Star Trek: Picard season 3 marks the third and final voyage for Patrick Stewart’s iconic captain, and I’m pleased to log that it follows the prime directive for a Star Trek show: It’s really good. Make it so!
Picard season 3 streams on Paramount Plus in the US from Feb. 16, with new episodes following every Thursday (it’s on Amazon Prime Video around the globe). Even in just a couple of seasons, the show has fallen into something of a formula. Captain — sorry, Admiral — Picard is trying to enjoy his retirement on his vineyard when he’s galvanized into action by a mysterious message for his eyes only. Along the way, he quickly encounters a former Trek star now transformed into a badass killing machine, for some reason. And a familiar baddie emerges in a new and much scarier form.
Following a few crowd-pleasing cameos in previous instalments, season 3 completes the reunion of the classic cast of The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart is joined by the rest of the cast of the beloved 1990s Trek series in which we first met Picard and crew, and it’s a joy to see them back in action. Who wouldn’t enjoy the japes of Stewart’s Picard and Jonathan Frakes’ Will Riker bunking together on a rogue mission? And fans who were on the fence about new Trek can bathe in the nostalgia of the distinctive Next Generation font, or the TNG theme blaring over Easter egg-packed closing credits.
On the other hand, the show refuses to take the easy path imagining a future for the beloved characters. You might wince at Gates McFadden’s Beverley Crusher John Wick-ing aliens with a phaser rifle, and nobody really needs Jean-Luc Picard wearing leather jackets and saying “fuck.” But there’s a genuine sense that life has happened to these people. They haven’t just been preserved in a transporter buffer for 30 years waiting to be beamed down the same way we used to know them. Seeing Riker’s cockiness tempered by tragedy, or Picard facing a mistake he never knew he made, is heartbreaking — but, y’know, in a fun way.
It’s not perfect, of course. Even though she kicks off the series, Crusher is quickly upstaged by the new character she brings with her. And having watched the first half of the 10-episode season, I noticed that some of the crew still haven’t turned up at all. But judging from the episodes I have seen, I have faith they’ll be treated in interesting and respectful ways. It’s particularly great to see Worf kicking ass and being funny without ever being the butt of the joke.
Familiar faces don’t just show up for the sake of it, for a crowd-pleasing back-slapping lap of honor. There’s a particularly compelling cameo a few episodes in that drives the story and challenges Picard to face an ugly side of himself, Stewart sinking his teeth into his portrayal of a 30-year-old grudge. That particular cameo (no spoilers) also reminds us that old-school Trek did in fact develop its characters and their flaws. Classic Trek was more than capable of complicating their lives, and didn’t always deliver happy (or predictable) endings.
Picard presents a challenge to old-school fans, but that’s good. The show isn’t comfort viewing, or a nostalgic rehash. It genuinely justifies its existence, moving forward the characters and the Trek universe.
The season starts with Crusher up to no good, calling in Picard and Riker (and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine, returning from previous seasons) for a less-than-legit mission into deep space. Picard must face both his personal demons and a horrifyingly powerful new enemy (played with giggling intensity by Amanda Plummer) as his crewmates old and new uncover something far bigger than they ever imagined.
This storyline is possibly the most “Trek” the show has been so far, unfolding on an actual Starfleet starship with characters wearing uniforms and everything. It even features that fan-favorite TNG element: a dickhead rival officer (y’know, a Jellico type) who’s less than enamored of the Enterprise fam’s adventurous spirit.
But it’s all brought up to date from vintage Trek’s mission-of-the-week format with ongoing storylines, season-long character arcs and lashings of drama. It’s great to see that the actors and characters all have something going on rather than just waving tricorders and pushing buttons each week. That said, there is an element of manufactured drama, as in all the new-generation Trek shows (Discovery and Strange New Worlds). A lot will depend on your tolerance for characters trapped in life-or-death situations stopping for a heart-to-heart chat, or having a heated argument on the bridge when the red alert should be focusing their minds on the situation.
And why is everything so dark? Engineering, divert some power to the damn lights!
Overall, though, Picard has turned out to be a thoroughly engaging Star Trek revival. It’s more than an exercise in nostalgia, more than a box of Playmates action figures pulled out of the attic with plastic phaser accessories popped back in their hands. Season 3 doesn’t just reunite the much-loved crew, it actually gives the actors something to do — possibly confronting more character development and emotion than they ever did in the original. Picard may not follow the cozy formula of vintage Star Trek, but we have Strange New Worlds for that. Instead, for all its nostalgia, Picard keeps boldly going in the most important direction of all: forward.