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Picard season 3 is great for me, less great for Star Trek

The Paramount Plus show is a little too good of a goodbye

Picard (Patrick Stewart) looking stoic Photo: Trae Patton/Paramount Plus

I should start by noting that I am probably, by most fans’ reckoning, a Star Trek Casual. I grew up at a time when there was a lot of Star Trek on TV — three shows at once! — and absorbed a lot of the stuff by both osmosis and by having family members that were super into the various adventures chronicled in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. Personally, I had a great time watching these shows, but I was mostly just along for the ride. That’s how I’d describe my level of investment in Star Trek: Along for the ride, and happy to be here.

From this standpoint, the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard was a wild success. While re-tooling the floundering series to be a full-on The Next Generation reunion read as an obvious Hail Mary play to go out with a bang (and maybe an apology for Star Trek: Nemesis), it managed to do so while remaining earnest throughout, turning things around by not just bringing back the cast of The Next Generation, but by doing so in what turned out to be an ode to all of ’90s Trek.

Personally, I had a great time. My Trek knowledge is mostly built around major touchpoints; the big fan-favorite things that everyone knows about Trek in general and The Next Generation in particular. Q, The Borg, “make it so,” all that stuff. Picard is playing a tune just for me. It’s also, unfortunately, very much ending things in a narrative cul-de-sac: not just sending off its characters, but much of what they represented.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the end of Picard.]

Picard has ultimately made a mistake big franchises often make when their stewards’ primary interest is playing the hits: It makes its world smaller by making everything tie back to its legacy heroes. Its endgame literally makes nostalgia both the weapon that threatens to destroy the galaxy and the only thing that can save it: The Borg have, through Picard’s son Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers), found a way to splice themselves into the genome of every Starfleet member that’s used a teleporter. The few immune? Older folks. Namely, The Next Generation cast.

The cast of TNG on the deck of the Enterprise in the finale of Picard season 3 Photo: Trae Patton/Paramount Plus

This is the broadest and funniest way that Picard has traded The Next Generation’s legacy as a thought-provoking show that was foundational to a whole era of science fiction for spectacle and sentiment, the former spectacularly empty-headed, and the latter just genuine enough to endear those who aren’t sticklers for narrative cohesion. Picard is all over the place, waving around the most iconic foes of ’90s Star Trek in the Changelings and The Borg, while completely eschewing what made them interesting ideological foils to Jean-Luc Picard and the Federation he represents.

As Picard digs into its initial antagonists, the Changeling Vadic (Amanda Plummer) and the crew of her ship The Shrike, the series reveals that she and her cohort are different from the Changelings of the Deep Space Nine era, enhanced by cruel experimentation by Federation scientists that Picard was not aware of. It’s a huge moral crisis, especially for a character that’s positioned as the moral center of Starfleet, and it’s all rather quickly elided to dispose of Vadic in favor of the real threat: a resurgent Borg, this time almost entirely represented by the Borg Queen, as few drones exist anymore.

Not only is this far less complex than the Changeling dilemma, it’s also — to briefly stake a claim in a meaningless war that’s been waged since Star Trek: First Contact was released — even more antithetical to the Borg’s whole raison d’etre than they’ve ever been. The main reason I can abide this is simply due to the fact that Picard doesn’t dwell on any of it. It’s a pretty thoughtless show when it comes to thoughts that don’t revolve around the Next Generation cast members saying nice things to one another and saving everyone from certain disaster one last time.

In “The Last Generation,” Picard sets up a new crew that could carry the legacy of The Next Generation onward — a curious notion, given that Star Trek: Discovery ostensibly exists for that purpose, Strange New Worlds is here to provide a modern spin on Roddenberry’s first Star Trek, and Prodigy and Lower Decks refract the mission of Star Trek for younger audiences and comedy, respectively.

If the speculative “Star Trek: Legacy” — which may only exist in Picard’s coda — were to be realized, it’s hard to feel particularly inspired about where it might go. In the end, Picard took us on a hell of a ride, but it too definitively asserted that Jean-Luc Picard and his friends were the be-all, end-all of this era of Trek. They played the hits big and loud, and even I, a Trek casual, could smile and sing along with them. I just wonder if anyone remembers what brought us here to begin with.

Picard is now streaming on Paramount Plus.

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