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Well I'll be damned. This winter, I was pleasantly surprised by The Mandalorian seeming to pull the Star Wars franchise back from the brink of the abyss. And now I'm also pleasantly surprised to see that perhaps Star Trek might be pulled out from circling the toilet bowl as well. The first episode of CBS All Access' new Picard series was surprisingly "not bad".

Now, I do still have some serious reservations about the directions that I think the show might be going later in the season. And I'll get to that later. But first, I want to sit and bask in the delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate. After slogging through the first season of Discovery (I have yet to watch the second season), I was left with zero faith in CBS's ability to re-capture the spirit and soul of Star Trek.

Picard shows some good faith right from the start by opening with a clip of the Enterprise-D. Not some re-designed Franken-ship monstrosity like the "original" Enterprise in the 2009 Trek reboot, or as seen in Discovery. But the honest-to-goodness Galaxy-class Enterprise-D, pretty much exactly as we remember and love her -- and looking mighty gorgeous, might I add! We then zoom into Ten Forward, where Picard is playing a hand of poker with an unconvincingly digitally de-aged Brent Spiner reprising the role of Data. This scene pays homage to the beautiful final scene of the Next Generation finale "All Good Things...", and Picard laments that he's stalling going all-in against Data's hand because he "doesn't want the game to end".

Picard is a return (and continuation) of Star Trek as fans knew it almost 20 years ago.

We didn't want the game to end either...

The first few scenes of the episode then go on to show Picard giving brief (but impassioned) speeches about the decline of Starfleet ideals, the civil rights of sentient androids, and the moral imperative to provide aid and relief to the Romulan refugees whose home planet was destroyed by the [somehow unexpected?] supernova of the Romulan sun. And he's also trying to do some social justice for pit bull dogs, which (as my choice of pets should suggest) is something that I approve very strongly of. It's respectful and faithful (and reverent) to what came before. "Holy shit", I thought, "this is actually looking and feeling like the Star Trek that I know and love."

For a moment, I thought the soul of Star Trek is there, in those early scenes, even though it is shallow and lacks the idealism that has always underpinned Trek.

Boldly going forward

Even though I wasn't optimistic about Picard when it was announced, the one thing that it had going for it was that it looked to be moving the Trek franchise forward. It wasn't another prequel that would screw with established continuity, or a reboot that would sorely miss the point and be doomed to live in the shadow of the far superior originals. This would instead be a continuation of the ongoing story, picking up where Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Nemesis left off. It also picks up where the 2009 reboot left off, with the Prime timeline's "galaxy-threatening" supernova that destroyed the Romulan homeworld.

Picard even goes a little bit out of its way to fix some of the poor writing of that movie be ret-coning the supernova to have been the Romulan sun instead of a star half-way across the galaxy (as was implied by Prime Spock's min-meld flashback). I mean, a part of me had hoped that Picard would explicitly de-canonize the God-awful finale of Voyager, the movie Nemesis, and the destruction of Romulus. Those are all events in Trek history that I'd prefer didn't happen. But whatever. We're stuck with them, and Picard looks like it's going to try to make the most with them.

The pit bull is Patrick Stewart's idea, as he advocates to improve the public image of the breed.
I approve of Picard's choice of pet. Number One looks like a very good doggy.

This is also very much how I feel about Disney+'s The Mandalorian. Both are doing their best to take franchises that have been a slow-motion train wreck for the past 10-to-20 years, and are trying to re-ground them where the "good" installments left off, while also trying to make do with the flaming baggage of the train wrecks that they are stuck with. The Mandalorian's quality held up throughout the entire first season's run. I'm hoping that Picard can do the same.

Where we go from here?

This is where I have some reservations. I also worry about both shows sticking their heads too far up their own asses. The Mandalorian works so well, in large part, because it's a smaller, personal story that is happening within the chaos of the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I was hoping that Picard would be a similarly small, personal story about how Jean-Luc copes with the changing political dynamics of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Both shows run the risk of introducing universe-changing, apocalyptic arcs that insist on tying into the rest of the continuity.

I worry that the ex-Imperials who are hunting down The Child in The Mandalorian are going to turn out to be the founders of The First Order, the show is basically going to turn into a prequel to The Force Awakens, and The Child is going to somehow become the key to saving or enslaving the galaxy. Similarly, I worry about Picard shifting away from the personal stakes of Picard advocating for social justice for androids and Romulan refugees, and towards him single-handedly saving the galaxy from some massive conspiracy to take over the galaxy.

I'm sure they're also going to ret-con the destruction of the Romulan sun to be some kind of deliberate act of sabotage (either by someone within the Romulan government or military, or perhaps from someone within the Federation or Starfleet). We have some Romulan assassins apparently trying to hunt down and capture Data's daughter for some nefarious plot, while whatever is left of the Romulan government is apparently building a new "home base" that looks suspiciously like a Borg Cube. The trailers have already shown us that Jeri Ryan will be reprising her role as Seven of Nine, and that the Borg are going to somehow become involved in all this. Is Data's daughter also the daughter of the Borg Queen (somehow)? Are the Romulans conspiring to turn themselves into the Borg so that they can take over / assimilate the rest of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, or something silly like that? I certainly hope not.

Why does the "Romulan Reclamation Site" look so suspiciously like a Borg Cube?

Picard also looks like it might suffer from the same problem that ruined Discovery for me, which is the non-sensical "science". So far, we don't have anything as egregious as ships being able to teleport across the universe in an instant like in Discovery, but this idea of being able to reconstitute Data's entire neural net from a single positronic "neuron", sounds almost as dumb. I also worry about the potential for excessive technology creep.

In any case, our 1-week trial should allow us to watch the second episode next week. Whether it is as good as the first episode, actually manages to get better, or already goes off the rails, will largely determine whether my girlfriend and I give CBS any money. If you give us "Star Trek", we'll gladly pay for it going forward. If you give us dumb action schlock, then we won't. I think it's only going downhill from here.

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