Twenty years later: Short of timeline shenanigans more convoluted than Stewart’s role in the X-Men movies, the chances of seeing a future Picard that resembles the version in “All Good Things” are probably zero.
This past weekend at Star Trek Las Vegas 2018, Patrick Stewart made a surprise appearance and gradually built to the announcement that he will return to the Star Trek franchise to reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard for an upcoming series to be produced for CBS All Access.
After telling a story about how he had encountered fans for which Star Trek had greatly affected them, and how that played into his mind about returning, he went on to offer up some details of what is currently known about the new endeavor — which is to say, not much so far.
“We have no scripts as of yet,” Stewart said, adding that the show’s developers have so far just been talking in terms of broad story outlines. “He may not be a captain anymore,” he said of Picard. “It may be a very different individual, someone who has been changed by his experiences. Twenty years will have passed.”
He added, “It will be — I promise you, I guarantee it — something very, very different.” But, he said, the new show will come with the same passion and love of the material as The Next Generation.
So what should we make of this?
On the one hand, it strikes me that Stewart certainly didn’t have to bring Picard out of retirement unless he felt there was a compelling reason. Stewart has consistently acted in the years since he left the franchise, and it’s not like he is or ever was hurting for work. And as he says in this very announcement, returning to Picard was something he never planned to do, never expected to do, and fully intended to decline even this time around. Something changed his mind. What was it? Did he, at 78, want to ensure he caps his career by returning to an iconic role? (I’m pondering parallels in his return for a closing-chapter role in Logan.) Did he feel a need to return to a franchise of optimism in our current world of seemingly unremitting ugliness? Was the idea of the new show just that good?
It’s hard to say. But something convinced him to come back, and with this announcement provides hope for rediscovered, nostalgiac glories for long-time fans who haven’t found it in the most recent franchise efforts — namely Discovery or the J.J. Abrams reboot films.
Or does it?
The new series will be produced by Alex Kurtzman, who is already a key player on Discovery and who worked on the Abrams movies, and is now the guy who basically runs the entire Trek TV franchise. And with the big deal CBS gave him comes the expectation he will go forward and create a whole new slew of Trekkian products to be streamed/televised.
Discovery had a rough — although apparently financially successful — first season. (That’s if we’re to take CBS at its word; there’s no way of truly knowing given the black box that is the performance of streaming services.) One would think the creative energy might be spent in turning the flagship show on the fledgling streaming service into something better and maybe someday eventually great. But Hollywood does not think in such small-scaled terms. I mean, why have one new Star Trek series when you could instead have an entire Star Trek Streaming Televised Universe! (We have, I suppose, the runaway success of the MCU to thank for such infinite ambition.)
I don’t know. As always, I will withhold judgment, being neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the Picard series until there are more details — or perhaps an actual show to watch. But it seems to me that cultivating one thing (Discovery) might be more prudent than overextending into building a new empire of televised products. Even at the height of the Berman years, which arguably was the apex of Trek‘s popularity, Berman never thought it was prudent to do more than two shows at once. If Discovery and Star Trek: Picard are not even all we’re talking about here in terms of the near future for televised Trek (there are apparently more projects being drawn up), there seems to be a substantial risk of watering down the whole enterprise. There’s also potentially the very bad collateral risk of damaging Picard’s character, should smarter ideas not prevail.
Will lessons be learned from the box-office underperformance of Solo? (This is a film I still have not seen and thus can’t comment on from a creative standpoint.) In less than three years, Star Wars went from king of the box-office mountain to a cautionary tale of the risks of over-saturation — something I warned about back when all the stand-alone films were announced.
We’ll see. The plan for CBS to mine Trek so deeply and so quickly seems risky, and I wonder how much actual demand exists. On the other hand, anything with Patrick Stewart in it at least has Patrick Stewart as a principal asset.
I didn’t set out to post my long-delayed review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi on May the Fourth. It actually was a complete coincidence. But I’ll take the coincidence in the spirit of appropriate fun nonetheless.
What is most striking about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is that it has larger themes and aspirations that venture outside the space opera roots typically explored in this franchise. In that regard, it goes above and beyond perhaps any Star Wars movie to date and, in its very Star Wars way, moves into the thematic realm of — well, Star Trek. And, for that matter, also Battlestar Galactica.
Taken in its broad strokes, this entire film is a series of Star Wars takes on the Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario. It’s not clear until the very end of The Last Jedi, but this entire film is actually about what heroes do when faced with a number of limited options that continues to shrink until there are almost no options at all. These scenarios force impossible decisions that are born from utter desperation, huge individual sacrifices for the greater good, and pyrrhic victories that are crucially symbolic — because otherwise, in practicality, they are crushing defeats.
Ah, to be a fly on the wall in the writers’ room of Star Trek: Discovery. What really happened there? How much of this show grew from Bryan Fuller’s original ideas, and how much of it was scrapped or retooled? Did the writers change the fundamental course of the season midway through, and were they justified in doing so? Did they have to fix things on the fly and figure out ways to fit a patchwork narrative together into something supposedly coherent? Or was this the plan all along? I’m somehow guessing not the latter, at least for some of it.
I ask these questions after having watched "Will You Hold My Hand?" take a season-long arc about Starfleet’s war with the Klingons and solve it in five minutes with a plot device that brings new definitions to the word "contrived." I had hoped this finale would be more resolution than cliffhanger. It was. That’s a blessing, albeit a very mixed one.
“The War Without, The War Within” ends with the Mirror Universe version of Philippa Georgiou being named the captain of Discovery by Admiral Cornwell as an act of desperation to try to turn the tide of the war with the Klingons, which Starfleet is badly losing. It’s yet another episode-ending WTF moment in a season awash in them.
The problem with always dialing up the crazy to 11 is that the audience becomes conditioned to the environment until an 11 just starts to feel like a 5. Making MU Georgiou the captain — in a scene that goes out of its way to make clear that none of the other characters were aware this was happening until it happened (for no good reason except to keep it hidden until the final reveal to the audience) — is surprising, sure. But it’s surprising for perhaps the wrong reasons. We’ve reached the point where we expect some sort of last-minute episode-closing “shock” and the number of available variables in this episode seems to inevitably bring us to this conclusion. Rather, the reason it’s surprising is because it’s so ridiculous that this is alleged as the solution to Starfleet’s war problem.
“What’s Past Is Prologue” is an apt title given all that has happened on this season of Discovery. It’s ironic when considered in the meta-context of this season’s twists and turns, which render entire characters as discarded prologues. The more I look at this season, the more I think the whole thing must be a prologue to a more normalized second season, because this level of crazy just can’t be sustained. This episode is proof of that; after having spent 10 to 12 episodes setting up the pieces that lead here, we promptly close the book on a number of them, for good and ill.
This episode is simultaneously better and worse than I had expected. It makes a mockery of my concept of episodic star ratings, because serialized mysteries and deferred payoffs, while intriguing, are hard to grade from week to week with any sort of consistency. I enjoyed watching this episode probably as much as or more than any this season — and at the same time I was also more annoyed by it. Discovery has shown itself to be a compulsively watchable nuts-and-bolts plot-moving vehicle. And the writers surprise here with a visceral hour that burns through the rest of the Mirror Universe arc at an almost stunningly furious pace, leaving the last two episodes of the season to deal with other business. The writers should be commended for not prolonging this needlessly. It’s an efficient job, and frequently exciting.