“The Next Generation,” the opening episode of Star Trek: Picard’s third and final season, is teeming with a nostalgic love for Star Trek’s past, from metatextual gags and references to a thematic examination of the weight that past hangs over its characters. But I’ve not been able to stop thinking about one reference in particular.
Early in the episode, Picard is called to action—quite literally—by the chirping of his old Enterprise combadge, heralding an encrypted message from Dr. Beverly Crusher, who he hasn’t seen in decades. To begin decrypting Beverly’s message, Picard has to run it through a codec, which he initiates by invoking his Starfleet authorization code: Picard 4-7 Alpha Tango.
Voice-activated authorization codes are commonplace in Star Trek, and Picard himself had multiple over his career, suggesting that they can either be changed with time or that an individual can have multiple codes assigned to them at once—which makes sense as these codes are really important to Starfleet operations. They’re what let officers initiate ship system reboots, transfer command authority, access restricted areas or restrict access in the first place... and do things like eject warp cores or begin self-destruct timers. Also happening to use it to basically check his 25th century DMs makes sense, although it’s a little weird that it can do that and also blow up a starship if needs be.
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But that’s not really the weird thing about Picard using this command code here though. It’s the fact that the command code is a reference to Star Trek: First Contact, where Picard uses Picard 4-7 Alpha Tango to initiate the self-destruct sequence of the Enterprise-E. A movie that primarily takes place 28 years before the events of this episode. Three decades is a long time to have a password, Jean-Luc! Especially one that lets you nuke your own starship and slide into your space DMs!
This is hardly the first time Star Trek has dabbled with the security loopholes behind authorization codes. Despite the extra layer of security in having them be tied to a voice print, we’ve seen in the past incidents where that voice print can be mimicked or duplicated nefariously—like in the TNG episode “Brothers” when Data, controlled by his creator Dr. Noonian Soong, emulates Picard’s voice to take control of the Enterprise. It’s why these codes are meant to change, or that there are multiple available to an officer, but they should probably change at a quicker pace than the best part of 30 years. Hell, in the 21st century we’re changing our passwords every few months.
Maybe these days Picard’s security clearance mean his codes don’t do much more than let him access his emails, even if they previously let him explode spaceships. But he is an admiral, even after his falling out with Starfleet in the events preceding Picard’s first season, and presumably such a rank gives him a reasonably significant level of clearance—and definitely means he should be changing his codes more often! Or perhaps the point is it is an old code, and Beverly sends her message to Picard’s classic combadge—not even the one he wore in the movies, but the one he wore in the show itself—necessitating the use of an old code that she knows only the Admiral would remember to use, ensuring her secret message goes to him alone.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because it’s a code Picard used in First Contact and Terry Matalas and his crew want you to go “oh! Just like in First Contact!” and go on with your nerdy life watching the episode. But what is Star Trek fandom, if not obsessing over the tiniest little details?
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