It’s been almost twenty years since The Enterprise had its last mission. One of the most beloved serials ever, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION spanned seven seasons and four films before concluding in 2002. While the quality of the latter was erratic at best, the series concluded on a high note. It was that high note that left fans clamoring for more. Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Amazon announced a sequel series about the adventures of a retired Jean-Luc Picard. Among the excitement there was a seed of doubt; even with Patrick Stewart returning to the iconic part, would it be too late for the aging actor? More worrisome was Akiva Goldsman, screenwriter behind “classics” like THE DA VINCI CODE and THE DARK TOWER, running the show.
Luckily all these fears were unfounded. PICARD is a fantastic sequel to the series. It’s also a genuinely touching exploration of growing old, friendship, and past mistakes haunting us in our twilight years.
Decades have passed since the death of Data during the Romulan conflict in STAR TREK: NEMESIS. Picard, having left Starfleet, lives in seclusion on his family vineyard. Hiding from his failures, the arrival of the mysterious Dahj forces him on a quest connected to his past.
PICARD could have so easily phoned this in and taken the easy way out. Throw in a little bit of fanservice, a quick victory lap, and the series would still be met with adoration. Instead the show has allowed for both Picard and the world around him to grow in our absence. In doing so it has restacked the odds against our hero in the best way possible.
While never an action hero, Picard faces the realization that many things he once could do are now an impossibility. His former crew vanished, much of the early season finds Picard fending for himself. By the time a ragtag bunch of miscreants joins together for the big mission, the series kicks into high gear. (Returning director Jonathan Frakes lends much needed pathos by directing two episodes this season.) Echoing both FIREFLY and THE EXPANSE in the best way possible, PICARD feels at once both old and new.
It’s also a reminder of how rich the world of STAR TREK is in the end. While limited in scope (for now), PICARD is at its best when expanding the mythology of galactic lore. One question (how does Starfleet remain an empire without turning to fascism) quickly becomes a key plot point. While the introduced villains lack the charm of greats like The Borg Queen, they’re still a breath of fresh air. At least it isn’t relying on Klingons again.
What the series winningly does rely on is that it’s a joy to travel with Patrick Stewart again. Easing back into the part as if he never left, Stewart brings tenderness and poignancy to Picard’s last curtain call. Even if early sequences stray a little too close to WOLVERINE. By the time we hear the call to “engage” all else fades away.
I have a huge soft spot for these stories of assorted groups of troublemakers coming together for the greater good. It’s a tried and true formula as old as storytelling, and it never fails to make me smile. While the old crew might be gone, PICARD proves that with the right captain the journey is always worth taking.
STAR TREK: PICARD is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.