Nine Things to Watch To Understand Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek Picard is a few episodes into its first season and unlike Star Trek Discovery, Picard is very much for established fans. It assumes you know the shows and films preceding it because, though it occasionally pauses to inform us who is whom, most of the time it drops names and references without any context, fully expecting the viewer to grasp it without a moment to think.

For long-time fans this is a good thing. Less time on catch-up means more time for plot and story. But if you’re new to Star Trek and you don’t have time to wade through seven seasons of The Next Generation and four succeeding films…stop what you’re doing and do that. Just watch The Next Generation, what are you doing calling yourself a Star Trek fan without watching The Next Generation? Watching TNG is how you become a Star Trek fan.

Fine, be stubborn. If just want the essentials to the show’s backstory here are nine episodes and movies that are key to understanding what on earth is going on. Let’s break this down into three categories…

PICARD STUFF

TNG 4×02 – Family

What is it: It’s the immediate follow-up to the character-defining Best of Both Worlds two-parter. After being un-assimilated, Jean Luc returns to his French home to deal with the emotional toil caused by the ordeal.

How is it relevant: Chateau Picard makes its debut here (or at least the proto-version), and we see Picard out of his element, sparring with his elder brother and, in a moment of tremendous pathos, breaking down in tears over the violation he felt being forced by the Borg Collective to kill without impunity. His brother tells him “this is going to be with you a long time; you’re going to have to live with it.” Truer words…

Rating: 9/10 – Family is not all about Picard, and the segments featuring Crusher and Worf are only okay. Still, the half of the episode devoted to Jean Luc is masterful.

Watch the episode to see how much Picard’s experience with the Borg affected him, as we prepare for the inevitable reunion later in the series.

7×25-26 All Good Things…

What is it: The last episode of The Next Generation is one of the very best episodes in the franchise. It’s a Hugo Award winner, a beloved series-closer, and a brilliant send off to the TNG crew.

How is it relevant: There’s one little part of the story that seems like it’s going to pay off in Picard: In All Good Things we learn that, at least in an alternate future, Picard suffers from a degenerative neural condition called Irumodic Syndrome. It’s basically “space alzheimers.” Now, in a future well past the alternate future depicted in the show, Picard once again has been told he has the early, onset form of a neurological degenerating condition. It’s not (yet) called Irumodic Syndrome, but that’s the first thing long-time fans thought of.

Rating: 10/10 – This is an absolute classic and one that sent the best Star Trek show out on the highest of high notes.

Watch the episode even though everything that’s relevant to Picard is right here in this article. Watch it because it’s one of the best sci-fi short stories ever put to film, one of the best Star Trek episodes, and one of the best series finales of any show ever.

Movie IX – Insurrection

What is it: The third TNG movie sees Picard take a rebellious stand against an unscrupulous Starfleet Admiral who wants to forcibly remove a planet’s population from their homes in order to reap the regenerative rewards contained thereon.

How is it relevant: One of the big subplots to Picard is how he retired from Starfleet due to their very un-Gene Roddenberry like methods. It’s about time someone called out nuTrek for how unRoddenberry it is! Insurrection shows us how it’s always been in Picard’s wheelhouse to toss down his combadge and take a stand for what is right.

Rating: 8/10 – The movie is really good in places but also struggles in other spots. It feels like a very good two-part TNG episode and had it been a season finale/premiere it would probably be the third best of the bunch (behind the series finale and Best of Both Worlds). The humor is a bit forced but when the movie is dramatic and moralizing, it’s great sci-fi.

Watch the movie because there are only two good TNG movies and even though this is the lesser of the two, it’s at least a fun time (which Generations was not) and not a drab, depressing affair (which Nemesis was).

DATA STUFF

2×09 – The Measure of a Man

What is it: It’s the finest hour of TNG’s first two seasons, a tour de force for everyone involved with the production. Watch this:

If that’s not Star Trek, nothing is.

How is it relevant: Obviously, the character of Data is playing a huge part to the background of Picard’s story but so too is Dr. Bruce Mattox. In this episode he very coldly wants to disassemble Data (presumably forever) in the hopes of recreating him. Over time he came to appreciate the uniqueness and “humanity” of the android. By all accounts they became friends and TNG fans eagerly await seeing him again (hopefully).

Rating: 10/10 – There’s no crazy aliens, no space ship battles, no technobabble. The episode’s climax simply features two actors debating over whether a machine should be considered alive and what the moral implications are for whatever decision they reach. That’s about as “Isaac Asimov” a sentence as I’ve ever typed. That’s sci-fi. If that’s not your bag, the door is riiiight over there.

Watch the episode because it’s a top-fiver and because it lays the foundation for the entire Data-centric storyline of Picard.

3×16 – The Offspring

What is it: It’s the one where Data surprises everyone with a daughter the same way your kid might surprise you with a three-legged frog he found in the backyard: On the one hand you’re happy he’s got such a big heart, but on the other you’re freaked the heck out. Data introduces us to Lal, a cybernetic lifeform he built as best as he could to the Soongian style. Unfortunately, Data is never able to get Lal working quite right and, in the end she “dies.”

Also watch this and cry you nerd, cry!

How is it relevant: I mean…obviously.

Rating: 8/10 – The episode is a really good idea that sometimes gets a bit too heavy-handed. Also, despite how it ends, it’s a bit too easy for Data to almost make a clone, considering how his uniqueness is a common theme to the character.

Watch the episode to get a better understanding of Data, his quest to be more human (what’s more human than procreating), as well as how hard it is to make another one like him.

Movie X – Nemesis

What is it: It’s a crap movie. It’s a bloated, boring, dumb, retconny mess of a film and I wish I didn’t have to give it space in this article. I saw this movie in theaters when it released and when it ended I was glad to be done with TNG until Rick Berman was done with it. Thankfully that day came very soon. I watched the movie once more a few years later, deciding that maybe I’d been too hard on it. Turns out, nope; it still sucks.

How is it relevant: Data dies to save Picard and the Enterprise from the scary Romulan ship that can fire while cloaked, threatening the possibility of peace between Romulans and the Federation, and that act of sacrifice is the source of Picard’s dreams. Speaking of sources, have you seen Star Trek II, where a beloved character dies to save the Enterprise? Watch that instead. Also, have you seen Star Trek VI, where the Enterprise contends with a Klingon ship that can fire while cloaked, threatening the possibility of peace between Klingons and the Federation? Did I mention Nemesis is also derivative to the point of lazy? Also B4, briefly seen in Picard, makes his idiotic first appearance here.

Rating: 4/10 – The special effects are good. The score is good. That is all.

Watch the movie if you lost a bet.

BORG STUFF

3×26/4×01 – The Best of Both Worlds

What is it:  The Borg, first seen in the previous season, finally invade Federation space, capture and assimilate Cpt. Picard and (thanks to his vast knowledge of Starfleet defenses and tactics) decimates a massive fleet of ships at Wolf 359. In universe, it’s one of the biggest and most important moments in the history of Starfleet.

How is it relevant: Well there’s the Borg angle, obviously, as well as the Picard fallout stuff already mentioned. But there’s also the fact that, after Wolf359 Starfleet inched a bit closer to being a military branch of the Federation more than a science & exploration branch. The Defiant was built in response and future ships like the Enterprise-E were designed with Borg combat in mind. By the time of Picard, the Federation and Starfleet have become near-isolationists, a marked reversal from former days. You can trace their change in attitude back to one event. The Best of Both Worlds was the first step through that dark looking glass.

Rating: 10/10 – It’s the best two-parter in show history, it’s one of the biggest cliffhangers in TV history, and it remains the gold standard for Star Trek (alongside The City on the Edge of Forever).

Watch the episodes because it’s great TV and features the Borg at their most threatening and terrifying. Voyager overexposed them but for a time there was no more buzz-worthy bad guy in Star Trek. TBOTW is why.

5×23 – I, Borg

What is it: The Enterprise comes upon a downed Borg Scoutship and a lone survivor whose connection to the Collection has been severed. Picard wrestles with whether or not to help the wounded Borg, named Hugh by Data and Geordi, or implant within him a virus and send him back to be re-assimilated, potentially destroying the Collective.

How is it relevant: The Picard+Borg angle is obviously important, but so too is the idea of a Borg being de-assimilated and slowly regaining his humanity. That’s something Picard is showing us and it started here.

Rating: 9/10 – Everyone has their preferences, but for me, the best sci-fi is one that poses an ethical or moral question, debates it, and then deals with the consequences of acting morally and ethically in a world (or galaxy) that rarely wants to be so virtuous. Starfleet’s first impulse is to send Hugh back to the Borg with the virus, killing them all. Picard hesitates because Hugh has demonstrated humanity. To send him back would be murder. The way the episode shows Picard’s evolution over the hour (from someone who refuses even to lay eyes on the borg and forbids Geordi and Data from naming him, to—after finally meeting him—deciding he must let him live) is Star Trek at its best.

Watch the episode to meet Hugh, who plays a small but potentially important role in Picard’s first season.

Movie VIII – First Contact

What is it: It’s the best TNG movie. The Borg invade Sector 001 (the solar system) and before they can be stopped, they trigger a temporal portal and blast to the past, intending to assimilate Earth three hundred years early. The Enterprise-E follows them back in time, helps kick off the Warp Age, and kills the Borg Queen in the process (or so we thought).

How is it relevant: It’s only barely, at least so far. There’s the possibility that Dahj’s vision of Picard in episode one was in some way related to the Borg, via Picard’s time while assimilated. First Contact features Picard occasionally hearing Borg whispers in his ear, echoes from his time in the Collective. That might be a connection, we’ll see. It’s a loose connection, I know, but if it gives you an excuse to watch First Contact, so be it.

Rating: 10/10 – It’s tight, action-packed, funny, suspenseful, and tremendously well acted. Patrick Stewart goes for broke here. I mean…

come on!

Also, watch it so that when you eventually get around to this masterpiece you can have some context:

Watch the movie because it’s one of the best Trek movies ever. Whereas Nemesis was simply a pale rehashing of Star Trek II and VI, First Contact actually took the revenge story of STII and flipped it on its head, turning Picard into a Khan-like character on a Moby Dick-like quest for revenge. It’s an absolutely wonderful film and even if it ends up being inconsequential to Picard’s plot, it’s essential to learning about Picard the man.

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