Friday, 24 January 2020

Picard: Review - Picard A Path that's new for Star Trek

Picard: Review - Picard A Path that's new, but pleasingly familiar in parts, for Star Trek

There's no disputing the love there is for Captain Jean-Luc Picard, as embodied by Sir Patrick Stewart.

Easily one of the most beloved captains of the Enterprise, the star of Star Trek: the Next Generation and a few films, Picard remains a central figure to the Star Trek universe, a humane and warm creation that did much to embody Gene Roddenberry's vision for space.
Picard Series 1 Review

So you could be forgiven for wondering why after seven years, 178 episodes and with a feeling that the story's complete, why there would be a return for the character and its 79 year old actor.

In truth, it's because there's more to say.

Which sounds like a trite bon mot, but science fiction is not always aware enough of when the time is right to turn the tap off. However, under the helm of some Pulitzer award winning writers, the first season of the show (Picard's already been renewed for a second season) is off to an intriguing and compelling start. (At least, from the three episodes which were open to reviewers from CBS ahead of the show's launch on Amazon Prime Video this week.)
Star Trek: Picard Review

Set 18 years after the death of Commander Data and the destruction of Romulus, Picard is now retired from StarFleet after a major falling out over the Federation's ethics in a crisis situation.

Haunted by the death of Data, and the fallout from his career-ending decisions, Picard lives on the family chateau, with his dog Number One and two Romulan housekeepers. Plagued by waking dreams that depict more than he can realise, Picard finds himself on a collision course with Dhaj (Isa Briones), a woman who comes to the vineyard for help.

To say more about Picard at this point is to remove some of the mystery, but needless to say the writers have certainly carved a curious path for the start of the series. (And by the end of the third episode, it has to be said there could be an argument for shifting the pace from "languid" to a bit more "warp drive engaged".)

Less space battles and more character study, Picard's strength is evident in the first episode - and it is once again Sir Patrick Stewart. Noble and dignified, his Picard is the moral compass we probably need in these dubious times - it's no wonder Stewart himself has said he thinks now is the best time.

With themes of immigration, racism, division and discord within current times being reflected in Picard's Star Fleet and the Federation, the series does much to offer the kind of hope Gene Roddenberry envisioned way back in the 1960s when William Shatner's Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew set out.

Star Trek: Picard reviewBut if the first episode of Picard is a triumph, setting up intrigue, mystery and offering some action, the following two seem to delve more into the exposition side of things, fleshing out Picard's back story and the years after the demise of his career, and pushing his ethos of people are people to the extreme. (It's not always for the best - and certainly doesn't benefit a binge watch, so maybe it's best the show is delving out weekly portions).

Rich, deep character-driven writing gives Picard the appeal to both fans and non-fans alike. Certainly, if you've missed all 178 episodes of the Next Generation, there may be some nuances you'll miss - and at least one returning character manages to work both if you're familiar with Trek lore and also if you're not. That's perhaps the strength of Picard - a story that's open to all, with themes that are universal.

Ultimately, Picard's 10 episode first season appears to have promise - certainly by the end of the third episode, directed by Jonathan Frakes, when Picard utters the word "Engage," and gives a wry smile, it's hard not for fans of the original series to get goosebumps, and give you the feeling that after some 2 and a quarter hours, the story's finally picking up pace as it goes boldly on.

But make no mistake - at its core, Picard is about humanity, even if it's set in space.

In many ways it carries on the legacy of optimism of the first original series and subsequent spin-offs - it's massively satisfying viewing, and in times of chaos, a beaming light of hope for all our futures.

Picard airs on Amazon Prime Video, with episodes dropping weekly on Thursday.

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