This article is part of our ongoing Picard Explained series, featuring the insights of our resident Starfleet officer Brad Gullickson.
Death gives purpose to life. An end allows perspective for all the bumps along the way. It’s a beautiful, if somewhat odd note to conclude the first arc of Star Trek: Picard. For a season built around humanity’s troublesome fearful response to the unknown, especially as to how it pertains to synthetic life and their seemingly immortal existence, wrapping up Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)’s latest journey with a celebration of death as an affirmation of life, rings awkwardly.
Midway through the second part of the season finale, entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego,” Picard has his moment to prove biological worth to Soji (Isa Briones), the synthetic daughter of Data (Brent Spiner) prophesized by the Romulans to bring ultimate destruction to “natural” life. During last week’s episode, she rejected Picard’s offer of assistance, choosing instead to contact a massive artificial intelligence alliance waiting on the other side of a dimensional barrier, who promise to save Soji’s synthetic people by eradicating all biological beings. Given his track record over the past fourteen years, including his unceremonious departure from Starfleet, their xenophobic retreat from the final frontier, and their banning of all synthetic lifeforms, Soji has no reason to trust Picard or the people he claims to represent.
Soji flicks the switch on her beacon, and a menacing hole in space opens. Why is it menacing? Oh, simply because the A.I. alliance seems to consist entirely of metallic tendrils and talons suffering from a bad case of grabby-hands.
Picard is already on the brink of death, his degenerative neurological disorder finally eating away his brain. With mere minutes left of life, he begs Soji to reconsider. He asks her to look to the Federation ships which have just appeared in orbit, complete with William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) at the helm, to stand between the synthetics and the Romulan armada. Starfleet could have turned their phasers on Soji as well, but they didn’t. The Federation trusts Soji to do the right thing. Why? Because Picard trusts Soji to do the right thing.
“I know you,” he says. “I believe in you. That’s why I saved your lives so that you could save ours in return. That’s the whole point. That’s why we’re here – to save each other.”
Soji powers down the beacon, and the A.I. alliance and their tentacles go back from wherever they came, probably to hang out with Thanos and his similarily inspired creature designer. Picard collapses, and despite being beamed to the planet’s surface, dies in the lap of Raffi (Michelle Hurd) while the rest of the La Sirena crew observes through tears. Like Captain Kirk and Data before him, he ends his run in this realm by using his last breath to save another life. A fitting conclusion for any Starfleet officer worth a damn, even despite his hiccup at the vineyard. His temper tantrum failings of fourteen years ago are forgiven through Soji’s action.
The end. Goodnight, sweet prince.
Hold-up. That’s not how this is gonna go. The second season is already ordered. With more Star Trek: Picard to come, we need Jean-Luc Picard.
Even in paradise, death must arrive, but they’re gonna have to wait a little longer for J.L. Well, maybe. It’s complicated.
Picard awakens inside a “quantum simulator.” Before he passed, Soji, Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill), and Dr. Soong (also Brent Spiner) uploaded his consciousness into the same program Data’s essence resided in after his destruction at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. Picard and Data have a moment to say goodbye and tell one another, in their unique way, how much they mean to the other.
Soong has prepared a synthetic body for Picard to return into, minus the pesky Irumodic Syndrome that ended his life. Season Two awaits, but is this the same Picard who once commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise? Does it matter? The season finale does not seem to want to ask those existential questions just yet. Picard is told that he is not immortal and that this new body is expected to last as long as the previous one if the neurological disorder had not come along. Meet the new Picard, same as the old Picard.
Ah, but there is one last mission. Before he left the quantum simulator, Data asked Picard to end his existence within the program. All his life, Data has dreamed of achieving humanity. That is impossible if he can forever linger inside a computer. Pulling his plug is a gift of membership into the human race.
Picard does so, and it allows for a seriously sweet send-off as well as a celebration of humanity despite its constant compulsion for atrocity. We suck, but we’re capable of grand gestures. In Data’s desire to join our species, we are redeemed as well.
“It says a great deal about the mind of Commander Data,” says Picard, “that looking at the human race with all its violence, corruption, and willful ignorance, he could still see kindness, immense curiosity, and greatness of spirit. He wanted more than anything else to be a part of that, to be a part of the human family.”
Yeah, but, um…while I’ve always appreciated Data’s dream of attaining humanity and how it highlights all the minuscule manners in which we are special entities, doesn’t it also feel akin to a rejection of the synthetic species yearning for their life during this specific season of Star Trek? The Romulans saw their immortality as a direct threat against our mortality. As the great unknown, the synthetics are also greatly feared. Shouldn’t the conclusion be, not a high-five over death and how precious we are as a species, but a high-five over the first contact with a species we struggle to understand from our limited viewpoint?
To make matters worse, Picard ascends into a synthetic form. His life is over. The Picard spouting “Engage!” for the final shot is not the Picard who started on this quest to rescue Soji. He now resides in a body and a life much more similar to his friend Data. His evolution should be to experience and understand the perspective of a synthetic lifeform. That’s the story, not the hope we should have as a result of an android choosing us over his kind.
Star Trek: Picard bypasses Picard’s incredible metamorphosis as simply, “It’s a new body! Just like your old one! No big deal!” On to the next season, and we no longer have to worry about a sick Picard. Humbug!
The series concludes with Picard maintaining the spirit of Starfleet within him, even when the organization snuffed itself out. In pursuing Data’s daughters, he rekindled his purpose, and in championing humanity, he saved humanity. Victory. The Federation is course-correcting the actions they made while fear consumed them. They finally got off their duffs and dusted off their starships, and they reversed the ban on synthetic lifeforms. Picard did his job and vindicated his sins for the last fourteen years.
So, Picard rejoins the human family, but what about his synthetic family? The final frontier resides with them. They are the great unknown. He shares as much in common with them now as they do with him. There is an opportunity here. Season two must not forget the digital soul walking around in the Picard-thing. Exterior exploration always equals interior exploration.