It’s here at last! Welcome to ‘Final Frontier Friday’, where this week we’ll be returning to the halcyon days of, well, two weeks ago for a look at ‘Remembrance’, the first episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’.
Two years ago, ‘Star Trek’ returned to television (or at least to not-movie-theaters) with the premiere of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. Much was made of that in press coverage, including at this very site. After all, ‘Star Trek’ was back! It was a big deal! And yet the debut of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ feels like the return of ‘Star Trek’ in a way that ‘Discovery’ never quite did.
I suspect that’s partly because of the different roles each show fills in terms of what you might call the broad arc of ‘Star Trek’ history. Think of ‘Star Trek’ as one long narrative, spanning from ‘Enterprise’ at one end and moving chronologically the original series, the movies, ‘TNG’ and all the rest before culminating in ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’. In that context, ‘Discovery’ has been a show that fills gaps in the timeline, whereas ‘Picard’ is, by contrast, a show that by virtue of its late twenty-fourth century setting moves the narrative forward. This is the first time we’ve had a ‘Star Trek’ production that actually does that since… well, since we last saw Picard in 20002, and that we arguably haven’t properly seen since the end of ‘Deep Space Nine’ in 1999.
It may also be because ‘Picard’ is not something that we ever actually expected to get. Prior to ‘Discovery’ and ‘Picard’, we all knew that ‘Star Trek’ would return to TV someday. After all, as much fun as the movies can be, television – to crib a line from ‘Wrath of Khan’ – has always been the franchise’s first, best destiny. That being the case, it was always more a matter of “when” than “if” ‘Star Trek’ would return to the small screen. And even though a return to the twenty-fourth century setting of the ‘Next Generation’-era shows was never guaranteed, it was the sort of thing that couldn’t be taken off the table. But even with all that in mind, I can’t imagine anyone expected to see Patrick Stewart return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard on an ongoing basis. I know I certainly never thought we’d see him in anything more than a cameo. Now couple that with Patrick Stewart’s involvement in the writing process, not to mention the fact that the show is being run by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and ‘Trek’ fan Michael Chabon and try not getting excited.
But as undeniably exciting as all of that (and of course, the promise of appearances by fan favorite characters like Will Riker and Seven of Nine) is, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding…
As Jean-Luc Picard wakes from a surreal dream involving Data and the synth attack on Mars, we find that in the years since the events of ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ he has retired from Starfleet and returned to his family’s vineyard in La Barre, France. Meanwhile in Boston, Dahj Asha settles in for an evening with her boyfriend. The two are celebrating her acceptance for a fellowship at the Daystrom Institute. All that is turned upside down when a team of masked individuals beams into the apartment. After killing her boyfriend, they interrogate Dahj to no avail, leading one to remark that she hasn’t been “activated”. A bag is placed over her head, and suddenly Dahj reacts, effortlessly killing her assailants and surprising herself as much as any of them in the process. As she struggles to process all of this, she has a vision of Picard’s face.
In France, Picard takes a morning stroll through the vineyard with his dog (a pit bull named Number One) before heading inside, where Laris and Zhaban – the Romulan refugees who now work as his housekeepers – are preparing breakfast. After the meal, he reluctantly prepares for an interview with the Federation News Network. Though initially cordial, the interview quickly turns combative when the subject of the Romulan supernova and Picard’s departure from Starfleet is raised. This culminates in an outburst of righteous fury from Picard, as it is revealed that the synth attack on Mars wiped out a rescue armada that was meant to have assisted in the relocation. That Starfleet and the Federation effectively abandoned the Romulans in the aftermath cost him his faith in the institutions he had spent a lifetime serving. Either not knowing or not caring just how sore the subject is, the interviewer uses the synth attack as a segue to bring up the late Commander Data, at which point Picard walks out of the interview. Later, Dahj – now on the run – sees part of the interview and recognizes Picard from her vision.
As Picard and Number One sit on the porch, Dahj finally arrives. She tells Picard what happened at her apartment and about her visions, adding that she can’t explain it but that “everything inside of me says that I’m safe with you.” The two talk while Zhaban and Laris tend to Dahj’s wounds. Picard assures her that she’s not crazy and offers her a room. The next morning, he wakes from another dream of Data just as Laris enters with the news that Dahj has apparently vanished overnight. Prompted by his dream, Picard heads for the Starfleet Archive in San Francisco, where after confirming that no one else can access the material, he reviews a number of personal effects from his Starfleet days. Among them is a painting that was given to him by Data thirty years earlier, the same painting that he saw in his dream. The painting, which depicts a woman identical to Dahj standing at the sure during a storm, is titled “Daughter”.
Dahj is again on the run, this time in Paris. she contacts her mother, who tells her to go back to Picard before the transmission cuts out. She is more than a little confused, as she hadn’t yet mentioned anything about Picard to her mother. After a moment, Dahj uses her communicator to locate Picard, accessing restricted systems in the process, and doing all of this in mere moments. She arrives at the Starfleet Archive just as Picard leaves the building. Picard then tells the understandably freaked out young woman about Data and the painting, speculating that the attack in Boston may have acted as a sort of positronic alarm bell. The two make plans to continue the investigation at the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, but they’re interrupted when Dahj realizes that someone is after them and runs off. Picard follows her to a nearby rooftop, where a group identical to the team that attacked her Boston apartment appears. She begins to fight them off, displaying a number of superhuman abilities in the process. During the fight, Dahj smashes one of their masks, revealing the attacker as Romulan. The fight ends when one of the Romulans bites down on a capsule and spits acid at Dahj, damaging the disruptor she is holding and burning her. Picard watches in horror as the weapon explodes and the blast knocks him back.
Picard wakes at his home, where Laris and Zhaban are tending to him. The two are shocked to learn of Dahj’s death, as they had been told Picard was alone when he was found on the roof and Dahj was nowhere to be seen on the video feeds. After some further speculation about the mysterious young woman, a newly driven Picard rises and departs for the Daystrom Institute. Upon arriving, he meets with Dr. Agnes Jurati, a former colleague of Starfleet cyberneticist Bruce Maddox, who has been now missing since the implementation of a ban on synthetic life in the wake of the attack on Mars. Jurati tells Picard that the creation of an android matching Dahj’s description would have been impossible even before the ban went into effect, and is stunned when he shows her a necklace Dahj left at the vineyard. She explains that the design of the necklace includes a symbol for fractal neuronic cloning, a radical theory Maddox devised which holds that Data’s code and perhaps even his memories could be reconstituted from a single positronic neuron. A hypothetical result of this would be the creation of an android that included something of Data’s essence. Like a daughter. Picard supposes that Dahj was exactly that: Data’s daughter (after a fashion), created by Maddox in the image of the painting. Jurati agrees that it is possible, adding that such androids would have been constructed in pairs. Elsewhere, a Romulan named Narek arrives at the Romulan Reclamation Site, where he introduces himself to Dr. Soji Asha – a woman identical to Dahj. Narek compliments her necklace, itself identical to Dahj’s. Soji tells him that it’s one of a pair made by her father, mentioning that the other is worn by her twin sister. The conversation continues as the camera pulls back, revealing that the Reclamation Site is located at the heart of a wrecked Borg cube.
So let’s cut right to the chase. What did I think of ‘Remembrance’? Well, after my first viewing, the first thing I said was, to coin a phrase, “fascinating.” There’s a lot being set up here, with more undoubtedly to come. In fact, it’s mostly setup, with a bit of catch-up (with the last twenty years of Picard’s life) thrown in. But it’s a good set up. The mysteries are compelling and the new characters – at least the ones we’ve met so far – are intriguing. Based on this episode, ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is off to one hell of a start.
Interestingly, ‘Remembrance’ presents a considerable stylistic contrast to the two-part ‘Discovery’ premiere, ‘The Vulcan Hello’/’Battle at the Binary Stars’. The ‘Discovery’ premiere was a prologue, more akin to a movie that served to provide a bit of backstory and introduce a handful of the new show’s core characters than a more traditional premier episode in which we might expect to meet the entirety of the main cast and get to know the ship (or, if you prefer, the sets that will define the show). That came a week later, with ‘Context is for Kings’. Chalk it up with the franchise experimenting a bit, taking advantage of its newfound streaming home to push the bounds of traditional television formats. Whatever the case, it was something different than might have been expected. ‘Picard’ takes a different approach as well, at least for a ‘Star Trek’ series, but not in the same way that ‘Discovery’ did. According to a number of interviews published prior to the premiere, the first three episodes of ‘Picard’ will make up the first “chapter” of the story. As a result, ‘Remembrance’ feels more like the first installment of a two-part pilot episode – like what you’d get if you watched the first hour of ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, for example, in syndication. But that doesn’t sound so different, you might say. And you’d be right. It sounds like just about every prior ‘Star Trek’ spinoff.
Except for one thing: With the exception of the coda at the Romulan Reclamation Site, the entire episode takes place on Earth. And it’s clear the show is in no hurry to move the action to space. It’s actually reminiscent of an early concept for ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’, which would have seen the show stay essentially landlocked for the duration of its first season, with all of the events taking place on Earth while the titular starship was being built. I don’t expect ‘Picard’ to stay planet-bound for that long, not least because I’ve seen trailers for the season, but it is nonetheless a novel approach – a ‘Star Trek’ series that is content to take its sweet time actually getting to the stars. It’s also reminiscent of the pilot episodes of ‘The Next Generation’ and especially ‘Deep Space Nine’, in that the show is taking advantage of these Earthbound episodes to introduce get to know its characters.
It’s also worth noting that ‘Remembrance’ is an unusually continuity heavy affair, sometimes to such an extent that it seemed to border on fan service. This takes a number of forms, from the Easter eggs in Picard’s archive, to an offhand reference to Lal, and the apparent prominence of Bruce Maddox, a character who only appeared once (in the classic ‘Measure of a Man’) and hasn’t even been mentioned on screen since ‘Data’s Day’ in 1991. I’m not necessarily opposed to that sort of thing (I’m a fan. I enjoy being serviced.), but established fans sometimes forget or gloss over the fact that there is a right way and a wrong way to tell that sort of story. We fanboys are, after all, not the only audience and as much as we might like to tell ourselves otherwise, catering primarily to an audience of die hards is not a sustainable way to approach a TV show. So the question then becomes how well this story works for the not-we.
My barometer for this sort of thing has often been my parents. While they both enjoy ‘Star Trek’ (Hell, they introduced me to it!), neither is as, well, insane as I am. What that means in practical terms is that I’ll often end up answering whatever continuity-related questions they have after a new episode airs. And yet as referential as ‘Remembrance’ can get, the only thing I had to explain was the backstory (such as it is) around the Romulan supernova, which was only an issue because they haven’t seen the Kelvin movies. I’d count that as a check in the “win” column. This rich relationship with established continuity is another point of contrast between ‘Picard’ and ‘Discovery’. While ‘Discovery’ often seems to err on the side of crowbarring itself – sometimes awkwardly – into the franchise’s backstory (Michael Burnham being quite literally a walking, talking example of this by way of her relationship with Spock), ‘Picard’ uses that history to build something new.
Finally, I have to make mention of one thing that just leapt out at me, that left me positively giddy as I thought more and more about it. Picard’s housekeepers are Romulan. Think about that. There are Romulans – a species described in this very episode as the Federation’s oldest enemies – living on Earth with nary a comment. This sort of thing would have been unthinkable before the Romulan supernova – and thus for most of ‘Star Trek’ history – but here it is. That embrace of a former enemy is very ‘Star Trek’, but perhaps more to the point, it’s very Picard.
That just about does it for this ‘Final Frontier Friday’. Let me know what you thought of ‘Remembrance’ in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for our next installment.