Television

Star Trek: Picard Puts a Familiar Face on a Bold New Era

Patrick Stewart’s captain has switched to decaf, but there’s still plenty of tension.

Patrick Stewart sits with his hands folded at a desk across from a white-haired woman seen from behind.
Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard.
Trae Patton/CBS

Jean-Luc Picard, last seen onscreen in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, has been pulled out of retirement for CBS All Access’ newest offering, Star Trek: Picard. But retirement is exactly what awaits him there. By the time we catch up with the former starship captain played by Patrick Stewart, he’s established a quiet routine at his chateau in France, making wine and writing books. While Picard has always had more intellectual leanings, his action sequence days are now completely behind him, it seems. Forget hexahedron-obsessed aliens or an omnipotent trickster—all it takes to get him winded is a few flights of stairs. He measures out his life in teaspoons, his signature order of “tea, Earl Grey, hot” having since been modified to “tea, Earl Grey, decaf.”

Despite trailers that suggested the great man might just spend Star Trek: Picard chilling in a vineyard with his dog, Picard’s retirement can’t last, of course. He’s an academic and a diplomat, but he’s also an explorer at heart, as he was for seven years on The Next Generation, and a mysterious stranger named Dahj (Isa Briones) eventually rouses him from his comfortable new life. Still, Picard takes its sweet time getting off the ground—literally, in Picard’s case. The first three episodes (to be released weekly by CBS’ streaming service) are spent largely on Earth for an extended lesson in history, including Picard’s split with Starfleet, which it turns out was less than amicable. He tendered his resignation in response to a crisis from J.J. Abrams’ alternate-timeline Star Trek reboot, a supernova that destroyed Romulus, home to the Federation’s pointy-eared, highly secretive enemies. Picard led a massive Romulan evacuation effort that he himself compares to Dunkirk, but Starfleet ultimately abandoned the rescue and the 900 million refugees in need of resettlement, a betrayal that Picard took personally.

That’s not all the trouble that’s been brewing within the Federation: An android uprising on Mars has led to crackdown on synthetic beings like the late Data (Brent Spiner), who still appears in Picard’s dreams. Like Star Trek: Discovery, Picard embraces the freedom CBS All Access allows it to show violence and swear freely, and the result is an altogether bleak portrait of the future. The aesthetic, too, is not what fans of the ‘90s iterations are used to, both glossier in its cinematography and more contemporary in its costumes and hairstyling. (Beards and chunky knitwear are apparently en vogue in 2399.) Despite those superficial differences and the serialized rather than episodic structure of the show, Picard is Trek through and through, full of thorny ethical quandaries, social allegories, sinister admirals, and an undercurrent of optimism in spite of it all. The best new relationships it delivers so far are between Picard and his Romulan caretakers, Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane), whose genuine devotion toward him shows how far Romulans and humans have come even as the two races are still largely in conflict.

Every new relationship is critical to the success of Picard, given that other familiar faces from Star Treks past are being used sparingly. Picard, choosing a crew for his upcoming mission, outright dismisses the likes of Riker, La Forge, and Worf, even knowing that they’d drop everything to help him. The nostalgia then is all on Stewart, who is in fine form as a man not content to be a “benign old codger” for the rest of his days. He’s joined by Alison Pill as one of a long line of bright-eyed Star Trek scientists, and by Santiago Cabrera as a Han Solo-style pilot with a troubled past. Most promising of all is Michelle Hurd as Picard’s estranged colleague Raffi Musiker, whose career he inadvertently torpedoed when he took his stand.

It will be interesting to see how those relationships play out and where the show (boldly) goes once it’s finally finished playing catchup. A secondary plotline involving a classic Star Trek enemy is similarly unspooling oh-so-slowly, though I won’t spoil the details in this review. That painstaking pace might put off some viewers, but it’s fitting for Star Trek’s most deliberate captain.