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The Best And Worst Of Star Trek: Picard Season One

By Lord Castleton | TV | April 4, 2020 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | April 4, 2020 |


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I can’t even remember when I started adoring Jean-Luc Picard, but it was years and years ago. I grew up in a crazy family, one of nine children, with two parents who didn’t know they had attention deficit disorders, so to me the defined boundaries and personal code of the Captain of the Enterprise were a revelation. I used to have a picture of him in my car window, the translucent kind that the sun could stream through. That’s the level of dork we’re talking about here. My favorite bookmark is still a betassled Picard declaring “Make it so!” Ahhhhhh. Just typing MAKE IT SO, and thinking of the power of those three words gets me all fired up. I love this man.

When you feel that type of connection to a character, it’s natural to grip a little, and hope that a new series doesn’t “ruin” them. But for some reason, I wasn’t worried about this new iteration in the Star Trek universe: for me, any more Picard was great Picard.

Perhaps it was partly because I met showrunner Michael Chabon in person years ago, and was among several people who spent one afternoon luxuriating in his aura on the set of a movie where I was working. He’s fantastic. Mild mannered, self-effacing and disarmingly bright. He’s the best kind of nerd, self-aware and deeply committed to his nerddom. So nerdy he’s cool. In general, someone who was easy and fun to be around. Not a shred of artifice in any of his words or gestures. He looked you in the eye. He laughed at your jokes. He made you wish you could hang with him on major holidays.

He brought that energy to season one of Star Trek: Picard.

I loved the first season. Loved it, full stop. To me it felt like every moment was crafted with care and profound affection. Did I agree with every choice? No! Were there characters or scenes or subplots that didn’t quite work? Sure. But when I would pop into a subreddit or a Picard forum and hear die-hards screaming with indignation, I just didn’t get it. The show was wonderful. Magically committed to Patrick Stewart and his legendary character, and bold enough to try to push the boundaries of the universe as we know it.

The rub, of course, is that crafting any Star Trek is like trying to hit a moving target. Is it the world of the Federation you like or the simple interpersonal connections of the bridge crews? Do you prefer away missions or scientific anomalies? First contacts with new alien life forms or tried and true interactions with established species? Are you craving more red shirt representation to see how the other half lives, or do you just tune in to see Starfleet vs Romulans. Maybe you’re just biding your time until the next Picard Maneuver or Kobayashi Maru. For every person who wants to see the Enterprise blow stuff up with photon torpedoes, there’s a person who would fight to the death to contend that either the prime directive or Starfleet principles would impede that kind of aggression. Everyone has their own sliding scale of what they do and don’t crave in Star Trek and they often don’t know the latter until they see it.

For example, I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek dating back to the original series. I tuned in to Star Trek: Discovery with an open mind and loved many of the elements of the show, but for some reason, the updated Klingons turned me off. I didn’t know I was anti-Klingon. Hell, I thought Worf was great. I mean, I know how to spell bat’leth correctly! But once those Klingons were barking at each other in Klingon my eyes glazed over. Sorry Worf.

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Incidentally, here’s the best Worf compilation ever. Fifteen minutes of him getting shut the F down.

I came in to Picard with the same open mind, just wanting to hear him say ENGAGE a few more times. That was all. Instead, I got a full season of Trek that felt like it scratched every lingering itch I didn’t even know I had.

>>>>>You are at the edge of the Neutral Zone! Past this line of demarcation there be spoilers. Set your phasers to make-sure-you’ve-watched-Picard-season-one-before-proceeding.<<<<<

THINGS I LOVED ABOUT PICARD SEASON ONE

Jean-Luc Picard. Goes without saying, but I’ll say it. It was delightful to see him again.

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The opening title sequence

The music

The gorgeous cinematography by Darran Tiernan and Philip Lanyon, using anamorphic lenses to give the show that big screen feel. The color pallette was great, and the small moments were every bit the equal of the big ones. Beautifully shot, from start to finish.

The La Sirena: Rios’ ship. The Mermaid. After years of Starfleet’s antiseptic naming conventions, (Enterprise, Voyager, Discovery) it was nice to see a vessel with a feminine name and more of a race car feel. The interior was like when you set your theme to “dark”. And the virtual helm controls were cool.

Seven of Nine. Such a treat to see Jeri Ryan playing her again. She arrived and I was psyched, she left and I was like awwww! Then she was back and all was well. It was a treat and kind of terrifying to see her fire up that Borg cube. I loved that she’s the Aragorn of lawless sectors of space. I love that she mercy killed Icheb and how it broke her to do it. I love that she went back to clean that horrible murderer who parted out Icheb. I love her crazy eyes when she gets fired up.

Santiago Cabrera as Captain Cristóbal “Chris” Rios. I’m crazy about this actor and this performance. Not only did he play Rios, he played all five emergency holograms who used Rios as their avatar complete with different personalities and accents. Right away, you know this wasn’t your grandpappy’s old timey sanitary Star Trek generic altar person captain. This is the first shot of Rios:

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Yeaaaaahhhh. That’s a piece of metal in his shoulder. And when Picard is like…um, pardon me, what happened, my good man? Rios is curt.

“I didn’t die.”

Ooohhh Hemingwayesque. He piqued my curiosity there and completely won me over in this scene:

I mean, I was swooning. This! I want the subtle nod to the parts of the fan base who didn’t always dig on the holographic characters.

But more than that, this is the kind of passion I want on the bridge. Riker meets Oberyn Martell. Not just a stuffed shirt. A gunslinger…but somehow different and more nuanced than Kirk. An expelled Starfleet master pilot with a profound emotional scar and trust issues. And swearing in Star Trek? YES! It added a tier to the dialogue that usually has an artificial governor on it.

I last saw Cabrera on Heroes as Isaak Mendez, the junkie who could paint the future. It feels like his chops have come a good way since then. This man can act. But in addition, he’s a beaut. Just a joy to look at. He’s better looking now than he was 13 years ago on Heroes. Beard or no beard.

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If I was a gambling man, I’d bet Chabon saw himself in the Rios character which is probably why he was drawn so beautifully.

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Now, did I love every choice for his character? No. But he made a fan of me.

Anything space related. Loved the fight with the warbird, loved the standoff between Starfleet and the Tal Shiar. Loved Seven’s intervention in space. Loved the Borg cube. Loved the space Orchids. Lots of great CGI in the void.

Laris and Zhaban. The two former Tal Shiar agents who now LIVE with Picard and are his closest friends in the world. I love them both. In fact, it was a bit disappointing when they didn’t go on the mission with Jean Luc. How handy might they have been? My son sometimes complains that the choice of Pippin to be part of the fellowship instead of someone like Glorfindel was a terrible oversight by Elrond. This felt like that a little to me. Two seasoned operators and you’re going to leave them home to tend the grapes? Anyway, I love them. Orla Brady is someone I really like to watch, and has mad fighting skills from all her work on Into The Badlands. This kick ass scene helped to win me over:

Tamlyn Tomita killed it as the fierce and determined double agent, Commodore Oh.

Rikes. I mean, I knew I loved Number One, but I didn’t realize how much until I saw him again. What is it about Riker that’s so…comforting? Seeing him and Deanna still together after all these years? It’s such a treat. And his scene with Picard at their home on Nepenthe? Chef kiss good.

I heard somewhere that Chabon’s first take on cracking the Picard code was to suggest that he’s just Picard at his Chateau in France, solving mysteries in the local villages. I’d watch that. In the words of Emily Chambers: “It wouldn’t be Star Trek but it would be great.”

Ditto for another show that Dan Hamamura pitched me. Riker as a local sheriff on Nepenthe. Lawman by day, family man by night. I would watch the shit out of Rikes laying down some Wyatt Earp frontier justice. We also get to see Will in the season finale, all tricked out and at the head of the most badass ship ever built by Starfleet, the U.S.S. Zheng He. (Goddamn I love the naming conventions on this show).

In short, Jonathan Frakes is a treasure.

Raffi. It’s a tall order to get an audience to put their faith an in addict, but I was really drawn to Michelle Hurd’s portrayal of a woman who laid it all on the line for Starfleet and was left with nothing but trauma to show for it. It’s a layered performance and a side of Starfleet that we never get to see. While I really, really didn’t like Raffi’s scenes with her son, which felt like melodrama and not particularly well made, the rest of her performance was rock solid. And maybe it’s a hat tip to stoners? People who need to toke a little to get through the day? If we’re talking about representation, how often do bakeoids get to be key players in galactic events?

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Chabon’s anti-establishment tendencies. Not everyone comes out of the Starfleet machine to parades and accolades. Picard is disgraced, Raffi is a junkie loner and Rios is forced to become an interstellar taxi while Tal Shiar agents thrive under the Starfleet banner. Picard can’t even get them to loan him a ship. This is the kind of fresh, inspired take we needed in the Star Trek world, and frankly has a whiff of Star Wars to it. The world is not a utopia. Starfleet is not blameless. The Federation isn’t on the correct side of every event. I’ll bet this theme is something that turned purists right off, but to me it felt like honesty.

Android Picard. Some people have had a visceral response to this but I have zero problem with it (see rule#1: More Picard is always Great Picard). And has anyone thought through the vast array of new things Picard might be able to do as an android? I mean, yes, they said he had no superpowers, but you mean to tell me he won’t be able to jump farther or hit harder? Or like, endure a burn longer? Child, please. The sky is almost not even the limit with android Picard.


THINGS I WASN’T AS HOT ON IN SEASON ONE

Elnor. I mean, I get it. Why not have a space Samurai? I’m a sucker for anything sword-based. Exceppppppt this, apparently. I mean…sword vs disrupter? Yeah, I’m gonna go with the pew pew. Elnor was a complete mess as a character. At first he was mad at his faux daddy Picard for abandoning him - something we understand, I think. He was an orphan and Picard was the closest thing he had to a papa. Then he signs on to protect Picard and he beheads a dude in the town square in like the eleventh minute of being Picard’s hype man. It’s the first person he’s ever killed and there’s zero emotional reaction.

Now, Elnor is too naive to understand things like dressing up in costume and pretending to be someone else, he’s never seen a bowl of cereal or played Skyrim, but he’s okay with ninjaing someone’s melon in the parking lot of an Applebees? There are elements of him that are kind of badass, but with the exception of Orla Brady, I haven’t evolved enough to start blindly trusting Romulans, even if they are sensitive ponytail men who are part of an all-female honor sect of lost-cause blade assassins. I’ll admit there’s something cool about the most noble member of a society being the one to dole out death sentences — shades of Neal Shusterman’s Scythe Trilogy — but ultimately budget Elrond came out of the oven a bit too early and wasn’t quite developed enough as a character.

It’s hard to hear Raffi call Jean-Luc “JL”. It’s like, I can’t even call him JL, and he’s been my spirit guide for thirty odd years! Who the fuck are you, lady?

Relationships: Maybe the relationship between Michael Chabon and his wife, also talented, also a writer on the show, Ayelet Waldman, is so blithely cerebral that the magic just happens in their minds, but for the life of me I don’t understand the relationship dynamics of the show. Like Rios and Doc Jurati. I mean, huh? When she found him juggling a soccer ball she was clearly distraught. It felt improper that he would couple with her while she was so emotionally vulnerable. Then again, she’s a consenting adult and sex can certainly cure what ails you (or at least kick the can down the street for a while), so maybe it’s fine? Maybe if you’re a smoldering demigod trapped in the black void of eternal space, you don’t turn your nose up at a pass from a beautiful but fragile woman. I don’t know. If it was a one time, ships-passing-in-the-night thing I would have liked it better than them mugging in the finale while he’s in the chair. Then you have Seven and Raffi holding hands. I mean- okay, cyool, but like, where did that come from? Did they lay any groundwork for that? Did I miss a scene?

The Zhat Vash. Terrible name. They’re the Tal Shiar but meaner! Ultimately, were they even important? That was a Tal Shiar fleet at the end.

Benedict Arnold. It irked me that Rikes barely even mentions to Commander Oh, the HEAD OF STARFLEET SECURITY that she was out of uniform while she was the head of the Romulan fleet. I was hoping Rikes would be like:

“Stand down and we’ll beam you over here and prepare you for a tribunal where we prosecute you for being THE BIGGEST FUCKING TRAITOR IN THE HISTORY OF STARFLEET.”

But nothing. Not a word. I hope the Admirals who were cocks to Picard at the outset all lose their jobs for allowing Kim Philby to be running counterespionage for a decade.

The Loss of Dahj. Maybe this should be in a different category, but it’s a weird complaint. I loved Dahj, the first android character that comes to ask for help from Picard, and was significantly less bound to Soji, her twin. Weird considering that they were both played by Isa Briones. There was something perky and fun about Dahj that I really liked. Maybe it was also her vulnerability and the fact that she was already activated. She felt like she had agency while Soji was just this cork on the ocean, getting bamboozled every week by a sniveling Romulan pissant. I complained to Dan Hamamura about this after week one because there was a similar opening on the show Briarpatch, where you meet kind of a winning character, only to have them go away.

Narek. Maybe I’m being overly affected by the lingering musk of Harry Treadway’s portrayal of the serial killer on Mr. Mercedes, but Narek was tough to like. I know it was a difficult role, in that we’re meant to believe that he has actual feelings for his prey but he’s just so fucking gross. The engineered seduction coupled with his preening entitlement. Ugh. Barf. Him having access to any room on the Borg cube and using it to impress the innocent Soji was like a club promoter wooing your daughter by winking and telling her he can get her into the V.I.P. section. And Narek’s weird, quasi-House-Of-Yes relationship with his sister Narissa? Damn, they were so physically close all the time. It made me uncomfortable. Like logging on to see some good old fashioned porn and realizing that in your absence everything has become about stepsiblings getting it on. ::shudder:: Not kinkshaming if that’s yo’ thang, but it gives me the willies. And so did Narek.

The Picard Death Crying. The crying scene at the end of the season finale was, in the words of Charles Barkley, turribel. Like nails on a chalkboard bad. Especially considering that most of the die hard audience knew that the show had already been picked up for a second season. And Rios shedding a tear? COME ON, BABY! You think Cristóbal Rios is gonna weep? Nah, guy.

Driod Construction. The speed with which the Dataspawn built the beacon to summon the android tape gods? I mean, if you can build things that quickly, how about whipping yourself up a batch of orbital defense cannonry? Or like, a superfast ship?

The android tape gods. That’s what they look like? The scourge of the universe? Digital ribbon snakes with silicon steak knives on them? Did the SFX team run out of cash? And they were like, HERE. If they’d been summoned, you think you can just turn that off like a light switch? You think they wouldn’t assume the organics had foiled the call and come back? You can’t squeeze end-times toothpaste back into the tube that easy.

Narek vanished, by the way, at the end of the show. He helped them try to attack the beacon and then he was just never seen from again. I’m hoping some resentful cousins of Dahj secreted him off to a cave and pulled him apart, but that’s probably too much to hope for. I still feel like I miss Dahj, after all this. She was such a fragile and lovely character, and in the end, saving her twin didn’t really fill the void of losing her in the first place.

Maybe my biggest gripe. Alison Pill was great on the show, but one of the biggest problems I had with the season is the fact that Dr. Agnes Jurati is a GOD. DAMN. MURDERER. What the hell, people? And she didn’t just randomly gank anyone, it was the closest person in the world to her! Her lover. The person who may have actually understood her reasons for wanting to do it. But no, instead we’re all whistling past the goddamn graveyard and pretending that she’s A-ok. Oh, it wasn’t her, it was the Admonition! Yeah, but she’s still the one that did the murd’rin! Goddamnit, where’s Sheriff Will Riker when you need some good old fashioned Ten Forward justice?

I’m sure there’s a lot I’m forgetting so please jump into the comments and dish with me about the season. Did you love it? Did you hate it? How do you feel about Picard with an eyepatch? No topic too small.

As always, thanks for reading. Live long, friends. And prosper.



Lord Castleton is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.


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