Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3, including the trailers, teasers, and marketing material for upcoming episodes. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Discovery.
For some utterly inexplicable reason, Paramount doesn’t make all of its marketing material available to viewers outside of the United States. Trailers, teasers, clips, posters, and even Paramount’s own press website are geo-blocked, meaning fans and viewers who aren’t American can’t access them – at least, not officially. This is just another example of Paramount’s stupid, dangerous, and obviously damaging “America First” fetish that we’ve talked about here on the website on more than one occasion in the last few years.
But we’ll have to give Paramount another stern talking-to, clearly.
Because I don’t have access to that, I missed something potentially huge about the upcoming fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard Season 3 that was revealed in the episode’s official press release. Here’s the full blurb so you can read it for yourself:
“Caught by Starfleet and facing court martial, paranoia grows as Picard struggles to uncover whether a prodigal crewman from his past has returned as an ally – or an enemy hellbent on destroying them all.”
One part of this in particular jumped out at me: the “prodigal crewman.” Who could this character be? And more importantly: might it be someone we’ve met before; a returning legacy character?
I would have included this as part of my theory list if I’d spotted it in time! I don’t like going back to posts I’ve already published and adding whole paragraphs and chunks of text, so instead of doing that, I’ve decided to write this one up as a standalone theory.
The use of the word “prodigal” is very interesting here, as it could absolutely be argued to imply that we’re dealing with a character we’ve already met. A “prodigal” son or daughter is someone who returns home, so I think we’ve got a case – albeit not a watertight one – to make in favour of this character being someone we’ve already met. And you better believe that I have a few ideas for who they could be!
Prodigal Crewman #1:
Denise Crosby, who originated the role of Tasha Yar in The Next Generation’s first season, has been heavily rumoured to be involved with Picard Season 3 for months, and it’s primarily for that reason that she’s in contention here. Yar was, of course, famously killed off toward the end of The Next Generation Season 1, but that didn’t stop Crosby from making occasional returns to Star Trek – either as Tasha Yar herself or as her half-Romulan daughter Sela.
Perhaps part of what Picard will have to figure out is whether Tasha Yar survived her injuries at the hands of Armus, or whether this version of Tasha Yar might be the mother of Sela – someone detained and imprisoned for years by the Romulans. Such a storyline could even cross over with a potential Section 31 series; Tasha’s survival may have been hushed up by the shadowy black-ops organisation.
Most fans of The Next Generation would instantly assume that Tasha Yar couldn’t possibly be real – because we know that she died a long time ago. That would potentially set up a kind of double-bluff, where the show leans into the idea that Tasha Yar is a changeling… only to perhaps rip that away at the last moment and say that she’s actually for real.
A good rule in Star Trek (and fiction in general!) is that if you haven’t seen the corpse, a character may not be truly dead. But we did see Tasha’s body, we watched her die, and we even saw her friends attend her memorial service. It would be difficult, narratively speaking, to find a way around that… and I don’t think it’s something that can just be hand-waved away or ignored. So there’s a potential pitfall here, I fear.
Prodigal Crewman #2:
Ensign Sito Jaxa made two appearances in The Next Generation. She debuted in the episode The First Duty, where, as a cadet at Starfleet Academy, she played a role in covering up the death of a colleague during an unsanctioned flying manoeuvre. Later she appeared in the episode Lower Decks, having been assigned to the Enterprise-D at Picard’s explicit request.
Ensign Sito was presumed to have died during a mission to aid a Cardassian spy – but her body was never recovered, so it’s possible, perhaps, that she wasn’t killed in action as we were led to believe.
Sito definitely qualifies as a “prodigal” crewman, I think! But as a character who only made a couple of appearances, she may not be as recognisable to the audience. The story would also have to find a way to explain what happened to Sito after her disappearance in a satisfactory way, telling us how and why she disappeared and allowed her friends to assume the worst.
Even with those issues, though, I think Sito could make for a fascinating character to bring back. And as a relatively unknown character, there’s scope to tell a different kind of story unconstrained by too much prior canon.
Prodigal Crewman #3:
I gotta be honest: I don’t really think that Dr Pulaski is a strong contender here. But as you’ll know if you read my in-depth look at her character, I truly like Dr Pulaski, and she’s a character that I wish we’d gotten to spend more time with. Giving her an epilogue after all these years would be fantastic – even if it seems quite unlikely!
So that’s the truth of Dr Pulaski’s inclusion on this list. But I still think we can build a case for her return. First and foremost, Dr Pulaski never got a conclusive goodbye after Season 2 of The Next Generation. She simply disappeared when Dr Crusher returned at the beginning of Season 3, and while there was supposedly a mention of her over a tannoy in the background during the events of the Voyager series finale Endgame, implying that she may have worked at Starfleet Medical, I don’t think that really counts!
It would be genuinely interesting to see some kind of on-screen interaction between Drs Crusher and Pulaski, as that’s something we never got during The Next Generation’s run. How would these two very different doctors react to one another, and would their styles completely clash? It could certainly be a bit of fun to see that!
Dr Pulaski also had a burgeoning friendship with Worf, and has a strained relationship with Riker as she had once been involved with his father. She’s also a character who knew Professor Moriarty, who we know is coming back soon; she was present during his creation on the holodeck. There are good reasons to want to see more of Dr Pulaski – even though I think her return on this occasion isn’t the most likely.
Prodigal Crewman #4:
The former Ensign Ro is someone who could be absolutely fascinating to bring back. Her defection to the Maquis at the end of The Next Generation was something that clearly stung Picard, so there’d immediately be a loss of trust between them. Ro is also a character who could tell us a great deal about relations between the Federation and the Cardassians, as well as the potential survival of some members of the Maquis.
One interesting idea that hasn’t been explored fully in Star Trek since the Dominion War is the idea that characters like Ro and even Michael Eddington were, in a roundabout way, right. They predicted Cardassian aggression years before it happened, and were willing to fight back at a time when the Federation was pursuing what amounted to a policy of appeasement; peace at any cost.
If Ro were to return, we could see her take Picard to task for failing to recognise signs that the Cardassians would once again make offensive moves against the Federation – and hearing what Picard may have to say in defence of his actions in that era could be fascinating, particularly in light of what happened in the Dominion War.
We could also see Ro as the returning “prodigal” crewman, perhaps having suffered years of imprisonment at the hands of the Cardassians, and lamenting the loss of many of her Maquis friends. I’m sure Riker would have a thing or two to say to her, too, because the last time he saw her she was pointing a phaser at him!
Prodigal Crewman #5:
Is Lore a “crewman” in the strict sense of the term? I’m not so sure… but he’s also the only character on this list that we know for a fact will be included in the season’s story! That alone should mean he’s in contention.
It seems to have been hinted in pre-season marketing material that Lore may have changed since we last encountered him, and that he may have become more of a friend/ally to Picard and the crew. If so, perhaps that will be what Picard figures out over the course of this upcoming episode.
Is it possible that Lore might have been “repurposed” to somehow resurrect Data? That could also give Picard a puzzle to figure out: is he dealing with the genuine resurrection of his dead friend, or is Lore once again trying to take everyone for a ride by posing as his brother? After a prominent sequence at the end of Season 1 in which Data was laid to rest, I’m not sure this is the route I’d want to see the story go down – but you never know.
I’m not really sold on Lore’s return, to tell the truth. The “evil twin” angle was a fun one on a couple of occasions during The Next Generation’s run, but with Data seemingly out of the picture, Lore’s return seems to be more to do with wanting to reunite actor Brent Spiner with his co-stars rather than for any narrative reason. And with Spiner having already appeared in both Seasons 1 and 2 of Picard… maybe that’s just not something that will turn out to have been necessary. Regardless, this feels like it could plausibly be the moment of Lore’s return.
Prodigal Crewman #6:
I know, I know: actor Evan Evagora has stated that he isn’t coming back for Picard’s third season. However, we heard similar words from Orla Brady, who plays Laris, and she actually did appear in the season premiere. Perhaps Elnor could be back for a one-off appearance after all!
Would we call Elnor a “prodigal” crewman? And what reason might Picard have to suspect that he’s dangerous – other than the obvious changeling infiltration possibility? Also, what kind of role might Elnor have in prosecuting Picard at a potential court-martial? All of these questions would have to be answered if Elnor is indeed to return!
However, it would be an unexpected and fun twist in the story. We could learn that Elnor has graduated from Starfleet Academy and is now a fully-fledged Starfleet officer, perhaps serving in the security division. He could even enable Picard and Riker to escape their potential arrest, proving that he’s on their side.
Elnor’s return could also lead to a reunion with Raffi, as the two clearly had a strong bond. It must’ve been difficult for Raffi to leave Elnor behind to go undercover – especially as he’s the closest thing to family she has left after alienating and estranging herself from her ex-husband, son, and daughter-in-law. Elnor’s story, perhaps more so than any other new character, is arguably the most unfinished – and finding a genuinely good reason for his last-second resurrection at the end of Season 2 should be a priority, too.
Prodigal Crewman #7:
We mentioned Sela above when talking about Tasha Yar, but could she turn out to be the “prodigal crewman” herself? Depending on the state of Romulan-Federation relations in this era, it’s possible, I suppose, that other Romulans might follow in Elnor’s footsteps and join Starfleet – or at least work alongside Starfleet in some capacity as allies.
Sela could also emerge not as a member of the crew, but in some other role, perhaps as a fellow prisoner if Picard and Riker are placed under arrest. She could return offering to break Picard out of jail, only for Picard to have to stop to consider whether she’s doing so to help – or because she has some other nefarious goal in mind.
This would allow Denise Crosby to return but without having to, for want of a better expression, dig up Tasha Yar. Given the adversarial nature of Sela’s relationship with Picard, it would make sense why he wouldn’t know whether or not to trust her – and why he’d need to figure out whether she’s an ally or an enemy.
I definitely think that there’s scope to bring back Sela in some form this season – though whether this would be the right way to do it is still an open question!
Prodigal Crewman #8:
This one is a bit “out there,” so bear with me! I’ve had a theory that has been running for as long as we’ve known Vadic would be a part of the season’s story in which I’ve suggested that she could be a former Starfleet officer – someone who once served under Picard’s command. The inclusion of multiple connections to the Battle of Wolf-359 – including most prominently Captain Shaw’s presence at the battle that was revealed in No Win Scenario – could also be a potential origin story for Vadic: she was a Starfleet officer or enlisted crewman present at the battle.
Perhaps Vadic will return in the upcoming episode, relatively unscathed after Riker’s asteroid attack, and will reveal herself as a former crewmate of Picard’s. She may offer some tantalising piece of information pertaining to the rogue changelings and their conspiracy that Picard will need to investigate – and determining whether Vadic’s offer is genuine or a trap could be a big part of the story.
If Vadic truly is someone who served in Starfleet, I’m not sure if this is how that revelation might come. But it feels like a possibility, at least, and now that we’re relatively certain that Vadic isn’t actually a changeling herself, but is merely working for them in some capacity, the question of her origin is once again an open one.
It would be a shocking twist in the story if Vadic essentially “turned evil” because of something that Picard did or didn’t do. She might blame him for her injuries if she once served aboard the Stargazer or Enterprise-D, or she might hold Picard accountable for her assimilation if she was captured and assimilated by the Borg, for example. There are multiple ways to tie Vadic to Picard’s past – including as a “prodigal crewman.”
Prodigal Crewman #9:
Barclay would be a fun and interesting character to include in Season 3, and a potential story in which he plays a role could also see him interacting with Seven of Nine. Barclay was instrumental in helping the USS Voyager communicate with Starfleet while the ship was stranded in the Delta Quadrant, so a kind of reunion between him and Seven could be a ton of fun!
Although Barclay was arguably not Picard’s favourite officer during his tenure aboard the Enterprise-D, he was always an ally – so the question of why Picard might mistrust him is an open one. As an engineer, there’s also the question of what role Barclay might play during a potential arrest and court-martial – he clearly isn’t going to be a security officer or advocate.
Again, Barclay could be someone who shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, offering Picard and Riker a potential way out. Determining whether that offer of assistance is genuine could be what the blurb of the episode is hinting at, and it could be fun to see Picard and Riker trying to “test” Barclay to see whether he’s the genuine article.
Barclay is another character that I think could make a welcome return to Star Trek, and could link up with Picard, Geordi, Seven, and others in Picard’s third season in different and fun ways. Whether this would be the right way to do it… I’m not 100% sure. But it’s at least a possibility!
Prodigal Crewman #10:
Chief O’Brien is basically the only person on this list who meets the strictest definition of “crewman!” O’Brien was never a commissioned officer, instead holding the rank of chief petty officer – a non-commissioned rank that essentially makes him a senior crewman. Could that complicated work of semantic gymnastics be a hint at the return of Chief O’Brien?
I’d absolutely love to see Miles O’Brien come back. He’d certainly have a lot to say to Worf – the two worked together for years during the Dominion War. He’s also a character with a strong connection to Picard, having served aboard the Enterprise-D before transferring to DS9.
O’Brien is also a great character to include in a story all about the rogue changelings. As a kind of epilogue to Deep Space Nine seems to be unfolding, bringing back other characters from that series makes a lot of sense – and if it’s someone like O’Brien that Picard hasn’t seen for a long time, it would be understandable if trust is hard to come by at first. Worf could be the point of connection here, proving to Picard that O’Brien is on their side.
I doubt that the question of “crewman” versus “officer” will ultimately matter; that was just a bit of fun. It would be great to think that we might see Chief O’Brien again, though, and that he might have a role to play in a story that brings back the changelings and makes reference to the Dominion War – a war in which he played a major role.
Prodigal Crewman #11:
Another character who would arguably fit the definition of “prodigal” is Wesley Crusher, who has been off with the Travelers for a number of years. We saw at the end of Season 2 that Wesley has settled into that role, so the question of why he might choose to make himself known to Picard at this time is unclear.
However, as the blurb hints, it could be possible that a changeling is impersonating Wesley to try to catch Picard and Dr Crusher off-guard. This imposter could be trying to get to Jack through Dr Crusher, using the image of Wesley to worm their way into the Crushers’ trust.
Having seen Wesley at the end of last season, though, and seemingly in a pretty conclusive scene, I’m not certain that he’ll be back again so soon. There are good reasons to do it, both narratively speaking and for the fun of including another legacy character, but there are also some pretty solid counterpoints, too.
Still, Wesley would certainly fit the definition, and would be an interesting character to include. His inclusion could set up a kind of double-bluff, where we’re led to believe there’s a high likelihood of his being a changeling, only for the story to prove at the last moment that he actually is Wesley Crusher. I think a lot of fans would like to see a reunion between Wesley and Beverly – and it could be fun to see Wesley meeting his half-sibling for the first time, too!
Prodigal Crewman #12:
Thomas Riker – a transporter-created clone of William Riker – would be an interesting character to bring back. Last we saw him, Thomas was being arrested by the Cardassians, having exposed a secret fleet that the Obsidian Order was building. This took place in the years prior to the Dominion War – so what became of him after his arrest was never seen on screen.
If Thomas survived the war, he may have been returned to the Federation, or perhaps liberated from a Cardassian prison camp during the course of the conflict. If so, perhaps he was able to rejoin Starfleet at some point.
The presence of Thomas Riker could tie into the theme of an “imposter” without going down the obvious route of having another changeling hiding out in Starfleet. It could fall to Picard to figure out whether he’s sitting with the original Riker or his clone – and as the two men are indistinguishable by scans and sensors, it might only be Picard’s insight into his former number one that could find out the truth.
This could also potentially explain why we saw a clip in one of the pre-season trailers that seemed to show Riker trapped or imprisoned. If Thomas is involved, could he be working with Vadic? He was actually one of the characters I suggested could be part of her team when I put together a list back in November. You can find the full list by clicking or tapping here.
Bonus Prodigal Crewman:
Someone entirely new.
In Season 1, the super-synths and Zhat Vash were entirely new creations. In Season 2, Star Trek’s past likewise didn’t factor into either the mysterious anomaly or Picard’s own backstory. There have been moments in both seasons where characters from the past could have been included: multiple admirals and senior Starfleet personnel could have been replaced by the likes of Admiral Janeway, for instance, or Dr Benayoun in Season 1 could have been subbed out for someone like Dr Pulaski or Dr Bashir.
So there are good reasons to think that, once again, Picard will create an entirely new character to fill this space. Such a character could be said to have served under Picard’s command aboard the Enterprise-D, the Enterprise-E, the Stargazer, or during the Romulan rescue mission, and they could be tailor-made to fill a particular role in this new narrative.
I’d suggest that this reference to a “prodigal crewman” hasn’t exactly been a massive part of the marketing or promotional material for either the season as a whole or even for this episode – so if it turns out not to be relevant, I don’t think we can really accuse Paramount of getting our hopes up too much! On several occasions in recent seasons of Star Trek, there arguably have been teases that hinted at potential returning characters or factions that ultimately didn’t pan out. We could point to Tarka’s friend and Unknown Species 10-C in Discovery Season 4, the Burn in Discovery Season 3, and the super-synths in Picard Season 1 as examples of this… but this reference to a “prodigal crewman” feels minor in comparison.
In short, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t be surprised if this character turns out to be someone brand-new. Although we’ve had fun (I hope) speculating wildly about possible returning characters, a brand-new creation is at least as likely – if not more so – than anyone on this list!
So that’s it!
We’ve considered twelve possible characters who could be the “prodigal crewman” mentioned in the blurb for Imposters, the upcoming fifth episode of Picard Season 3. Will we look back at this list in a few days’ time and think how brilliant and insightful it was? Or will we instead think how silly it was to speculate about a bunch of characters who clearly had no role to play? Only time will tell! But even if I’m completely wrong on this, it was a bit of fun to speculate about who may or may not be coming back.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite on the list above. For production-side reasons, characters played by actors who we know to be involved in the season – like Thomas Riker or Lore – feel plausible, as do characters like Sela and Tasha Yar as Denise Crosby has been heavily rumoured to be playing a role this time. But Star Trek has kept some wonderful surprises – Wesley Crusher’s role at the end of Season 2 hadn’t been leaked or even hinted at, making it a great inclusion in the episode Farewell. What I’m saying is that a complete shock shouldn’t be entirely disregarded; it’s possible, at least, that a truly unexpected character could be about to make a return.
As a final note: I always like to end these theory posts by saying that I do this just for fun. I enjoy writing, I enjoy Star Trek, and spending more time in this world is an escape and an enjoyable distraction for me. But for some folks, fan theories can become frustrating or unenjoyable, especially if they get very attached to a plausible-sounding theory that ultimately doesn’t pan out. I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything suggested above can, will, or must be part of Picard Season 3.
Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.