Star Trek: Picard review, Episode 201: “The Star Gazer”

Star Trek: Picard has been hugely divisive among Star Trek fans. Like all modern Trek, people either seem to love it or hate it, with the biggest point of contention being that the series doesn’t feel like “real” Star Trek on account of it being so different from what we’re used to. This is something that the show is clearly trying to confront right off the bat, giving fans plenty of starships, uniforms, Borg, Q, and cameos as Picard returns for its second season.

“The Star Gazer” begins in truly stunning style. The pre-title sequence acts as a teaser of what’s to come, with the Borg attacking an as-yet-unknown vessel in scenes reminiscent of First Contact and classic Borg episodes such as “The Best of Both Worlds.” Ending on a cliffhanger, these thrilling two minutes act as a perfect primer for what is an action-packed 55 minutes significantly different in feel from what we saw in the first season.

As you might expect from an episode named “The Star Gazer,” the episode is all about Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and references not only his first command but who Picard is himself. In a season that promises to delve deeper into the Admiral’s past, it could be a perfect opportunity to truly get under the skin of this character and find out what really sent him to explore the stars in the first place.

Star Trek: Picard feels more like traditional Trek in the season 2 premiere

Jean-Luc’s time at Chateau Picard is no longer tinged with the sadness of failure and loneliness like it was during the first season. He’s being welcomed back to Starfleet to take his rightful place where he belongs. Picard is enjoying life, and romance is even in the offing from Laris (Orla Brady). However, Picard’s past won’t allow him to finally make that commitment, as he’s built as many defensive shields around himself as any starship.

The reason for Picard’s fear of commitment is highlighted in several flashbacks to his childhood at the same family home. The show hints at a violent tragedy we will undoubtedly learn more about throughout the season. This exploration of Picard’s early life hints at something much darker than the one we know he shared alongside his father Maurice.

Despite their treatment of him, Picard has been gracious in returning to Starfleet, with Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) likewise putting animosity aside to rejoin its ranks. Hopefully, these decisions will be further explored, as in season 1 their distaste for the organization and its methods was made quite plain. Indeed, there are few hints here at the dark side to the Federation that was explored last season and in the associated expanded universe works such as Una McCormack’s Last Great Hope. Instead, there is a sense of progress and optimism, with Elinor (Evan Evagora) becoming the first Romulan in Starfleet.

Meanwhile, Rios has command of the USS Stargazer, the modern namesake of Picard’s first ship. He hasn’t changed much. Likewise, Agnes (Alison Pill) is as scatterbrained and adorable as ever, although there’s no mention of her having to answer for murdering Bruce Maddox. Should the ship survive the season, there are likely to be calls for Rios and the Stargazer to get their own series.

Spock, Sulu, and the USS Excelsior all get mentioned for the sake of fan service. But the return of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) is likely to please Next Generation fans the most. She once again serves as a wise confidant in times of emotional turmoil for Picard. Indeed, the whole episode feels a lot more like Star Trek than anything from Picard‘s first season, as excellent as that was. As mentioned, there are heavy influences here from First Contact, with the entire final third given over to the Borg.

Returning to the front line gives Picard the perfect excuse to avoid facing his feelings for Laris, confirming that his only true love is the stars. There’s something very fulfilling about once again seeing Picard on the bridge of a starship, and the Stargazer no less. It’s a feeling that is likely to be unmatched until Picard returns to the bridge of the Enterprise, surely in season 3.

The Borg are not the Borg we remember, having been weakened and resorting to deception. However, whether they really are being deceptive is open to interpretation. They’re uncharacteristically unwilling to kill while Starfleet attempts deadly force. The Borg Queen seen here is different from the one we know and will meet again later in the series. She’s under a mask, so perhaps that will lift later to reveal someone surprising.

The iconic John de Lancie finally makes his presence known in the episode’s closing moments, and it’s everything fans could hope for. However, this is a different Q, and while his first moments are tinged with his classic mocking humor, there is also a more sinister undertone. This version of Q will soon be shown as far more vindictive and spiteful than he has ever been before.

Rating: 9.0

“The Star Gazer” is a phenomenal premiere for Star Trek: Picard season 2. It confronts some of the complaints about season 1 by hewing far closer to traditional Star Trek than before. Starfleet is front and center, and there are plenty of references sure to please fans. However, it’s still unmistakably Star Trek for the 21st century, and a character exploration of Picard is long overdue.

This premiere draws in fans with cinematic and crowd-pleasing moments. Perhaps the only downside is that the rest of the cast have very little to do here beyond revealing how their lives have changed since season 1. Then again, the show is called Picard for a reason.

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