One of the hallmarks of Star Trek: The Next Generation is its meditative quality; unlike like the excellent, nail-biting action in Star Trek: Discovery, the vast majority of TNG’s best episodes are quiet and more reflective. In fact, current Trek executive producer Alex Kurtzman has described Discovery as a “bullet” contrasting it with the upcoming TNG sequel saying: “Picard is very contemplative show. It will find a balance between the speed of Discovery and the nature of what Next Gen was.” And part of what the show is seemingly contemplating is not just what is happening with Picard in real time, but also what has happened since the events of Star Trek Nemesis. We’ve all got theories, but what if Kurtzman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and Patrick Stewart are willing to go super-dark? Here’s a speculative peek into the Picard possibilities you haven’t even brought yourself to consider yet…
3. Earth left the Federation, and it’s Picard’s fault
As far as we know, Starfleet exists in 2399 of this future, but we have no idea if Starfleet or Earth is still part of the United Federation of Planets. Though the two are usually linked, Starfleet preexisted the Federation by at least several decades (as suggested by Star Trek: Enterprise), operating solely as an Earth-based organization until the Federation was founded. But what if the Federation fractured? What if some isolationist elements on Earth (or who knows, Vulcan, too?) caused Earth to leave the Federation, resulting in Starfleet becoming a less-than-friendly space armada? The question posed to Picard in the first trailer is “Why did you leave Starfleet?” What if Picard did something that resulted in Starfleet changing forever and the Federation becoming the enemy of Earth? This theory might seem wild, but when you consider a future version of the Federation might be the “bad guys” in the third season of Discovery, setting this dynamic up the Picard series makes a lot of sense.
2. The “rescue armada” was for Earth
The clouds above Jean-Luc’s family wine vineyard in La Barre look somewhat ominous in the teaser-trailer, and in the new poster the entire Earth’s sky is colored orange. Now, it’s likely this is all simply atmospheric advertising and doesn’t really mean anything in particular for the series. But what if the “rescue armada” mentioned in teaser wasn’t a fleet of ships sent to evacuate Romulus, but instead was meant to rescue the people of Earth from some disaster? In the footage shown at the CBS Upfronts back in May, it was reported that it really seemed like Picard was on Earth, specifically at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco—but we don’t know if the footage shown was something happening in the “present” or if it was a flashback. If the Earth is trashed—or maybe just very screwed-up—and it’s because Picard failed, he may be chilling on Earth because he feels that rebuilding the soil on his home planet is the literally the only thing that matters. Star Trek hasn’t really spent a whole lot of time on the future-version of Earth, but a show dealing with a 25th century planet in full-on recovery could be really interesting. And a Trek series without space travel could be just the right amount of risky.
1. Every member of the TNG bridge crew is already dead
This is one that fans have started floating very quietly. Why is Picard’s dog named “Number One”? Could it be that the dog was a gift from Riker, and Picard is super attached to it because Will Riker perished in some horrible space disaster? And what if Will’s not the only one who died? If you think about how many unnamed characters die on distant planets or starships across all of Star Trek, the chances of every member of the Next Gen crew being alive in the time frame of Picard is actually pretty low. It’s just a numbers game, really. Data already died in Nemesis, which was kind of a cheat because Data had a robot duplicate that had his memories—but killing off a bunch of beloved flesh-and-blood characters like Riker, Troi, Worf, Geordi, and Crusher would be… well… crushing.
Here’s the thing. If Kurtzman and company do decide kill-off five beloved TNG characters off-screen, it would be the most controversial thing a Trek series has done, ever. (Which is saying something, because you know, a lot of people were initially mad about the Klingons back when Discovery debuted.) If Jean-Luc Picard is fundamentally a changed man, the audience will need to emotionally connect with why he’s down-in-the-dumps. Whatever the reason is, it has to be big.
Think we’ll know more details after a full trailer (likely) drops at San Diego Comic Con? Think again. Back in 2017, Star Trek: Discovery kept the Mirror Universe secret during the first half of its first season and also hid the fact that Captain Georgiou died in the series premiere. The point? Contemporary Star Trek is hugely invested in surprising audiences with shocking directions no one saw coming. Which is why no matter how bleak our theories about Star Trek: Picard might be at this point, we may not have even scratched the surface of how dark it could boldly go.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com. His other science fiction essays and journalism has been published by SyFy Wire, Den of Geek!, Inverse, and StarTrek.com He is the author of the essay collection Luke Skywalker Can’t Read (Penguin Random House) and an editor at Fatherly.