Our Seven Essential Picard Episodes from Star Trek: TNG

There Are Four Lights . . .

Here at scifipulse it’s fair to say we’re pumped for the imminent arrival of Picard. With Patrick Stewart  again taking up the mantle of showing audiences just how strong a character Captain Jean Luc Picard truly is, we look back at seven (one from each season) of the episodes that first gave us insight into him, helped to establish his legend, and outlined the way he differed from Kirk. These episodes are all revealing, in their own unique ways. It will be fascinating to see if any of the issues are still present and if they’ve manifested into something more . . .

Encounter at Far Point

This episode is crucial in documenting the journey of Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), laying out multiple branches that his character arc will take, over the duration of seven series of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first examples of Picard differing greatly from Kirk’s gung-ho attitude are seen here. A much more emotionally centred and cerebral screen presence is the new formula for Star Fleet’s head of its flagship.

Q as both series species and the individual representative is also established here. Picard becomes the voice of humanity, as he alone must answer the charges that they are a primitive and savage race, destined to fail due to their inherent lack of intelligence and ability to be anything more than meddlers in affairs. The charge is that they have no sense of understanding about consequences and the impact of exploration, in relation to the wider implications of the larger universe. The very right to seek out that which is non-human is challenged; Picard shows that he up to the task, by utilizing the most powerful weapon he has, the thing that sets him apart from others: uncompromising humanity. Compassion, zeal, a willingness to face odds that are seemingly unsurmountable are all shown by him. Perhaps, this is best defined overall as a show of courage and a refusal to bow down to bullies.

Something else that occurs during this episode is an introduction to a much more personal side of the show’s major character. Picard reveals that he has great difficulty in being around children, as they make him feel inadequate. He tells Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) that he must always be made to appear congenial. This trait is a recurring theme in the series and an important one that builds flaws for the character, that he must work to overcome. If Picard as a leader is anything then it’s an example of how we are all a work in progress. He shows us that if it is wisdom that we must come to rely on if we are to truly learn more about ourselves, then we must take the painful and difficult path to get there. There can be no shortcuts. This is another defining aspect of Picard and will surely surface in some way during the new series.

Measure of a Man

The backstory of Captain Picard continues to be explored in this episode. His past on the U.S.S. Stargazer is referenced as he encounters Captain Philippa Louvois, the person responsible for his court-martial enquiry. The Enterprise is visiting a new starbase she is in command of, and is there for routine maintenance. There are hints of Captain Louvois also being someone who Picard was romantically involved with. This “ghost” of his past is in charge of the new facility.

Meanwhile, Commander Data (Brent Spiner) has become the obsession of Commander Bruce Maddox, who wishes to disassemble him, so he can potentially recreate multiple versions. Picard objects to this and demands that his superiors immediately declare any attempt to do so illegal. Maddox objects and insists that Data is the property of Starfleet. Picard is told that all Data can do in order to stop this is to resign his commission. Again, Maddox states that as Data is not a sentient being, he should not stand in the way of being used for research. Picard requests a trial, to ascertain the status of Data. As they are limited in numbers because the base is new, the only option is that Riker must make the case for Data being owned by Starfleet, acting as prosecutor, whilst Picard maintain that data should have free-will, taking the role of Defence Counsel. The alternative is that Louvois rules against Data and Maddox can begin his work.

Riker, stating his case, makes a powerful argument for Data being nothing more than a collection of prosthetics and circuitry, essentially comparing him to modern version of a puppet that is the design of humans, and therefore the property of Starfleet, like the ship’s computer and other technology. Louvois is taken in by this. Picard realizes the lengths he must now go to in order to prevent Data from being assigned as owned. He talks with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who reminds him of a great many civilizations once condoning slavery.

The next day as he lays out his case, Picard delves into what makes any of us human, and who gets to decide the extents of freedoms and why. Whilst he cannot prove that Data is sentient in the sense human are consider to be, he does successfully show that there is no way that he can be shown not to be. Fortunately, this is enough and Data is granted the right to decline Maddox. A Picard that will go all out to defend those whom he cares for is shown. His belief in the vital significance of the individual is also heavily expressed. When it comes to the downtrodden, underdogs or any person/race being treated unfairly Picard shows he will not stand for anything other than justice. This is an important episode in terms of further establishing and cementing Picard’s status as the moral voice of The Federation and eternally and fiercely loyal to any member of his crew that comes under threat.


Best of Both Worlds Part I&II

Most definitely essential viewing. It’s here that Picard is faced with losing his most valued weapon: his humanity. The very ability to spread a sense of moral purpose throughout the galaxy is removed, by a foe so deadly that for many there is no recovery. Of course, he is saved. There are lasting repercussions though, and suggestions that he will never be quite the same again.

When Picard is assimilated, it’s only when viewers see him utterly removed from his usual persona of violence as a last resort, and so against the use of unnecessary force that they truly realize what is lost. The very thing that makes Captain Picard the hero with the moral compass firmly pointing in the right way is removed. His humanity. The individuality that he values so fiercely, has made many a sacrifice to maintain, is taken from him. His assimilation is very much considered a death, in some ways. The Borg take the beating heart of the Federation and possibly the prime example of all that makes humanity what it is, and lay ruin to it.

Following his rescue, and miraculous “un-assimilating”, by Doctor Crusher, there are many more lasting scars than the visible changes made to Picard’s anatomy. During his time as the Borg, Locutus, complete submergence to the Borg hive mind was occurred. Memories of past actions, the cold and calculated destruction of entire and vast swathes of civilisations were uploaded. For anyone this would be truly horrific, but for someone who wishes to continue exploration through the Universe, as the head of a ship with hundreds of lives on board, it’s unthinkable. This incident is absolutely pivotal in so much of who Picard will become, because of it.

The future of the character of Jean Luc Picard cannot wholly be seen to stem from here; what can be said is that the fact Picard can, and does, return from this, only proves further that resilience is amongst his most powerful tools. A massive part of this is due to Picard never fully coming to terms with things. He remains scared, and that’s what ultimately keeps his decisions truly human, and him as incapable of ever being reduced to less than the pure-hearted (alright, it’s plastic – or whatever material has replaced it– that too might pop up again in Picard) hero he is, and is so well-loved because of that.


After the horrors of assimilation, Picard returns to his childhood home, where he visits his brother, his brother’s wife and his nephew. Picard famously refuses shore leave and often works for extended periods, to do so. That he does take leave means he absolutely requires it. he had who he is deleted. What is displayed is a man on the edge of losing his sanity. The episode deals with the effects of war, despite it being a sci-fi show. The best science fiction is always concerned with human nature. The Picard we see here is in the stage of grief which means he is denying what has happened. he simply can’t face up to the full extent of what has happened.

Looking back at his childhood and hearing him talk of where he came from, the memories that made him who he was, helps to show what has been taken from him. Viewers get to see what might have been, if he had chosen to live a life such as his brother has. There is very much a sense that whatever may be there in the stars, to wonder at and be pulled towards, ultimately, it’s his home that tethers him to the past. It’s as if what has been lost is attempting to be regained, like a physical item that has been mislaid. Of course, it isn’t as simple as this. All the while, Picard must deal with his hostile brother, who seems unmoved by the events. What is revealed is that truly the opposite is, in fact, taking place. His brother is pushing him to have to admit how awful things really are for him, internally. The result is an emotional exchange, that shows just how terrified Picard is, and how ill-equipped he is to cope.

At the end of the episode, a Picard emerges that knows he must start at the beginning again, if he is to stand any chance of maintaining his sanity. This landmark change only serves as further evidence that whatever doesn’t kill Picard really does make him stronger. It’s as if somehow his inner strength is able to become fuller. Far from losing his humanity, he begins to truly value the very thing that makes it what it is: the ability to withstand adversity. He must grow even further than he ever thought he could. No doubt, even if they aren’t directly referenced or used as a story arc, this aspect will be present in Picard in at least some way. It can’t really be.

The Inner Light

After they discover an old space probe, Picard suddenly and inexplicably collapses. He had lost consciousness. He “awakes” in a strange place, on a sort of proto-industrial planet. There are others, who know him. He has a wife. At first, he questions this, and demands that he be returned to the Enterprise. As his time there goes on, he begins to experience the passage of time, as if he is truly there. His lives out the marriage, and finds he is happy with that life. All of this shows a great deal of what Picard truly craves, but knows he cannot have that and the life of a senior Star Fleet Officer. This is a brilliant way to get a grasp of what his life could have been. Perhaps, in the new series, Picard (2019), this depiction of repressed regret will be again explored.

When he finally wakes up from his being unconscious, the many memories are still intact. Picard is not so much changed, as just further enriched. The question is never asked as to why it was Picard that was picked. It doesn’t need to be. Who else would it be? This episode shows so well the inner mechanics of a character that has a deep reverence for simpler things. Picard keeps copies of ancient books and maintains that there’s a deep dignity in the mere act of living.

Looking forward to Picard it’s hard to see how this plot-line will play a major role, unlike some others (the Borg and Q, potentially); however, the essence of who Picard is will not have changed. Though he might have undergone further developments in his personality, the absolute decency and ocean deep soul he proudly possesses will almost certainly be evident, just as it was here


Chain of Command Part I&II

Part 1 shows further how willing Picard is to carry out orders according to the needs and requirements of Star Fleet. Despite having his ship taken from him, he carries out what he’s been charged to do; his stolid response at being separated from what is far more than just his colleagues shows how committed to the cause he is. He sets an example of how to respond but does find that he is far from objective when it comes to defending Riker, and his methods. This shows how by now the crew has in many ways become extensions of the Captain’s personality, but also that they have chosen to adopt his attitudes and behaviors. In seeing the didactic Captain Jelico, the style that Picard leads in is clear. That he’s so well trusted, respected and loved shines through. The crew begins to miss him sorely and mourn his removal.

Towards what should be the end of the secret mission on Cardassian soil, at a secret military location, Picard is separated from Dr. Crusher and Lt. Worf, who was accompanying him in an attempt to thwart a particularly nasty and deadly weapon, that is capable of wiping out entire species of a planet. The first episode ends when Picard is confronted by Cardassian guards. He is bound and then told that he asked to answer questions, and if the answers aren’t satisfactory then he will die . . .

During the second part of this episode, the true extent of Picard’s resolve is tested. He undergoes torture, by multiple methods. Pain receptors are placed within his skin, and the control unit that his tormentor possesses can inflict instant agony. He is starved and deprived of sleep. During his interrogation, he is asked how many lights he sees above his head, on a unit that’s beaming them. There are four, but the interrogator wants him to say there are five. Picard will not break and wins the battle of wills, despite the fact that his determination results in reprisals, by way of more pain, that increases in intensity with each dose.

Aboard the Enterprise Riker is concerned that Jelico doesn’t seem to be concerned that Picard may be at risk. Eventually, Jelico does get the better of the Cardassians, and Picard is released. Just before he leaves the compound he is offered a barter His life for Dr. Crusher. Picard again shows he would never put himself first, agreeing to stay, if she is safe (it’s a lie, but Picard has no real way of knowing that). As he leaves, he exclaims he will not be bullied into submission, screaming “There are four lights”, dramatically showing a final mental resilience. Back aboard, he begins to recount the horrors to Counsellor Troi.

All Good Things

After seven years (a series roughly correlates to a year, going from the show’s own references to past events) of traveling the far reaches of the Universe, Picard has learned to know when something is up. He begins to feel that he is slipping through time. As he views various past and future scenarios, he is aware of the fact he is. Along the way are his trusted friends, but a varied version of them, at different points of a possible future. One thing that’s constant is that they all have a deep respect for their beloved Captain, and trusted friend. It’s not clear why this is happening until it’s made clear, by someone else who is also an old friend, but all too often one that isn’t the typical sort; nor does he have any qualms in causing agitations or seeing the crew of the Enterprise struggle.

Q. A foe that is near-omnipotent, meaning that whenever they face-off, Picard is left with his guile and guts as the only defense. Fortunately, these attributes are enough to have gotten him and the crew out of many tricky scenarios. This one though is something very different altogether. In many ways, Picard is facing himself, and Q is simply showing what terrible errors humanity is capable of making, and the disastrous consequences that may come about, because of them. Once more, Picard becomes the face that represents all of humanity; a champion of courage and one willing to sacrifice whatever it is that requires sacrifice.

The final scenes of the episode see the Captain (who, over three timelines, averts the accidental obliteration of humanity – all in a day’s work!) finally take up a seat as a poker player at the weekly game, normally held in Riker’s quarters. What is noteworthy is that he is told he has always been welcome. That he hasn’t come has been a display of his commitment to command (the need to maintain a certain distance from his subordinates); that he does now shows that above all else, this crew are his friends. With many of the original TNG cast onboard (some perhaps more for cameos roles, mostly) it will be interesting to see how Picard shows relationships have developed, and what it will be like to regroup. If there’s one thing that Captain Jean Luc Picard can always rely on it’s his friends. It will be interesting to see if John de Lance’s Q does show up in Picard.

Those are the seven episodes that show you who Picard is, who he could be and the way he might become that. Do you agree? Either way, get involved and have your say, it’s always fun to “engage”. Watch out for further articles detailing the development of Captain Jean Luc Picard, over the years.

‘Star Trek: Picard’ begins its run on CBS All Access on Thursday 23 January and will premier on Amazon Prime on Friday.

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