June 5, 2023

Enlarge / The Enterprise-D rides again.

Major spoilers for the third season of Star Trek: Picard are below.

Among the many sins of the 2002 film Star Trek Nemesis is the fact that its box-office bombing killed the still-nascent plans for a fifth and final The Next Generation outing, one that would have been designed as a finale in the same way that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was for the original cast.

I have no reason to believe that this film is some great lost gem of Star Trek canon; it was being written by the same people who wrote the awful Nemesis, and it was set up to be a kind of Search for Spock retread about reviving Data and restoring the status quo. But its absence meant a lack of closure for the TNG crew—a story that wasn’t allowed to end on its own terms.

So when Patrick Stewart got on a stage in 2018 to announce that “Jean-Luc Picard is back,” it was exciting! Closure at last. And, hopefully, a show that felt more confident and tonally consistent than Discovery had so far.

The first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard failed to make good on that promise. They were wildly uneven, and while their best moments almost always involved other TNG characters, the show actively resisted becoming a TNG reboot. But its third season, also preemptively announced as its final season, would finally reunite every member of the TNG crew for one last ride (and also Raffi would be there).

I still had misgivings for the first half of the season, and criticism I stand by. Paramount sent out screeners of the first six episodes, and while those six episodes were doing some things I liked, Picard was still struggling with some of the things it had always struggled with: not-quite-right characterization, an obsession with plot twists and bombast, and a focus on Picard to the exclusion of most other characters.

But in the season’s last four episodes, something unexpected happened: the show finally delivered on its original promise.

It was Data and Geordi that tipped me over the edge, looking back. In both Nemesis and Picard‘s first season, we experience Data’s loss almost exclusively from Picard’s perspective. Picard was Data’s friend, and Picard was a mentor to Data as he explored his humanity. But the season’s eighth episode finally thought to ask how Data’s best friend would have experienced his loss, rather than focusing on how Data’s boss would have felt. LeVar Burton sells the hell out of the Geordi performance he finally gets to give.

(It’s also nice to have Brent Spiner back in his Data mode; Spiner was in both of Picard‘s first two seasons as different unpleasant Soong family members, and the slimy register that Spiner uses to play those characters is just not very fun to watch.)

It’s emblematic of something those last few Picard episodes do well that the movies never really figured out—every character has something to do. Gates McFadden is particularly underutilized in every single TNG film, but there are moments in all of them where the non-Picard, non-Data characters are present simply to provide an extra body in a scene or rattle off some Treknobabble. Picard is still first among equals—the show has his name on it, after all—but once all the old TNG characters are finally back on the board, Stewart and Picard both feel more like players in an ensemble again.

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