Star Trek: Picard reached its season finale here in the UK on Friday. A dull limp through space rather than a triumphant return for one of Trek’s most beloved characters.
‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ was my Star Trek series. Thanks to my Father, I was raised on Gene Roddenberry’s original series starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk. But it was the crew of the Enterprise-D who captured my imagination and boldly took me where no sci-fi had gone before.
‘The Next Generation’ may not have aged particularly well, but at the time the series was a bold re-imagining of the Star Trek universe. The design of the Enterprise was sleek and modern, yet it’s proportions still paid tribute to the vessel piloted by the original series crew seen before on television and in films.
The show embodied the idealistic attributes of the original series. A crew of beings from different cultures and creeds working in harmony for the greater good. Their leader, a bald Englishman with a French name. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the exemplification of honour and decorum.
The series debuted in 1987 and ran for seven seasons until 1994. At this point the crew of the Enterprise-D made the leap from the small screen to the cinema.
Fast forward to January 2020 and Picard, played once more by Patrick Stewart, returns in his own spin-off series. As part of an effort by CBS to bring Star Trek up to date, new programming is served via CBS All Access, the network’s exclusive streaming platform. ‘Picard’ is the second new Star Trek series to debut after ‘Star Trek: Discovery‘ which arrived in 2017.
Like Discovery, Picard, as a series, pushes the boundaries of what is the established norm for the Star Trek universe. Gene Roddenberry’s ideological vision of the future is replaced with a bleak, fragmented reality. Starfleet is no longer the unified force for good we’ve come to expect.
Gone too are the single episode story arcs that made ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ so accessible. ‘Picard’ follows a central story over ten episodes. A decommissioned Borg cube forms the backdrop to a clandestine plot by Romulan extremists to eradicate sentient synthetic lifeforms, yet to become self-aware. The resulting standoff leaves the existence of all biological life in the balance. Despite significantly high stakes the show never quite packs the punch it deserves.
The entire season is presented at a gentle pace. No exageration, I fell asleep or struggled to stay awake during several episode, the finale included. Even cameos from much loved ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’ characters failed to engage my sense of nostalgia.
Significantly the show’s casting plays a pivotal part in my ambivalence. Picard aside, I struggled to feel an affinity with any character. Indeed, I found several of them irritating, in particular Raffi (Michelle Hurd), a drug addicted drunk who conveniently seems to pull her shit together whenever the writers needed her to. And each time she referred to Jean Luc Picard as “J.L.”? A little part of me shuddered and died inside.
The show resolves with lazy and cliched writing leaving me wishing the final ten minutes of the season finale didn’t exist. Let Picard rest in peace and move on.
Whilst simultaneously reaching backwards whilst also looking to the future in an attempt to modernise Star Trek, CBS may well be stripping the franchise of the very elements that made it so appealing in the first place. In ‘Star Trek: Picard’, hope and exploration have been replaced with insular conflict. What began many moons ago as a family show has evolved into something littered with swearing. Even the design of the space craft, something that was central and iconic to the very shows that starred Captain Kirk and Captain Picard, are now bland and generic.
Picard is an attempt at grown up Star Trek in a world where grown up sci-fi is in plentiful supply. Make it stop number one! I miss wholesome Star Trek.