On the box: Star Trek: Picard

We’re now approaching the home stretch of the first season of Picard, the seventh series in the Star Trek franchise. And, to borrow one of the former Enterprise captain’s catchphrases, I’m thoroughly ‘engaged’.

Picard is unquestionably cut from similar cloth to its sibling, Star Trek: Discovery. And yet it is simultaneously a very different show.

Similarities …

Like Discovery, Picard is based around a season-long arc rather than a collection of standalone episodes. Here there is a multi-layered mystery centred on Soji Asha, the surviving android ‘daughter’ of Commander Data.

Like Discovery, there is a central focus on one of Trek‘s core civilisations. Discovery‘s first season did an at times torturous deep-dive into the Klingons. Picard examines the Machiavellian scheming of the Romulans, with a secondary focus on the Borg.

And, like its sister show, Picard revels in Trek’s history. Discovery focussed (a little too much) on Spock and Captain Pike. Picard has reunited us with Data, Voyager‘s Seven of Nine, fellow former Borg Hugh, Will Riker and Deanna Troi. But rather than dominating the entire season, each has made their own discrete appearance. It has been like an old friend who visits but doesn’t overstay their welcome.

… And differences

In one key respect, however, Picard deviates significantly from Discovery. The sister show constantly ramps up the jeopardy to eleven, punctuated by dizzying action sequences. But this often comes at the expense of plot coherence and character development. Picard, on the other hand, is very much a plot-led show. It puts its characters front and centre with space to explore them in greater depth. For sure, it has done a better job of fleshing out its secondary characters – Rios, Raffi, Agnes, Elnor – in seven episodes than Discovery has with most of its bridge crew in two seasons.

If Discovery is like a hyperactive teenager playing Xbox, then Picard is a grandfather reading a leisurely bedtime story.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the most recent episode, Nepenthe, which reintroduces Riker and Troi. The warmth of Picard’s reunion with his former first officer and ship’s counsellor permeates the episode. But Deanna is quick to castigate Picard for not empathising with Soji and earning her trust. Soji comes to terms with the recent discovery that she is an android, whose human ‘memories’ are artificial. And we get a sensitive look at how the Riker family can both move on from and yet continue to grieve the loss of a son and brother.

It’s a touching episode which fleshes out the new character of Soji while adding depth to well-known friends.

As a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan who always preferred the ‘talky’ episodes to the more action or sci-fi based ones, this was a real delight. Picard‘s premise is largely built on the TNG episode The Measure of a Man, which examines what it means to be sentient and alive by putting Data on trial for his life. But Nepenthe most echoes the Hugo Award-winning story The Inner Light, a pure character piece with minimal jeopardy and action. It’s thoughtful without being slow. It’s intriguing rather than thrilling. And it’s based on human interactions rather than futuristic technobabble.

It’s a beautiful episode – and the obvious high point of the season so far.

The verdict

Picard is to Discovery what our two sons are to each other. They are obviously bred from the same stock. But one is quiet and thoughtful, while the other is outgoing and constantly talks a mile a minute. I enjoy both just as much, in part because they are so different.

Picard has taken a leisurely – at times too gentle – pace so far, unfolding slowly and revealing its mysteries gradually. But it’s building nicely. The cinematography is sumptuous. It’s doing a good job balancing the old with the new. And I’m eagerly awaiting the final three episodes.

Now, to borrow another Picard-ism: make it so.

Rating: 8/10


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