The Gang's All Here

Star Trek: Picard: Season 3

The Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. series has been in a weird place for a while now. We could argue about where the height of the franchise was really hit (whether it was a specific movie, or the Next Generation or Deep Space Nine), but Star Trek has a whole had been careening wildly for a couple of decades. The Next Gen films were never as popular those based on The Original Series, Enterprise took a while to find its feet (and lose its audience in the process), and the Kelvin-verse films were derided as "not Trek enough."

Star Trek: Picard

The more recent era seen it's share of wild, big swings. CBS All Access launched with the first season of Discovery, and that was another series that really took its time to find itself... and it's still derided as "not Trek enough". While other shows, like Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds did finally manage to tap into that key "Trek energy", it took a few years of development (and a re-branding for the streamer to Paramount+) for the shows to really come together. And yet, in the process of that, we had to suffer through the worst of the worst: the travesty that was Star Trek: Picard season one and season two.

I don't think there's any way to sugar coat this: those first two seasons were just bad TV. They featured stories that were both plodding and yet leapt around wildly and at top-speed. Characters made nonsensical decisions, legacy characters were trotted out just for nostalgia and not what they could add to the story, and the show kept careening around, tonally shifting from episode to episode, without any clear idea what was going on. Each show in the franchise may have its detractors, but Star Trek: Picard, for those two seasons, could be rated as the worst Star Trek ever (and yes, that even counts The Animated Series).

Curiously, though, this third season of the show manages to (mostly) turn things around. I didn't have much faith in this third season, and the previous two seasons had been so bad, but showrunner Terry Matalas actually managed to pull off what I thought impossible: he made the series into something actually pretty good. It does a solid job at tying up an entire era of Star Trek, bringing in faces old and new that feel like they actually belong on the series together, and then it whisks everyone off into an adventure that actually feels earned. Matalas served as the showrunner for the season season as well, which I described back then as "improved, but not by much," but it's clear that, in filming this season back-to-back with the previous, Matalas learned his lessons during the filming process and devised a way to give fans what they really wanted: the proper end to an era.

If we're being honest, the Next Gen era didn't end on a high note. While the TV show capped out well, with "All Good Things...", and then the successor shows of Deep Space Nine and Voyager helped to carry on the franchise (to greater and lesser heights), it was the one-two punch of Insurrection and then Nemesis that drove a nail into that era of the franchise. It took decades to recover from that fiasco, and the movies had to reboot into another continuity just to get away from the stink of it. The Next Gen crew absolutely deserved a proper send-off, but the previous two seasons of Picard never managed that. They were long, self-indulgent, but they never felt like a proper reunion or continuation.

Season three changes that, though. After Picard gets a coded message from Beverly Crusher, begging him to come out into space and help her, Picard and Riker team up to find out what's going on. They get the U.S.S. Titan-A to take them out on an "inspection cruise", and then use their sway over the first officer of the Titan, Seven of Nine, to help them find Beverly and see what's going on. This is an illegal maneuver, mind you, vetoed by the captain of the Titan, Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick), but Picard and Riker do it anyway. They find Beverly, locked in a stasis tube to help her heal, guarded by a man they don't know: Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers), her son.

What they also find, though, is danger. Danger in the form of Vadic (Amanda Plummer), a crazed pirate who, for some reason, wants Jack and will pursue him at all costs. She has a massive, over-powered ship, and could easily outmatch the Titan, and this puts the ship and her crew in real danger. Picard and Riker could be court marshaled for what they did, as could Seven, and the Titan and her crew will have to deal with Vadic, her plans, and whoever is backing her. The more the fight, and dig, and run, the more the crew discovers a conspiracy that's bigger than Jack, bigger than Picard, and could cause trouble for the whole of the Federation.

One thing that this season gets right is it ties itself properly into the crew of the past. While I like Picard as a character, and I was happy they brought in Seven of Nine (who was a great on Voyager), the show really didn't live up to the potential for the characters or their story. Oh, it made passing nods at them, trying to shoehorn in the Borg... twice, in fact, but it felt really forced. That, on top of a collection of new, bland characters -- Alison Pill as Agnes Jurati, Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker, Santiago Cabrera as Chris Rios, and Isa Briones as a whole bunch of characters no one cared about -- left the show devoid of a solid hook to care about.

Thankfully, this third season recalibrates and gets things properly in gear. We have a new cast of solid co-stars -- Speleers's Jack Crusher, Todd Stashwick's Liam Shaw, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut as Sidney La Forge, Mica Burton as Alandra La Forge -- plus a returning stable of classic favorites -- Riker, Geordi, Data, Troi, Beverly, and Worf -- that the show has plenty of people to care about. Wisely, the show keeps things grounded in the Federation and its business, using the Titan-A as home base for the show so it never feels too far removed from the business of the Federation (a problem the previous two seasons with its off-brand ship, and then a time travel adventure, suffered from).

It does help that this show gives us a story to care about with real stakes. The previous seasons felt very far removed from the needs of the Federation and 25th Century space. A story about A.I. robots maybe, kinda, sorta possibly doing things with Borg tech, but not really, and robot rights but not entirely failed to stick in the first season. A story about time travel that maybe kinda sorta could influence the future of the Federation (except it won't because Discovery was set, by that point, in the future and we already knew the Federation survived) also failed to stick. Here, though, we have real stakes for characters we care about. Even if the Federation survived that doesn't mean that people we've grown attached to 9over this season, and the previous three decades of TV) would survive. And, more the point, we can understand the real and direct consequences of every threat raised this season (and while I won't spoil them here, it's a pretty good conspiracy plot that works within the bounds of the franchise). This season nails the story in a way the previous two never could.

But, really, the key to the season is giving us what we want, which was the classic characters together again for one last adventure. It's amazing how easily these actors could slip back into roles they hadn't played for nearly two decades, but they do and that homey feel of all of them together really works. The character dynamics are there, the charisma laid on solidly, and it's good to be back with everyone once more. And then when you add in more nods of fans service -- class side characters reappearing, nods to classic tech, and entire museum of old ships the characters browse -- you feel the love this season has for the past shows and the franchise as a whole.

I won't argue that this season is a perfect show; it does still have some characters making weird logic leaps, and some parts of the storyline do still feel a little rushed. Picard will, deep down, always be Picard. But this is at least a solid capper for the Next Gen era and a fitting way to give these characters one last ride among the stars. It's what the first two seasons should have been and, frankly, you can watch this season without even really needing to see the two seasons that came before. If that's not the best way to tie up this show, I don't know what is.