Images courtesy of CBS and Paramount.

After two years, Star Trek: Picard returns for a second of three seasons, delving deeper into the life of Captain (now Admiral) Jean-Luc Picard. And what a two years it has been, not only in the real world, but in the fictional future of the early 25th century. Season One ended a few weeks after the start of the lockdowns from COVID-19 in the U.S. and was a welcome distraction for me and other Trekkies. While I was a little disappointed by the ending, if only from a visual effects perspective due to the crew being in lockdown, Season Two kicks off with a new adventure and sense of purpose. 

The Star Gazer” is the title of Season Two’s premiere. A fitting triple meaning for this episode as it’s the name of Picard’s first starship command before the Enterprise, the new USS Stargazer captained by the now redeemed Cristóbal “Chris” Rios, and a memory of Picard’s mother from his youth. 

Taking place at least a year and a half after the events of Season One, “The Star Gazer” catches the audience up on all of the main characters and how they come together once again for another adventure. Picard, now Chancellor of Starfleet Academy, reminisces with Laris after a successful harvest at Chateau Picard. Through the dialogue, we learn that her mate, Zhaban (who we saw last season) has passed away. Her and Picard almost share an intimate moment, before Picard stops himself. This is a major theme with the episode, and series, as a whole. Picard does not let many get close to him; his heart is always looking towards the stars.

At Starfleet Academy, Picard gives a rousing speech to new cadets, including the first fully Romulan cadet, Elnor. Last season, Elnor was Picard’s “bodyguard” of sorts called the Qowat Milat – a Romulan sect of warrior monks that devote themselves to lost causes. After the events of last season, Elnor followed in Picard’s footsteps guided by Commander Raffi Musiker. Formerly Picard’s assistant during the Mars attack of 2385, Raffi has rejoined Starfleet in the last year and is mentoring Elnor. 

A new anomaly in space appears near La Sirena, Rios’ former ship, now commanded by Seven of Nine. Starfleet has also detected the anomaly, which affects space-time, and sends the Stargazer to investigate. Along the way Rios picks up another familiar face, Dr. Agnes Jurati. She is now touring the galaxy with Soji Asha on a peace tour, to make sure others know that the synthetic lifeforms are peaceful and willing to join the Federation after last season’s events. I loved that we got to see them brokering peace with the Deltans, a race not seen since The Motion Picture and other Original Series movies.

With the Stargazer arriving at the anomaly, a signal is sent from its depths. Once decoded, a message appears as, “HELP US PICARD” and a request for membership into the Federation. Now, Picard is involved once again… 

There is a lot packed in this premiere, including the return of Whoopie Goldberg as Guinan, a centuries old El-Aurian and decades long confidant and friend to Jean-Luc Picard. Picard and Guinan’s conversation is the heart of this episode and solidifies the theme of the season. There’s also the return of two of Picard’s greatest nemeses, which you could probably guess from the trailers, Q and the Borg. 

The Borg has been neutered over the years in Star Trek, with Star Trek: Voyager’s finale, “Endgame”, giving them their greatest blow. It’s pretty much confirmed in this premiere that the Collective has been in shambles ever since that incident. “The Star Gazer” makes them a very terrifying threat once again, with a mystery and some new designs we haven’t seen before. 

Q’s return is only glimpsed in the final scene cliffhanger, but I was delighted with how they handled Q’s “aging” to match Jean-Luc. Q will be a recurring antagonist throughout the whole season, and I am excited as a viewer to explore his relationship with Picard in another one of his trials. 

Overall, I think “The Star Gazer” is a very effective, emotional premiere that does a decent job of naturally bringing everyone together after a year of being apart. While, a little bit convenient in places, it can also be assumed that Q or the Borg manipulated this convergence of characters. Whether through a space-time anomaly, god-like powers, or just plain fate, all the players are on the board for a new season. It doesn’t get more Star Trek than that.

On the production side, new to Picard executive producer and showrunner Terry Matalas returns from past stints on Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. “The Star Gazer” was directed by Doug Aarniokoski, co-producer of Picard season one. Other familiar names include production designer Dave Blass, Michael and Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler – among others – who helped craft the look of Star Trek in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Addressing complaints of last season lacking the “look” of the later 24th century, fans will appreciate all of the details throughout the episode. The attention to detail in the sets, props, writing, references and Easter eggs floored me. From all of the pictures lining the wall of the 10 Forward bar, to the slick yet familiar design evolution seen in the USS Stargazer – everything seemed to have greater care and respect to the past.

I will watch this episode a few more times to really soak everything in, but on first viewing I was delighted. The trial never ends… Star Trek: Picard is EFNcool.

Star Trek: Picard streams on Paramount+ in the United States (Thursdays), as well as CTV Sci Fi Channel and Crave in Canada. Internationally, the series is available on Amazon Prime Video. “The Star Gazer” premieres March 3rd in the U.S.