TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Star Trek: Picard Season Three — Part One

Josh Reviews Star Trek: Picard Season Three — Part One

I had started to doubt it could ever be possible, but they’ve actually made a modern live-action Star Trek TV show that I don’t hate!  (I wrote “live-action” because, while I have been hugely disappointed in almost every modern Star Trek series, including Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds, I’ve been loving the animated Lower Decks series.)  I’ve seen the first half of Star Trek: Picard season three, and I’ve been enjoying it a whole heck of a lot.  It’s not perfect; there are many things I wish the show did differently.  But my goodness, I am delighted to once again feel excitement as I wait each week for a new episode of Star Trek to arrive!

Under the oversight of show-runner Terry Malalas, season three of Picard is a reboot of the show that, frankly, gives us what this show should have been right from the beginning.

What works?

First off, while most modern Star Trek has shown an ignorance bordering on disdain for the history and continuity of previous Star Trek shows, season three of Picard is drenched in a love of Trek.  So much of the show has been re-worked to embrace Trek history.  The starship designs; the uniforms; the tech — all have a new, modern look, but it all looks “right” and fits into the “feel” of established Trek.  The show is filled with lots of references to people and places and events that we’ve seen before, and it’s a delight that this show finally feels like a continuation and expansion of what we’ve seen before (rather than attempt to ignore everything and go its own way).  The show finally feels like a real sequel to The Next Generation (more on this in a moment), but it also shows a lot of love for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  I love this embracing of Trek’s vast universe.

I sat up and took notice that, wait a minute, maybe this show is going to be good, as soon as I saw the opening title card of the premiere episode.  It’s a text screen that says “In the 25th Century.”  That might mean nothing to the average viewer; just a quick set-up of the show’s futuristic setting.  But I recognized the text screen instantly as a call-back to the opening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which opened with a title card saying “In the 23rd Century.”  The Picard text screen even mimics the font and color of that Star Trek II opening.  What a cool reference!!  It read to me like a mission statement that this modern Trek show would, finally, embrace Trek history.  The show that followed did not disappoint in that respect.

Season three of Picard finally does what I’ve always wanted modern Star Trek to do for ages: it has a score — beautifully created by Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann — that embraces and references all the great Trek music from the previous movies and shows.  It’s amazing!!  The score feels fresh and new, while at the same time it quotes liberally from the wonderful library of Trek music, particularly the movie scores of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.  Star Wars does this all the time — using the classic music to add resonance to the new stories — but this is a first for Trek, and it is, frankly, amazing.  The series’ main credits combine Jerry Goldsmith’s main title theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which was reused as the main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation) with his theme for Star Trek: First Contact, and it brings me joy every time I watch a new episode.

Whereas the first two seasons of Picard tried to create a new “crew” for Picard, season three finally becomes the sequel to TNG that I think most fans had been wanting all along.  This season brings back the full ensemble from TNG: Riker, Worf, Troi, Dr. Crusher, and Geordi.  And not in small cameos, either.  These TNG crew are a huge part of the series.  So far, Riker, Dr. Crusher, and Worf have all gotten a lot of screen time, and I hope and expect that Geordi and Troi will get their focus in the back half of the season.  (Update: this review only covers episodes 1-5, but I’ve seen episode 6 and it’s a great showcase for Geordi.)  It is an absolute pleasure to see the TNG crew reunited on-screen.  It never made in-universe sense to me why, when Picard was in trouble in the first two seasons, he wouldn’t immediately go to his former Enterprise crewmates for help.  Here he does, and it is a joy.

What doesn’t work?  Well, the show falls into the trap that so many legacy sequels seem to — lord knows this was a problem with the Star Wars sequel trilogy as well — in that it tells us that the characters we loved have all been miserable in the decades since we left them.  It makes me sad, as someone who loves these characters, to learn that not a one of them got a happy ending, and that they’ve all been struggling in the decades since TNG.  That makes me sad.  I like that the show finds ways to create drama and tension between these characters, in a way we never really saw on TNG, where everyone got along swimmingly.  That’s fun and leads to some terrific scenes, and allows these actors to cut loose in ways they seldom got to on TNG.  But sometimes I didn’t quite believe that tension was earned.  (There’s a scene in episode three in which Picard and Riker argue on the bridge in a way that I just don’t believe these characters would ever in a million years do.)

While I love the show’s embrace of Trek history, too much of the set-up of this season feels borrowed from Star Trek II.  I love Star Trek II, but I feel like the franchise has been chasing that film for decades, and it’s damaging.  I didn’t like it when Star Trek: Nemesis aped Trek II, nor did I like Star Trek Into Darkness attempt to remake it.  And so it bugs me here to see, again, our heroes hiding in a nebula from a villain with a personal vendetta who is chasing them; the revelation that the captain has a son he never knew he had; etc. etc.  Tell new stories!

Like so much modern TV, the storytelling feels too stretched out.  The first four episodes depict an extended showdown in a nebula, that really feels like it should have been two episodes, max.  The show also utilizes the “mystery box” storytelling that annoys me in so much modern TV.  After watching half the season I still don’t really know who Vadic is or what exactly she wants.  I don’t know why she’s hunting Jack Crusher or why he’s been seeing strange visions.  These are core elements of the show, and while I didn’t need everything spoon-fed to me in the first episode, at this point I’d like to understand who the villains are and what they want.

And like much modern Star Trek, despite all the wonderful references and nods to Trek history, there is still a sloppiness to the storytelling that annoys me.  I’ll give plenty of examples in my episode-reviews, below.  But basically there are too many times when our characters are dumber than they should be or when things happen because that’s what the plot demands rather than because that’s what makes sense for the characters.

I liked the season premiere of both the first and second season of Picard, but then both seasons quickly collapsed for me into near-nonsensical, frustrating messes.  But so far, Picard has started off strong and has been continuing to be delightfully entertaining from week to week.  I hope the second half of the season is able to keep this going, and bring this story to a satisfying conclusion!  I’m excited to see what’s ahead.

Read on for my thoughts on the first five episodes:

Episode 1: “The Next Generation”

  • As noted above, I am in love with the opening title card.
  • It’s fun to start with Dr. Crusher!  I like that they give her an action beat!  It seems out of character that she disintegrates the alien, but later episodes confirm this wasn’t a mistake but rather a specific storytelling choice.
  • Her little ship the Elios looks great.
  • It’s fun to hear Picard’s “Best of Both Worlds” log entry, and to see all the other little references to Crusher’s past on TNG.  I particularly loved seeing her flowers from “Cause and Effect”!!
  • It was nice to hear Alexander Courage’s Star Trek fanfare theme over the opening text cards.  No opening theme sequence for the show?  Interesting!  I like that the starfield and the music are, like that opening title card, reminiscent of Star Trek II.
  • When we first glimpse the Chateau Picard, I loved seeing the close-up of Andrew Probert’s iconic painting of the Enterprise D from TNG.
  • I’d like to better understand what Laris is doing now.  I guess I’m glad they didn’t ignore the end of Picard season two, which had Picard and Laris in a relationship, and I’m also glad they didn’t try to shoehorn her into this season’s story, when what we all really want to see is Picard and his TNG pals.  But it’d have been nice to have actually gotten a reason for why this skilled super-spy wouldn’t go help Picard on this potentially dangerous mission.
  • I don’t like learning that Picard and Beverly haven’t spoken for twenty years.  I hate this idea that all our TNG heroes have been so unhappy and estranged from one another ever since we last left them.  Picard is more reluctant than I’d have expected to try to help Beverly.
  • It doesn’t really make sense that Beverly’s signal sent to Picard wouldn’t be received by his home computer, but rather by his old Enterprise combage.  But I can go with that.  (It also doesn’t make sense that Beverly would use a code that was specifically designed to keep information FROM Picard…!)
  • District Six — ooh, you mean “District Sex” — I see what you did there!
  • It’s cool to see the souped-up new Spacedock.
  • OK, the Titan.  I have a lot to say about this.  I love the idea of giving us a more classic-looking Star Trek ship design.  I love the idea that this show — like most Trek shows but unlike the first two seasons of Picard — is going to be primarily set on a starship.  The exterior design of the Titan is very reminiscent of the Enterprise refit from the movies, and I love that look, though it feels a little out of place in a 25th century-set show.  But I love the idea.  I wish the design was a little less awkward.  It looks really close to an awesome design, but to me it falls a little short.  I don’t like the weird blocky look of the secondary hull, and how the ship’s neck slides into it like a toy (tab A into slot B).  I think the secondary hull is a little too close to the main saucer.  I think the neck, when viewed from the side, is way too thick.  Most of all, I wish they’d used the perfect original Titan design, which was created for the book covers of the wonderful Titan novels telling the story of Riker’s post-Nemesis command.  Lower Decks brilliantly used that design and brought it into official canon when Riker and the Titan appeared on that show!!  That’s a super-cool design, and I wish they’d kept it!  They keep calling this Titan a “refit”, but that doesn’t make any sense to me because this new Titan is a completely different-looking ship, with all the parts completely rearranged.  There’s no way this new design is a refit of the old design.  (I know that Terry Malalas has attempted to explain this online, but I’m only judging what we see and hear in the actual TV show, and the idea that this is a “refit” of the old Titan design seems ludicrous to me.)  This isn’t just a design complaint; this being an all-new Titan undermines the story, which is based on Riker’s trying to use his influence as a former captain of the ship.  This being a totally new Titan makes that make no sense to me.
  • I like the general look of the Titan bridge — this is a cool, modern-looking Trek bridge design — but I wish it wasn’t so obviously a redress of the Stargazer bridge seen in Picard season 2.  I wish it looked more unique, more like a special new design for this new Titan.
  • I loved seeing (and hearing) the bosun whistle when Riker & Picard come aboard; what a lovely Star Trek II reference!
  • I love the idea that Seven is the Titan’s first officer.  Jeri Ryan is the one element of the first two seasons of Picard that I’m happiest to see was kept for this soft reboot.
  • Wow the music is great here, with terrific use of the classic Star Trek themes.
  • It’s weird to me that the captain isn’t on the bridge when the ship is leaving space dock.  (Also, ugh: the Titan shouldn’t go to warp when still within the planetary system!). But: this Star Trek fan loves seeing a good ol’ fashioned “leaving space dock” sequence!!
  • It’s fun to meet Geordi’s daughter, Sidney.  I like this new character.
  • OK, I said Jeri Ryan was the one element of the first two seasons of Picard that I was happy to see kept, but I’m happy to see Raffi too.  The scenes with her mysterious handler are cool, but I can’t imagine why she’d enter into this arrangement in the first place.  To go on a mission without knowing who her supervisor is?  That doesn’t make sense.
  • I wish Picard and Riker were less pathetic in their failed attempt to convince Captain Shaw to alter course.  Picard getting the starbase wrong made him look so dumb.
  • Riker is going to sleep in his uniform and com badge?  Come on.
  • I loved the reference to Enterprise C captain Rachel Garrett (from “Yesterday’s Enterprise”).
  • What is Frontier Day?  I can guess it has something to do with the founding of Starfleet, but it’d have been nice to have had that important detail clarified on screen.
  • I liked the cool alien ship at the end.
  • Ooh, so this show will have its main credits sequence be at the end?  I can dig it!  I loved the music by Stephen Barton, and I was thrilled to see all the fun clues and hints hidden in the credits!  Don’t think I didn’t notice that both the USS Voyager and the USS Enterprise A are listed as being at the museum!  And I’m intrigued by the note about the war damage suffered by the USS Constance.  Is that referring to the Dominion War from DS9?
  • I am glad they included the “For Annie” card at end, remembering Annie Wersching, who played the Borg Queen on Picard season two and who recently passed away at far too young an age.

Episode 2: “Disengage”

  • I’m not loving the Raffi story in which both her handler and her husband seem so cruel to her.  These feel like straw-man enemies for us to hate.  I don’t think that’s a strong storytelling approach.
  • The enemy ship sure takes its time trying to capture Jack.  Why allow him the time to beam to the Titan?
  • That’s a very cool sequence when the Titan swoops in, disrupting the tractor beam, and then when Vadic’s ship uses its tractor beam to throw the Elios at the Titan.  But: Captain Shaw shouts “shields up” when Vadic start to throw the ship; why weren’t they up the second they beamed Picard and co. on board?  Were shields even raised at that point, after Shaw’s order?  There didn’t seem to be any sign of them when the Elios smashes into the Titan’s hull.  Why didn’t Vadic’s ship shoot the Titan when her shields down for beaming?  She was inches away from Vadic’s ship at that point!  For that matter, why did the Titan swoop between Vadic and the Elios in the first place?  Why not keep the Titan further away when beaming Beverly & Jack out, so Vadic wouldn’t have a direct shot at them?  Finally, let me complain that the proportions of the two ships are all wrong.  The Titan should be much, much larger than Dr. Crusher’s two-person ship.
  • I loved seeing Worf at the end!  I’m a little surprised by his all-white hair, but I can go with it!

Episode 3: “Seventeen Seconds”

  • I liked the flashback with Picard and Riker, and they did a decent job with the digital de-aging.  Why are they at the Ten-Forward bar on Earth from Picard season two?  I’d expected to get a reveal that they were talking on the Titan’s holodeck, but that never happened, so I was confused as to where this scene was meant to be taking place.  (Had Riker and Troi already left Starfleet when they had their first child?  Otherwise, I’d expected them to still be on the Titan for another ship.)  Also, that our only glimpse of Troi is her nagging on the viewer is not a great look for the show.
  • Between the revelation that Jack is Picard’s son and the sequence of the Titan hiding in the nebula, this was all way too derivative of Star Trek II to suit me.
  • The Picard-Beverly scene is great.  I don’t like too see these characters so at-odds, but on the other hand I appreciate their bringing some real drama to the scenes between these characters, and both Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden are terrific.  And I do understand Beverly’s reasons for keeping Jack a secret, even while I am sad this is where these characters are at.
  • The Riker-Jack scene is great.  Jonathan Frakes is terrific as Riker here.  I love how he plays Riker’s interactions with Jack — he’s stern, but also kind and with a twinkle in his eye.
  • I loved seeing Riker (not Picard) take command on the bridge!  This is a great Riker episode!  (At least until his out-of-character behavior in the second half.)
  • I loved Worf’s long introduction.  I am glad Worf is still in the house of Martok!  And I also love that he also introduces himself as the Son of Sergei.  “I have made some camomile tea” — best joke on the show so far!
  • The Worf-Raffi scene is terrific.  Worf is perfect here.  Michael Dorn is so great.  Awesome!
  • It’s very weird to me to see Picard to advising action but Riker advising caution and hiding.  That seems out of character for both.  And I really don’t like the two of them arguing on the bridge.  That feels completely wrong.  I can’t believe either of them would ever be so unprofessional on the bridge.
  • Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) was terrific — so weird and creepy! — in his scene as the terrorist who’s revealed to be a Changeling.  Wow, bringing in the Changelings from DS9!!  That’s a great surprise!  I love that!
  • I’m not sure why the Changeling didn’t change form when fleeing Raffi so as to hide… or when getting thrown around and then captured by Worf.  Couldn’t he have changed form and quickly gotten the better of Worf?

Episode 4: “No Win Scenario”

  • The opening scene, set five years earlier, is interesting.  I don’t like that they’re again using the Earth-based Ten-Forward set from Picard season 2.  (Time to restate my objection to this stupid idea.  Ten-Forward on the Enterprise D was called that because it was located on Deck 10, at the most forward point in the ship.  NOT because it was named after a bar Guinean had on Earth!!!!).  I thought Picard was being a recluse on his vineyard at this time, so it’s a little weird to see him chumming around with Starfleet cadets.  I loved the mention of the Hirogen from Voyager.  (I’m trying to figure out when Picard might have encountered them — some time after Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant but before Picard left Starfleet…)
  • Riker gives a very moving speech; Jonathan Frakes is great.  But I’m confused as to how long ago his son Thad died?  It was quite a while ago, right?  But I can understand that Riker is still suffering from that.
  • UGH, then they use the Earth-based Ten-Forward AGAIN on the Titan Holodeck.  Ugh.  I understand using this set is a cost-saving measure, but I wish they’d created the Titan’s version of Ten-Forward instead.  (In the Titan novels, their Ten-Forward-like bar/lounge was called “The Happy Bottom Rider’s Club”!)  OR, better yet, why not a Holodeck recreation of the Enterprise D’s Ten-Forward?
  • Is Picard serving replicated wine on the Holodeck?  I wouldn’t think a wine connoisseur like Picard would do that.
  • It’s a very flimsy excuse for the Holodeck still having power when the rest of the ship is almost completely powerless.  This makes zero sense to me.  (I know fans have pointed out that Voyager episodes established that the Holodeck had a separate power supply. But that was stupid there and it’s stupid here.  Even if I buy that the Holodeck does for some reason have a separate power supply when far more critical systems like shields, engines, and life-support don’t… why wouldn’t they then use that extra power to power a few more hours of life-support, rather than wasting it on a holographic bar???  This is very very dumb.)
  • I’m not sure I buy that all Changelings have to regenerate in bucket like Odo.  I guess we’ve never seen exactly how any other Changeling regenerated when not in the great link… but still, I’ve always felt the bucket was unique to Odo.
  • It’s very strange to me that neither Riker nor Captain Shaw seem to care much about 1) solving the problem or 2) the crew’s morale.
  • Shaw’s Wolf 359 speech is excellent, and Patrick Stewart’s reactions are also tremendous.  This is a great scene, and it’s nice to better understand Shaw’s enmity of Picard.  I like the idea that Shaw started as a grease-monkey engineer.  But, wow, I can’t believe how unprofessional Shaw is in front of his crew.  Also, we already got this exact story with Benjamin Sisko.  I’d thought that Shaw was damaged by the Dominion War, which I think would have been a better way to go.  (Maybe he could have been angry that the Enterprise made it through the Dominion War unscathed, while he suffered such trauma?)
  • Riker is still surprisingly cowardly and reluctant at the end.  I love that it’s Beverly who both identifies the solution and finds the key to convincing Riker to go along with it.  It’s great to see characters working together to solve a sci-fi problem; this is Star Trek!  But: what the hell was the rest of the Titan crew doing all this time??
  • It’s a pretty gnarly scene when Vadic cuts off her hand to reveal another Changeling.  Very dark and very cool!  (But I’m confused: was that Changeling there, hiding as part of her hand?  Or is she somehow communicating with another Changeling, or some other character, who is somewhere else?)
  • I’m intrigued by the new, more meaty-looking Changeling effects.  This is a cool (and gross!) new effect design, but I wish they’d hewed a little closer to the Changeling look from DS9.

Episode 5: “Imposters”

  • Worf is just fantastic in this episode.  I am glad that despite this season’s trailers emphasizing the line where he says he’s a pacifist now, he’s still the best hand-to-hand fighter in the galaxy.  I absolutely love the new development that now, before a fight, he sits and meditates like a Jedi.  That’s brilliant.
  • The new USS Intrepid looks weird but cool!  Very interesting new starship design.
  • Wow!!  Ro Laren!!  What a fun surprise!!  I was not expecting to see Michelle Forbes back as Ro.  What a pleasure.  I don’t like Ro’s haircut, but wow is Michelle Forbes still a fantastic actor.  I love that this episode ties in so directly to “Preemptive Strike”, the penultimate TNG episode in which Ro betrayed Picard and joined the Maquis. It’s interesting that Picard is still so angry at Ro; I’d have expected Picard to be more understanding.  But this fits into this show’s pattern of leaning into the drama and tension between these characters.  It leads to some fantastic scenes, even though as a fan of these characters I hate the idea that both Picard and Ro wasted the last twenty years being pissed off at one another.  But it all builds to a wonderful “you broke my heart” scene in which both actors are just amazing.
  • I don’t love this development that these new Changelings don’t revert to goo, even after they’re killed.  It seems like a lazy way to avoid a visual effect.  The original Changelings were already almost all-powerful, I don’t need them to be given even more super-powers.  Also: there’s a line of dialogue that says that previously, Changelings just mimicked a person’s form, not their internal organs (and so they could be detected by an internal scan).  That doesn’t jibe with my understanding from DS9.  Odo and the Female Changeling used to talk about truly “being” the object they shape-shift into.  It felt like that was a full internal transformation, not just mimicking what someone or something looked like on the exterior.
  • I liked seeing Worf/Raffi use a mobile emitter like the Doctor from Voyager.  It makes sense that Starfleet Intelligence would be making use of that advanced technology!
  • Is this crime-lord a Vulcan or a Romulan?  Seems like a Vulcan.  This is a cool, weird character, very well-played by Kirk Acevedo (Band of Brothers, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), even if I don’t quite buy the idea of a Vulcan crime-lord.
  • Raffi and Worf have a dumb strategy to just walk into town and wait for the villains to find them.
  • Ro’s goodbye scene is very sweet.  I like the callback to Ro’s Bajoran earring (which was an important aspect of her character right from her first episode, “Ensign Ro”).
  • I’m bummed they killed off Ro at the end.  I understand the narrative reason to do this, but I don’t love this as the ending for this great character.
  • We get a beautiful effects shot of Ro’s shuttle exiting the Titan to head back to the Intrepid.  And then another awesome shot a moment later, of the damaged Intrepid rising up to face the Titan.  (I do wish we’d gotten a bit more of a starship action sequence here!)
  • I loved the reunion between Worf and Picard & Riker at the end.

OK, that’s a pretty strong first five episodes!  I hope the second half of the season can keep this going…!

UPDATE: Click here to read my review of episodes 6-10 of Star Trek: Picard season three!

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