Star Trek: Janeway Could Be Better Than Star Trek: Picard, Here’s How
Our writer argues that--should Star Trek: Janeway come to fruition--it should learn from the mistakes of Star Trek: Picard by bringing the Voyager crew in earlier, not focusing solely on Janeway, and refraining from killing off fan-favorite characters for shock value.
Let’s get this out of the way–what you are reading does not come from someone who hates new Star Trek. I have watched all of the new Trek series–except Prodigy, though I mean to correct that soon–and am a fan of them all. My reviews for both the season 2 premiere of Picard and more recently the season 3 premiere of Lower Decks were both largely positive. I own a shirt stylized from the cover art of a fictional Klingon Acid Punk band mentioned on Lower Decks, and one of my only two Trek Funko Pops (I know, I need to work on that) is of Discovery‘s Saru (Doug Jones). I dig new Trek, but I also can’t claim any of it is perfect. Unfortunately, like with so many other things, online discourse about the franchise has grown so polarized that it’s become impossible to talk up newer Trek’s victories without being called a Paramount shill, or bring up valid criticisms without being branded a pure hater. So, in case it isn’t clear by now; I love Star Trek: Picard, but it has its flaws.
In the meantime, it seems more and more likely Star Trek: Janeway–whether or not that’s the title–is on its way. For months now Kate Mulgrew has been teasing a potential return to the live-action arm of the franchise. And one of the things Star Trek is all about is the hope that we can learn from past mistakes. So let’s take a look at Picard and see how Janeway could track its missteps and become a stronger series because of it.
Don’t Make Star Trek: Janeway All About Janeway
Ironically, one of the ways newer Star Trek has differentiated itself from its initial revival era (TNG, Voyager, DS9, Enterprise) is that–particularly with Discovery and Picard–it became more similar to Star Trek: The Original Series in one crucial way: the shows began focusing on individual characters rather than ensembles. Just as Discovery is Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) show and Picard is, obviously, Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) show, the OG series was mainly a showcase for William Shatner. Sure, Leonard Nimoy got his time in and every now and then DeForest Kelley got a bit more screen time to complain, but for the most part it was Shatner’s show. There were no Sulu (George Takei) episodes or Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) episodes. Meanwhile, all of the TNG era shows were ensemble affairs with actors like Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Terry Farrell, Linda Park, Connor Trinneer, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Tim Russ, Jeri Ryan, Robert Picardo and many more getting their own episodes in spite of not being the leads.
That’s one of Picard‘s problems; it isn’t that Jean-Luc Picard isn’t a compelling character, it’s that we’re not used to him on his own. Of course some of the best stories TNG had to offer–e.g. “The Drumhead”, “The Inner Light”, “Starship Mine”–were Picard-centric episodes, but his crew was never far. Who knows? Maybe there’s your fan here and there who tuned in to TNG just for Picard, but if that were the norm then there wouldn’t have been the need for who knows how many Worf episodes, Data episodes, Wesley episodes even.
This is one of the first big lessons any potential Star Trek: Janeway series should learn: don’t make it just about Janeway. Voyager had an ensemble cast for a reason, and without them, there’s no point. Which brings us to our next lesson.
Don’t Make Fans Wait Three Seasons For The Rest Of The Voyager Crew
Yes–Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis all reprised their TNG roles for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Even Jonathan del Arco returned to play the reformed Borg Hugh. Then came Season 2 which saw the return of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, John de Lancie as Q and–ever so briefly–Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher. But the show made us all wait and wonder for all those appearances, many of which never seemed as significant as they could’ve and should’ve been. As much of a joy as it’s been to see the return of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, it seems almost cruel that a Voyager character has had much more screen time in Picard than any other TNG character besides Picard himself. That will change with the third and final season as almost the entire lead cast of TNG returns, but it feels two seasons too late.
This is another lesson for Star Trek: Janeway to learn from. We don’t need the entire lead cast of Voyager to drop into the series in Episode 1 with complete sum-ups ready for what’s happened in the intervening years. We don’t even necessarily even need the entire Voyager cast in the first season. But we need some of them. Don’t give us Janeway and six strangers. We can get a new hero or two, but give us our old friends too. And for Kahless’s sake, if you’re going to introduce new heroes, create a concept that makes it believable for them to stick around for more than one season. The fact that the Picard creators clearly had no idea what to do with either Elnor (Evan Evagora) or Soji (Isa Briones) in Season 2 was glaring, and their solutions were somewhat embarrassing.
Don’t Kill Them Just Because You Can
The fact that both the reformed Borg Hugh and Dr. Bruce Maddox (John Ales) returned for Star Trek: Picard was the death knell for both characters. Trek series now compete in a media landscape that includes shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones where beloved characters are as safe as a Spinal Tap drummer. Picard obviously couldn’t kill off the title character or Seven, so it got merciless with the next best thing–the recurring characters. The cruelest blow of Picard‘s first season was the death of Icheb (Casey King). Originally played by Manu Intiraymi on Voyager, Icheb was a reformed Borg like Seven who quickly became a fan-favorite. In Picard he’s brutally murdered for his cybernetic parts, it happens in a flashback, and it isn’t even the original actor playing the character.
Star Trek: Janeway would do well to avoid this. Trek may now find itself competing against more violent shows, but that doesn’t mean it has to follow suit. Trek fans don’t tune in to watch their heroes get turned into pincushions at wedding dinners. With all the memorable friends and foes Voyager and her crew encountered in the Delta Quadrant, there’s no end of characters writers might consider bringing back for some Negan-like treatment. As the fan reaction to Icheb’s death demonstrated, it would be best to do something different this time around.