Features and Columns · TV

Humanity is Once Again on Trial in ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Two classic ‘Star Trek’ villains return, but maybe they’re not the baddies we once thought they were?
Star Trek Picard Season Premiere Explained
By  · Published on March 4th, 2022

This article is part of our ongoing Star Trek Explained series, featuring the insights of our resident Starfleet officer Brad Gullickson. This entry explores the season two premiere of Star Trek: Picard (“The Star Gazer”) and considers the final frontier our good captain is too afraid to navigate. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

The Federation is on the mend. As we see in Star Trek: Picard‘s season two premiere, the fearful Starfleet officers who plagued Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) during the series’ initial launch seem to have gotten the boot. Our beloved explorers are seeking bold new worlds and alliances once again, and it sends hope shivering through every Trekkie/Trekker (however you identify) watching. Until it all comes crashing down with the reintroduction of The Next Generation‘s original antagonist Q (John De Lancie). Where or when is this show taking us?

The premiere episode opens with a gangbusters action sequence. Someone is where they shouldn’t be—a retrofitted U.S.S. Stargazer, Jean-Luc’s first seat of command now captained by Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), is under attack. We can’t quite distinguish who’s firing green phasers upon the bridge, but green is never a good look for post-TNG Star Trek. With it usually comes futile resistance.

Jean-Luc Picard’s Broken Heart

As Jean-Luc peers toward their attacker, we flashback 48 hours and play catch up with the Picard crew. The premiere is far more mellow than the trailers suggested, and we must wait before we get really bananas with the timelines and guest stars. In anticipation of going where no one has gone before, the premiere turns its direction inward, to that heart Jean-Luc lost during a Nausicaan barroom brawl (see the Star Trek: TNG episode “Tapestry”).

The episode repeatedly reminds us Jean-Luc is nearly a hundred years old. He’s never settled down, and he’s the last Picard in the family line. When he dies, they die.

His finality is not fretting him. He got those feelings exorcised during his time in the Nexus, as seen in Star Trek: Generations. But when his companion Laris (Orla Brady) makes a move one late evening at the vineyard, Jean-Luc recoils. The rejection splinters their relationship, and its inevitable destruction infects Jean-Luc’s mood.

When he can’t figure things out, he turns to the person always eager to listen and, more importantly, call him a dumbass when he’s a dumbass. In what is absolutely the premiere’s highlight, Jean-Luc travels to a Los Angeles dive bar, where Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) is slinging liquor for the people. He tells her his woes over a bottle of Saurian brandy, and she asks him some questions.

Drowning Sorrows with Guinan

Guinan first appeared aboard the U.S.SEnterpriseD in the TNG episode, “The Child.” Since then, she’s always been there for the Captain, currently promoted to Admiral. As an El-Aurian, she has a special sensitivity toward emotions, and her ancient age provides an extra layer of temporal understanding. Meaning she can tell when someone is mucking about with it, which will undoubtedly come in handy further on this season.

In previous appearances, we even learned that the god-being Q looked upon Guinan with tremendous fear. Why? It’s never fully explained, but we’re probably going to get some revelation in that regard very, very soon.

The El-Aurians are refugees. With their homeworld destroyed by the Borg, they fled across the universe, taking residence wherever they could find it. They’re survivors, meeting each day using their intelligence and preternatural understanding of the humanoid emotional state as their weapons.

Guinan calls it as she sees it. Jean-Luc is a fearful man. Sure, he’s also an absurdly brave man, putting his neck on the line for the universe time and time again. But, when it comes to romance and his artificial but metaphorically very real heart, Jean-Luc is a scaredy-cat. He could never commit with Beverly Crusher or Vash or the several other ladies who made an attempt. The stars were always his getaway, his escape, his crutch.

No Borgs Allowed

Of course, the stars could never leave him alone either. He should be enjoying his vineyard, but Starfleet can’t keep their mitts off. The Stargazer encounters another one of those pesky temporal anomalies. Within it is a broadcast, a call for Jean-Luc to “help us.” With what? Well, whoever they are, they want admittance into the Federation. And Jean-Luc can never resist such an offer.

The Admiral jettisons back into space and gets on the horn with the unknown aliens, who quickly become very known. It’s the Borg or some version of them. And they want to be a part of Starfleet’s club? That sounds fishy.

Star Trek: Picard supplies us with a mighty empathy test. How hopeful are we? How much faith do we hold in our ideals? We say we want to explore and meet new life, but we can’t extend that courtesy to the Borg, right? They’re killers. They’re made to assimilate. We should blow them out of the stars before we even entertain the notion of their recruitment.

The Federation thought the same about the Klingons. A few years later, Worf eventually serves as Jean-Luc’s security head. The Romulans repeatedly brought death and damnation upon Starfleet, but now Elnor (Evan Evagora) stands proudly as a new cadet. Enemies becoming friends on Star Trek is a consistent theme. Can we possibly extend our embrace to beings we once saw as zombies? To fire photons upon them as they ask for help would be a betrayal against everything Gene Roddenberry established in the original series. Picard would never.

And then a new Borg Queen beams aboard the Stargazer and steals control over the Federation armada. We’re back at the beginning of the episode with officers dropping like flies. It should be noted the Queen has her phasers set on stun. They’re dropping, but they’re not dead. The big surprise comes when she addresses Jean-Luc and quotes his mother, “Look up.”

Q’s Never-Ending Trial

Suddenly, Jean-Luc is back in the vineyard. Laris is nowhere to be found; in her place is a synthetic named Harvey (Alex Diehl). Also, the sky doesn’t quite look right. There’s a forcefield hovering over the atmosphere, and a very stern portrait of Jean-Luc hangs on his wall. The Starfleet Delta shield is altered from what we’re used to. It’s not the Mirror Universe, but it’s also maybe the Mirror Universe.

As these questions rattle through Jean-Luc’s brain, Q appears behind him. “Mon capitan,” he says. “The trial never ends.”

Jean-Luc originally stood before Q in the first TNG episode, “Encounter at Far Point.” Way back then, he told Jean-Luc that his actions would determine humanity’s fate in his eyes. If he passed, humans could keep going. If he failed, “the savage child-race” would be deemed irrelevant to the cosmos and eradicated the way one might stomp on an anthill. Jean-Luc proved that humanity had evolved beyond its rageful reactionary past, but Q never stopped his observations.

Star Trek: Through the Looking Glass

The fact that Q returned just as the Stargazer crew were firing upon the Borg Queen is critical. If Starfleet cannot look beyond its prejudices and see the Borg as anything more than a threat, then Q might finally deliver an unfavorable judgment on us lowly humans.

How does mucking about with the timeline, creating some version of the Mirror Universe, help Q in this trial? It’s curious. Maybe he’s not responsible for the temporal fraction. Maybe the Borg Queen did something. They’ve played with the timeline before as well. They’re not stupid; they know groveling for Federation admittance was a big ask. Time travel cheating would help their cause.

The Federation’s willingness to consider the Borg’s admittance into their club sits at the core of Star Trek: Picard. As does Jean-Luc’s broken heart. There is still a final frontier to explore, but it rests within. The second season premiere offered a few glimpses into Jean-Luc’s pain, which appears tied to his mother. Solving that riddle may open him to Laris and demonstrate humanity’s ability to grow beyond their fears. Jean-Luc still has more to learn. He has more to teach.

Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on Paramount+

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)