Tuesday 21 February 2023

TREK REVIEW: PIC 3-1 - "The Next Generation"

So, Star Trek: Picard is back for its third and final series (unless, you know, they end up doing another after all). I really want to review these as they come, so I will try to get an episode reviewed each week, but I remain ridiculously busy with real life, so there might be the odd delay. On that note, while I did review the first season of Strange New Worlds for Television Heaven, I wasn't able to write individual episode reviews. However, I plan to follow this up by reviving the old Captain's Blog, which should rather suit the more stand-alone episodes of SNW. 

Anyway... SPOILERS ahead.

So, Picard. "The Next Generation" was a solid and entertaining season opener that promises a lot, although it lacked the wham-bam excitement of last year's opener, "The Star Gazer." There seems to be a distinct disconnect between seasons of Picard, and there's some frustration here as we pick up, apparently not long after the end of season two, with no mention of the near-cataclysm at the end of the episode, the creation of a mysterious and gigantic transwarp conduit, or the unlikely alliance of the Federation and the new, improved Borg. Of course, this might all be dealt with later in the season, but I'm not holding my breath.

However, at least we do follow up on Picard's relationship with lovely Laris, who seem to have settled into a nice, respectfully teasing partnership. Give us a proper kiss though. TV needs more older couples really showing affection. The theme of the season seems set up to be relationships, be they romantic, familial, friendly or working. Riker and Picard rub along together beautifully, two old men who've left behind their rather formal working friendship for something closer. Picard is rueful when it comes to his near-romance with Beverley Crusher, although it clearly came to something, considering that this new Crusher Jr. is almost certainly his unknown son. (Did they have a quickie after Nemesis then think better of it? Maybe it was the naked Betazoid wedding that did it.)

Seven, now a commander in Starfleet, is torn between her loyalty to Picard (and, off screen, Janeway, who also championed her to join the fleet) and her commitment to Captain Shaw. We've rarely seen struggle to hold back her emotions like this, so Starfleet life is really getting to her. She doesn't seem to be with Raffi anymore, who is herself missing her family (presumably the hologram she looks at longingly is her granddaughter, as her estranged son and his wife were expecting back in season one). And we know there are a lot of characters still to come with long and storied histories together.

It's an odd about-face for the series, which was explicitly not going to be a TNG reunion when it was first announced. Picard hasn't really managed to find its own identity, thanks to two very different seasons so far, and reworking itself as the Enterprise crew's last adventure together will do little to change this. The series has gone whole-heartedly into nostalgia mode, at least in this episode, from the retro-design of the new Titan and it's Star Trek III styled exit from Spacedock, to the various musical cues taken from earlier series and films. But it's hard to complain, when this is all done with such clear love of the franchise and in such an enjoyable way. (I was particularly pleased to hear the First Contact theme play over the closing credits.)

There are plenty of new elements, though. The aforementioned Captain Shaw is an interesting character, one who we're clearly meant to take against immediately but who isn't actually in the wrong as such. Obstructive he might be, but he's right when he refuses to let two retired officers take his ship on a joy ride against his standing orders. His antagonism towards both Picard and Seven seems to stem from bad experiences with the Borg, and that can't be unusual in Starfleet. (Although, what does "former ex-Borg" mean? That makes no sense.) I suspect he's going to turn out to be a good guy, just one who's also a bit of a prick, especially when it comes to, what is essentially, deadnaming Seven.

Raffi's story also promises to be interesting. I'm glad that her apparent fall off the wagon is just a cover, but it's very clear that she's skirting very close to the edge, and it's refreshing to see character development played out like this on Trek, which historically hasn't liked to make its main characters so flawed and fragile. Her mission, to stop a terrorist attack with a seriously heavy weapon of mass destruction, is a failure, but so frustratingly close. The idea of a a quantum tunnelling weapon is interesting, although what we actually see is nothing of the sort, more a giant portal gun. Presumably it was developed as a transport device before someone realised it could be used to smash cities up.

Dr. Crusher's storyline is certainly intriguing, with her seemingly acting as a civilian medic, but one on the very edges of known space and in a very dangerous situation. It's touching that she relies on Picard as the one person she can trust, although her code is a bit maddening since he had absolutely no way of guessing it - unless it was all a way of getting the gang back together, but that's still very contrived. We have a group of assailants who seem to be wearing masks, and whose faces are allegedly different every time, which suggests they might be a group we'd recognise.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable opening episode, and one that leaves plenty of questions for the future.

Random Thoughts:

  • It occurs to me that we don't know how old Laris is. Given Romulan/Vulcan lifespans, she might well be older than Picard.
  • The crummy planet M'Talas Prime is named for showrunner Terry Matalas, but actually goes back to Enterprise, when it was first mentioned as a cheeky tribute to the then-PA.
  • New ships: the SS Eleos, Dr. Crusher's medical ship, named for the Greek goddess of mercy; and the USS Titan NCC-80102-A, a Constitution III-class, or Neo-Constitution.
  • The Titan has been broken down to its very core and rebuilt from scratch as an entirely new class of ship, which stretches the meaning of "refit" to breaking point.
  • Raffi is working for Starfleet Intelligence... here's hoping it's not actually Section 31 again.
  • The alien aggressors have very mean-looking ships, that bring to mind any number of antagonistic races' fleets.
  • With all the talk of "trust no one" and "don't involve Starfleet," I'm really hoping we've finally got a follow-up to the alien parasites from TNG "Conspiracy." But probably not.
  • Captain Rachel Garrett's statue is the "Red Lady" linked to the attack, which makes me wonder if the timeline from TNG "Yesterday's Enterprise" is somehow involved. It would suggest a way to bring Denise Crosby back. It's probably just a reference, though, not a clue.
  • I though Riker was an admiral in season one. Apparently he's still a captain.
  • Frontier Day is supposedly the 250th anniversary of Starfleet, but since this is around 2401, that doesn't fit. Matalas has confirmed it's actually the anniversary of the Enterprise NX-01's launch, which was the beginning of Starfleet's deep space explorations.
  • The dedication for Annie Wersching, who died so unexpectedly last month, was touching.