The only word to describe the San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Star Trek: Picard is: surprising. It’s surprising partly because so many of the twists are, of course, connected to nostalgia about Star Trek in general. But, no one could have predicted these twists because even though certain things in the trailer feel like fan service, the twists all seem to make sense. Look, to put it another way, we all knew he was going to say “Engage” in the trailer, but how could anyone have called that Data would be back and Seven of Nine would waltz in saying “What the hell are you doing out here Picard?” like she’s some kind of Starfleet hard-boiled detective? In some ways, the entire trailer scans like fan fiction, which, in a sense, it is. In the nineties, The Next Generation assimilated the culture, and now, here we are.
Still, what does any of this mean? The Picard trailer was a like a quick glimpse of a painting-in-progress on canvas, and then, just as we started to look at the brushwork, the curtain was closed ad we were asked to come back when the painting was finished. Where am I going with this painting analogy? Is it just a classy way of talking about Picard because the character is a classy guy? Maybe, but I think the only way to really get into the trailer is to think of it like a great painting that works on several levels. There are clearly layers to Star Trek: Picard, and in order to really talk about it, I think you have to look at those layers in isolation. Here’s the three big areas I think matter in this trailer: New Mystery Box Characters, TNG–Era nostalgia, and…the Borg.
The actual San Diego Comic-Con panel didn’t really give us too much information on the fairly sizeable cast of new characters in Star Trek: Picard. Here’s, briefly what we know. I’ll list the characters who are don’t know much about first.
Mystery Box Characters
Alison Pill is Dr. Agnes Jurati, a researcher “who’s confused with her place in the world.” In the trailer it looks like she’s got parts of Data in a drawer, very similar to the episode “Datalore” in TNG’s first season.
Michelle Hurd is Raffi Musiker, who wears a cool baseball cap and really seems like she dated Picard at some point, but that’s just a guess?
Evan Evagora is Elnor, a Romulan dude with a sword on his back who looks Zen as fuck. Cool!
Harry Treadaway is playing a different Romulan named Narek and he seems pissed about some stuff connected to seemingly the most important new character…
Isa Briones as Dahj. This woman is clearly the biggest deal of the new characters and basically the focus of of the whole trailer. Dahj comes to Picard for help saying “Everything inside of me says I am safe with you.” And then Picard goes to Starfleet and tries to tell them that she’s important. Later he says “If she is who I think she is…” But of course, the trailer doesn’t tell us who he thinks she is. This is mystery box 101, and in a way, the entire trailer makes Dahj out to be a lot like Eleven in Stranger Things or, you know, the Golden Child in The Golden Child. (Take your pick?) The point is, she has some kind of universe-destroying power, or at least that’s what is implied when Narek says “She has no idea what she truly is,” and then another Romulan (straight from central casting of Star Trek 2009) says “she’s the end of the everything…she’s the destroyer.”
Now, this character Dahj has a scar on her forehead, which, I’m guessing is because she had some Borg tech removed from her brain. We see a Borg cube in the trailer, and, at one point, it looks like there’s what looks like a prison scene — being patrolled by Romulans — with a sign that says “This facility has gone 5843 days without an assimilation.” So, this makes me think Romulans have rounded-up a bunch of rogue Borg or former Borg, and have kept they in some kind of prison. Why? I don’t know. But my guess is that maybe something has changed with the Borg that will make Picard really care about all of that again. And maybe, it’s connected to the idea that Picard’s best friend was an artificial lifeform. Which brings us very naturally to talking about the old stuff in the trailer.
The Next Generation Era Nostalgia
Though we barely see him, it looks like Johnathan Del Arco is the shirtless dude who is having his face de-Borged toward the end of the trailer. The Comic-Con panel 100 percent confirmed that Del Arco is reprising his role as Hugh, the Borg Drone from the episode “I, Borg” and the two-parter “Descent” on The Next Generation. Back then, though initially prejudiced, Picard hoped that Hugh’s individuality would destroy the hive-mind of the Borg collective, which, seemed to work, but only partially. In fact, in “Descent Part 2” Picard leaves Hugh in charge of a group of renegade Borg, who were previously being led by Data’s evil twin brother, Lore.
At this point, if we think that Dahj is maybe a former Borg drone, and Hugh is part of the action, then, yeah, it only make sense to bring in Seven of Nine, literally the only person (that we know of) who was a Borg Drone since she was a little girl and then became a Starfleet officer on Star Trek: Voyager. Bringing back Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine is very, slick, but if the entire storyline of Picard is all about Jean-Luc trying to protect Dahj from something Borgish, then having Seven invested in all of this makes sense. She’s been there. Also, her attitude in the trailer is obviously way different than her cold, almost Spock-ish persona on Voyager. Here, she’s basically like Picard’s drinking buddy, which makes you wonder how much other Trek characters could have changed in the roughly two decades since Nemesis ended. Small point: it’s also interesting that the last canonical appearance of Picard in Nemesis also had cameo from Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who was, of course Seven of Nine’s captain. The point? People like Star Trek: Voyager. A lot.
Anyway. What does all of this have to do with Data? Other than just bringing Data in because it’s neat, there has to be some kind of real story purpose for Data to be brought back to life. It’s unclear if Brent Spiner is being de-aged digitally in that final shot of the trailer or if the make-up is just amazing. Either way, the return of Picard AND Data is probably the biggest nostalgia play a sci-fi franchise can make right now. I mean, Picad and Data back together is basically like if Han Solo and Luke Skywalker get to somehow meet each other in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s chilling. Its iconic. But, based on what we see in this trailer, it makes sense.
If the themes of the show are all about artificial life and what is happening with artificial intelligence at the end of the 24th century, then it makes sense to have Data in the show. If the Borg are like the hosts in Westworld, then Data is like C-3PO or a walking Asimov robot. If Trek is poised to do a big story about artificial intelligence — by bringing back literally every Borg actor ever — then it has to represent the whole of the robot spectrum. And that means Data.
What’s Up with The Borg?
If Dahj is not some kind of escaped Borg Drone, or former Borg or somehow connected to the Borg, then I will really be surprised. But, because the trailer opens with her saying “Have you ever been a stranger to yourself?” it seems like she’s talking about being assimilated by the Borg. Other than Picard being an awesome leader of the Starship Enterprise, the craziest thing that happened to him on The Next Generation was when he was assimilated by the Borg; a time when he was certainly a stranger to himself. But, what if our perceptions of the Borg are about to change? Thinking back to the “prison” scene, why would there be an armed facility full of former-Borg drones with a sign that says “This facility has gone 5843 days without an assimilation?” That’s a long-ass time, almost the same amount of time in between Nemesis and the new series. Are the Romulans keeping the children of former Borg locked-up? Is Dahj one of those children? Does she — in some roundabout way — have the power to make the entire Borg collective better?
It seems like the most interesting route for the series to take would not be about the Borg all discovering their humanity, but perhaps, for Picard to accept the idea that the future of humanity isn’t actually human. Maybe Dahj is the next-step in some kind of Borg/Human hybrid! Which, of course, would be really scary for Starfleet, the Romulans and pretty much everyone. No one would accept it. Particularly, if there were like hundreds of other young people just like her. And the trailer makes it look like there just might be many other young former-Borg like her. Maybe.
If Star Trek: Picard is going to be a great Trek series, it needs to say something new about the future, and if that means the Borg are back in the mix, then it needs to say something new about artificial life. If Data is the past of artificial life, and Dahj is the future, perhaps Picard — with all of his Borg experience — is the middle. What all of that leads to isn’t clear, but because this is Star Trek, there’s no way this series is going to be down-in-the-dumps about technology and A.I. If anything, after Control tried to take over in Discovery, Star Trek will likely be ready to do a big story about the promise of A.I. rather than the perils. And, because the last scene in the trailer features the nicest A.I. in the history of science fiction, it seems that with Picard, the Trek franchise is boldly going where no robot show has gone before. We hope.
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