Once considered the territory of the super dork, Star Trek has come a long way. I used to get teased for loving “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and braced for the derision every time I quoted a line from it (which happened frequently). When Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart took on the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he was chided for it by his peers. Trek was not considered in the realm of the serious actor. Now, Stewart is getting his own series in the Star Trek universe.
In “Picard,” Stewart will be the lead protagonist, and at ComicCon—which of course would not exist were it not for the Star Trek conventions—actors and audiences were taking it pretty seriously. People on the panel discussed “dark nights of the soul,” and characters with “hard shells.”
Everyone in the show’s dealing with some trauma, and they’re probably all pretty jaded. Data is back, which is great, and Jonathan Frakes is directing, as he should be. Jeri Ryan reprises her role as Seven of Nine from “Star Trek: Voyager,” and Marina Sirtis will return as Betazoid Deanna Troi.
The trailer for the series, set to air on CBS All Access, opens with the Picard homestead in France, complete with olive groves. After his tenure as captain of the Enterprise ended, this is where Picard went. He took the reins of the Picard wine legacy, and this is where the new series finds him. He’s no longer a captain, doesn’t have his crew or a ship, and his number one is a dog.
The trailer is a bit cagey, as trailers can be. The actors and writers on the Comic-Con panel kept referencing what they’re allowed to actually reveal. So what will happen on “Picard?” I’ve watched TNG all the way through at least 12 times. Avery Brooks’s Sisko is my favorite captain, and I’m in the middle of an original series rewatch. As a die-hard fan of TNG and really the entire Star Trek universe, I’ve got some thoughts on what I’d like to see in the new series.
Start With a Little Bit of Camp
In my rewatch of the original series, complete with Orion slave girls and thigh-high boots for all the gals, I’m reminded of how camp the whole thing was. Star Trek has moved far from those roots, and it’d be great to see them get back to that a little.
So many franchises have veered into taking themselves way too seriously. Star Wars, all the Marvel Comic Universe movies (except for “Ant Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”), and the DC stuff like “Gotham” are all over-the-top angsty and somber. How great it would be to get a little something like a dance break, or a lip-locking alien love scene, or tribbles, or Gaultier-style costumes a la “The Fifth Element.”
Maybe we like taking our sci-fi—er, speculative fiction—extra seriously now. But let’s not. Give us some fun, Picard! Let’s not get all “Blade Runner.”
Does Picard Have Any Regrets?
Picard is obviously an elder statesman, but he’s also a deeply flawed man. As he embarks upon his inner quest for clarity, I hope we get to see him struggling with some of his choices. He was the ultimate career man, eschewing love and family for work. Maybe there’s some regret there, now in his old age, that he doesn’t have a family to gather around him.
Also it would be great to see him keep fighting his internal Borg. He never got rid of that, or the impulse to let go and let Borg. Who is Picard without his status? While Stewart is lauded and cheered by cast and fans alike, I hope the character gets some old-man-nearing-the-end-of-his-life treatment, and is more risk averse and cautious, as older people tend to be. I don’t want to see Picard in his prime, I want to see him in decline.
Give Us Tasha Yar
Tasha Yar should totally come back. I know she hasn’t been around since she got eaten by that weird tar monster on that alien planet in TNG season one, but how amazing would it be to see Data and Tasha rekindle their romance?
Data is fully functional, after all, and even though it was that weird freezing disease (which first appeared on the original series), Tasha was clearly into him. I would love to see this romance bloom, and maybe even a honeymoon on Planet Risa. Speaking of which, that’s a planet that deserves further exploration, and could totes help with the whole retro camp thing.
Play with the Prime Directive Some More
Contemporary culture is a mess of cancellings, group think, and identity politics, and it would be great to see “Picard” writers skewer these things the same way Gene Rodenberry would have, had he been showrunner. The Prime Directive was such a driving motivator for Picard, and it would be great to see how the directive has perhaps been misinterpreted, oddly applied, and generally completely divorced from its original intent and mission. There were always lots of ways to see how the Prime Directive could be problematic, a tool of Federation colonizers, and maybe there’s some grassroots pushback against the Federation studying alien cultures then watching them die just for research.
Should the Federation really be so ideologically removed from other cultures that it won’t help them enter the Star Trek age? Shouldn’t the Federation bring warp to pre-warp cultures? What about giving them a boost? Is it better to watch a society suffer in poverty or bring them some food?
Rodenberry had no time for authoritarianism or rote thinking. He thought outside the box at all times, and refused to do what other people wanted, almost on principle. He stuck to his vision and didn’t let any socially acceptable ideological bent push into his work. He was a master visionary who wrote against people aligning their ideas with what they were told to do.
Rodenberry invented the Kobayashi Maru—the hopeless training exercise where a burgeoning captain had to realize he was beat and resign himself to defeat—and Kirk, the captain who defeated it by hacking the program. That’s a daring thinker, and if we see in “Picard” the same tired ideas we’re constantly being fed by our culture’s thought police, that will be both a disappointment and a betrayal to the original mission of the series.
The Star Trek universe is unique among our speculative series in that it intentionally and consistently shows us an aspirational future as opposed to one rife with apocalypse and the end of humanity. Jean-Luc Picard was a big part of what gave it that aspirational quality. He was a stand-up guy, a guy who put his ego second and his drive to do what was right first.
He was the most mellow of the captains, the one who always saw the objective perspective first, and prime directived his way out of everything. It’ll be interesting to see how old age and twenty-ish years have changed him, and the Star Trek universe. I hope it’s as authentic as the original “Next Generation.”