Anyone who was worried that Star Trek was getting a little too dark suddenly has nothing to worry about. Yes, throughout the course of all 10 episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 1, we've been through some rough times, including more than one brutal death. (Pour one out for you know who!) But now, at the end of this long and winding transwarp conduit, the bright, optimistic values of Star Trek: The Next Generation have returned, and the benevolent Federation is seemingly back in full swing. When Picard says "engage" this time, he really means it.
But Jean-Luc has obviously changed. What does this all mean? And how does Picard's big twist impact the canon of The Next Generation and the future of Trek? Reactivate that quantum simulation! It's time to get synthetic.
**Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 10, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2.”**
A lot happens in the finale of Star Trek: Picard. The Zhat Vash is intimidated into retreating by Captain Riker, the crew of the La Sirena finally comes together as a family, Data's Matrix brain "dies," and Picard is reborn in a synthetic android body.
And with that last, very huge plot development, the series has come full circle from the first episode, in which Data asked Picard to "finish the painting." This means that in some ways, Picard's life work was always to reconcile the galactic conflict between Synthetic lifeforms and organic ones. From TNG episodes like "Data's Day" and "The Offspring," Picard's parent-like advocacy for Data has always been a huge part of his beliefs. Now, the ending of Picard Season 1 posits that this peace between artificial and organic was something Jean-Luc had been brokering for a long time, whether he knew it or not.
Part of the reason why it's so smart that Picard has been reborn in a synthetic body is that, canonically, Jean-Luc was already supplemented with non-organic parts. In "Nepenthe," he reminds young Kestra Troi-Riker that his heart is an artificial one, referencing the lengthy flashbacks in the TNG episode "Tapestry." And of course, as Jean-Luc ranted in Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg injected "cybernetic implants throughout my body." Since things started getting good in TNG, Picard has been grappling internally and externally with the idea that synthetic life might either curtail his humanity... or... save it.
The finale of Picard seems to make it very clear that if you become more of a machine than a human, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll become evil. By the end of the story, Jean-Luc Picard doesn't become a robot — he becomes more human because his perception of what it means to be alive is suddenly more diverse than nearly any other Star Trek character ever.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Dr. McCoy asks Spock to "cover some philosophical ground," hoping to find out what it was like for Spock to have died and been reborn in a regenerated new body on the Genesis Planet. Spock says, "It would be impossible to discuss without a suitable frame of reference," to which Bones retorts, "You mean, I have to die to discuss your insights on death?"
Basically, the answer to Bones' question in The Voyage Home is answered in a roundabout way in the finale of Picard: Yes. You actually do need a frame of reference to become more enlightened, which means, in this case, in order to have a real discussion about death in a science-fiction context, a character has to actually die. But Picard has oodles more insight than Spock ever did. He's in a new body. Spock got his old organic one back. In the episode "Inheritance," Data's mom, Juliana, had the closest experience to what Picard is going through now — a humanoid android with all the memories of a human being. But the biggest difference between her and Picard's new bod, is that like Dahj and Soji at the beginning, Juliana never knew she wasn't human.
From a canon point of view, this means that Jean-Luc Picard is literally a brand new type of character in the Star Trek mythos. In terms of his "alien species," he's now a Soong-type android, in the same robot family as Data, and Soji. But unlike Jean-Luc's instant robot family, he has 94 years of memories of having been a human, and unlike Juliana, he knows he became an android. Jean-Luc Picard was always an empathetic character, but that empathy often came from idealism and enlightened belief.
Now, it's a little different. Jean-Luc Picard's empathy doesn't just come from him being a really good person; it comes from the memories of being a literal trans-species character. He's been both a human being and, now, a Soong-type android. (Or some other variety of android.)
Like all far-reaching science fiction, the Star Trek franchise has always reached for answers to what life could be beyond death. Star Trek: Picard approaches this question differently. The finale of the newest series isn't about life after death. It's about life after life.
Spock would call it "fascinating." Data would call it "intriguing."
But for Jean-Luc Picard, this isn't a thought experiment. It's now his reality. And he's got to keep making it so.