Season 1, Episode 1
Date of release: January 23, 2020 (CBS All Access)
I am not a Star Trek nerd, I am more of a Marvel fanboy, but here I am, having been constantly made aware of Jean-Luc Picard’s return into the fold of a television show centered on him, which brought me to watch the premiere episode on the day of its arrival, instead of waiting half a decade because I still need to watch the entire franchise history first before I throw my hands into a television show that demands the knowledge of a lot of Trek history. But to my surprise it turns out I did not need that much back story knowledge, since I have watched enough of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION to know about the importance of the friendship between Picard and Data, and I have watched J.J. Abrams’ 2009 version of STAR TREK enough times to recognize that the Romulan supernova this episode was talking about was taken from the movie, which means the original timeline of Star Trek never stopped after the star exploded and Nero and Spock flew into the past to set up the Kelvin timeline. There is an idea behind STAR TREK: PICARD, and that idea may be the advancement of the premise that there is a time after the Romulan supernova, and that two different Star Trek timelines can co-exist, maybe even clash at one time or merge together in a multi-universe event. J.J. Abrams re-invented Star Trek for a new generation and he dropped all the heavy back story to make it easier for that new generation to discover the franchise. Does STAR TREK: PICARD now begin and lead the hard work to undo said dropping of the back story and unite the two timelines?
This is what I was thinking about after watching the first 43 minutes. And even if the writers decide not to have two different timelines clash together in what could be an exciting season (or two) of streaming television, this episode certainly did a lot of work to deliver a premise that does not need to rely on the Kelvin timeline in the distance. Between the finale of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, the film STAR TREK: NEMESIS, which I barely remember, and the events around the Romulan supernova, the writers created not only a timeline that established a continued presence of Starfleet’s flagship Enterprise and its adventures, and Picard had an action-packed life after the film series ended in 2002. Those events alone are worth a film or two and I certainly would not mind to see said events around Picard’s rescue attempts and the Synthetics’ attacks on Mars in flashback scenes (or even entire episodes), simply because those events sound too heavy and important to just be stamped and filed away under B for “back story.” “Show, don’t tell” is a phrase used often by writers and teachers when it comes to screenwriting, and while the interview with Picard during the first act certainly showed glimpsing images about the Mars attacks, having it play out in a narrative, in which characters serving on the Enterprise can be depicted on-screen and the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION can shine for a few minutes (of course only with de-aging visual effects, which Paramount must have had the money to spring for, because why the hell not?) will excite fans of the old television show and the franchise and may bring the additional wow factor into the narrative. Sometimes, cool images can help you past the fact that the story is a convoluting mess — STAR TREK: PICARD does not have such a story yet (confusing your audience is hard to do after only one episode), but judging the initial premise, the writers could easily run into a corner.
Because what really is the show about? Apparently it goes through the aftermath of the Romulan supernova, which apparently had an effect on the Mars attacks, which led to Starfleet turning slightly evil, which brought Picard to realize whom he really was working for, which in turn led to his “downfall” within Starfleet, all while he was still perceived to be the “Great Man” in public. In the meantime, Data was in a lot of back story in-between shows and movies and his code was used to create a perfect Synthetic. It turns out to be a young girl with Jason Bourne-like action moves who does the Black Widow leg scissoring, and who also had the image of Picard imprinted in her memory. On the other side of the galaxy, Romulans are cleaning up the mess of the supernova (apparently) and as the camera pans out we see a space station that looks eerily similar to a Borg cube, and we all know that the Borg were the most famous enemies of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, as well as a big influence on Picard’s life after he was assimilated in one of the hottest episode and season cliffhangers of twentieth-century television. Hell, it even led to a feature film, so it would only be obvious that the writers of the Picard-centric television drama would use the Borg back story to define Picard’s new adventure. So let’s put it all together: a Romulan supernova, Romulan assassins, Mars attacks, Synthetics are out and forbidden, a perfect Synthetic does still exist though, the Borg, Starfleet that does not give a damn about universal life, and the Kelvin timeline hovering in the far far back for a potential merger. That is quite a lot to handle, and one can only hope the writers knew what to focus on and where to bring the premise.
Visually speaking, the show looks fine. Patrick Stewart makes for a good senior action hero, and his band of merry friends, as far as they will be part of his mission to save the universe (and according to the preview he has not even met some of his crew), could turn out to be solid supporting characters, if they ever get back story for me to care about them and their survival throughout the show’s run. The special effects looked proper for a streaming television show of the second decade of the twenty-first century and I appreciated that the entire episode was not just a way for Paramount and CBS to show its audience that they do not think they only need to care about quantity over quality. The few action set pieces that enriched the premiere were also of note, as they continue current directors’ approach to a more spectacular way of hand-to-hand combat, in which not necessarily the fists are important to win a fight with, but also the ability to wrap your legs around your enemy and throw them down a flight of stairs. Paul Greengrass and the Bourne film series really paved the way here, as the action of the sequels continue to inform future Hollywood productions. Will STAR TREK: PICARD inform the future of its franchise in return?