I’ve really enjoyed the Star Trek Picard show since it dropped on CBS All Access and in the world of Star Trek television (which is surprisingly a going concern) it’s one of the best going; better than Star Trek Discovery. But some fans are really annoyed, dismissing the show as “not Star Trek” like these two hate watchers.
But what is and isn’t Star Trek goes back to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, back in 1987. No Kirk? No Star Trek the thinking went. And that sort of thinking has accompanied every new Star Trek show. There was at least a good reason to think that when Star Trek Deep Space 9 came out. That was a show totally different from the previous two shows, featuring a stationary space station on the edges of the Federation where the Federation and Starfleet only had a toe hold, and aliens set the agenda. But…as the show grew it produced some of the best Star Trek episodes ever. However that only happened because Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 before Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, allowing the show to evolve without Roddenberry’s rigid guidance.
A case was also made that Star Trek: Discovery also, wasn’t Star Trek. Set 10 years before the original series, it looked and acted nothing like the original series and just didn’t even look as if it was set in the same universe. The “Klingons” were remade to look like…some other kind of alien.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had progressively gone more nutso commie from the time his Original Series came out as a space western until The Next Generation came out, where the Federation was presented as some sort of utopian commie empire in which society, and the people in them, had reached perfection. This cut into a lot of drama since Roddenberry’s script guidance in TNG was that there could be no interpersonal conflict among crew members because hey, in the future, we all get along. That ridiculous script guidance started to fade before TNG ended its run and wasn’t a factor in subsequent Star Trek outings. That wasn’t the worst of Roddenberry’s delusion. As I noted while reviewing Star Trek Beyond:
“Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense. It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.”
One day, I may take up the challenge of designing a Federation economy, and see if I can squeeze Roddenberry’s dumb view of economics into some sort of technobabble shape, but not today.
So Star Trek: Picard takes place in a far less utopian time in Federation history. Set approximately 20 years after the events of the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, the universe, in Picard’s view, has gone to hell in a handbasket. Fourteen years earlier, the supernova of the Romulan homeworld’s sun (which kicked off the events that lead to the “Kelvin timeline;” the three JJ Abrams Star Trek movies) had the Federation engaged in a massive refugee relief effort to evacuate Romulans from their doomed system. The effort was aborted by an android terrorist attack on the shipyards of Mars, killing 92,000 people. The androids, called “synths” were based off Commander Data’s basic design, and were quickly banned throughout the Federation and the refugee evacuation was halted.
Naturally Picard throws a fit and thinking he could pull opinion at Starfleet (“do you know who I am?”) throws his position on the line, and Starfleet, to Picard’s surprise, takes it, effectively forcing him into retirement. This is the scenario that actor Patrick Stewart likened to our current age:
“[The show] was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”
This is, of course ridiculous. Both Patrick Stewart and his avatar, Jean-Luc Picard are wrong on this. This isn’t about Brexit or Trump, it’s more about 9/11, and how you respond to a massive terrorist attack when you don’t know the real cause. Did the Synths just get together and decide to go full Skynet? Was it some sort of major malfunction? Did some other nefarious group reprogram the Synths as an attack on the Federation? Immediately after the attack, nobody would know, so the prudent thing would be to do exactly what the Federation did, ban Synths and halt the Refugee program. With the Utopia Planitia Shipyards destroyed, you can’t tie up all of your remaining ships on some do-gooder adventure when you have no idea if or when the next attack is coming.
Why the Romulans couldn’t evacuate their own people is never explained. They ruled a massive star empire covering many worlds. It would seem they would have plenty of resources to throw at the problem much closer to home.
But to the question, is Star Trek: Picard “Star Trek,” my answer is unequivocally yes. In fact, I would argue that it is the most “Star Trek” show since Next Generation. Picard is a nice coda to TNG. It’s a “where are they now” view of what happened to the Next Generation crew as well as Star Trek: Voyager and answers the question what happened to the galaxy and the universe of Star Trek since those shows ended. Unlike a show that has Easter eggs, the entire show is one big Easter egg. That’s not an answer that will please some Star Trek fans that have never been able to move on from the original series, but almost never does a successful TV show like TNG gets a series that functions as an aftermath. Fans should enjoy this.