Friday 12 January 2024

Star Trek: Picard, Season 3, by Terry Matalas et al. (Paramount) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in TQF75 (November 2023).

The first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard were divisive, to say the least. When it was first announced – with Michael Chabon on board! – I was delighted. The first two seasons of Discovery had been smashing, so I had high hopes. Hopes soon dashed by a programme that seemed to have exactly the same problem as the final film, Star Trek: Nemesis: it had been bent out of shape in order to tempt back its two biggest stars, giving them leaden, actorly storylines.

Patrick Stewart had rejected the proposals for season one several times before finally agreeing to it, and one of the things he didn’t want to do was a mere reunion. And so we had two seasons of a substitute crew running around while Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner got their teeth stuck into some proper acting. There were episodes I enjoyed, there were others I didn’t, but it was disappointing and often quite dull. The lowest point was Picard persuading Guinan to stay on Earth for humanity’s sake, despite World War III being imminent.

Season three is completely different. Showrunner Terry Matalas brings back the original crew: Dr Crusher, Worf, Data, LaForge, Riker and Troi. Each is given interesting things to do, an important role in the plot, and lots of funny lines. The only substitute crew member to return is Raffi, played by Michelle Hurd, put to good use as an undercover ally for Worf. The only original crew members missing are Yar, who left the show after only 22 episodes, and Wesley, who became a space god or something and already appeared in season two.

The cast gives the best performance they have ever given as these characters. Though her other career as a choreographer means Gates McFadden has spent much less time on screen than Patrick Stewart, you wouldn’t know it from the bristling scene when the two of them go toe-to-toe. Jonathan Frakes as Riker is particularly brilliant – from portraying Riker’s pain at the loss of his child (and his guilt over his wife Troi, an empath, having to bear his pain as well as his own), to his deep friendship with Picard, and his bravery in command.

It’s difficult to say too much about the plot without giving away the programme’s surprises, but, essentially, Starfleet is gathering its ships together for a huge celebration, Frontier Day. Old enemies have noticed the opportunity that this presents, and are drawing their plans against us. Amanda Plummer follows in her father’s footsteps, giving Picard an antagonist every bit as relentless and determined as General Chang was for Kirk.

I found this season absolutely thrilling. I never wanted the episodes to end. Every time the screen went black, I crossed my fingers that the credits wouldn’t start. I haven’t felt like that since watching Lost. If seasons one and two had to give Patrick Stewart what he needed from the programme, in order for us to get a season three as good as this, it’s a good trade. Some might call this season pure fan service, but if it is they are serving aces.

If I have any criticisms at all, one would be that the finale episodes were not shown in British cinemas. I am almost unbearably envious of those Americans who got to see them in Imax. The other is very minor, in that it’s stated very clearly in dialogue that some of these characters have not met each other in decades, which will make life difficult for writers of tie-in novels and comics in years to come. The programme itself: perfection. Stephen Theaker *****

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