Jean-Luc Picard will be returning to our screens in the much anticipated Star Trek: Picard. This time we loom back at “Tapestry” on the Path to Picard.
“A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.” – Dr. Boyce
The quote above comes from the pilot episode of Star Trek. The very first episode that started it all, “The Cage.”
At the time Dr. Boyce speaks these words to Captain Pike as he is trying to comfort him and reassure him during an intimate exchange when Pike finds himself filled with self doubt and guilt over his tenure of the USS Enterprise. It was a bold move to start off a brand new adventure series showing the captain, the main star, as a man who is tired of the pressures of command and as someone considering his own position. What it did do to some great effect, was to show Captain Pike to be like any other man, a man who can succumb to these type of emotions and feelings, a man who is flawed, as someone who is instantly relatable.
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21 years later a new show was to air, continuing the adventures of the USS Enterprise this time under a different captain and set over 100 years after the events of “The Cage”. Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced the world to Captain Jean-Luc Picard and although the show had some resistance from the existing fan base in the beginning, it went on to become one of the most popular entries in the Star Trek franchise and the character of Picard and the brilliant Sir Patrick Stewart who portrays him is one of the reasons. His introduction however, could not have been more different than that of Christopher Pike.
Picard was shown to be disciplined, stern and serious with a no nonsense approach to his command and over the course of the pilot episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ we also saw his resilience, his belief and strength of conviction while trying to solve both the mystery at Farpoint station and fighting off the being known as Q who was putting the human race on trial.
Season 1 of The Next Generation is a very mixed bag in terms of quality but the pilot always holds a soft spot for me and that reason is Picard. The journey he goes on from that episode to the finale at Season 7 is some of the best character development on TV. In that pilot Picard is not a relatable character or indeed in most of that first season. When the end came for The Next Generation however, fans were debating who is the best captain to grace Star Trek, Kirk or Picard.
Over seven seasons we learn more and more about the captain, his family, his hobbies, his history. He suddenly stops becoming this stiff upper lip, closed book commander and develops a sense of humor, the need for family and a capacity to open himself up for love. As we follow this road with Picard we learn many things about him. Some insights we glean from stories he tells Riker or Welsey Crusher about his youth and exploits during his early command on the USS Stargazer and some we are privy too as the viewers of this wonderful show. All building blocks in the continued construction of Captain Picard.
One episode stands out more than any that shows the true nature of Picard and it came in the 15th episode of Season 6 and it was called ‘Tapestry’.
What makes a person? What guides someone to become the person they grow up to be? The answer is pretty simple. When we are born we are merely a sponge that is yet to be near any water. As we grow we begin to absorb the influences around us, firstly from our parents who offer us views on morality, right and wrong and humanity as a whole. But then we start to make friends, decide on what we like and don’t like on TV, social media etc. We begin to form our own judgements based on the information that is given to us in whatever format that is presented. Everything that happens to us, good or bad, creates and forms the person we see in the mirror. ‘Tapestry‘ offers us the very best view of Picard’s external influences forming his future personality.
Lets start with a basic refresher of the episode (I will call spoilers here in case anyone reading an article about Picard that has an episode title in the post header on a Star Trek themed fan site hasn’t seen it….). Picard dies. He awakens and is greeted by Q who claims that Picard is now in the afterlife and the cause of his death is the failure of an artificial heart Picard received after a bar fight with some Nausicaans who stabbed him during his youth. Detecting a sign of regret, Q questions Picard further who admits that given the chance he would have done things differently. Q being Q, happily obliges.
Picard is transported back in time two days before the fight takes place, the only difference here is that Picard has kept his knowledge of his own future and so uses it to change what happens. During this period Picards sudden change in personality surprises his friends Corey and Marta who no longer recognize the man they knew, especially as Picard stops the fight from happening much to Coreys annoyance and sleeps with Marta, much to her annoyance as well.
Q transports Picard back to modern day Next Generation where we find Junior Science Officer Picard. His entire destiny has changed because of the risks he didn’t take as a youngster, completely altering his personality all because of one decision, one incident he changed. Confronting Q again he requests to be taken back so he can set things right even if being stabbed again meant that he dies as captain of the Enterprise. Q, this time, reluctantly agrees. Picard is stabbed, gains an artificial heart and wakes up alive back on the Enterprise as her captain.
When we look at this episode a little bit closer and really reflect on what happens it gives us such a great insight into what drives the character of Picard forward. His own mortality. The brush with the Nausicaan blade that nearly kills him in his youth gives him a greater appreciation of life, that it was too short to not live it to its fullest, to put yourself out there and take a risk.
When I speak about the external influences on our lives I relate that to the characters of Marta and Corey. In his youth they could be seen as a bad influence on the young Picard. Getting him trouble, cheating at bar games and being pressured into dangerous fights with big bad scary aliens. But he owes so much to them, without their influence he would have been a completely different person. Potentially the same Picard he turns into from avoiding the fight, the unremarkable, risk averse Junior Science Officer. We see that Picard was a womanizer in his youth something that is so out of place when you think back to the person we were introduced too in ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ but now in Season 6 is just another puzzle piece slotting into place.
Throughout all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, no episode gives us a greater insight.
This all brings me back to the quote that opened this article, “A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.” When you think about this quote and the actions we see in ‘Tapestry’, its hard not to relate it back to Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Picard embraces life and fights it when he needs too. We have seen what could have happened to him if he didn’t.
The episode almost mirrors the words spoken by Dr Bryce in an almost prophetic way, and I don’t know about you, but makes me thankful for the person I have become and sometimes think about what could have happened…