Star Trek: Picard started his season with a many ideas about his titular hero. What did that mean? a man like Jean-Luc Picard not only had retired, but stop the utopian organization to which he dedicated his life? What did he think of the decline? Is there room for a man like him in a modern interpretation of it Star TrekIs the future? In the end, the series was unfortunately not as interested in answers as it seemed.
PicardIs the first season came to an end last week, completing his big ongoing storyline about the Federation’s ban on synthetics, and what the next generation of Data-like androids was up to about the mysterious world of Coppelius. But after weeks of thematic back and forth, it also yielded his ultimate statement: Jean-Luc Picard, decades after we last saw him? Still the perfect hero that we are romanticized and evangelized since the intoxicating days of The next generation. A hero so perfect that he should not die, too important a beacon for not only our hopes and dreams, but also the dreams of the Star Trek galaxy in general.
It may not be a surprising statement to make. After all, there’s a reason we evangelized a character like Jean-Luc in subsequent years The next generation was on our screens. His optimism, his courage, his unceasing hunger for exploration, the famous captain had come to embody everything we have in our possession that is good and smart Star Trek as an entity, not just a single character in a single show. But what makes Picard leaning back on this familiar, nostalgic embrace of those mythos is that it had questioned a not insignificant part of the first season if there was a downside to that kind of hero worship, especially in a version of the galaxy plagued by crisis and moral decline .
The show initially did this in obvious ways, due to the disagreement between Starfleet as an entity and Jean-Luc as an individual. In the wake of the former’s reluctance to make a relief effort to the Romulan Empire, as it threat of a supernova that ultimately would wipe out not only the Romulan homeworld, but countless colonies in the process, Starfleet and Jean-Luc became at odds. Dealing with its own problems – in the form of a synthetic attack on his Mars shipyards, as well as an internalized skepticism for helping what had long been a rival bloc of power in galactic space – Starfleet turned his back on the rescue operation of Jean-Luc, and in turn an embittered Jean-Luc played his last bluff: Help the Romulans, or one of Starfleet’s greatest champions quits. Starfleet chose the latter.
This in itself is a fascinating use of something else Picard began to explore throughout the season: the meta-textual awareness that Jean-Luc himself has of his own mythos, and of how much our own deification of his character has now blossomed into the factual fiction of Star Trek As a whole. It was here at an individual character level, more than with Starfleet’s own ethical flaws – thanks Deep Space Nine, the franchise had already done a lot of that kind of reflection in the first place – that the show really started questioning the man, the myth, the legend. It becomes clear very early on Picard which Jean-Luc himself had acquired in his reputation as a lion of the Federation. But it became equally clear how, when he cashed that particular check to bite his thumb at Starfleet, he completely retreated into that image of himself – literally, in the sense that he flew into the vineyard with little more than his anger. his family nestled two delicious Romulans named Laris and Zhaban – actively harmed his friends and (now former) colleagues.
Although we were reunited with some of those well-known colleagues (namely Troi and Riker, which also struggled in subsequent years Star Trek: Nemesis), Picard showed that damage mainly through the lens of two of his new characters: Evan Evagora’s Elnor and Michelle Hurd’s Raffi Musiker. When we first met Elnor – a Romulan orphan who became a religious sales sword, Jean-Luc became a child as part of his rescue mission for refugees fleeing the destructive path of the supernova – in ‘Absolutely candid,“We are directly confronted with the emotional damage that the man had inflicted not only on him, but also on the Romulan refugees he suddenly left behind on Vashti when he first heard of the attack on Mars.
After presenting these people with open arms and positioning himself as their only friend among the untrustworthy Federation, Jean-Luc disappeared from their new, tumultuous life almost as quickly as he entered it, only to return when he needed favor from them (or more specifically, Elnor’s religious sect, the Qowat Milat). They were rightly angry with him for positioning himself as their only savior. And the only answer he could give them as he walked away again – now with a hesitant Elnor in tow – was not the fault, but the Federation. After all, he is Jean-Luc Picard. He did what he could and suddenly … not.
But it is perhaps Raffi’s arc in the earlier parts of the debut season that most emphatically explored the damage that Jean-Luc’s withdrawal in itself explored. She was his former first officer while attempting to set up an auxiliary operation for the Romulans, but where he had to resign from Starfleet as an act of rebellion, Raffi was simply fired, her association with the now excommunicated adiriral enough to infect her. So when we were first meet her well in the series we meet a woman who is not the first and right kind of person we would expect from a former Starfleet officer, but a woman who is utterly broken by having by it turned out. Losing her career drove Raffi away from her family, saw her drug use and drinking, and was almost completely engulfed in not only her own theories of the true nature of the attack on Mars, but contempt for everything Starfleet had become.
Crucially, however, it was a shared contempt that she also pegged to Jean-Luc. When he appears at the door of her rickety abode in the Vasquez rocks – the first time she has seen him since he quit withoutOn a subsequent call or check-in to see how she was – with the promise of a new mission at his request, Raffi instead angrily points a phaser at him and tells him to leave. If he doesn’t – because, again, He is on a mission – she angrily nails him for abandoning her in a moment of deep trauma, against the privilege that as the great Jean-Luc Picard he could afford to shut himself off to his regal family property, while people like her were left to suffer for his hubris. And unshakable, he never apologized for that pain. Instead, he left their reunification on the assumption that Raffi would help him because he’s Jean-Luc Picard, and that’s what people did when he told them to.
It seemed like a crucial moment for what Picard should say about its titular nature even when he started using that privilege in the show’s story. These were people who were no doubt hurt by the direct action of Jean-Luc – well, his passivity. Their feelings were validated, years of anger etched on their characters that came up again and again. And yet the man never really took that with him. Later in the season, when he needs Raffi to enlist a favor with Starfleet, he leans her into the years of trauma that led because she got addicted, not knowing there was real pain behind that facade. He never mentions her previous anger at him, but instead applauds her performance, encouraging the rest of his shady team to do so even as she slips away from the crew and retreats into her quarters to mourn in solitude . It is shockingly indifferent, but again raises that valid question: I.Is it a good thing that Jean-Luc bought his own hype?
This presentation by Jean-Luc, and the questions it raised, lingered in the background of PicardIs the first season. They were asked explicitly, but never really asked out loud enough – especially when it came time to unravel the different plot dumps to move the core arc to protect Soji and her fellow plastics from anti-AI. Romulan cultists. So when the season reached its peak with an apparently all-encompassing scrap between Jean-Luc’s new crew, the Androids of Coppelius and the Romulans, it still felt as if the series didn’t decide how right or wrong his titular hero was to buy his hype, if it hurt people like Raffi and Elnor, or turning away from old friends like Riker and Troi, would have been worth it.
And so it just chose not to consider the questions it raised at all, leaving Jean-Luc in the captain’s chair for a final full of nostalgia. The last episode of PicardFirst season fell on so many of its predecessor’s thematic elements had put downespecially when it came to the value of sacrifice, but in the mess it caused, only one thing was explicitly clear: Jean-Luc is a hero and will always be right, and will not only save the day, but will do with an ‘Engage’ and a ‘Make it so’, as we all remember.
Picard just couldn’t help but take the easy route. It decided that everything our main character had kept faltering about – especially his personal relationships – ultimately didn’t matter. It decided that the Federation that turned his back on him could be solved with a snap of the finger, more than an actual account of what even asking those questions meant in the first place for this galactic civilization. All that mattered was that the Jean-Luc we remember from all those years ago, the myth of his, was preserved at all costs, spiritually and literally.
There is a moment at the peak of “Stardust City Rag”, which is undoubtedly left the strongest episode from the first season – where, after saying goodbye to Jean-Luc, Seven of Nine ignores his early pleas for clemency and returns to the shady planet of Freecloud to take violent revenge on the mobster (and Seven’s former ally) Bjayzl. If the latter is surprised that at first it seemed that Seven was willing to give her revenge to take on Jean-Luc’s moral masterpiece, she simply replies that she did not want the old man to give up his illusion that there was still room for grace. The Star Trek Galaxy had changed, Seven argued, and so did the people trying to survive in the aftermath of unprecedented disasters. It wanted to let us know that sometimes we couldn’t go back, that the world had moved on, and thinking it wasn’t a dream, only the privileged had the chance to dream.
But eventually Picard decided that Jean-Luc’s illusion should suddenly become a reality.