It could have been so, so bad. It also could have been oh so very good. In the end, it was probably just fine. From such a promising start, Star Trek: Picard was always going to struggle to sustain itself for a ten episode run filled with plot twists, characters new and old and enough fan service to overwhelm even the most argent Trekkie. Now that it’s all over, WIRED’s resident Jean-Luc Picard fanatics have a chance to pick over some of the show’s highs and lows. And yes, this article contains a lot of spoilers.
James Temperton: Well, that last episode certainly packed a lot in. But what did you think of the series as a whole?
Andy Vandervell: It was a messy mix of squandered potential, excessive fan service and some genuine moments of brilliance. I thought the themes and ideas they started with in the first couple of episodes were interesting and challenging (in a good way), but there were way too many characters and story points to fit into a ten episode run.
JT: Totally agree on the fan service. It’s fun when it happens but doesn’t actually make a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. The episode with Riker and Troy towards the middle was classic Next Generation, but felt really out of place in a ten-episode series with such a manic narrative arc.
I think the standout for me was Patrick Stewart. It goes without saying that he’s a great actor, but when the plot around him frayed at the seams he absolutely nailed it by delivering Shakespeare with such clarity it had me on the verge of tears. There, I said it.
AV: Sir Patrick Stewart, James. Honestly. Yes, he was excellent and I think Isa Briones did a good job as Dahj and Soji, too. Jeri Ryan stole every scene she was in and was criminally underused in the story, I think. I’m still baffled by why Elnor is even in the show.
I wish I could say I had the same emotional investment. With the exception of Picard and Data’s reunion right at the end, I found the final episode an anti-climax, which is insane when you consider what’s at stake.
JT: Don’t even get me started on Elnor. He’s like an annoying NPC in a fantasy game who won’t leave you alone. Let’s talk about that final episode. The whole series had built up to such a climax that it was always going to be impossible to resolve it all. Synths! Romulans! Corruption in the Federation! Murder! Sex! Intrigue! Hugh!
Picard’s reunion with Data, which goes right back to the opening scene of the series and that intriguing dream he keeps having, was excellent. And when Picard helps Data die – never before has someone incorrectly ejecting a USB key been so emotionally charged. What did you think of the final episode? And did it leave much unresolved for season two?
AV: The final episode was a microcosm of the whole series, really. It was way too easy for Narek to convince Raffi and Rios to help him. It was way too easy for Dr. Jurati to spring Picard. They invented a magic story gadget to fix the ship and then create projections to fool the Romulans. Soji’s journey from confused Android to genocidal hatred of “organics” was never earned.
Basically, it felt like they had a bunch of objectives to reach and how they got there didn’t really matter. And one of those objectives, of course, was ending the show with Picard and his crew together, ready to go on cool space adventures.
Also, a couple of things. First, the big bad turned out to be giant metal space snakes from another dimension? Lame. Second, Oh repeatedly orders the use of “Planet sterilisation pattern number five”. I mean, how many patterns do you really need? Were they going for a nice gingham?
JT: Oh man, the “number five” line (with pause for dramatic effect) made me laugh out loud. You’ve done a good job of covering what didn’t work, but what about what did work? For me, it was that classic Star Trek device: diplomacy! Picard showing the synth “children” that he was willing to die for them – and that they could choose the path of their own salvation – was really neat. And we’ve already mentioned the satisfying closing of Data’s narrative.
In the early episodes, Picard was littered with meaningful discussions and explorations of big themes: freedom, life, death and justice. But ultimately it became a kinda turned into a pretty fun but slightly baffling space romp. No bad thing, but not quite what it set out to achieve. But there’s so much in those early episodes to revisit and expand upon. I really hope that’s where season two goes, but I have my doubts.
AV: There are plenty of interesting threads from earlier episodes that I hope they explore further. The current political situation between the Federation and the Romulans and how that’s evolved is really interesting to me, but was underplayed in favour of a focus on the Zhat Vash and their shenanigans. Has the Federation really lost its way and if so, how can it be fixed? Where do the synthetics fit into all that? It seems there’s a real struggle for the heart and soul of the organisation to be had.
JT: When I wrote about the first couple of episodes, it felt like that rot at the heart of the Federation was going to be the storyline. In the end it frazzled into nothing. Turns out it was just Commodore Oh, I guess. But that makes about as much sense as Riker being taken out of retirement to captain the most powerful ship in the Federation.
At times Picard genuinely felt like it was capable of melding the philosophical ponderings and dialogue of Next Generation with some big-budget sci-fi glitz. Annoyingly the glitz kinda took over. For Picard to make sense in 2020 (if you can ignore the coronavirus pandemic, which is pretty hard right now) it needs to be about corruption, scandal, duplicity and a hard-thought struggle to recapture the values the Federation was built upon. Picard’s intriguing relationship with Soji touches on this, but gets a bit lost in the noise. Okay, so, final thoughts: where should the show go in series two?
AV: I’d like the second season to be smaller and more character led. Perhaps Picard and his crew become part of the Fenris Rangers and set out to put the galaxy back into some kind of order? It could become more like Next Generation. Less serialised, more about telling contained stories? Ultimately, they’ve just prevented a galactic genocide, so it can’t go any bigger.
JT: You can’t up the ante much from that. Much as the episode with Riker and Troy stuck out it also slowed things way down and almost created a self-contained narrative full of character development… and way too much fan service.
I guess Picard coming back from the dead (we didn’t mention that yet, but what was that about?!) means he can take on one more bit of unfinished business. If that’s a noble, peace-spreading intergalactic mission filled with debate and intrigue then I’m all for it. But fewer explosions and more patient plot development, please.
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