Star Trek: Picard just added another Starfleet officer to its deep bench of heroes in need of a photon torpedo casket.
The epic finale to Picard‘s freshman season, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” written by showrunner Michael Chabon, concludes with the shocking death — and resurrection — of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). After Picard and Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) use Rios’ (Santiago Cabrera) ship to defend the homeworld of an advanced race of androids (Synths) from the Romulan armada hellbent on wiping them out, Picard succumbs to his neurological ailment and dies. Then, his consciousness finds its way into a quantum afterlife simulation of sorts and has a tear-inducing chat with Picard’s long-lost friend, Data (Brent Spiner). Then, the retired Starfleet officer awakens in a brand new “golem” body that Dr. Altan Soong (Spiner again) was working on.
The only thing more surprising than the character’s fate, however, was that Stewart didn’t know about it until late in the season’s production.
“I only learned of [Picard’s death] way into [shooting] the first season,” the Star Trek: Picard star tells The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive post-mortem interview about “Arcadia Ego” and the show’s freshman season overall. “Because that final episode wasn’t written yet, and I didn’t know it was part of the storyline.”
Stewart half-joked that, while the shoot was leading up to the finale, “there was a moment where I thought: ‘Oh, lord, am I being killed off? What did I do wrong?'”
Shooting Picard and Data’s final six-page scene, in a redress of the study set from the Chateau Picard vineyard, was “the highlight of the season” for the series’ star and producer. But the execution was more sprint than marathon — especially considering that Stewart received the script relatively late in the process.
“I remember the writers worked on that up to the evening before we shot it,” Stewart recalled. “And I suggested one or two little tweaks to the script. And [the writers] got it so right.”
While Stewart didn’t initially know about the “death” of the Captain — er, Admiral (retired) — he did know that that story couldn’t be told without also involving Data, and picking up some of the underserviced threads of Data’s death in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, which saw the android sacrifice his life for Picard’s.
“I was looking forward to shooting it so very much, because I adore working with Brent. But the content of this scene was so serious, and so important to the characters — and the affection and mutual respect — was so clear and so strong. Picard knew that this would probably be the last time that he was ever with [Data] and we — we had to address that,” Stewart says. “The guilt Picard felt over Data’s loss at the beginning of the season, that the two characters never had a proper goodbye, or resolution, in [Nemesis] … We took almost the entire day, not quite, as I recall, [to shoot the scene], but it was a very, very intense experience.”
The experience of revisiting the loss of Picard’s beloved shipmate, opposite Stewart’s real-life friend and colleague, gave Stewart an opportunity to literally take a piece of the scene home with him.
“I’ll tell you an anecdote I haven’t told anybody,” Stewart says. “The following day, when I came to work again after we shot that scene, they were stripping that set down, and there was the chair that I had sat in. I went to ask if there was any possibility if I could buy that chair. Because it was in that chair where I was, in effect, saying goodbye to Data. It was also an incredibly comfortable chair (Laughs.), so, yes, we struck a deal that everyone was happy with and now it’s in my 200-year-old house in Oxfordshire.”
(Stewart promised the production, however, that if they ever needed to use that set again, he would bring the chair to work with him.)
In over three decades, that chair and Picard’s comm badge from the last day of shooting the Next Generation finale, “All Good Things …”, are the only things Stewart has taken from his time making Star Trek. (He unsuccessfully asked if he could take home his TNG uniform while shooting the series finale, “but Paramount wouldn’t let me do it,” Stewart notes. Years later, with the help of a chat show he was a guest on, the actor was able to eventually get his uniform.)
This anecdote, combined with the season finale episode, put the actor in a nostalgic mood about his overall experience shooting this landmark first season, especially the episode “Nepenthe.” The season’s seventh episode reunited him on-camera with Next Generation castmates and friends Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes, who reprised their roles as Deanna Troi and Will Riker, respectively. Their reunion also came with a welcomed off-camera surprise.
“One great afternoon, we had three visitors on the set,” Stewart recalls. “There was Jonathan, Marina and me — and Brent. And then, who else would turn up, but Michael Dorn [Worf] and LeVar Burton [Geordi La Forge] . It was an extraordinary reunion.”
While Stewart remained obviously tight-lipped about where Picard (and his new body) will go in Picard season two, he did say that, soon after the publish of this interview, “I am having a big meeting — an all-day meeting — with all of the writing team and I might have some feeling about the way things are going to go.”
But right now, Stewart is very happy about the way season one has ended — and how that’s a good starting point for where he and Picard’s newest crew can boldly go.
“We are beginning to have a good time together,” Stewart says. “I have no doubt whatsoever that the ensemble cast of Picard will be as important to my life as those on Next Gen.”
Who are we to argue with the (former) captain of the Enterprise.
For more, read how showrunner Chabon and executive producer Akiva Goldsman crafted the Picard finale.