‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 3 Review: The ‘Next Gen’ Reunion Soars
Many fans felt burned by the last two seasons of “Picard.” Season 3 delivers.
Third time’s the charm. Or rather the third season.
“Star Trek: Picard” is finally a show worth watching and celebrating. Before that, there were fits and flashes: the episode “Nepenthe” from season 1. The first three episodes of season 2. But very little else.
The previous two seasons of the Patrick Stewart-starring show centered around a profound misunderstanding: to avoid the nostalgia trap of so many IP revivals, it had to completely reinvent the wheel when it came to “Star Trek.” This meant sudden bursts of ultra-violence and a dull, monochromatic color palette, like an HBO prestige drama (badly) trying to be. As if you could move the ball forward that way. There seemed to be a morbid fear that “Picard” would repeat what “Star Trek: The Next Generation” did; so much so that ‘Picard’ was defined by what it wasn’t, rather what it was. And the whole thing felt like some sort of perverse fan service that tried so hard not to be that it was: we said a tearful goodbye to Data at the end of Season 1, which doesn’t go much further than Nemesis, and a Season 2 , which, after a promising start, will be the revival of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” set in present-day Los Angeles that no one could have ever wanted.
Here’s the deal: Most fans never clamored for a “Next Generation” Season 8, as if we were suddenly transported back to the fall of 1994 and given a new episode. Or until 2003, and with stories set right after “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Unlike most other fans, Trekkies are generally not that nostalgic. We didn’t care to feel what we were doing over 20 years ago when we were kids, we just wanted to see what these beloved characters were doing in the “now”. It was about bringing them forward, not backwards.
And that’s where “Picard” Season 3 finally, thankfully, gets right. They don’t have to be in uniform, they don’t have to be on the bridge of a Starship, it’s just exciting to spend more time with the personalities we love and see how they’ve changed – not relive their greatest hits. Season 3 is so much more than “Next Generation” Season 8, even if that’s the clever shorthand they’re marketing. It’s a thrilling, heartfelt character piece that also happens to have some of the most exciting action set pieces in the “Trek” series since the franchise bowed back in 2017 with “Discovery.” Snapshot of starship action Captained by Jonathan Frakes as Riker and directed by MVP helmer Frakes himself, Episode 4 is the most exciting cinematic space battle on the small screen since “Battlestar Galactica” debuted 13 years ago.
If you were burned by seasons 1 and 2, give season 3 a chance. It begins with Picard receiving a mysterious message from Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), whom he hasn’t spoken to in over 20 years. In fact, he hasn’t spoken to any of his old teammates from the Enterprise during this time. It just disappeared to end up in something like the galaxy version of Doctors Without Borders. Now he is being pursued by an agonizing threat. And of course, Stewart’s Picard can’t help but spring into action with Riker to help him. Organically and surprisingly, the rest of the cast of “Next Generation” comes together, in very different places than where we saw them decades ago: Michael Dorn Worf, the great Klingon warrior, is now a pacifist. Father Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton). Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and her husband Riker are going through a rough patch. And elements from “Next Gen” and “Deep Space Nine” have been revived that you will never see. Even better, they’re not just callbacks, they’re integral to the plot: characters, story points, and alien species that have evolved, moved forward, not just reappeared.
Arguably, that didn’t happen with the “Next Generation” movies, where, say, Worf’s character development in “Deep Space Nine” seemed to have virtually disappeared when he was back on the bridge of the Enterprise. But there’s much more merit to these films than is generally acknowledged: “First Contact” may be the most praised of the bunch, but there’s humor and depth of feeling, and compelling dilemmas in “Insurrection” and “Nemesis.” too. Showrunner Terry Matalas seems to have done the impossible: he took the best aspects of the movies – especially the action – and really managed to create, in his own words, a “Next Generation” movie in 10 episodes. He may even have underestimated his performance. “Picard” Season 3 isn’t a story that can be told in just one run. All of the first six episodes screened for critics look essential and are likely to be enjoyed binge-watching and week-to-week. I devoured it… and now I want to watch it every week.
The new characters are just as exciting. The characters introduced in seasons 1 and 2 were all well acted, but not well written. This time, the writing is worthy of the talents of Michelle Hurd, the only character introduced in previous seasons who carried me along. Also worth returning to are legacy characters: Jeri Ryan, whose Seven of Nine had the best arc in the previous two seasons and is the definition of what it means to successfully develop a character in the way we knew it decades ago. And crucially, the writing is worthy of three compelling new characters in Season 3: the arch-villain Vadik (Amanda Plummer, who sinks into a role as menacing and pontificating as Khan), USS Titan Capt. Shaw (Todd Stashwick), whose personality couldn’t be more disappointing at first, but she ends up being the MVP of the season, and Sidney LaForge, who can be everything you’d imagine a Geordie girl to be, and more.
Will this be the last mission for Picard and the ‘Next Generation’ cast? There seem to be too many interesting threads set up here for episode 10, the series finale, to fully resolve. And it’s hard not to want more when you finally get it. Or maybe a thrilling finale that leaves us wanting more is the way to go. Of all the “Trek” series that have aired since 2017, only “Discovery” Season 4 and the initial season of “Strange New Worlds” have come close to what “Picard” Season 3 did. In a landscape teeming with content where nothing seems to break through, this is an actual “event”. A well crafted piece. And barring the disastrous decline of the final episodes, it’s a legacy.
“Star Trek: Picard” Season 3 premieres Feb. 16 on Paramount+ with new episodes every Thursday.
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