Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1 and 2 as well as trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for The Next Generation, Nemesis, and Discovery.
With Star Trek: Picard’s upcoming third season now barely a month away, it seems like a good time to look ahead. Thanks to trailers, teasers, and interviews with the cast and crew, we know a little about how the season is shaping up, and from my point of view, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Picard Season 3 has a lot of work to do to salvage a troubled, muddled production that hasn’t hit the high notes that I’ve been hoping for.
Let’s take a step back. My “first contact” with the Star Trek franchise came in the early 1990s. The first episode I can solidly remember watching was The Royale, from The Next Generation’s second season – though I’m fairly sure I’d seen others, or at least parts of others, prior to that. The Royale aired here in the UK in June 1991, so I’ve been a Trekkie for more than thirty years at this point! Moreover, I have an incredible fondness for The Next Generation in particular, as it was Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D that first made me into a Star Trek fan.
In short, I’m about as close as it’s possible to get to the ideal target audience for Picard Season 3; a season of television that promises to bring back the main cast of The Next Generation. But before so much as a single frame has aired, I find myself having mixed feelings. I genuinely want to see Picard Season 3 succeed – and if I dare to hope, maybe even find a way to tie up loose ends and unresolved narrative threads that were left on the table as Seasons 1 and 2 faltered. But at the same time, I have concerns.
Seasons 1 and 2 both had some incredible highlights: episodes and moments within episodes that were as good as Star Trek has ever been, that hit all of the right notes, and that left me on the edge of my seat or jumping for joy. But step back and look at the bigger picture, and I’m afraid that both seasons also had some pretty major issues that hampered my enjoyment. Both seasons told long, serialised stories… and both plodded along in places, stumbled in others, and failed to resolve key storylines and character arcs by the time it was over.
One of my biggest pre-season questions is this: will Picard simply ignore what came before as it races to tell a new story? Or might there be time to step back, even if just for a moment through a line or two of exposition-laden dialogue, and try to tie up some of these loose ends? If – as I suspect will be the case – Season 3 is going to tell a new story unrelated to the events of Seasons 1 and 2, there could still be time to acknowledge, in the most barebones of ways, what became of the Coppelius synths, the Zhat Vash, Narek, the new Borg faction, the mysterious anomaly, and other unexplained or unresolved story points.
In fact, that would be my single biggest request!
There are ways in which Picard Season 3 could tie everything together, transforming the disjointed series into something more closely resembling a single, ongoing story – and I have a theory as to how that could pan out that involves the faction of super-synths from Season 1. But even if none of that comes to pass, it would still be worthwhile, in my view, to find some way to acknowledge the events of the past twenty episodes and do something to try to tie up those loose ends. If Season 3 is to be Picard’s last, as we’ve been repeatedly told, and no other early 25th Century projects are coming up in the short term at least, this will be the last opportunity to do so for several years – possibly ever.
I think it’s worth reiterating just how disappointing it is that all but one of the new characters introduced in Picard have been dumped. Although a couple of them got what we could generously call “narrative arcs” in Season 2 that felt somewhat conclusive, I still felt that, twenty episodes in, we hadn’t really had much of a chance to get to know most of them. Soji and Elnor, who were both sidelined for practically all of Season 2, had a lot of potential as young, new characters – but that potential was squandered by a production that didn’t seem to know what to do with either of them, and then completely wasted by the decision to cut them both from Season 3.
As I said at the time, if Star Trek is to survive long-term, it will be new characters, not old ones, who will have to pick up the baton and drive the franchise forward. Just as Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D did when The Next Generation premiered, it will fall to new characters in the years ahead to keep Star Trek fresh and relevant. By removing almost all of them from the show in favour of what could turn out to be nothing more than a desperate attempt to play the nostalgia card, I truly fear that Picard’s producers have done serious harm to the Star Trek franchise’s longer-term prospects.
Before Picard Season 1 had premiered back in 2020, I said here on the website that it was my genuine hope that legions of new, younger Star Trek fans would be just as excited in another thirty years’ time to see Star Trek: Elnor or The Dr Jurati Show as I was to see Jean-Luc Picard’s return. That moment felt like it had the potential to be on par with the premiere of The Next Generation – a handing of the torch from one generation of characters to another. But it hasn’t happened, and I feel we’re seeing the Star Trek franchise as a whole struggling with its identity, not really knowing how to move beyond its legacy characters.
There’s no way in which I can fully get on board with Picard Season 3 and the return of The Next Generation characters because of this. Although I’m interested and perhaps even a little optimistic as this new adventure approaches, their return feels tainted because of who had to be unceremoniously kicked off stage in order to make it happen. I think I’d still feel that way even if all of the departing characters had been given enjoyable arcs that felt complete, but when at least two (Soji and Elnor) didn’t even get the barest of goodbyes, and Dr Jurati got more of a “see you later” rather than a definitive ending to her story, this disappointment feels all the more egregious.
That would be bad enough in isolation, but unfortunately it isn’t the first time that Picard has lost a character without giving them a proper send-off – or even a conclusion of any kind to their storyline. Narek simply vanished at the end of Season 1, midway through the second half of the finale, and was never seen nor heard from again. Despite having plenty of time to process the reaction to Season 1 and plan for ways to avoid making the same mistakes, it feels as if the producers and creative team didn’t learn any of the lessons from the rushed and disappointing Season 1 finale.
Narek’s disappearance is a big part of why I don’t have much confidence that Season 3 will do anything at all to tackle some of these unresolved narrative threads. How difficult would it have been for someone in Season 2 to comment on Narek, confirming that he had been incarcerated? It would’ve taken a line or two of dialogue at most – and in a plodding story that really slowed down and dragged in places, it’s not like there wasn’t time to fit it in!
But all of that is looking backwards when we should really be looking ahead. Despite feeling disappointed in cast departures, reminiscing about “what might have been,” and worrying about what it could all mean in the future, I’d be lying if I said that the return of the Enterprise-D’s crew isn’t something that I feel has huge potential to be entertaining and enjoyable. Seeing what these characters could do in a modern television environment that wouldn’t have been possible thirty-five years ago is genuinely appealing, and getting what should feel like a “ten-hour movie” with all of the visual effects and other trappings of a thoroughly modern production is a prospect that I daresay many fans of The Next Generation will be thrilled about.
Star Trek: Picard has already taken us back to some of these characters and showed us how much we’d missed them. I noted in Season 1 that seeing Picard give Data a proper goodbye and laying him to rest was something that I didn’t even know I wanted, but in retrospect I can see how it was a glaring omission from Nemesis. And for all the talk of characters being left in the lurch with incomplete stories and arcs, Nemesis didn’t really provide a conclusive or definitive endpoint for anyone – so this season will be an opportunity to do that; the first such opportunity that these characters have gotten.
When all of this talk about “endings” started coming out, and when executive producer and showrunner Terry Matalas talked about Picard Season 3 as giving the characters the “send-off” that they never got in 2002, I can’t be the only one who started to think about character deaths, can I? We just talked about Picard bringing the crew of The Next Generation into a modern, serialised television framework – and if there’s one thing more than any other that has defined television over the past decade or so it’s main characters being killed, often at shocking moments or in particularly gory ways.
Picard has done this too. Season 1 saw three Star Trek legacy characters killed off: Dr Bruce Maddox, Hugh the Borg, and Icheb. And although Data was already “dead,” that season also saw the last parts of his consciousness shut down as well. Season 2 then saw Q meet his final end… so I don’t think any of the characters feel safe at all as we go into this new story!
And that could be okay. A character death, if handled well, can set up the stakes for a story, or it can even feel right for the character if they’ve gone through a satisfying arc or come to the end of their place in the story. After thirty-five years, 176 episodes of The Next Generation, four films, and further involvement with Star Trek for at least some of these characters, though, it would be a pretty bold decision to kill off even one of them! But it absolutely could be the right thing to do if it fits with the story, accomplishes a narrative goal, and/or brings someone’s decades-long arc to a satisfying end.
There was speculation when Picard premiered in 2020 that the show would end with his death – but having already seen Picard die once (only to be immediately brought back to life thanks to technobabble) he actually feels pretty safe – or at least safer than the others. It would be a strange series indeed that ran to only thirty episodes in total and killed off the same character on two separate occasions!
I’ve criticised Discovery for providing its main and even its secondary characters with some borderline-ridiculous plot armour in certain episodes and sequences, and it’s been to that show’s detriment in some respects that we haven’t seen any main character deaths for two whole seasons at this point. Picard has already demonstrated a willingness to swing the proverbial axe – though the question of who may end up on the executioner’s block is still an open one. It could be no one, of course, but I can’t help but feel that the “end” to these characters’ stories that has been discussed may prove fatal and permanent for at least one of them.
The main villain of the season, Captain Vadic, feels like an interesting new element for the series. In her brief appearance in the trailer, she gives me a “Khan” kind of vibe; the obsessive, maniacal, revenge-obsessed villain archetype that Ricardo Montalbán brought to screen so perfectly in The Wrath of Khan. I don’t want to pin my hopes too much on Vadic being “the new Khan” or anything like that, because that kind of character could easily stray into a one-dimensional villain caricature, but from what we’ve seen so far, there’s potential.
I talked about this back in November, but I’d really love to see some kind of connection to the events of The Next Generation through Vadic. Bringing back the old crew for a wholly new adventure could still be fun, don’t get me wrong, but if it tied into a past Star Trek story in some way, that could be absolutely fantastic. I’ve already come up with a few ideas about how Vadic could be connected to The Next Generation, and who she could bring along for the ride if she puts together a “rogues’ gallery” of Star Trek baddies – and at this stage, none of that seems to have been ruled out!
Given that Picard has introduced new narrative elements for its main storylines so far, I stand by what I said last time we looked at Captain Vadic: if I had to place a bet right now, I’d still have to put my money on her being someone new. That would mean her driving force, the reason for her revenge obsession, is also likely to be new and unconnected to Star Trek’s past, too.
If we assume that Captain Vadic is someone new and her reason for hating Picard and/or the Federation is also new, that leaves open the question of why Picard would choose to reunite his old crew to take her on. Although Captain Rios is gone, he could still have called on Soji, Elnor, Laris, and the Borg-Jurati hybrid to help if he needed it – and I wonder how (and whether) the absences of these characters will be addressed. Could they even have been killed off-screen to both explain away their absences and to give motivation to Picard, Seven, and Raffi?
Away from narrative decisions, on the technical side of things I expect Picard Season 3 to be polished and to look great. The teasers and trailers that we’ve seen so far had no shortage of beautiful starships, vessels which continue the design philosophy of The Next Generation era but move it along into the early 25th Century. We already saw this – a little too briefly, unfortunately – with the USS Stargazer in Season 2, but with a big return to space supposedly on the agenda this time around, there’s scope to finally spend some more time with Starfleet.
Picard Season 1 was probably the low point for modern Star Trek in terms of visual effects. We’ve talked before about the copy-and-paste fleets seen in the season finale, but there was also a CGI sequence copied from Discovery’s second season, a pretty obvious redress of Discovery’s bridge, and more besides. Although none of these moments were atrocious, they didn’t hit the highs that Star Trek can reach in its modern incarnation – and when compared to what the Star Wars franchise and others have been doing, they were downright poor.
But all of that has changed! Not only did Season 2 build whole new sets for the USS Stargazer, including a bridge, ready-room, and hallway, it also showed off a beautiful and diverse Starfleet armada that more than made up for the lacklustre one we saw in Season 1! Just from what we’ve seen so far in the trailers and teasers, I have high hopes for the visual effects that we’ll be able to enjoy in Season 3.
Picard has struggled to get enough diversity in its filming locations, something that was incredibly obvious as Season 1 wore on and took us to places on Earth, including Japan and France, and then half a dozen planets – all of which were filmed in the “thirty-mile zone” around Los Angeles. Season 2, because it stepped back in time to a particular time and place, largely avoided that feeling, but I’m not sure how Season 3 will fare. If more time is going to be spent in space on starships, that’s probably a net positive for the series in more ways than one. Because Picard is filmed in California, the show doesn’t have easy access to Paramount’s AR wall in Toronto, so the choice the producers have is to either build sets on sound stages or film on location in the all-too-familiar California area. I hope they’ve chosen the former!
Nostalgia is a big deal in today’s entertainment landscape, and when done right, a show that harkens back to the past and successfully plucks the right chords can be wonderful. I’m not opposed to any and all forms of nostalgia in entertainment, and despite my disappointment in the casting situation that we discussed above, there’s a big part of me that wants to see the crew of the Enterprise-D back in action. But nostalgia is something that needs to be handled with care. Crucially, it mustn’t be overdone or overplayed.
It’s all too easy for a production to assume that digging up fan-favourite characters or returning to familiar settings will cover up all manner of storytelling sins – but there are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of examples by now that prove that isn’t the case. And there are productions that go completely overboard with attempts to play the nostalgia card, something that can come across as just plain desperate. The Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this in more ways than one in recent years, and it’s a trap that I truly hope Picard Season 3 can avoid.
A story that goes all-in on nostalgia can end up feeling gratuitous or tacked-on; an unnecessary epilogue for characters whose stories were, for better or worse, already over. While it’s true that Nemesis didn’t exactly end in conclusive fashion, that doesn’t absolve Picard Season 3 of responsibility to these characters. Just because their stories didn’t end definitively twenty years ago, that doesn’t give the new season free rein to do anything. What comes now – especially if it’s being designed from the ground up to be a send-off or finale – has to be decent in its own right, not simply “more.”
Unlike in 2020 when Season 1 was approaching, I feel less out-and-out excitement for Star Trek: Picard and more a sense of restricted optimism. I have hope that the new season will look great, that it will be fun to welcome back fan-favourite characters after a twenty-year absence, and that we’ll get at least some enjoyable moments and perhaps a dash of that elusive sense of “Star Trek” that hasn’t always been front-and-centre in the franchise’s modern era. But I also have reservations about a season that may very well race past or just outright ignore key story points that were left on the table last time around.
Maybe I should give up hope of seeing much of anything from Season 1; those stories had the chance to be addressed in some way in Season 2, but it didn’t happen. But things like Season 2’s mysterious anomaly – that felt like an attack on the Federation or Alpha Quadrant – just being ignored as the story rushes to bring back legacy characters and set up a new mystery… I will be disappointed, I fear, if the season ends without so much as mentioning what happened last time.
I’m trying to reconcile my disappointment in the way the new cast was handled with my interest and excitement in seeing old favourites coming back for another adventure, and I’m keenly aware that I need to at least try to judge Season 3 on its own merit – for the story it aims to tell – rather than wondering what might have been or being upset at a situation that I can’t change. That’s a challenge that I will have to face – and if you stick around, you can judge for yourself how well I do when you read my episode reviews!
After two mismanaged, difficult seasons that had some great episodes and moments but ultimately failed to deliver, this is Picard’s last chance. As someone who’s a huge fan of The Next Generation and the other Star Trek shows of that era, it also feels like a last chance for the Star Trek franchise as a whole to demonstrate that there’s potential in this 25th Century setting, and that telling stories that at least tangentially connect with the themes, settings, and characters of Star Trek’s “golden age” is a concept worth pursuing. It’s definitely noteworthy to me that, at time of writing, no new Star Trek projects have been announced, despite several concepts supposedly being worked on behind the scenes. Is Picard Season 3 an opportunity not only for these characters but for this setting and this time period? Will Paramount be watching to see whether there’s still potential here? I can’t help but wonder.
I see genuine potential in the new season’s villain, Captain Vadic. A character who feels as though she’s drawing inspiration from Khan, one of the best villains not only in Star Trek but in all of cinema, could be absolutely delicious to watch, and Amanda Plummer is an actress who has the ability to pull it off. While the story remains shrouded in mystery, the teases and glimpses we’ve seen have been genuinely fascinating to this old Trekkie, and have inspired me to craft a few of my patented (and usually totally wrong) Star Trek theories!
At the end of the day, all any of us really want is for Picard to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to be high art, it doesn’t have to be the best thing Star Trek has ever done… but it does have to keep my attention and interest, not annoy me, and be basically consistent with what the show and the franchise have done before. Everything else is just fluff, and I can overlook retcons, inconsistencies, and everything else as long as the show is basically fun.
And hey, if it doesn’t go well, there’s always Strange New Worlds Season 2 to look forward to!
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 16th of February 2023, and in the United Kingdom and around the world on the 17th of February 2023. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available to stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. Some images used above courtesy of StarTrek.com. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.