Star Trek: Picard Turns Starfleet Into The Villains
Caution: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard
Star Trek: Picard has recast the usually heroic Starfleet into a more suspect and villainous organization. Picking up the action 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard is an aging former admiral living on his family's vineyard in France with two Romulan assistants he rescued while still on active duty. Unfortunately, Picard's well-deserved retirement isn't an especially peaceful one. The former Enterprise captain is haunted by past regrets and the death of his dear friend, the synthetic Starfleet officer known as Data, and is quite clearly not at ease with his twilight years.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
One of the biggest changes in Picard's life, however, is his acrimonious departure from Starfleet. Even though Jean-Luc is of retirement age, and likely wouldn't still be out in space cracking Borg skulls, fans might've expected him to be given a cushy leadership position among Starfleet's elite, but it soon becomes apparent that Picard and Starfleet are not currently on speaking terms.
A key part of the Star Trek franchise from the very beginning, Starfleet is the Federation's space-faring exploration force, doubling as an army during times of interplanetary war. Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned Starfleet as a utopian and harmonized organization, but dissension within the ranks has becoming increasingly common over the decades. Despite hints towards Starfleet's fluctuating morality, however, the agency has generally always been a force for good, promoting peace and desperately trying to adhere to their oft-abandoned policy of non-interference. In Star Trek: Picard, however, Starfleet's darker corners have come to the fore.
Why Starfleet Are The Villains In Star Trek: Picard
The premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard shows in no uncertain terms that Starfleet aren't the righteous and progressive Federation force of previous eras. This shift in ethical perspective seems to trace back to Picard's retirement and the incident that triggered it. In a noble (and probably controversial) move, the Federation decided to honor Jean-Luc's wish and help evacuate all Romulans in the path of a giant supernova threatening to destroy Romulus' entire system. The turning point for Starfleet appears to come when a mysterious group of rogue synthetics launch an attack on the Utopia Planitia Federation shipyards on Mars, destroying the fleet that was intended to rescue the threatened Romulans.
Although understandably annoyed by such a huge setback, Starfleet didn't scale down or delay their efforts to help Romulus - they cancelled them completely. Picard was enraged by this decision, arguing that the attack wasn't the fault of the Romulans, and didn't change the impending disaster posed by the supernova. Unable to reverse Starfleet's decision, Picard quit, and the fact that Patrick Stewart's beloved character has changed his opinion on the organization invites the audience to do the same. If Picard is so disappointed in his former employers, their actions must be reprehensible.
Neglecting to aid Romulus might've been a political and moral slip on Starfleet's part, but that alone isn't enough to turn them into an antagonistic bunch. Unfortunately, the divisive policies continued, as Starfleet immediately banned synthetic life forms in the wake of the incident, halting the development and creation of such beings and dismantling poor B-4, who was once intended as Data's successor. Punishing an entire race for the actions of an extreme few has strong real-world parallels and is the type of behavior associated with dictators and tyrants, not the heroic home of the Starship Enterprise, and this immediately establishes Starfleet as an enemy in Star Trek: Picard.
Could Starfleet Be Involved In A Larger Conspiracy?
Star Trek: Picard has already confirmed that Starfleet abandoned Romulus and banned synthetic life forms, but there are still many mysteries to be answered, and Starfleet may have a deeper involvement in the villainy at play. A Romulan strike force attacked and attempted to kidnap Data's daughter, Dahj, for currently unknown reasons, and it remains unclear why the Mars shipyard was destroyed in the first place. Most likely there was a puppet master behind the rogue synthetics, and although Romulans might be the prime suspects due to their suspicious actions in Star Trek: Picard episode 1, might the Federation have staged the attack themselves in order to justify not helping with the evacuation?
As well as identifying the Mars attackers, unraveling the mystery of Dahj and investigating the shady Romulan assassins, Jean-Luc Picard must identify whatever shadowy figure waits at the root of the conspiracy. Relations between the Federation and Romulan Empire are historically tense, but Picard had managed to foster cooperation between the civilizations before his retirement, and the admiral was also instrumental in championing the rights of synthetic life-forms. Between the aborted evacuation, synthetic ban and Dahj's death, someone appears to be knocking down everything Picard stands for. Starfleet might be just a pawn in that game, but they might also be the source of the trouble.
Patrick Stewart's iconic character has certainly lost faith in what Starfleet once stood for, and that shift could be the core theme of Star Trek: Picard. If Starfleet has lost its soul, dropped its values, and is starting to become insular instead of working with other planets, this would be a fitting parallel to the real world in 2020, and Star Trek certainly has a history of social subtext. Watching Picard try and flush the corruption out of a rotten Starfleet might be a fascinating angle for Star Trek: Picard.
Starfleet's Villainy Has Been Hinted At Before
Star Trek: Picard gives arguably the darkest portrayal of Starfleet the franchise has ever seen, but it's not as if their moral ambiguity hasn't been demonstrated before. The existence of Starfleet's secretive black ops unit, Section 31, was a controversial addition to Star Trek mythology, since it showed both a ruthlessness to the organization and proved there to be covert and illegitimate operations happening behind the scenes that didn't necessarily align with Starfleet's original mission statement. In Star Trek: Discovery, Section 31 almost caused the end of Starfleet altogether, though this was more the fault of an errant AI program.
More relevant to Star Trek: Picard, Starfleet also has a history of treating synthetic beings as lesser life forms. In The Next Generation's "The Measure of a Man," Starfleet's Bruce Maddox tries to have Data disassembled in order to further his own scientific study, and Picard resolves to fight his android's corner, preventing the deactivation of his friend. It may not be a coincidence that Maddox and his Data experiments have resurfaced in Star Trek: Picard. Furthermore, Star Trek: Insurrection saw Picard stand up to Starfleet when they tried shifting an indigenous species from their home and, going back further still, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country featured a conspiracy within Starfleet to prevent peace being achieved with the Klingons.
In most of the above cases, however, Starfleet's transgressions have come about either through a small, rebellious splinter group or because of a temporary lapse in judgement. Star Trek: Picard seems to represent a more general shift in Starfleet's priorities. However, all of that past dirt has perhaps built to this point, where one of the Starfleet's most decorated veterans has turned against them. Sooner or later, the mindset of Starfleet was going to become incompatible with the morality of Star Trek as a series.
Star Trek: Picard continues January 30th on CBS All Access and Amazon Prime internationally the next day.