Thursday, February 16, 2023

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Picard' - Another Distress Call Sends Picard Out on a New Mission Without Starfleet in 'The Next Generation'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Picard - Episode 3.01 "The Next Generation"

After receiving a cryptic, urgent distress call from Dr. Beverly Crusher, Admiral Jean-Luc Picard enlists help from generations old and new to embark on one final adventure: a daring mission that will change Starfleet, and his old crew forever.

"The Next Generation" was written by Terry Matalas and directed by Doug Aarniokoski

Every season of this show essentially starts the exact same way. Jean-Luc Picard is enjoying retirement from Starfleet on his chateau. He receives an urgent message detailing how he is the only person someone in distress can count on in their time of need. He chooses to embark on that adventure because he still enjoys the thrill of the unknown. All of this is wrapped up in sentimentality and nostalgia for the past. Every season has tried to differentiate this show from the previous episodic adventures Picard commanded at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And yet, none of the stories so far have been effective at revealing why this time in his life is just as crucial to depict. The narrative always wants to be reflective of the past while also forging ahead with a new understanding of definitive moments in Picard's life. This season starts with him openly in a relationship with Laris. The second season was basically all about him unburdening himself from the guilt of his mother's death. That haunted him every day since and prevented him from engaging in a meaningful relationship. And now, that's just an easily accepted part of his world. It doesn't even have to be a significant action. It doesn't take much to understand why Picard is about to embark on another mission once he receives the encrypted message from Dr. Beverly Crusher. The show still goes through the motions of showing just how difficult it is for Picard to get to her destination without informing Starfleet. Sure, he exploits those resources. In doing so, that reveals how he is no longer in step with the current protocols. That should alarm everyone because it signals the futility of his age. He misstates information and questions the absence of certain protocols. It's not particularly subtle. All of it is meant to be colorfully shielded by the presence of his former first officer, Captain William Riker, and new Starfleet commander, Seven of Nine. The familiarity of these characters is designed to help the audience quickly understand the stakes of the situations they are in. However, Seven's drama is still centered around her doubts of Starfleet providing the respect she has always sought. She's currently serving under a captain who doesn't trust her. He doesn't glorify the stories of past missions flown by the Enterprise. Instead, he only sees the reckless abandon under which the crew operated. He has no reason to trust Picard and Riker. And yet, they still arrive at their destination. That's from the bond Picard has with Seven. It just so happens to be easy for her to set the U.S.S. Titan on a completely different course without her captain knowing. She takes that freedom because she understands it must be for the greater good. That's her understanding of how Picard operates after all. Plus, he continues to inspire her to see the morality within Starfleet.

Of course, Beverly tells Picard that Starfleet can't be trusted. She is desperate and afraid. She's still an effective soldier. In fact, the action sequence that kicks off the season is more extensive than most situations she was previously seen in. Moreover, she is fighting to protect someone. She wants to save her son from danger. Those concepts of passing along a sense of duty and responsibility to the next generation are also present here. That was symbolic when the Enterprise crew first lifted off all those years ago. Their show was tasked with honoring the tradition of the original series while exploring further into unknown worlds and mysteries. This franchise expanded because of that success. And now, the members of the Enterprise crew are older. They have families. Their children have also been inspired to follow in their footsteps. La Forge's daughter is the navigator aboard the Titan. She is in awe of the two men who once served alongside her father. Meanwhile, Riker is sacrificing time with Deanna and their daughter to help Picard out once more. And finally, Beverly's son is aboard the ship carrying this secret mission. She will fight to defend him and preserve the integrity of what they're working on. She reaches out to Picard for help because she has more to lose now. And yet, the drama still ends with this ship being captured by whomever is hunting them down. It's all possible because Picard and Riker ventured out into the galaxy to save their former friend. So, they've only encountered more danger. This isn't going to be a simple mission Picard can handle within a day. Laris understood that when she saw him leave. Meanwhile, Raffi stumbles upon a tragedy that further highlights the threat the universe currently faces. As an intelligence officer, she is working by herself to gather any information that points to who stole dangerous technology. It's used right in front of her to destroy an embassy of the Federation. All that symbolism of what's possible in this united world is suddenly destroyed. It comes out the other side to cause even more havoc to the citizens below. Raffi couldn't get there in time. Instead, she witnesses the horror which will only further question her sobriety. Her concerns are very tangential. They probably aren't in the grand scheme of things. Everything connects to Picard. He's the central figure everything else must ultimately pivot around. That can't be challenged or disrupted. That is the foundational operating principle of this storytelling. No matter how much things have changed within these personal relationships, Picard is still trusted as a leader. That doesn't exactly create dynamic storytelling. The show provides what is expected of it. That's simply tedious after two seasons that haven't exactly inspired much confidence with this interpretation of these characters.