This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.
Let’s be honest. Nobody loves the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies. Where the first six movies in the franchise managed to add depth and satisfying character development to the Original Series crew, the TNG movies felt like a foretaste of problems that would later dog the Kelvin reboot series. Ignoring the satisfying conclusion that we got when Picard finally asked to be dealt into the bridge crew poker game at the end of “All Good Things…” the TNG movies gave us action movie Jean-Luc, a ripped dude who drove dune buggies and was the spitting image of Tom Hardy, apparently.
Out of the four TNG films, First Contact gets the most love. Not only does it try to pull a Wrath of Khan by reframing the Captain as a man obsessed, complete with high literary references, but it also deals with the fallout of Picard’s most significant moment in the series: his assimilation into the Borg in the season three closer/season four premiere “The Best of Both Worlds.” The legendary two-parter finds the Borg capturing Picard and transforming him into Locutus of Borg. Thanks to the knowledge of Starfleet that Locutus gave them, the Borg were able to inflict massive casualties during the Battle of Wolf 359, leading to the death and assimilation of 11,000 people.
To be sure, Picard did not willingly give up this information or collaborate with the Borg. His mind and body were violated and used against his most sacred ideals. However, television storytelling was very different in the early 1990s. Where modern series (including seasons one and two of Picard) devote 10 to 16 episodes to the main characters’ trauma, TNG only devoted one, the season four episode “Family.” By the time Jean-Luc and his brother Robert mud wrestle at Chateau Picard, the former is ready to once again assume command.
So when Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore decided to make the first proper TNG movie a sequel to “The Best of Both Worlds,” they found a rich vein of storytelling potential and fan interest. Dodgy action beats aside (“Assimilate this!”), First Contact gave Picard’s trauma its due, advancing the character in a way that felt earned after such a horrific event.
But here’s the thing: Locutus/Picard wasn’t the only person hurt by the Battle of Wolf 359. The original episode gives us a hint of the larger cost, when we see the wreckage of the USS Melbourne, the potential ship for Riker’s first command. But outside of a few passing references, the cost of Wolf 359 only comes back to the forefront for the series premiere of Deep Space Nine. There, we learn that Jennifer Sisko, wife of Benjamin and mother of Jake, died in the Borg attack. During a meeting with Picard in that pilot, Sisko makes no effort to hide his fury toward the former Borg, but the Captain deflects the Commander’s anger with rules and protocols. By the episode’s end, Sisko and Picard have made peace, but it’s not clear how they got there.
While those were the ’90s, Star Trek can go to much darker places in 2023. Which is why the franchise brought back the wonderful Jonathan Frakes, who on top of playing our beloved William T. Riker also directed First Contact, to helm a very satisfying Picard two-parter that, among many other things, serves as a continuation of the Borg fallout explored in that Trek film.
When Captain Liam Shaw of the Titan interrupts Picard’s bonding moment with Jack Crusher in the Picard episode “No Win Scenario,” he comes ready to bring the former Locutus a long-deserved reckoning. Picard had been telling his son about his relationship with the boy’s namesake, Beverly’s husband. Picard’s guilt over his role in Jack’s death on the USS Stargazer was a key plot point in The Next Generation, the biggest obstacle to him and Beverly getting together. But Shaw doesn’t want to hear about the one death that still haunts Picard. He wants to talk about the thousands of others, including his friends on the USS Constance during the Battle of Wolf 359. Actor Todd Stashwick plays up the horror that still lives inside him as he describes the devastation wrought when Picard was Locutus. “It was like space was burning,” he says, wisely refraining from excess inflection in his voice.
Digging up his most horrible Starfleet memory, Shaw recalls how he and his crewmates in engineering tried to evacuate the Constance during the battle. But there was only one escape pod for 50 people. “We were all friends,” he points out to Picard in the present, a believable claim given all the USS Enterprise camaraderie we’ve seen this season. “They were all my Jack Crusher.” Under orders from one of the ship’s lieutenants, Shaw and nine others boarded the escape pod, to be forever racked with survivor’s guilt while those left behind died. As his story goes on, Shaw grows angrier, directing his fury at Picard. “Do you know where your old man was on that day?” he asks Jack. “He was on that Borg cube, setting the world on fire!”
By the time Shaw identifies Locutus as “the only Borg so deadly they gave him a goddamn name” (thus solving a nagging continuity issue), Jack has had enough and comes to his father’s defense. But Picard calls him off. He recognizes Shaw’s anger. He gives it dignity. As Picard turns toward Shaw, Patrick Stewart draws on that inherent kindness and warmth that made us love him for decades, even when Picard was a kid-hating fuddy-duddy. “It’s alright,” he tells Shaw, validating the other man’s feelings.
Only four episodes in, Star Trek: Picard has exceeded all expectations, going far beyond what could be a pathetic nostalgia tour of beloved characters and instead telling an emotional story full of Deep Space Nine connections and exciting space naval battles. But with “No Win Scenario,” the series finally shows us that Jean-Luc Picard matters, and not just for his best moments. To downplay Wolf 359 is to lessen Picard’s journey, and that’s exactly what happens when Star Trek treats him as the only victim of the attack.
By letting Captain Shaw have his say, Picard allows us to fully see the enormity of Wolf 359 and why it’s such a challenge for the Captain. Even better, when Picard allows Shaw to say his piece, to express his hurt and anger, he shows that he can properly work through his trauma. The episode moves past the development in First Contact and shows us an older and wiser Picard, one who certainly bears the scars of past mistakes, but can also face his failures and be forgiving. Which is, after all, a type of seeking out new life.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 streams on Thursdays on Paramount+.