The eternal debate rages on throughout the universe: who is the best captain on Star Trek? Honestly, there are good arguments for all of them. Janeway, for example, defeated the Borg and brought her crew home from the Delta Quadrant, never giving up on them even after decades had passed. Kirk faced new situations no one in Starfleet had faced before, and you could claim that Archer did the same. Sisko balanced commanding a space station with being an Emissary to the Prophets.
But Captain Picard emerges as an extraordinary, exceptional leader every time, and the evidence stacks up, episode after episode. Whether he's battling enemies or standing up for Federation ideals, he's a natural born leader, earning the loyalty and trust of his crew, the respect of his enemies, and the confidence of Starfleet. So what is the magic formula that makes him so exemplary? Behold the answer to that, with 15 Reasons Jean-Luc Picard Is The Best Captain Ever.
Admittedly he's in some pretty good company, but no one makes better speeches than Jean-Luc Picard. (We'll call James T. Kirk a very close second.)
He's defended everyone from low-ranking crewmen ("The Drumhead") to all of humanity ("Encounter at Farpoint"). He's urged societies to change their ways ("The Hunted"), and convinced magistrates to grant human rights ("Measure of a Man"). His speeches have provoked guilt ("The First Duty") and even faked out a love-crazed Ferengi ("Menage a Troi").
When his own words aren't enough, he combines them with William Shakespeare's for maximum impact, telling Q, "Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony, I say with conviction: 'What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!'"
Sure, he can talk with the best of 'em, but sometimes talking just won't do, and in those times, Picard can take win a physical battle as well as a verbal one.
In "Starship Mine," the crew is temporarily evacuated for a shipwide baryon sweep, but Picard comes back at the last minute to pick up a saddle. (Doesn't every good rider have his own saddle?) He finds a group of mercenaries there, out to steal trilithium and sell it, and goes into action, taking the whole group down singlehandedly. He goes after them one at a time, starting with Tuvok--oops, Devor--then uses Devor's communicator to listen on the rest of them. He gets himself captured but convinces them, since he's in civilian clothing, that he's Mott the barber, so he can hear more of their plans, and then causes a distraction so he can escape. He takes out his next victim with a crossbow. And of course, he wins in the end, stopping the baryon sweep at the last possible second.
The Picard command style is incredibly effective. He assembled the finest crew in the fleet, and as situations arise, instead of going rogue, he gathers them together and asks each one to share his or her expertise, as well as their best advice. He weighs each piece of wisdom on its own merits, then chooses the best path, adding his own Picard spin, but always taking their expertise into account as part of the process.
In "Yesterday's Enterprise," the Enterprise suddenly emerges from a temporal rift with an entirely different history. The Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire, which seems completely normal to everyone aboard. Another ship has emerged from the past, and as Crusher tends to its captain, Guinan tells Picard that the timeline is wrong and the other ship must be sent back to the past to finish--and lose--its battle.
Picard always knows when it's time to heed a warning, even if it makes no sense, even if there's no evidence, and based on Guinan's instincts she can't explain, he sends the ship back. History is restored.
In the very last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard jumps from one time period to the next, shifting in and out of different parts of his present, past and future. Along the way, he is tormented by Q, who insists that Picard will cause the destruction of humanity by disrupting the beginnings of life on Earth. Ouch.
But Picard is able to think beyond linear time and cause and effect, and changes his actions in all three time periods, then saves Earth and all of humanity. "We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did," Q tells him. "For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknowable possibilities of existence."
That's why you don't hear Picard exclaim, "That's impossible!" very much, because he knows that very little actually is.
We've covered his speech-making abilities, but Picard doesn't always need a platform to make his case. Sometimes it's as simple as a throwaway line, beautifully enhanced by his perfect diction and the British accent that automatically makes him sound classier and more trustworthy than anybody else. When he says something, you believe it, whether it's a scientific fact or a philosophical theory. Everything he says sounds wise and true.
In "The Wounded," he's talking to Miles O'Brien about Maxwell, O'Brien's former captain, a man who's committing acts of war against the Cardassians. O'Brien thinks Maxwell must have good reasons, and Picard tells him, "I think when one has been angry for a very long time, one gets used to it. And it becomes comfortable, like old leather. And, finally, it becomes so familiar that one can't ever remember feeling any other way." Next time we see O'Brien, he's having a drink, and some honest conversation, with one of the Cardassians.
When the people of Ventax II think that the devil, named Ardra, is coming to take over the planet after making a deal with them a thousand years earlier, they panic. But Picard knows a scam when he sees one; when Ardra shows up, it's not long before he exposes her for the fraud that she is. (She does send him down to the planet in his pjs before that happens, but that only increases his resolve.)
And when he's kidnapped along with three other aliens, with no indication of why, he wastes no time figuring out what's going on. While the others are busy complaining, he's busy evaluating and planning. One of his fellow captives is a Starfleet cadet, and he tests her, then when he's ready, reveals to the others that they're all part of a scientific experiment and the cadet is among their captors. "I'm not playing any further. I'm quitting the game. As far as I am concerned, this experiment is over!" he tells them, calling an end to the nonsense.
Of course it makes sense that Picard fought for Riker when he was falsely accused of murder ("A Matter of Perspective"), and for Data, both when his life was threatened ("Measure of a Man") and when his child was in danger of being removed from the ship ("The Offspring"). And he memorably stood up for Worf as his Cha'DIch in "Sins of the Father," which is a pretty big deal for a starship captain: when a warrior challenges a ruling of the Klingon High Council, he is forbidden to fight and it's his Cha'DIch who engages in physical combat on his behalf. When Picard suggests that Worf might want someone younger and stronger, Worf replies, "I can think of no one I would rather have at my side." Same!
And in "The Drumhead," when lowly crewman Tarses becomes the focus of a witch hunt, Picard goes to see him, becomes convinced of his innocence (minus one understandable lie on his Starfleet application), and defends him to the end, refusing to let a young man's career be ruined, even when his own reputation is threatened as a result.
Everyone on Picard's ship has their area of expertise, but sometimes, someone gets an assignment they're not entirely comfortable with, and Picard is not the kind of captain to let a crew member off the hook for the wrong reasons. Whether it's Data convincing colonists to evacuate their homes ("The Ensigns of Command") or Troi having to communicate with aliens without her empathic powers ("The Loss"), Picard insists that his crew rise to the occasion.
After Worf is given a discommendation from the Klingon Empire, he is uncomfortable dealing with other Klingons who will have heard of his dishonor. Picard respects Klingon traditions more than most, but he respects his ship and his crew more. When a Klingon ambassador shows up unexpectedly and asks to board ("Reunion"), Picard sends Worf to the transporter room to receive her. Worf asks him to send someone else, as his dishonor might offend her, but Picard is having none of it. "Lieutenant, you are a member of this crew, and you will not go into hiding whenever a Klingon ship uncloaks," he tells him.
Picard's history is that he grew up in France, in his family's vineyards, and went against family tradition by going to Starfleet Academy and exploring space. And when he encounters aliens with different ways of thinking, he's always more fascinated than surprised; he doesn't condemn cultures that seem strange, he chooses to learn about them instead.
He forms a partnership with a Tamarian captain even though they can't understand each other's language; he speaks Klingon and respects their rituals and traditions. When Kamala, a metamorph, is being transported by the Enteprise as a gift, he tries to see her point of view and her culture despite his beliefs that the whole operation is a terrible idea. Every time he is asked to participate in a ritual of a planet or civilization, he does it, no matter what he has to wear, say, or do.
He is a true explorer, a student of archaeology and ancient cultures, and a man who always tries to understand his opponents instead of fighting them.
Having a strong moral center is not always convenient, but Picard never wavers. He may wrestle with his decisions, but he always sticks by his inner moral code, believing both in himself and in the organization he represents. The ideals of the United Federation of Planets are his guidelines, and the only time he challenges that authority is when those entrusted with it are betraying it. "If a court-martial is the only way to let the people of the Federation know what is happening here, I welcome it," he tells a corrupt admiral in Star Trek: Insurrection.
When Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death for a trivial offense ("Justice"), Picard struggles with a conflict between the Prime Directive and his obligation to protect his crew. He never crashes through alien societies, deciding for himself that they're not evolving properly--but to be fair to famous society-crashing Captain Kirk, Picard never found himself on a planet of Chicago gangsters, Roman gladiators, or Nazis.
Picard is not an impulsive man. Everything is thought through, all details and consequences weighed.
In "Where Silence Has Lease," the Enterprise stumbles onto a "void without matter or energy of any kind," and get trapped in it. Even Worf gets freaked out, but Picard stays calm, even when he determines that the alien inside the void is experimenting on the crew. Even after he orders the self-destruction of the Enterprise, with a 20-minute countdown, he sits peacefully listening to classical music. Troi and Data try to convince him to abort the self-destruct sequence, and he recognizes that they are imposters, sent there by the alien, and doesn't change his mind. When the Enterprise appears to be clear of the void immediately after that, with seconds left to go on the self-destruct sequence, he still waits, calmly until there are only ten seconds left, before aborting it.
In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, he loses his temper completely, smashing up his ready room and yelling at Lily Sloane. We'll give him a break on that one, as he has some good reasons for being extra mad at the Borg.
In "Q Who," Q shows up--it's only his third time visiting the Enterprise--and tells the crew that they are not truly prepared to explore the dangers and unknowns of the universe. Q calls them arrogant, then proves his point by flinging them into unexplored space, 7000 light years away. It is there where they meet the Borg for the first time, and on that first encounter, resistance is very, very futile.
When Picard realizes that they are about to be defeated, he turns to Q. "You wanted to frighten us. We're frightened. You wanted to show us that we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say I need you. I need you!"
It works. "That was a difficult admission," Q tells him. "Another man would have been humiliated to say those words. Another man would have rather died than ask for help."
It's called The Picard Maneuver, and no, it's not that shirt-tugging move Picard does all the time, which is also called The Picard Maneuver. But this one is a battle move, recorded in Starfleet Academy textbooks for all cadets to study.
When Picard was in command of the USS Stargazer, his ship was attacked by a then-unknown (but later discovered as Ferengi) alien vessel. The Stargazer, already damaged at that point, accelerated into high warp very suddenly, towards the Ferengi ship. The effect of that was to completely trick the Ferengi ship's sensors. To the Ferengi, there suddenly appeared to be two Stargazers in two completely different locations, and they fired on the wrong one. The real Stargazer then destroyed the Ferengi ship. As described by Picard, "I did what any good helmsman would have done. I dropped into high warp, stopped right off the enemy vessel's bow, fired with everything I had."
Really, Jean-Luc Picard should be dealing with some serious PTSD by now. In addition to his unusual experiences like living an entire lifetime on Kataan ("The Inner Light") or beaming out into empty space alone ("Lonely Among Us"), he's been through some deeply personal, invasive trauma.
In "Best of Both Worlds," he was abducted by the Borg and turned into Locutus. He was forced to fight Starfleet ships, and speak for the Borg with the proclamation that humanity's existence as it had been known was over. He couldn't stop it. But when his crew rescued him, Jean-Luc was still in there under the implants, and was able to give Data a command that would incapacitate the Borg.
In "Chain of Command," another A-list two-parter, he is physically tortured by a Cardassian, and asked, in Orwellian fashion, to confess to seeing something that wasn't real. Although he'd been brutalized so much that he actually DID see the five lights, he continued to lie to his torturer, refusing to fully succumb even though it would have meant rescue and comfort. Picard cannot be broken.
There's something so commanding about Jean-Luc Picard, from the way he speaks to the way he carries himself. In a crisis, he's the first person you'd turn to, because he always has a game plan and a clear idea of which path is the best one.
But it turns out, that he DOESN'T always know what the right decision is, which Dr. Crusher learned when the two of them were kidnapped and then telepathically linked. In "Attached," they escape from their captors and make their escape together as the link between them slowly strengthens and they can hear more of each other's thoughts. And that is where the wise Dr. Crusher has her revelation. She tells him she doesn't know which hill they should go over and he tells her which one. But now she can sense his thoughts. "You don't really know, do you?" she asks/says, confirming it for herself. "You're acting like you know exactly which way to go, but you're only guessing. Do you do this all the time?"
"No," he tells her, "but there are times when it is necessary for a captain to give the appearance of confidence."
Hey, if it works, it works. And dammit, it works.
The newest series in the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery, premieres later this year on CBS.