TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ – Season 1

A science fiction legend returns in the newest ‘Star Trek’ spin-off…

Picard s1 a

Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) embarks on a new mission in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Warning! Contains some spoilers

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Harry Treadaway, Evan Evagora, Peyton List, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan

Series created by:  Akiva Goldsmen, Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman & Kirsten Beyer (Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

As the end of the 24th Century approaches, on the anniversary of the devastating destruction of the planet Romulus, retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is confronted by a mysterious young woman on the run, as a new adventure beckons…

In review

Recently completing its ten-episode run (via CBS All Access/Amazon Prime), the first season of Star Trek: Picard is an enjoyable beginning for the newest addition to the expanding Star Trek television universe.  From the creators of Star Trek: Discovery, Picard adds additional pedigree to its creative staff in the form of Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay), serving as co-creator/showrunner and who writes/co-writes a number of episodes throughout the season.  The series boasts the same impressive production values seen in Discovery, with near-feature film quality visuals and special effects complemented by some striking cinematography.  Headlined by lead star/executive producer Sir Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: Picard sees the celebrated actor return to the beloved role of Jean-Luc Picard after an eighteen-year absence (last appearing on the big screen in 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis), with a clear enthusiasm and investment in the material.  In the established traditions of Star Trek, Picard provides a mirror for current events weaving commentary on issues ranging from Brexit to global political turmoil and social segregation into its narrative, whilst also delving into the often mined but always intriguing concept of artificial intelligence.

Star Trek: Picard picks up two decades after the events of Star Trek Nemesis and the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova.  Having resigned from Starfleet following their withdrawal from the Romulan relocation effort, implemented after a deadly revolt by the synthetic workforce brought online to increase the production of rescue ships, a dejected and morose Jean-Luc Picard has retreated to the family vineyard in France, embittered by the failure of the once cherished and noble values of Starfleet and the Federation which he long fought to protect.  Haunted by dreams of his late comrade and friend Lieutenant Commander Data (the ever-excellent Brent Spiner), the Enterprise’s former android crewman, Picard is lost and without purpose until one day, he encounters a young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones).  Hunted by Romulan assassins and drawn to Picard by hidden memories, we soon discover that Dahj is an advanced type of android created by Doctor Bruce Maddox (John Ales – portraying the character originally played by Brian Brophy in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”) based on Data’s positronic neurons – essentially Data’s ‘daughter’.  Picard is unable to save Dahj but learning that she has a twin, Soji, unaware that she is in fact an android and working aboard a Romulan-captured Borg vessel known as ‘the Artifact’ to help rehabilitate the individuals assimilated by the Borg and now disconnected from the Collective.  Refused help by Starfleet, Picard gathers a crew of his own aboard a ship called La Sirena and sets out on a mission to reach Soji as a conspiracy by a secret Romulan order – the Zhat Vash – to eradicate all synthetic life before it threatens organics (prophesied by ‘the Admonition’), unfolds.

Picard s1 b

The superb Jeri Ryan returns as Seven of Nine (image credit: CBS Viacom).

Assembled aboard the La Sirena (following a trilogy of opening chapters, all skilfully directed by executive producer Hanelle M. Culpepper), the main players are an eclectic – and flawed – bunch.  Joining Picard is the washed-out, hard-drinking Raffi Musiker (a conflicted yet maternal Michelle Hurd), his right-hand woman during the Romulan evacuation crisis who was subsequently forced out of Starfleet, robotics expert Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) who joins the mission to search for Maddox – and whose troubled journey becomes a highlight, with a wonderfully quirky and nuanced performance by Alison Pill – and Elnor (Evan Evagora), a childlike but dutiful young Romulan warrior Picard once befriended and mentored as a boy.  Commanding La Sirena is the roguish cigar chomping Cristobal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), who is a nifty blend of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, with his own reasons for abandoning Starfleet and aided by a number of Emergency Holographic programs, each with their own specific purpose (medical, helm, navigation, engineering…even psychiatric!) and personalities to suit.  The main threat is provided effectively by Gotham’s Peyton List who plays Narissa, a Zhat Vash operative who is devilish and formidable, but also given some credible motivations.  List’s character is supported by her brother, Narek (Harry Treadaway), assigned to become close to and manipulate Soji – who is believed to be ‘the Destroyer’ who will bring about the annihilation of organic life – and Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), the sinister Romulan/Vulcan spy at the head of Starfleet security.

Picard’s voyage also facilitates the return of some old faces.  Aside from Brent Spiner’s Data, there’s an emotional reunion with former Enterprise colleagues Will Riker and Deanna Troi (in the Chabon co-written episode “Nepenthe” which is a standout of the season, featuring wonderful performances by Jonathan Frakes – who also directs a number of episodes – and Marina Sirtis), appearances from Hugh, the former Borg introduced in TNG (a now de-Borgified and sorely underutilised Jonathan Del Arco) and popular Star Trek: Voyager character and other ex-Borg, Seven of Nine (the superb Jeri Ryan).  Seven (rejecting her real name of Annika Hansen) is in something of a dark place in Picard, the tragic loss of her young protégé Icheb (sadly, original Voyager actor Manu Intiraymi is recast for a startlingly brutal flashback sequence) leading her to join a group of galactic mercenaries.  Jeri Ryan is well-served by the writers and excels in a performance that evolves Seven and takes her in an unexpected direction, allowing for more depth and complexity and she is a significant asset to the series.  What works especially well about the inclusion of legacy Star Trek characters in Picard is that they each play a part in the story and are not simply incorporated to provide fan service, which could have all too easily been the case.

As the show’s lead actor and focal point, Patrick Stewart is given a lot to play with and delivers a generally robust, passionate – and at times touching – portrayal of the 94-year old Picard.  There’s a slight shaky quality to Stewart’s performance – understandable, given his age – but it goes without saying that the mere presence of Jean-Luc Picard, a character that fans have longed to see return to the screen, is reassuring.  The revelation that Picard is beginning to experience symptoms of a terminal neurological condition (undoubtedly the Alzheimers-esque ‘Irumodic Syndrome’ depicted in the alternate future of the TNG series finale, “All Good Things”) adds a bittersweet touch and there’s an element of PTSD as Picard has to once again deal with his traumatic history with the Borg – which naturally provides some neat moments between Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan as the series examines the plight of the innocent victims (referred to as ‘Ex-B’s’) who had their individuality stripped away by the Borg.  The relationship between Picard and Elnor is quite sweet and the interplay between Stewart and Isa Briones is also memorable and especially well-portrayed as Picard helps Soji come to terms with, and embrace, her true nature.

Picard s1 c

Picard seeks the help of some old friends (image credit: CBS Viacom).

As the season unfolds, there are various twist and turns – often genuinely surprising and even shocking (none of which will be divulged here for the sake of those not yet caught up) and the story reaches a climax with a two-part finale (“Et in Arcadia Ego“) in which Picard and his cohorts find their journey reaches Coppelius, a planet Dr. Maddox withdrew to continue his work following the synth ban and now populated by androids.  Trying desperately to prevent the galactic cataclysm foretold by the Admonition and from Soji playing a role in the event, Picard soon finds himself piloting the La Sirena and heading off a fleet of Romulan warships.  It’s a suitably epic confrontation and leads to an emotional and poignant denouement which establishes a new status quo for Picard, some satisfying closure for the TNG era and the promise of exciting new adventures to come.

Picard isn’t perfect, despite some of the talent behind the scenes the plotting can be a little haphazard and the writing is sometimes a bit clunky and contrived.  Some of the narrative elements – such as the afore-mentioned synthetic revolt and subsequent ban on artificial life – are not afforded enough focus, likewise there are character backstories left underdeveloped, such as Raffi’s strained relationship with her son.  It makes IDW’s Star Trek: Picard – Countdown comic book mini-series and Una McCormack’s novel Star Trek: Picard – The Last Best Hope recommended reading as they flesh out much of what is missing on screen in that regard.  It’s also worth mentioning that unlike The Next Generation, Picard – like a lot of modern genre TV productions – carries a mature viewer rating and fulfils it with instances of bloody violence and a jarring overuse of profanity.  Whilst Picard was never intended (nor should it be) as merely a reprisal of TNG, perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to not have the series be accessible to a broader age range given its heritage.

Grumbles and nit-picks aside, Picard remains entertaining and each episode is at the very least (ahem) engaging with plenty of drama, action and numerous Easter eggs for fans to feast on.  The series may have benefited from tighter and more consistent pacing, especially in the earlier instalments and maybe even an increased episode count to better cater for the various sub-plots and character developments, but there are often glimmers of greatness that assures potential for the already confirmed second season.  It’s hard to recommend Picard to the uninitiated as it is steeped deeply in the lore and history of what has gone before, requiring a certain amount of affection for the viewer to become properly committed.  In the end, Star Trek: Picard isn’t bound to please everyone – much like we’ve seen with Star Trek: Discovery – but on the whole it’s a well-produced and worthy new entry in the Star Trek canon with an intriguing story that’s elevated by the return, and resurgence, of Jean-Luc Picard and whets the appetite for the further voyages of a science fiction legend.

The bottom line:  A solid if sometimes flawed first season, Star Trek: Picard is non-the-less enjoyable and enhanced by the triumphant return of Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard.

All episodes of Star Trek: Picard season one are available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. or internationally on Amazon Prime.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ – Series Premiere

A science fiction legend returns in the newest ‘Star Trek’ spin-off…

Picard prem

A 24th Century hero returns: Sir Patrick Stewart stars in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS).

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Harry Tredaway, Brent Spiner

Series created by:  Kirsten Beyer, Michael Chabon, Akiva Goldsmen & Alex Kurtzman (Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Episode directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper / written by:  Akiva Goldsmen & James Duff (story by Akiva Goldsmen, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, Alex Kurtzman & James Duff)

What’s it about?

“Remembrance” : as the end of the 24th Century approaches, on the anniversary of the devastating destruction of the planet Romulus, retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is confronted by a mysterious young woman on the run, as a new adventure beckons…

In review

The much-awaited return of a Star Trek legend is finally here with the launch of the new CBS series Star Trek: Picard – from the makers of Star Trek: Discovery (joined by novelist Michael Chabon as showrunner) – with a promising and tantalising first episode.  As it very well should be, Picard is quite a different animal from Star Trek: The Next Generation – that show is and ever will be a classic, landmark piece of television, but times have changed and so has the nature of small screen entertainment and as with Discovery, the Star Trek franchise evolves.  As expected, it’s a lavish and sophisticated production with feature film quality visuals and some beautiful photography (presenting various locales) and the longform storytelling style we’re now accustomed to.

For Picard, Sir Patrick Stewart reprises his most iconic and forever beloved role as Jean-Luc Picard – former captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise (both ‘D’ and ‘E’) and retired Starfleet Admiral, following the catastrophic Romulan supernova (deftly tying into the events of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) which resulted in the destruction of the Romulan homeworld and the scattering of its people across space.  Embittered by the poor response to the crises by the Federation and Starfleet, organisations whose values he has fought to protect, Picard has withdrawn to a quiet and uneventful life at the family vineyard of Chateau Picard in France.  It’s been more than two decades since Picard’s last mission aboard the Enterprise and, now over 90 years old (accompanied by his dog – affectionately named Number One), he finds himself haunted by nightmares of his old friend, the late android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) and frustrated by the erosion of the ideals he cherished as a Starfleet captain.  However, the appearance of a young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones), on the run and desperate for help, thrusts the noble once Admiral Picard back into action.  Who is Dahj and why does she have hidden memories of Picard?  These questions and more are presented as a new adventure begins for Jean-Luc Picard in “Remembrance”.

Picard prem b

Picard (Patrick Stewart) is confronted by the mysterious Dahj (Isa Briones) in the premiere of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ (image credit: CBS).

At 79, Patrick Stewart has clearly aged – somewhat gracefully – and although he may at first appear a little shaky, it’s soon comforting to see Picard back onscreen.  Almost twenty years after he last played the role (on the big screen in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis), Stewart – mindful of his standout performance alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan – brings his talent effortlessly to the fore.  There’s an element of melancholy to his portrayal in Picard which befits the story and the mature character-focused approach the series seems to be aiming for, yet as the plot of “Remembrance” unfolds, those familiar traits of conviction and altruism start coming passionately to life once more.

Aside from the obvious joy of Patrick Stewart’s return to Star Trek, it’s also a delight to see the excellent Brent Spiner guest star and equally pleasing that his role, which could have easily been incorporated simply as fan service, has great importance to the story and lovingly celebrates the character of Data and his benevolent nature.  Isa Briones delivers a likeable and believable portrayal as the scared and desperate Dahj, with the writers serving the part with a good deal of mystery.  A visit to the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa introduces us to Alison Pill’s Dr. Jurati, a cybernetics expert left with little do after a ban on synthetic lifeforms following an apparent android revolt, creating some interesting and fun scenes with Picard.  Apart from the closing reveal of Harry Treadaway’s Narek that’s most of the recurring cast, with regulars Michelle Hurd, Evan Evagora and Santiago Cabrera to follow.  Also, whilst absent from this episode, there are still guest appearance from Patrick Stewart’s fellow TNG co-stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis to look forward to in future instalments, as well as Jonathan Del Arco (the former Borg drone, Hugh) and Star Trek: Voyager’s Jeri Ryan.

Picard brings with it a whole sense of history and strokes of nostalgia, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans to enjoy.  It’s difficult to say at this point if casual viewers will be able to latch onto the series and become invested but there’s enough exposition in the premiere to help bring new fans into the fold.  It’s important to remember that this is merely the first chapter in a ten-episode saga and “Remembrance” serves as a reintroduction to the character of Picard, establishing the world and times in which he now lives and providing the initial set-up for the serialised season-long arc.  To this end, “Remembrance” does a good job of balancing the disparate elements and with a whole heap of intrigue and action, whets the appetite for more…make it so.

The bottom line:  Jean-Luc Picard is back and Sir Patrick Stewart is on top form as Star Trek: Picard gets off to a promising and enjoyable start.

New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and available to stream in the U.K. and internationally every Friday via Amazon Prime.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’

IDW continues its expansion of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ with their latest comic book tie-in… 

ST Disc - Captain Saru

Cover art for ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’ by Paul Shipper (c. IDW Publishing).

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson / art by:  Angel Hernandez / colours by:  J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto

What’s it about?

After the nearly catastrophic events on the Klingon homeworld and the U.S.S. Discovery’s return to Earth, Starfleet orders the ship, under the temporary command of Commander Saru, to investigate the disappearance of a science vessel…

In review

IDW Publishing continues its winning streak of Star Trek comics with the one-shot 2019 annual Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru, based on the hit CBS All Access series.  Written by Discovery staff writer Kirsten Beyer together with veteran Trek comics writer Mike Johnson and with art by Angel Hernandez, Captain Saru is a superb tie-in to the latest Star Trek series and a great comic overall.

Slotting neatly into place at the end of Discovery’s inaugural season but prior to the closing scenes of the season one finale, Captain Saru further expands on the titular Kelpien’s leadership abilities as he continues his role as acting captain and the faith that Starfleet Command has in his skills when they despatch the skeleton-crewed, under-repair Discovery to investigate the whereabouts of the U.S.S. Dorothy Garrod, a science vessel aboard which Ensign Tilly is spending her leave – only to discover that it has fallen prey to Orion pirates that soon endanger Discovery and her crew.  Can Saru effectively marshal his experience and skills to overcome this latest challenge?

It goes without saying that Beyer and Johnson’s script is excellent given their history as Star Trek writers.  Beyer (appointed to oversee the licensed fictional expansion of the Discovery universe in books and comics) as novelist, co-writer, with Johnson, of previous IDW Discovery titles “The Light of Kahless” and “Succession” and scribe of the outstanding Saru-focused first season episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”.  Johnson, comparatively, is now in his tenth year of writing Star Trek comics for IDW and has given fans numerous stand-out stories including the Star Trek (2009) prequels “Countdown” and “Nero”.  Both writers bring all of their talents, knowledge and love for Star Trek fully to Captain Saru where they perfectly capture the voices of the various Discovery characters (aided in no small part by the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp et al providing strong points of reference), the feel of the show and the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision which imbues it in its finest moments.  Saru’s tenure as temporary commander during the Mirror Universe crisis was a highlight of Discovery’s first season and that is strengthened here.  Whilst there is action and suspense in the story, Captain Saru excels in characterisation and emotional investment as Beyer and Johnson dive deep into not only Saru’s capabilities and resourcefulness but also his doubts and inability to view himself as his ship-mates do.  There’s also a great deal of focus on the familial relationship between Saru and Michael Burnham which has, after a fraught beginning, blossomed (but with that occasional hint of professional tension remaining) during the series.

Just as Beyer and Johnson faithfully adapt the narrative dialect and characters of Star Trek: Discovery, Angel Hernandez (who cut his Star Trek comics teeth on the Mike Johnson written Star Trek/Green Lantern crossovers) perfectly recreates the look of the series with meticulous detail and attention and evoking the cinematic scope and direction that the makers of Discovery bring to television screens each week.  Hernandez is also adept in making the reader ‘feel’ the characters with his intricate range of facial work and their placing within the panels.  Colouring by J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto further embellishes the visuals with a slight painted, water-colour quality that’s a little reminiscent of J.K. Woodward’s work on titles such as Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor WhoAssimilation² and Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever.  It all amounts to a wonderful read and essential for fans of Star Trek: Discovery.

The bottom line:  a highly enjoyable tie-in to the CBS series, Star Trek: DiscoveryCaptain Saru is another unmissable Star Trek release from IDW Publishing brought to life by a superb creative team.

Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Incorporated image is used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright holder(s).

Comic Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1

IDW launches its latest Star Trek title…

Spoiler-free review

ST Discovery #1

Main cover art by Tony Shasteen for IDW Publishing’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1 (image belongs: IDW)

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson / pencils and inks by:  Tony Shasteen / colours by:  J.D. Mettler

What’s it about?

“The Light of Kahless” : the Battle of the Binary Stars is over and T’Kuvma is dead…but what drove the Klingon warrior to pursue conflict and his desire to forge a new era of glory for his people?

In review

For those who have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery and eagerly await its return from hiatus in January, IDW Publishing’s new ongoing tie in comic is an essential read and an ideal way to get your Discovery fix in the absence of any new episodes.

Written by Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Discovery writer/Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer, with art from Tony Shasteen (Star Trek: Boldly Go), Star Trek: Discovery #1 kicks off Klingon-centric story arc “The Light of Kahless”.  Doing what the very best Trek comics and novels have always done, IDW’s Discovery title fills in the gaps of what we’ve seen on screen, adding background and depth as well as fleshing out character, delivering a satisfying missing chapter to the story being explored by the television series.  Opening in the wake of the Battle at the Binary Stars (as depicted in the show’s opening two-parter), the comic takes us back into the past as we learn of the troubled upbringing of T’Kuvma – ill-fated warrior and ‘saviour’ of the Klingon Empire – on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, his discovery of the ancient sarcophagus ship and the forging of his path to glory.

Johnson and Beyer’s script hits all the right notes, effortlessly capturing the tone and ‘voice’ of the television series whilst expanding and enriching the mythology of Klingon culture as it is in Discovery, providing a deeper exploration of the themes of religion, tradition and war touched upon in the show together with a more detailed understanding of T’Kuvma’s motivations in his quest to bring about a new age for the Klingon race.

Unsurprisingly, the art by Tony Shasteen is phenomenal with the expected high quality and strong, meticulous detail that’s a faithful representation of Discovery as well as expanding the universe by giving readers a look at the home of the Klingon Empire as yet unseen in the series.

Some readers may be disappointed by the absence of any Starfleet/Federation presence and the main characters of Star Trek: Discovery but there’ll surely be opportunities to tell those stories further in the title’s run.  Right now, this is the sort of arc needed to embellish the narrative of Star Trek: Discovery’s journey on the small screen.

The bottom line:  A perfect companion for fans of the television series, IDW’s Star Trek: Discovery comic delivers an engaging and visually appealing look into some of the show’s backstory.

Star Trek: Discovery #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.