Star Trek: Picard is just around the corner, so we’re breaking down which episodes and movies featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast are crucial for understanding the new series. It’s been 18 years since audiences last saw Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise in their final film, Star Trek: Nemesis. Now, Patrick Stewart is putting his uniform back on for another go round as a much older, more sorrowful version of the legendary captain.
We don’t know exactly what Star Trek: Picard will be about, as the producers have been incredibly secretive about the show’s plot. What we do know comes from the trailers and interviews that suggest the series will grapple with the fallout from two tragedies – the destruction of Romulus, and the death of Lieutenant Commander Data in Nemesis. The latter has apparently haunted Picard for most of his twilight years, though it seems he’s not yet finished guarding the legacy of his fallen friend.
We’re breaking down the handful of essential episodes and films that serve as a necessary primer for what’s to come in Star Trek: Picard.
Generally considered the first great episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, „The Measure Of A Man“ finds Data’s rights put on trial. When Starfleet researcher Bruce Maddox plans to use Data as the template for an entire race of androids, Data protests, as the project could potentially damage him irreparably. Shockingly, Data is assumed to be Starfleet property rather than a living entity, and a hearing to determine his rights is undertaken. Captain Picard comes to his robotic second officer’s defense, and it’s eventually determined that Data is a sentient life form, and he declines to undergo Maddox’s tests.
„The Measure Of A Man“ was perhaps the first time The Next Generation truly grappled with the ramifications of advanced artificial life and how it would be handled in the future. The trailers for Picard have showcased some very Data-looking androids with numbers stamped into their heads, which look quite a bit like what Maddox had in mind. Was he somehow able to achieve his goal after Data’s death, or did someone else take up his work? Whatever the answer, „The Measure Of A Man“ is essential viewing.
Star Trek: Picard has promised to reinvigorate the Romulans, one of the oldest – and dullest – of Star Trek antagonists. While they were always around in The Next Generation, they were overshadowed by more interesting villains like Q and the Borg. The one exception is „The Defector,“ which sees Admiral Jarok, an influential Romulan officer, defect to Starfleet in an effort to prevent all out war. Jarok still hangs on to some of the Romulans‘ more cartoonishly evil traits; he’s incredibly arrogant, a liar, and slow to trust, but he’s the first Romulan who feels like a fully realized person, trying to prevent a war with the Federation for the sake of his children.
It would eventually be revealed Jarok was a pawn in a conventionally dastardly Romulan plot to take out the Enterprise, and his realization of his utter failure is a genuinely pitiable moment. If Picard can give us more Romulans like Jarok, it’ll go a long way toward humanizing one of Star Trek’s most underutilized races.
The first episode of Star Trek directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes, „The Offspring“ is a poignant vignette of an unconventional family. After attending a cybernetic seminar, Data decides he has the capability of creating another android like himself, a daughter he names Lal. Lal suffers through many of the same growing pains Data endured over the series‘ first few seasons, and his desire to be a good father is both kind of hilarious and genuinely heartfelt.
Tragically, Lal’s positronic brain would eventually collapse, and she would die in Data’s arms. She so enriched his life that he reintegrated her memories and experiences into his own programming – the closest thing the emotionless android could conjure to an expression of love. Lal was meant to be Data’s legacy, to live on past him, but he seems to have inherited a much darker legacy in Picard that his former captain will have to grapple with.
One of the most popular episodes in all of Star Trek, „The Best of Both Worlds“ showcases the Borg in all their unstoppable horror. Picard and the Enterprise fail in their effort to stop the Borg on their way to Earth, and Picard is captured and assimilated into the collective as Locutus, the Borg’s spokesperson for the assimilation of humanity. Newly promoted Captain Riker is able to rescue Picard and take out the Borg cube just before it assimilates Earth, but the scars of that incident would be worn by both the Federation and Picard himself for years to come.
„The Best of Both Worlds“ establishes the Borg as the one threat that Picard cannot engage with intellectually, that forces him into a fear and hatred he constantly has to push away. The Borg will have a major presence in Picard, and they figure to still be a personal weak spot for Jean-Luc.
„I, Borg“ was the first episode that posited that the Borg could be more than mindless space zombies. When the Enterprise rescues an injured Borg drone, Geordi LaForge and Dr. Beverly Crusher begin to realize he’s recovering pieces of his humanity the longer he’s away from the collective. They eventually name him Hugh, and he expresses his desire to remain an individual. Picard and Starfleet had planned to infect Hugh with a virus and return him to the collective to essentially wipe out the Borg, but once they realize he’s become an individual, they let Hugh decide his own fate. Realizing the Borg would never stop looking for him, he chooses to return to the collective to protect his new friends, while harboring hope that his individuality would survive.
Hugh would return as the leader of a group of sentient Borg drones in the season seven episode „Descent,“ and he will be returning yet again for Star Trek: Picard, though what role he’ll play and what he’s been doing the last two decades is still a mystery. Hugh also served as something of a template for Star Trek: Voyager’s former Borg drone Seven of Nine, who will also be making an appearance in Picard. If Picard is planning on further humanizing the Borg, they couldn’t have picked to better characters.
While „I, Borg“ and „Descent“ made some progress in softening and humanizing the Borg, Star Trek: First Contact returned them to their roots as terrifying monsters. After preventing yet another assimilation of Earth, the Borg travel back in time to assimilate the planet just after World War III. The Enterprise follows them back in time to prevent them from carrying out their task. First Contact is a particularly tough ride for Picard, whose PTSD from his own assault at the hands of the Borg is clearly still with him, as he lashes out violently and irrationally as the threat mounts.
First Contact also introduced the concept of the Borg Queen, who served as something of a leader for the Borg. She was able to masterfully manipulate both Data and Picard, though she was ultimately defeated. However, Star Trek: Voyager would confirm she survived, and it seems a safe bet she’ll make another appearance if the Borg play as prominent a role in Picard as they appear to.
The final film to feature The Next Generation cast is arguably the weakest. Picard and crew have to take on the villainous Shinzon, a clone of Picard who managed to overthrow the Romulan senate on behalf of the Remans, the Romulans‘ sister race that previously served as their slaves. It also introduces B4, a prototype android of Data. B4 is far less sophisticated than Data, unable to understand simple things like what room he’s in or who he is. In an effort to help him evolve, Data loads all of his memories into B4, though the transfer didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the inferior android. Data would ultimately sacrifice himself saving Picard from Shinzon, making B4 the only tangible remnant of Data’s existence.
In one of the Picard trailers, we see a Data-like android deconstructed in a drawer, which is almost certainly B4. Has Starfleet been using B4 to create the android army they had planned all the way back in „The Measure Of A Man?“ Or is he being used for other nefarious purposes? The answer to those questions may end up being the key to Star Trek Picard’s story.
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