Akiva Goldsman on Expanding 'Star Trek' Canon Through 'Strange New Worlds' and the 'Picard' Season 2 Finale

Akiva Goldsman discusses the current approach to 'Star Trek' cannon across series and those 'Picard' Season 2 finale reveals.
by Scott Huver — 

Sir Patrick Stewart in 'Star Trek: Picard'


Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Picard, . Read at your own risk!

With Star Trek: Picard briefly heading into Space Dock following its second season finale, and a new series in the venerable franchise, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, hitting warp speed, executive producer Akiva Goldsman is looking to boldly steer both into unexplored regions, while entering plenty of familiar orbits along the way. 

As someone who proudly recalls attending the very first Star Trek fan convention in his youth, Goldsman brings a longtime fan's perspective — as well as a long, Oscar-winning screenwriting career — to his work on the recent slate of streaming series in creator Gene Roddenberry's enduring sci-fi franchise. By Picard's second season finale, the stalwart former captain of the Enterprise crossed paths with a slew of friends and foes from his past (including Guinan, the Q, the Borg Queen, and in a finale moment no one saw coming, Wil Wheaton's Wesley Crusher as the new Traveler). He also found himself in many scenarios that echoed and put new spins of recognizable moments from throughout Star Trek history. 

At the same time, Strange New Worlds takes on an unchronicled early period of 23rd century history centered on the characters who led "The Cage," Roddenberry's initial, ultimately revamped pilot for Star Trek (repurposed as the '60s series' first season two-parter "The Menagerie"), but also populated by early incarnations of characters with direct ties to James T. Kirk's crew. Even further, the series leans into the more episodic and tonally diverse format of the franchise's first four decades while still incorporating serialized plot lines and long-simmering character development. 

Here, Goldsman talks to Metacritic about how he hopes Strange New Worlds will crack open and expand upon the core tenants of Star Trek that he fell in love with as a viewer and his vision for pushing the universe forward while trying to stay true to the spirit of its long-accumulating canon. He also digs into a few key components of the Picard finale that play directly into all that beloved lore. 

Strange New Worlds has the episodic "exploring new worlds and sci-fi concepts" aspect of The Original Series and The Next Generation, but it also has continuing character arcs and storylines akin to the newer series. Tell us about trying to find that magical mix of what you loved about the original series' storytelling and what television requires today. 

Forgive this deep-cut/not-so-deep-cut, but we're looking for the best of both worlds here. And really, what I mean by that is that after quite a few seasons of serialized Star Trek, there's something of a release in episodic storytelling, just from a writing standpoint. From [an] emotional communication standpoint, the original series did things that we really loved — at least I did, again, forgive the pun. And there was a sense of adventure and a sense of unpredictability, and yet comfort. It was a really interesting combination. 

You didn't quite know where you were going to go that week, or in my case, that night, in syndication, but you knew it would be somewhere new. You knew it would be somewhere extraordinary and that you knew you'd have your cohort, this crew that you imagined yourself to be part of. And we got to do that again, and do that kind of O. Henry-esque or Twilight Zone storytelling with a wrap up that's a bit more like a punchline, a bit more like a story conversion than you can in serialized, because you have to run 10 episodes]. 

And also, we got to pull back the thing that I always struggled with in its lack in the original series. So, if Kirk has to watch Edith Keeler get run over by a car one week, he has to be totally over it by the next week. And that feels not consistent with the level of storytelling that is going on with Star Trek when Star Trek is at its best. What we get to do now is these serialized character arcs around episodic stories — that the characters can be moved, can be touched, can be made better, worse, new or different, can be hurt. And that will carry from episode to episode rather than have to be reset. So, we're trying to find opportunities in both forms of the storytelling and let those sort of work together to make a really fun ride. 

And you're able to experiment with different tones and storytelling styles: you get to tell mysteries, you do first contact stories you get to do something really amusing and funny with Spock (Ethan Peck), which hasn't been done in a really long time. That freedom, tonally, must have been really exciting for you as well. 

Oh, it is! The tonal variety is a delight and it is also hearkening back to the original series, that you had horror — Robert Bloch wrote a couple of episodes — you have straight, essentially comedy, you have hard sci-fi, you have fantasy, your historical fiction. Really, these were all entirely accepted within the vernacular of Star Trek, and I think still are.  

I think what happens, of course, is that is one of the sacrifices of serialized storytelling [is] that you can have tonal variety only in a much smaller range when your episodes are all connected. But we are conscious of moving through tones — even how the episodes are placed in relation to each other — so that not only is there tonal variety across episodes, but also the experience of the season has a rhythm to it that we've kept you for 10 [episodes] that you've enjoyed. 

Tell us about you and your writing team getting to go back to that really allegorical style that was not just part of Star Trek, but also, as you mentioned, great early sci-fi shows like The Twilight Zone, where you can comment directly on things of the moment cloaked in alien cultures and sci-fi concepts. The times of today seem very parallel to the social strife of the '60s and the need for that kind of commentary. 

Star Trek is a carnival mirror to lens on our present, right? We can often have a better view, a safer view, of our own deficits when we paint them with a brush that makes them seem like they're not really us, right? That's the trick of genre storytelling, sometimes: It's easier to see ourselves in things that seem a little different than in the mirror. So, I think that we are really f---ed right now, culturally and politically, and ecologically — I mean, this world is in bad shape.  

I was on with somebody the other day, and they were like, "But the '60s was such an easy time." And I was like, "No, you're young!" In 1968, it was Bobby Kennedy, it was Martin Luther King. One year had enough to tear a society apart. And it's cold comfort because it's really bad out again too, but maybe that's when storytelling can do a little to at least hold these issues up. Star Trek's certainly always been good at that. And if we can have one drop in the culture and of whatever this ability that we all yearn for to see ourselves and perspective-ize where we are, good for us.

Fans have really loved the consistency of canon over the course of the Star Trek franchise. I know that can be both a boon for story ideas and character development, and can also be kind of an anchor for storytellers in your position. So, how do you approach it now, especially given that you're bringing in some characters from Kirk's Enterprise and some that have allusions to characters such as Khan?

We love canon. We try very hard to adhere to it, and yet we probably won't destroy a really good story over it. We'll try to body English around it, but fundamentally the spirit of canon is, to us, more important than the letter of the law.  

I know that sounds vaguely like an excuse. And in fairness, we really do try very hard to stick to it, but now and then we deviate. And we do it because we thought about it and we believe that we're better off attempting to rewrite canon, which I know sounds sacrilegious, but canon was an accident. When they made "The Cage," they weren't like, "And then we'll cut it into two parts and make it 'The Menagerie' and Star Trek backstory is born!" That was not the purpose. It's a lot of people like us and people who will come after us who will hopefully do their best to stick with what we did and then don't be slaves to it if it gets in their way. 

Let's talk about the finale of Picard: What was the creative delight in wrapping up this story in which you get to, among many other things, explain his emotional distance — an aspect that's long been apparent but not previously dug into? And similarly, resolving his long-running interactions with the Q.

It's interesting because they both are functions of the same impulse, which is to find a thing to tell a story about in a life that has been so told — and an internal story, one that has to do with character. And when your character's over 100 [years old], you've got to dig pretty deep. And of course, trauma and time travel are sort of the same thing because our own traumas are like time travel to us. We live forever in the moment of the pain until it's resolved. It seemed like a good storytelling tool, and as we were doing that, we were also trying to understand where Picard was able to have long-standing relationships, and we're like, "You know, that Q thing sticks around." 

And so for us, I think there was something really nice about the idea that there was, really, at the bottom of this relationship love — that somehow that this was really, "Gods can have favorites, too." Q really loves Picard, and it is that which Picard gives him back at the end. I thought that was really nice as a possibility. And then to let Picard off the hook a little bit when it came to his own inner dissatisfaction with himself over these guilts and responsibilities he felt, and to let him have a moment with Laris at the end, these were what passed for — at least for us in Season 2 with obviously more to come — a happy ending. And we wanted him to have one. Hard earned, but we wanted him to have one. 

And we have to address the Wesley Crusher appearance: First, how hard that was to pull off secretly and make it a surprise? And then also with so many dangling elements — Wesley's intent for Kore Soong in the Supervisors' ranks, Adam Soong's Project Khan; Rios' fate — is Star Trek actually done with the 21st century for the time being, or is there some further plans brewing? 

I have no plan in the 21st century for Star Trek currently. If there is one, I know nothing about it. That doesn't mean there isn't one. There are many heads to this beast that is Star Trek.  

When it comes to Wesley, it wasn't hard to pull off because Will is still very much alive in the Star Trek continuum, and he does the [Ready Room after] show. And we love him, and he is so essential to sort of that original Next Gen cast. So, it wasn't hard to pull off, but it was hard to keep secret. But part of the thing that I think we've done so interestingly is we stopped keeping secrets somewhere along the way, so nobody noticed we were keeping this one. 

Where to watch Star Trek: Picard:

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Where to watch Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: