Paramount’s cack-handed marketing strikes again…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for unreleased Star Trek episodes, including casting information for Strange New Worlds Season 2 and Picard Season 3. Spoilers are also present for Picard Seasons 1-2.

Today has been First Contact Day – the 5th of April is the date in 2063 when the Vulcans will arrive on Earth, as depicted in the film First Contact. First Contact Day has become somewhat of an “event” in the Star Trek fan community, with an entire digital broadcast being dedicated to it last year. This year there was nothing quite so big on the schedule, but there were still teases and hints from Paramount Global that the corporation would do something to mark the occasion.

I’ve given up on hearing anything about an international broadcast for Strange New Worlds, so that never seemed like a realistic prospect – though it’s probably the biggest request from non-American Trekkies at the moment. But I admit that I was curious about the prospect of some kind of announcement. There are other Star Trek projects being worked on behind-the-scenes, after all… could we be set for an announcement of something like the Starfleet Academy series, perhaps?

No, as it turned out.

No news about a Starfleet Academy series today.

Instead, what we got was the second announcement in a row from Paramount Global’s marketing department that just feels exceptionally poorly-timed. A couple of weeks ago, Paramount Global had clumsily dropped the news that Strange New Worlds Season 2 would feature the character of James T. Kirk in an unspecified capacity; an unnecessary overreaction to a single leaked photograph from the show’s ongoing production.

That announcement sent fans into overdrive, and Star Trek’s social media channels were overwhelmed with toxicity for a few days, as the threadbare announcement left many things unclear about Strange New Worlds – a series which hasn’t even aired a single episode yet. Announcing Kirk’s return to Star Trek was premature to say the least, and the way in which Paramount Global handled it left much to be desired.

A promotional photo of James T. Kirk in Strange New Worlds Season 2.

The corporation had a solid couple of weeks to learn lessons from the fiasco surrounding Kirk’s role in Strange New Worlds… but, as evidenced by another announcement put out today, their inept marketing team has learned absolutely nothing. To commemorate First Contact Day, Paramount Global released a teaser for Star Trek: Picard Season 3, announcing the reunion of most of the main cast members of The Next Generation.

The teaser trailer was smooth and well-composed. Unlike the first tease for Season 2 (which was shown off at last year’s First Contact Day digital event) it showed off a couple of clips of what at least appears to be actual footage from the new season. And the announcement that closed it out was clearly designed to get a lot of fans excited. But here’s the thing: we’re only halfway through Picard Season 2 right now, so the new teaser for Season 3 not only feels wholly unnecessary at this moment, but it opens up a lot of questions about the series that Paramount Global isn’t interested in addressing.

Picard holding a familiar combadge in the teaser.

I confess that I’m intrigued by the prospect of a reunion. The Next Generation was my own “first contact” with the Star Trek franchise and my way into becoming a Trekkie in the early 1990s. I’ve been a fan for more than three decades off the back of that series, and I always felt that there was scope for Picard to show us at least a glimpse of what other members of the crew of the Enterprise-D were up to. We’ve had some of that already across Seasons 1 and 2.

But I was also keen that Picard shouldn’t try to be “The Next Generation Season 8.” There are new characters, new storylines, and other new elements in play, and for the series to do justice to all of that – and to do right by the new characters – it had to keep its focus there and avoid the gratuitous overuse of classic characters. Season 1 generally struck the right balance in that regard; Season 2 has already sidelined two major new characters and, thus far at least, has underdeveloped and regressed a third.

The main cast of Star Trek: Picard.

The Season 3 announcement made no mention of the current Star Trek: Picard cast. While we now know that Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Marina Sirtis are joining the crew, we don’t know what that means for Evan Evagora, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Isa Briones, or even Jeri Ryan. Part of the fun of Picard has been seeing the Admiral working with a new crew, and I feel like we don’t know some of the new characters as well as we ought to at what is now the halfway point of the series’ three-season run.

Those new characters should be given the chance to become the next generation of fan-favourites. In thirty-five years’ time, it’s my firm hope that a new group of Trekkies will be talking as excitedly about the return of Elnor and Dr Jurati as we are about Worf and Dr Crusher. In a series that already has a limited number of episodes remaining, it’s hard to see how there will be enough time to deal with some pretty heavy stories and make sure each of the new characters gets enough screen time, especially if the entire crew of the Enterprise-D is reuniting.

What will become of characters like Elnor in Season 3?

There’s also the issue of spoilers. Now I know that it always seemed like a reasonable assumption that Picard would survive and that, somehow, he and the crew would make it back to the prime timeline! But we’re literally halfway through Season 2’s story right now, and there are a lot of different directions it could go and different ways that it could pan out. To drop a massive Season 3 announcement at this time was categorically the wrong thing to do, and it risks blunting the dramatic edge of the rest of Season 2.

We now know that Picard will make it back to the 25th Century, for example, which wasn’t necessarily a given in a franchise that loves season-ending cliffhangers. We also know that Picard will successfully restore the prime timeline as of the beginning of Season 3, which again was not guaranteed as of where we are in terms of the story of Season 2. And finally, it now seems that we can safely assume that Season 3 will be the beginning of a new story, not the continuation of an ongoing one.

Jonathan Frakes as Captain Riker in the Season 3 teaser.

All of these things colour how we’ll watch the second half of Season 2 over the next five weeks. And I can’t help but feel that a significant chunk of the show’s tension and drama has been stolen by this ill-timed announcement. There will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way as Picard and the crew of La Sirena rumble with Q and Dr Adam Soong, but one way or another everything will work out – Picard will make it home, the crew of the Enterprise-D will reunite for one last mission, and then… who knows.

If this announcement had come at the end of Season 2, I’d still have some of the same concerns about the current Picard cast (well, unless they’re all killed off, stranded in the past, or otherwise clearly written out of the series) but at least it would feel like the right time to make it. The halfway point of Season 2 was not the right time for this announcement, just like the timing of the James T. Kirk announcement wasn’t right prior to Season 1 of Strange New Worlds.

The Next Generation main cast will be returning.

It seems to me that Paramount Global knew that they didn’t have anything major to announce at First Contact Day this time around. Discovery Season 5 hasn’t entered production yet, Strange New Worlds has already released teasers and trailers over the past few weeks, and while there was perhaps scope to do something with Lower Decks Season 3 or the second half of Prodigy, it was evidently decided by someone higher up that a major announcement was necessary. I don’t see any reason why that should be the case; First Contact Day this year could’ve been dedicated to the upcoming Strange New Worlds and the second half of Picard Season 2, but there we are.

Maybe I’m still sour off the back of the Strange New Worlds situation, but I’m not as excited by this announcement as I feel I should be. The timing of it just seems incredibly wrong, hot on the heels of another self-inflicted wound with the Kirk debacle. And it opens some uncomfortable questions about the fates of the current main cast members of Picard.

All things considered, I wish that Paramount Global could’ve at least waited until the end of Picard Season 2 before making this announcement. Doing so now doesn’t seem right, for the reasons outlined above. While I’m intrigued by what has been teased, right now I can muster curious interest, tinged with more than a little concern, rather than the outright excitement that this announcement was trying to generate.

Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard, Strange New Worlds, and all other properties mentioned 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.

Gates McFadden’s recent comments on Star Trek: Picard

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, including the entirety of Season 1 and, most significantly, casting information for Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Over the course of Star Trek: Picard Season 1, we learned a little about some of Picard’s former crewmates from his time aboard the Enterprise-D. We saw Riker and Troi appear in person in the episode Nepenthe, as well as a version of Data. In the episode Maps and Legends, new character Zhaban – an ally of Picard’s – mentioned La Forge and Worf by name, seemingly confirming that both are still alive… at least as of the early part of Season 1! The only main characters from The Next Generation whose fates were not confirmed, and who were not even mentioned, were Dr Beverly Crusher and her son Wesley.

I don’t necessarily expect to see Wesley Crusher return, though I would suggest that actor Wil Wheaton’s continued involvement with Star Trek means it’s a possibility, at least on the production side. But given the close relationship between Picard and Beverly Crusher, I wasn’t alone in wondering what her absence from Season 1 might mean.

Wesley and Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: Nemesis – their last appearance in canon to date.

The teaser for Picard Season 2, which debuted at last month’s First Contact Day digital event, included a lingering shot over a model of the USS Stargazer – the ship Picard commanded prior to the events of The Next Generation. This, combined with Picard discussing the possibility of time travel in voiceover, seems to hint that the ship may play a role in Season 2. This is significant for the Picard-Crusher conversation, because while Picard was in command of the Stargazer, Dr Crusher’s husband Jack was killed. This event was mentioned a couple of times in The Next Generation, and it was arguably hinted at that Picard felt responsible for Jack’s death.

It may even have been the death of Jack Crusher that stopped Dr Crusher and Picard taking their relationship any further, at least in events we saw on screen. So a return to the USS Stargazer could potentially have brought back memories for Picard of Beverly Crusher, and there was scope for us to learn more about what happened to her after we last saw her in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Picard with Dr Crusher in Remember Me from Season 4 of The Next Generation.

However, recent comments by Gates McFadden – the actress who played Dr Crusher in The Next Generation and four films – seem to rule that out, at least in Season 2. Though no character return should be seen as guaranteed, after Riker and Troi came back in Season 1, and with Season 2 seeming to at least acknowledge areas of Picard’s past that may be connected to his relationship with Dr Crusher, it wasn’t an unreasonable guess to think she might appear, and thus I’m a little surprised to hear Gates McFadden ruling it out with the season still in relatively early production.

Though we should be careful about assigning motivations, McFadden is about to launch her own podcast, and it was in that capacity that she spoke to website TrekMovie. Generating attention drives clicks and brings in listeners, and while I don’t doubt that McFadden was being honest about her non-appearance in Picard Season 2, we also have to consider in context what she’s saying and what she’s trying to do by talking about it so openly.

Gates McFadden is plugging her new podcast!

Ever since Star Trek: Picard was announced, practically every former Star Trek actor under the sun has expressed interest in reprising their role, and some have outright lobbied ViacomCBS and the creative team in charge of the franchise to make it happen. In short, by discussing her non-appearance in Season 2, McFadden may be hoping to generate buzz around a future return to the role in Season 3, or in another potential Star Trek project. And again, as with the launch of the podcast, we have to take into account why she chose this moment to talk about it.

In a way this is a pretty big spoiler, because now we know that Dr Crusher won’t be appearing in Season 2 – at least, not in any form we’d recognise. Given the season’s apparent time travel aspect and possible return to the USS Stargazer, I’m at least a little surprised by that. But perhaps there’s still scope to learn more about Dr Crusher and what became of her after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, even if she doesn’t appear in person.

Dr Crusher in Nemesis.

During The Next Generation’s second season, Gates McFadden’s absence was explained away by saying that Dr Crusher was working at Starfleet Medical on Earth. It seems plausible that she might’ve returned to that role following the disbanding of the Enterprise-E’s crew. If she continued to work with Picard in the years before the attack on Mars, there’s the possibility that their relationship took a romantic turn. It’s a shame we won’t get to see for ourselves in Season 2, though.

There is, of course, the possibility that Dr Crusher will be mentioned, as La Forge and Worf were in Season 1. If that’s the case, her presence wouldn’t be necessary in order for us to know at least whether she’s still alive in this era – I’m assuming she is until I hear anything to the contrary! And it’s also possible that, if the series is going to indulge in some serious time travel, that the role of a younger Dr Crusher will be recast for the new season. The supporting roles of Bruce Maddox and Icheb were recast in Season 1, and we’ve seen Discovery win a great deal of praise for the recasting of Captain Pike and Spock in Season 2, so the possibility of the role being recast certainly exists. I would think, though, that unless Gates McFadden has somehow talked herself out of returning to the role, if Picard Season 2 wanted Dr Crusher circa 2399-2400, the producers would approach her to reprise the role.

Dr Crusher in the future timeline seen in All Good Things…

So it was a bit of a surprise, as I keep saying! However, with John de Lancie returning as Q and Whoopi Goldberg coming back as Guinan, perhaps the producers decided that the show risked being overwhelmed with too many classic characters, or that there wasn’t enough time to do justice to Dr Crusher’s return. As with Riker and Troi last season, Dr Crusher would really need at least one entire episode in which she and her relationship with Picard could be a major story element. In a ten-episode season that has a lot of other storylines running, perhaps the producers decided that was too much.

And if that’s the case, I have to say I’m pleased – because it means the writers and producers have learned a lesson from Season 1. I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that I felt Season 1 of Picard did not conclude in particularly strong fashion. Too many storylines were abruptly dropped or not given any meaningful conclusion, and while Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 in particular was a very emotional episode with some fantastic moments, the finale as a whole left a lot on the table.

Picard with his new crew at the end of Season 1.

Dr Crusher could be essential to the story of a future season of Picard. Or, like Riker and Troi last season, she could simply be incidental. If the latter is true, the season as a whole needs to be structured in such a way that taking an episode off to visit her doesn’t have implications for the remainder of the story. And if it happens to be the case that the story of Season 2 is too full to fit Dr Crusher in, then that’s okay. I’d rather wait and see her return in a truly meaningful way than either have a rushed cameo or feel that the episode in which she featured was detrimental to the main story of the season overall – which, sorry to say because it’s an outstanding episode in its own right, is kind of how I feel about Season 1’s Nepenthe.

As always, I encourage you to check out Gates McFadden’s full comments (which can be seen on TrekMovie and appear in their podcast) for context, and to see for yourself exactly what she had to say. This is just my take on the situation! Given that Dr Crusher was very close to the top of my list of characters I considered plausible for Picard Season 2, and considering how amazing it would be to spend some more time with the dancing doctor, it’s a bit of a surprise – and perhaps even a little disappointing – that she isn’t returning.

Regardless, I hope that Dr Crusher can return to Star Trek in future, when a suitable role can be found for her. Hopefully there will be more seasons of Picard to come, and perhaps even more shows and/or films set in this era. Any such project could bring Dr Crusher back, and she would be very welcome!

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Season 2 is currently filming and is targeting a 2022 broadcast. Gates McFadden was speaking exclusively to the website TrekMovie and the full interview may be found there. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.