Friday, 24 January 2020

Picard: Remembrance

Has it been worth the wait and the hype?

It’s the question we’re all going to be asking this week as Star Trek: Picard premieres on CBS All Access and Amazon Prime Video. 

Twenty years have passed since we last saw Picard in Nemesis and a lot’s happened. Romulus is no more and Mars is ablaze following the synth attack as detailed in the recent Short Trek, Children of Mars. For those of you following the recent Countdown for Picard comic series, I'd speculate that this is one of the reasons that issue three has been delayed in that it will tie into these references given the time frame in which that story is set.

Living his days out at Chateau Picard, Jean-Luc is assisted by a pair of Romulans; and generally seems to be keeping out of the way. However - and as you would expect unless you thought this was a ten part wine-making series - that all gets tipped upside down with the arrival of Isa Briones’ Dahj.

If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know that she’s on the run and turns to Picard for help but there’s a great deal more to the story which becomes apparent fairly quickly if you keep up with events.

Initially it seems that the show is setting up a master and student relationship between the pair with Picard’s dreams of Data adding an air of mystery to the proceedings but through a series of rapid twists towards the latter half of the episode, all your expectations for the series are pretty much ripped up and tossed in the bin. Spiner doesn't dominate the episode either with his two appearances more hinting at events than being an excuse to just have him around in the show. Keeping Data deceased is the correct move but you'll understand that his influence from the past is still important to the show's progression. Needless to say you'll be diving into at least two episodes of The Next Generation in the next week to check out a few points.

The trailers and the publicity machine have done a sterling job of steering us all away from more significant plot points and the show is all the better for not having been laid open in the last few weeks.

There are a couple of really striking things about Remembrance too. Not all of the recurring/main cast show up in this first episode so don’t be waiting for Seven or Hugh or even some of the new crew to have appeared by the end. Also, aside from some segments of recordings, the last two minutes and a brief dream sequence there is almost no space involvement in episode one. Ninety-Seven percent of it is set on Earth and all driven by character. 

Picard’s first episode is daring, brave and ignited a sense of awe and excitement I’ve not felt in the first episode of a show since Emissary took us though the Bajoran Wormhole. The main story twists away from your conceptions very quickly and what follows almost feels like a catch up not just on the activities of Jean-Luc Picard but also the progress - or maybe lack of it - which has occurred within the Federation. You know that changes are coming up because Picard's Earl Grey is now de-caf and he talks to his dog in French - we ain't in the D anymore...

The rather gritty Federation News Network interview digs deeper than Picard expects and in a rare moment we see anger towards Starfleet and what it has become. In no uncertain terms, Picard is political and represents an unstable world climate. The Federation has stumbled, Starfleet appears to have drifted from its principles and is "broken". It's clear from the FNN interview that we aren't in Kansas any more and by the end of Remembrance it does feel that this message has been firmly nail-gunned home. 

The visuals from start to finish are gorgeous in HD whether we're surveying the Picard vineyards or taking in the vistas of Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. The future, unfortunately to use a cliche, has never looked better and choosing to run this series with the focus on a sole character plus initially utilise Earth as the main setting has immediately differentiated it from Discovery. How the two will interplay over the next few years will be intriguing given the line we are expecting that show to take and also from the hints of where Picard is already turning.

The choice to spread character introductions over more than one episode is a wise move too and possibly one learnt from Discovery. We get to properly reconnect with Patrick Stewart's retired Picard, then Dahj, Doctor Agnes Jurati at the Daystrom Institute (more on that in a second) and finally Harry Treadaway's suspicious Romulan Narek. It doesn't feel like we're being stuffed with too much information right away and can get to grips with these key players at a reasonable pace. Jurati is a little excitable in the same vein as we might expect from Tilly while Narek fits into the secret agent role taken by Michelle Yeoh on Discovery but as long as they make these characters distinct for the show it won't be too much to deal with after a week or two. 

Even the titles have a spine-tingling feeling to them, including clear images of Borg tech, lots of eyes (focus on the soul...?) and a Cube which all lead into piecing together Jean-Luc in the final shot. 

For newcomers this isn't such a difficult show to follow from episode one but for returning and avid fans there are a load of nods, references and hints to the past. Beyond Chateau Picard, last visited in Family, the FNN news report spins in a couple of episode shots from The Next Generation, that visit to the Daystrom Institute and perhaps importantly we learn that the android in the box is B4. 

There's even a minute of proper fan service by a visit to the Picard collection at the Starfleet Archive collecting together many items recently viewed at Las Vegas and Birmingham's Destination Star Trek. There is one other major reference to The Next Generation during Remembrance but mentioning it is a huge spoiler and one everyone deserves to experience - I'm very excited to see how this might pan out across the next nine episodes!

Star Trek: Picard is a stunning first episode for a series we never expected or knew that we wanted if truth be told. Patrick Stewart without question owns this show from the first scenes on the recreated "dream sequence" Enterprise-D and bizarrely makes the role seem even more natural than we saw 20 years ago. Every fan can be satisfied with the return of Star Trek's most iconic captain and the two decade gap has done nothing to weaken/soften/dilute the power of this return. Remembrance ensures that we can't expect everything to be as straightforward as we have been led to believe. It both honours the past of the franchise and breaks out into new territory and not ground that we've ever covered before. The twists and action of episode one can be merely seen as teasers for what is to come and set up for the story - and it's a journey that I can guarantee I will be on.

What did you think to the season opener? What are your thoughts and expectations?

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Thanks to Chris Groves for assistance with screencaps

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