Star Trek: Picard’s second season could benefit greatly from a mild format change, switching to a more episodic style of storytelling like TNG.
Star Trek: Picard should make a course correction for season 2 by embracing the episodic storytelling style of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first season of the CBS All Access series took the legendary Jean-Luc Picard in some surprising new directions, some of which worked better than others. Picard was most often dinged by critics and fans for its deliberately slow pace. Season 1’s pacing was something of a double edged sword; the meandering scenes on Picard’s French chateau feel vital, though it felt like the show was often checking in on Soji on the Borg cube simply so audiences would remember she existed.
This is not a format flaw unique to Star Trek: Picard. Heavily serialized, decompressed storyline is TV’s current default mode. It wasn’t always like this. In the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the format was far more episodic, with each installment telling more or less a complete story and returning to the basic status quo by episode’s end. The vast majority of TV in the 20th century was made that way, so as to be a better fit for syndication packages. But in the age of sometimes overwhelming streaming content, the best hook has proven to be the cliffhanger, resulting in TV producers and creatives thinking of seasons in terms of novels rather than episodes.
Both approaches are completely worthwhile, even for Star Trek; Star Trek: Discovery’s second season got some good mileage out of its ongoing Red Angel mystery, for example. But Star Trek – and in particular Picard – needs to be able to tell more, different kinds of stories than season 1 was capable of. If the show’s inaugural season was something of one long “getting the band together” introduction, then season 2 needs to see Picard’s assembled crew deal with as many moral parables as it can muster, keeping the promise made by Picard and the La Sirena crew confidently flying off to new adventures in the season’s final moments.
Picard’s new lease on life should be all the motivation he needs to see as much of the galaxy as he can through new eyes. There’s something incredibly vulnerable about seeing a much older version of Stewart’s venerable captain of the Enterprise, even if the man himself didn’t seem particularly impaired by the ravages of time. His new, android body somehow makes that sense of fragility all the more palpable, and testing the limits of what Picard is still capable of as a man in as many scenarios as possible feels like a mission.
There’s plenty of relevant precedent for a more episodic format. The Witcher had great success largely eschewing a tight novelistic structure in its first season; Doctor Who has deftly balanced season-long threats with standalone episodes for years; and yes, the newly announced Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will see the crew of Captain Christopher Pike’s Enterprise take on a more “mission of the week” type format.
Star Trek is built for hard times; it gives us characters like Jean-Luc Picard as examples of virtue that we have to strive to live up to. Star Trek: Picard’s first season was perhaps too inward-looking to fully grapple with the very ideals it stands for, ideals that are currently under attack in American society. That first season reaffirmed who Jean-Luc Picard is – now it’s time for him to go see as much of the galaxy as he can, with a renewed purpose and spirit, defending the intellectual curiosity and progressive idealism that defines the best of Star Trek.
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