Star Trek: Picard (PIC) has been an uneven ride, to put it mildly. The first season had some interesting ideas, and a (more or less) satisfying conclusion, saddled with a meandering middle section, and some ill-conceived characters (looking at you, Narek and Narissa). What could’ve ended as a decent miniseries pushed its luck with an admittedly exciting second season opener under new showrunner Terry Matalas. However, season 2 quickly devolved into one of the sloppiest seasons in Star Trek’s long history. Once the core characters found themselves in 21st century Los Angeles, there were piles of ideas, all thrown together like a last-minute banquet made of rotting leftovers (family trauma, a depressed astronaut, a renegade Borg Queen, racist immigration policies, eugenics, Q needs a hug, et al). The various subplots didn’t flow together so much as compete with one another. It felt overstuffed and pointless.
When I heard this latest season was filmed right on the heels of season two, my main concern was that we’d see a continuation of the previous season’s bad ideas. However, season 3 promises a fresh start, with the return of The Next Generation (TNG) cast. This is something longtime fans have been clamoring for, despite the showrunner’s repeated insistence that PIC would never become a TNG sequel (never mind that the Riker family reunion of season 1’s “Nepenthe” was arguably the series’ best episode to date). As the new season opens, Terry Matalas seems to be delivering exactly what fans originally wanted, since the third season opener is titled, you guessed it, “The Next Generation”…
S3.1: “The Next Generation”
Written by Terry Matalas and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, the episode begins with a sweeping series of shots detailing Starfleet Dr. Beverly Crusher’s personal effects aboard the medical starship Eleos (Greek for “mercy”). Over the panning shot, we hear a 1940 song from The Ink Spots, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” (a song also featured in the original 1982 trailer for “Blade Runner”). The song was part of a playlist made for Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) by her estranged captain, friend and almost-lover, Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart).
After being found by an unknown pursuing enemy, the Eleos is boarded by masked aliens from a hostile starship, speaking in an unknown language. They burst into the Eleos, firing energy weapons and killing several crew. In a brave last stand, Beverly takes a phaser rifle and manages to vaporize one of them (by igniting a ruptured coolant line), before she is wounded herself. With the ship momentarily secure, Beverly manages to record a final, carefully-encrypted message to Jean-Luc Picard, using the code word “Hellbird.”
Note: A few things. First, it’s nice to see the long-neglected character of Dr. Beverly Crusher being the rare center of attention. While I’m not the biggest fan of Dr. Crusher (more a Pulaski fan), the character has her fanbase, and it’s nice to see them serviced. Actress Gates McFadden seems like a lovely, spirited lady, but her character was poorly used during her six seasons of TNG. Second, the crew of the Eleos fighting off the armed intruders reminded me very much of the opening scene in 1977’s “Star Wars”, giving Crusher her Princess Leia moment; right down to sending her encrypted SOS to an old friend. Third, Crusher’s field jacket is very similar to the thick, multi-pocketed field jackets of “The Wrath of Khan” (TWOK). The jacket is but one of several homages made to that film, including an introductory text for the episode, announcing “It is the 25th Century” in electric blue, TWOK-style font.
Cut to 25th century LaBarre, France, at Château Picard. Over the express objection of his Romulan significant other, Laris (Orla Brady), a retired Admiral Picard is donating some of his memorabilia to a Starfleet museum, including his treasured Ressikan flute (from TNG’s “The Inner Light”) as well as his Enterprise-D painting, which used to hang in that ship’s ready room. After Laris leaves, Picard is sitting at his desk alone, when he hears the familiar chirping of his old Starfleet combadge. After locating the device, he finds an encrypted message sent from Beverly Crusher, his former Chief Medical Officer, and almost-paramour, whom he hasn’t heard from in 20 years. The message is a personal distress call, requesting Picard’s assistance, but advising him not to trust anyone—including Starfleet. She then gives him encrypted coordinates to her ship’s location, at the edge of Federation space, in the Ryton system. Beverly’s codeword “Hellbird” was specifically meant for Picard; Hellbird was a computer code used during his time as Locutus, when he was assimilated by the Borg (TNG’s “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter).
Note: Some nice writing with Beverly’s clever SOS, which uses a callback to “The Best of Both Worlds” in a very specific way. The distress call is preceded by a funny bit of business, as Picard rummages through his dresser drawers trying to locate the combadge—a task at which his civilian home computer system fails miserably.
Despite Beverly’s message to trust no one, Picard calls in a favor from his old friend and former First Officer, Captain Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes). The two old friends meet in downtown Los Angeles, at Guinan’s Ten-Forward bar. Riker tells his former captain that Guinan is offering merchandise now, with the ‘fat’ Enterprise-D keepsakes not selling well. Over drinks, Picard tells Riker about Beverly’s distress call, and her warning not to trust anyone. Riker immediately volunteers to help his old captain, with whom he’s developed a more familial relationship over the decades (PIC: “Nepenthe”). The two of them formulate a scheme to hitch a ride aboard the refit Neo-Constitution class starship, USS Titan-A. Since Riker used to command her predecessor, he and Picard will board the Titan-A under the guise of a surprise inspection, in anticipation of the forthcoming “Frontier Day” celebrations. As Riker and Picard exit the bar, they fall under the notice of a dark-haired patron nearby, who drops an Enterprise-D trinket into his drink before leaving…
Note: Sentiment for the past—in the form of keepsakes and memorabilia—is a recurring motif in this episode (and in this series, for that matter). We see the panning shots of Beverly’s awards and mementos from her Starfleet career (along with her music playlist from her former captain, Picard). We see Picard planning to part with cherished artifacts, including his Ressikan flute and his Enterprise-D painting, which he plans to give to his former engineer, Geordi La Forge. Riker then tells Picard that (an unseen) Guinan is now selling tiny models of the Enteprise-D. This possibly speaks to the commercialism of Star Trek collectibles, as well as the urge to let go of once-beloved material things as we get older; an impulse often experienced by those of a certain age (myself included).
In the sleazy, red-light district of planet M’Talas Prime, a hooded Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) approaches a green Orion drug/information dealer (Anthony Azizi) at a sidewalk eatery. Raffi appears to have relapsed into substance abuse. Lamenting about her lost girlfriend and career to the Orion, she is seeking drugs for information. She gives him information on a quantum tunneling device stolen from the Daystrom Institute that may be used as a weapon. He reluctantly gives her the drugs. Before leaving, the Orion near-whispers a rumor about “the Red Lady.” When pressed, the Orion tells Raffi that any more information on it could get them both killed. Once their ‘deal’ is made, Raffi walks a discreet distance before pulling out her communicator and requesting a debriefing by Starfleet intelligence, for whom she’s working. She also asks for more money. Raffi eyes the drugs given to her by the Orion, experiencing a brief temptation, before throwing them away…
Note: While I admire Michelle Hurd’s performance, this part of the episode felt very un-Star Trek to me. For starters, we see Raffi briefly tempted with a relapse of her former drug addiction at the end of the scene. It was made clear in TNG’s early days (“Symbiosis”) that substance abuse was a relic of the 21st century. This anachronism is then compounded by Raffi asking Starfleet for more money, once again contradicting Star Trek’s long-held claim that money is another relic from our time. Kirk tells 20th century woman Gillian Taylor in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” that “we don’t” use money in his 23rd century. Even Picard famously states in 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact” that “the economics of the future are quite different.” I get that Raffi is meant to be relatable to those audience members who may be suffering from substance abuse issues, but her situation feels out of synch with Star Trek’s well-established future.
As Riker and Picard take a shuttle up to the Spacedock complex in Earth orbit, they go over Beverly’s distress call as well as their plan to “borrow” the Titan. This is also a chance for them to share a few more character-building moments as Riker tries to understand why Beverly’s been estranged from her old shipmates these past 20 years. Picard is at a loss, but the urgency in her call convinced him of her desperation. Riker laments a lack of friendly faces in the new Starfleet’s command ranks, but Picard tells his old friend that he’ll like the Titan‘s first officer. Soon they approach the starship, and Riker is momentarily awed by its retro-lined beauty, docked inside the cavernous Spacedock…
Note: This entire sequence features the most obvious nods to “The Search For Spock” as Riker and Picard take a shuttle up to the Titan; the new ship’s lines and saucer section even look like that era’s Enterprise. There are many beauty shots of the famous Spacedock complex (first seen in TSFS), as well as shots of the Titan gracefully slipping through its doors. While Picard and Riker’s plan to ‘borrow’ the Titan under the guise of an ‘inspection tour’ (another nod to “The Wrath of Khan”) is a bit more subtle than Kirk and company’s outright theft of the Enterprise, it’s the same idea. The sequence even borrows some of the late James Horner’s music cues…
With the shuttle docked, Picard and Riker enter the ship, where they are greeted by Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who officially welcomes them aboard for their ‘surprise inspection.’ Picard introduces Seven to Riker, but he is immediately corrected by Seven herself, who tells Picard (with some bitterness) that Captain Shaw insists she use her birth name, Annika Hansen. Meanwhile, Picard maintains the guise of an ‘inspection’, even glaring at a nervous lieutenant whose combadge is on crooked. Seven apologizes for the absence of Captain Shaw, who’s ‘catching up on logs,’ but she extends his offer to join him for dinner later on. Picard, who’s gotten to know Seven fairy well in the last few years, senses the tension in Seven’s voice when she speaks of her new captain. And oh yes, we will find out why, very soon…
Note: Seven of Nine prefers using her Borg name, despite the traumatic circumstances by which it was given (her assimilation as a child). She’s since come to reclaim the name Seven of Nine, as it’s come to identify her adult life. Using it for herself also takes away its former power. However, Captain Shaw’s insistence on calling her “Hansen” on his ship reminded me of those who insist upon dead-naming a trans-person by their former gender identity, and not their chosen one. This is classic Star Trek-style social commentary, carefully wrapped in analogous clothing.
The “inspection” takes Admiral Picard and Captain Riker to the bridge, where their ranks are announced to the crew by Seven in old military protocol (“Admiral on the bridge”). Picard tells the nervous officers to stand down. At the helm is eager young ensign Sidney La Forge (Ashlie Sharpe Chestnut), who is the daughter of former Enterprise-D/E chief engineer, Geordi La Forge. Riker beams a big smile, as he remembers her nickname of “Crash La Forge”, a title she earned by crashing two shuttles during her time at Starfleet Academy. Seven offers Picard the honor of getting underway, which he defers to her. After retracting the moorings, Seven orders La Forge to apply “one quarter impulse power” (an order once forbidden in Spacedock).
Note: Once again, another scene recalling the TOS-era Star Trek movies, this time the admiral/captain getting the ship underway, a moment seen in both “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Undiscovered Country.” Silvia La Forge’s introduction recalls the introduction of ‘Valeris’ (Kim Cattral) the young Vulcan lieutenant who was Mr. Spock’s protegé, before volunteering as the Enterprise-A’s helm officer for her own clandestine reasons. I’m assuming Silvia La Forge isn’t going to be revealed as a surprise traitor anytime soon…?
As the Titan smoothly exits the massive Spacedock doors, Seven tells helm to prepare for warp 9.99. Picard nervously asks if she should call engineering first, but Seven quietly reminds the retired admiral that such protocol is done automatically now. Picard saves face by pretending it was a ‘test,’ telling Seven she’ll “be a captain in no time.” Riker grins at Picard’s momentary embarrassment, leading to the best exchange of the episode:
Riker: “Excellent recovery, Admiral.”
Picard: “Shove it, Will.”
The Titan then jumps to warp 9.99 (here’s hoping there are no power spikes, forcing the crew to mutate into giant amphibians)…
Note: The banter between Picard and Riker in this episode is a delight, with both characters reveling in their more relaxed relationship. Honestly, I could watch a whole episode of these two squabbling with each other in a shuttle for an hour. Captain Shaw’s lack of presence in this scene sets up his later ‘big reveal’ at dinner, as well as his detached, hands-off style of command; not even giving enough of a damn to be on the bridge during a ‘surprise inspection’ by a senior admiral. Once again homaging the 1980s Star Trek movies, Captain Shaw’s command code reminds me of the USS Excelsior’s original commanding officer, Captain Styles (James B. Sikking), a meticulous fussbudget who was busy filing his nails as Kirk was stealing the Enterprise in “The Search For Spock.”
Later, in the officer’s mess, we see that Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) has already started dinner without his invited guests. Things are then off to a testy start, as Shaw expresses his frank (rude) disdain for Chatêau Picard wine, as well as Riker’s love of jazz. Shaw empathically states that he prefers structure in his music. Actively resenting his guests’ presence, Shaw says he runs a tight ship, and that such an inspection must be boring for two officers who are more used to blowing things up. Riker suggests they change course for the Ryton system, at the edge of Federation space, as part of the Frontier Day celebrations. After their warp shakedown, Picard suggests a stopover at Deep Space 4. A suspicious Shaw notes that Deep Space 4 has been decommissioned for over a year. Seven steps in, saying that Picard meant to say Deep Space 11.
Unexpectedly, Shaw refuses this new set of orders. Picard tries to pull rank, but Shaw reminds him that he’s retired, and that he and Riker are both captains—only Riker doesn’t command a ship. The surly Shaw then dismisses Seven’s loyalty to these men, which earns Riker’s ire. After thoroughly insulting his guests, Shaw then excuses himself, adding that he hopes Picard and Riker find their new accommodations aboard ship acceptable (he assigns them a shared bunkbed). Later on, Seven tersely demands that Riker and her friend Picard tell her exactly what’s going on, and how she can help. Short of mutiny, Picard isn’t sure exactly what they can do.
Note: I realize that not all captains are alike, but as Picard once famously noted in TNG (“Encounter at Farpoint”), captains are supposed to project an air of geniality. I’m left wondering exactly who the ill-tempered, anal-retentive Shaw blackmailed at Starfleet to get his command…
Aboard the La Sirena—the ship she inherited from the late Captain Rios—Raffi is frustrated by her Starfleet Intelligence contact’s lack of information on a “Red Lady.” After unfocused inquiries using La Sirena‘s computer, Raffi then narrows its search parameters to potential terrorist targets. This search yields a bright red statue of the late 24th century hero, Captain Rachel Garrett, who commanded the USS Enterprise-C (TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). The statue is the “Red Lady” the Orion drug dealer spoke of, and it’s scheduled for dedication on Frontier Day, at Starfleet Headquarters, in San Francisco. Once she realizes there is a terrorist plot afoot, Raffi races home to Earth…
Note: Another nice callback to a specific TNG episode. Captain Rachel Garrett was a heroic character we met in TNG’s much-revered episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” In that story, Garrett and her crew were thrown forward in time 22 years, where they were met and aided by Picard’s Enterprise-D, after a near-fatal attack from several Romulan warbirds during the Enterprise-C’s robust defense of a Klingon outpost at Norendra III. Eventually, Garrett and her crew opted to return to the battle, via a subspace anomaly. The Enterprise-C’s defense of the Klingon outpost was a step towards lasting peace between the Klingons and the Federation.
La Sirena arrives at Earth, and Raffi puts the ship on autopilot as she tries to warn Earth of the imminent attack scheduled for that day. Trying all subspace channels, she hears only static in return. Just then, a massive ‘quantum tunnel’ opens beneath the Starfleet Recruitment Center, like a massive sinkhole—pulling the building and its foundation apart, almost like a miniature black hole. The other end of the tunnel then opens in the sky above San Francisco, raining the entirety of the debris upon thousands of helpless, screaming people below. Raffi stares in horror at the downpour of destruction, unable to help…
Note: The destruction of the Starfleet facility echoes a similar scene in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” where we saw the terrorist destruction of Starfleet’s London Archives (aka Section 31 Headquarters) in the Kelvinverse timeline. Both of these attacks evoke the horror of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC during 9/11. While I certainly appreciate the horror of the episode’s destruction, it’s impact is slightly mitigated by multiple 9/11 analogies Star Trek has produced since 2001, including the Xindi attack on Earth in Star Trek: Enterprise (“The Expanse”). This too, feels borrowed.
Realizing that Seven has taken them to the Ryton system against Shaw’s orders, Picard and Riker offer their gratitude. Seven then gives the two elder renegades directions to the shuttle bay, where they can slip past a brief loophole in security she’s created for them. Picard thanks her, as he and Riker quickly proceed to the shuttle bay…
Note: I hope that something bad happens to Captain Shaw really soon, so that Seven winds up in command of the Titan. Not just because Shaw in an insufferable, uptight prick, but also Seven has proven herself worthy of the chair. Granted, Shaw is not necessarily wrong in his observations of Picard and Riker, but his style of command is insufferable and oppressive. Even a former Borg would be an improvement…
Awakened in his quarters by the flashing storms of a nebula in the Ryton system, an angered Captain Shaw finally makes his way to the bridge, as he realizes Seven’s betrayal. Locking down the ship, Shaw is too late; Riker and Picard have left the Titan in an unscheduled shuttlecraft launch towards the last known position of the Elios. The mutinied captain then turns his wrath toward his First Officer. Shaw snarls that Seven has “loyaltied her way out of career.”
Note: The situation between Seven and Shaw reminds me of Riker’s rebuke of temporary Enterprise-D captain Edward Jellico (TNG’s “Chain of Command,” Part 2); “You need to control everything and everyone. You don’t provide an atmosphere of trust, and you don’t inspire these people to go out of their way for you. You’ve got everybody wound up so tight, there’s no joy in anything. I don’t think you’re a particularly good captain.” Granted, inspiring joy in others isn’t necessarily a command prerequisite, but it certainly helps when you ask your crew to go that extra light-year for you. Picard, Riker and Seven can do that. Shaw can’t (or won’t).
The shuttle from the Titan locates the Eleos, which is nearly drained of power. As they approach the ship, the two officers are feeling both apprehension and an adrenaline rush. Riker detects two human life signs—the one matching Beverly’s medical records reads as minimal. Feeling every minute his age, Riker leads the way as they enter the ship, ready or not. The two men use flashlights to search through the darkened ship’s interiors. They see evidence of a desperate firefight, including an apparent immolation of an enemy target. Picard knows that Beverly wouldn’t have done such a thing, except in self-defense. As Picard makes his way towards Beverly’s life signs, Riker looks for the other survivor, whom he finds—a young man with a British accent (Ed Speelers), holding a phaser to Riker’s back, forcing him to walk forward…
Note: Once again, some great moments of comic relief nicely punctuate this story. Just before they depart their shuttle Riker tells Picard: “Your hands are stiff, my knees are killing me. So long as we don’t have to move or shoot, we should be fine.” I’m also a bit surprised that no jokes have yet been made by Riker regarding Picard’s newly-minted android body. I half-expect Riker to quip, “Wait a minute, aren’t you an android now? Can’t you just do a Data on these guys?” Perhaps that’s coming in a future chapter…?
Picard locates a wounded Crusher in a medical pod on the ship’s bridge. Calling out to Riker, Picard then sees him entering the bridge at phaser-point. Picard coolly talks the young man down, getting him to lower his weapon. Riker then elbows the young man in the face, grabbing his phaser. Picard now realizes who set Beverly’s pod controls, and why she sent the distress call—this young man is Beverly Crusher’s son. Before they can get to know each other, a klaxon blares—another vessel is approaching, and it’s not the Titan. The young man mistakenly believes that Picard and Riker have led their enemies here. Riker then demands to know who these enemies are, and the young man opens a blast shield on the main viewport, revealing a massive, menacing-looking vessel emerging from the Ryton nebula…
The episode is dedicated “To Annie,” actress Annie Wersching (1977-2023), who played the Borg queen in PIC season 2. The actress recently lost her personal battle with cancer, passing away at the tragically young age of 45.
Note: A couple things. First, the assault on Riker and Picard by Beverly’s previously unknown son (Wesley’s new brother) is a direct callback to Kirk defending himself from an assault by his own son, David Marcus (the late Merritt Butrick), in “The Wrath of Khan.” Second, the spiky-looking enemy starship, presumably belonging to this season’s revenge-seeking big-bad “Vadic” (Amanda Plummer), is a tired design retread that recalls both Shinzon’s Scimitar (“Star Trek: Nemesis”) and Nero’s Narada (2009’s reboot of “Star Trek”).
The Search For Beverly.
The homages to 1980s cinematic Trek are all over this episode; there’s riffing on the late James Horner’s scores, a flood of visual cues, as well as scenes and characters directly influenced by “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search For Spock.” Picard and Riker settle into being the new Kirk and McCoy, with Riker being the aging man of action (á la Kirk), while Picard slips into the role of McCoy’s wisened curmudgeon. The warm, humorous interactions between these two characters (and actors) is the undisputed highlight of this season opener. From the moment Picard and Riker reunite in L.A’s Ten-Forward to the final moments aboard the Eleos, this episode is all about Picard and Riker’s Butch & Sundance-style end run, and I’m here for it. Frakes and Stewart have such comfortable chemistry—the kind that only comes from decades of working together.
The trailers for this season point to a power-mad villain named Vadic, who is seeking revenge (again). This has become a nauseatingly overused trope in Star Trek since 1982, and I really wish they’d put it to bed already. Fortunately, what “The Next Generation” lacks in originality it makes up for in charm and nice character moments (not unlike the TOS-era Star Trek movies it emulates). Seven’s acrimonious relationship with her new captain aboard the Titan adds a bit of tense, relatable drama to the mix, as well. Since the episodes of this season are set up as chapters (again), each episode isn’t a story, but rather a trail of breadcrumbs to be followed; Beverly’s estrangement from her former shipmates, a conspiracy within Starfleet, Raffi’s secret spy mission, etc. After a short-lived (and refreshing) reprieve from heavy-handed serialization with the recent episodic prequel series,“Strange New Worlds,” PIC puts us right back in the puzzle box…
While the title “The Next Generation” suggests we’ll meet a whole new crew of characters, we only meet three: Ensign Sidney LaForge, Captain Liam Shaw, and Beverly’s angry, as-yet-unnamed son (a nod to The Wrath of Khan’s angry young David Marcus). The bulk of the story is ‘the old boys steal a ride from Starfleet to help a missing friend.’ Sound familiar? A more suitable title for this installment, both in tone and story, could’ve been “Picard III: The Search For Beverly.” This first episode really isn’t about welcoming newcomers—it’s a celebration of the old timers.
As a season opener, “The Next Generation” is certainly watchable, if a bit recycled. But hey; if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best, right? I only wonder if writer Terry Matalas will show us something genuinely new down this road, or will we just get another randomized playlist of oldies-but-goodies?
Where To Watch
“Star Trek: Picard” is available to stream exclusively on Paramount+, along with other Star Trek series. Seasons 1 & 2 are also available to own on BluRay as well from Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other retailers; prices vary.
6 Comments Add yours
An excellent overview and analysis of the introductory episode of Picard season 3. For me, the scene introducing Sidney La Forge seems more of a throwback to the introduction of Demora Sulu to Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Both Picard and Kirk were surprised to see the respective daughters of a former crew member now serving in Starfleet. Sidney and Demora were both pilots for their respective ships as well.
Thank you, David.
And yes, I agree. Virtually every element of this episode felt borrowed from a previous Star Trek, especially that Sidney/Demora bit (I kick myself that I forgot to mention that more obvious example; ugh…I should’ve had more coffee). Beverly’s mystery son with the weapon felt very David Marcus as well.
I enjoyed it, yes, but it all felt a bit too familiar.
I don’t have Paramount+ so haven’t watched any of Picard, other than a few clips on YouTube, but your rundown is very detailed and makes me want to watch.
Thank you! Hope you have a chance to see it somehow. This particular episode was very evocative of the ’80s Star Trek movies.
Excellent review! I am thrilled that they are bringing back the TNG crew. S1 & S2 of Picard were a let down, but S3 is finally what I was hoping for. Why didn’t they do this from the beginning? While I realize the producers didn’t just want a sequel to TNG, but it’s more than just the legacy charcters, S3 has had an improvement in the storytelling. I have been looking forward to every episode thus far, whereas I was watching the first two seasons as an obligation.
I have to admit, I’ve had some issues with the other Picard season 3 episodes after that premiere, but I’m waiting till the end of the season before I evaluate it as a whole. At the very least, it’s been better than season 2, which was a directionless mess.