September 29, 2022

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Travel Finishes First

Time Travel Tropes in Star Trek: Will Picard Save or Change the Future?

6 min read

Warning: Full spoilers follow for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

We are now three episodes into Picard Season 2, and the premise of this season is beginning to come into focus. Q has somehow brought Admiral Picard, Captain Rios, Seven of Nine, Dr. Agnes Jurati, Raffi, and Elnor into an alternate timeline where the Federation is a warmongering, conquering Confederation. Picard has rallied his friends to change this dark timeline by time-traveling into the past. However, he still doesn’t know why (or if) Q has caused any of these changes.

Episode 3 brings the intrepid crew to Los Angeles in the year 2024. But this isn’t the first time Admiral Picard has traveled to Earth’s past. He and the crew of the Enterprise-D time-traveled back to 1893 in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Time’s Arrow” and to 2063 in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact, to name just two incidents. During both of these trips back into the past, Picard had to protect the timeline from alien interference in order to preserve the future that he had come from. And it seems he’s faced with this challenge again in 2024…

So let’s take a look at three past instances of time travel in Star Trek to see how Picard and his crew could attempt to restore the Federation to its rightful place in history.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 Images

Tragic Time Travel: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the crew of the Enterprise encounter a temporal displacement and Doctor McCoy is injected with a deadly drug. After fleeing to a nearby planet, McCoy finds a portal back to Earth, travels to the year 1930, and saves the life of a kind woman named Edith Keeler. In the Enterprise’s time, Starfleet is erased, and Captain Kirk’s away team is stranded on the planet. Kirk and Spock must go back in time as well, landing a few days ahead of McCoy to prevent him from accidentally changing history and erasing Starfleet. Arriving in New York City, the pair meet Keeler, and over time, Kirk falls in love with her.

Kirk and Spock quickly realize that Edith Keeler’s death is the key to preserving their future. So Kirk is faced with an impossible choice: let McCoy save Edith’s life, which will completely change the future, or let the woman he loves die, which will preserve the timeline. When the moment comes, in an absolutely heart-breaking and gut-wrenching moment, Kirk stops McCoy from saving her and she is killed.

In this example of time travel, Kirk took the non-interference approach, not letting anything change the way history was meant to play out, even at great personal cost. We know that Picard will have to change the timeline in order to restore his original timeline. Will he too be forced to do so while facing a loss of some kind – perhaps even losing someone the way Kirk lost Edith?

Body Double Time Travel: “Past Tense”

In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk made the difficult decision to not interfere with the timeline, which caused him to lose the woman that he loved. Commander Sisko is faced with an equally difficult decision in the Deep Space Nine episode “Past Tense.” In the episode, Sisko, Dax, and Doctor Bashir travel to 2024 San Francisco. (Seems to be a popular year!) When social activist Gabriel Bell, an important figure in history, is prematurely killed due to their presence, the timeline is changed and Starfleet disappears in the future (again).

Faced with a decimated future, Sisko decides to step into the shoes of history to become Gabriel Bell until Bell’s original death can play out, at which point his sacrifice will play the part that will get history back on track.

Picard will also need to interfere in his 2024 to make sure the dark timeline never comes to pass. It’s possible he will also have to step into someone else’s shoes, perhaps to make a different decision than was made in the timeline Q sent him to.

It’s also Interesting that Picard Season 2 takes place in the same year as this Deep Space Nine episode. This season of Picard could easily mention the events from San Francisco on the news or in some other way, be it the riots, the hostage situation, or even the death of Gabriel Bell. It would be a clever way to reflect any choices Picard makes as well.

Borg Time Travel: Star Trek: First Contact

In Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg travel back to Earth of 2063 to prevent first contact – the day humans first met aliens. But arriving in the past, the Borg assimilate humanity and therefore change this history – and, as a result, the future. This is like the dark timeline in Picard, where the past has been transformed into a scary version of what should’ve happened. So the Enterprise of course follows the Borg through time in order to prevent them from assimilating the planet in the past.

Picard and his crew must fight a two-front battle in 2063, preventing the Borg Queen from overtaking the Enterprise while also getting legendary warp drive creator Zefram Cochrane back on track so he can fly the first warp flight, and hence attract the attention of the Vulcans in order to make first contact.

Although we don’t know yet if an outside force like the Borg did go back in time to create the Confederation on Star Trek: Picard, if they did Jean-Luc will have to root out that enemy. Q also tells Picard this dark timeline is the “end of the road not taken.” Somehow this scary version of the future represents “Picard’s fears.” However, Picard would not have been born yet in 2024, so whose road is Q talking about? There’s also a small boy in one of the trailers for this season, and he appears to meet and mind-meld with a Vulcan in the woods. Does this give us a clue about why Picard must travel back to 2024? Perhaps an ancestor had an encounter with a Vulcan before the events of First Contact? Perhaps that ancestor makes a choice in this timeline that leads to the darker version of Starfleet glimpsed in the trailer. Will Picard have to alter his own family’s personal history to set things right? Episode 1 of the season does dwell on the fact that Picard is the last of his family line. Perhaps that will no longer be the case when all is said and done?

As Picard explores 2024, he will have to decide how much to interfere in the past. Will he and his crew cause multiple butterfly effects by getting involved with people and situations they shouldn’t? Will any of them get stuck in the past, thus altering their own personal futures (unless of course they were always meant to get stuck in the past!)? Will Picard lose any of them in his efforts to restore the main timeline? And will Q show up in 2024 to help them? There seem to be a lot of possible forces at work here and, knowing Q, anything is possible.

But Picard knows how important it is that Starfleet is allowed to evolve into the peacekeeping force it’s destined to be. The question is, just how much will Picard and co. have to change to make sure that happens? Or will they have to let difficult events play out, the way Captain Kirk and Commander Sisko did, at the possible expense of their own lives? Only time will tell.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is currently airing on Paramount+ in the U.S.

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