REVIEW – Star Trek: Picard (season 3)

The third and final season of Star Trek: Picard is a wonderful reunion of the crew of the Enterprise-D as well as a thrilling and near-perfect send-off for the cast of The Next Generation.

As each episode aired over the 10 weeks, there were a lot of positive reactions from the fandom about how season 3 of Star Trek: Picard was what the fans wanted from a reunion of The Next Generation cast, and to a certain degree I share in that sentiment. However, when the hyperbole stepped over into “this is how it should have been all along” or “Star Trek is back” then I’m much less inclined to agree because it implies that contemporary Star Trek isn’t Star Trek and I have a problem with that sort of thinking from fans.

The media landscape has changed since Star Trek was last on television. The 1990s was considered the “golden age” of Trek but that eventually fizzled out in the early 2000s with Enterprise and the feature film Nemesis. While some may attribute the 2009 movie reboot set in the Kelvin timeline as the jumpstart the franchise needed, I prefer to pinpoint the launch of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017 was the kick in the bum it needed to really get going again. And I’m an ardent defender of “nu-Trek” as I thoroughly enjoyed that first season of DISCO as well as season 1 of Picard, warts and all. These are two examples of a legacy franchise finding its place and adapting in a new media landscape, which includes adopting more cinematic production values, serialised stories, and to an extent a more mature tonal shift. They also swung for the fences in terms of what they wanted to achieve even if they didn’t necessarily hit all the balls.

With a few adjustments to feel more like “traditional” Trek, Discovery’s subsequent seasons have still been enjoyable despite somewhat diminishing returns (which I’m content to mark down as personal taste). And the second season of Picard was, admittedly, an incoherent mess, which one could attribute to being filmed in 2021 in the middle of a pandemic, lest people forget. However, seasons 2 and 3 were filmed back-to-back and the resulting narrative quality of both is like night and day. From my assessment, season 2 (with Akiva Goldsmith as showrunner) was much more focussed on writing out characters that were not needed in the following season rather than telling a good story, which led to a few puzzling choices.

Season 3 of Picard (with Terry Matalas as showrunner) was genuinely delightful to watch. Not only was it the reunion we all wanted to see of these beloved characters, it was the overdue send-off the cast of The Next Generation deserved after they were done so dirty in Nemesis back in 2002. Having said that, I firmly submit that the season needed to be earned in this new era of Star Trek in order to feel the necessary catharsis and the first season of Picard helped in setting that up as well as iron out all the usual first season bugs that would’ve marred an otherwise great story.

That’s not to say season 3 is flawless or perfect. Like I said, it too was filmed mid-pandemic yet did the best it can with the situation. While many have praised the season taking place on a Starfleet ship again (as opposed to the Earth/location/non-Starfleet settings of the previous seasons), being set mostly on the USS Titan (the sets were a recycle of the USS Stargazer from season 2) everything felt relatively claustrophobic. It was especially prevalent on sets like on the Shrike (a recycle of the common area on La Sirena) and that one room they re-used whenever they needed something engineering related. So of course it felt familiar and “like the old show” because that’s exactly what they did back in the day. It’s that sense memory familiarity that many fans are picking up on.

And it works. Along with the fire hose of nostalgia that accompanied it: seeing favourite characters in action again, references to Star Trek lore, having a classic-style adventure albeit with a conspiracy theory twist, it all culminated in a mostly satisfying season.

It was wonderful to see these characters again especially updated two decades later. Of course we had already seen Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), and to an extent Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) but to finally see Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden), Worf (Michael Dorn), and LaForge (LeVar Burton) after so long was truly a treat. I enjoyed how surly LaForge was toward Picard regarding potentially endangering one of his daughters. I appreciated that part of the story was based around why no one had been in contact with Crusher for so long. Both Troi and Riker got to delve a little deeper into the trauma that was merely touched upon in that one episode in season 1. And while I also enjoyed Worf’s portrayal with hints of comic relief, I did feel that it perhaps erased some of the development he underwent during his time on Deep Space Nine but then again a lot can happen in 20+ years.

For me it was a fascinating look at the “final versions” of these characters and sort seeing how close they came to becoming the “anti-time” future versions that Q presented to Picard in “All Good Things…” (and when you think bout it carefully, it still came about after the death of one of their own).

Both Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) received really nice resolutions to their respective arcs this season, with Seven’s beginning two decades ago on Voyager. Admittedly, both characters began the season a touch shaky but eventually they found their footing and were played very confidently too, which is what you want to see with female characters on Star Trek, or anywhere really. Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers) had the difficult job of being a walking McGuffin but I think he did that well even if his charactisation did sort of flip around a bit when necessary. Although, the standout may be Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) as the gruff by-the-book captain of the Titan-A who you love to hate but then love again but clearly has a lot of Borg baggage. He too flips around a bit but has become a fan favourite.

The one I have major mixed feelings about is Vadic (Amanda Plummer) because I do love her maniacal performance that has hints of her father, Christopher Plummer’s portrayal, of General Chang in Star Trek 6 (which I think may have been a deliberate homage) but I’m not completely satisfied with the material Plummer was given. Vadic felt a touch too unfocussed for someone to be a massive threat and I think part of that is how tired I am of pointlessly monologuing villains, which I think makes Vadic appear too unhinge to be an effective antagonist. And that’s unfortunate because that’s the material not the performer.

Speaking of material, I tend not to speculate or predict about about stories and where they’re headed, preferring to just let it flow through me. But I did find myself make at least one speculation about the true identify of certain characters and I feel that’s down to how compelling I found this season, how invested I became. There’s also the compelling nature of the conflict between the characters. This is a group of people many of us have grown up with and so to have them not always get along in the same somewhat sanitised way they did in the series kind of pulls you in to wanting to know why?

This season was also written in a manner that almost ignores the previous two seasons, or at least they’re certainly not reliant on them and that includes how Seven and Raffi are played out here. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword because it allows the many folks who didn’t like the first two seasons to completely ignore them, whereas I truly believe that first season to be some great story telling even if it was much darker and more grounded in tone compared to season 3. Unfortunately, for my money, doing so results in a few missed opportunities (let’s say a return of a certain actor in their Romulan form to make it a true reunion special and one that the showrunner revealed was due to budget and time constraints).

That tonal shift is a big one however too many people have attributed it to being “like the old days” when I don’t think that’s the case at all. While season 1 of Picard and Discovery were trying to catch up and emulate the prestige television show trend that we saw with the likes of Westworld or Game of Thrones (which was their right to do so), Picard season 3 takes on more than a few story telling aspects and presentation styles seen of the Disney+ shows, more specifically the Star Wars or the Marvel Studios series. There’s a rebalancing between the sophistication of the storytelling, levity and drama, and the “connective tissue” or “fan service” that audiences sort of get off on but without undermining both and in turn making the appeal much broader.

I joke about the “fire hose of nostalgia” but honestly I think it is well earned here. I’m normally rather cynical when a story has to overly rely on “fan service” or does so to the detriment of the story but there are also times when you can tell a fun and exciting adventure AND make numerous call backs and references. Season 3 does just that because it feels like a reward for having to slog through the more dour aspects of the first season, which I still think were necessary to endure (Jean-Luc never really dealt with his trauma of being assimilated by the Borg until that season). Even when things slow down just to admire the Fleet Museum it feels like a treat at a rest stop rather than a halt in the story but it also plays an important role to the plot multiple times. In fact, it seems the aforementioned budget and scheduling constraints meant we missed out on potentially more cameos and appearances that would have not only fleshed out the story more, made sense considering the scale of the threat, but also solve a few injustices from the past.

While I really enjoyed the overall story, I would have to nitpick a few moments as being a tad too corny (not any more so than the original The Next Generation series but it’s sometimes jarring) and a few lines of dialogue don’t quite make sense considering the context. If you’re a species that has spent the past few hundred years travelling the stars then why would the likes of Riker say “I don’t understand the world anymore.” Surely the colloquialism would have evolved to “universe” or “galaxy” by that time. But that’s neither here nor there I guess.

Showrunner Terry Matalas is receiving a lot of praise and adulation that is very similar to what I notice happening to Dave Filoni (whom I have my issues with as a story teller even though he has great ideas – if you were to stand Matalas and Filoni next to each other you could probably only tell them apart by that cowboy hat). Matalas was an intern and PA on Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise back in the day and so he certainly has a history and a love of the franchise, which is clearly evident here (as well as in the many interviews he’s done about the stuff he wanted to include) but that doesn’t necessarily make for a good story teller. Despite my nitpicks, I thoroughly enjoyed what he has been able to accomplish with this third and final season of Picard because it feels like he “used every part of the animal” to tell this grand story as a celebration of the TNG crew (well almost): Things call back to other things, moments resolve and answer questions from 30 years ago that we never really knew needed answering, motivations get fleshed out, and certain characters get moments that were horribly absent in Nemesis.

Again, it’s not a perfect season and your mileage may vary on just how earned or obnoxious the fan service is, and maybe if you think too hard about some of the loose threads the season leaves dangling (unintentionally) you may not be that satisfied. But for my money, it does so much to make you feel like it’s near perfect because it does so much if you get my meaning!

Most importantly, these beloved characters were given one more moment to be the best they could be, even better than we remember them. This season can stand on its own but it really doesn’t have to because it had to be earned and we were rewarded with a wonderful reunion and a fun adventure for the crew of the Enterprise-D to save the galaxy one last time!

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