Star Trek has always wrestled with managing its legacy and the ability to do something new. Fans are always a prickly bunch judging a new series, movie, or a given episode as to whether or not it feels like Star Trek.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation first premiered a strong contingent of Original Series fans decried the show as a cheap knock-off and sent hate mail to the TNG cast. Deep Space Nine is reviled by a certain segment of Trekdom for being too dark. And so it goes. Longtime fans then really grade new Trek content on two different tracks, is it good and does it feel like Star Trek?
For the third season premiere of Star Trek: Picard, I am cautiously answering, can’t tell yet if it’s good and yes, it at least feels like Star Trek. It’s tough to grade this table-setting beginning without getting a few more episodes in but it does adequately and entertainingly begin the process of getting the band back together. But if this show is going a completely serialized route, it’s hard to say if it’s good yet because that will rely so much on the payoff of the conflicts the premiere presents.
But in ways big and small, the Star Trek ethos feels like it’s back after a scattershot first two seasons. From the glorious return of Okuda graphics and the less frenetic camerawork there is a noticeable return to ‘90s Trek pacing and visual language rather than making everything attempting to feel like JJ Abrams.
It’s a great choice to have the teaser start with Dr. Crusher, one of the most painfully underused characters in the TNG films. We haven’t seen her in 25 years but she’s back and she’s taking charge. Fighting off mysterious pursuers, she sends a distress signal to perhaps the only one she can trust, Admiral Picard.
The Admiral is pondering legacy with his paramour Laris before they embark to a new planet where Laris has apparently taken some sort of diplomatic job. It isn’t clear if she’s still his housekeeper but it’s fine. He’s got this retirement from his retirement to look forward to until a 20 year old communicator chirps with a message from Crusher. She needs his help and she can’t trust anyone else. Picard thought he was out but he’s getting pulled back in for one last dangerous adventure.
Immediately he enlists the aid of Riker who seems all too happy to be distracted from family troubles with Troi. We learn Crusher hasn’t only cut off Picard in the last 20 years but the entire crew. No one’s seen or heard from her. But Riker’s able to decrypt her message and reveal where they need to go to rescue her, the Ryton system.
Although Crusher has specifically asked for no Starfleet, Riker has concocted a work around through a ruse on his old command the USS Titan. Conning their way onto the ship as part of a surprise inspection, Picard and Riker bluster their way onto the nostalgia class — I mean neo-Constitution class. And as luck would have it, the first officer for the Titan is none other than Picard’s new friend from this series, Commander Seven of Nine, now required by her captain to go by her birth name Annika Hansen. It’s a great little set up for Seven going through something and shading for what kind of Captain is running the Titan.
And what a fun meeting it is when Picard and Riker meet Captain Shaw. It’s kinda great to have other Captains who don’t necessarily worship the exploits of our heroes. Shaw is a straight up dick to Picard and Riker and it’s hilarious and full of potential. Shaw describes Picard and Riker as irresponsible which is on point since they are basically trying to steal his ship.
But the fortunate coincidence that Seven is Commander and personally loyal to Picard means he gets his way and the Titan goes rogue and follows Crusher to Ryton. There our intrepid duo find the injured doctor in a stasis pod and that she has another son and he’s got a British accent!
Meanwhile, we get a B-plot that will surely tie into the mysterious antagonists chasing Crusher. Raffi, the only new cast member returning, is undercover trying to track down stolen weapons before it’s too late. She has a mysterious handler who believes her to be a warrior (hint, hint). Unfortunately she’s too late and the experimental tech looks to be a Portal gun on a massive scale that destroys a Starfleet installation. Part of Raffi’s cover is as a user calling back to her first season appearance when Picard accidentally ruined her career. It’s a smart way of using that beat of her character and repurposing it narratively.
Overall, I have my nitpicks (below) but this felt like the first half of an episode of Star Trek in a way that the prior seasons of Picard and unfortunately most of Discovery haven’t. I did not think I would be here writing about this show but here we are.
- Lazy seedy set decoration — Raffi’s investigation takes her to a dank neighborhood, a Blade Runner/Mos Eisley town and the first bit of setting are… red lanterns cuz orientalism.
- Did Riker command this Titan? It’s a new ship and yet it still has his jazz music files? Does that… make sense?
- Is it explicitly stated anywhere how much time has passed between the end of season 2 and the start of season 3? Seven had time to become a Commander.
- Picard’s painting of the Enterprise-D doesn’t seem slightly duller than the original in his ready room, but I guess that was probably destroyed. Though I always longed to buy one on QVC.