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‘Star Trek: Picard’ lacks substance beyond callbacks and continuity porn

Do you enjoy remembering things? Have an episode where you can just remember things.

A still image from the TV series 'Star Trek: Picard Season 3' showing Picard and Riker sitting in a neon-lit bar at a table drinking liquor in tumbler glasses with the bottle on the table between them.
Trae Patton / Paramount+
Daniel Cooper
Daniel Cooper|@danielwcooper|February 16, 2023 9:00 AM

The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard, Season Three, Episode One: “The Next Generation.”

In the 25th Century…

There’s a wounded starship playing possum in the beautiful, merciless vastness of space, and inside, is a museum. The captain’s quarters holds a trove of props from that old TV show you watched when you were a kid, maybe you still do as an adult. There’s a hypospray, a ready room terminal playing the logs from “The Best of Both Worlds: Part One” and the captain’s dead husband’s personal effects. When an intruder alert sounds, the sleeping captain snaps into action, brandishes a phaser rifle and sets about defending her turf. In a chiaroscuro corridor, she goes full Rambo against two skull-headed villains, and wins, but takes a shot to the gut for her trouble. As she desperately tries to escape, she makes one last, desperate call for help – to Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.

Picard, of course, is in his own museum: He and new beau Laris are staring at his Ready Room painting of the Enterprise D. At his desk, there’s his Ready Room chair from the Enterprise E, and in front of him, a Ressikan Flute and a Kurlan Naiskos. Later, his combadge from the D will start to chirrup, and Picard will dig through boxes of isolinear chips and old uniforms to find it. Less than ten minutes in and you can already imagine the Reddit threads and website articles listing every single easter egg lurking in the half-focus. “Why would anyone send a coded message to a more than twenty year-old Enterprise D communicator?” asks Picard. It’s a fair question to ask given the whole thing makes absolutely no sense in the show’s internal logic.

With a message of distress from his former beau, Picard leaps into action by having a nice sit-down chat with Laris. To be fair, Picard was never a kinetic man of action, and he does need to check in with his new partner’s feelings before running off to rescue his old one. Once he has done that, he leaps into action by going to Ten Forward for a boozy sit-down drink with Riker.

The scene transition has Picard staring at the Enterprise D painting before we crossfade to an Eaglemoss model of the D on the bar shelf. If there was one thing this show needed, it was more beauty shots of memorabilia lovingly presented on shelves. Although there’s a glimmer of self-deprecation, with the server declaring that “nobody wants the fat ones.” When a sinister figure winds up following Picard and Riker out of the bar, they drop the same Enterprise D model into a glass for one last close-up.

After a detour to Raffi, undercover on M’Talas Prime (real subtle, Terry), the fanservice goes broader. First up, we’ll get some nods to the ‘80s Trek movies, paying off the Wrath of Khan-aping “In the 25th Century…” title card. Riker and Picard banter on their way to Spacedock, hatching a plan to hijack the Titan to mount a rescue mission under the nose of its new captain, Shaw. But the Titan has been so completely refitted from the Luna class that it gets an A on its registry as a “Neo Constitution Class.” I’ll admit – this managed to short-circuit my nostalgia glands, since I’m a sucker for Andrew Probert and Richard Taylor’s starship design and Jerry Goldsmith’s Motion Picture score. And when it pulls out of Spacedock before leaping to warp, a la The Search for Spock, we even get some of James Horner’s beloved french horns added to the mix.

Then, again like Wrath of Khan, Picard and Riker are piped aboard with the old-fashioned square electronic whistles by Seven. Shaw is, alas, not for turning, and as well as insisting that Seven use her human name (in a way that clearly makes her uncomfortable), he starts needling both Picard and Riker. The latter for his liking of jazz, the former for his past as a Borg, mirroring Sisko’s needling Picard on their first meeting.

650 or so words in and I haven’t really spoken about the plot, because not much has happened. After 40 minutes, Picard has received a distress call and spoken to lots of people about it, and that’s about it. There’s been plenty of callbacks and continuity porn, paraphiliac depictions of old props, but very little forward motion in the narrative. Picard and Riker make it to Beverley’s ship only to find her in a stasis pod, with her son keeping watch. They’re attacked and left stranded with no hope of escape while a big pointy ship with a Romulan-esque design menaces outside.

Now, remind me. A successful Starfleet Admiral gets a distress call from an old flame, a Doctor no less, who is being threatened by things unknown. When he comes to her aid, he first meets her adult son who instantly gets into a fistfight with the good guys before they realize who he is and what he represents. All the while, our heroes are being menaced by a much more powerful vessel which is looming long in the background. Have we ever seen that in Star Trek before?

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‘Star Trek: Picard’ lacks substance beyond callbacks and continuity porn