It's been almost two decades since Patrick Stewart last played the role of Jean-Luc Picard – in 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis – and when he makes his long-awaited return in Star Trek: Picard later this month, a similar length of time will have passed for the character onscreen. The CBS All Access series picks up 15 years on from the events of Nemesis, and will find Picard retired from Starfleet after a mysterious and traumatic event.
In Star Trek: Picard, we may see a different side to the classic big bad Borg -- one in which they may not be so bad at all. "There's a humanity, for the lack of a better word, that was taken away from them," Alex Kurtzman, co-creator and executive producer of Picard, said in an interview in LA recently. "There's a new perspective on the Borg."
The Borg figure to play a big role in Picard, which marks the return of Patrick Stewart in the namesake lead role. Notably, the show also includes appearances by Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg, and the disconnected Borg named Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), who both tease a more sympathetic side to the cybernetically enhanced species.
The show, which premieres Jan. 23 on CBS All Access and Amazon Prime Video internationally, is set 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis and finds Picard out of Starfleet and resigned to running his family's winery. But it's the mystery of a potential legacy left by Data (who sacrificed his life in Nemesis), that sets the story in motion.
The exploration of so-called synthetics like Data mirror the real-world tech industry's insatiable need to invest in artificial intelligence, and with the show tackling this theme, it seems only natural that the Borg show up too.
Kurtzman's first instinct when coming up with Picard's adversary on the show was the Borg. Picard, after all, has had a colourful relationship with the cybernetic species over the years.
In the classic two-parter The Best of Both Worlds, the Borg assimilated Picard into the collective, turning him into Locutus of Borg. He's had to deal with that traumatic event in subsequent episodes, as well in Star Trek: First Contact. So, positioning the Borg as the villains made a lot of sense. But not to Stewart.
"Patrick, in his infinite wisdom, did not want to repeat the things he had played already," Kurtzman said. "He was really resistant to doing the Borg for a long time, and it ended up leading us to a new version of the Borg you haven't seen."
Stewart relished the idea of tackling a new take on the long-time villains. "Everything was different," he said.
Del Arco teases that the Borg that disconnected from the collective, as seen in the TNG two-parter Descent, have become more human over time, but noted that the broader Borg collective still remains a threat. Hugh has spent the last 20 years serving as a protector to the disconnected Borg, he added, and has had to make compromises to keep his people safe.
"But he's held on to that moral centre that I think has always made the character really important to Star Trek," he said.
Picard, like previous Star Trek shows, will explore what it means to be human.
"Synthetics allow us the opportunity to explore that question in a way that may sneak up on some audiences," co-creator Akiva Goldsman said.
Michael Chabon, co-creator and executive producer, added, "The answer to that question has always been at the heart of Star Trek and it's at the heart of Picard too."
But it's clear that one way or another, you'll be leaving Picard with a new appreciation for the Borg.