When Star Trek: Picard beams onto TV screens, we’ll finally get to see what the man who embodies the very best of Star Trek at large has been up to in the decades since we last saw him. But the Picard we’re meeting in this new show has changed, and so has the world around him. So if you need to do some brushing up for context on what you should know, we’re here to help.
The first trailer for Picard shown at Comic-Con a few months ago gave us an intriguingly mysterious, yet teasingly vague picture of what to expect from the series. What you’re going to need to know to fully appreciate it stretches far beyond just a knowledge of The Next Generation.
The Borg, the Romulans, Voyager’s Seven of Nine — Picard isn’t just a glimpse at the titular man himself at a point further than we’ve ever been in Star Trek’s timeline (that is, until Discovery’s third season!), it is a window into the state of Star Trek’s galaxy at large, encompassing context, characters and histories from across multiple aspects of the wider franchise.
While many people would suggest a greatest hits collection of TNG episodes to act as your televisual amuse-bouche, we wanted to go a step further and give you a wide selection of Star Trek adventures, boldly going beyond the confines of just Jean-Luc’s finest. To get the full picture of context going into Star Trek: Picard, you’ll need to add these to your streaming list.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
“The Battle,” Season 1, Episode 9. It’s an early, weird throwback to the time the Ferengi were meant to be a sinister threat but important here for its insight into Picard’s early career. Not only is it the first exploration of the infamous “Picard manoeuvre,” but considering the new show sees him putting a new crew together, it’s interesting to re-explore one of Picard’s earlier commands.
“Datalore,” Season 1, Episode 13. Data and his return will serve as a major emotional spine of Picard, if the trailer is anything to go by — so this early exploration of Data’s android “siblings” and just how multiple Brent Spiners are running around the galaxy will serve as good context.
“The Measure of a Man,” Season 2, Episode 9. Data’s personhood is put into doubt by the Federation, and Picard rises to his defence in a stirring, powerful episode of lofty speeches and civil rights paeans. Not just great to see Sir Patrick Stewart masterfully orate, but shows how far Picard is willing to go for Data.
“The Defector,” Season 3, Episode 10. The Romulans are going to be a big, big part of Picard, for reasons we’ll get to later. This episode examining a defecting Romulan who brings Picard word of a potential invasion of the Federation by the Star Empire showcases the tensions between the two factions, and puts a human heart to Trek’s otherwise almost-always-duplicitous portrayal of the Romulans.
“The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2,” Seasons 3 and 4, Episodes 26 and 1. I mean, this is just one of the best two-parters in sci-fi history, full stop. But considering it is so because the cliffhanger is that Picard is assimilated into the goddamn Borg Collective (yes, they really did that to fans at the end of a season), you can see why it’s a hugely important arc for the character — a legacy that will haunt Picard personally going forward, and will no doubt be important to the new show.
“Family,” Season 4, Episode 2. Immediately picking up on Picard’s trauma from being inducted into, and then liberated from, the grip of the Borg, this followup sees Jean-Luc visit his brother Robert, then-current proprietor of the Picard family vineyards on Earth. By Picard, Jean-Luc has inherited the estate himself — having learned Rene and his son, Picard’s nephew René, perished in an accident during the film Star Trek: Generations.
“Redemption, Parts 1 and 2,” Seasons 4 and 5, Episodes 26 and 1. You might wonder what a two-parter about a Klingon Civil War could impact on what we know of Picard, but considering the conflict is being manipulated from the shadows by the Romulans, it’s interesting. It’s also interesting because...
“Unification, Parts 1 and 2,” Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8. ...Like this two-parter — known for letting Picard come face-to-face with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, as the latter pushes for the Vulcan and Romulan sister species to reunite as one — this story features Denise Crosby, who played ill-fated TNG security chief Tasha Yar in its first few seasons, as Sela, the half-human, half-Romulan daughter of the Tasha of an alternate timeline. Not to say Picard will go the same path, but Sela went on to play a big part in Star Trek Online’s non-canonical envisioning of an early 24th Century Alpha Quadrant in the wake of Romulus’ destruction, which Picard’s trailer drew intriguing parallels to.
“I, Borg,” Season 5, Episode 23. Not only is this another story of a Borg being granted a level of individuality, said Borg — dubbed Hugh, and played by Jonathan Del Arco — is actually returning for Picard! Unlike Jean-Luc himself (or another liberated Borg in the new show we’ll get to later), Hugh actually returned to the Collective while retaining some of his individuality, so it’ll be interesting to see what Picard does with that.
“The Inner Light,” Season 5, Episode 25. Picard lives a lifetime (a trope known as Year Outside, Hour Inside) not of his own in this heartbreaking character piece that is not just a major emotional journey for Picard, but an excuse to watch Patrick Stewart act his face off.
“The Chain of Command, Parts 1 and 2,” Season 6, Episodes 10 and 11. While on a dangerous mission, Picard is abducted by the Cardassians and put through brutal torture. Another fundamental character piece for Picard, it’s a powerful performance from Stewart. Never forget that there are a quartet of lights.
“The Face of the Enemy,” Season 6, Episode 14. This is a weird one, as it’s not actually a Picard centric episode at all — it follows Deanna Troi (who is also returning for Picard!) as she’s kidnapped and forced into a Romulan plot to smuggle defectors from the Empire. It’s a great and intriguing insight into the inner divides of the Romulan peoples, from an interesting perspective.
“Descent, Parts 1 and 2,” Seasons 6 and 7, Episodes 26 and 1. Remember Hugh the Borg? He’s back! In a two-parter about the Borg, and Data and his sinister sibling Lore. Given their dueling importance to Picard’s emotional psyche in the new show, this is a must-watch.
“All Good Things..., Parts 1 and 2,” Season 7, Episodes 25 and 26. The show’s farewell, it’s a weird, timey-wimey affair — but one of its sets of timelines is actually a future where Picard has retired and return to his family’s business. Sound familiar?
Star Trek: Voyager
“Scorpion, Parts 1 and 2,” Seasons 3 and 4, Episodes 26 and 1. This is the debut of Seven of Nine, as Janeway and the Voyager crew liberate her from the collective after making a deal with the cybernetic devil, to navigate safe passage through Borg-controlled space in the Delta Quadrant. Given that Picard sees Seven and Jean-Luc cross paths — over their shared history as liberated drones — this is mandatory viewing.
So mandatory, we’re also basically giving you a bumper guide of Seven’s greatest hits below, just so you have all her context, too:
“The Gift,” Season 4, Episode 2. Seven’s transition back to life outside the collective takes a major step forward, as she processes the mass-removal of her cybernetic enhancements and the restoration of much of her physical human form.
“The Raven,” Season 4, Episode 6. More exploration of Seven’s history before she was assimilated, as the Voyager miraculously comes across the titular Raven, the ship Seven and her family lived on before the Borg came for them.
“Drone,” Season 5, Episode 2. After an accident involving some of Seven’s nanoprobes and the Doctor’s mobile holo-emitter creates a new kind of Borg Drone, Seven takes it upon herself to guide the new being — simply named “One” — on the same path of understanding their newfound individuality. With Picard seemingly doing similar things with its Borg subplot, it’s a touching parallel.
“Dark Frontier, Parts 1 and 2,” Season 5, Episodes 15 and 16. A mission goes horribly wrong, and Seven finds herself drawn back to the Borg’s sphere of influence once more — and having to confront none other than the Borg Queen herself. Seven’s “Best of Both Worlds,” if not as grim.
“Collective,” Season 6, Episode 16. Voyager comes across a group of child drones severed from the collective, and Seven — resident “so you’re no longer part of the Borg Collective” expert — finds herself becoming a teacher and guardian to the wayward liberated kids.
“Child’s Play,” Season 6, Episode 19. Speaking of those Borg kids, the parents of eldest liberated Borg Icheb cross paths with Voyager, leading to several sinister revelations about just how Icheb and his fellow kids were assimilated. Another big character moment for Seven.
“Unimatrix Zero, Parts 1 and 2,” Seasons 6 and 7, Episodes 26 and 1. More Borg exploration! But this time, it’s only kinda-sorta through the lens of Seven, as what makes it interesting to watch in the context of Picard is the titular Unimatrix Zero, a secretive dreamscape certain individualized Borg find a safe haven in while remaining part of the collective. Given Picard is putting liberated Borg front and centre — both in the cast and whatever the Romluan’s are up to excavating Borg Cubes — this tale of resistance from within the Collective becomes an intriguing watch.
“Imperfection,” Season 7, Episode 2. As far as we know, Icheb isn’t joining Seven in Picard, but this episode about his deepening bond with Seven — after one of the implants keeping her alive suddenly malfunctions, forcing Seven to consider her morality and confide with Icheb — is good background in Seven’s personal history on Voyager.
Star Trek: First Contact. A movie about the TNG crew and the Borg? Well, of course you have to watch this. Yes, it’s also about time travel and trying to stop the aforementioned Borg from essentially erasing humanity’s first steps into the wider galactic civilisation by encountering the Vulcans, but its emotional subtext leans heavily on having Picard confront his personal demons and desire for vengeance against the cyborg race, for his own time in the collective as Locutus. Given that his status as a former drone will play a part in uniting him with the likes of Seven, Hugh, and new character Dahj (played by Isa Briones), that’s important context to have.
Star Trek: Nemesis. OK, yes, it’s a nightmare of a movie. But, it’s an important one, not just because it’s technically the most recent time we saw the TNG cast in action, but because a lot of important events happen here that have direct impacts on Star Trek: Picard, like the sacrifice of Data — something Picard’s trailer showed us has weighed heavily on the man in the decades between Nemesis and the new show.
Plus, Tom Hardy as a bald Jean-Luc clone is both hilarious and a weird way to get some insight into the political workings of Romulan society — as well as their sister species/planet, the Remans of Remus. Geddit? Rome.
Star Trek. Sacrilege, the nerds cry! Heresy, they wail!! How dare you taint this list of real Star Trek with J.J. Abrams!!! Well, suck it: It’s not just canonical to Star Trek at large, a major aspect of it takes place in the prime Trek timeline before the movie delves into its alt-reality reboot of the original series. And, even more majorly, that aspect — the destruction of Romulus when a nearby star suddenly goes supernova — has long been stated to be a fundamental event that drives a lot of where Jean-Luc Picard’s headspace is at when he retires from Starfleet prior to the events of the upcoming show. So you basically have to know about it.
Also, goddammit, it’s a fun action movie. Live a little!
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges,” Season 7, Episode 16. An episode that draws fascinating parallels between the shady world of the Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar, and the Federation’s equally shady Section 31, as poor Doctor Bashir is forced into doing dirty work for the latter while attending a talk on Romulus.
We don’t know for certain that either organisation will appear in Picard, but given the Romulans are clearly up to something shifty in the new show, and perhaps even the Federation itself is, given Picard has to go off-grid to do whatever mission he’s on, it always helps to brush up on the moral greyness of the Star Trek universe’s darkest shadows.
Star Trek: The Original Series
“Balance of Terror,” Season 1, Episode 14. OK, this isn’t actually necessary at all, but! Firstly, it’s the debut of the Romulans on Star Trek full stop, our first chance at getting to understand who they are as a people, their culture, and how they interact with the Federation and other species at large. It is, also, one of — perhaps even the — best episodes of Star Trek ever made. You should just watch it because, well, it’s bloody brilliant television.
There is obviously so much more Star Trek out there you could watch between now and Picard hitting CBS All Access (and myriad other streaming services internationally). You could, frankly, just binge-watch The Next Generation and its movies and call it a day, as that’s likely the baseline level of context you’ll actually need, if any, to be able to sit down with Picard and not be left behind. You have the time!
But if you find yourself looking to get just most choice nuggets of understanding — of who Picard is, the events that define him, and the wider context of the Star Trek world beyond him that will come into play in Picard — then these episodes are about as comprehensive as you can get, give or take a few extra flares of indulgence. Which is fine, given you’ll have the time for all those indulgences and more — Star Trek: Picard won’t begin until sometime in early 2020.