What a time to be a Star Trek nerd. Not since the 1990s has Trek been so alive, with multiple TV shows, movies and all sorts of ancillary merch being available all at once. While the reaction to Star Trek Discovery has been mixed (I love it, and I may threaten to write about it weekly on this site when it returns next year), the response to the latest Trek news has been almost universally positive: Sir Patrick Stewart is returning to Trek in one of his most defining roles, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Stewart last played Picard in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, hardly a fitting end for a beloved character. That was 17 years ago, and so that means there have been two decades of Picard adventures and life to which we have not been privy. The possibilities for what Picard could have been up to are endless, but I have some speculation about what we will see in this new show. This is just informed speculation, none of this comes from scoops, sources or insiders.
Here’s one guess that I haven’t seen other people making: Michael Chabon is listed as being on the creative team. He’s also doing a Trek short featuring an all-new character, Craft, in a short called Calypso. Could Craft be getting introduced in advance of his role as a main character in the Picard show? Could Calypso be a stealth prequel to this show? We’ll know soon enough, I guess.
Whether Craft is on it or not, the show will be personal. Don’t expect a series of galaxy-hopping adventures. The new Picard show is being conceived as a mini-series, so it’ll likely tell one story from beginning to end, and I bet it will be a highly personal one. Likely very small scale (I do know that Patrick Stewart’s quote is very high (as it should be), so a lot of the budget will be going to him) and likely related to Picard’s phase of life.
That could mean we will see Picard in his golden years at the family winery, or perhaps we will see him having retired into archeology. I will bet money that he will not be a starship captain or a Starfleet admiral. My guess is that he will be out of Starfleet altogether. If that is the case I hope the story isn’t Starfleet coming to recruit the old man for One Last Mission.
While Picard was involved in the attempts to negotiate historic peace with the Romulans I wouldn’t expect to hear much about them in the new show. Romulus was destroyed in the events of JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek, and yes, that is canon in the Prime Universe. That said, the delineation between TV and movies is such that the TV folks may not want to touch anything that was established in the movies, or at least not make a major plot point out of it. It could be mentioned in passing, or obliquely, but I suspect the plot of the show will not hinge on the status of the Romulans in a universe where their homeworld blew up a few years ago.
Likewise I wouldn’t expect to see too many Klingons, including Worf. Discovery did a visual refresh of the Klingons (something that is not uncommon in Trek history, even if it is a little annoying to hypernerds like me) but I would guess that the powers that be don’t want to muddy the waters when it comes to TNG era Klingons, who are very visually defined. To have two shows on CBS All Access with very different looking Klingons would be confusing to the average viewer. And it’s not like Picard and Worf were besties.
Will other TNG characters show up? I wouldn’t bet on it. One of the things I liked about All Good Things, the TNG finale, was that it affirmed what I always thought: these people weren’t family. They were work friends, and when they didn’t work together anymore they drifted very far apart and didn’t keep in touch. I wouldn’t mind a cameo or a mention, but Picard and Riker didn’t have the relationship that Kirk and Spock did, or even that Kirk and McCoy did. I imagine they maybe send Christmas cards to one another.
There are a handful of characters from TNG who make perfect sense as guests. Beverly Crusher is one. Her relationship with Picard was complicated and largely unconsummated; while it’s sad to think that they’re still doing that dance well into their 70s it does seem quite likely. I could see her being remarried and Picard being a lonely, sad visitor to her life.
Wesley Crusher also makes a lot of sense. His relationship with Picard was complicated, and the series left him as a space-warping Traveler. There’s a deleted scene in Nemesis that establishes Wesley as returning to Starfleet and serving on Riker’s new ship (in the night shift in Engineering!), but deleted scenes are not canon. Perhaps Wesley shows up with his Traveler powers and goes on a journey with Picard, trying to understand this father figure who, frankly, treated him like garbage a lot. (But I think that was Picard trying to be loving. The character sometimes has emotional issues)
Data is a good choice for a cameo. He’s sort of dead/living inside the body of B-4. Dealing with Brent Spiner’s aging would make this challenging, but who knows. If there is a character on the show with whom Picard had the warmest relationship it was, for my money, the emotionless android. And he’s a beloved fan favorite to boot.
Then there are the TNG guest star possibilities. Q is a big possibility, although I’d like to see Q remain off the table for the rest of time. All Good Things felt like it finished Q nicely for us forever. If not Q perhaps Q’s occasional girlfriend, Vash. She was also Picard’s lover, and she shared his love of archeology. Vash was a wild child 20 years ago, but maybe now she has mellowed out enough that she and Picard travel around poking at ancient dig sites together.
I would kind of love to see Picard butting heads with a Deep Space Nine character or two. Maybe Jake Sisko, reporter and novelist, shows up to do a profile of the retired hero of the Federation. Perhaps Captain Nog is assigned to ferry the retired Picard to a dig site. Maybe Ezri Dax, psychotherapist, is doing regular sessions with a Picard who is still haunted by his time being assimilated by the Borg.
That said, I would not like to see the Borg – they’re too big a threat, and felt dealt with between First Contact and Star Trek: Voyager. Going back to that well directly would be too much, and maybe too fan service-y. Picard can certainly talk about them, perhaps even be monitoring the Collective’s attempts to rebuild itself after the finale of Voyager, but to have them show up would be too much (that said, what if the wild future of the Federation involved the Borg, changed forever by Janeway’s actions, petitioning for membership? And what if Picard’s deal was trying to block that petition?).
One subject I would like to see tackled is Picard’s Irumodic Syndrome. In All Good Things we see Picard 20 years after the show (ie, when the new series will likely be set) suffering from a degenerative brain disease that makes him erratic, swiss-cheeses his memory and causes him to be delusional. I’ll be honest, I don’t know whether Picard would still have that Syndrome after the events of the episode (and the old Picard of All Good Things looks nothing like PatStew of today), but I think it would make sense for Picard to be eternally watchful for its effects.
After Logan it’s unlikely that Patrick Stewart would want to take another of his characters into dementia, but I do suspect that PatStew, as a thoughtful and smart man, would be interested in exploring how Picard faces his final years. This is an important subject that we don’t discuss in our culture; everybody pretends that you live forever, or that your quality of life doesn’t have to be impacted by your age. It’s important to confront the realities of aging and death, even with someone as seemingly ageless as PatStew. I don’t want this mini-series to be The Death of Jean-Luc Picard, but I think it’s important that a 78 year old Picard be aware of his imminent end (even if Starfleets live much longer than we do. Realistically Picard could probably make it to like 130, which is how old Bones got, but Trek is about us today, and we don’t live that long). It would be cool if we got more Picard mini-series after this, but if not I would love for this to give Picard the kind of graceful exit he didn’t get in Nemesis.
Most of all I want this new Picard show to be modern. I don’t want the stiff beige world of TNG, an aesthetic I really hated. I hope the creators feel free to open things up and rethink the look of the universe. I would also love to see a show that exists almost totally outside of Starfleet, something we have barely explored in over 50 years of Star Trek. What is it like being a civilian in the Federation? What is the civilian’s relationship to Starfleet? That feels ripe for exploration, and a retired Picard is a perfect bridge to that.
One last thing: I hope the show doesn’t establish too much of the Trek status quo 20 years after TNG. I’d like a little wiggle room left for other shows/movies to explore, and I think it would be best if the Picard show didn’t act as some sort of info dump filling us in on two decades of politics, advances and adventures. But again, I think this is going to be a very small, very personal story, so there likely won’t be a lot of room for Picard to check in on the status of the Cardassians or how transwarp drive has or hasn’t changed space travel. What I hope the show explores is what it’s like to be this man, in his life, at this stage of his existence. That’s a good TV show, and that’s a valid part of the human adventure.