Let’s face it: Picard was always a show for long-time fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So it should surprise exactly no one that the third and final season, which has heavily featured the reunion of the Next Generation crew in its promotions, kicks off with a screen full of callbacks. Let’s skip the part where we remark on the fan service in a show that was pretty much from the get-go made for Star Trek fans, shall we?
The tone of Picard has always been on the darker side, in keeping with contemporary sci-fi sensibilities. Heavy shadows framing even heavier plots full of super-heavy emotions. The Season 3 premiere, very cleverly titled “The Next Generation” is no different, though it does allow Picard himself a somewhat lighter attitude compared to past seasons. The episode kicks off with a grim sequence: Beverly Crusher fighting for her life on an appropriately dim starship, shooting at malevolent aliens (it wasn’t clear to me who they are) while a character seen only in silhouette bangs at a door. Wounded and desperate, she sends a last-ditch call for help.
Having been pop-psychology’d by Q into letting go of past traumas to allow himself to love, Picard is attempting to shed the past. He’s cleaning out some relics from his Next Generation days and planning a trip with Laris, his current girlfriend. What a perfect time to receive a desperate encoded message from an old flame who cut off him and his friends 20 years ago!
Indeed, it’s revealed that no one has seen or heard from Crusher in two decades. Her cry for help is sent to Picard’s old com badge and coded in a way that only her old crewmates on the Enterprise-D would figure out. Ominously, she warns Picard not to involve Starfleet, a warning he heeds by discussing the matter with Riker, a current Starfleet captain, and attempting to trick the Titan, a Starfleet ship, into taking him to Crusher’s coordinates. But hey, the Titan‘s first officer is Seven of Nine, who now goes by Commander Hansen at her cartoonish jerkface captain’s insistence (Captain Shaw, who despite being introduced with comedically high levels of assholery, is rationally correct in refusing to fall for Picard’s tricks, but who’s counting?). And, conveniently, the pilot is none other than Sidney La Forge, Geordi’s daughter. Oh, I get it! “The Next Generation” has a double meaning!
I did love that Picard, both the show and the character, were allowed to have a bit of fun this time around. There are plenty of “old fart” jokes between Picard and Riker, whose rapport is as strong as ever, and even with the grim opening, the whole thing has a lighter, more adventurous feel. Which, personally, I enjoyed a lot.
We’re a long way from the idealistic 1990s hopepunk of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when everyone got along a little too well. And I think it would be folly to try to bring that back in the cynical 2020s. That said, I’m really over dour dramas that seem to exist just to make their characters (and audiences) miserable. Plus, the sad truth about sequels is that they have no choice but to screw up the happy endings that their predecessors worked so hard to achieve.
The last two seasons of Picard have tended toward misery while squandering their built-in goodwill (Season 1 started off strong and then became incomprehensibly garbled, and the entirety of Season 2 was a giant mistake, in my opinion). Season 3 seems to be heading in a different direction—one that shamelessly aims to entertain instead of trying to outsmart its audience at any cost. Here’s hoping it keeps that up, though I have a feeling not all of our beloved characters will survive. Hopefully they don’t turn their franchise into an extended horror show where our original heroes die one by one the way Star Wars did.
Oh, and whatever happened to the new characters introduced in the first two seasons of Picard? It looks like they’ve vanished into thin air, with the exception of Laris (who probably won’t show up again, except maybe in a brief scene if Picard ever makes it home) and Raffi Musiker, who appears to have fallen off the wagon (I didn’t buy it for a second, did you?) but is actually working deep undercover for an unseen handler. Her storyline will probably intersect with whatever’s going on with Crusher and the evil aliens eventually, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a bit for that.
All in all, “The Next Generation” was a solid start to what could be an exciting final adventure for the Next Generation crew, and I’m willing to forgive a lot because it makes no secret of the fact that it’s for the fans. Here’s hoping the season gives these long-time faves a worthy send-off.