Star Trek: Picard returns for its third and final season, and it feels like a series rebuilt from the ground up. Where Picard has tried to distinguish itself from Star Trek: The Next Generation in its first two seasons by presenting itself as a prestige character drama centered on Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, reprising the role), Picard‘s third season, under showrunner Terry Matalas, more readily embraces its legacy by bringing back the rest of the Next Generation cast, emphasizing the sci-fi aspects of the show, and incorporating elements from the larger Star Trek universe into its narrative. That boldness in its story combined with excellent execution in the telling makes Picard‘s third season the show’s most satisfying outing.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 is about legacy, and that’s not only in that it brings back “legacy actors” and other elements of Star Trek’s past, but also in how it considers what these characters will leave to the future. In the season premiere, Picard remarks that he is not a man who needs a legacy, but his life changes when he discovers he may have one. Much of the story is propelled by how that legacy alters his perspective and what he’s willing to do to protect it. That theme expands to the rest of the Enterprise crew in various ways as they reunite and discover that Starfleet may have an unexpected legacy of its own that’s come back to haunt the Federation.
The writing, directing, and cinematography all feel incredibly cinematic, like one of the classic Star Trek movies shot with The Next Generation‘s cast. The early episodes feel inspired by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, mirroring some of that film’s plot beats and even specific scenes, including the game of cat-and-mouse between two starships gleaned in Picard‘s Season 3 trailers. Later, as separate narrative strands begin to come together, it takes on more of the tone of a conspiracy thriller, not unlike Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Picard‘s third season is one of the few times I’ve seen a show pull off the “10-hour movie” pitch without falling prey to familiar pacing issues and running in place in the middle. That’s because each episode, while serving as a chapter of a larger story, is fulfilling in its own right, with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. The season’s fourth episode best exemplifies this, feeling like a classic Star Trek: The Next Generation teleplay shot with modern techniques and special effects. Without giving the details away, it’s a story about an unusual, pseudo-science problem solved through the talents of a crew of highly capable people working together and bringing out the best in each other’s unique abilities to find a high-tech, pseudo-science solution, leading to a resolution that emphasizes the wonder of discovery. That’s everything that made a typical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation special served up to modern viewers while still pushing the overarching plot forward.
Speaking of what made The Next Generation special, the returning cast members have not missed a beat. The rapport between Picard and his former first officer, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), feels like a natural evolution of what The Next Generation established, with the two men older and a little more comfortable taking the piss out of each other now that the former isn’t the latter’s commanding officer. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), whose true potential was often implied rather than shown in episodes of The Next Generation, are allowed to shine in ways that network television of the ’80s and ’90s couldn’t accommodate. Harkening back to the legacy theme, Geordi La Forge has changed due to his own legacy, and LeVar Burton makes that turn feel natural with his performance. Similarly, Brent Spiner is asked to do a lot with Data’s legacy but, as far as I’ve seen thus far, pulls it off admirably.
That’s not to discount Jeri Ryan, back again as Seven of Nine, and Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker, who continue to make compelling cases for a spinoff of their own. Todd Stashwick may deserve special recognition for pulling off a performance as Capt. Liam Shaw, who makes the complex character worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these established Star Trek icons. The rest of the supporting cast offers stellar turns, especially Amanda Plummer as the villain Vadic, who seems to relish every lavishly delivered line of menacing dialogue.
And yes, there are plenty of callbacks to Star Trek’s past. Some of them are passing Easter eggs that are there to tickle and delight fans, though viewers may be surprised by how much Picard Season 3’s plot builds on specific Star Trek stories that came before it, wrapping up dangling plot threads and advancing others in new directions while still feeling part of a cohesive whole. The season feels as much like a sequel to the entire Next Gen/DS9/Voyager era of Star Trek as it does a sequel to The Next Generation specifically, with plenty of moments that will have longtime Star Trek fans catching their jaws before they hit the floor.
The first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard did what they set out to do by shining light onto previously unexplored areas of Jean-Luc Picard’s psyche and history, but Season 3 feels like the big payoff, the grand finale that’s giving many fans what they hoped to see from the moment Stewart first announced his return. Attempting to give fans what they want can often lead to little more than a checklist of callbacks lazily paraded out to make those fans feel seen, but that’s not this season of Star Trek: Picard. Matalas and his collaborators appear to have recognized that they had the opportunity, perhaps the last one anyone will ever have, to give the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast the sendoff they always deserved and to celebrate the golden age of Star Trek by bringing its legacy (there’s that word again) back to the forefront of the Star Trek universe. Based on the six episodes seen for review, the team succeeded on all counts, and Picard‘s third season, despite being billed as the crew’s final adventure, is likely to have viewers clamoring for more.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Star Trek: Picard premieres on Paramount+ on February 16th, with new episodes debuting weekly on Thursdays.