Published on: January 24, 2020
"Star Trek: Picard" finally debuted yesterday on CBS All Access, the streaming channel, and it will come to no surprise to MNB readers that I found it engaging and thoughtful, with a real potential for provoking reconsideration of of the Star Trek universe that was first conceived by Gene Rodenberry more than 50 years ago.
Almost from the beginning, and through six previous series (not including the animated version) and more than a dozen movies, "Star Trek" has done what science fiction is able to do so well - examine our current world by using the future as a metaphor. That was something that Rodenberry took very seriously - the series, sometimes using weird plots that would disguise the intent from network censors, was able to talk about race relations, sexuality, religion, the Vietnam war and robotics in ways that were less threatening than if they'd been dealt with head-on.
If there was a frustration with Rodenberry's conception of the future, it was that he saw humanity in the 23rd century … a mere 200 years from now … as having solved so many of its problems. There was no poverty, no hunger, no greed, which meant that most of the conflicts that his intergalactic crews had to deal with were external - they took place on other planets, other species. That made creating drama a little difficult, but the writers usually managed to succeed, largely by creating some indelible characters and casting actors who, if they were not always the best and most talented performers around, were incredibly relatable and unique able to sell the premises set up by "Star Trek" on a weekly basis.
Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the starship Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which debuted in 1987, was embodied by perhaps the best actor ever to be cast as a "Star Trek" regular - Patrick Stewart, an accomplished British actor who brought authority, decency, intelligence, integrity, thoughtfulness and rectitude to his performance. He wasn't a space cowboy like his predecessor, James T. Kirk, played with an infectious sense of hammy joy by William Shatner. (This is no put-down. I love Shatner's performance.) Stewart's Picard was more thoughtful, largely because as the series moved through its 178 episodes, the scripts allowed him to be. Picard always seem to be wrestling with juggling his various roles as scientist, explorer, military commander, and diplomat, and Stewart made those struggles - often in subtext - particularly human. Which is key to why "Star Trek" is more resonant - in my opinion, more so than Star Wars
. It is about people and values, not myth and spectacle.
"Star Trek: Picard" picks up the now-retired captain's life two decades after he left Starfleet and took up residence running his family's vineyard and winery in France, hanging out mostly with his dog ("Number One," a name that will amuse anyone familiar with the series). I will be careful here not to indulge in any spoilers, but it is fair to say that he has left Starfleet as a matter of honor; he feels that the United Federation of Planets, which Starfleet serves, no longer is living up to its promise and potential, not adhering to its stated and implied values, operating from fear and pessimism rather than belief and optimism. It is the end of the 24th century, and the future is uncertain.
But as the first episode begins, Picard has an encounter that changes his life. It offers him the opportunity at a kind of redemption, and he rises to the opportunity … more slowly and creakily than last we saw him, but with a firm belief that it is critical to go where no one has gone before. But make no mistake, Picard is an angry man, a kind of lion in winter - he feels the values that defined him, his life and his service have been betrayed, he isn't going gently into that good night, or that deep space. It is an evolution that Stewart plays with the assurance of an old pro who knows this character inside and out, and believes in him.
There are tons of references to earlier episodes and movies in the first episodes, and trailers and clips suggest that there will be plenty more as the 10-episode season unfolds. (And beyond … "Star Trek: Picard" already has been renewed for a second season.) But rest assured that "Star Trek: Picard" is very much a fresh creation, willing to consider not just the great things that humanity is capable of, but the poor choices and selfish motives that can plague it and move it in the wrong direction.
I am all-in. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
The red wine I want to recommend this week is not from Chateau Picard, but it is a beauty - the 2016 Home Field red blend from Sonoma County. This wine is made from Zinfandel, Carigane, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and it is rich and full-bodied and wonderful. We had it with steak and potatoes, but it would be just as good all by itself, preferably with the lights dimmed, a fire going, and the dogs curled up around your feet.
That's it for this week … have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.