Now that’s a confusing title, but still fun.
I haven’t been writing on the ol’ blog that much for the last month or so as I’m on an extended holiday (ie vacation) to the United States, after being away for more years than I’d like. We’re having lots of fun doing many cool things, but in the margins of all the activity I still found time to watch the first episode of Picard, season three.
For context, I’d consider the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard to be the very worst seasons that Star Trek has ever produced. Worse than season three of the Original Series. Worse than season one of Next Generation. Worse than just anything else I’ve seen. Even though there were still good moments here and there, in general it was appallingly bad.
Obviously your mileage may vary, but that’s my background as I entered into Season Three. One might wonder why I bothered watching at all, but of course the big draw is the involvement of not just some, but all of Patrick Stewart’s major co-stars from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In other words, the season is being marketed as basically the show that many of wish we had when it kicked off a couple of years ago.
(To be clear, that does not mean I wanted another season of Next Generation; rather I wanted a show about characters that I cared about and didn’t find dull, underdeveloped, unlikable and annoying).
And as I watch the first episode of the new season, written by showrunner Terry Matalas, I feel like this is what I got. Indeed, this almost could have been the first episode of the show–with only a few minor exceptions you could watch this episode without any reference to the previous 20 at all. Even more important, the first episode of Picard’s Season Three was really enjoyable. A good mix of action, character and mystery which is hopefully a sign of things to come.
But it’s not a guarantee. The first episodes of each of the other seasons were promising as well, and as a lot of television attests, it seems much easier to start a story than to finish it, let alone keep it interesting throughout it’s runtime. But it’s a start, and of course that’s better than if it had all kicked off really badly.
The story starts Picard living in his French chateau, again, with his girlfriend Laris (one of the few returning characters from the previous seasons) when he receives a coded message from his former flame, Dr. Beverly Crusher. We find out that she has been estranged from all her old friends for the last twenty years–basically right after Star Trek: Nemesis (expanded universe stories be damned!) Whatever she is dealing with involves murderous adversaries who have dealt her a life-threatening injury.
She tells Picard not to trust anyone, especially Starfleet, and the first thing he does is tell their mutual friend Will Riker about the situation so they can figure out how to help her together.
Because of course he would. Why wouldn’t he go to one of his closest friends and allies? It’s exactly the sort of believable and sensible course of action that has was missing in the show’s first season, in the misguided effort of doing something “more original”. Like I said, this might be the show I wanted all along. It’s great having Jonathan Frakes on board again–I often didn’t appreciate him back in the days of Next Generation, but he has a naturalness to his performance now that isn’t really there with Patrick Stewart. He was also close the best thing in Picard season one in his brief appearances.
Gates McFadden also gets an extended action scene as Beverly Crusher which she plays well, but after she’s kicked off the story she’s out of action for the rest of the episode. When Picard and Riker find her, she’s still alive thanks to the ministrations of her newly revealed son. I assume he will be ultimately revealed to be Picard’s unknown child, though I have also heard a rumor that he will turn out to be a clone of her dead husband, Jack–hopefully this will be sorted out quickly or things might get a little awkward).
Beverly and Riker are the only Next Generation alums to join Picard in this first episode, although Seven of Nine is also around as first officer of Riker’s old ship, the Titan. She serves a interesting but obnoxious captain named Shaw, whom I enjoyed but assume can’t be too much of a major player in things to come. He insists on Seven calling herself Annika Hansen against her will, which seems odd–I’d assume it wouldn’t be a big thing for Seven to legally change her name if she wants to.
The worst part of the episode the part with Michelle Hurd’s Raffi, which is not surprising. She’s easily my least favorite regular character in all of Star Trek. Here, the character’s over-the-top reactions to everything are at least a little justified by the intense and messed-up situation she is in (deep undercover in the rarely scene seedy underbelly of the future), so she’s only part of the reason I don’t like her scenes. It’s also just awkward and choppy storytelling–after figuring out where a terrorist attack might happen, she decides to fly there rather than sending a message, and then arrives immediately before a devastating attack in the most contrived manner possible. It’s exciting stuff, but forced, rushed and awkward.
But on the whole it was a fun episode and an incredibly promising start to series that seems like it’s actually trying to build off the legacy of Jean-Luc Picard and Star Trek: The Next Generation, rather than just try to differentiate itself from what came before. And I’m all for that. Here’s hoping the quality of everything continues for this “final send off” to our beloved Next Generation characters.