Whatever else it may be about, this latest iteration of the Star Trek franchise is not concerned with boldly going.
The frontier spirit of the early series has been replaced by something more complex, less active. What used to be a space opera with tolerant cowboys wrestling on the polystyrene rocks of inter-planetary California has become, instead, a kind of detective story in which the old gunslinger must haul himself out of retirement and solve a mystery.
Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, the admirable admiral, must atone for his past mistakes while also overcoming the cynicism of those who have yet to forgive his errors.
Is that too abstract? Well, an element of patience is required. Picard’s showrunner, the Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon, talked Stewart into revisiting the character by citing Samuel Beckett, though little of the comic miserabilist’s influence made it into the final scripts.
There’s a sense of weariness about this Picard but also impatience. There is no uniform for Picard and the early episodes are all about his struggles to get a ship. Not just any ship, a warp-capable reconnaissance ship. And to get a ship he has to be certified fit for interstellar service and while a medical examination finds him in excellent shape “for a relic”, he is dying.
The symptoms of his ailment are nightmares and a tendency to shout at the news headlines. “The dreams are lovely,” he suggests. “It’s the waking up I’m beginning to regret.”
Let’s examine Stewart. Take a look at that head. Baldly, Stewart’s suitability for going into the world of interstellar diplomacy relies both on his alien visage and the tone of his voice. It’s oddly reassuring to find a Shakespearian with Rada diction in an allegorical future where peace is threatened by, let’s see, bad robots, refugees and transmissions from off-world. That’s before you get to the Romulan secret police.
Quirks. He has quirks. He drinks Earl Grey, decaf (perchance to dream), though he offers it with milk to a guest, which seems oddly non-U. He lives in France, in a vineyard which even now resembles a nostalgic idyll. He looks after a dog called Number One. He drinks tea. He dies a little bit more.
Against his judgment, Picard is preparing for a TV interview. They probably don’t call it TV but the format is recognisably hostile. The geopolitics are confusing — Mars is on fire, humanitarian missions have been abandoned — but the long and the short of it is that Picard has been ambushed.
There is a disagreement over tactics and Picard invokes Dunkirk. The interviewer, not unreasonably given the century, looks blank. But Picard is incensed.
And so it goes. There is a girl called Dahj (Isa Briones), who turns up at the vineyard, knowing things she shouldn’t, looking oddly familiar. Picard regards her visit as a wake-up call, “like a Positronic alarm bell”. There are phasers, chopsocky, pointy ears. Picard wears a space-age Aran jumper. Comfort is his continuing mission.
Star Trek: Picard is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video