Star Trek: Picard’s Third Season is a Love Letter to the Franchise
RED ALERT! Major Spoilers for Star Trek: Picard’s final season ahead. RED ALERT!
Star Trek is and always will be one of my very favorite franchises. I love it more than Star Wars (sorry, but I do… but I’m still a mega Star Wars fan too). I love it more than Doctor Who. I might even love it more than Harry Potter, if that is even possible for me. And what I love most about it is that there is so much of it that I can, at any time, decide to watch some Trek and find an episode or movie that I haven’t seen in a few years.
I love the entire franchise, from the original series and Kirk movies to the Next Generation era, from Enterprise to Discovery, from the J.J. Abrams reboots to Strange New Worlds. Even at its absolute lowest points — and Trek has seen plenty of those — it is still something that I love, and I’ve never once given up on the franchise.
But I’ve got to say… I have gotten a little tired of revisiting the Kirk era over and over again. Look, Kirk is great — in fact, he and his crew are iconic — but lately, Paramount has been obsessed with revisiting this period of Star Trek history. Between the Abrams reboots focusing on a younger Kirk and crew, Discovery exploring the years before Kirk’s Enterprise (though thankfully now moved to the far-flung future of the franchise), and Strange New Worlds telling the story of the Enterprise’s previous captain, Trek has explored Kirk’s era to death. That’s not a bad thing — Strange New Worlds has easily become one of my absolute favorite Trek shows ever made (I can’t get enough of Anson Mount’s Pike and Ethan Peck’s Spock, and I love all of the new crew members) — but while Paramount has been giving all of their attention to this period in Trek lore, I’ve long felt that they’ve been ignoring what could be a latinum-mine for new adventures: the time period after TNG, DS9, and Voyager.
My personal favorite era of Star Trek was that of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I loved the more modern take on the futuristic technology, from the LCARS displays to the comm badges, and I loved how all three of those shows — and the subsequent Picard movies — were all interconnected and uniform. Looking back on it, the TNG/DS9/Voyager era of Trek was the first “cinematic universe” that I was introduced to, way before Marvel came along and knocked it out of the park. This was the first franchise that I experienced where characters and stories could easily cross over between different shows.
And ever since Paramount brought Trek back, this was the era of Trek I most wanted to explore again. Stories set in Kirk’s time are limited; they can’t further the overall story of Star Trek because they are beholden to the canon of The Original Series and the Kirk movies. The only way around this is to set the stories in an alternate timeline — like Abram’s movies — or to risk the wrath of the fans (see the use of holograms instead of viewscreens in Discovery season 1). And even if they do manage to get a compelling story started that fans love, they all have an expiration date — Strange New Worlds will likely have to end once it is time for Kirk to take command of the Enterprise (unless they too do something creative like Discovery did by sending the ship 900 years into the future).
There’s a lot of Star Trek lore from this franchise that has existed for decades now, but surprisingly, there was never anything(outside of books and comics) that picked up the story where Star Trek: Nemesis, Voyager’s “Endgame”, and Deep Space Nine’s “What You Leave Behind” left off. Outside of some glimpses of the future in alternate timeline episodes (“All Good Things”, “Endgame”, and “Timeless”, to name a few), and the brief mention of the destruction of Romulus that instigated the 2009 reboot, Trek has never returned to this era of the franchise for more stories. It was unexplored space. At least, it was until, Star Trek: Picard was announced.
I was ecstatic when Paramount announced the return of Jean-Luc Picard to our screens. Finally, the franchise was returning to my favorite part of the story to tell us what happens next. I couldn’t wait. I was thrilled to see Patrick Stewart return, and even more thrilled when Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine was announced to join the cast as well.
I’ve enjoyed all three seasons of Picard; however, the first two were often hit-and-miss for me.
Season one came at a time when the franchise as a whole was still recovering from Paramount’s decision to make streaming Trek “edgier” than the legacy shows; it was a welcome dash of familiarity and continuity to come after Discovery’s somewhat polarizing first season and its much improved second season. Picard’s first season continued to help course-correct the franchise back closer to what it had been before the hiatus after Enterprise, but it still struggled some with breaks from the feel of the rest of the franchise, some occasionally inconsistent story-telling, and an overall lack of connection to TNG (aside from “Napenthe”). But on the other hand, this first season was instrumental in getting Picard where it needed to be for season 3 to happen; it dealt with some very important storylines for Jean-Luc and the franchise as a whole, from the aforementioned destruction of Romulus and how Picard was changed by the events surrounding the Romulan relocation, to Data’s death and his daughters. And, it had a splash of the Borg, giving us the through-line that Picard will never quite shake his encounters with them.
Season two delivered killer beginning and ending episodes with the Borg, and the return of Q was spectacular, but similar to season one, the middle of the second season once more suffered with shaky storytelling; while the plot of the alternate history and the characters going to the 21st century were very intriguing, it felt like this part of the story dragged on for a few too many episodes and, surprisingly, featured a major lack of John de Lancie for a season that was heavily advertised as the return of Q. Don’t get me wrong; each and every scene with de Lancie was superb — especially his first and last appearances— and I loved that this whole season was all one of Q’s warped lessons to help Picard get through something, but overall, spreading this out over an entire season made it feel stretched too thin and robbed us of the usual overbearing presence that Q typically was in the episodes that he’d previously featured in (for example, episodes like “Tapestry”, “Q-Pid”, and Voyager’s “Death Wish”).
As great as they were, seasons one and two of Picard felt like they had many missed opportunities, from the lack of Q in a Q-centric story to the absence of legacy characters that would have and should have been around (seriously, why wasn’t Geordi around to help Jean-Luc with Data’s daughter?). In a few cases, there were even opportunities laying right there in front of them that they failed to pick up, like casting Jay Karnes in season 2 — which dealt heavily with time travel — but only having him play a detective instead of the established character he played on Voyager — a character who was a 29th century Starfleet officer on a time ship called Relativity whose sole purpose was to police the timeline and correct anomalies… such as the one that Picard and crew were causing in season 2. But I digress.
Ultimately, I think my issues with these seasons was the fact that the show struggled to utilize the style of a season-long arc, which kinda makes sense given that Picard is a character who only ever existed in an episodic television series (and four mostly stand-alone movies). The structure of one story stretched out over 10 episodes was foreign to Picard the character, and in the first two seasons the show never seemed to be able to justify its length.
But the third time is the charm, as they say.
Enter Terry Matalas, who in just one season of Picard has proven to be to Star Trek what Dave Filoni is to Star Wars. Seriously, Paramount needs to make sure they keep Terry around and let him do whatever Star Trek projects he wants to make (Star Trek: Legacy, anyone?).
Not only has he brought the entire TNG cast back (which was advertised even before season 2 finished airing… which kinda killed a bit of my interest in season 2 as then I just wanted to get to season 3), he’s managed to pull off the impossible: make a season that feels like a fifth Picard movie, which perfectly introduces new plot threads that pick up from TNG, the movies, and the first two seasons, while also being and exciting stand-alone story, while also being a fitting final adventure for these characters and a love letter to TNG and the other shows of that era, while also being some of the very best Trek I have ever seen. Whew.
And look, I love everything that Trek is doing right now; despite that shaky first season, Discovery really hit its stride in season 2 and has kept that momentum going as it explores the franchise’s far-flung future. Strange New Worlds is freaking fantastic and I love that it has returned Trek to its roots of an episodic series. And Lower Decks is Trek comedy gold. But Picard season 3 is something truly special. This final season is the show that I’d been hoping for ever since it was announced that Captain Picard was returning to our screens.
I love everything about this season. I love that it brought back Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, and Michael Dorn to reprise their roles alongside Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, and that each of them is given an arc throughout this season instead of just being glorified cameos. I love that Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine continues to be a major presence in this series and we get to watch her grow and find a place in this universe; her comments about her time on Voyager brought tears to my eyes… it may not be the very best Star Trek series, but Voyager has always been my favorite, my first love in the franchise, and seeing it continue to get love in the new shows makes me so happy.
I love that along with the returning main cast, we’ve gotten surprise returns from Ro Laren, Elizabeth Shelby, Tuvok (sort of… I really hope he’s okay), and Alice Krige’s Borg Queen (though can we take a moment to remember the late Annie Wersching, who was absolutely brilliant as the Queen in season 2). Not to mention, Moriarty and Lore, who weren’t surprise cameos (they were in the trailers) but were still surprising nonetheless. I love that with every turn, this show is giving us ultimate fan service, but that it doesn’t feel like fan service just for the sake of it — every moment of fan service is still in service to the story first and foremost, and it just makes this show feel so complete. Every time the show pulls something out of Trek lore, it makes perfect sense why it is here in this season.
I love that this season has introduced us to extremely compelling characters in Geordi’s daughters, Ed Speleers’ fantastic Jack Crusher, and Todd Stashwick’s now-iconic Captain Shaw; seriously, how Shaw went from a character I hated to one of my absolute favorite Star Trek captains in just 9 episodes is a testament both to the writing and acting for this character. I cannot praise Stashwick in this season highly enough, and his scene describing his experience with the Borg and Picard at Wolf 359 was haunting (and in hindsight, very important to the plot of this season). And Amanda Plummer’s Vadic is an absolutely magnetic villain to watch (it must run in the family).
I love how this season has weaved a compelling mystery within established lore, how it used the Changelings to infiltrate the Federation and simultaneously act as a red herring, keeping us focused on them so that we didn’t see the real enemy until it was too late. I love how it took the plot threads of Picard’s time as Locutus and his diagnosis of Irumodic Syndrome and utilized them in such a perfectly conceived twist that when the Borg finally showed their hand and took over the entire Federation, it hit like a gut punch that we’ve been bracing for, for decades.
I mean, seriously, that last episode had me repeatedly saying “holy f***” as I watched the inevitable unfold. It was terrifying, it was thrilling, and it was perfectly told, pulling at the narrative strings that TNG and the movies had laid so expertly as if this had been the ultimate plan all along. What a masterstroke of storytelling. And then, topping that moment off with the return to the Enterprise-D… this whole season has felt like a love letter to me, but this last episode topped it (did I even mention the return of Majel Barrett as the Enterprise-D’s computer?!?). I’m writing this before the series finale that is coming this week, and I cannot wait to see that conclusion, even if I’m nowhere near ready for it to end.
Terry Matalas, the cast and crew, and Paramount have finally given us the Star Trek that I’ve always wanted. Everything from the acting to the set and costume designs to the visual effects to the music (seriously, the love for Jerry Goldsmith’s First Contact soundtrack as well as the nods to James Horner this season has been outstanding) has made this season of Star Trek one of the very best television shows I’ve seen in a long, long time. And considering that the likes of Rings of Power, Andor, and Strange New Worlds have set that bar impossibly high in the last year, that is about the highest praise I can give to any TV show. This season is Star Trek’s own Avengers: Endgame, it’s the culmination of everything that the franchise has been building for decades. And it absolutely is paying off.
I’ve waited over 20 years to see Captain Picard and crew return, and season three of Picard has been worth every second of that wait. It has been worth sitting through hours and seasons spent re-exploring the Kirk era (and alternate realities), it has been worth every mis-step or questionable plot point of the seasons that came before it. It has been worth Star Trek going into an uncertain hiatus after Enterprise, worth the years wondering if we would ever see this franchise come back at all. It has been worth every high and low point that came before it, because without those previous episodes and movies — the best ones and, yes, the worst ones too — we wouldn’t be right here, today, with 9 of the best Star Trek episodes ever aired, waiting on the 10th and final episode to conclude the story.
As I’m waiting for the finale, I can’t help but be thankful to Terry and the cast and crew for the gift that this season has been. If we never got another minute of Star Trek after this season is over, this would be enough. But the final frontier always has more to explore; as I write this, we’re already preparing for Strange New Worlds second and third seasons, the final season of Discovery, new seasons of Lower Decks and Prodigy, and the upcoming Academy. There’s lots more Trek coming for us to explore. But dammit, Jim… Picard season 3 is and always shall be one of my very favorite Treks.
Whatever happens this week, I can only hope that while this is the end of Picard, this will just be the beginning of the exploration of this era of Star Trek. And I cannot wait to see what Terry and the amazing people currently behind Star Trek in all its forms come up with next.