This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 7, ‘Monsters’.
I interviewed Patrick Stewart a few years ago (he says, only very slightly showing off). It was part of the promotional circuit for Star Trek: Picard, the day after the UK premiere in London, one of probably hundreds of interviews he did to promote the new series – and, probably, one of thousands of interviews he’s done about Star Trek since The Next Generation began.
One of the things he said about the new show – and specifically about returning to the part after such a long time away from it – was that, having played the character for so long, it turned out not to be so difficult to return to playing Picard. Somewhere along the line, he said, “Picard and Patrick became very close friends […] by halfway through the second season of Next Generation, I began to realise that I didn’t quite know where Patrick left off and Jean-Luc began, that we had merged.”
Which makes sense, really: Stewart has inhabited this character for decades now. Not only has he played him in 178 episodes and four films, Stewart is essentially the most consistent creative figure in the ongoing development of Picard – writers and producers have been and gone, but at the end of the day it’s still Patrick Stewart reading the lines, giving voice and breathing life into the Captain. You’d expect Stewart to feel quite a kinship with Picard – moreso than his Shakespearean characters, by contrast, because there’s a more obvious continuity and clarity there. Stewart is one of many people to interpret Macbeth, but he’s still the only person to play Picard.
One of the more striking things that Star Trek: Picard has done this season is introduce new backstory for its lead character, intimating in the season opener that as a young child Picard had suffered abuse at the hands of his father. It’s not something that’d been touched on in previous depictions of the character – but it is true of Patrick Stewart, who has spoken at length about his own father’s violence, and now campaigns against domestic violence.
For the most part, the series has only gestured at that backstory, and ‘Monsters’ is the most explicit engagement with the idea so far: after an accident last week, Picard is comatose, locked inside his own mind and wrestling with his subconscious. He’s talking to a therapist, one that – it gradually becomes clear – is a manifestation of his father, interrogating and challenging Picard throughout.
Sometimes, the episode strains against itself, a natural (if not necessarily unavoidable) consequence of trying to reshape a character from 1980s syndicated television for 2020s streaming drama. “Does it bother you that you’re not interesting?” asks Picard’s father, still in his guise as a therapist. “It’s not my job to be interesting,” Picard replies, and in a sense that typifies the contradictions at the heart of Star Trek: Picard season 2. It’s not, obviously, that the character was never interesting or compelling or engaging before – but equally, the character has never had to be this sort of interesting, this quite modern frame and way of understanding what is and isn’t interesting, and that sits awkwardly at times.
You might also ask, admittedly, if this actually is interesting by 2022 standards – as Star Trek: Picard gestures at these themes and ideas, there’s a sense that it’s still not actually exploring them in as much depth as it could. The idea that Rios (clumsily announcing he looks for father figures) sees Picard as a father is an interesting one – potentially genuinely interesting, not just “interesting” – especially so with the implication that Picard is in his own way a disappointing father figure. There are things to unpack there, about cycles of abuse and the legacy it leaves, but they’re largely elided for the most part.
All of which said, actually, it feels significant that ‘Monsters’ largely forgives Picard’s father. He’d misremembered and misunderstood, apparently, “never known his father at all” – his mother was unwell (implicitly bipolar, I think?), and not, it seems, a victim of abuse at all. There’s a tease that this isn’t quite as it seems – which feels a little cheap and tawdry, if we’re doing shock twist reveals about mental health and abuse – but mostly it makes you wonder if this is true to Stewart’s life as well, or diverging from it. Is this him processing some new information about his father, or maybe laying out a ‘what could’ve been’ scenario?
Maybe the lines between Stewart and Picard aren’t as blurred as they seemed.
● Of course, Stewart is the only person to play Picard so far. We’re onto our third Captain Kirk now, so it’s entirely possible one day another Picard will show up. Personally, I’ve always thought Colin Salmon would be pretty good in the role - any other suggestions?
● Nice to see Ito Aghayere back this week, and feeling even more like Guinan than last time - it’s a good performance, looking forward to seeing more of it.
● In Doctor Who terms, ‘Monsters’ is a bit like a cross between Heaven Sent and Fear Her – not episodes anyone has ever considered mashing up before, I suspect.
● Not really the most important thing, and Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd still have a nice easygoing back and forth together, but I’m quite curious if the Picard writers have any internal backstory for the Seven/Chakotay split in their minds.
● Interesting to call Picard’s mother a queen, though. Reminds me of speculation in earlier weeks that she might, somehow, be the Borg queen from ‘The Star Gazer’ – there’s more to this story, after all.
Star Trek: Picard season 2 airs new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime Video. You can read our review of last week’s episode, ‘Two of One’, right here, and our review of series premiere ‘The Star Gazer’ here.