“Space … the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Nearly 20 years after the original Star Trek left the network airwaves, Gene Roddenberry set out to discover whether he could catch lightning in a bottle once again. Some say he did an even better job with Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are times I tend to agree. The Star Trek sequel series had a lot more advantages from the moment it was conceived. Star Trek, a series that barely registered on the ratings during its three-year primetime voyage, became a huge sensation in syndication. By the time The Next Generation came on the scene, the original show had been syndicated in over 20 different languages all over the world. It had launched an animated series, and a fifth feature film was already in the early stages of consideration. So it isn’t quite fair to judge the success or quality of The Next Generation over the original series. One thing is inarguable. The second would never have existed if not for the first.
But one thing Roddenberry did do right was to expand rather than remake his original show. It was still too early for fans to accept other actors in the roles of Kirk and Spock. Too often shows try to reinvent characters who appear to kiss off the original fans. ABC’s attempt to remake Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a good example. Imagine if their character had been a relative of the original Kolchak instead of trying to completely change the personality of the original. Roddenberry wasn’t remaking Star Trek. He brought us a new Enterprise with a new crew and a glimpse nearly 100 years into the future of the old show. It was a rather brilliant move, and it certainly resurrected Star Trek to new heights. We felt like we could fall in love with these guys without betraying the ones we already loved. A huge reason for any of this was the casting of Patrick Stewart as the ship’s Captain Picard. He was very different from Kirk. He had the dual ability to be unquestionably authorative while displaying an uncanny amount of heart and understanding. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that when Star Trek returned to television, albeit as a series of streaming shows, that the best connection to the things that went before would be the return of Stewart in the iconic role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
The first season introduced us to the new characters who would surround a now-retired Admiral Picard. There was a decision not to make this merely a continuation of The Next Generation, but to provide us a glimpse into the man’s life after he has left the Federation. It was a bit of an awkward start, as it hadn’t felt, to me at least, that the actor and character were on the same page. I didn’t feel he had developed any chemistry with the new characters until well toward the end of the 10-episode run. There were moments, but I don’t think the writers quite understood the character nearly as much as the man playing him, and there was an obvious struggle throughout.
The second season proves a marked improvement over the first. In fact much of the storyline of that first season is kept under the surface. This isn’t exactly a reboot, but many elements including the fact Picard has been turned into pretty much an android are merely hinted at. I think the writers understood where they had gone wrong, and without wiping it away, wink to the audience that we’ll just not mention it again. And it kind of works.
As the new season begins, we are joined by two cast members from the first season. Rios (Cabrera) is now in command of the new incarnation of Picard’s first command, the USS Stargazer. Seven Of Nine (Ryan) is also in that same quadrant with friends Raffi (Hurd) and new Starfleet officer Elnor (Evagora). We learn he’s the first full-blood Romulan to graduate from Starfleet Academy. They all encounter an anomaly that has opened up a kind of crack in space. A message comes through asking to contact Picard. The result is the return of Picard’s greatest two nemeses. A Borg ship comes through, and there’s a new Queen aboard who knows Picard from his days as Locutis. She claims that the Borg want to actually join the Federation and wishes to negotiate that end directly with Picard, but before we can find out what’s really behind this event, another of Picard’s “old friends” makes himself known. It’s the triumphant return of the best “villain” in Star Trek history. It’s Q, played wonderfully by John De Lancie. He claims that Picard’s trial is not over and once again snaps his fingers, and Picard finds himself in a very different place. Q gives him a bit of a hint when he mentions the phrase Into A Mirror Darkly. Trek fans know what that means, but it’s not quite what we expect. Picard does indeed find himself in a place where he himself is not such a good guy, and now the Federation is the Confederation, and its sole purpose is to subjugate the rest of the galaxy, making it a human galaxy. Here Picard finds out he’s the Confederation’s greatest general and has wiped out countless other races. Seven Of Nine finds she is now Anika once again and is the president of this Confederation. She’s married, and the both of them are expected to join in a celebration where they will kill the Borg Queen. Raffi is a member of security, and Elnor is a hated enemy. Together with Rios they capture the Borg Queen and board the Stargazer, where they learn from the Queen that they must travel to LA. in 2024 to find a Watcher and fix a moment in time that led to this new barbaric future. They are also joined by Dr. Agnes Jurati (Pill), who ends up bonding with the Borg Queen.
From here we have a very typical Star Trek time travel story with some rather cool Easter eggs. There are some callbacks to Edith Keeler from the original series episode The Guardian Of Forever, and the now-not-so-young punk from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is still riding buses with his boom box and a sequel to the I Hate You song called I Still Hate You. Of course it’s still Kirk Thatcher who was actually an associate producer on that film and has a few times reprised the character from the bus, also recently in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The character appears to have learned his lesson and turns of the box after Seven gives him a threatening warning. But we run into a new villain here. Q is not content with teasing Picard. He wants to put things in the way of him succeeding.
Enter Brent Spiner as Adam Soong. He has been doing illegal DNA experiments and is by now a disgraced scientist who still has friends in high places. His latest experiment is Kore (Briones). She has lived longer than all of his previous experiments, and she doesn’t know what she really is. She thinks she’s Soong’s daughter but has no immune system, so must live in an electronic bubble. Q offers Soong an answer to his problem if he helps Q with a little problem of his own.
It turns out that the change in time involves a member of the Picard family. It’s Renee Picard (Mitchell), and she’s going to be a member of a mission to the Jupiter moon Europa where she is destined to make an important discovery. Q and Soong work to make sure she doesn’t live long enough to make her flight. Picard and his team must navigate the authorities which include an FBI agent in the model of Fox Mulder, played by The Shield’s Jay Karnes. He catches a video of Picard beaming into an alley and has been searching for proof of alien life since an encounter he had as a kid with some exploring Vulcans. All the while Agnes is becoming more and more Borg Queen, and it ends up costing the team their ship. Obviously they succeed, but will they be able to get back to their own time?
No spoilers here. Of course they will. There’s a third and final season coming, and it will be minus a few cast members who don’t exactly make it out of this season.
I have to say the pacing here is incredibly awkward. Kurtzman and his crew still don’t understand how to use these characters or play in the Star Trek world. What keeps this season at all compelling is the trio of Picard, Soong, and Q. There is a great amount of chemistry here that even Kurtzman can’t screw up, try as he might. Stewart, Spiner and De Lancie know their parts and each other very well, and these characters and moments are worth all of the missteps and make this a wonderful experience for Star Trek and Next Generation fans in particular.
The third and final season finally went where the show and franchise should have gone years ago. When the films stalled, the Next Generation crew were kind of left hanging. Once Star Trek started back up on television, Alex Kurtzman took over, and he was too glued to his own vision, which was nowhere near what Roddenberry first envisioned. It’s almost as if there was a rebellious mood to stay away from what worked. When Patrick Stewart first agreed to do the Picard series, he made it clear that he did not want to see the show become an extension of The Next Generation. Over two years of material that should and could have been much better, even Stewart started to realize that the best moments were when the show touched on the past. The first season I really didn’t like. The second wasn’t much better, but having Q made all of the difference in the world. Now the powers that be realized that what we really wanted was a continuation and evolution of what we already love. It comes a little late and when the show is ending. But this was some of the best Trek in a decade or more, and I would not be surprised to see these characters together in one form or another again. There’s just too much gold to be mined here. But the crew has become long in the tooth, a reality often commented upon during the third season. Is there still time to mine all of that gold? If this was any indication, the answer is yes.
“You’re only really as good as those around you. Your crew becomes a part of you. Completes you. They lift you up to accomplish things you never could do alone.”
It all starts with Dr. Beverly Crusher (McFadden), who is aboard a rather worn ship. She’s being boarded and attacked. Just as she’s about to go down she sends out an emergency transmission to her old captain, Jean-Luc Picard. It’s a mysterious message, and it is sent to his old Enterprise com badge. She uses codewords and a very X-Files coda to trust no one. Picard (Stewart) can’t figure out the code. It appears Crusher has been estranged from her old crew for 20 years, and no one knows why. So the mystery leads Picard to his old first officer, now Captain William Riker (Frakes). From there the clues lead them to a place on the edge of the Federation, and in a bar scene reminiscent of McCoy’s attempt to find a ship in The Search For Spock, they decide to board Riker’s last command, the Titan. They use the ruse of conducting a surprise inspection ahead of the big Frontier Days celebration (more on that later). Aboard the Titan, Seven Of Nine is the first officer to a Captain Liam Shaw, played by Todd Stashwick. Shaw isn’t very inclined to help Picard, and he has a pretty good reason to dislike the otherwise Starfleet legend. But they get there anyway, where Picard saves Crusher but discovers two very important pieces of the puzzle.
The first is that he has a son with the good doctor who was pretty much kept a secret in a plot point that mirrors Kirk’s discovery of his own adult son in The Wrath Of Khan. Jack Crusher, played by Ed Speleers, is not an ordinary man. It appears Picard gave him a bit of his Borg self in his half of the DNA, and Jack has a few hidden powers and connections. It appears that the Federation has been infiltrated by shapeshifters with plans of vengeance, and the tip of that spear is the second piece of the puzzle in the form of a madwoman named Vadic, played by Amanda Plummer. She’s a bit of an annoying villain who both smokes and giggles too much. But she is a pretty tough adversary, to be sure, thanks to a giant killer ship with stolen weapons from the Federation’s version of Area 51. That’s the next destination for the growing crew.
Meanwhile Raffi (Hurd) is the only strictly Star Trek Picard member of the cast, and she has been working undercover as a junkie for Starfleet Security, taking orders from a nameless handler behind a computer screen. She is also on the hunt for the weapons taken. She gets in over her head and has to be bailed out by her until now unseen boss, who we happen to know. It’s Worf (Dorn) who has given up his warrior days for a new Zen-like philosophy of nonviolence, which he has to break to save Raffi. Obviously, these guys will end up joining the big team halfway through the season. When things don’t work out the way they wanted at the Daystrom Institute (Area 51), the ship needs to leave the landing party behind to get help. That help is found at a Starfleet ship museum that is run by Geordi La Forge (Burton), who now takes care of old ships to be on display for tourists. He’s there with his daughter, played by his real-life daughter Mica Burton, while the Titan’s pilot is an estranged daughter of La Forge’s, not played by a real daughter. She’s played by Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut. They are estranged because Sidney opted for pilot instead of engineer. That one is a bit of a head-scratcher, because that’s how La Forge started out. The whole idea was the Enterprise would be piloted by a blind man. Anyway.. the stranded crew also locate a final crew piece in the form of a newly reconstructed Data (Spiner), and with Troi having been on a few displays and eventually in person, the gang’s all here.
The final crew member isn’t a person, however. It turns out La Forge has collected the pieces of the old Enterprise-D and has rebuilt it with his daughter like a present-day father and son/daughter restoring an old car. It is on this ship that the final mission is played out, and they did an incredible job of building that set.
It’s that crew in their familiar places on that old set that make the finale one of Trek’s finest hours. They are out to stop a plot of the Borg to take over the fleet at Frontier Days, which is to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Federation. It’s a nice touch, as we’re about to do the same in The United States in just a couple of years. I think you’ll find it the sendoff you always wanted, but one that leaves you wanting so much more. Will you get it?
The season is full of Easter eggs of classic Star Trek. In the Daystrom Institute we see Kirk’s remains being preserved. The Search For Spock’s Klingon Bird of Prey the crew commandeers becomes a crucial element to the mission. Ro (Forbes) gives us a strong episode, and the plot really takes us back to both Deep Space Nine and the Dominion War and The Next Generation’s Borg story arcs. This show also sports some of the best television f/x work I have ever seen. They pulled out all of the stops and gave this movie quality production values. That’s why you simply must own the discs, which will deliver so much more than streaming ever will.
Star Trek: Picard is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is better than you’re going to get through streaming. It looks as good if not better than any of the television-era shows. Black levels are pretty much average, and there is not always a flawless interaction with the CGI material. The show does suffer from some, at times severe, banding issues. Textures have their moments with uniforms and exteriors back in 2024 the best visually.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is everything you need it to be. Dialog is what is being serviced here, and you get a pretty solid rendition there. There’s not a lot of surround separation to be found here, and you won’t get much use from your subs. That’s disappointing when the action ramps up.
Deleted Scenes and Audio Commentaries on select episodes.
USS Stargazer: (18:28) Here you get to see what went into designing the new version of the ship. You get to eavesdrop in conference calls and see the screens they are sharing during the conversation. You also get to see the construction of the bridge on the soundstage.
The Chateau: (15:24) Here’s another good production design feature that focuses on Picard’s vineyard both in the Trek time and in 2024.
The Trial Is Over: (12:03) This is a nice profile of Q and John De Lancie. You get to see his wrap moment, and it’s a pretty emotional moment in Trek history.
Rebuilding the Borg Queen: (11:11) Here you get to see the design process from modeling to creating the pieces of the final design. You get some time lapse of the application as well.
Picard Props: (12:05) Here we get to see some of the season’s props.
Picard Passages: (4:59) A look at the season from the perspective of the actors.
The Making Of The Last Generation: (42:50) This is a pretty solid behind-the-scenes feature that allows us to see the big picture from another perspective. There are too many clips, but a lot of cast and crew insight into how this all came together from concept art to f/x layers to rehearsals.
Rebuilding The Enterprise-D: (16:34) Another solid feature takes us behind the scenes on building the iconic bridge set. There was a lot of research and craftsmanship in this effort, and they show you all of the tough elements like matching carpet and seat fabrics. It includes watching the cast see it for the first time.
The Gang’s All Here: (19:09) Here the cast fill us in on their feelings about the reunion, from their first learning about it to getting together with old friends. Quite an emotional journey here.
Villainous Vadic: (20:44) Plummer is the daughter of Christopher Plummer, who appeared in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country and who was a member of a Canadian thespian group that included both William Shatner and Dark Shadows’ Jonathan Frid. Now I know why her character smokes so much. She can’t stop smoking even for the interview bits. Nice villain, but otherwise not very impressed.
Gag Reel: (6:08)
Picard Final Season Q&A: (42:36) The cast and crew minus Sirtis and Speleers gather at a screening of the finale to answer questions from the stage.
Since Alex Kurtzman took over Star Trek’s television branch, I have had very mixed emotions. Discover is usually not very good, and I can’t warm up to a new animated series. Brave New Worlds is a show I’m growing to love, but it was Picard I thought I would really embrace. I wanted to embrace it, truly I did. But the first season was pretty bad, while things improved a lot with the addition of Q in the second. The problem is that Patrick Stewart and the showrunners started this project with an edict that it could not become Star Trek: The Next Generation. They fought bringing in anything more than a cameo. But I think the response to Q got them thinking that plan again, and they finally realized this is what we all wanted when we first heard Picard was returning to television. It took them long enough, but this is the best season of Star Trek in these streaming years. Fans will want to have this collection on their shelves just because of the way it ends. I think there is hope there will be more. A stinger in the final episode all but promises such things. Time will tell, but it is unlikely that everyone will be together at the same time again. “Things change with perspective.”