Star Trek: Picard is not Star Trek: The Next Generation, nor does it need to be. The CBS All Access series, which is now streaming, stands on its own as a thoughtful continuation of Picard's (Sir Patrick Stewart) journey, faithfully honoring the past while also pushing the iconic character in a bold new direction.
Picking up 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, which saw the beloved android Data (Brent Spiner) sacrifice himself to save his friends, Picard revisits its eponymous captain in the twilight years of his life on his family's chateau in France. He's living the sort of idyllic life that retirees can only dream of, but that simplistic existence doesn't suit the former captain of the Enterprise as he's more accustomed to living for a purpose and a mission rather than simply living. His melancholy is palpable, as is the trauma he's experienced throughout his life, seen most clearly through his vivid dreams of Data and ensuing nightmares of the disastrous rescue mission that sent him into self-imposed seclusion.
It's been a decade since he resigned from Starfleet, a decision made on the belief that Starfleet no longer aligned with his humanitarian ideals. The organization pulled out of a rescue mission to help Romulan refugees, longtime Federation enemies who were displaced after their planet was destroyed, citing insufficient resources and political opposition -- which Picard viewed as a criminal betrayal. His contentious departure from Starfleet isn't what anyone would have imagined for the decorated admiral, but it speaks to the current state of Starfleet, which has shifted its values amid a crisis, and the complicated world in which Picard is set.
Harking back to Star Trek's political roots, this is very much a series of the time, touching on topical issues like terrorism, immigration, and government corruption. It's the darkest of the franchise but it never feels like a drab, joyless affair. The series delicately balances those grim topics with that hopeful outlook toward the future which has defined the franchise over its 50-plus-year history. Plus, the fight scenes are brutal but skillfully choreographed, the visuals are a stunning feast for the eyes, and its soundtrack gives it a cinematic feel. In a time where there are simply too many shows, Picard is a worthwhile experience.
Patrick Stewart is sublime in his reprisal as the iconic captain, as is the show's ensemble of compelling new characters. Isa Briones is a welcome addition as Dahj, the enigmatic figure whose arrival jolts Picard out of his zombie walk through life. There's also Agnes (Alison Pill), a doctor at the Daystrom Institute whose amiable nature is only outmatched by her brilliance; Narek (Harry Treadaway), a good-looking Romulan with Jonas Brother hair; Rafi (Michelle Hurd), Picard's former first officer who might be the most relatable of the bunch; and Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a dashing pilot with a grudge against Starfleet.
The show was clearly made with hardcore Trekkies in mind, but it's not exclusively for them. Picard's serialized, standalone story makes it accessible to everyone, including newbies who might not be familiar with Picard's rich history. Even if you think the Geordie la Forge sounds like a fancy dessert cake, you'll understand most of what's going on in the story. With that said, the series offers up a bevy of delightful easter eggs for longtime fans (hey there, Enterprise-D) and will see favorites like William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) return in addition to Data.
In its first three episodes, Picard lays the groundwork for some of the franchise's most intriguing stories, including the disturbing new connection between the Romulans and the Borg, formidable villains of the past. Reintroducing established characters is a difficult feat, one that CBS All Access handles brilliantly with Picard and these familiar foes, showcasing them in a refreshing and entirely new light.
We've only scratched the surface with this latest installment but if Picard can keep up the momentum, it's poised to be one of the greats.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard drop Thursdays on CBS All Access.