Star Trek: Picard Season 3 marks the third and final journey for Patrick Stewart’s iconic captain, and I’m happy to report that it follows the prime directive of a Star Trek show: It’s really good. Do so!
Picard season 3 airsin the US from February 16, with new episodes every Thursday (includes Worldwide). Even in just a few seasons, the show has become something of a formula. Captain — sorry, Admiral — Picard is trying to enjoy his retirement on his vineyard when he is spurred into action by a mysterious message for his eyes only. Along the way, he quickly runs into a former Trek star who for some reason has turned into a badass killing machine. And a familiar villain appears in a new and much scarier form.
After a few crowd-pleasing cameos in previous installments, Season 3 concludes the reunion of The Next Generation’s classic cast. Patrick Stewart joins the rest of the cast of the beloved 90s Trek series where we first met Picard and the crew, and it’s a joy to see them back in action. Who wouldn’t enjoy the buffoonery of Stewart’s Picard and Jonathan Frakes’ Will Riker pitching in together on a rogue mission? And fans who were on the fence about the new Trek can bask in the nostalgia of the distinctive Next Generation font or the TNG theme that plays over the Easter egg-filled closing credits.
On the other hand, the show refuses to take the easy way out in imagining futures for beloved characters. You can cringe at Gates McFadden’s Beverley Crusher, John Wick doing aliens with a phaser rifle, and nobody really needs Jean-Luc Picard wearing leather jackets and saying “fuck it.” But there is a real sense that life has happened to these people. They weren’t just stored in a shipping buffer for 30 years, waiting to be shipped in the same way we knew them. Seeing Riker’s cockiness tempered by tragedy, or Picard facing a mistake he never knew he made, is heartbreaking — but, you know, in a fun way.
It’s not perfect, of course. Although she started the series, Crusher is quickly superseded by the new character she brings with her. And after watching the first half of the 10-episode season, I noticed that some of the crew still hadn’t appeared at all. But judging by the episodes I’ve seen, I believe they’ll be treated in an interesting and respectful manner. It’s especially great to see Worf kick ass and be funny without ever being the subject of a joke.
Familiar faces don’t just show up for their own sake, for a crowd-pleasing tour of honor. There’s a particularly compelling cameo a few episodes in that moves the story along and challenges Picard to confront an ugly side of himself, Stewart, who sinks his teeth into his portrayal of a 30-year-old badass. This particular cameo (no spoilers) also reminds us of that old school Trek I did actually develops its characters and their flaws. Classic Trek was more than capable of complicating their lives and didn’t always provide a happy (or predictable) ending.
Picard presents a challenge for old-school fans, but that’s okay. The show is not comfortable viewing or nostalgic rewatching. It really justifies its existence by moving the characters and the Trek universe forward.
The season opens with the up-to-date Crusher summoning Picard and Riker (and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine, returning from previous seasons) for a not-so-legitimate mission in deep space. Picard must face both his personal demons and a terrifyingly powerful new enemy (played with giggle intensity by Amanda Plummer) as his old and new crews uncover something far greater than they ever imagined.
This storyline is perhaps the most “adventure” of the show so far, taking place on an actual Starfleet starship with characters wearing uniforms and all. It even features that fan-favorite TNG element: a dim-witted rival officer (you know, the Jellico type) who isn’t so enamored with the adventurous spirit of the Enterprise family.
But it’s all updated from Trek’s retro mission-of-the-week format with ongoing storylines, season-long character arcs, and drama. It’s great to see all the actors and characters have something going on instead of just waving tricorders and pushing buttons every week. That said, there is element of manufactured drama, as in all new generation Trek shows (Discovery and). Much will depend on your tolerance for characters trapped in life-or-death situations, stopping for a soulful chat or having a heated argument on the bridge when the red signal should focus their mind on the situation.
And why is everything so dark? Engineering, divert some power to the damn lights!
Overall, however, Picard proved to be a thoroughly engaging revival of Star Trek. It’s more than an exercise in nostalgia, more than a box of Playmates action figures pulled from the ceiling with plastic phaser accessories popping back into their hands. Season 3 isn’t just reuniting the much-loved team, it’s actually giving the cast something to do — possibly encountering more character development and emotion than they ever did in the original. Picard may not follow the cozy formula of retro Star Trek, but we’ve got Strange New Worlds for that. Instead, for all his nostalgia, Picard continues to walk boldly in the direction that matters most: forward.
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