I wish every episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ had been this fun
The following discusses Star Trek: Picard, Series Three, Episode Ten, “The Last Generation.”
Let’s not pretend the final episode of Star Trek: Picard was a modern classic, or at least free of its usual flaws. It had the usual mix of rough dialog, clunky plotting and pandered to its audience with a mix of nostalgia and continuity porn in place of saying anything of note. But what it, and the previous episode, did do was offer up a breezy hour of action that, above all else, was fun. After choking down on eight hours of stodgy, high-school-level melodrama, this was a vital and necessary corrective.
“The Last Generation” opens with a plea from President Anton Chekov* (Walter Koenig) saying Earth is about to fall to the Bio Borg fleet. The Enterprise races to the (hopefully) last Borg Cube hiding in Jupiter’s eye, where the Borg Queen has ensnared Jack as her transmitter. How do we know this? Well, it was obvious that Jack, as the Queen’s “voice,” would be key to activating the drones, but also because this series can’t help but remind us what’s going on.
Remember the last episode, when the fleet was taken over by the Borg and was about to launch an offensive on Earth? This show doesn’t think you did, which is why we have Patrick Stewart say lines like “the fleet is being controlled by the collective,” and “that cube is projecting a signal across the solar system” and “the only way to save Earth is to sever that connection, no matter the cost” You know, stuff you saw at least once last week and then again in the “Previously On.”
It’s a similar problem when we watch the surprisingly-small Federation fleet point toward Earth. On the Titan’s bridge, we see a map of the world’s major locations quickly engulfed by a series of red dots, which was a neatly elegant way of communicating what was going on. Unfortunately Raffi, so often relegated to exposition dispenser, has to restate what we’ve literally just seen. “The fleet is targeting every city,” – yup, we saw, thanks – “every major population center on the planet,” – yup, still with you. Given how often this crops up, I wonder if Paramount did research that found most people scroll their phones while watching so need their hands holding with some nice radio-style narration.
The Enterprise shows up at Jupiter and is utterly dwarfed by the cube lurking in the storm, and I love the sense of scale afforded here. Picard, Riker and Worf – Michael Dorn given yet another goofy gracenote as he pledges to make the away team a threesome – set off. They give their milky-eyed farewells and then beam over to the cube with a mission to both stop the signal and rescue Jack. The pace at which the narrative moves here, again, makes the preceding eight episodes feel like more of a punishment. Here, things happen, there’s no paddling around in circles trying to stretch the runtime, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Meanwhile, the crew of the Titan manage to fight their way to the bridge and beam the Bio Borg to a locked transporter room. Severed from the fleet, it’s up to Seven, Raffi and some low-ranking crew to mount a single-handed defense of Earth. Sadly, the Titan doesn’t have a regular crew, full of competent professionals who crack on with the job at hand, but a movie crew. You know, who have almost no prior experience but after a (not very) rousing pep-talk, will rise to the occasion and save the day.
On the cube, the gang find the Borg are a shadow of their former shelves, with a handful of drones still alive. The rest have withered away courtesy of Captain… Janeway, who doesn’t even get an honorable mention for her trouble. The Queen (Alice Krige), meanwhile, looms in the darkness over Jack, who is now wearing the Locutus outfit and controlling the fleet. If you’re waiting for me to make the obvious comparison to The Rise of Skywalker, you’ll have to wait – I’m saving my one Star Wars reference for the next paragraph. We even get time for one more goofy joke featuring Riker trying, and failing, to pick up a Mek’leth, too.
Over on the Enterprise, the crew quickly work out that they’ll need to physically destroy the wireless transmitter that is beaming instructions to the Bio Borg drones. And this wireless transmitter is, for some reason, lurking at the heart of the cube accessible only through an impossible route. And so Data’s gracenote is to ask the gang to trust his gut while he drives the Enterprise on an homage through the half-completed Death Star from Return of the Jedi. Whoops, wrong Star franchise, Terry! But if they do destroy the transmitter, it’ll also burn out the whole cube (pesky WiFi radios, with their explosive power and all), with Geordi and Beverly locking eyes knowing that to act now will condemn Jack to death, but to delay won’t just condemn Sidney and Alandra to death, but everyone else as well.
The Queen, who I’m fairly sure didn’t have her own arms in any of her appearances before and yet now has grown a pair, has Jack under her control. After repeating several of the same lines from their confrontation in First Contact, Picard decides to plug himself back into the collective to save his son. The only way he can do so, of course, is by opening up to Jack, admitting that this need for connection while also keeping people away is what drove him to Starfleet. But, because we’ve got plenty more stuff to get through, all it takes is Picard to hug Jack and his Hedgehog’s Dilemma is resolved. There’s even a montage of shots from earlier in the series which, if you weren’t paying attention, might suggest this thread was properly developed, but it’s hard not to be carried away – again, mostly on the vibes.
With Jack free, the Enterprise opens fire to destroy the cube and then makes a last-second run to rescue the gang. It’s all very, uh, triumphant, isn’t it, and I reckon that if we’d seen this happen in 1993 or so, it would have blown our tiny minds. With the cube destroyed, the Bio Borgs all return to normality, and we can crack on with our happy ending. Data overstays his welcome in a therapy session with Deanna, Worf leaks details of Raffi’s heroism so her family respects her again, Crusher finds a way to fix the Borg mutation (and catch changelings in the process) and Tuvok hands Seven command of the Titan, as recommended by Shaw. Now, we could rightly ask why Shaw privately praised Seven, even using her chosen name in his annual review, and yet serially belittled and humiliated her in front of the crew. But you knew from the get go his arc would be redemptive, and the groundwork has already been laid for his potential resurrection.
A year later, the Enterprise D is in the fleet museum, and Jack Crusher has been nepo-baby fast-tracked through the academy and is now ready for his first posting. We know we’re going to get a hero ship reveal, because the Picard theme suddenly includes the bells used so well in Leonard Rosenman’s Voyage Home score. At the rebuilt spacedock, we see the Titan A – already an awkward re-brand from the original Titan – has now been re-rechristened as the Enterprise G. Why? Because, uh, heroism, or something, and not as part of a shameless attempt to use this entire third season as a backdoor pilot for a spinoff.
The new Enterprise heads off, back to the M’Talas system, with Seven, Raffi and Jack all now on the bridge. Jack may be an ensign, but he’s been posted as “counselor to the captain” to keep Ed Speelers on the bridge. Who’d have thought that Starfleet would have given command of the Federation’s flagship to a “thief, a pirate and a spy,” well, not this dude. But then this is new Star Trek, where narrative gravity will pull everything into a structure that closely resembles what went before.
There’s a new Enterprise with a Crusher in one chair and a LaForge in another, because a family name and the inherited genes that come along with it are far more important than anything else these days. There’s even a mid-credits stinger featuring John deLancie’s Q, who you might recall very prominently died in season two. He’s back in full asshole mode, and is ready to put Jack through the same paces he did with his father back in the late ‘80s. Meet the new villain, quite literally the same as the old one.
You know, I’m sure we’ll hear the news that Terry Matalas’ Star Trek: Legacy, featuring the Enterprise G’s adventures in the M’talas system, has been commissioned in the next week. Paramount needs to capitalize on Picard’s outgoing hype and popularity, and I’m interested to see which flavor of show we get – one with the tone of the first eight episodes, or the last two. And to see how many elements of Golden-Era Trek history will get strip-mined for inspiration to keep fans onside. I wish it well, though, because this has worked for some sections of the fans, and I’m happy that they liked it, even if it left an often sour taste for me.
And while the next next generation, or what’s left of it, heads off, our crew go to Ten Forward to get hammered together. If you know your Next Generation history, you’ll know this gang went through a fairly rough time together and bonded in that early adversity. The chemistry, warmth and love exhibited by these characters isn’t fake, as anyone who has seen this bunch on the convention circuit will tell you. Their history is our history and I can’t begrudge anyone who opted to point a camera on these seven and let it play out. Of course they have to wind up playing poker, because that’s what these characters did. It was a sign of Picard’s growth the first time around that he opted to join the weekly poker game, and now they’ve all not just grown old, but grown old together, off-screen at least. And as, by my ear, the Final Frontier mix of the Goldsmith theme starts to play, we roll credits. At least that last bit was fun, wasn’t it?
* Much as it reinforces the hateful shrinking of the Trek narrative universe, because of course Chekov’s kid winds up as Earth President, it was a nice nod to the late Anton Yelchin.