This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard, episode 1, “Remembrance.”
Synthetics were always a deeply compelling part of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They allowed the show to explore high-minded questions of sentience, of what makes a man. Data was always a deep, lived-in character despite not technically being, well, alive. Star Trek: Picard’s series premiere puts the idea of synthetics at the forefront, with a synthetic ban in the not too recent past from a terrorist attack on Mars and a synthetic woman named Dahj (Isa Briones), who poses the mystery surrounding this opening.
That’s where our title character comes in. Jean-Luc Picard is exactly where we left him at the end of The Next Generation, living his life of retirement on Château Picard. He dreams of life back in the stars, giving us the chance to spend some more time with Commander Data (Brent Spiner) in a game of cards between friends, as well as behind the easel.
“The dreams are lovely. It’s the waking up that I’m beginning to resent.”
His retirement is interrupted by a television crew, coming to the Château on the anniversary of the Romulan Supernova, an event that took place sometime after the events of The Next Generation. Admiral Picard had tried to save a planet of Romulans after their sun began to go supernova. Despite their being one of the oldest enemies to the federation, he wanted to save them. Picard sees this as a noble act, sees these Romulans not as enemies but as lives. He even compares it to Dunkirk.
This is the kind of act that makes Picard such a compelling character. Many point out his class, his intellect, and his sophistication, but what makes this man a true hero is his deference to life, no matter where it comes from. Of course, he wouldn’t blink an eye before saving Romulan refugees. That’s in his DNA.
His resignation from Starfleet, then, makes perfect sense. They refused to help these refugees, and Picard, being a man of principle, could not bring himself to continue working with an organization that would do something so repugnant.
This is our Picard.
These are the strongest parts of the episode, seeing firsthand what makes Picard a hero and making us ask questions that are far from black and white.
What isn’t so strong, however, is the plot surrounding Dahj.
Over the course of the episode, she is accosted by Romulan assassins, which she fights off with tactical precision. It is clear that she doesn’t realize she is synthetic, and the mystery surrounding her creation is supposed to be the driving force. It works fairly well up until she is brought into another heavily choreographed action sequence in the second act.
Now is probably a good time to put my cards on the table. I don’t like the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films. They feel action-focused for a series that is high-minded and averse to violence. In my view, those Star Trek movies aren’t good because they only want action. The action sequences around Dahj are the low points of the episode because they feel so antithetical to what Star Trek is. This is a series about big questions and distinguished men, women, and aliens trying to grapple with them seriously. These action scenes are lazy knowing what Star Trek is capable of, and it’s disappointing to see a series opener so promising fall into some of the same traps.
Dahj dies in a giant explosion, and the rest of the episode is focused on Picard looking for answers, which is all around very strong. He heads to the Daystrom Institute where he meets Agnes (Alison Pill), and we are thrown headfirst into the technobabble and pointed setups for the rest of the show. I would put money on Bruce Maddox coming in as a mid-season villain reveal, as the setup is so pointed. He was the head of the synthetic department who disappeared after the synthetic ban in a show that is putting the idea of synthetics front and center, so it wouldn’t be out of the question.
The big reveal of that scene, that the kind of synthetic that Dahj was can only be made as twins, sets up the driving force for the rest of the season. Picard is finally ready to ditch the Château life, and we are ready to go with him.
“I haven’t been living. I’ve been waiting to die.”
Of course, it’s never that easy. We are introduced to both our villain, Cristobal Rios, and Soji, Dahj’s twin. It isn’t much more than a quick glance, but expect to get a ton more on them.
Overall, it was a really solid start. There were a couple moments where it did falter, especially with some of the exposition and choreographed fight scenes, but those not-so-great moments are overshadowed by the quiet bits, where Jean-Luc justifies his morals and feeds his curiosity. Although some of this action worries me for future episodes, I am confident that those making the show understand why Jean-Luc Picard is such an enduring, loved character.
To quote Picard himself: “I don’t want the game to end.”