I’m not sure it was the intended takeaway, but my favorite thing about Star Trek: Picard now that the first season is done really might be the way that it underscores the importance of aging to the franchise.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t an upside to the rest of the show — I like the new cast fine, even if they mostly weren’t given anything to do beyond circle around Patrick Stewart and chew on the one piece of character they were each given, and there was something in the not-entirely-thought-through central plot, even if it fell apart if you thought about it too long — but it’s no accident that the highlight of the series for me was watching Old Man Picard visit Old Riker and Old Troi, and just getting to watch the three play off each other for the majority of the episode, with the two junior officers not falling for their old boss’s bullshit the way the new cast — the way the show itself — did.
Thinking about why that one particular episode made me so happy, I first went to the fact that, fuck it; I’m thirty years older than I was when Next Generation was airing, so I appreciated the sight of old favorites aging and becoming parents. The more I thought about it, though, the more I went back to the fact that, somewhere along the line, Star Trek became a story in part about getting older.
The movies, of course, are hugely responsible for this in part: we all made jokes about William Shatner’s corset or his toupee, but the fact remains that we followed the original cast from their youthful peak through old age, continuing to do their jobs and save the galaxy the entire time. The Trek movies expanded the idea of what a space hero looked like, even accidentally, by keeping the cast in their roles through retirement age.
And then, the subsequent series, through necessity, introduced younger casts but used nostalgia to return to even older versions of the originals. We saw old McCoy, old Spock, old Scotty, eventually old Kirk…! Just think of the subtitle of that second series: The Next Generation. Star Trek had become a generational saga.
It’s a minor theme, of course; that whole seeking out new worlds, new life forms, thing still rules, as does the importance of curiosity and optimism over small mindedness and nativism. Nonetheless, accepting — embracing — the aging process is in the Trek DNA, and it’s there that where Picard really worked.