I just discovered an absolute gem [via Reddit, of course] and had to share some thoughts. It’s a letter written by Patrick Stewart to Gene Roddenberry, dated 27th October 1988. Within, Stewart “recapitulates” a conversation he recently had with Roddenberry on the direction and development of the character of Jean Luc Picard.
Picard stands to this day as my favorite captain, as well as something of a personal mentor and role model. To a significant degree, my morals and values were shaped by my experiences with science fiction as a child, and none had a greater impact than Picard’s Next Generation. I’ve always believed that science fiction, the best science fiction, exists to say something about the human condition. These stories absolutely SHOULD teach us something, and that we should be better for having experienced them.
What stood out to me most within this letter was how much care Stewart brought to the character, how much hope, how much love, and how much humanity. This is an impassioned plea for Picard to rise above the shallow plots, reactionary tropes, and lack of development, to become the man Stewart was already playing him as, the man that the work deserved.
Even in these early days [we’re still in the first half of season 2 here] Stewart has the measure of Picard:
Picard is leader, negotiator, peace-maker, ombudsman. He thinks, he talks, he assesses, he bluffs (for all which qualities I love him, as I am the one who has said again and again that this Captain is a diplomat and an ambassador).
In knowing his character, he uniquely perceives what Picard needs to show the audience, and how he needs to grow:
In the writers guide you say that Picard ‘…enjoys the privileges that go with his rank and vessel – also the eccentricities permitted.’ Our stories have furnished little in the way of permitted eccentricities or the enjoyment of privileges.
He also knows how critical character relationships are to developing the Captain into a multi-dimensional character. IN talking about these relationships, he says:
Relationships. I feel they have been generalised and unspecific. That special relationship with Number One has not moved forward, nor been utilised. Picard is fascinated by Data, amused and intrigued. He should use him more imaginatively. Guinan was Picard’s personal appointment. There was a reason and I assume that suggests a history. Please, let us not use up Whoopi’s quota without examining that.
Personal relationships. Private, intimate, call them what you will. They are at zero level so far this season. I know there is a school of thought that a Picard/Crusher relationship never existed but I am a little puzzled by this as I spent hours in front of the camera last season assuming – and acting – that it did.
And who else could just imagine the smile lighting up Wil Wheaton’s face when he read this:
I have yet to play a scene with Wil that was not a delight. (Have I ever told you what a fan I am of that young man?) I hope that I am not going to entirely lose him to Geordie, Riker and Guinan.
It was great to see Picard grow with these characters and in this space through the following episodes and seasons and to allow his backstory inform his reactions in a way that was visible to the audience. I’ll never forget the scene in the final episode where Picard finally takes the chair that’s always been open to him at the senior staff poker game. It took him seven years to sit down, but we saw it happen, the character growth was clever and sure and leading perfectly to that moment.
In the end, I share the viewpoint of Redditor u/AustralianPartyKid: “I had no idea it could be possible for me to believe Mr. Stewart was a bigger class act than I already thought. Then I read this.”