The following contains Star Trek: Picard spoilers
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 1
For all that Star Trek: Picard’s third season is its final one, its season 3 premiere, “The Next Generation” feels like a new beginning. Part of that is because, in the strictest sense, it is. A big chunk of its main cast departed following the season 2 finale, most of its larger plots were wrapped up fairly neatly, and even its eponymous lead now feels like a sunnier version of the man who spent so much of last season ruminating on his mother’s suicide. Other than the fact that Picard and Laris appear to finally be in a romantic relationship—and Seven of Nine and Raffi are both still part of the show—there initially seems to be little that ties this season back to any previous story that we’ve seen. Which, given the occasionally straight-up terrible quality of those stories, isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.
Although Picard’s first two seasons were uneven at the best of times, they still occasionally had their moments. The found family vibe of its first season was often quite charming, scientist Agnes Jurati got the best arc of the whole show in its second, and the power of the deep, quiet bond that has developed between Picard and Seven over the course of this show’s run can be plainly seen in this third season premiere.
But, as a series, Picard has never seemed to quite figure out what it wants to be. It is a thoughtful rumination on legacy and regret? A second chance found family drama? An excavation of inner trauma? Or an exploration of one man’s better angels triumphing over a tortured past? The show has been all—and sometimes none!—-of these things over the course of its run, and its messy indecisive nature has made it hard to know how to feel about it, or what sort of larger story it’s trying to tell.
In that regard, the Picard season 3 premiere probably doesn’t help much, given that it feels like the start of a completely different show than the one we’ve spent the past two years watching. And, to be fair, I suspect this premiere comes the closest to what most viewers likely always wanted from a Picard series in the first place: Something that feels like a slightly more mature Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, where Picard and Riker crack jokes about how old they—and we, by extension—have somehow become.
And you know what? It works. As an episode, “The Next Generation” isn’t groundbreaking television, but it’s definitely fun, with plenty of callbacks to the series that once bore this installment’s name, and our first hints at what’s happened to many of the characters we loved since it aired. The cold open, in which Beverly Crusher sends a distress call to Admiral Picard from the far reaches of Federation space before being attacked by an unidentified alien race is tense and compelling, and Jean-Luc’s determination to rescue his former chief medical officer, even if the two haven’t spoken in two decades carries real emotional weight. (Picard and Crusher shippers are going to go through it this season, I think, and honestly, I’m ready.)
From Picard’s reunion with a slightly glum Riker (mulling over subtle hints of marital trouble I’m sure we’ll revisit in the weeks to come) at 10 Forward, to the pair’s hilarious attempt to con their way onto a starship to take them to Beverly’s last known location—with a little help from Seven, now serving as the gorgeous new U.S.S. Titan’s first officer—the hour balances new galactic hijinks with loads of entertaining nostalgia. We meet Geordi La Forge’s daughter, now a pilot on the Titan, and Riker humiliates her with embarrassing stories from her time in the academy in peak space dad form. Picard tries to pretend like he’s the sort of man who would throw his weight around as an admiral, while still taking the time to comfort Seven, who’s struggling with her decision to return to Starfleet. Perhaps this wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without the clear and obvious bond that still exists between Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, but if your heart didn’t give a little flutter the first time Jean-Luc calls Riker “Number One” by accident well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Much of this episode is, understandably, table-setting for the rest of the season. Riker and Picard find Beverly gravely injured in a med pod and accompanied by a stranger who turns out to be the strapping twenty-something son she never told anyone about. I’m sure we all immediately did the math and realized that this young man’s existence is not only the reason why Beverly has avoided all contact with her old Enterprise crewmates but that he’s probably also Jean-Luc’s son (I’m pretty sure I could hear the Crusher/Picard shippers from my house, is what I’m saying). How and why Beverly chose to hide her son from the world are questions later episodes will have to answer, as well as why the Crushers are being hunted by a very heavily armed unidentified alien race. The fact that whatever’s gone down has been enough to make Beverly Crusher, of all people, completely mistrustful of Starfleet means it has to be pretty bad, right?
That the weak link of the season 3 premiere is Raffi probably won’t surprise anyone. Picard has never seemed to know quite what to do with her character since the first few episodes of season 1, and she’s shunted off into what feels like a story that’s happening on a completely different show here. Now an undercover intelligence officer, she’s been living deep in the criminal underworld of space trying to track down a group of dangerous experimental weapons. She and Seven have apparently ended their relationship, she’s spiraling into a state that feels quite dark, and she’s all alone, save for her unidentified handler who speaks to her through computer messages. How any of this ties into the broader story Picard is telling is unclear, but it’s hard not to resent every moment these scenes take away from the larger Crusher/Picard/Riker story in this episode, if only because most of Raffi’s scenes bring any sense of narrative momentum to a clanging halt. Here’s hoping the show finds a better way to integrate this plot into its larger whole as the season progresses.
At the end of the day, though, “The Next Generation” is good enough to make fans of both Picard and the original The Next Generation series happy at the prospect of the season to come. Yes, we’ve all been burned by this show before—I also thought “The Star Gazer” had tremendous promise last season, more fool me!—but it’s almost impossible not to look at the long-awaited reunion and feel anything other than hope.