Picard: Season Three

Can the final season of Picard give the Next Generation crew a better ending than Nemesis did? Um…

What’s the Show? The final season of Star Trek: Picard

What’s It All About, JG? Fanwank, largely. But fine, there’s a plot. Beverly Crusher, in absentia for twenty years, turns up on a ship being fired at accompanied by A Mysterious Man, Jack. She needs rescuing, so sends a desperate message to Picard who, along with Riker, attempts a rescue by redirecting the Titan, a ship Seven of Nine is also now serving on (don’t worry about the details – nobody else did). The ship is captained by a spectacular asshole of a captain, Shaw, but Seven redirects the ship anyway against his orders. Arriving at the location Bev sent over, they are attacked by another ship, the Shrike, which is captained by – get your collective gasps ready now – a changeling! The captain, Vadic, wants Jack, Bev’s far-from-inexplicable sidekick.

They escape, there’s some more cat-and-mouse stuff and the Mysterious Man turns out to be Bev and Picard’s son, surprisingly exactly nobody. Turns out he’s got Borg… uh, DNA or tech or something (?) inside him which means his eyes glow red and he can control people. There’s a big overarching plot about the Borg having managed to assimilate people via the transporters and code that is inserted into people under 25 and they plan to take over the whole of the fleet on Frontier Day. Oh, hang on, also there was a portal weapon that was stolen but it wasn’t important except to get Raffi and Worf involved in the plot but then also Data’s back for reasons too confusing/stupid to go into, and also Lore is defeated for good (which is nice) and the whole TNG crew reunite to save the day in the *checks notes* Enterprise-D for some fucking reason. Anyway, the Borg are defeated and the day is, naturally, saved. It all ends with poker and the TNG theme. Yes, that’s right, just like “All Good Things…”! Oh, and there’s a tag scene as well, but it can go fuck itself since it completely undermines the emotional climax of the previous season.

Why Did You Give It A Go? In for a penny… But for all its glaring flaws, Season Two was a big step up from Season One so… yeah.

Is It Any Good? Well let’s start with the positive, shall we? It won’t take very long and it gets it out of the way. The first thing to say is that this season, in a production sense, continues the improvements that Season Two introduced. The number of characters is largely paired back, there’s no sign of Elfo and the other idiots from the first two seasons other than the inexplicably-retained Raffi, and plots are given some space to breathe. That’s all to the good.

This is noticeably better-made television than either of the first two seasons as well – it’s easier to follow what’s going on, the performances (again, Raffi aside, who’s just the same old whatever) are better, the special effects look great and there’s a sense of the crew actually being out there, doing things in the galaxy like they’re supposed to. Seven’s great (obviously). Captain Shaw is an absolutely delightful addition to the Star Trek universe and is played excellently by Todd Stashwick. And…

Actually, let’s stop there. Part of the problem with assessing whether Picard is any good is that, while this is better-made television – and just more entertaining television – than the first two seasons, this also just highlights what’s wrong with Season Three. Because this is the point that Star Trek just gives up being about anything other than Star Trek. This season of Picard isn’t about anything at all, other than just other bits of the franchise. The whole plot reads like a hyperactive 11-year-old’s idea of fanwank – ohh, the Changelings are in league with the Borg! And the Borg can assimilate people with transporters now! And Tuvok’s in it! So is Ro! (Don’t worry, she has a pointlessly offhanded death just like Hugh in the first season, so at least they’re consistent.) And the old Enterprise is back, the one everyone likes! And we can fly it around inside a Borg cube hiding in Jupiter like it’s suddenly the Millennium Falcon! Oh, and Data’s back too, and alive! And… andandand. On it goes, layering one bit of fanwank on top of another on top of another. But none of it actually goes anywhere, other than around in circles. This is Star Trek for people who only care about other bits of Star Trek. It has no material connection to the real world at all, and apparently no thought behind it whatsoever beyond “Hey, does this sound or look cool?”

The first two seasons of Picard were flawed but they do at least deserve credit for not simply descending into nostalgia simply for the sake of it. The crew wasn’t up to much – and just to repeat, I am baffled by Raffi being the lone member of the crew to survive the Season Three cull – but at least they tried. Here, there’s minimal effort. Is it lovely to see the old crew back? Well, yes, of course it is but it’s also just lazy. “Eh, we tried with new people, didn’t work out, oopsie, quick get the oldies back in for one last go-around.” Maybe Picard was always going to fall back on nostalgia, maybe it would always have ended up like this, but it didn’t feel like it had to.

As I mentioned in the review of the last two episodes of the first season, the problem with the original Picard crew wasn’t that they tried to replace the TNG crew, it was just that they weren’t done very well. Rather than trying to fix that we instead just get the TNG crew back. And, well, that’s lovely, and the obvious camaraderie and pleasure the actors take from just being around each other is delightful to see – because, duh – but it’s also a complete abandonment of the idea that Picard or Star Trek can actually move things forward. At the end of Season One, Picard himself gives a speech about the importance of moving on – what’s so dispiriting is just how little Star Trek itself seems to take that message to heart. Character’s can’t actually die (well, not main ones anyway). Consequences can be easily undone. Inconvenient plot details (you know, like the complete reconfiguring of the Borg that’s entirely ignored here) can just be hand-waved away or completely ignored. If that’s all true then, really, what’s the point to any of this?

Instead, we get the Enterprise back, and Data back too because hey, why not undermine one of the few good elements of Nemesis, which shows the android giving his life in service of his captain and what he believes in. But hey, it’s just death, so why let a thing like that stand in the way of some fanwank? Oh but also, for reasons that really are genuinely baffling, Lore has to make an appearance. Why, for all that is good and pure in the world, did someone think that was a good idea? And right enough, other than some plot-convenient jeopardy for the crew, it isn’t. But hey, all the boxes have to be ticked, right? So, sigh away, tick the box, and move on to the next set piece. On and on this goes, in a desperate attempt to generate some kind of thrill.

And there are thrills to be had here. Though occasionally contrived in their arrival, much of the action is really, really good. The whole inside-the-nebula material in the third and fourth episodes is fantastically well-executed, and the episode three cliffhanger, with Riker ordering Picard to remove himself from the bridge, is an absolute classic for the ages. A lot of the hand-to-hand combat material on the Titan stands up really well too, and though the inclusion of the Changelings is, frankly, a shit idea, Vadic is an absolutely outstanding opponent, the best Star Trek has come up with in God knows how long. While it’s a shame she didn’t survive, she adds so much fun to those early episodes and manages to feel like a genuine threat.

Indeed, there’s a real sense that an opponent like Vadic is exactly what this season of Picard should have leaned into. A great presence, a fantastic enemy with real danger about them and a genuine threat. But that all gets sidelined for yet another round with the Borg and lots of pew-pew action (well, “action”) as Spacedock is assaulted by the entire fleet. It’s weirdly difficult to care about and there’s a lot of jeopardy inflation here that never actually adds much in the way of drama.

So “good” is a hard sell this time out. It’s often – indeed, usually – entertaining, there are a few moments that do stand out, and it’s definitely another improvement. But it’s also just empty calories. Of course, there’s pleasure in seeing the old gang back together again. And yes, it was a mistake to destroy the Enterprise-D in Generations (although that’s hardly the worst sin of that movie) so seeing it back in action again is lovely, despite the absolute stupidity of doing it in the first place. So sure, there’s plenty of pleasure to be had here, and you may now consider your nostalgia balls appropriately tickled.

It’s all still terribly disappointing though.

How Many Of These Did You Watch? All of ’em.

Would You Recommend It? I don’t know that there would be much point in recommending it, even if I were inclined to do so. I mean, it’s an easy watch and though there are many (many) eye-roll-worthy moments it’s rarely less than entertaining. But there are just so many questions here that the show never bothers to answer or address or even seems to have much interest in, which is a trait all three seasons of Picard share, to the show’s detriment. Worf, now an alleged pacifist, spends his time in many, many lethal battles and literally beheads someone on-screen. The pacifist-Worf who has taken time to look inside himself and be at peace is a great thing to do with the character, and Michael Dorn plays it note-perfectly. But it doesn’t remotely connect with what we see him do on screen as he merrily slaughters his way through a whole bunch of bad guys and actually declares, “Swords are more fun!” in the middle of a battle with a bunch of Borg drones. There’s absolutely no thought gone into how the character is self-describing and what he does on screen.

Oh and speaking of the Borg… Remember how, at the end of last season, the Borg finally had something new happen to them? They were reconfigured by Agnes Jurati and became something… else. That was great! What an interesting idea to try and push an overused enemy into genuinely new and unexplored territory. Well, don’t go looking for any of that here. That entire plot-line is completely abandoned without so much as a single line to explain it. Here, the Borg are just the same as they ever were, evil and implacable and… well, you know. They’re the Borg. All the potentially interesting developments that were hinted at in the final episode of the last season are completely gone, abandoned for more nostalgia ball-tickling as Alice Krige returns to the role, this time looking like something left over from Alien: Resurrection. Now, if you want to be fair, she does get a line about being left alone to die but coming back from it and consuming a few drones to try and rebuild herself.

But that’s just shit. It’s a pathetic fig leaf, not big enough to cover a single pube never mind actual nakedness. Is this the same Collective that Jurati took over? A different one? Are there two now? Don’t go looking for answers here, dear reader, for there are none. The show just doesn’t care and hopes having the Borg Queen back is enough distraction for you not to notice or remember. It isn’t. A lot of the action on the Cube in the last couple of episodes is, as seems to be our theme this time out, well put together and entertaining to watch but don’t for one second think about it outside of the immediate pleasure of watching it because it just doesn’t connect to anything. There’s some great performances in that section, especially from Jonathan Frakes when Riker simply can’t leave Picard to his fate, but as an actual structured piece of television, it doesn’t work at all.

I haven’t said much about Jack Crusher yet, Picard and Beverly’s son (and as a quick aside, Bev sure does seem to have given up on the Hippocratic Oath at this point in her career). Ed Speleers plays him as well as he can but he’s also a bit hard to care about. That’s because the character feels like a pure contrivance, which he is, and there’s not a lot Speleers can do about that. But he’s convincingly creepy when required and he’s good a good line in being able to be both charming and petulant without simply being annoying. So while Picard might not quite use him to his best advantage, the teased potential spin-off, where Seven gets her own ship and off they all zoom off to hopefully-better-than-this adventures in space, gives the possibility that there will be more to explore and enjoy there.

Ah yes, Seven. Well, I have to say something about her before signing off, so here we go. She is, as ever, excellent. Jeri Ryan is quite simply fantastic at playing the character – she always was, of course, but Seven has so much more scope for range now and Ryan absolutely plays the hell out of it. Though it’s a bit odd to have a former Borg drone not have anything to do with – or even a single suggestion about – the defeat of the Collective, Ryan is an amazing presence every time she’s on-screen and one of the absolute highlights of the season. If we do get the spin-off teased at the end you better believe I’ll be watching every second of it.

And so Picard bows out after three unspeakably frustrating seasons. Each one has been better than the season before it but ultimately there’s no shaking the feeling that the show simply hasn’t lived up to its potential. It all ends with the crew playing poker at the more sedate The Motion Picture version of theme playing. That’s nice, but that’s also where we left things back in 1994. It’s meant to suggest circularity, a group of friends who have been through it all together and come out the other side. Mostly, though, it just looks like a bit of lazy retread, yet one more little piece of nostalgia dragged out of the cupboard in the show’s dying moments.

So yes, this is better than the previous two seasons. It’s almost always entertaining, Patrick Stewart finally manages to nail Picard again consistently through the whole season, and it’s been fun to watch. It’s also an often-incoherent screed of fanwank designed to appeal to Star Trek fans and absolutely nobody else.

But the one thing that lingers is the unshakable feeling of, “…and?” And in the end, that’s not the legacy either Picard or Picard deserves.

Score on the Doors? Let’s go for a generous 7/10. That’s probably too high, but moment-to-moment it’s not a bad show. It’s just when you think about it for even a microsecond it all falls apart.

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