|Anson Mount is Captain Christopher Pike |
Longtime readers of this blog already know I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since the early days of its debut on broadcast television. But I’ve always been an Original Series fan. In any discussion of who makes the Best Captain in Trek, Kirk has always won out over any of the later captains—Picard, Sisko, Janeway, Archer or the next-to-latest, Michael Burnham of Star Trek: Discovery (played by Sonequa Martin-Green).
That opinion was not challenged by watching the two available seasons of Star Trek: Picard on Paramount Plus, which I watched even though I’m not a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have become a fan of Patrick Stewart as a person, though, and the show also features Jeri Ryan, as Seven of Nine, from Star Trek:Voyager, along with Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrerra, and Orla Brady as the other appealing secondary characters.
Guinan, the wise alien bartender from ST:TNG (played in her later years by Whoopi Goldberg, as a younger person by Ito Aghayere) makes an appearance in Season Two, as do Q (John de Lancie) and the Borg Queen (Anne Wersching), while Seasons One and Three are populated with other familiar faces from TNG (Brent Spiner as Adam Soong, Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker, Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi). Even Wil Wheaton makes a cameo appearance as Wesley Crusher in the final Season Two episode.
The problem, though, is ST:Picard’s convoluted and overly introspective plot. Look, I used to write fan fiction; I have no objections to delving into the personal pain of a character ad infinitum in the context of a fan novel. But [spoiler alert] I’m not sure I really need to know that Jean-Luc Picard’s mom was bipolar or that his dad locked her up on the family estate. If that were true, chances are Starfleet would have figured it out and a) disqualified Picard from service or b) helped him through it long ago. He is 91 and retired, after all. And I really don’t think Q would be concerned with all that. Isn’t he more of a galactic scale kind of guy?
Then there is the rehash of the “Is an artificial intelligence a sentient being?” debate that we had in the TNG episode “Measure of a Man,” spread over the whole first season and applied to the newly freed-from-the-hive-mind Borg. That is, until the Borg Queen decides she wants in on the debate and freaks everyone out in Season Two.
Mostly it was the lack of real focus and the ex-parte action of the show that left me wanting. Picard is retired (not entirely of his own volition) when he’s asked for help by someone purporting to be Data’s daughter (Isa Briones), then he takes off on his own with some odd compatriots to DO SOMETHING. Just what is never clear. Then time travel becomes involved, and I really lost it. Whenever time travel becomes involved, the writing gets sloppy.
But, okay, even more TNG characters are due to show up in Season Three, which has already been filmed. And, as one critic pointed out, the show was apparently meant to clean up the mess that was the final season of TNG and the film STAR TREK: NEMESIS, which admittedly I didn’t see. (I hated STAR TREK: GENERATIONS so much I never saw another Trek film until J.J. Abrams thought up the Kelvin timeline.) Apparently poor Picard and crew were left hanging by those creative efforts, with emotional wounds aplenty. So perhaps this will give fans some closure.
I’m much happier to have the original series prequel Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to look forward to. This new series just debuted on Paramount Plus, starring Hell on Wheel’s Anson Mount as the square-jawed but affable Christopher Pike, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise before one James T. Kirk took command, backed up by Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock, Rebecca Romijn as First Officer Una Chin-Riley (otherwise known as Number One), Celia Rose-Gooding as Cadet Nyota Uhura, Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. Mbenga and Jess Bush as Nurse Christine Chapel. There are other familiar names among the crew, though the casting may look different (once tall, blond transport officer Kyle, for example, is now a man of Asian descent played by Andre Dae Kim) and Security Officer La’an Noonian Singh (Christina Chong) has a backstory I’m really waiting to hear about! There is a Lt. Kirk on this Enterprise, too, but he’s not the one you expect. I won’t spoil that surprise for you.
Since I’ve only had access to the first episode, I can’t tell you too much about the show. Of course, it’s set well before Kirk’s first Five-Year Mission and the time of TOS, but there are references to the events of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, with which both Pike and Spock were involved. They are sworn to secrecy about all that, though, since to reveal Discovery’s technology and the fact that the ship has jumped into the future would break all kinds of protocols.
It does look like the show will be more episodic and less concerned with arcs and personal drama aboard ship than its immediate predecessors. I say amen to that, since the space opera had gotten a bit out of hand. The first episode was a refreshing return to bedrock TREK, except for one jarring note. One scene had a meetup between Spock and his Vulcan betrothed, T’Pring. According to Trek canon, on the episode “Amok Time,” in TOS, Spock says he hadn’t seen T’Pring since they were children (at which time they had been promised to one another). The writers seemed to break that canonical rule just to show actor Ethan Peck without his shirt. Hmm.
I’m not sure, either, how I feel about the reimagining of Nurse Chapel’s character as a mischievous, energetic sprite. It is an improvement over Majel Barrett’s dour original, though (who saved any emotion for her crush on Spock), but it remains to be seen whether Jess Bush can sustain the energy for long. Still, there are intriguing hints of the tragedy to come in Pike’s future, with the captain plagued with visions of what he believes to be his own death. This gives him a much-needed dark side, something Kirk always fought against and every captain benefits from. This old-school fan was delighted and can’t wait for more.
*Hear my longer review of the new Trek shows on my podcast here.