Return of the Captain – Review of Star Trek: Picard Season Two, Episode One “The Star Gazer”

Poster Art for Star Trek Picard Season Two. Source

Right off the bat, I want to say that I loved the first season of Star Trek Picard. It was not a completely awesome season. There were several missteps along the way, particularly regarding the characterization of Soji early on and some narrative choices that I didn’t completely agree with (killing off Hugh). But the season as a whole was an excellent story that I enjoyed, which meant I was eagerly anticipating the second season.

And I was not disappointed. Spoilers ahead for “The Star Gazer”, Episode One of Star Trek Picard Season Two.

Picking up a year and a half after the end of the first season, “The Star Gazer” finds Jean-Luc Picard back at Chateau Picard bringing in another harvest for wine season. I’ve always liked the idea that the preeminent Captain of Starfleet came from such a background. It fit that Picard’s work ethic and perseverance would have developed in such a place. But as the flashbacks in this episode show, Picard’s childhood may not have been a happy one. In “The Ready Room”, an after-show hosted by Star Trek alum Wil Wheaton, Sir Patrick Stewart stated that the flashbacks may not be entirely accurate, since they are coming from when Picard was a child. It’s a fascinating idea for how to tell a story but leave the veracity of it up to the viewers to decide. Based on the imagery, it seems likely that Picard’s father was abusive but the scattering of images is not enough to conclusively say that. I find it to be an intriguing mystery as we delve into the heart of the story.

The scenes between Laris (Orla Brady) and Jean-Luc are so well-handled and acted. It’s clear the two actors have a good chemistry together (which was clear in the first season as well). In the time jump from last season to this one, Zhaban (the other Romulan who was living at the Chateau) has passed away, leaving Laris a widow. It’s clear from the opening beats of the episode that there is an attraction between Laris and Picard, one that Picard is deeply hesitant to pursue. This tracks all the way back to Star Trek The Next Generation. While Picard did have one prominent love affair with Vash (and it was alluded to several others over the course of Picard’s life), there was never a partner to stand by his side in the same way that Will Riker and Deanna Troi ended up becoming. Stewart pointed out that there is a great deal of turmoil within Picard when it comes to intimate relationships. While Picard loves his friends dearly, there is always a stretch of distance between him and others, which looks to be part of the story being explored this season.

Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) reunited. Source

There’s also a wonderful moment between Guinan (a returning Whoopi Goldberg) and Jean-Luc, in a bar she maintains in Los Angeles called 10 (an allusion to 10 Forward from Star Trek The Next Generation). I loved Guinan as a character. Goldberg was given a character that was seemingly ageless and possessing greater wisdom that the people around her. In the scenes she shared with Sir Patrick Stewart, it was easy to see that the actors got along famously and it transferred into their performances. Despite not sharing the screen together for nearly three decades, the pair picked up right where they left off, speaking to each other with a level of emotional intimacy that is the hallmark of the pair’s relationship. Guinan has always served as Picard’s emotional rock (see their discussion from “The Measure of a Man” for proof of that) and she calls out Picard’s lack of emotional availability without pushing him too much. I loved the scene the two of them shared.

We’re given brief moments with the remaining cast members from the first season. Soji is serving as a diplomat for synthetic lifeforms and excelling at her role. Elnor has become the first full-blooded Romulan to join Starfleet (and ends up on the USS Excelsior with Raffi Musiker, who has returned to Starfleet and serves as the Excelsior’s Operations officer). Seven of Nine has taken command of the La Sirena (the ship from last season) and continues to fight the good fight for the Fenris Rangers (which has put a strain on her relationship with Raffi). Cristobal Rios has also returned to Starfleet, becoming the captain of the new Stargazer (a ship carrying the same name as Picard’s first command). Dr. Agnes Jurati occasionally joins him on the ship, where the flirtatious nature of their relationship carries over from the previous season.

The cast is drawn together when a spatial anomaly appears, ripping a hole in space/time and emitting a clarion call for Picard using a multitude of voices. It’s clear from the beginning that the Borg are returning in a big way for Season Two and do they ever return. The ship that comes through the anomaly is nightmarish in its design. I have to give credit to the special effects team: they certainly know how to invoke high-octane nightmare fuel when it comes to Star Trek Picard. I though the interdimensional machine race from the end of season one was terrifying but the Borg ship is just next level, especially when compared to the fleet of starships that show up (who are positively dwarfed by the massive Borg vessel). When the Borg Queen manages to teleport on to the Stargazer’s bridge (despite the shields being up), she quickly begins assimilating the ship. What strikes me as odd in this sequence is that the Borg Queen does not kill anyone, only stunning the bridge crew and security personnel (and conspicuously missing the principle cast despite having them dead to rights). The Borg in the past were never shy about killing or assimilating people, as Seven of Nine rightly points out in the episode. The fact that the Queen only tried to assimilate the ship and not its crew is a fascinating wrinkle in their normally monolithic behavior, especially when one considers the Queen uttered the phrase “Star Gazer” at Picard, something Picard’s mother called him as a boy.

In the midst of all this, Picard manages to activate the Stargazer’s self-destruct sequence, with a shot showing the ship exploding amongst a sea of disabled starships from the Borg Queen’s attack. But then, Picard wakes up back at his Chateau. The grounds are in disrepair, the house is largely empty of furnishings, Laris is missing (replaced by a synthetic humanoid), and there is some kind of beehive-like shield appearing around Earth. In the middle of not understanding how he got to where he is or truly where he is, we hear a familiar voice speak Picard’s name. Sir Patrick Stewart sells the moment of dreadful realization as he recognizes the voice.

Q (John de Lancie) and Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart). Source

Q, the impish trickster, has returned.

At first, we see Q much as he appeared all those years ago (thanks to some excellent de-aging CGI). That is quickly replaced by John de Lancie snapping his fingers to take on a more aged appearance, to better mock the older and frailer Picard. The menace in Q’s voice and countenance is something entirely different. This is not the playful trickster from the later seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager. This is a Q that harkens back to his earliest appearances, something decidedly more malevolent and judgmental.

To say that I’m excited to see where this story goes is an understatement. From the wonderful character moments to the twists that establish the mysteries of this season, “The Star Gazer” is an excellent start to the second season of Star Trek Picard. I’m on board for what the next several episodes reveal and I’ll be reviewing each of them as they drop.

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