Opinion

WHITTINGTON: Star Trek’s ‘Picard’ Depicts A Starship Captain In Winter

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Mark Whittington Contributor

The first we see of Jean-Luc Picard in the trailer for “Star Trek: Picard” is him moping around at Chateau Picard among his vineyards. He is still traumatized at what happened during the last “Next Generation” movie, “Nemesis.” He has a lot to be sad about aside from the horrible reviews the movie got. The movie saw the destruction of Commander Data, the android second officer played by Brent Spiner, Picard’s friend and occasional conscience.

As an aside, what is Picard doing growing grapes and presumably making wine from them? Replicator technology should be able to produce any vintage the heart desires without all that messy and time-consuming process. The high-tech utopia of the 24th century has created something called a “nonmonetary economy,” which provides all the needs of humans without the need to earn money. What incentive does Picard have to maintain a winery? Is it some kind of hobby?

In any case, the new series, which will premier on “CBS Access” soon, would be rather boring if it consisted of Jean-Luc Picard moping about the old homestead. The appearance of a mysterious woman named Dahl, pursued by a group of very violent and determined people, breaks Picard out of his depression. In the trailer he visits Star Fleet Command. If what the press reports and the trailer suggest of the new series is correct, Picard has to get his own ship and gather his own crew somehow.

The new crew will consist of some new characters as well as some familiar ones. A reconstituted Data, Hugh the Borg — who showed up in an episode of Next Generation — and Seven of Nine, the liberated Borg from “Star Trek: Voyager” will join the crew. It also looks like Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) will have supporting roles.

The rest of the new ship’s crew includes some disreputable people. The pilot, for instance, is also a thief. Another is a former intelligence officer with a substance abuse problem. Picard, the personification of the straight-arrow starship captain, will likely have some problems dealing with this crew.

The trailer ends with Picard, standing, making a familiar gesture and saying, “Engage.” Thus, a different kind of Star Trek series begins, perhaps more like “Firefly” than a typical Trek show. The private ship, the motley crew, both suggest that this is to be the case. The ancient space mariner has found a purpose again. But how will the rule-bound Picard adapt to such a command?

Back in 1987, when we first met Jean-Luc Picard, he proved to be a most problematic starship captain. He was a Frenchman who liked his Earl Grey tea — hot — and spoke with a pleasing British accent. The latter fact was because Patrick Stewart, the actor who gave Picard life, tried a French accent and wound up sounding like Inspector Clouseau. In the first episode, Picard lived up to the French stereotype and wound up surrendering the Enterprise. He gave up the ship to an annoying super-being named Q, something that Captain Kirk would never have done.

Most of The Next Generation’s first season suffered from lame scripts brought on by conflicts between series creator Gene Roddenberry and the writing staff. By the  season’s end, the series got its bearings. It lasted for seven seasons and several movies. Picard grew on audiences, got more physical, and learned, like Kirk before him, to bend even the Prime Directive.

Stewart, fine Shakespearean actor though he is, is also problematic when it comes to depicting a future space explorer. Stewart has said more than once that he opposes efforts to explore space until we solve all the problems on Earth. Were it up to him, the Star Trek future would never come to pass in any form.

Still, Star Trek has always presented a hopeful future that will result from the exploration and eventual settlement of space. It may be utopian in some respects, but the many television shows and movies in the franchise always suggested that space travel is a good thing, with the ability to transform human civilization in ways that can only be imagined. Will the new show keep up that theme? We’ll know when it airs in early 2020.

Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner.


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