Why Star Trek: Picard Works Better as a Binge

As a Star Trek fan who’s been addicted to every series in the franchise since I was a wee little nerd, I was super excited on January 23, 2020, when the first episode of Star Trek: Picard landed on CBS All Access. Now that CBS All Access is becoming Paramount+ and has a lot more eyes on it (and a hell of a lot more shows and movies to watch), the time is right for this PSA: Picard is a show best served by binging.

Whether you watched it week by week when it aired or you’ve never seen it before but like the Star Trek franchise, sci-fi, or Patrick Stewart, I guarantee your binge is going to be rewarding. Here’s why.

The pressure on this show got in its own way

Yes, we already had a new incarnation of Star Trek (Star Trek: Discovery) by the time Picard came out. But Picard took fan expectations to a different level. Did these new writers and producers understand Jean-Luc Picard? Would they be respectful of how fans view him? (More important, would they understand how I, Laurie Ulster, view him?)

Did Patrick Stewart understand how revered his character is and can he resist the actor’s urge to mess with things too much just to try something new? Everything was under intense scrutiny by fans: the state of Starfleet, the worthiness of Picard’s companions, and the picture of the future being created. I was guilty of it myself. Everything was heavy, weighed down by expectations, hopes, and cautious concerns. I’m all for taking a character in a new direction, but would the direction be a logical extension of who he was? Or would it be someone’s vision of what Jean-Luc Picard in 2020 should be like, tied to “modern” sensibilities, and taint the character’s history—or make those of us who’ve looked up to Picard for all these years have to pretend this was all happening in an alternate timeline?

When I watched the show again a year later with all of that stuff out of the way — and next week’s episode at my fingertips — it stopped being so damned heavy, and I could enjoy it a lot more.

The mysteries are better when they’re less mysterious

One thing I’m not a fan of when it comes to the new batch of Star Trek shows are the season-long mysteries that get cluttered with details and always have the entire universe at stake. On Picard, they sprinkled clues in all season that didn’t connect until the end, by which time I’d forgotten many of them.

When I rewatched in a binge, I wasn’t preoccupied by guessing what things meant (and then not remembering them later), because all those random bits had something to attach themselves to. I tried to describe this phenomenon on the All Access Star Trek podcast, which I co-host: If I tell you I bought something wonderful that’s smooth and red and shiny, I could be talking about anything—a car, a pen, a ball … who knows? It might be fun to guess for a moment, but if I keep adding details to that description, it’s going to get a lot harder to retain them because you still won’t know what I’m talking about.

In a binge rewatch, those details added rich layers to the story and made a lot more sense … and some didn’t need to be mysteries at all. (I’m looking at you, Borg cube called the Artifact!)

And historically, the greatness of Star Trek is in its characters and its unique ideas, in the way it uses sci-fi and rich characters to reveal truths. Keeping all its cards close to its chest did not serve the show well, particularly when it came to the show’s villains, who are much more intriguing when we understand their motivation — even as we decry their methods.

Waiting for more each week was frustrating

There are many serialized shows I’m happy to watch one episode at a time, once a week. WandaVision. The Handmaid’s Tale. Game of Thrones. But Picard is not one of them, probably because each episode was trying to tell the current story as well as fill in the backstory of what had happened in the universe since Star Trek Nemesis ended 20 years before. That’s a lot of world building! Their slow burn was a little too slow, so watching an episode in a weekly vacuum didn’t help; some of those slow-burning flames got extinguished along the way. Binging picked up the pace, making those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink “last week on” promos unnecessary instead of surprising. (“Oh wait, THAT was important?”)

The characters developed better when their stories weren’t so spread out

The season gave us some wonderful guest stars from The Next Generation’s past. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis), and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) all turned up, to my gleeful joy. Brent Spiner played Data again as well as a new character, Altan Soong. But it also introduced some intriguing new ones, most notably Raffi (my favorite, played by Michelle Hurd), Rios (Santiago Cabrera), Jurati (Alison Pill), Soji (Isa Briones), and those awesome Romulans back at the Chateau Picard vineyards, Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane). (Sorry folks, the jury’s still out on Evan Evagora’s Elnor.)

Raffi and Rios had so much backstory they could have devoted entire episodes to them—although I’m glad they didn’t—and watching the season unfold in a binge gave me a deeper sense of who they were and what brought them to the point where we met them. Basically, I got to spend more time with them, which they deserved. One thing this creative has down: creating new compelling characters and hiring great actors to play them; it’s also my favorite thing about Star Trek: Discovery.

Does that mean the show is bad? No!

It’s just dense, that’s all. The producers called it a “10-hour movie” before it premiered, which is an apt description and why one episode at a time isn’t the best way to enjoy it. I recommend breaking it up into pieces:

  1. Start with the first three, which will get you from Picard’s vineyard to a ship, which of course is where we all want him to be. If that’s too much, do the first episode, then the next two together.
  2. After that, do episodes 4-6 to fill in a bunch of the story.*
  3. Slow down a bit and appreciate episode 7, “Nepenthe,” by itself. It deserves to stand on its own, especially for TNG
  4. Finish up with the last three—or if you’d like a bit of suspense, save the season finale for another week.

*One small warning: if you’re a Star Trek fan you’ll be surprised by some of the (in my opinion) unnecessarily explicit violence in a few episodes, particularly “Stardust City Rag” (Episode 5), which is far from the romp it pretended to be in the promos.

Now go forth and binge! My initial memory of the show was that the episodes felt very long, but when I rewatched, they were over in an instant and I was excited to jump to the next one. Make it so.

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