Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 1 review: ‘The Star Gazer’ moves too slowly to explore its own best ideas

Star Trek: Picard’s season 2 opener ‘The Star Gazer’ introduces compelling ideas, but moves too slowly to ever explore them properly

This review contains spoilers for Patrick Stewart, and how to watch on Amazon Prime">Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 1, ‘The Star Gazer’.

Thing is, though, this strange interstellar phenomenon is green. So, we know what it is – there’s a lot of green things in space, obviously, but there’s only one thing that’s this particular shade of green, and certainly only one green thing that’s going to be featured in Star Trek: Picard like this. It’s all well and good to build up to it as a surprise, and it’s one thing to start the episode in the middle of your big climactic space battle before flashing bac

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So, Star Trek: Picard has returned for Series 2. It’s been a little over two years since the first series began – delayed by the pandemic and with series 1 showrunner Michael Chabon stepping back to focus on other projects, Picard is returning in a different context to that which it arrived in. What does ‘The Star Gazer’ look like, as series premiers go?

Essentially, it’s a chessboard episode: moving all the different characters around to get them into position, ready for the real story to begin. They’re never my favourite kind of series opener, admittedly – even when they’re fun (Steven Moffat was quite good at that kind of sleight of hand on Doctor Who, writing something like The Magician’s Apprentice with enough style to obscure the fact not a lot is actually happening), they risk leaning overly expository and insubstantial. It’s nice to know what Picard, Raffi, and Sohj have been up to, but it’s also hard not to feel like ‘The Star Gazer’ could’ve started maybe 30 minutes in without losing a great deal.

Michelle Hurd as Raffi and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard (Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)

Worse, though, splitting the group up distracts from one of the things that really did consistently work about Picard’s first series: the ensemble cast. Our leads from last year have all gone their separate ways (and, at the same time, had a few of their rougher and more distinctive edges sanded off, now happily members of Starfleet or diplomats) and it takes a while to unite them again. They’ve got great chemistry together – why not lean into that, and put it on full display? It seems a little like the producers of Picard have tried to speed up the moment-to-moment pacing (this episode feels much more whizz bang pow than previous efforts) without rethinking the underlying issues with episodic structures vs 10-hour movie structures.

Less immediately noticeable, though still as keenly felt, is the fact that all this procrastinating – that’s essentially what this is, after all – leaves ‘The Star Gazer’ with less time to get into some of its most interesting ideas. That big central image of a strange interstellar phenomenon asking for Picard’s help is great; that it’s the Borg is fantastic. Obvious, sure – the Borg petitioning to join the Federation is the natural extension of Worf serving on the bridge in The Next Generation, and builds nicely on Season 1’s Borg reclamation project plotline – but no less fantastic for being obvious.

Thing is, though, this strange interstellar phenomenon is green. So, we know what it is – there’s a lot of green things in space, obviously, but there’s only one thing that’s this shade of green, and certainly only one green thing that’s going to be featured in Star Trek: Picard like this. It’s all well and good to build up to it as a surprise, and it’s one thing to start the episode in the middle of your big climactic space battle before flashing back to an earlier point, but it’s unlikely to actually land as a surprise… so surely it’s a bit of a waste of time? There’s a version of ‘The Star Gazer’ that streamlines this opening – and, perhaps, finds more time for the ready room discussion of whether or not to enter negotiations with the Borg, really dwelling on what it means for these characters – and it’s hard not to think that might’ve been better, especially if we’re going back to the future (well, our future, their past) shortly.

Picard looks out an icy window, contemplating the past (Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)

Elsewhere, we’ve got the suggestion that for Jean-Luc Picard, the real final frontier might be the frontiers of the heart: has he ever really been in love with anyone? It’s interesting to see Picard’s writers try to give 2020s style interiority to a character that’s previously been rendered in the stylistically very different, much gentler mode of 1980s syndicated television. For all that that sometimes jars – we don’t need Alison Pill to raise an eyebrow and announce when something’s new – this feels like a worthwhile thing for Star Trek: Picard to try and explore (even as, for all Orla Brady is doing the abosolute most here, there’s a big Beverly Crusher shaped question mark hanging over it all).

What’s striking though is that Picard seems to be drawing on star Patrick Stewart’s own life somewhat. There are allusions, in flashback sequences, to the idea that Picard might’ve had an abusive father; over the years, Stewart has spoken about his own father’s violent tendencies, and how the legacy of that impacts him still into his 80s. It’s only slightly gestured at here, but will surely become a bigger part of Season 2 in the coming weeks; though only a small moment, next week’s episode memorably alludes to it again in what is, if nothing else, unlike anything from The Next Generation.

Ultimately, it’s a cautious – if often intriguing – start from Star Trek: Picard’s second season. Once again, it’s time to boldly go and see what’s out there.

Captain’s Log

  • Both Season 2 and 3 of Picard have filmed at once (they’re just finishing up Season 3 now) – do we think that they’ll be more closely tied together as a result, maybe even serialised across seasons?
  • Speaking of which, anyone who hoped Season 2 would immediately address Picard’s new robot body will probably be disappointed by this opener. (Once again, I’m surprised Picard didn’t opt for the story it surely-so-obviously-should’ve-been: Data resurrected in a flesh and blood body like Soji’s, Pinocchio finally a real boy, and Picard helping him on the next step of his journey. There’s a nice resonance between that and the Borg joining the Federation too, really.)
  • How much collaboration is there between the five different Star Trek shows? They share executive producers, but I wonder – see how closely Picard’s S1 finale mirrored Discovery’s S2 finale, or this week how Soji’s comments about language and interpreters seemed to contradict Star Trek: Prodigy’s big themes.
  • “the first fully Romulan cadet” sets my teeth on edge a bit – I know it’s to hedge against any “um, actually, what about Commander Talora from Renaissance” type comments, but it feels like quite a casually essentialist comment in a way I don’t like.
  • I hope the Borg Queen (with a mask, clearly set to be removed at some later point) that quotes Picard’s mother doesn’t actually, you know, turn out to be his mother.

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