WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS STAR TREK: PICARD SPOILERS
Debuting in late January, season one of Star Trek: Picard wasted no time hitting us right in the feels.
Whether it was agonizing over long-ago regrets and past traumas, mourning the death of a close friend or rehashing old times with a nostalgic throwback to the TNG era, viewers of Picard got the full breadth of characters’ emotions in season one.
But what does the inclusion of all these experiences and emotions tell us about grief and mourning in the 24th century and throughout the Star Trek Universe?
A Next Generation-era easter egg hidden in one Star Trek: Picard character’s grief might hold the answers.
24th Century Examples
In the seventh episode, “Nepenthe,” Picard seeks the help of friends and former colleagues Will Riker and Deanna Troi, whose lives have changed drastically since we last saw them in Star Trek: Nemesis.
Living a quiet life on Nepenthe, a planet whose name is borrowed from a grief-banishing drug in Homer’s The Odyssey, Riker and Troi are seen raising their quick-witted daughter Kestra and mourning the loss of their teenage son, Thad.
Thad’s death, a result of the ban on synthetics who might have cured his terminal illness, shows just how far-reaching the effects of the Romulan relief efforts, the attack on Mars and the subsequent events really are on those living in this time.
Despite this, neither Deanna nor Riker seem resentful of their loss, only sorrowful.
Kestra, however, shows us that despite living on Nepenthe, the aptly named planet for removing burdensome and difficult feelings, grief still exists.
Kestra is the namesake of Deanna’s deceased older sister mentioned in TNG’s “The Dark Page” and Deep Space Nine’s “The Muse.”
From “Dark Page,” we learn that Deanna’s older sister Kestra died at age six when she drowned in a lake on Betazed: a trauma that her mother, Lwaxanna, has kept hidden and unresolved for far too long.
Talking to Odo in “The Muse,” Lwaxanna offers a glimpse of her lingering pain. “I lost my parents, a sister, a husband … but nothing, nothing compared to losing her.”
By naming her daughter Kestra, the former Enterprise-D counselor found a way to honor her sister’s memory and relieve some of the loss she and her mother felt from Kestra’s death.
But Deanna and Will are not the only ones struggling to find relief from their loss in Picard.
In “Stardust City Rag,” viewers learn that Seven of Nine, now a Fenris Ranger, is dealing with her own loss after putting her adopted Brunali son, Icheb, out of his misery.
Standing over a pained and dying Icheb, who has had his remaining Borg implants harvested, Seven of Nine reconciles that she will have to be the one to fire the phaser shot, mercifully killing her only kin.
She tearfully offers, “I’m so sorry … my child.”
Seven handles her grief much differently than Deanna, given the cruel circumstances of Icheb’s death.
Wanting revenge on Borg implant-harvester, Bjayzl, Seven angrily describes the optimistic and promising Starfleet officer that Icheb was, even in the face of Seven’s own cynical view of the Federation following Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant and the events leading up to the Romulan supernova.
“He was a son to me, Jay,” Seven says through clenched teeth before vaporizing Bjayzl. “This is for him.”
Grief is a Constant
Although these losses are felt quite differently, they show viewers that grief is universal, transcending species, position and background barriers.
The existence of loss and grief in the Picard-era as well as the rest of the futuristic franchise, shows us that some things, such as death and mourning, remain the same throughout the centuries.
Take, for instance, the question posed by the Prophets in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Emissary.”
When Captain Benjamin Sisko says that he does not want to relive his late wifeJennifer’s death with the wormhole aliens, the Bajoran gods who do not experience time in the linear fashion that other species do, insightfully ask, “then why do you exist here?”
Meanwhile, Sisko’s foil, former Cardassian Prefect during the Bajoran Occupation and the Pah-Wraiths’ Costa Mogen, Gul Dukat, falls head-long after the murder of his teenage daughter Ziyal, slipping into a darker, more dangerous side of himself.
Our Humanity is in Our Mortality
In the 24th Century of Picard and throughout Star Trek’s vision of the future, grief from loss is still to be expected. There is no technology, no mythical drug that can make it vanish from our psyche.
Since its debut 54 years ago, I’ve heard many Star Trek actors say in interviews that they’ve had fans tell them that Star Trek, or more personally, their character, helped them deal with the loss of or remember a loved one. The franchises’ inclusion of these emotions, has made it relatable to its millions of fans for this reason, despite the fact that they were almost thrown out by the show’s creator.
Before his death, Next Gen producer Michael Piller noted that Gene Roddenberry objected to Jeremy grieving for his mother in the TNG episode “The Bonding,” arguing that children would be “more accepting of death in the future.”
Based on what we’ve seen across the various shows bearing the “Star Trek” moniker over the years, the one thing we’ve learned is that even in the future death and grief are constants.
In the season one finale of Star Trek: Picard, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part two,” Picard visits Data, trapped in a digital purgatory, who explains to the aging captain that mortality gives all life meaning.
“Mortality gives meaning to human life, Captain,” Data says. “Peace, love, friendship, these are precious, because we know they cannot endure.”
I’ve been thinking of writing about the portrayal of widowhood in Trek, but this was absolutely perfect on the topic of grief and mourning. Well done!