Growing ‘Til We Die: Lessons in Virtue from ‘Star Trek: Picard’

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By Sam Hendrian

Editor’s Note: Some spoilers below for Season 1 of Picard

DAHJ: “Have you ever been a stranger to yourself?”
PICARD: “Many times.”

This dialogue exchange from the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, a new sci-fi series on CBS All-Access that serves as a follow-up to the hit ‘80s/’90s TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, profoundly illustrates the lingering frailty and self-doubt that a great leader combats even during the final season of his life. Skillfully acted, especially by the legendary Patrick Stewart in the title role, each episode helps unfold a compelling character study that makes this series well-worth watching both for Trekkies and novices to the Trek universe.

Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is a man brimming with stubbornness, a quality that has ultimately kept him alive despite its sometimes negative connotation. Retired now, he lives quietly on a vineyard while restlessly wishing for some sense of purpose to reenter his life. As fate would have it, he soon meets a young woman named Dahj who is in need of his help, as she is being chased by assassins. Determined to protect her, he accompanies her on a journey to learn more about her plight but ultimately witnesses her being assassinated before his eyes.

Deeply discouraged by his helplessness in protecting Dahj, Picard is then given a spark of hope when he discovers that Dahj has a twin sister named Soji living somewhere else in the galaxy, and that both women are actually the synthetic daughters of his android friend Commander Data, who sacrificed his life for Picard several years before. This twin daughter is also in danger, and Picard makes it his mission to find her and keep her safe, leaving the comforts of his vineyard and heading back out into the unknown.

Picard’s escape from retirement is not without several obstacles, particularly from the Federation that once held him in high esteem. When he asks to be reinstated as an official Starfleet officer, he is bluntly turned down and accused of being a “once great man desperate to still matter,” forcing him to find his own means into space.

With the help of his old friend Raffi, Picard succeeds in securing a small crew to reenter the great “final frontier” and find Data’s daughter. Yet despite this success in reclaiming a leadership position, Picard learns daily that he is still learning as a leader and as a human being, even after decades of gaining wisdom and respect. It is this crucial story/character piece that sets the show apart from others and makes it become a treasure trove of lessons for us no matter what our status in life.

Returning to Dahj’s haunting question, Picard does indeed feel a stranger to himself many times on his voyage to rescue Soji. This mission has given him a renewed sense of purpose, but this sense of purpose quickly becomes a mild obsession that sometimes blinds him from the immediate needs of his crew members and of the lives he is ultimately trying to save. His past is scarred by memories of times he failed to be the self-sacrificial hero he longs to be, and he craves redemption, but as one person reminds him in the penultimate episode: “We can’t be your means of redemption.”

These words open Picard’s eyes to how far he still has left to journey on the road towards selflessness, and they ought to resonate with anybody who has ever aspired to be a leader or simply a noble person. Do we seek heroic virtue for the sole sake of loving others, or do we partially seek it as part of an ulterior quest to eradicate guilt and feel good about ourselves? Is it possible to completely purify our motives when making decisions that affect the well-being of our human sisters and brothers, or shall every noble act we attempt ultimately be stained by a hue of selfishness?

Such questions are troubling and do not come with the luxury of easy answers, yet Picard shows his still-growing but ever-strong wisdom by handling them the best way he can: Doing good anyway. While humbled by fresh mistakes and lingering selfishness, he continues to strive for virtue and stand up for the priceless dignity of each life, trusting his convictions and subconsciously counting on grace to intervene when he falls short. He thus teaches us that while no human is 100% altruistic, every human has the capacity to be 100% open to the transcendent intervention of grace, which can boldly go where no man has gone before.

For the next month, CBS All-Access is free with the promo code “GIFT,” so now is the perfect time to watch Star Trek: Picard. Not only does it tactfully tackle the topic of leadership, but it also poignantly explores regret, revenge, and the ultimate meaning/purpose of living as a human person. Our modern era is full of fear and anger, but as Picard reminds one of his crewmates, “The past is written, but the future is left for us to write, and we have powerful tools, Rios. Openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity.” So let us begin writing!

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Sam Hendrian is an alumni of John Paul the Great Catholic University (’20), with a degree in Communications Media and emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.

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