Episode one of the return of Jean-Luc Picard to our screens, takes the title ‘Remembrance’, a theme that is important throughout the episode and, I suspect, will remain significant throughout the season, if not the series as a whole.
For many viewers, the act of remembering and celebrating the glory days of the Star Trek franchise will be important to them. Since the announcement from Patrick Stewart that “Jean-Luc Picard is back!” during the 2018 Comic-Con, those that lived and embraced the resurgence of the franchise during the late 80s and 90s, with the crew of the USS Enterprise-D most likely be central to their experience, will have been anticipating this return with equal measures of joy and dread. I know I certainly have. To those people, I can say safely that, at least judging by this opening episode, we can rest easy. Like a Starfleet uniform, Patrick Stewart fits snuggly right back into the role with seeming ease, no trace of the almost 20-year gap since he last reprised the role in Star Trek: Nemesis. Neither are we anywhere near the realms of Star Trek: Discovery’s desperation to never slowdown for a minute before it has to dash off to the next big thing. Like a good fine wine from Chateau Picard, moments have been given time to breath, just as we remember from those shows many years ago. There are also plenty of call-backs for us to feel smug for noticing, but they feel like logical continuations of what has gone before (although Picard’s nostalgia room in the archives was a bit much). There is no doubt that there is huge amounts of love for The Next Generation from everyone involved in working on this, and I’m sure that Voyager will be getting some love too, once Jeri Ryan joins the ensemble later in the season (hope that Deep Space Nine gets some mentions too, although not aware of any cameos). Those looking to sink right back into that world, many of whom I’m sure were disappointed by what Discovery had to offer, can rest easy on that account and go with this ride.
Thematically though, remembrance is significant to the character of Picard too. First and foremost, he wants to make sure people remember the tragedy that befell his final mission with Starfleet. Referencing back to the events that triggered the timeline split in Star Trek (2009), Romulus has been destroyed following their sun going supernova. The huge endeavour to save the 900 million Romulans that were trying to escape the planet, lead by Picard, left the Utopia Planetia Shipyard on Mars exposed, leading to an attack from a group of synthetics, an attack that has left Mars still burning. This attack seems to have left the Federation in a state of shock, regressing to an earlier time of weariness and with arms less open. Rather than the fear that has been created by the attack, Picard wants people to remember that act of coming together that the exodus from Romulus inspired, openly comparing it to the spirit of Dunkirk.
Ever since Star Trek (2009) dropped, I’ve been thinking that a Romulan refugee crisis would be a fantastic place to work from for a continuation of the main timeline in Star Trek, tapping into obvious modern-day situations. As result, the opening 16 minutes or so of Picard was a real joy to see that actually happening on screen. It is perhaps a bit of a shame for me that the episode then moves much more into the synthetic side of the story, which I expect will be the main focus of the season. I will call it here and now though, Romulans are going to be rounded up at some point and Picard’s Romulan housemates will be arrested.
When it comes to the synthetics, it doesn’t seem to be the most original story, but it is still enjoyable. Some critics have said the pacing of this episode was slow, but I would actually say that I could have spent some more time on this side. Isa Briones as Dahj plays the role well, as she learns who and what she really is, but there are moments of narrative jumping for the character, both physical and mental, that don’t play quite right. For example, she sees Picard being interviewed, then the next scene she is walking up to the chateau. This is obviously a world in which we have transporters and instant travel is as ubiquitous as it is in Westeros, but it still narratively felt jarring going from the interview scene to this so quickly. Similarly, a scene later on when she has run away and realises that Picard is about to be targeted by the same people after her, she suddenly appears in San Francesco having tracked him there. Again, transporters can explain this, but unless she is carrying around some kind of personal transporter, I assume she needs to get to the public transporter station and get through all the queues. It may seem like minor quibble, but it did strike me as a way to keep pushing forward on the narrative, rather than taking some more moments just to spend in the company of these characters. The explanation of who she is and her connection to Picard is also a logical jump that didn’t feel earned during the episode, something I hope we get much more prove of going forward and that we aren’t meant to be just accepting it at face value. As I say, critics seem to have thought the pacing of this episode could have been quicker and compared to the other modern entry in the franchise it is positively glacial, but I would have been perfectly happy being where we are now by the end of the second episode.
The other act of remembrance we have is, Picard’s own remembering of himself. Although we see him as a changed character, tending to the family winery that he ran off to Starfleet Academy to escape, at night he still dreams of being aboard the Enterprise-D. As we the viewers want to live in that world again, Picard too doesn’t want that poker game to ever end, longing to return to it again in the real world, dreading the moment he has to wake and return to his more sedentary life. His investigation into Dahj his sparked him back into life again and given him that push to actually achieve that. It will be interesting to see whether the show decides to allow him that opportunity to go back or will it not be quite as he remembered, suggesting that going back is not always something you should do.
Fortunately for us, reliving our nostalgia, even if it isn’t quite the same, is worth doing here. There are some bumps in this episode and I could have spent a lot more time along the lines of the first 15 minutes rather than the remainder of the episodes, but it was still a joy to watch. Compared to other opening episodes of a Star Trek series this is definitely far stronger than many and certainly leagues ahead of what we had to open The Next Generation. If nothing else, seeing Patrick Stewart back in this role makes the whole thing worthwhile. It is unsurprising that so many actors come to resent the roles that make them famous, but seeing Stewart again is a delight, far more than I expected.
Perhaps also worth mentioning that final shot. It was inevitable that the return of Picard couldn’t avoid that part of his history, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Throwing that final shot into the trailers didn’t help make it any more shocking, even though the episode clearly wanted us to gasp at the reveal. I don’t have too much of a problem with their inclusion in this story, but I do hope that it doesn’t end up painting the Romulans in a bad light, after the opening is obviously meant to have us sympathetic towards them. We will have to wait and see how that all plays out before really judging.