Warning: This Star Trek: Picard season 2, episode 1 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Plenty has changed since our last encounter with Jean-Luc Picard. When the final episode of Star Trek: Picard’s first season aired in March 2020, the world was only just going into the Covid-19 lockdowns that would ultimately delay production on this follow-up run. And, in the subsequent two years, the Trek universe has expanded massively, with two seasons apiece of Discovery and Lower Decks, and one of Prodigy. (A fifth Trek show, Strange New Worlds, is due in May.)
Change is also afoot in the 25th century, where more than a year has passed since Picard and the mismatched crew of La Sirena saved the Alpha Quadrant from some militant AI. And just to emphasize the point that this is a new beginning for the show – the first season effectively a prologue for the story being told here – the opening credits and theme music have been given a significant makeover.
As season 2 kicks off (season 3 is already in production), all of Picard’s formerly broken associates finds themselves in better, happier places – the eponymous former Enterprise captain (who’s taken a new job running Starfleet Academy) may be the one with a new android body, but he’s not the only one who’s been through some form of renewal.
Like Picard, Cris Rios and Raffi Musiker have returned to Starfleet, where the latter is keeping an eye on Elnor, who’s joined Starfleet Academy – “That boy’s absolute candor can get his ass kicked,” she points out.
Soji is seemingly advocating for android rights, with Dr. Agnes Jurati – pardoned for killing her former lover, Bruce Maddox, thanks to an alien-mind-control technicality – in tow. And Seven of Nine is back fighting for the Fenris Rangers alongside one of Rios’s holograms. (While Seven’s relationship with Raffi – explored in recent audio drama No Man’s Land – is still more-or-less a going concern, Rios and Jurati can definitely be filed under the column labeled ‘exes’.)
With so much ground to cover establishing the show’s new normal, it’s no surprise that most of the running time to getting the gang back together. While the storytelling is leisurely, however, it never drags as the current, meandering season of Discovery has a tendency to do. That’s possibly because you’re never in any doubt the plot is leading somewhere, thanks to an all-action two-minute cold open featuring familiar faces, phaser fire and the portentous initiation of a starship’s self-destruct sequence.
Although the previous 48 hours in Picard’s life are significantly less eventful, they do just as important a job in laying the groundwork for the show’s second run.
Kicking back at Chateau Picard, Jean-Luc rejects some unexpected advances from his loyal housekeeper Laris, whose husband, Zhaban, has passed away between seasons. For all Picard’s skills as a diplomat and a commanding officer, romance has always been something of an unknown frontier – as all those awkward moments with Dr Beverly Crusher in The Next Generation can attest. Exploring the character’s inherent reluctance to form attachments is therefore a really smart move for the show, exposing open wounds just as profound as season one’s storylines about Data, the destruction of Romulus, and the Borg.
We got a brief glimpse of the family Jean-Luc might have had within the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations, but ‘The Star Gazer’ suggests this season is going to dive significantly deeper. How much did his mother, Yvette, encouraging her young son to “look up” inspire him to put exploring the galaxy ahead of all other concerns? If even his long-standing BFF Guinan – making a welcome return to the franchise – doesn’t understand Picard’s attachment issues, how deep do they run? Picard’s speech to Starfleet Academy, riffing on the theme of second chances, suggests that themes of regret may be a significant pillar of this season.
Jean-Luc was never going to stay earthbound for long, of course, especially after a spatial anomaly – seemingly the big thing in Star Trek writers’ rooms this year – has attracted Starfleet’s attention. Rios, now captaining the USS Stargazer (the namesake of Picard’s first command), has been dispatched to investigate, and – with a bit of help from Dr. Jurati – learns that there’s rather more to the maelstrom than the usual mix of subspace distortions, tachyons, and Hawking radiation.
In a spooky echo of Princess Leia’s plea in the original Star Wars, a simple message is being broadcast in multiple languages: “Help us, Picard.” Inevitably, the nonagenarian admiral leaves his desk job to opening hailing frequencies and soon discovers that the nature of the problem is Borg. The fact the collective are riding around in new-look ships is the least of the Federation’s concerns, however, as they’ve emerged from the anomaly seeking peace rather than assimilation. Could this be the start of a new alliance between Federation and Borg? Well, of course not…
As hinted before the opening credits, the Borg queen quickly morphs from emissary to aggressor, purging the Stargazer’s databanks, and threatening the entire fleet in the process. The only thing for it is for Picard to initiate the ship’s self-destruct system, using the same “zero, zero, zero, destruct, zero” activation code that – somewhat implausibly – hasn’t been changed since Kirk blew up the original Enterprise in The Search For Spock.
Perhaps that particular nod to Trek past shouldn’t be a surprise, seeing as the episode is littered with geeky references. Most of the ship names mentioned have a familiar ring to them – the USS Hikaru Sulu needs no introduction, while the USS Excelsior and USS Grissom are both lifted from The Search For Spock. Meanwhile, Picard describing Elnor as the first fully Romulan cadet in Starfleet probably alludes to the fact The Wrath Of Khan’s Vulcan Lt Saavik is (in Trek novels, at least) half Romulan. Guinan’s even managed to build her new bar at number 10 on LA’s Forward Avenue in a not-to-subtle nod to the Enterprise-D’s bar.
But the most satisfying callback to the Trek of old is undoubtedly the return of Picard’s first-ever TNG adversary.
When Picard wakes up after the apparent destruction of the Stargazer, he finds himself in a subtly altered version of his chateau – there’s a new portrait above the mantelpiece, an android servant named Harvey, and an unwanted house guest.
While the digitally de-aged version of John De Lancie’s Q is initially disconcerting, this brief moment of CG trickery is a great excuse to justify the omnipotent character’s older appearance, a snap of the fingers ageing him closer to Picard. He’s clearly been eavesdropping all that chat about second chances, too: “Welcome to the very end of the road not taken,” he teases. Is time really the true final frontier, as Picard suggests in his speech to those cadets? We’re about to find out.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard season 2 beam onto Paramount Plus (US) and Crave (Canada) on Thursdays. Viewers elsewhere can watch the show on Amazon Prime Video on Fridays. For more Trek action, check out our reviews of Star Trek: Discovery season 4.
4 out of 5
Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 1 review: “A genuinely tantalizing beginning”
The episode’s build-up may be slow but by the time the credits roll, Picard season 2 is teed up beautifully. Bringing back the Borg as powerful aggressors is a welcome twist, but it’s the return of another classic foe that’s destined to truly get under Jean-Luc’s skin. “The trial never ends,” Q reminds us – but this is a genuinely tantalizing beginning.