“Picard,” a new “Star Trek” series featuring an older Captain Jean-Luc Picard dragging himself out of retirement for one last hurrah, premieres on January 23.
In interviews about the forthcoming series, the producers (Alex Kurtzman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon and Sir Patrick Stewart himself) are eager to inform you that is not — I repeat: NOT — going to be a mere sequel to or retread of the beloved ‘80s-’90s TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“The world of ‘Next Generation’ doesn’t exist anymore,” Stewart says in a recent interview with Variety. “It’s different. Nothing is really safe. Nothing is really secure.'”
In a post-Brexit, post-Trump world, Stewart — who played everyone’s favorite morally superior space action hero/explorer/diplomat/etc. — says in the interview, he’s not interested in revisiting the utopian optimism of “The Next Generation.”
OK. Take that as you will.
What we know so far is that the series will deal with three traumas from Picard’s life: the loss of friend and comrade Data, as seen in the not-at-all-good film “Nemesis” (and there’s some indication that there will also be a new race of Data-like androids in the series); his experiences with the Borg; and an ill-fated humanitarian mission to the Romulans that happened at some point between “The Next Generation” and “Picard.”
For those looking for a refresher on all that — or who are struggling with a loved one who has tragically never seen “The Next Generation” — I’ve put together this guide to 10 episodes (well, nine episodes and one movie) that are essential viewing before you dive back into the life of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
(And if you have the time, I’ve got some additional recommendations at the bottom.)
1. Encounter at Farpoint (pilot)
The two-part first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is better than you remember. It’s important as our first introduction to Picard and Data (and the rest of the gang) as well as Picard’s confounding frenemy, Q, the omnipotent cosmic trickster. (I don’t expect Q to show up in “Picard,” but the captain’s reactions to this cosmic entity always provide insight into his personality.)
2. The Measure of a Man (season 2, episode 9)
In this legal procedural, a Starfleet scientist called Bruce Maddox arrives to take possession of Data and dismantle him for study. Maddox insists that because Data is a synthetic being built by a human, he is the property of Starfleet, rather than an independent lifeform. Picard and friends beg to differ. Plus, this features one of Picard’s all-time greatest rousing speeches about morality and righteousness.
3. Q Who (season 2, episode 16)
I promise, this isn’t just going to be a list of Q’s greatest hits. But if the Borg — a terrifying cybernetic collective that forcibly “assimilates” members of any species they encounter — are going to be a major presence in “Picard,” you’re going to have to watch this, their first appearance. They would change a great deal as the series went on, but start here.
4. The Best of Both Worlds (season 3, episode 26; season 4, episode 1)
Not only is this one of the most important incidents in Picard’s life, it was an important development in ‘90s television — a season finale cliffhanger that left audiences genuinely wondering about the fate of Captain Picard. In this beloved two-parter, Picard is forced to become a Borg drone, violated bodily and psychologically and forced to participate in the slaughter of countless Starfleet officers. The trauma will stay with him for the rest of his life.
5. Family (season 4, episode 2)
Following immediately on the events of “The Best of Both Worlds,” this uncharacteristically quiet episode is largely free of Next Generation’s signature sci-fi premises. Picard returns home to his family’s vineyard in France to recuperate from his experience with the Borg. Attempting to spend some time at home recovering, he must confront long-simmering resentments between himself and his older brother, Robert. The climax of their interpersonal conflict features Stewart’s finest acting in the entire series. When “Picard” beings, we’ll find our hero in retirement back at Chateau Picard; his complicated feelings about the place are first addressed in this episode. “Family” also features a hilarious visit to the Enterprise from Worf’s Russian adoptive parents, including his father played by Theodore Bikel.
6. Unification (season 5, episodes 6 and 7)
This two-parter — a personal fave — is one of the most in-depth looks we’ve had at Romulan society, which looks like it will play a big part in “Picard.” Picard and Data go undercover as Romulans in an attempt to track down Ambassador Spock, who has gone missing while on a secret personal trip to Romulus. Aside from its possible relevance to “Picard,” this episode features a terrific guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy, his only appearance on “The Next Generation.”
7. I, Borg (season 5, episode 23)
The character of the week in this episode is Borg drone who has been severed from the Borg hive mind, and dubbed “Hugh” by Geordi. Jonathan Del Arco will reprise his role as Hugh in “Picard,” so this is another must-watch Borg episode. It also features one of the best examples of Picard wrestling with an ethical dilemma to which there is no right answer, a major recurring theme in “The Next Generation.”
8. All Good Things (series finale)
As with the pilot episode, the direct relevance to “Picard” may be minimal, but it provides a surprise thematic and narrative bookend to the pilot. And when paired with that first outing, it paints a picture of how much Picard has changed over seven years as captain of the Enterprise.
9. First Contact (second movie)
The second — and by far the best — of the “Next Generation” films features another encounter with the Borg, as well as fantastic guest roles for James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard and Alice Krieg. Picard’s Borg-induced trauma resurfaces, and the movies’ transformation of Picard into an action hero begins. Plus, it’s a cracking time travel story in which our heroes must go back in time to, essentially, save “Star Trek” itself.
10. The Raven (“Star Trek: Voyager,” season 4, episode 6)
OK, so it’s not an episode of “The Next Generation,” but it centers on a character who will have a recurring role in “Picard.” It’s one of the pivotal episodes in the story of Seven of Nine, a Borg drone liberated by the crew of Voyager who becomes a member of the gang. Seven was assimilated by the Borg as a child and must rediscover what it means to be a human. This isn’t her first appearance, but this psychologically tough episode shows her dealing with repressed childhood memories of how she became a Borg.
That’s my guess at the real essentials, but here are some additional episodes and movies you might want to check out if you have time.
Captain’s Holiday (season 3, episode 19)
Haters to the left. A lot of people don’t like this one, but I love it. In this episode, Counselor Troi proclaims that Picard is too stressed-out to do his job properly, and forces him to go on vacation. Meanwhile, Commander Riker tries to get him laid. Picard heads off to Risa, a recurring paradise planet where everyone works for resorts and stuff. The captain tries to relax and get some reading done, but he meets his romantic match in a sexy, morally flexible archaeologist. She gets Picard mixed up in the plot to find (steal) a famed semi-mythical treasure. Don’t listen to the haters. Watch it.
Brothers (season 4, episode 3)
Data encounters his eccentric creator, Dr. Noonian Soong. And his “brother” (read: psychopathic doppelganger), Lore, shows up too. Brent Spiner marvelously plays all three parts!
Picard & the Klingons — Sins of the Father (season 3, episode 17), Reunion (season 4, episode 7), Redemption (season 4, episode 26 and season 5, episode 1)
This mini-arc deals with Picard’s long-running involvement in the internal politics of the Klingon Empire. Picard-as-statesman and Picard-as-diplomat are recurring themes in the series, and it looks like that aspect of the character will come into play in “Picard.”
Darmok (season 5, episode 2)
My absolute favorite episode of the series. In this one, Picard gets stranded with Dathon, an alien captain he just can’t seem to communicate with. As it turns out, Dathon only speaks in references to legends from his own culture. Think of it as an anthropological procedural. In the age of memes and pop culture references, it has even more resonance than when it first aired.
Tapestry (season 6, episode 15)
Q is back! As Picard undergoes life-threatening surgery, Q pops into his head to do an “It’s a Wonderful Life”/“Christmas Carol” routine. It’s a good look at Picard as a young man, fresh out of Starfleet Academy, and some of the events that made him who he is.
Descent (season 6, episode 26 and season 7 episode 1)
It’s not that good. Really. If it was good, I’d put it in the first part of the list because of its direct relevance. Hugh is back as part of a group of Borg drones who have been severed from the Borg collective. And they’re being led — for plot reasons or whatever — by Lore. Watch it if you want. I guess.
Insurrection (third movie)
This unfairly maligned film is no masterpiece, but it’s a lot of fun. Picard falls in love with an older woman on a fountain-of-youth planet and leads a rebellion against a morally compromised, genocidal Starfleet admiral. The new series sounds like it will deal to some extent with Picard vs. a Starfleet in moral decline, so maybe there’s some thematic connective tissue here. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince people to give this movie another look. Could be both!
Nemesis (fourth movie)
It’s really not good. “Nemesis” has a few redeeming qualities (Data sings! Romulans are cool! Picard goes off-roading!), but really … it’s a bad movie. A young Tom Hardy plays a youthful clone of Picard raised by Romulans. Meanwhile, Data discovers a simple-minded prototype version of himself called (*sigh*) B-4. We are told that Picard’s trauma from the death of Data will be a big part of “Picard,” which, if you can stomach it, makes this film a must. It’s also the most recent look we have at the Romulans, who will also play a big role in the new series.
Scorpion (“Voyager,” season 3, episode 26 and season 4, episode 1)
Seven of Nine’s first appearance. Epic Borg action. Etc. It’s good stuff. Really, watch any Seven-centric “Voyager” episode. Most of them are among the series’ best.
Enjoy! “Picard” premieres in the U.S. on CBS All Access on Jan. 23; on CTV Sci-Fi in Canada; and on Jan. 24 on Amazon Prime everywhere else.