To Serve Fan: Star Trek: Picard Season 3 in Review

For the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, I did something a little different. Instead of waiting until the entire season had been released and writing a cumulative review like I did for season one, or reviewing each episode in the form of scripted videos, I watched each episode over Zoom with my best friend Jason Harding, a fellow Trekkie who is also the creator of Late Seating and The Ensign’s Log, the podcasts on which I am, respectively, a co-host and a co-star. Jason and I watched each new Picard episode, and then reviewed it together, recording

our review mere minutes after we’d finished watching the episode. I really enjoyed those reviews, and so did many of you judging from the comments. It was fun to introduce Jason to people in my audience who weren’t familiar with him, and the fact that we mostly disagreed with each other regarding the quality of the show this season made for interesting conversations. But, not all of you thought so. I got a few comments from viewers who said, basically, “I don’t like these off-the-cuff reviews. I prefer your more carefully considered reviews.” Some of you even asked that I

do scripted episode reviews in addition to the reviews with Jason, or at least a proper video essay looking at the season as a whole. It was my intention

to do that all along — the video examining the season as a whole. That’s what this is. But before we go any further, I need to ask you something, especially those of you who specifically requested that I do this: are you sure this is what you want? Because if you watched my reviews with Jason, you know how I felt about the show, and if you liked the show

this season and you don’t enjoy hearing someone talk at length about why they didn’t like it and didn’t think it was very good, you’re probably not gonna have a good time with this. No hard feelings if you decide you’d rather not watch this one. Seriously — opinions vary, if you liked the show more than I did, good for you, and if watching me go into all the reasons I didn’t like it — well, a few of the major reasons, anyway — I don’t have all day! — if watching this is gonna bum you out, feel

free to skip it, no harm done. . . . I can’t believe I just gave a content advisory for me saying I didn’t think the show was good. Oh! Also, spoilers! Before I get into the elements of the show that didn’t work for me, let me actually begin by talking about the bits that did. There were things about this season of Star Trek: Picard I liked. Some I liked quite a bit. Maybe by starting with them, I can entice some of you who are wary of how mean I’m going to be to this television show

to at least stick around for a little while, steal a few more precious watch minutes! Also, perhaps I can refute the spurious and frankly hurtful charge made against me by several of you in the comments of the episode reviews I did with Jason, namely that I made up my mind the show was going to be bad before I ever even watched it, and that I was looking for reasons not to like it. To the contrary — I would have been thrilled if the show had been good this season — why would I want a show

I’m going to watch, featuring characters and actors I’ve loved since I was a child, to be bad? And, I assure you, I didn’t have to look for reasons not to like the show. There were a bunch of them, and they were hard to miss, and I’ll be going on and on and on about some of them very shortly — but first! To begin with — and I know it’s not saying much, but it needs to be said — season three of Picard is a massive improvement on season two. The most egregious issues affecting season two

are either completely absent from season three, or present but to a far lesser extent, including: characters with vaguely defined or non-existent motivations and goals, a season-long plot built around a problem with a poorly defined cause and resolution, entire episodes where nothing happens and characters stand or sit around in the same location doing nothing, promising subplots started then abruptly dropped and never mentioned again as though they didn’t even happen, and holding up meaningful pay-offs and plot resolutions until the last two episodes. Unlike season two, which doubled down on everything that didn’t work about season one while

shitcanning the things that did, season three actually goes a long way toward correcting the problems of the previous season. It’s not perfect in terms of story structure, and I’ll get into some of the reasons why here in a bit, but season three does a mostly acceptable job of having important plot advancement in every episode, it builds to a meaningful and satisfying pay-off in episode four, and another important but less satisfying pay-off in episode eight before wrapping everything up with the last two episodes, and the protagonists — of which there are quite a few — all

get stuff to do that matters to the plot and develops their characters. Speaking of characters, in addition to the returning TNG crew, Picard season three introduces some new people, and they’re all pretty good. Vadic, the main villain for most of the season, played by Amanda Plummer, is a delight, delivering grandiose monologues and chewing all the scenery she can sink her teeth into. Jack, the son of Beverly Crusher and Picard, wins me over by being a guy who just wants to do some good in the universe, who never knew his father and acts like he’s okay

with that but obviously isn’t, who has spent his life fighting personal demons he doesn’t understand, and who comes across as a likable guy with a chip on his shoulder, but not a big enough one that it becomes off-putting. Captain Shaw, who I absolutely loathed in episode one — not because he was a bad guy who was mean to the characters I liked, but because he was shallow and obvious and badly written. But! After episode one, he started to grow on me, and by episode four I actually liked him quite a bit. Sydney and Alandra La

Forge, Geordi’s daughters: they get a good bit of screen time, particularly Sydney. They don’t have much to do of importance to the plot, but they’re likable enough, and have an interesting dynamic with each other and with their dad. And there’s a bit of flirtation between Sydney and Jack that I was actually starting to get into until it was dropped. As far as the legacy characters, it’s nice that Picard himself actually had a coherent character arc this time around, about embracing being a parent, instead of whatever that “he joined Starfleet because he had mommy issues and

he doesn’t think he’s worthy of love” half-assed trauma-wank horseshit from last season was. But really, the final season of Star Trek: Picard belongs to Riker, and to Jonathan Frakes. Riker gets a lot of time this season — he gets heavy dramatic scenes and comedic moments throughout, and he nails it every time. Whether it’s selling the gravity of an apparently insurmountable threat to the ship, doing his part to convince us that Riker and Troi are an actual couple who have been through some shit but still truly love each other, or firing off crisp, on-target punchlines, Frakes

puts in some of the best work he’s ever done in Star Trek or anywhere else. He is the highlight of the season for me. Another highlight was Michael Dorn as Worf. The show came dangerously close to making him too much of a comic relief character, but I don’t think it crossed the line. Worf was fun, he got to kill some people, was part of some of the funniest bits of the season as a foil to Riker, and helped to rehab the character of Raffi by becoming her partner and mentor for much of the season. As

long as I’m praising the TNG cast for their work this season, I should also mention LeVar Burton as Geordi, who doesn’t get as many opportunities to shine as Frakes or Dorn, but has one scene when he’s trying desperately to reach Data, who is sharing a body with Lore — I’ll get to that stuff later — where he is just acting his heart out. He takes what would otherwise be a hokey scene of the sort we’ve seen a hundred times before and makes it work, turns it into something that feels genuine and is actually sort of

moving, through the sheer force of his performance. Last but not least among the good stuff from this season: episode four, “No Win Scenario.” It’s the best episode of the season, and the best episode of the entire Star Trek: Picard series. It’s focused, it’s tense, it’s well plotted, it sees the heroes coming together to solve a problem, every character has something important to do, the emotional stakes feel real, and the resolution provides a sense of closure to the first part of the season while pushing the story toward what comes next. Plus, the ending evokes a sense

of wonder and adventure — in the characters themselves and in us in the audience — that has been sorely missing from the Picard series. It’s a very well done episode, on every level, and the creators of it — cast, crew, writers, producers, the whole team — should be congratulated. Unfortunately, that very good episode exists alongside quite a few lousy ones. I’m not saying episode four is the only good episode of the season — it’s not, there are a few others that are at least not bad — but the show is only as good as it

is in episode four, in episode four. For much of the rest of the season . . . well . . . Episode four is genuinely a good episode on its own merits, but it feels even better than it is because it comes only three episodes after episode one, which is one of the worst episodes of Star Trek I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, the season improves drastically with the arrival of Amanda Plummer’s Vadic in episode two, but episode one, “The Next Generation,” kicks the season off in the most uninspiring way imaginable. Pretty much everything I was worried

about seeing in Picard season three, based on the marketing and the advanced buzz, is front and center in this first episode. The plot is slow and vague, the heroes are weak and incompetent, and the whole thing is drenched in fan service so shallow and obnoxious it makes the second season finale of The Mandalorian look like The Empire Strikes Back by comparison. Sorry to cross-contaminate sci-fi franchises, I’m just making a point. Episode one of Picard season three stumbles from one blatant Wrath of Khan lift to the next, to the point that when we watched it Jason

and I were able to correctly guess Jack’s identity as Picard’s son because his first meeting with Picard is exactly the same as Kirk’s first meeting with his son David. There’s also an “admiral comes aboard the ship and inspects the cadets” scene that’s blocked almost identically to a scene in Wrath of Khan, and the fact that the plot is kicked off by the hero receiving a confusing but urgent distress call from an old flame — Dr. Carol Marcus for Kirk in Wrath of Khan, Dr. Beverly Crusher for Picard here — and there are other Wrath of

Khan references throughout the episode, but you get the idea. I don’t mind the occasional homage or allusion, but I’d prefer that such things be subtle, and relevant, and deployed with a modicum of restraint, not blasted directly at the camera from the nozzle of a fire hose. In between Wrath of Khan lifts, we get to enjoy such thrilling scenes as Picard spending several minutes talking to the computer trying to figure out who’s calling him on his combadge before answering his combadge to see who’s calling him on it; Picard and Riker meeting Captain Shaw, whose status as

a jerkass is hammered home so relentlessly in a single scene that it goes around the bend and actually becomes funny — he deadnames Seven of Nine, insults Picard’s wine, and talks shit about jazz music in front of Riker, one after the other after the other, just to make sure we get the point; and let’s not forget the scene where Picard and Riker’s scheme to get the Titan to the area of space where Beverly’s distress call came from fails, and they immediately give up and go to bed, and the Titan only gets where it needs to

go because first officer Seven of Nine decides — off-screen — to take it there herself. It’s an awful way to begin the season — witless, pandering, and insulting. Like I said, things do improve with episode two, but by that point it’s climbing out of a hole instead of continuing to build to a peak, which is what it should be doing. Picard season three is packed with easter eggs, cameo appearances, and references pulled from the history of Star Trek. While I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to that, I was expecting it, because the marketing for this season

was built around it being a TNG reunion — the first time since Star Trek: Nemesis when the complete cast of TNG would be back together onscreen. What I wasn’t expecting was how many of those references, cameos and easter eggs, including a few that are actually important to the story — or at least appear to be important to the story for a time — would be drawn from shows other than Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is one of the most misunderstood criticisms I made of the show in the episode reviews Jason and I did, so

let me explain why it’s a problem for me that season three of Picard prominently features elements taken from Star Trek shows other than TNG, including Changelings, which are a Deep Space Nine thing; a couple of cameo appearances from Tuvok (or someone who looks like Tuvok, in the case of his first appearance), who is from Voyager; and, as is revealed in the last two episodes, a conflict with the Borg that pulls on a plot thread that was tied up fairly definitively at the end of Voyager’s series finale — to name the most prominent examples. It’s not

a problem because I think the various Star Trek projects ought to be strictly siloed off from one another, so that one show can’t use characters or locations or aliens that were previously featured in another. That’s the conclusion a lot of people jumped to when I complained about this season of Picard using Changelings as villains, that I didn’t like it because Changelings are a Deep Space Nine thing and therefore only Deep Space Nine is allowed to use them. That’s not the problem. The problem is, this is the final season of Star Trek: Picard. More than that,

the story they’ve chosen to tell for this final season of Star Trek: Picard is centered on reuniting the core cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They’re getting the band back together. They’re going on one last ride, and they’re heading off into the sunset. It’s essentially a ten-part farewell not just to Star Trek: Picard, but also to Star Trek: TNG. So, that being the case, how does it make sense, creatively speaking, for the majority of the final adventure of the TNG crew to be built around a conflict between them and villains — Changelings — who

never appeared in a single episode of TNG, who never appeared in any of the four TNG movies, who have never appeared in a single episode of the first two seasons of the Picard series, and who none of our heroes with the exception of Worf, who was also a regular on Deep Space Nine from its fourth season on, have any on-screen history with? Yes, it’s all in the same universe, and no, there’s nothing about Picard and his crew crossing paths with Changelings that breaks any of the established rules of the story world. That’s not what I’m

talking about. I’m talking about the creative decision to use characters from another series as the primary villains for a TNG reunion/farewell show. Remember the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise? When Commander Riker and Counselor Troi showed up in that, most of us — not all of us, since some folks like that episode, but most of us — called bullshit on that right away. Why? Because it felt wrong to devote so much of the final episode of Enterprise to characters from a completely different series. Same universe! And it was all justified through the holodeck — Riker

was running a program about the NX-01 Enterprise’s final mission — so nothing about it broke the rules of the universe. There’s no reason why it couldn’t have been done — but it made no sense creatively, and most of us — again, not all of us — agree that it shouldn’t have been done. Now, if the creators of Enterprise had done an episode where Riker and Troi from TNG played an NX-01 holodeck program in, say, the middle of season three? Or even at an earlier point in season four? Wouldn’t have been a problem, assuming it was

a good episode in its own right. But as the series finale? Seems like a bad idea, doesn’t it? Seems like a puzzling creative choice. Enterprise did another, much better episode, built around a conflict with villains from another show, in its second season: “Regeneration,” where Captain Archer’s crew battles a group of Borg left behind on Earth following the events of the film Star Trek: First Contact, who thaw out, assimilate a transport ship, and make a run for Borg space, attacking another ship along the way. It’s a great episode, one of Enterprise’s best, and easily the best

Borg episode outside of Star Trek: TNG — but should it have been the series finale? Should the last episode of Enterprise been about Captain Archer’s crew fighting the Borg? Of course not. It wouldn’t make any sense! So why does it make sense for the final adventure of the TNG crew to be about them fighting Changelings? It doesn’t. Hopefully I’ve explained it well enough that even if you disagree with me, you see where I’m coming from here. What should they have done instead? They could have had a villain that the heroes of the show actually had

some history with — which they did in the last two episodes, and I’ll get to that a little later — or, imagine this, they could have had a new villain that challenged the heroes in ways that touched on the right themes and pushed them into the right scenarios that would make for an exciting and satisfying farewell. The most frustrating thing about that second suggestion is that until the fact that she’s a Changeling is revealed midway through the series, they have a perfectly fine new villain in the person of Vadic! Why not keep Vadic as the

main antagonist, but have her and her crew not be Changelings — and also not just be obstacles to keep the heroes busy until the real villains show up in episode nine, I’ll get to that later, as well — give her a reason to be after Jack, to threaten Picard and the others, and tell a story about that conflict that brings some resolution to these characters? I have the same problem on a much smaller scale with the cameo appearances of Tuvok. Why is Tuvok in this show? His first scene is a conversation with Seven of Nine

where it’s revealed that he’s not actually Tuvok, but a Changeling that has replaced Tuvok. We know about the Changelings infiltrating Starfleet at this point, so having Tuvok show up only to turn out to be one of them only underlines something we already know, so it serves no storytelling purpose. The second appearance of Tuvok is in the last episode, when he — the real him, this time — informs Seven that she’s going to be promoted to captain — we could have found out about Seven’s promotion in a way other than her sitting across a table and

having someone tell it to her, so Tuvok’s appearance that time is meaningless, as well. Tim Russ seems like a great guy, I’m glad he got what was hopefully a nice payday to reprise his old character from Voyager, but there’s no reason for Tuvok to be here other than for some fans in the audience to see him and go “Hey! It’s Tuvok!” The same problem comes up yet again in the final episode, when Picard confronts the Borg Queen, and she spends a few minutes rattling off a bunch of exposition to justify the presence of the Borg

in the show and what they’re trying to accomplish, and most of what the Queen talks about is related to what happened in the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager and the fallout from that — again, stuff that Picard had nothing to do with. It’s bad enough that Picard’s nemesis for most of the series was a member of an alien race from another show — now, in the last episode, we have one of Picard’s old nemeses telling him about stuff that happened on another show. Couldn’t they have figured out a way to make this show .

. . about this show? The most frustrating part of Changelings being in the show this season is that, ultimately, they don’t even need to be there. They mean almost nothing to the story, the creators of the show don’t use them to say anything of importance — they’re here to kill time until the Borg are revealed as the real threat. Vadic and her crew spend most of the season chasing Jack. It turns out they’re after him because the Borg want him for something. Vadic never catches Jack, and in fact is killed off in episode eight, and

after that Jack decides to deliver himself to the Borg, so nice knowing you, Vadic, thanks for nothing. It also turns out that the Changelings which have been infiltrating Starfleet have been secretly reprogramming transporters to write special Borg DNA into the genetic codes of anyone under the age of twenty-five who uses the transporters, effectively turning a huge segment of Starfleet personnel into Borg sleeper agents. The Borg need Jack because he carries advanced biological technology, passed down to him from his father, Jean-Luc Picard, formerly Locutus, that allows him to be used as a kind of subspace broadcaster

that activates all the Borg sleeper agents at once. So . . . the villains who threaten our heroes for the first four-fifths of the season turn out to be couriers whose purpose is to deliver Jack to the real villains — a task at which they fail. And the Changeling involvement in the big scary conspiracy to take over Starfleet turns out to be reprogramming the transporters. Why’d they even need to have Changelings impersonate high-ranking officers when the plan was ultimately to activate all the Borg sleepers and have them take over the ships, anyway? The conflict between

Picard’s crew and Vadic’s crew doesn’t amount to much more than filler. And like I said in the “good stuff” section, some of it is well done — episode four is very good, most of Amanda Plummer’s scenes as Vadic are a lot of fun to watch, there are a few individual scenes and set pieces throughout the first eight episodes that are well done, but the impact of those elements is significantly lessened by the fact that they ultimately go nowhere, and mean nothing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad they didn’t try to take their two-episode Borg

story and stretch it out for a whole ten episodes. That feels like a very “season two” way of doing things — they went another way this season, and I’m grateful for it. But, if the problem was filling out the first eight episodes until it was time to pivot to the Borg stuff, why not just do stand-alone episodes? Are you telling me the writers of this show couldn’t have come up with plots for enough one-hour episodes to enable Picard and the TNG crew to reunite and have some adventures leading up to the final confrontation with the

Borg, instead of bringing them all together for an eight-part serial that dead-ends right before the last two episodes of the series? Come on. The primary objective of the creators of season three of Star Trek: Picard seems to have been to remind you of old Star Trek shows. Look at how frequently and flagrantly this season shows us the franchise repeating itself: Starfleet has been compromised! Again. Kinda like in season one of TNG, when parasitic beings attach themselves to numerous high ranking officers and sure seem like they’re up to no good until Picard and Riker are able

to defeat them by shooting the Mama Parasite with their phasers until it explodes. Also kinda like in seasons four and five of Deep Space Nine, when Changelings impersonate key figures on multiple occasions in order to sow chaos and lay the groundwork for their upcoming invasion/war. Also kinda like in Star Trek: Picard, season one, when Starfleet is infiltrated by Romulan agents who manipulate events, including a devastating attack on the planet Mars, which lead to the Federation banning synthetic lifeforms. Data’s back! Again. After he died at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. And came back in season

one of Star Trek: Picard, and died again. This time he comes back in the form of an biological android, similar to Picard’s synthetic body, which also includes the personalities of Data’s brothers Lore and B-4, created by Alton Soong, who was present at Data’s previous death at the end of Picard season one, knew it was Data’s wish to die, and apparently brought him back anyway. Good to know you can always count on family, huh? I guess it’s okay, though, because this Data is “different.” Not too different, though! That would defeat the purpose, after all. The Borg

are back! Again. And they’re attacking Earth! Again. And they want Picard’s son to speak for them, just like they wanted Picard to speak for them back in the day. And the Borg Queen is back, too! Again. And it all comes down to a face-off between the Borg Queen and Picard, who enters the Queen’s domain to rescue someone close to him. Again — in First Contact it was Data, in Picard season three it’s Jack. How many times has the Borg Queen returned after being killed on-screen? Does this make two? Three? Explain to me why I should

give a shit about a villain that can just be recreated no matter how many times she dies. Oh, but she definitely won’t come back after this — she had to consume all her surviving drones just to survive, and now that her big ship in the Eye of Jupiter has been blown up, she’s gone for good. Not like the last time she was gone for good, at the end of Voyager. This time is different. Just like how this time the Borg didn’t assimilate people — they used the transporters to implant secret Borg DNA that could be

activated and turn everyone with that genetic code into insta-drones. It’s different. Yeah, about those Borg insta-drones created using the transporter — like I mentioned earlier, because of some technobabble related to the way the brain develops, the implanted Borg DNA only works on people under the age of twenty-five. So when the Borg Queen plugs Jack into the transmitter and sends out the signal to activate the sleeper drones, the planet Earth is threatened by an armada of Starfleet ships that are now under the control of thousands of young officers and crew members who have been infected by

the Borg DNA. You might say that the sleepers are now woke, and that they are being controlled by alien genetic material which affects their minds, kinda like a virus. Earth is about to be destroyed by twenty-somethings, and only Boomers can save us! That’s not entirely fair — Patrick Stewart was born in 1940, he’s technically not a Boomer. And, look, I don’t think the creators of Star Trek: Picard season three intended for the message of the show to be “only senior citizens can save civilization, because they are immune from the woke mind virus.” I think they

intended to contrive a “Federation in peril” plot so that only the TNG crew could save the day, and it would come down to our gang of mostly sixty-, seventy-, and eighty-something heroes against seemingly insurmountable odds. And they did that — but the side effect of how they did it is that all of the young people became the danger, and the old-timers had to save the world from them. It’s not a great message, especially from Star Trek, which has always been progressive and optimistic and willing to embrace the promise of — to coin a phrase —

the next generation. Even if the message isn’t intentional, it’s still there, it’s obvious enough that someone should have caught it while things were still at the script stage and done something about it, and it’s made all the more obvious by the fact that season three doesn’t seem to have any intentional political message at all. Which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world — Star Trek has always been blatantly political, but that doesn’t mean every single episode of film has carried a political message. Star Trek II, the film which this season of Picard seems inexplicably

obsessed with, isn’t super political. Neither is Star Trek: First Contact, another obvious and frequent point of reference for this season. But, given the fact that this is — supposedly — the last hurrah for this group of characters, and given how important a progressive, humanistic political point of view was to Star Trek: The Next Generation, it would have been nice for that to be represented, for the writers of Star Trek: Picard season three to have something to say in the way of meaningful, pertinent, intentional social commentary. Instead, it seems those writers had other priorities. In his

review of season three of Star Trek: Picard for The Escapist, Darren Mooney writes: “Much of the publicity around the third season has focused on the nostalgic reunion of most of the primary cast of The Next Generation — the return of Stewart’s old colleagues like Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, and Gates McFadden. . . . here is something curious in how the third season of Picard doles out its continuity cameos. It structures their delivery across the six episodes screened for press. Some characters appear early, some later. Some are teased and then

show up. Some are treated as big reveals, the solutions to mystery boxes in earlier episodes. It isn’t until the end of the sixth episode that it feels like the entire ensemble is truly in play. There are a number of reasons why Picard might have adopted that approach. It might have been based on the schedules of certain performers dictating the amount of time and window of availability to shoot. It may have been a budgetary concern, with the production team trying to allocate their resources effectively. However, watching the season, the motivations feel frustratingly and predictably cynical. These

cameos are just fan service methadone.” It’s not just the inclusion of the original TNG cast that qualifies as “fan service methadone” — it’s the aforementioned lifts from Star Trek II in episode one; it’s the cameo appearances of Tuvok in episodes seven and ten, Ro Laren in episode five, Shelby from “The Best of Both Worlds” in episode nine, the hologram of Professor Moriarty from “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle” in episode six, and Q in a mid-credit scene in episode ten; it’s the appearances of a Genesis device and a storage compartment apparently containing the

body of James Kirk at Daystrom Station in episode six; it’s the appearances of the starships Defiant, Enterprise-A, Voyager, and HMS Bounty, among others at the fleet museum, also in episode six. And most of all, it’s the return in episode nine of the Enterprise-D. Because apparently, reuniting the core ensemble of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time since 2002 isn’t enough fan service. Reuniting the core ensemble of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time since 2002 to fight the Borg again isn’t enough fan service, either. It has to be the core ensemble

of Star Trek: The Next Generation reuniting aboard the Enterprise-D to fight the Borg. Cynical, as Darren Mooney says? Absolutely. Cynical, shallow, shamelessly indulgent. More than that, though — worse than that. This kind of fan service actually does a disservice to the material it references — to the hallowed canon supposedly cherished by the target audience for these cameos and callbacks. Data died — twice. Bad enough they brought him back just so they could kill him again almost immediately in Picard season one — in Picard season three they undo that second death, the one Data asked for,

a pesky detail they hand-wave with a couple of lines of dialogue, so he can be present with the rest of the old gang. Q died in the previous season of Picard. And sure, it was a terrible season, and sure Q’s death felt arbitrary and unearned and was the epitome of a wasted opportunity, but it still happened within the world of the show, and it supposedly meant something. Except, no it didn’t — Q’s back! Shame on us for thinking in such linear terms. And really, what’s more important — allowing supposedly meaningful character deaths to stick, or

yanking that character back to life so he can pop up in a mid-credits scene? The Enterprise-D crashed in the film Star Trek Generations. Like season two of Picard, that film is lousy, and like the death of Q the loss of the Enterprise-D didn’t have nearly the impact it could have or should have had, but it still happened and it still meant something — its loss symbolized the end of the TV era for these characters and the beginning of their adventures on the big screen. The Enterprise-D was replaced by the Enterprise-E, but its loss still obviously

affected Picard, as shown in this scene from Star Trek: First Contact. That ship he commanded for seven years, where he found his crew, his surrogate family, was gone. Oh, wait, no it’s not! Starfleet salvaged it and Geordi rebuilt it in his spare time and it’s back, good as new so the old gang can take their old stations and do the same things they did on the old show, like the crash never happened. That’s a creative philosophy sure to keep a long-running fictional universe vibrant and alive — establishing that the consequences of the stories told within

that universe only last until we need to reverse them so the fans can see their favorite characters or ships again. “But what about Spock?” I know some of you are probably thinking. Spock died at the end of Star Trek II, a very moving, very meaningful death, and they brought him back to life in the very next movie. Yes, they did. And they made it work. Just because it worked when they did it with Spock, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to undo a meaningful character death — or, hell, even a not-so-meaningful one. It’s

almost never a good idea. Besides, there are some crucial differences between the resurrection of Spock, and the resurrections of Data, Q, and the Enterprise-D. Spock dies at the end of Star Trek II. They devote the entirety of Star Trek III to bringing Spock back. And, after he’s back, they make three more movies with Spock as an important character. They didn’t kill Spock, bring him back only to kill him again right away, then bring him back again in time for Star Trek VI just so he could be present alongside the other Classic Trek characters for their

final adventure. Spock came back because after Star Trek II was a hit, they decided they wanted to keep doing Star Trek for a while longer, with Spock. And when the time came to end things with the classic cast in Star Trek VI, wouldn’t you know it — the Enterprise-A worked just fine. It was still a satisfying send-off to the heroes of Star Trek: The Original Series even without the original Starship Enterprise there. They didn’t have to reveal that Scotty had somehow secretly recovered the hulk of the original Enterprise, rebuilt it, and restored the bridge to

how it looked on the TV series. We didn’t need to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov standing on a recreation of the old set for it to feel like a fitting farewell to those characters — hell, Sulu wasn’t even on the Enterprise at all in that movie! He was on his own ship, the Excelsior — and that’s where he stayed! Because the creators of Star Trek VI knew how to put character development and storytelling ahead of hollow nostalgia. Maybe that’s an unfair comparison to make. After all, this third season of Picard is

not Star Trek VI. Nor is it Star Trek: TNG, despite how relentlessly it panders to our memories of that show. Nor is it even Star Trek: Picard, really. It’s something else entirely. The third season of Star Trek: Picard is Star Trek at its most creatively bankrupt. But, is it valid to criticize a series for that when it’s clear the creative bankruptcy is entirely by choice? Because, Picard season three didn’t turn out like this because its creators, first and foremost showrunner Terry Matalas, are incompetent or incapable of doing better work — they obviously made the show

they intended to make. They — specifically Matalas — wanted it this way. That’s by far the most common excuse that I’ve heard from folks who liked this season — “of course it’s packed with fan service, that was the whole idea!” or “it’s the TNG reunion, what else did you expect?” And let me be clear, if you liked the show, you don’t need to make any excuses to me. You can tell me why you feel differently about the show than I do, why you don’t share my criticisms, if you want, but I’m not demanding an explanation.

Like what you like — if season three of Picard made you happy, I’m happy for you — you fucking nerd — sorry . . . that . . . sends a mixed signal. Keep the hate inside, keep it inside . . . Anyway, the “it’s supposed to be a conveyor belt of fan service” excuse doesn’t move me because, ultimately, the fact that they made it this way on purpose rather than accidentally doesn’t have anything to do with how I respond to the show as a member of the audience. What brings me to Star Trek is

the same thing that brings me to any other TV show or movie or book that I love — the story. That’s what I’m here for — not lore, not to see my favorite ships — stories. Stories involving characters I can invest in, doing things that I care about the outcome of. And, when I watch a new Star Trek show — even a new Star Trek show centered on characters from an old Star Trek show — I want that show to tell me a new story that I can invest in and care about, not just remind

me of old stories I liked from before. Think of it this way: I love Bruce Springsteen. When Springsteen releases a new studio album, I expect it to be new songs. That’s what I want. I don’t expect Bruce to start into one of the new songs, then segue into “Badlands.” I love “Badlands,” but if I want to listen to “Badlands,” I’ll listen to “Badlands.” I don’t want the new shit to give me the old shit — I want the new shit to give me the new shit. “It’s the TNG reunion — what did you expect?” is

the other way of phrasing that excuse I mentioned. That implies that there was no other way the creators of Picard season three could have gone about this, that the barrage of fan service and blatant lifts and repetition was necessary. But, it wasn’t. You can tell a farewell story featuring beloved characters without leaning on nostalgia or “hey, look who it is!” cameos or scenes and even entire plots where characters literally do the same things they did in episodes of previous shows. You can tell a story that touches on established themes, that continues and perhaps resolves long-running

plots or character arcs, and that allows us to say good-bye to these characters in a way that is satisfying, without turning it into a gratuitous parade of familiar faces, and without repeating what’s already been done. There were opportunities to do that, to tell that kind of a story, with Picard season three. There were stories suggested by both TNG and seasons one and two of Picard that could have confronted and resolved lingering issues in ways that would have enabled the final season to be something other than shallow nostalgia porn: the existence of ex-Borg, lingering resentment against

synthetic lifeforms, supposedly enlightened Federation citizens and/or Starfleet personnel unhappy with the welcoming of ex-Borg into society or with the lifting of the Synth ban. All interesting concepts, introduced in earlier seasons of Picard but with roots reaching back to TNG, full of potential for story and social commentary, but barely explored. The fact that showrunner Terry Matalas chose not to do any of that, or anything else like it, speaks more to his questionable creative judgment than his mechanical or emotional capabilities as a writer. It’s obvious that Matalas isn’t a bad writer, or at least that he doesn’t

have to be one. There is evidence of what a good writer he is throughout Picard season three — he’s credited as the co-writer of episode four, the best episode of the season and the series. And even though the other two episodes he’s credited with personally writing this season — episode one and episode ten — are mostly garbage, there are beats here and there, especially in episode ten, that work very well. When Picard goes all What Dreams May Come with Jack, declaring that he will not abandon his son in the Borg Collective even if it means

his own death, that moment lands with me, it feels right and genuine. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a moment when Riker and Worf are making their way through the Borg cube. Worf passes his bat’leth to Riker, who immediately drops it to the floor, shocked by how heavy it is. It’s hilarious — and yes, a lot of that is due to Jonathan Frakes’s perfect delivery, but I’m assuming that gag is in the script and wasn’t an on-set improv. The problem with Picard season three isn’t that Terry Matalas is a bad writer. The problem

is, Matalas came to work as a fanboy instead of a writer. He didn’t approach it as a storyteller, but as a Star Trek nerd who finally got to play with all his favorite toys from when he was a kid, but for real. Characters in season three of Picard aren’t primarily people who make meaningful choices, who strive to obtain things they want or protect things they care about — which is not to say they never do those things in the show — they do, it’s just not what the show ultimately wants us to care about. First

and foremost, these characters are objects — we’re meant to recognize them, to admire them, to just be glad to see them. Sure, they’re active in the present, but we’re not supposed to care about what they’re doing so much as we’re supposed to care about how what they’re doing reminds us of what they did. That’s why so much of this, from significant segments of the plot, to the dialogue and staging of scenes, seems so familiar. That’s the point. Picard season three has no new ideas, and seems pretty damn pleased with itself because of it. Terry Matalas

and his writers could have done something else, something new. But, Matalas would rather just have the Borg attack Earth again, and re-do the Changeling infiltration story from Deep Space Nine — until dropping it to focus the last two episodes on the Borg — then indifferently resolve it — the main plot for most of the season — with a line in Picard’s voiceover from the closing minutes of the last episode. Season three of Picard is an enormous improvement on season two, and, all things considered, a marginal improvement on season one. It’s better in terms of story

structure, it’s more nimble when it comes to handling its characters, giving the major players things to do that are important, or at least seem important at the time, balancing drama and comedy, action and tension. It’s got one very good episode and a few other not-bad ones, and most of the bad ones at least have some good stuff in them. It’s not perfect — it’s often not even good — but it’s clearly better. And yet . . . for all the many, many things that make them inferior to season three, at least the first two seasons

of Picard had some modicum of ambition. They had ideas. They had no clue what to do with these ideas, they left them almost entirely unexplored, but they had them. They made attempts at doing something different with these characters, at telling their stories in ways that didn’t make them feel like meticulously detailed reenactments. The results of these attempts were very mixed in season one, and a complete failure in season two, but at least you got the sense, even if only occasionally, that they were trying . . . something. Season three could have tried something, too. These

characters could have been pushed in bold, creative new directions. But, Matalas would rather contrive excuses to return everyone to where they were thirty years ago — the big moment the entire season builds to is having the entire TNG crew back aboard the Enterprise-D, at their old stations. Look, it’s the people you remember, standing or sitting in the spots you remember them being! How exciting. Characters that have been allowed to somewhat move on are back at their starting positions. Characters that have developed in ways that took them beyond the boundaries of their expected roles are pulled

into those roles — at the end of the season Seven of Nine becomes a Starfleet captain, Jack’s in Starfleet — everyone’s in Starfleet! The hero ship for most of the series — the Titan-A — is rechristened the Enterprise-G, because only ships named Enterprise get to be important! And if there’s a single development in this season that speaks to the ethos of the whole thing, it’s that — the Titan is renamed the Enterprise — the new(ish) is transformed into the familiar. Novelty, even if only present in a tiny quantity, is traded in for nostalgia. Shitty storytelling?

You bet. But what does it matter when the story isn’t important to the people telling it — when the plot is just a shelf on which the creators can display their favorite Star Trek collectibles? Terry Matalas, who also directed the final two episodes of the season, puts his proud lack of creative ambition on unmistakable display with the final shot of episode ten, which is a direct lift of the gently spinning overhead shot of the crew playing poker together that closes out “All Good Things,” the immeasurably superior series finale of Star Trek: TNG. Say what you

will about J.J. Abrams, but at least when he began The Force Awakens with a riff on the iconic opening shot of Star Wars, he bothered to come up with his own version of the same idea instead of just copying the shot verbatim. But, according to the philosophy that guides Terry Matalas in Picard season three, to come up with his own variation of that final shot would have been to miss the point. Worse yet, if the reference wasn’t so obvious, some members of the audience might not get it — they might not even recognize the shot

as a reference at all, and then what possible value could it have? Why bother to craft a distinct interpretation of a familiar element when you can just do what was done before? Why say anything of your own when you can just repeat, sometimes verbatim, what others have already said? Exploring strange new worlds? Boldly going where no one has gone before? What’s any of that got to do with Star Trek?

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