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Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery

The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character

I don’t usually review series premieres. With only one episode to go on, it’s hard to predict quality or pick winners. But with Picard, I made an exception because I had been anticipating the series for some time. I’m a big fan of Star Trek.

No, I’m not a trekkie and I couldn’t order an omelette with whole wheat toast in Klingon if I tried. But I do love good sci-fi and Star Trek exemplifies that.

What fascinates me most about the Star Trek universe is its vision of utopia. A universe governed by a federation of planets, species, and cultures sounds ideal. I would like to think that everyone desires peace. The difference, however, is that some people are pragmatists while others are realists. The pragmatists will do almost anything to achieve their vision of a one-world, one-system utopia. The realists, on the other hand, recognize the cost of such a vision and aren’t willing to compromise human freedom in order to achieve it.

At any rate, if you’re a fan of Star Trek, you probably have heard of Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). Picard (as the title would suggest) follows the adventures of the captain in his retirement.

For an opening premiere I was expecting the most attention-grabbing episode of the season. In some sense, that it what we got. The Michael Bay-style lens flares and the panoramic cinemascapes certainly pulled me into the excitement of sci-fi space epic artwork. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).

The episode does a good job of setting up the season. We are given a mystery (one related to another familiar character from Star Trek: The Next Generation), a cast of potential characters, and a peek into the questions this series will ponder.

Interestingly enough, the series will center around questions about artificial intelligence and synthetic life forms (a perfect trope for Sci-Fi Saturday). How it will be fleshed out in the coming episodes and seasons is still to be seen. I have a pretty good guess as to where the show might take artificial intelligence, but I’ll reserve judgement until after the season one finale.

Overall I’m excited for Picard. I’m excited to see more of the Star Trek universe, and I’m excited to see where this story takes us. Without having the rest of the season to go on, I can’t say if paying for a subscription to CBS All Access is worth it (see the Note below). However, if you have the patience and, unlike me, have yet to take advantage of the free 7-day trial, I’d say wait a bit and binge watch the first season when it has finished.

Note: The biggest downside for shows like Picard, in my opinion, is the CBS All Access paywall. If I were to find someone who was happy about their six- or ten- dollar a month CBS All Access subscription, I would be stunned. Why CBS continues to force a monthly subscription on its viewers is beyond me. Media consumers are already weighed down by the avalanche of streaming service options and subscriptions. With options like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+, and (I guess so) Netflix, there is no point in piling onto an already costly media bill. CBS, however, doesn’t really care; and I suppose I shouldn’t expect them to either.

Luckily for me (and you), CBS All Access does offer a free 7-day trial. While this means I won’t be able to continue watching the series after seven days, I was glad I got to see the premiere.

If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through the ones below as well for thoughts about films that might interest you— brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:

2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.

Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.

The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.

The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?

Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?

How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.

Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.

Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch

Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.

The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.

Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.

Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.

Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate  don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.

Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery