4 out of 5 stars

The idea to bring back Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) for his own sequel series had promise. The divisive Star Trek: Discovery renewed interest in the franchise on television back in 2017, so launching a series revolving around one of Trek’s most recognisable icons felt like the perfect way to appease older fans who felt Discovery missed the target.

Sadly, the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard offered nothing but frustration and disappointment. It was saddled with a lethargic performance from an 80-year-old Stewart, whose status as a producer apparently resulted in ridiculous edicts (no starships, no uniforms) that didn’t help matters creatively. A frailer Picard was ushered around by an ensemble of youngsters embroiled in half-baked stories leaning heavily on nostalgia, resulting in appearances from Data (Brent Spiner), Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis), Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching), omnipotent trickster Q (John de Lancie), and so on.

This third and final season benefits from less input from divisive producer-writer Akiva Goldsman and the promotion of writer Terry Matalas (12 Monkeys) to showrunner. The decision to give fans what they’d expected from the start—a Next Generation miniseries—after presumably convincing Stewart that Picard needed to get back to basics, also paid dividends. Even if this season banked on nostalgia more than ever. And while certainly an imperfect 10 episodes of sci-fi adventure, Star Trek Picard’s final season works as a rousing send-off for these beloved characters. And one that erases the misfortune of Star Trek: Nemesis (2003) being their last on-screen adventure together.

After Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and her son Jack (Ed Speleers) are attacked aboard the SS Eleos, her emergency broadcast is received by Admiral Picard with a warning that Starfleet itself has been compromised. Picard immediately enlists the help of old friend William Riker to investigate what happened to Beverly, concocting the excuse of a surprise inspection of the USS Titan-A, commanded by Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) and his first officer Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), whom they intend to recruit into helping them. But when their arrival on the Titan doesn’t go as expected, Picard finds himself embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game with a bounty hunter called Vadic (Amanda Plummer) who reveals that Beverly’s son Jack in a wanted criminal…

Obviously a great deal more happens after that, and one of the best aspects of season 3 is how things escalate in a plausible way at a decent pace. Taken as a ten-hour movie split into easily digestible chunks, it even has a loose three-act structure: the first four episodes focusing on the dilemmas Picard and Riker face aboard the Titan against Vadic and her ominous agenda, especially once it becomes clear Shaw isn’t a sycophant and would rather these two legends get off his ship; the next four flesh out the characters and broader situation better, revealing Vadic’s motivation and adding emotional complications once Picard is told tearaway Jack is his son; and the final two hours are an action-packed climax where the larger threat is finally revealed and, by that point, every TNG cast member has been folded into the story and must work together to save the day.

The first two seasons of Picard worked for some people, but in comparison this last season makes them look seriously lame-brained, misguided, and slapdash. Burned twice, it takes a while to trust that Matalas and his writers have a firm grip for this final run, particularly as this season’s even more committed to appealing to old school fans by reuniting the iconic TNG cast. But by episode 5, a feeling we’re in safe hands starts to materialise.

It helps that the new characters introduce aren’t after-thoughts that speak like 21st-century teenagers in order to make the show feel more accessible. Shaw is especially excellent as a grumpy captain who runs a tight ship and is the exact opposite of a proxy for the audience who’s going to gush at the presence of the legendary Picard. It’s a shame Shaw fades into the background once the incoming TNG cast starts eating up more screen time, and his swansong lands with a thud, but he’s otherwise one of the better characters Trek has introduced since Discovery launched. Jack Crusher is also a fine new addition and genuinely feels like the offspring of Beverly and Picard, even if he’s a little more in the maverick mould of Captain Kirk than an intellectual diplomat like Jean-Luc.

Vadic makes for a somewhat generic villain in many ways, spinning around on her captain’s chair smoking cigars, but Plummer’s performance is committed and she’s clearly relishing the larger-than-life nature of what this role requires from her. And it’s a nice touch that her own father, the late Christopher Plummer, enjoyed a similarly scenery-chewing role in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) as the Klingon Chang.

But we’re really all here for the TNG cast. Patrick Stewart hasn’t felt like he’s playing even been playing the same character in the first two seasons, which is partly intentional because he’s significantly older now. People do change with age, but it too often felt like he was just playing himself instead of Picard. He’s much better this season, perhaps because he’s not under the spotlight as much, but mostly because he’s surrounded by familiar co-stars and their presence seems to enrich his own performance.

Stewarts has some emotional scenes with McFadden and Frakes that are amongst his best in the part, and in general one senses the writers have a firmer grasp of how the TNG characters should talk and behave. Even if there are still some toe-curling moments when the writers have Star Trek characters use anachronistic terms like “hipster”, or have them swear, in order to feel relatable to modern audiences. I’ll never get used to Picard dropping f-bombs, sorry.

Some of the returning TNG stars we’ve already seen before on Picard, although Frakes is particularly strong this time and his relationship with Troi felt more believable and touching than ever. He gets one bravura moment reminiscing about the death of his infant son which, again, ranks as some of the best material Frakes has worked with as Riker.

The most notable returns are the dour Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn), now aged with white hair to evoke a 1970s Shaw Brothers kung fu master, apparently more interested in pacifism; and Geordie La Forge (LeVar Burton) as the curator of a spaceship museum, who now has two adult daughters, Sidney (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) and Alanda (LeVar’s real-life daughter Mica). Both slip back into their roles perfectly.

One slightly irritating thing is how much this season dismisses a lot of what happened in the previous two, although it’s also a relief they’ve washed their hands of it. It’s a significant part of the plot that Picard’s body is synthetic now, but other major things that happened in Picard are even ret-conned. Only Rafi (Michelle Hurd) returns from those first two years, and a few major deaths are undone purely because it serves this story to do so. I’m in favour of what was done here, but it does make Star Trek: Picard feel like a bizarre series where the final season almost admits the first two were terrible and tries to limit the damage.

Overall, Star Trek: Picard’s failing are mostly tied to having a terrible start it can’t completely erase. But if you watch this final season immediately after Star Trek: Nemesis, it’s a more entertaining and fitting swansong for these classic characters that also opens the door for more adventures with others we meet along the way. Its overriding theme of familiar bonds obviously knits the TNG cast together, but there are welcome touches regarding Picard grappling with unexpected fatherhood late in life, Riker’s buried grief over losing a child, and the touching relationship LeVar has with his daughters. The fact everyone’s noticeable older is even given some poignant moments, and factors into this new version of Data in a clever way. While not without its faults and some creative missteps, Star Trek: Picard belatedly rewarded Trekkers with an emotional and exciting farewell to some sci-f icons.

USA | 2023 | 10 EPISODES | 16:9 HD | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writers: Terry Matalas, Christopher Monfette, Sean Tretta, Jane Maggs, Cindy Appel, Chris Derrick, Matt Okumura & Kiley Rossetter.
directors: Doug Aarniokoski, Jonathan Frakes, Dan Liu & Deborah Kampmeier.
starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Amanda Plummer, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Todd Stashwick, Michelle Hurd, Ed Speleers, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Mica Burton, Ashley Sharpe Chestnut & Jeri Ryan.