This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers for Season 1, and spoilers for Stranger Things Season 2.
When Stranger Things Season 2 hit Netflix in 2017, I learned to hate the binge-model. Before I could catch my breath, I was already aware that it would take the entire season for Eleven to reunite with the boys, and I felt heartbroken. I didn’t mind the spoilers, I was just more frustrated that there wasn’t time to process all the twists and turns. From that point on (and maybe before) I rebelled, sometimes loudly, against the Netflix binge-model. For the most part, my cries for a more traditional release schedule were somehow heard. I mean, you can’t imagine either season of The Mandalorian dropping all at once. Similarly, Star Trek: Discovery certainty benefits from the weekly episode drop, giving fans plenty to talk about and think about until the next week.
But. As much as I want every Netflix show (i.e. Lost In Space) to walk-back the binge model, and release episodes more like Discovery or The Mandalorian, the one big show that could have actually benefited from the binge-model is Star Trek: Picard. Now that Season 1 is on Blu-ray, in both the U.S. and the U.K., it’s very clear this show is made for the binge model. And, I’d argue, that the fact that this Trek was released week-by-week actually hurt some of the show’s initial buzz.
When you watch Picard back-to-back, nothing about the show seems slow. In fact, the narrative of Picard — relative to other newer Treks or other new sci-fi shows — is super-tight. In just ten episodes, the series managed to introduce an entirely new crew, solve every single mystery the show teased, create a ton of new mythology, and spin a last-minute twist with Jean-Luc Picard himself. (Spoiler alert: He’s a robot now.)
But in those early days of the show actually coming out, the reactions from the fandom were all over the place. I remember friends saying the show seemed “slow” and that each episode wasn’t delivering enough to keep them going into the next one. While I don’t agree that Picard is any “slower” than certain aspects of The Next Generation (I mean have you watched “Family” lately? How about “The Measure of a Man?”), I do agree that the first episode of Picard alone might not have been enough for the debut episode. The cliffhanger involving Dahj’s death and the last-minute revelation that her twin is living with the Romulans on a BORG ship is kind of a lot to deal with for an entire week. As someone who works in the press, I saw the first three episodes of Picard before it came out, so, I actually oddly conflated everything that happens in the first three episodes as the “beginning.”
And, when you watch it all at once on Blu-ray, it becomes readily apparent that this was kind of how it was made. Hanelle Culpepper directed the first three episodes, which, when rewatched like this, really do constitute one big episode. Jean-Luc doesn’t even leave Earth until the very end of “The End Is the Beginning,” and then, with “Absolute Candor” and “Stardust City Rag,” things start to get a lot more hard-edged, thanks to the kinetic direction of Jonathan Frakes. But, had the series begun with the style of those episodes the series wouldn’t have worked, meaning, Picard needed that patient and introspective cinematic style of Culpepper to kick things off, and then, needed that Frakes First Contact-ish action to take things to the next level.
And, by “Stardust City Rag,” you’re already halfway through! In this way, Picard Season 1 scans like a short novella. Just when you think you’re done with the set-up, you realize you’re actually racing toward the climax. For my money, this rapid, slightly pulpy style reminds me of reading a Philip K. Dick novel, in a good way. At a certain point around “The Impossible Box,” the plot only pauses once, when Picard and Soji visit Riker and Troi in “Nepenthe.” Other than that, once the dominos start falling, everything in Picard Season 1 matters. This isn’t a knock against Discovery Season 3, but there are a lot of secondary characters. With Picard Season 1, it feels like there are zero secondary characters, other than, I dunno, maybe Narek’s aunt and Admiral “Fucking Hubris” Clancy. Everybody else in the regular “crew” goes on a journey, with their story fully told within the constraints of the season.
Some might say the ending of Picard Season 1 is a bit rushed, and while again, I hear that, it also ends without leaving any real loose ends. Again, considering the show was basically starting from scratch with a bunch of new characters, and basically a new backstory for Jean-Luc, the fact that Season 1 has a definitive ending is a testament to how well the show is actually crafted. Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and Akiva Goldsman clearly buckled-down to make the overall story of this season be as airtight as possible. And, when you rewatch it, save for a few quibbles, you’ll notice that nearly every episode and scene has a purpose. Nothing is wasted.
Picard Season 1 might not have been the biggest, boldest, or even innovative new science fiction series of 2020. But, if you’re looking for something that feels like a self-contained science-fiction story (with some very familiar characters) binging the first season now is super-satisfying. In a world of cliffhangers and constant mystery boxes that can last for several seasons, Picard is refreshing because it tells one story, with a beginning, mild, and end. It’s old-fashioned that way, but clearly, perfect for binging. Engage!
Picard Season 1 is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download & Keep for UK fans.