“Earl Grey, Never Fails”: Picard’s Intriguing Return to Television

Picard with Titles

After two decades of absence, the formidable Jean-Luc Picard has returned to our screens! Star Trek: Picard is set for a 10 episode season and has already locked a second season featuring our beloved Earl Grey Tea addict. Trek was my first ‘Star’ love, so I have been anticipating this series since it’s announcement. As we approach the release of the second episode of the series and after some reflection, I wanted to take a minute to examine what we’ve learned so far about Jean-Luc Picard’s development in his return.

His last appearance was in Star Trek: Nemesis, the final film to include The Next Generation cast. In the intervening years, Star Trek as a franchise has gone on to include a series of reboot films from JJ Abrams and the creation of an alternate ‘Kelvin’ timeline, as well as another prequel television show currently airing on CBS All Access, Discovery. The much anticipated (by this author at least) return of Picard brings accompanies a return to the ‘Prime’ timeline of the 1990s Star Trek television era.

What has happened to Picard, Starfleet, and Federation since then?

Under the skilled direction of Hanelle Culpepper, the premiere wasted little time in beginning to answer these questions, particularly shaping how the audience understands this Picard. And it does so in an appropriately relevant way that still feels very much like the character and the universe we know despite boldly going where no Star Trek has gone before.

WARNING THIS ARTICLE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR S1 EP1, “REMEMBRANCE”.

The episode opens in vivid color with the familiar sight of Captain Picard’s former flagship the Enterprise D, as the strains of ‘Blue Skies’ hauntingly guide us through the windows of Ten Forward. We arrive in the midst of a poker game between Picard and Data. A sight that honors and brings us back to the days of Next Generation, the characters we love playing easily together. Fans of TNG and Picard and Data’s dynamic no doubt feel a rush of nostalgia (I know I did). They might also recall that Commander Data died saving Picard’s life in the less than fondly remembered Nemesis.

Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, despite the years that have passed since last inhabiting these roles, slip effortlessly and believably back into the characters we know (albeit a little older). As the scene goes on, however, the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia begins to tilt into something else (and certainly tug at the heartstrings) that allows us to learn more about where Picard is as a character all these years later.

Data asks Picard why he is stalling to which he replies,

“I don’t want the game to end.”

As Data plays a winning hand, we hear sounds of explosions from outside the ship and the pleasant nostalgia-driven illusion falls further apart. We see Mars outside the window and Picard becomes distressed as the planet lights up and explodes into the room. In an instant, Picard and the audience are transported away from this familiar scene into Picard’s real life as he wakes up from a dream turned nightmare.

Chateau Picard
-credit atlasofwonders

Reality shows us that Picard no longer works for Starfleet. He has taken over his family’s vineyard, a choice that begins to give us insight into how times have changed. He is living at Chateau Picard, the same place he retreated too to recover following his time as Locutus with the Borg (TNG: The Best of Both Worlds I&II). During that visit, we met Picard’s family, brother Robert and his wife Marie and their young son, Rene (TNG: Family). (His brother and nephew died tragically in the also less than fondly remembered Star Trek Generations.) Picard’s post Borg visit explores the friction between the two brothers. Robert, the responsible one who stayed and tended to the family business and Jean-Luc, the dreamer who looked to the stars, eventually leaving the earth to fly among them.

The episode cuts to the side plot involving a seemingly normal college-aged girl (Isa Briones) trying to chill with her hot boo, but getting interrupted by ninja assassin types (rip hot boo, we barely knew ye). She then sort of experiences an awakening of knowledge and sees an image of Picard in her mind’s eye. More on that later.

Apparently no longer in Starfleet, Picard chose to return to his family’s home and roots, though of course Robert and Rene are gone. Still haunted by Data’s loss, but clearly with some other ghosts on his mind. He’s not alone, however. There’s his new Number One, a loyal pit bull who accompanies Picard on his vineyard rounds. Picard always has a Number One it seems.

You can take Picard out of a Star Fleet, but here is a sign that you perhaps can’t take Star Fleet out of Picard.

“Number One”

Surprisingly, in addition to Number One, we meet Picard’s caretakers? Friends? Employees? All of the above? Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) are Romulan. Once, great enemies of the Federation, they were instrumental in turning the tides of the Dominion War by joining the Federation Alliance (DS9: In the Pale Moonlight, highly recommended by me btw) and now live with and are clearly very close to Jean-Luc Picard and care deeply for the codger’s (“somewhere between a coot and geezers”) well-being. When last we saw them in Nemesis there were hints of a thawing between the two people’s, and early on in the episode, it seems as though that continued.

At Chateau Picard, at least.

However, when we return to Picard’s perspective, we discover that the Romulan Supernova, alluded to and a major plot point in the alternate Kelvin Star Trek timeline has repercussions in the Prime one as well. Picard’s Romulan friends help him prep for an interview with a journalist on the anniversary of the destruction (from the very memeable “FNN”, Federation News Network). Laris and Zhaban encourage Picard to “be the captain they remember” and that they “have not forgotten” what he did.

The interview turns out to be great for exposition and for understanding how exactly it came to pass that our intrepid leader ended up back on his family farm, melancholy and introspective with a pair ride or die Romulans taking care of him. The scene explains exactly what role Picard played in the supernova and reveals that he led an armada to plan to rescue Romulan lives in the interviewer’s terms, simply lives as far as Picard is concerned. An effort he considers to be comparable with Dunkirk.

Unfortunately, synthetics attacked the shipyard on Utopia Planetia during the construction of the rescue fleet, killing thousands, setting Mars a flame, and dampening Star Fleet and the Federations interest in assisting the Romulans anymore. The project was canceled and presumably many Romulans died, leaving still others, refugees. Additionally, this attacked led to a Federation wide ban on synthetic life forms, like Data (and perhaps others we know?). Though not supposed to ask about Picard’s separation from his position as Admiral in Star Fleet, the interviewer presses him on exactly what caused him to leave.

His reply is as irritated as it is vehement, showing Picard is still the captain we know (and might have made some of us want to cheer):

“Because it was no longer Star Fleet.”



Star Trek: Picard – What Really Happened On Mars?
-CBS All Access Youtube Channel

Following the, unfortunately, interview, the girl who we saw earlier in the episode (Dahj) shows up in France, seeking Picard’s help and the two plots of the episode braid together finally. The story moves from a more focused look at Picard’s character and his post Star Fleet life, and into what is likely one of the main driving threads of the series. Who is Dahj? What does she suddenly have these superhuman abilities? Who is after her? Why does her mind (and her mother?) tell her to seek Picard in order to find safety? The audience wonders, just as much as Picard, and this energizes him out of the state we’ve observed at the beginning of the episode.

Dahj finds Picard- metro.co.uk

The pacing picks up, thought the latter half of the episode is a bit weaker than the first. Dahj, soon after arrival, leaves again out of a desire to protect Picard, leaving behind a rather distinctive necklace. He dreams of Data again, this time painting not playing poker. The painting features and oddly familiar face (Dahj???) and spurs a visit to Picard’s personal archives. A scene filled with a ton of recognizable callbacks (‘easter eggs’ if you will), but also providing us insight into what Picard values after all this time. And he does indeed locate what he is looking for.

A painting of Data’s, called ‘Daughter.’

Those familiar with The Next Generation will recall of course that Data did, in fact, create a daughter, Lal (TNG: The Offspring), using a more advanced android design than himself. She attracted the interest of the Daystrom Institute of Advance Robotics, who wanted to study Lal on earth away from Data, and did not recognize their relationship as ‘real’ enough not to separate father and daughter. Sadly, Lal’s experienced systems issues that eventually lead to her death and deeply impacted Data. He downloaded her memories into his own neural net to ensure she lived on (at least as long as he did).

The coincidence of Dahj looking exactly like Data’s painting, her unusual background and the fact that weird ninja’s are hunting her, spark an idea in Picard’s mind. Could it be that Dahj is a daughter created from his beloved and lost Data? Dahj herself begins to suspect she is more than just an ordinary grad student and that the reason she is being hunted may well be that her existence is banned.

Picard and Dahj reunite and she shares her confusion and dismay over her slow realization that she is likely not human. Picard invites her to join him in a quest for answers by visiting the Daystrom Institue and comforts her one of the most touching moments of the episode:

“I will never leave you… If I’m right, it means that you are the daughter of a man who was all meaning, all courage. Be like him.”

While the wider Federation has seemingly written off all synthetics following the attack on Mars, Picard demonstrates his view (and the broader franchise message) of what makes a being real and valuable. Humanity lies in something more than flesh and blood.

Their trip to Okinawa is not to be, however, as Dahj suddenly senses that her attackers are back. She whisks Picard to the top of a building to escape in what is clearly the episode’s showcase action bit. We see that Picard is as he appears in the early portion of the episode, and elderly man, out of breath from the stairs and with the bulk of the fighting left to Dahj’s android enhanced skills (which is fine for this author, as Picard was always at his best with diplomacy not drop kicks). Just when it looks as those she’s neutralized them all last remaining ninja Romulan releases a weapon, killing Dahj (rip we barely knew ye also) in front of Picard’s eyes. This moment is a pretty big shock and almost doesn’t seem real when Picard comes to, recovering again in his chateau.

However, Picard’s questions, curiosity, and his loyalty to Data are not put off by the apparent loss of his last connection to him. He still makes the trip to the Daystrom Institute where he meets Dr. Agnes Jurati (Allison Pill). She reveals that, up until the ban on synthetics as a result of the disaster on Mars, scientists (including Dr. Bruce Maddox) at the institute were working hard on discovering ways to create androids that were unique and sentient like Data (based on his own positronic brain) but also organic. (This episode had some deep cuts already but the Maddox mention a character who worked at the Institute during The Next Generation was super interesting but also made sense.) Though initially reluctant and skeptical of Picard’s story, upon seeing the necklace Dahj left behind, Jurati explains that the method used to experiment, fractal neuronic cloning, results in twins.

Another of Data’s daughters is out there and in danger.

We meet her at the tail end of the episode (and I am sure she will be more fleshed in episodes to come). She has an odd encounter with a potentially flirty (but also potentially ninja assassin?) Romulan while working as a scientist. The major take-way for me in this, however, is that she works on a Borg Cube near the Romulan site.

Oh my!

We end the premiere left with many questions both about the near past and the situation surrounding the attack on Mars and in the show’s present as it relates to Picard’s discovery of Data’s twin daughters. There’s a definite sense that the series will address and anticipation for the second episode. Why is there a Borg cube at the Romulus reclamation sight? Politically and in addition to the ban on synthetics, what else does it mean that Star Fleet is not the fleet Picard knew? Why did the synthetics attack Utopia Planetia? Will Picard find Data’s last remaining daughter before the ninja assassins do? Who else from Picard’s life or previous series will show up? And more!

The Dahj stuff, while motivating for Picard, ends in the twist death, which I think wastes some of the depth of their relationship-building explored in the premiere. This is the one part of the episode that didn’t land in a completely satisfying way for me. Yes, this did allow him to find out more about Data, meet Dr. Jurati and seek to locate Dahj’s twin, it made Dahj seem a bit extendable. However, depending on how her memory is treated, and whether her twin can be found, her loss will likely prove worth it and not in vain.

-Time.com

All in all, producers Kirsten Beyer, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, and Alex Kurtzman have managed to show us a nuanced Jean-Luc Picard in a different phase of his life in a way that is both deeply satisfying for long time fans, but also accessible and interested for newbies. Star Trek has always been a somewhat Utopian view of humans and the future, and though Picard does an excellent job (like some of the series before it) of complicating that optimistic view of systems, in the character of Picard stays absolutely faithful to a vision where good and right matters to humanity and so do the choices and actions of individuals, even in the face of opposition.

Are you ready for episode 2? I know I am.

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