Alphas, Castle Rock, and Masters of the Universe: Revelation (he wrote the third episode which is where Teela reunites with Duncan). I look forward to the episode he writes. I am big fan and supported his Kickstarter to write and direct a short feature film.

    • Cora says:

      The western world has moved largely past smoking in my lifetime, so that was one prediction of Roddenberry’s that was absolutely correct, even if we don’t have transporters and warp drives and likely never will. And the ban of tobacco advertising probably had a lot to do with it.

      Thanks for pointing me at Marc Bernadin. I had noticed his name in the credits, but did not make the connection to Masters of the Universe Revelations (which unexpectedly secured itself a spot on my Hugo ballot) and Castle Rock.

  4. Peer says:

    Just watched it and if nothing else it makes me curious for the next epsiodes, while I havent been able to bring myself on continuing with Discos second half of the season. I rhink Picard promises that change and new ideas are possible, while Disco tends to revert into same old – same old (they jumped 900 years into the future and in season 4 Star Fleet is basiccally back to where it was – except for some smal technology updates and a bit less territory)
    I found the fight scene a bit clumsy, considering Picard and Rios both keep shouting “Cease fire” and no one listened. Apart from that, pleasant watching.
    (Are the Borg from another universe? Probably)

    • Cora says:

      The second half of Disco’s season 4 did eventually give us two very good episodes, but unfortunately we also need three weak episodes with a truly glacial pace to get there. And yes, Disco feels a lot more conservative, even though it is now set 900 years in the future.

      The fact that no one of the bridge of the Stargazer listened to either Picard or Rios, i.e. their captain and an admiral, and just kept firing is really strange.

  5. Peer says:

    Wait, I just realized, that this episode has a callback to an actress who died of smoking AND featuring a captain who smokes on the bridge?

    • Cora says:

      I had forgotten what exactly caused Persis Khambatta’s untimely death, but it does feel really insensitive.

  6. Pingback: Picard Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2 – Camestros Felapton

  7. Pingback: Star Trek Picard does “Penance” | Cora Buhlert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *