There was tons of excitement in my household when Star Trek: Picard was announced, and, as fans of The Next Generation, there was no doubt that we’d be watching when our favorite captain returned to the screen. Captain Picard is like the father I wish I’d had, and right now we all need his wisdom and patience.
The first episode, Remembrance, doesn’t disappoint. Like all of us, Patrick Stewart and his alter ego, Jean Luc Picard, have aged a few years. Like many of us, Jean Luc has had a few experiences that have changed the way he thinks about the world. Captain Picard was always a bit of a rebel, from that time he ended up with an artificial heart after a reckless bar fight, to those other times that he went rogue and saved the galaxy with Q. But several years before the pilot of Star Trek: Picard, he finally went too far, in the estimation of Starfleet Command. Starfleet itself finally went too far in the wrong direction in his estimation, as well, so they parted ways.
The beginning of the pilot finds Jean Luc just where you’d expect, tending his family’s vineyard in France, with a few aliens hanging around, attempting to keep him out of trouble. He manages to think about making wine, his lost friend Data, philosophy, fomenting rebellion and his dog, Number One, all at once, while his two Romulan caretakers almost visibly want to tear their hair out trying to keep up with the shenanigans of their elderly charge.
It’s good to have you back again, Jean Luc. You’ve been missed.
Bing Crosby sings Blue Skies as the Enterprise D once again cruises the stars. Data (Brent Spiner) always did have a thing for the classics and right now he and Picard are playing poker.
Picard has discovered that Data has a tell, which is as complicated as you’d expect an android’s tell to be. It even confuses Data. I’m going to write it down, because it might eventually become important and I want to be able to check back:
Picard: “Every now and then, you dilate your left pupil, ostentatiously, I might add, in an effort to cheat me into thinking you have a tell. But your true tell is you don’t have one. When your eyes are neutral, that’s when I know you’re bluffing.”
Data ruthlessly bets an amount that will clean Picard out. Picard doesn’t want the game to end, so he stalls a bit more, with tea drinking and such, but after a minute he declares that he’s “all in” and pushes his pile of chips to the center of the table. Data shows his hand- 5 queens, which is impossible, unless they’re playing with 2 decks.
Picard looks confused. Mars fills up the window next to them. Both men look confused. Picard realizes something’s wrong. Data disappears. Mars catches fire, then explodes, engulfing Picard and the Enterprise in flames.
Picard wakes up from the nightmare, safe in his bed in France. His dog, Number One, runs to him to say good morning. Picard goes to his window, opens the curtains and the window and looks out over the fields of Chateau Picard.
In Greater Boston, a young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) and her Xahean boyfriend (David Carzell) celebrate her acceptance of fellowships from the Daystrom Institute in Quantum Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence. Suddenly, three masked assassins appear and instantly kill her boyfriend.
They attach devices to Dahj which show holographic diagrams, then ask “Where are the rest of you? Where are you from?” Dahj has no idea what they’re talking about. They say she isn’t activated yet, then put a bag over her head, which, oops, activates her and she kills them all. After she takes the bag off her head, she has a vision of Picard.
You’d think the kidnappers would have been warned not to put a bag over her head. Or did they want to activate her? That was a strange interlude.
Here’s the series’ theme and opening credits (composed by Jeff Russo). I’m grateful to streaming and premium cable channels for basically saving this art form. This opening truly is a work of art. The composer discusses what went into the creation of the theme in the video embedded at the bottom of the post, Wil Wheaton’s companion series The Ready Room.
Back to the vineyard, where Picard is teaching French to his mischievous dog, who’d rather assassinate the local rodents.
Suddenly, they’re attacked by the head vampire from The Passage. Run, Jean Luc, those viral vampires ended the world faster than the Borg!!
Sorry, I try not to carry these associations over, but Jamie McShane was really scary, in a quietly relentless way. Let’s pour one out for The Passage, a show that should have lasted longer, but is a great one season binge watch.
Okay, in this, McShane’s just a harmless Romulan… wait a minute, aren’t they the enemies, too? More on that in a few minutes.
Picard is joined on his back patio by Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (McShane), his Romulan housekeepers. They share happy banter about Number One’s latest escapades and discuss Picard’s eating and sleeping habits. He tells Laris that he doesn’t mind the nightmares so much as the waking up afterwards. Picard orders a cup of Earl Grey tea, his signature beverage, from the kitchen replicator, and sasses Zhaban for treating him like he’s an irrelevant old man who’s been put out to pasture.
The world hasn’t quite forgotten Picard yet- he has an interview with the Federation News Network scheduled this morning and Laris is soon badgering him about what to wear- but it’s clear that Jean Luc has mixed feelings about his current state of affairs. While his mind and opinions are as sharp as ever and he still wants to be taken seriously, his body and his will are tired of the neverending fight. The events of Star Trek: Nemesis (18 years prior to the time of the pilot) broke him a little, and other events which followed broke him even more.
Laris and Zhaban may bear the title of housekeeper, but they’re also meant to keep his spirits up as much as anything else. As with anyone who’s lost the people closest to them and the work that gave them purpose, Jean Luc is having trouble finding reasons to get out of bed in the morning and continue living. The vineyard may have started out as a respite, but it’s become an anchor that’s dragging Picard down to the bottom of the sea, further and further from the stars he used to explore.
Just before the interview, Picard asks Zhaban for assurance that the interviewer won’t speak of his separation from Starfleet. Zhaban has repeatedly gone over the terms. Laris reminds him that the Romulans haven’t forgotten who he is and what he did, so neither should he. Zhaban entreats him to be the captain everyone remembers.
Picard has agreed to his first interview ever because it’s the anniversary of the Romulan supernova and he’s passionate about raising awareness of the lasting impact of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. When news of the impending supernova and the Romulans’ request for help reached the Federation, Picard took up their cause. He left the Enterprise and led a rescue armada of 10,000 warp-capable ferries in an attempt to save 900 million Romulans.
The interviewer, Ms Richter, puts on a friendly face, but quickly turns to grilling Picard as to why he convinced the Federation to divert so many resources toward rescuing their oldest enemy, leaving citizens within the Federation itself vulnerable.
Richter: “And then the unimaginable happened. Can you tell us about that? Admiral?”
Picard: “I thought we were here to talk about the supernova?”
Richter: “A group of rogue synthetics dropped the planetary defense shields and hacked Mars’s own defense net.”
Richter: “Wiping out the rescue armada and completely destroying the Utopia Planetia Shipyard. The explosions ignited the flammable vapors in the stratosphere. Mars remains on fire to this day. 92,143 lives were lost, which led to a ban on synthetics.”
Picard: “Yes. We still don’t know why the synthetics went rogue and did what they did that day, but I believe the subsequent decision to ban synthetic life-forms was a mistake.”
Richter moves on to bringing up the topic she was supposed to avoid, why Picard left Starfleet. She goads him into admitting that he left because he felt it was no longer truly Starfleet. The Federation went into mourning and buried its own dead, leaving the remaining Romulans to their fate. Picard wasn’t willing to stand by while lives that could still be saved, lives that Starfleet had sworn to save, were abandoned. Starfleet had become dishonorable and criminal and he wouldn’t be part of it.
Picard: “You’re a stranger to history. You’re a stranger to war. You just wave your hand and it all goes away. Well, it’s not so easy for those who died. And it was not so easy for those were were left behind. We’re done here.”
He walks out on the interview. The reporter is thrilled with her scoop. She thinks she’s won some kind of victory by pushing a man of principles into explaining the reasons behind his actions. She had decided he was some kind of war criminal, since she hates Romulans. Maybe she still thinks that, since he defended saving lives, including Romulans and synthetics.
What I got from the interview was that the synthetic uprising was never properly investigated or explained. Instead, it was blamed on Picard and the Romulans, who seemed to have nothing to do with it beyond the use of resources. Surely there were still other ships and resources available in the GALAXY to handle the synthetics.
The real reasons for the uprising and the mismanagement of the Federation response were covered up and probably whoever instigated the uprising has been in power or adjacent to power ever since. They probably keep Mars burning to keep the hatred alive so that no one will dare ask the questions they don’t want answered.
Dahj wanders the streets as Picard’s interview airs live. She recognizes him as the man in her vision and goes to the vineyard to find him. He doesn’t recognize her, though she feels certain that he should. She tells him what happened, and says that when she was activated, it felt like lightning seeking the ground. That same feeling brought her to him and tells her that she’s safe with him.
The household gets her calmed and settled in with a blanket and some Earl Grey, the Picard version of warm milk. Jean Luc asks to see her necklace, a pendant consisting of 2 silvery metal circles linked together that aren’t the infinity sign, but are reminiscent of it. Her father gave it to her. She leaves it on the table when she goes to bed.
That night Jean Luc dreams of opening his bedroom window and seeing Data painting at an easel in the fields. When he joins Data, they are both 25 years younger and in uniform. Data offers to let Captain Picard finish the painting. Picard claims that he doesn’t know how, but Data tells him he does know. The half finished painting shows a woman wearing a hooded cloak, standing on a stormy coastline.
Picard wakes up, having fallen asleep with his head on his desk. Or did he sleepwalk there? Laris enters the room to say that Dahj is gone, just as Picard stands up to look at the painting that’s hung over the fireplace. It’s the finished painting from the dream, but the woman’s face is hidden.
Picard rushes to the Starfleet Museum Quantum Archives at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco, where his personal records are held in private stasis. Only he has access. Not even the holo guide, Index, can enter without his permission.
Sharp-eyed fans will recognize several TNG easter eggs in this sequence.
Picard enters a PIN into an access port and a second, more detailed version of Data’s painting transports onto a table. The woman’s face can be seen in this copy. He has Index confirm that it was painted by Data in 2369 and is named Daughter. She also confirms that there were 2 paintings, which Data gifted to Picard on the Enterprise. The woman in the picture looks like Dahj.
The real Dahj has run to Paris, where she calls her mom, who tells her she has to go back to Picard, except Dahj didn’t mention that she’d been to see him. Mom encourages Dahj to focus and says she’ll be able to find Picard, wherever he is, if she concentrates. It’s important that she go to him.
Dahj listens to her mom and finds Jean Luc at Starfleet Academy. She’s convinced that there’s something very wrong with her. Jean Luc tells her about Data, his sacrifice and the painting. Dahj is not thrilled to find out that she might be an android, or a soulless killing machine, as they’re thought of now.
Jean Luc promises that he’ll never leave her. He wants to go to the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, Japan, together, probably not coincidentally the place where Dahj was just offered two fellowships.
Dahj has been fully activated now, and hears more assassins coming. She grabs Picard’s hand and runs, but he’s still an old man, with a body not suited for action scenes. She stashes him behind a bench and runs back to fight the team of Romulan assassins.
As with the original team, she’s able to beat them easily, but this team can quick transport, allowing them to pop in and out of the fight at will, which is a difficult advantage to overcome. She’s still winning when an assassin who’s been knocked down and injured spits a green acidic poison at her and the energy rifle she’s holding. It causes her to drop the weapon, which goes into overload. As she writhes from acid burns, the Romulan does something strange with his jaw. In moments, the weapon explodes, engulfing Dahj and the immediate vicinity in flames. Picard is just out of range.
He flashes back through the events of the episode, then wakes up back at home with the Romulans and Number One, who ask him what happened. He sadly tells them that Dahj is dead. They’re confused, because he was found alone on the roof. The security feeds showed him running alone. They wonder if she had a cloaking device.
Apparently she and the assassins all had cloaking devices, or someone tampered with the security feed. It’s hard to imagine that explosion going unnoticed and leaving no trace behind, like, y’know, bodies and weapons debris. What’s more likely is that Picard is being lied to and the evidence was removed. But where is the break in the chain and how extensive is it? And is Dahj dead or was that explosion faked so they could kidnap her and no one would come looking?
Picard laments that Dahj came to Chateau Picard to find safety, just like the three of them, and he failed her. He owes it to her to figure out who killed her and why. He’s disgusted with himself for sitting in his house for years, writing boring history books. He hasn’t been living. He’s been waiting to die. But, no more. He gets up.
And travels to the Daystrom Institute to speak with Dr Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill). He asks her if it’s possible to make a sentient synthetic out of flesh and blood. She asumes he’s joking. Before the ban, her lab was close to creating flesh and blood androids, but sentience was still far beyond their capabilities.
She shows him her lab facility, the Federation Division of Advanced Synthetic Research. It’s a large room that’s nearly devoid of staff. The androids who attacked Mars were from her lab, so now the lab is only allowed to do theoretical work. They aren’t allowed to create anything real. In fact, it’s a violation of galactic treaty for anyone to make any synthetics of any kind.
Picard asks again if there’s any way to create a synthetic that appears human. Though she tells him no, Dr Jurati shows Picard a drawer which contains B4’s disassembled parts. She reminds Picard that Data’s brother was an inferior copy of Data, so that when Data tried to download the contents of his neural net into his brother, most of it was lost. Ultimately, B4 was nothing like Data.
Dr Julati was recruited out of Starfleet by a man named Bruce, and they were getting close, but the ban on synthetics crushed him and he disappeared. The only promising methods for creating advanced, sentient synthetic brains involve using Data’s neural net as a starting point. But Data’s brain died with him, so that road has been a dead end.
Picard shows Dahj’s necklace to Dr Julati.
Dr Julati: “It’s a symbol for fractal neuronic cloning. It was a radical, beautiful idea of maddox’s. His theory was that Data’s entire code, even his memories, could be reconstituted from a single positronic neuron. If there is a synth out there who is perfect, like you say…”
Picard: “Then Data, or some part of him… An essence of him…”
Dr Julati: “Essence, yes.”
Picard: “Would be alive.”
Dr Julati: “There’d be no way of knowing without examining…”
Picard: “Dahj. The girl. Data’s daughter. He always wanted a daughter. I believe that Maddox modeled her on an old painting of Data’s.”
Dr Julati: “A female. Yes. I suppose you could make them that way. They’re created in pairs.”
Dr Julati: “Twins.”
Picard: “So there’s another one.”
At a Romulan Reclamation Site somewhere in space, Narek, a young Romulan man, introduces himself to a young woman named Dr Soji Asher, Dahj’s twin, explaining that he’s new in town and finds her work fascinating. He notices the necklace she’s clutching and admires it. She explains that her father made one for her and one for her twin. The necklace matches Dahj’s.
Narek tells her that he had a brother who was close to his whole family, up until last year when they lost him. Then he apologizes for burdening her with his sad story. Since she listens to the like all day for her work, he assumes she doesn’t want to hear any more. She tells him he’s wrong. She’s always got time for one more sad story, especially when told by a cute boy.
The camera pulls back and for the first time, we realize that the reclamation site is a Borg cube.
Sophie is in the middle of a Borg cube with a Romulan. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, SOPHIE, RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!
Well, I couldn’t be happier. That was amazing. SO many layers. Data has daughters. Even if sons show up later, he has daughters. I could cry. 7 of 9 is on her way. There are women all over the place, like they’re just normal people. There are several questions to be answered and missions to be accomplished. I don’t trust those Romulans, I don’t care what Jean Luc says. And there’s a haunted Borg cube to explore. Will the ghosts recognize Locutus?
This show looks and sounds gorgeous. The production values are better than most films. Kudos to director Hanelle Culpepper and showrunner Michael Chabon for getting Picard off to a fantastic start. And congratulations to Hanelle for being the first woman to direct the pilot of a Star Trek show. She got to set the tone of the series with her choices for this episode.
It’s sad to see both Dahj and her boyfriend gone so soon, if they’re really gone. but Narek is so obviously a plant that I can’t help but wonder if Dahj’s nameless boyfriend was a plant, too.
Picard is being much too hard on himself for needing recovery time after he quit Starfleet. Even the fiercest of lions needs rest. After everything he’d lost and all of the ways the world around him had changed, it was time to take a minute and regroup.
But seriously, I have to wonder about Laris and Zhaban and their true loyalties. I also have to wonder if the Romulans started the synth uprising or if they’re currently after revenge for it. Also if they blame Picard. The way Laris worded what she said before the interview about not forgetting who he was and what he did could be taken as blame or praise. Romulans know how to play the long game.
According to Jeff Russo, the composer, the opening theme includes a piccolo to evoke the flute Picard played in TNG S5 Ep25 The Inner Light, in which he lived an entire lifetime as part of a very realistic alien simulation. I’ve always felt that episode was one of the most important episodes for his character’s development, so knowing that the creators have it in mind gives me the feeling that they’re headed in the right direction with this show. Early Picard was a man of principles, but he could be on the cerebral side. The Inner Light helped humanize him.
(Also important to the pilot- TNG S2 Ep9 The Measure of a Man, the episode in which Picard defends Data in court as a sentient being with human rights. ETA: Bruce Maddox, the former Daystrom Institute AI/Synth scientist who was Dr Julati’s mentor and has now disappeared, is the antagonist in this episode who wishes to disassemble Data to study him. Looks like he finally got to do that with B4.)
The alien simulation was the creation of a real culture which faced extinction. It was meant to pass on knowledge of their existence after they were gone. Without the family life Picard lived out in The Inner Light, including the loss he felt afterwards as the sole survivor, and the depth that added to his character, I’m not sure Picard would have become the man who felt so strongly about saving Romulans from the same fate. Knowing exactly what they were going through gave him an urgency and a bond with the Romulans that others don’t share.
At least a bond on his side. I have a feeling that not all of the Romulans are grateful and some of them took advantage of the evacuation to carry out their own plans.
The Ready Room is Wil Wheaton’s weekly after show which includes interviews, behind the scenes videos and a clip from the next episode. Wil played Wesley Crusher in TNG, so he has great insights and asks all the right questions. This episode has interviews with showrunner, Michael Chabon, director Hanelle Culpepper, and the composer of the series’ theme music, Jeff Russo. Plus, a behind the scenes visit with De Niro, the rescue pit bull who plays Number One.
Images courtesy of CBSAllAccess.