Born to English parents but raised at his ancestral home in La Barre in France, there is no doubt that a scholar such as Jean-Luc Picard would be familiar with the phrase plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, nor would the irony be lost on the retired captain of the USS Enterprise who once accused a former officer of another version of that vessel of “cowboy diplomacy” that he is now dressed down for that same offence by the man who inherited command of the USS Titan from his own former first officer, William Riker.
Captain Liam Shaw a man who likes structure and his own company, preferring to dine alone, he is a Starfleet officer of a different age, the United Federation of Planets on the cusp of celebrating its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary with Frontier Day, but rather than the explorers of the 23rd and 24th centuries, Christopher Pike, James Kirk, Rachel Garrett and Kathryn Janeway among them, now the focus is inward, on stability, on a firm border which is enforced as strictly as any other regulation.
And beyond that border, space is big, solar systems and nebulae and spatial anomalies charted by long distance probes but unexplored; a damaged vessel stranded in such a place without support would be in real danger, and worse, what if in the unlikely event another ship did locate the stricken vessel that were not friendly, but hostile?
Aboard the SS Eleos in the Ryton system, just beyond the edge of Federation space, Doctor Beverly Crusher finds herself in just such a situation, hunted by parties unknown who are able to track her medical supply vessel no matter where she hides; afraid, injured and out of options, she sends an encrypted message to the only person she believes can help her, a man she has not spoken to in over twenty years…
The first teaser trailer for the final season of Star Trek Picard released while the second was still airing, it announced the return of the core cast of the show which introduced Jean-Luc Picard in 1987, The Next Generation, the opening episode of the third season also appropriately named The Next Generation, written by showrunner Terry Matalas and directed by Doug Aarniokoski and introducing a new lead ship replacing the Stargazer of last season, the USS Titan.
Termed a “Neo-Constitution class” and with a hull registry which reflects the regard in which Riker’s first command is held, NCC-80102-A, it is a smaller vessel than has become the norm for Starfleet’s capital ships, comparable in size to the original Enterprise of Captain Kirk but although that vessel was designated a Heavy Cruiser, with lighter armaments and a focus on speed it perhaps no longer competes in that class.
Of greater concern to the fans who have not seen this crew working together since Nemesis more than twenty years ago, how do the returning characters compete, three and a half decades past first taking on their roles? The year implied to be 2411 making Picard now around 105 years old, it sometimes feels that Patrick Stewart has been playing him for that same length of time, so indelibly they are linked, impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
A man of principle, decisive action and firm conviction but who has always listened to the counsel of his officers and friends and taken account of their insight, his friend Laris (Orla Brady) provides the clarity and intelligence that would be expected of a Romulan, but William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) has now become something different, a captain in his own right, no longer needing a figurehead from whom to seek inspiration and guidance, but also two things Picard has never been, a husband and a father, changing how he approaches a situation and the risks he is willing to take.
Nicholas Meyer’s Wrath of Khan often cited as the most popular of the Star Trek films and the one which gave the series focus and a new direction after the hugely successful and undeniably beautiful but also costly production of The Motion Picture of Robert Wise, it was stated early that would be a touchstone of this new season of Picard, and the nods are many, the opening intertitle “In the 25th century” matching the blue typeface of Wrath of Khan’s introduction, the wide-collared field jacket worn by Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and aspects of the events which drive the narrative.
Picard and Riker aboard the Titan ostensibly for an inspection which Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) believes they will find satisfactory, the ship is full of inexperienced cadets, among them Sidney “Crash” LaForge (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), while on the planet M’Talas Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) is frustrated by the futile search for a lead on the theft of an experimental technology which could be used as a terrible weapon in the same way the Genesis Project would destroy existing life even as it created new.
The returning cast members the basis on which the season is being promoted, while this and other links to the past are great in number, Stephen Barton’s score building on Jeff Russo’s themes from the first two seasons and also cues by Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and Cliff Eidelman from the history of Star Trek, The Next Generation opens the final season of Star Trek Picard with a slower build than either Remembrance or The Star Gazer, but that is acceptable.
If this is truly the last time that an audience will be able to see these characters and performers work together, then the time spent in their company is to be enjoyed simply for that reason, but the indications are that this is but a moment of calm, Crusher’s cryptic message prompting suspicion of everyone and everything, bringing the fear of a coming storm which could be truly apocalyptic, the end not only of a generation but the United Federation of Planets itself.
Season Three of Star Trek Picard debuts on Paramount+ Thursday 16th February and internationally on Prime Video on Friday 17th February with new episodes following every week