‘Star Trek: Picard’ Has Finally Beamed Down. Does It Deliver the Goods?
"Remembrance," the debut episode of Star Trek: Picard, on the CBS All Access streaming network (also available as an add-on channel to Amazon Prime Video) picks up twenty years after the last film with the Next Generation cast, 2002’s ignominious Star Trek: Nemesis. Given that Patrick Stewart himself is now 79, it’s no surprise that Jean-Luc Picard is showing all of his years, having retired from Star Fleet some 14 years ago. (SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.) After an opening using Bing Crosby’s 1946 song “Blue Skies” as its background music, depicting Picard and Data playing poker in Ten-Forward on the classic Enterprise-D, followed by what looks like the destruction of Mars, Picard wakes up in his bed, and we learn the preceding was a dream sequence. He’s holed up in the great house at his Chateau Picard winery in France, with his pit bull whom he has named, appropriately enough, “Number One,” very much reminiscent of Kirk in his country home, with his dog, Butler, in the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations.
We cut to a young woman and her boyfriend making out at night in a Boston apartment. He’s subtly alien-looking, and despite this being the 24th century, they’re playing 1960s-style soul music while pitching woo. Suddenly, helmeted ninja-types dressed all in black break in. Her boyfriend is killed. The young woman fights back, kicks butt, kills ninjas, in full Star Wars Rey and Jyn Erso Mary Sue-mode, followed by a vision of Picard.
Meanwhile, back at Chateau Picard, Jean-Luc and his aides, which we eventually ascertain are Romulans, are preparing for his interview with the “FNN” galaxy news network (two guesses as to which 21st-century cable news network this is supposed to represent). Picard dons a slightly futuristic-looking business suit, and a tie with a thick Windsor knot, despite the fact that in the original Star Trek and in Next Generation, costume designer William Ware Theiss’ futuristic updates of business suits had long jettisoned the 20th century’s necktie.
Do Synthetic Humans Dream of Electric Sheep?
Once the FNN reporter sits down with Picard, we learn that it’s the anniversary of the Romulan supernova (the plot element that created the alternate timeline in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot movies). The distaff FNN reporter grills Picard on the resettlement of millions of Romulans, an obvious Trump-era illegal immigration parallel, which Picard compares to the evacuation of Dunkirk (as an astute, umm, Frenchman is wont to do...) Reporter says Romulan rogue “synthetics” (i.e. androids) set fire to Mars’ Utopia Planitia shipyards, leading to a Blade Runner-esque “ban on synthetics” (Which presumably sets up a theme in future episodes of Data, should he appear in the synthetic flesh, being an outlaw, a la the Blade Runner replicants). The reporter wants to know how this led to Picard resigning from Star Fleet. Picard angrily walks away from the interview, telling his interviewer that her lack of reaction to his Dunkirk comparison illustrates that she has no knowledge of history. Fade to black.
The next day, Picard sits outside in the French sunshine drinking wine with “Number One.” The young woman whose boyfriend was killed by the futuristic ninjas shows up after watching Picard’s television interview. Played by English actress Isa Briones, she tells Picard of her boyfriend being killed, and that somehow, she instinctively knew how to fight the ninjas. “Everything inside of me says that I’m safe with you,” she says to Picard, and that her name is “Dahj.” Dahj tells Picard that she somehow knows him, and he responds that if she were actually dangerous, “Number One” would let him know, as he sits quite contentedly on the floor between them. Picard instructs his aides to put her up for the night in a guest room.
That night, Picard dreams that he’s back in his old Next Generation-era red Federation uniform, and sees Data painting on a sunny day in his vineyard. It’s a painting of a young woman, without a face. “Would you like to finish it, Captain?” “I don’t know how.” “That is not true, sir.”
Picard awakens, and Dahj has fled his estate.
Cut to Star Trek’s usual futuristic take on San Francisco, where Picard visits Star Fleet Archives. He enters a room with mementos of his Star Fleet days and sees a completed version of Data’s painting. It is a painting of Dahj.
Back in Paris, Dahj herself walks the city streets, frightened. She opens up a holographic communicator and calls her mother. As the Star Trek-themed Wiki, Memory Alpha, notes:
In Paris, Dahj is on the run. She opens up a holographic communicator device to contact her mother and tells her about the attack. She had gone somewhere to be safe, but concerned that her presence would put the people there in danger, she fled. Her mother is concerned, and tells her to go back to Picard. Dahj realizes that she hadn't told her mother about Picard, and is confused by how her mother knows. The face of her mother glitches and then tells her to focus and to find Picard. Opening her eyes, Dahj conducts a rapid-fire search on her communicator through secured systems to find Picard at the archives, all within seconds.
Picard finds Dahj, and in a paternal version of Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard telling Rachel that she’s a replicant with programmed memories, he explains the painting, and how Data created her. Shortly afterward, the ninja-like Romulan separatists reappear and kill her in an acid attack.
We then see Picard visiting the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa. He meets Dr. Agnes Jurati, who specializes in android research, to learn conclusively that Dahj is an android and that android cloning is possible, setting up the possibility that Data will appear in a future episode.
Cut to: a Romulan Bird of Prey entering a space station, which we learn is the Romulan Reclamation Site, where the last of the Romulans have massed after their planet was destroyed, and we meet Dahj’s twin, Soji Asha, who is working there. Finally, the camera pulls out, and we learn that the Romulan Reclamation Site is inside a wrecked former Borg Cube, reminiscent of the massive hulk of the Death Star in the last Star Wars sequel, an appropriately splashy CGI climax to an otherwise surprisingly intimate season debut.
Star Trek in the Trump Era
So does Star Trek: Picard work? Star Trek TV series have a well-earned reputation of being slow starters, as the writers figure out how to make their casts work in their futuristic universe. Perhaps the most extreme example was the craptacular first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the audience cringed multiple times per episode, and Stewart’s bravura performances were the glue that allowed the show to survive with viewers long enough to eventually find a better writing team, along with Paramount slowly pushing creator Gene Roddenberry out the door. Compared to that nadir, Star Trek: Picard has hit the ground quite solidly, spending its first hour telling viewers what happened to Picard after he quit Star Fleet and setting up a variety of stories built around the now aging but driven Picard as he assembles his team of both familiar faces and new cast members. And unless you read Stewart’s uber-woke recent interviews in which he exclaimed that his new show would take on Trump and Brexit, (needless to say, he’s not a fan of either 2020-era populist phenomenon), most of its Trump derangement syndrome would likely fly under radar, at least in the debut, just as the original Star Trek’s 1960s-era political statements often did. At a bare minimum, Star Trek: Picard is a much more dignified last hurrah for Picard than William Shatner’s Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.