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'Star Trek: Picard' season 2 explodes onto our screens with a phenomenal first episode

Picard faces the end of the road not taken in the "Star Trek: Picard" Season 2, episode 1 "The Star Gazer"
Picard faces the end of the road not taken in the "Star Trek: Picard" Season 2, episode 1 "The Star Gazer" (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Star Trek: Picard" Season 2, episode 1

It's been just two weeks short of two years since we last got to see Jean-Luc Picard in action on the Paramount Plus series "Star Trek: Picard" and the first season gave us plenty to talk about, some of it good and some of it bad. The Borg drone salvation story was sensational, right up until Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) was unceremoniously executed two-thirds of the way through the first season. Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) steals every single scene he's in and the whole hologram thing was a masterstroke. Plus, we learned Riker (Jonathan Frakes) can't make pizza, we saw Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) seek revenge and Soji (Isa Briones) face a Romulan Rubik's cube.

Related: The 'Star Trek: Picard' Season 1 finale is both amazing and awful

And then there was the season finale. You were shell-shocked for sure, and after that, probably left feeling more than a little disappointed, maybe even angry, but almost certainly wondering how much the producers on this show get paid. Needless to say, it was absurd and poorly written. After you'd finished counting quite how many times General Oh said, "Prepare to fire," without actually firing we had to watch as Jean-Luc Picard's consciousness was downloaded into a synthetic body. (Feeling lost? If you need a refresher on season 1, check out our Star Trek: Picard streaming guide to catch up.)

That left us thinking every single element of Jean-Luc is potentially enhanced: super-speed, super-strength, super-intelligence, but no, the ridiculous solution to the nonsensical situation the showrunners put themselves in was… "I knew you wouldn't want to adjust to something new, not after 94 years in the same body," Soong says, conveniently explaining away that enormous issue.

The Sunstone Vineyards and Winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley doubles as the Picard vineyard

The Sunstone Vineyards and Winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley doubles as the Picard vineyard (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

But, it turns out the writers, directors, executive producers and showrunners have chosen not to press forward with this particular story line and thank The Maker, to borrow a phrase from Londo Mollari. So, already, it seems this new season of "Picard" has potential. And as you'll probably know by now, this first episode goes a lot further than that. It's like everything that was awful has genuinely been looked at, thought about and consequently either changed, removed or rewritten. This first episode of the second season of "Picard" is up there with some of the best "Trek" that's been made for television.

Related: 'Star Trek: Picard' won't 'press forward' with the synthetic storyline

The entirely different approach is evident within the first few seconds; instead a dreamy opening sequence with Data and Picard playing cards aboard the USS Enterprise-D, we dive straight in, hell-for-leather, into a red alert situation – clearly the crew of an as-yet unknown starship is having to repel a deadly incursion. The whole "How did it all come to this you ask?" about-to-die-flashback could be considered a borderline cliché, it depends very much on how it's handled – and this is handled very well indeed.

From the opening close up of the instantly recognizable red alert icon to the inspired few seconds of calm, fear and anticipation of three Starfleet officers riding the turbolift to the front line, which in this case is the bridge, where a quickly exit is followed by a desperate fight back before they're stunned by a barrage of disrupter fire…is as far removed from last season's opening episode as you can possibly get.

Find someone who looks at you the same way Laris (Orla Brady) looks at Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart)

Find someone who looks at you the same way Laris (Orla Brady) looks at Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

We soon see that an unusual-looking Borg Queen is responsible and only Picard (Patrick Stewart), Rios, Seven and Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) remain alive on the bridge. Naturally Picard takes the only remaining option and orders the self-destruct. It's a thrilling pre-credit set piece and that in turn is followed by the credits sequence where both the score and the visuals have been tweaked slightly from last season. 

Throughout the first season, Château Picard was always beautifully photographed and this second season is no different. Jean-Luc is supervising the harvesting of the grapes along with Laris (Orla Brady), who returns from last season. Her former partner, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) has not returned however and we learn that some after his final appearance, when the Tal Shiar spec ops team assaults the château in "The End is the Beginning" (S01, E03) he died. Between these events and the label on the new wine, it's clear that about 18 months have passed since the end of the first season. Laris meanwhile, has become attracted to Picard; a feeling that he doesn't reciprocate.

This is really our only grumble about this episode and it's a minor one as it just feels like it jars slightly. Needless to say, this incomplete courtship causes some tension between the two. We're even willing to look past the token reminder of 25th century technology as we see the grapes are no longer picked from the vine, they're beamed. Through flashback, we're treated to scenes from Jean-Luc's childhood and his mother, Yvette (Madeline Wise). Evidently, "Oliver Twist" was all the rage in terms of children's fashion in the early 24th century. We don't know a lot about Jean-Luc's parents, but it's clear life was far from rosy growing up in the Picard family.

Related: Seven of Nine grapples with her humanity in 'Star Trek: Picard' Season 2

Looking north over the Golden Gate to Horseshoe Bay. No need for flood defenses in the 25th Century

Looking north over the Golden Gate to Horseshoe Bay. No need for flood defenses in the 25th Century (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Yvette Gessard-Picard has been mentioned from time to time in "Star Trek" but only in "The Next Generation" episode "Where No One Has Gone Before" (S01, E06) has she been played by an actor (Herta Ware in that instance). Meanwhile, far off in deep space, the USS Avalon detects a strange spatial anomaly. Yes, another one.

We cut to the next day at Starfleet Academy as Picard, gives a stirring speech to the young cadets and welcomes Elnor (Evan Evagora) the first fully Romulan cadet to enroll at the Academy. There have been other Starfleet cadets who had Romulan heritage, Lt. Saavik was written as half-Romulan/half-Vulcan in "The Wrath of Khan" novelization and Crewman Tarses was a half-human/half-Romulan Starfleet officer who served aboard the USS Enterprise-D seen in "The Drumhead" (S04, E21).

Next up we get to see what Seven's been up to and it doesn't disappoint. Naturally, she's in deep space and deep into a fight, but this time it's with pirates aboard La Sirena, but with the assistance of Emmet, one of Rios' holograms, she's able to take them out. It's then that Emmets reports he's detected a spatial distortion with tachyon fluctuations and a large spike in Hawking radiation.

Related: 'Star Trek: Picard' Season 2 is going to be a wild, time-traveling ride

The return of the USS Stargazer is a welcome one, but it could have been made more of a surprise

The return of the USS Stargazer is a welcome one, but it could have been made more of a surprise (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

On the planet Raritan IV in the Beta Quadrant, Soji is at a diplomatic function along with Jurati, who is a little bit drunk, but during a brief conversation with a random stranger and mostly through the power of exposition, she helpfully explains that she'd been cleared of murdering her previous boyfriend under alien-induced psychosis. So that's cleared that up. Leaving Soji behind, Jurati beams aboard a starship under the command of Captain Cristóbal Rios, who clearly has been persuaded to rejoin Starfleet in the elapsed time between the Season 1 finale and now. But not only that…but as the camera cuts to the exterior of the vessel, we see that it's the USS Stargazer!

Star Trek Captain Couture: Picard's 15 Most Memorable TNG Outfits

Prior to the official airdate, members of the media had a chance to watch this season opener in advance, so the fact that it was the Stargazer came as a complete surprise…and it was glorious! Sadly, in the promotional build up to this episode, images of the Stargazer were officially released, so the surprise wasn't anywhere near as impactful, which is a shame. And a wasted opportunity.

An earlier Constellation class Starfleet ship called the USS Stargazer was Jean-Luc Picard's very first command and features prominently in his history and throughout "The Next Generation." Thankfully, this new 25th century vessel does not have the same registry number with a letter added (you know, like what happened to the USS Discovery) no, this is the NCC 82893. We can see in the observation lounge models of three ships: the Radiant-class Stargazer, Picard's Constellation-class Stargazer and Rios' Sagan-class ship.

This is the starship I want to work on. Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) is a natural starship captain (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Back at Starfleet, we get a chance to catch up with Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) as Elnor heads out to his assigned starship, the USS Excelsior. She and Picard talk and he casually drops in a not-even-subtle-throwback that he's considering an update to the Kobayashi Maru scenario, now he's been appointed chancellor of Starfleet Academy. However, there is a touching moment where Picard talks a little about Ambassador Spock as he gives Elnor a leaving present and some precious words of advice as he departs.

Related: Picard's 10 greatest moments from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

Meanwhile, the current Stargazer arrives at the anomaly. Seven arrives shortly after in La Sirena and there's some entertaining banter over who the ship actually belongs to now at which point there's a massive burst of static sounds over the communications channel and even while still drunk, Jurati is able to figure out the cause — it's not one language, but several, all pleading for help, all saying the same thing, "Help us, Picard."

Jean-Luc travels to Los Angeles, entering a bar at address number 10, Forward Avenue, Historic District. And who else could possibly be tending bar in "Star Trek"..? It's Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) reprising her role from "The Next Generation." It's a nice set piece and I do love how Jean-Luc goes around giving all his friends really good bottles of wine from his vineyard. We should all be so lucky to have friends like that. In return, she gives him a pep-talk about relationships and priorities and all the stuff bartenders are good at giving advice on. (Inside the bar, there's all sorts of references to previous "Star Trek" from the bottles of alcohol on the bar to the neon signs on the wall.)

Picard returns to the vineyard to find Fleet Admiral Sally Whitley (April Grace) already there. She briefs on the situation and he leaves via shuttlecraft to rendezvous with the Stargazer, much to the disappointment of Laris. Once all the pleasantries are out of the way and the band is almost all back together, they attempt to open communications with whatever is on the other side of the rift in space. Suddenly a ship emerges and it's clear it is Borg in origin.

Related: Seven of Nine gets long overdue closure in 'Star Trek: Picard' episode 5

An impressive fleet of Federation starships now surround the anomaly and so much more care has gone into this, sending spaceship nerds, like me, into a frenzy. Especially when you think of the fleet of hundreds of identical starships that gathered at the planet Coppelius in the first season finale. The Queen beams aboard and starts to take control of the Stargazer and Picard once again, orders the self-destruct.

It is of course then, that he unexpectedly finds himself still alive and in a place that's familiar and different at the same time. He is back at the Château Picard…and so is Q (John de Lancie). "Mon capitaine, how I've missed you," he purrs. "Welcome to the very end of the road not taken." 

New Q. The irksome omnipotent entity must have access to some pretty effective revitalizing cream

New Q. The irksome omnipotent entity must have access to some pretty effective revitalizing cream (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

There are Easter eggs aplenty in this episode even in addition to the ones we've mentioned: Seven's belt buckle features the emblem of the Fenris Rangers, a old bottle of Chateau La Barre with a familiar label pops up, plus a number of Starfleet starships, including the Akira class USS Thunderchild (itself a reference to "The War of the Worlds") — plus four from the game "Star Trek Online" (Ross class, Sutherland class, Gagarin class and Reliant class advanced light cruiser) — have now officially been introduced to canon. In fact, a small number of dedicated fans of all things Starfleet have impressively analyzed this episode and together with "Star Trek: Picard" production designer Dave Blass, have put together a list of all the Federation starships that engage the Borg ship.

This is not only one of the best episodes of "Star Trek: Picard" but it's also one of the best episodes of "Star Trek" — certainly worthy of a top 20 inclusion (don't forget, there are a lot of episodes of "Star Trek"). The weaknesses of last series have clearly been addressed and tidied up, ready to move forward. The cinematography is exceptional and it's well directed, book-ending the episode beautifully with the attack on the Stargazer. Aside from John de Lancie's deaging and the love interest with Laris, this is pretty much faultless and an enjoyable and welcome example of what makes "Star Trek" so great.

Rating: 8½ /10

The premiere episode of "Star Trek: Picard" is now available to watch on Paramount Plus and the premiere season of "Strange New Worlds" begins on May 5. The first 11 episodes of Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" are available to watch now on Paramount Plus in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.

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When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset ... as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space. You can follow Scott on Twitter @LorumIpsum.