One Trek Mind #31: Happy Captain Picard Day!
June 16th is Captain Picard Day. (How June 16th got picked is still a little vague to me – but those with slide rules bigger than mine determined that Stardate 47457.1 is June 16th.)
In the episode “The Pegasus” we watched as the Enterprise's children presented works of art dedicated to the noble captain of the NCC-1701-D. Since I can't sing (out of the shower) or paint or sculpt (again, out of the shower) I will not be showing off any of my creations today (you’re welcome). I will, however, offer up what I was put on this blue dot to do, list my favorite Captain Picard moments.
I fully recognize that this could be among the most contentious One Trek Mind columns in recent times. Know that my initial brainstorm consisted of upwards of 47 picks, and that, frankly, this list might look different on any other day. Nevertheless a line must be drawn. Ready to engage? Make it so.
11 – Fighting the Nausicaan
It's a wonderful 24th century life.
During a Near Death Experience (or is it after Death?) Q shows Picard what his life would have been like if he didn't get in a tumble with a Nausicaan during his youth. He would not have needed an artificial heart (and therefore wouldn't be struggling to hang on in Dr. Crusher's sick bay after an away team mishap), but he wouldn't have become the noble Leader of Men we've come to admire.
In “Tapestry,” Picard decides that it is better to die now, knowing that he lived a life of greatness, rather than to be another poor slob caught up in the drudgery of a mediocre life. (Hey! What about us poor slobs! This episode is offensive to us!)
Picard accepted his fate, went back and fought the Nausicaan. Luckily (or by Q's hand?) he survives his injuries from the present time away mission and life continues as before.
10 – Making a Happy Face in Explosive Gas Cloud
Some people are angry drunks. In my experience this usually means they are an unhappy or, at least, irritable person to be around. Others, however, get really silly, and this probably means they are happy and fun.
Captain Picard, the finest and bravest and clearest-thinking Captain in Starfleet is, deep down, a good egg. We know this because when his mind was intoxicated by the effects of Temporal Narcosis in the episode “Timescape,” he felt compelled to draw a smiley face in a hovering cloud of gas near a warp core breach. Before he collapsed in pain, he didn't just giggle, he pointed to his accomplishment with pride.
That is a guy you want with you on your Aberdeen pub crawl!
9 – Fighting for Android Rights
Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the Atticus Finch for artificial intelligence.
Intelligence? Check. Self-awareness? Check. Consciousness? Who's to say? And with that line of reasoning, Picard proves that you can't prove that Data isn't sentient. (Read that line again, because I swear it makes sense.)
Apart from leading us all on an intellectually stimulating thought experiment, the second-season episode “The Measure of a Man” was crucial in establishing just how integral Data was to the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew. By this point, everybody relied on him and loved him. Except Dr. Pulaski. Maybe that was why she had to go.
8 – Speaking in Metaphors
It takes a certain kind of man to listen patiently while a lizard-head alien babbles incoherent phrases until it starts to make sense. In “Darmok,” Picard's patience and penchant for abstract thought enables him to break the communication barrier between the Federation and the Tamarians. Soon he is able to translate phrases like “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” not in a literal sense, but to interpret what they symbolize metaphorically.
After this episode, more adventuresome Trek fans could refer to amorous encounters as “Picard and Vash at Risa.”
7 – Meeting Sisko
The Deep Space Nine pilot “Emissary” does a terrific job of introducing us to many new characters and a peculiar new setting. There's a little extra bonus for Picard-lovers, though. It gives us a peek at how he reacts when confronted by people outside of his usual circle about the devastating Battle of Wolf 359.
See, we know and love Picard, so we know that when he was Locutus he wasn't culpable for the onslaught of terror the Borg brought to the Federation. But try telling that to a man who lost his wife and the mother of his child. Benjamin Sisko is that man and we've just seen the trauma he survived. It's a daring move to present your new hero in conflict with a beloved character, but Picard's reaction is what sells it. He doesn't apologize, but he doesn't confront him, either. He simply… continues with his briefing.
You can tell that Sisko wants to goad him, to get him to try and defend himself. He's bursting to flip a desk over. But Picard plays it cool. . . and just a tad sympathetic. Since WE are aware that the guilt is killing Picard, it is an even more powerful scene. A perfect example of some of the deep, character-driven stuff to come on Deep Space Nine.
6 – Drawing the Line
This is certainly one of Picard's more badass moments, but is it something he should be proud of? Smashing up a display case in his ready room when confronted with the fact that, yeah, maybe he's letting a personal vendetta against the Borg cloud his usually stellar judgment.
This infamous moment from Star Trek: First Contact is easily the most quotable, however. “The line must be drawn HERE! This far, no further!” Out of context, it sounds like he's being truly heroic, so for that alone, it deserves a spot high on the list.
5 - Solving a Problem in 3 Timelines.
Q brought us into the world of The Next Generation and Q brought us out. He nearly ended it, too, with the most puzzling of his tests. Captain Picard had to outthink the godlike trickster in three different timelines, and then he has to lead three different crews to a singular point in spacetime that is so exacting it takes a two-part episode to converge upon it. It is a most fitting final adventure for our brilliant leader, and also allows us a peek into his somewhat cantankerous, very bearded future.
4– Drinks with Scotty
Ah, “Relics.” Excuse me while I grab a Kleenex, this one always makes me weepy. When the freed-from-stasis Captain Montgomery Scott is given passage aboard the Enterprise-D as a guest of honor, the crew has plenty of respect for him, but not much in the way of time. Put bluntly, he's a bit of a pain, and when Scotty goes “home” to a holographic reproduction of the TOS Enterprise (“no bloody A, B, C or D!”) to drown his sorrows in Aldebaran whiskey, an off-duty Picard comes to join him. Not out of obligation or guilt, but out of genuine veneration and the hope for friendship.
It is a tender moment, and that it bridges the gap between TNG and TOS so nicely just makes me. . me. . . um, excuse me. . . there's something in my eye.
3– Duet for Ressikan Flute and Mataline II Piano
The Ressikan flute. Of all the tactile totems in Star Trek history, it isn't the phaser or PADD or mobile emitter or Tricorder or agonizer that has the most emotional weight. It is an old-fashioned tube of metal without flashing lights or whirring motors.
While “The Inner Light” (considered by many to be the best TNG episode of them all) introduced us to it, the callback in “Lessons” a season later was, for me, even more striking. Picard has given up any normal sense of a family life for the Enterprise – and, by extension for us and our amusement. I don't know about you, but all I want is for the guy to be happy. When he meets a new Lt. Commander in charge of stellar cartography and they begin a courtship, it is adorable. That their relationship is based on a shared fondness for music is doubly meaningful, since we know just how heartbreaking Picard's “lost life” from “The Inner Light” is to him.
We know that Picard's love is doomed (it has to be), but for a few scenes, watching him and his new love play music together is enough to turn you into one of those Twilight girls.
2 - There Are Four Lights
We've seen the tender side, and now here's the tough. And they can't teach that at Starfleet Academy; it needs to be within you.
In “Chain of Command,” Picard is brutalized physically and mentally by Gul Madred hoping to squeeze some Federation intel. But first Madred must break Picard, and he decides to do this in a very symbolic way. He points to a track of four lights and asks how many are there. When Picard says four, Madred says there are five, and until Picard agrees with him he will be tortured.
This bit is taken directly from George Orwell's 1984, but nowhere in that novel do we get to see Patrick Stewart's face contorted with rage, a living symbol of resistance against oppression, bellowing with all the dignity he can muster, “There! Are! Four! Lights!”
1- Believing, Above All, In The Truth
“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth. Whether it's scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth. It is the guiding principle upon which Starfleet is based. If you can't find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened you don't deserve to wear that uniform.”
Picard makes a lot of great speeches, but this one is my favorite. Part of it is because I love the way the words fire out with Patrick Stewart's theatrical British inflections, and, yes, part of it is because he's handing Wesley Crusher a smackdown. But the real reason why “The First Duty” resonates so much for me is because it crystallizes Picard's respect to a certain code.
It's not about the warp engines or the photon torpedoes or the transporter – it is about people. From the beginning, Gene Roddenberry gave us a vision of the future where, by and large, all of human society was working together for a common good. For this to happen, there needs to be a base level acceptance predicated on a protection, front and center, on truth.
It's heavy stuff, and something that may need to be jazzed up with lasers and rubber masks, but it is an important philosophy – and so rarely is it bluntly stated as succinctly as in this scene.
Now that I've said my piece (and a long piece this week, no?), you have the floor. I'm sure there are at least 10 I'm missing. What are your favorites?
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.