Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Season 3, Episode 5: Imposters

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of KhanThe Next GenerationDeep Space Nine, and Voyager.

If last week’s episode had been a bit of a dip in terms of quality, Imposters was a roaring return to form. Picard is really ramping up the dangerous conspiracy angle, and that made Imposters a thrilling ride from start to finish. The intensity of the conspiracy, and the idea of not knowing who to trust, surpassed episodes like Conspiracy, Homefront, and By Inferno’s Light – even as these classics from past iterations of Star Trek clearly served as inspiration.

There were a few imperfections along the way, but generally speaking this was a fantastic outing. The midpoint of the season arrived in style, and while I still have some concerns about key character absences and whether or not the ending of this story will be properly executed, as things stand right now I have to say that Picard Season 3 looks to be in great shape.

The Titan meets the Intrepid.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I felt a degree of concern that Picard might’ve blown its biggest reveal too early – i.e. the involvement of the rogue changelings. This angle, which serves as a kind of epilogue to the Deep Space Nine story, could’ve been fairly static, but the writers have found an incredibly engaging – and downright frightening – new approach to the changeling threat. The revelation this week that changelings are able to mimic humanoid bodies in incredible detail, bypassing all of the “standard” tests that Starfleet developed during the Dominion War, adds an entirely new – and unexpected – dimension to the threat they pose, and that was well-explored this week.

Imposters also brought back the legendary Ro Laren for one final outing, and that was wonderful to see. Due to the confines of the episode, there perhaps wasn’t quite enough time to delve into the intricacies of Ro’s time with the Maquis and what may have happened to her during the Dominion War – which is something I’d have liked to learn more about. But her inclusion in the story was inspired, and the way in which she was used as a senior security officer felt like the perfect career path based on what we saw of Ro in The Next Generation.

Ro Laren made a wonderful return to the Star Trek franchise.

I thoroughly enjoyed the return of the “prodigal crewman” that had been teased in the episode’s blurb. Ro was the perfect character to use here – not just because it suited her storyline from The Next Generation and provided her a redemption – if one were necessary – for her defection, but because of the dynamic between Ro and Picard that was able to be explored.

Picard has to confront the changeling threat – but before we could reach that point, he had to figure out who to trust. And for Ro, who had been working on this problem for months, she also had to test Picard’s loyalty to see if he really was who he said he was. Using their contentious history not only to set up this conflict, but to resolve it as well, is nothing less than masterful writing. The strong, deeply-held, bitter feelings that Picard and Ro had for one another set the stage for their clash – but also proved to both of them that, in spite of the betrayals and hurt feelings, they could trust one another.

Figuring out if they could trust one another was a great storyline for Ro and Picard.

This kind of complex, nuanced, character-heavy storytelling is precisely what I’d been hoping to see more of from Picard. There have been some fantastic moments like this – even in the show’s disappointing second season – but this time, there was just something that elevated the conversations between Picard and Ro. Maybe it’s because this is a conversation that fans have been hoping to see ever since Ro’s final appearance in The Next Generation almost thirty years ago!

There was genuine emotion here, and both Patrick Stewart and Michelle Forbes absolutely excelled. The passage of time had clearly not blunted the impact of Ro’s decision on Picard – nor Picard’s reaction to it on Ro. And the way both actors were able to convey this long-overdue, cathartic release of feelings that they’d both held onto for decades… it was pitch-perfect.

This emotional conversation was decades in the making.

I wouldn’t describe any aspect of Ro’s story as “disappointing” or “underwhelming” in any way, and I want to make that clear. There are, however, absences from it that I think are noticeable, particularly on watching Imposters more than once. We got no interaction between Riker and Ro, and given the occasionally adversarial nature of their relationship in The Next Generation, it might’ve been nice if they could’ve at least said more than a couple of words to each other. Ro also didn’t even get one second of screen time with Dr Crusher.

Secondly, and for me I think more importantly, was the somewhat confused status of the Maquis, Ro’s role in Starfleet, and the lack of any direct reference to events we know took place during the Dominion War. The Deep Space Nine episode Blaze of Glory told us of the destruction of the Maquis at the hands of the Cardassians, and how the semi-independent Maquis worlds had been decimated. This was followed up in the Voyager episodes Hunters and Extreme Risk, in which the Maquis crew members aboard Voyager would learn of and have to come to terms with what happened.

Ro on the holodeck.

In Imposters, this was entirely ignored, and for viewers who only saw The Next Generation – or who don’t recall those episodes – it would seem as if the Maquis were never defeated. Even one comment from Riker about the Maquis no longer being an enemy would seem to hint at that, too. And while it’s possible, I guess, to argue that not all of the Maquis were killed and that the survivors might’ve led a renewed push for independence, it certainly feels, at best, to be contradictory.

And I suppose it isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. For most viewers, I suspect the contradiction passed unnoticed, and as the episode didn’t really deal with the current state of the Maquis, it’s somewhat ambiguous as to what actually happened to the faction and to Ro herself. I freely admit it’s a nitpick to focus on this – but as I’ve said before, too many small points like this risk damaging the overall integrity of the narrative, and if Picard can’t keep up with the internal consistency of the Star Trek franchise, or if there isn’t time to go into more detail on some of these points, then perhaps it’s not the right story to try to tell.

Ro’s defection to the Maquis was a big story point… but the fate of the Maquis was not.

Paramount is clearly squeezing every penny it can out of its investment in the Ten Forward bar set from Season 2… and it’s kind of getting old, to be honest. I already rolled my eyes last week when Guinan’s Bar was the setting for Picard’s conversation with Jack – and his showdown with Shaw – so to drag it up again this week as the setting for the conversation with Ro… I don’t know. Paramount doesn’t have the resources of some other entertainment corporations, so building whole brand-new sets each week for every story is obviously off the table. But the past couple of episodes have really felt like the old “bottle shows,” in a way, and the Ten Forward set just sticks out like a sore thumb.

If we put to one side the specifics of Ro’s reinstatement in Starfleet, why Picard didn’t know it had happened until now, and the defeat or resurrection of the Maquis – all of which would have taken too long to properly explain in a single episode – what we got on screen was fantastic. It was character drama without the “soap-opera” taint; a genuine, two-sided conflict with raw, bitter emotions on full display. And it worked so incredibly well. The scenes between Ro and Picard were riveting.

Picard and Ro in Ten-Forward.

I’ve blown hot and cold about Captain Shaw over the course of my reviews so far, feeling that some elements of his characterisation have worked well… and others have either been a bit flat or, as we saw last week, derivative to the point of being basically plagiarised. The problem I thought seemed obvious a mile away – the pileup of senior officers aboard the Titan tripping over one another – has also been an issue in Shaw’s storyline. But what I loved about him this week was the gleeful way in which he took Picard, Riker, and Seven to task.

As I said in my review of the season premiere: Captain Shaw is right. These people, whom he has his own reasons for disliking and mistrusting, did unlawfully commandeer his ship, placing his crew in incredible danger, and it’s not unfair to say that Picard and Riker treated him with as much disrespect – if not more – as he showed to them, albeit in a more subtle and dare I suggest insidious way. As our hero characters, we understand Picard and Riker’s reasons, and Seven’s reason for giving them her loyalty and support, but at the end of the day, what they did was still problematic.

This scene in the turbolift was hilarious.

There wasn’t any significant follow-up to the revelation that Shaw had been present at the Battle of Wolf-359, and I stand by what I said last time: if the big blow-up in Ten-Forward is all we’re going to get, and that connection isn’t going to matter beyond giving Shaw a bit more justification for being a dick, then I don’t think it passes muster as a story beat. And the lack of any real mention of his bust-up with Picard in Imposters has really just solidified that feeling for me.

But that being said, I enjoyed Captain Shaw’s story this week, and I think even though he is an unpleasant person in more ways than one, it’s possible to empathise with someone who’s forced to work with people he despises, arguably feels out of his depth, and is being swept up in a conspiracy and an adventure that – clearly – he would rather have no part in.

Captain Shaw.

I see Captain Shaw as an officer somewhat akin to Lower Decks’ Captain Freeman. He’s capable, solid, reliable… but unexceptional. He was never going to take command of the flagship and lead Starfleet into battle, but he’s okay with that. He’s settled into his role as the commanding officer of a relatively unimportant starship, and while he may not be the nicest commander to serve with… you get the sense that he runs a tight ship, does things by the book, and wouldn’t be caught dead breaking the Prime Directive or wrangling with alien super-beings.

And it goes without saying that Todd Stashwick has excelled in this role. He brings to life a character who might otherwise feel an unnecessary bump in the road, and ensures that Shaw walks a fine line between being a jerk, but still retaining a degree of sympathy. Captain Shaw has been far more of an interesting and fun inclusion in the series than I’d expected – and much of that is down to a wonderful performance.

I find it hard not to feel for Captain Shaw…

On the other side of the story, Worf and Raffi finally crossed paths with Picard and Riker – albeit right at the tail end of the episode. Their story this week was interesting in some ways, and didn’t quite stick the landing in others. I think we’re skirting the edge of this “chasing down leads” storyline running just a little too long, so I’ll be pleased to see Worf and Raffi finally leaving the criminal underworld of M’Talas Prime behind, hopefully joining the crew of the Titan in the next episode.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a little too jaded when it comes to these kinds of stories, perhaps it’s because I’m a Star Trek superfan, or perhaps the sequence wasn’t especially well-written, but I didn’t find Worf’s fake-out death to be believable. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be, and we were always supposed to know in the backs of our minds that Worf was about to jump up and defeat the goons… but this whole double- and triple-cross story didn’t quite stick the landing for me.

I didn’t find this fake-out death to be especially convincing.

The pairing of Worf with Raffi continues to be of interest, though, and there’s good chemistry between Michael Dorn and Michelle Hurd that makes their bickering believable. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to put Worf and Raffi together – not for quite so long, at any rate – but it’s worked well so far. Again, though, I think we’re probably approaching the limit of how long they could reasonably spend in their own little narrative box off to one side, so it’s probably for the best that this side of the story is wrapping up. I’m quite keen to see Worf getting back together with Picard and the rest of the crew, too.

This calmer presentation of Worf feels like a great progression for his character. Across well over 200 Star Trek appearances, I think we’d probably seen enough of Worf being quick to anger, and this kind of aged wisdom – inspired, perhaps, by the elderly martial arts masters seen in films like Enter the Dragon, Karate Kid… and even Kung Fu Panda – is a great new direction for his character. We still get moments of explosive action, as indeed we saw this week, but they’re tempered by a calmer, more ethereal personality.

Worf has seamlessly stepped into the role of the aged master.

Worf’s meditation also turned out to serve a narrative purpose: by mastering the “Kahless technique” he was able to slow his heart rate, making him appear dead just when the villain’s goons checked his pulse. A clever ruse – if not an original one!

Nevertheless, this story had a degree of tension, and even though I didn’t seriously feel that Worf was in danger of death, there was still the prospect of things going wrong as they tangled with an underworld crime boss. I’m not sure that Imposters had enough time to really do justice to the idea of a Vulcan crime boss – but as a concept it’s a fun one. We’ve seen Vulcans breaking the law in Star Trek many times, not least in Enterprise, so I don’t think it’s in any way incompatible with what we know of them. It’s just something that could’ve been expanded a little, with the character of Krinn given a bit more personality beyond “generic criminal leader.”


Beginning in Season 2, we got to see some wonderful new Starfleet starship designs. Season 3 hasn’t had much time so far to show off new vessels, and the ones we’ve spent the most time with have been the Titan and the Shrike. So it was neat to see the USS Intrepid this week – another ship that feels like an evolution of the design philosophy of the late 24th Century. I liked the idea of having its drive section “backwards,” with the neck set way back behind the deflector dish.

The Intrepid also managed to convey an imposing sensation, almost from the very first moment that it appeared on screen. We could tell that this ship is more powerful than the Titan, and in that sense I felt echoes of Into Darkness, where the USS Vengeance clearly outgunned the Enterprise. The sequence where the damaged Intrepid seemed to rise up to draw level with the Titan was fantastic, and again managed to communicate a sense of imminent danger from the significantly more powerful vessel. The animation work here was again outstanding, and both ships seemed to come alive.

This was such a great moment.

We didn’t see Vadic this week, and again I find myself saying that this is a character we still don’t know very well. If we’re to get invested in her as a villain, and are to be able to revel in her defeat and comeuppance when the moment arrives, we need to start spending more time with her. There’s a reason why her defeat at the hands of Riker’s asteroid manoeuvre in No Win Scenario didn’t really stick the landing: we don’t have any reason to care about Vadic yet. A villain as over-the-top as she is needs some kind of explanation, and her role in this conspiracy is still unclear.

Last week, I said that I thought it was fascinating that Vadic isn’t a changeling – but I seem to be the only person who interpreted her that way, at least based on what I’ve seen online. To me, it looked as if Vadic was removing a changeling from her body, and may be a humanoid who has a kind of symbiotic relationship with them. She’s clearly taking orders from them. Her crew may be changelings – some of them, anyway – based on the clicking language we heard the two changeling infiltrators make this week. But Vadic herself? I’m still not convinced that there isn’t more to be revealed about her – including some kind of connection to Picard.

What is the nature of Vadic’s relationship with this changeling?

For now, I guess it’s sufficient to say that my theory about Vadic not being a changeling remains on the table, and I’m not entirely sure where the story will take her. Sure, she could just be another changeling – the second-in-command of the conspiracy, perhaps. But there’s something about her scarred face, her fearful tone when speaking with Floaty McFloatface, and her generally eccentric demeanour that makes me question all of that. But we’ll be able to talk more about Vadic when she eventually returns to the story. Which I hope will be soon!

Speaking of absent characters, it hasn’t escaped my notice that we’re now at the halfway point and there’s still no sign of Geordi or Lore, and that we’ve only had the barest of cameos from Troi. The promised reunion now only has five episodes in which to make an impact, and while I’ve enjoyed the interplay between Riker and Picard, Picard and Crusher, and even seeing Worf with Raffi… it’s past time for at least Geordi and Troi to show up.

Dr Crusher and the Titan’s doctor performed an autopsy on the dead changeling.

Picard hasn’t been shy about leaving a body count in its wake. In Season 1 we bade farewell to Icheb, Bruce Maddox, Hugh the Borg, Data’s consciousness, and even Picard’s original body if you want to get technical about it! Season 2 killed off Q. And now in Season 3 we’ve seen the final sacrifice of Ro Laren – completing one of Star Trek’s most interesting character arcs.

When Ro first appeared in Ensign Ro during the fifth season of The Next Generation, she was the first recurring character on the show who really stood apart from everyone else. The Original Series and The Next Generation had friendly banter between characters and even rivalries, but Ro was the first character who seemed not to fit in with her crewmates. It took a lot of work on both sides for her to find her place aboard the Enterprise-D – only to end up defecting to the Maquis.

We said goodbye to Ro Laren in Imposters.

Coming back from that defection to go out in a blaze of glory, giving Picard a fighting chance to get ahead of the conspirators, feels like a worthy end for such an interesting character. It’s absolutely a sad turn of events – and I’d have been happy to consider a character like Ro for any potential 25th Century spin-off series! But in terms of this story, it worked exceptionally well and didn’t feel in any way gratuitous. If anything, it raised the stakes for Picard and the crew of the Titan.

A well-timed character death can do this – and the fact that the story has now killed off a returning character from The Next Generation has really succeeded at communicating just how dangerous this conspiracy is. As I said before the season began: I’m not certain that all of our heroes will make it to the end unscathed. Whether Ro’s death will be the only one or just the first… who can say?

Will there be more deaths to come?

Part of the reason this review has taken me so long to write is because of Jack Crusher’s storyline. This week, the story ramped up his hallucinations and his potential connection to Vadic and/or the changelings, which is absolutely a fascinating development. But for me… this kind of story is uncomfortable.

Unlike in Seasons 1 and 2 (and in Discovery and other parts of the Star Trek franchise, too) this mental health-adjacent story doesn’t feel poorly done or tokenistic right now. But to be blunt, it’s uncomfortably close to my own personal experiences as someone who’s been diagnosed with mental health issues and spent time in hospital. It took me a long time to come to terms with precisely the kinds of frightening things that Jack Crusher is experiencing in Picard… and the truth is that I don’t really know how to process these scenes now that they’ve appeared in the show.

Jack Crusher.

As much as I’ve just gushed about how incredible this episode was and how engaging the main story about a changeling conspiracy is… Jack’s storyline is a difficult watch for me personally, dragging up some very difficult experiences and memories – things that, to put it bluntly, I spend most of my time trying not to think about.

This is not a criticism of this aspect of the story, not by any means. In fact, in a strange way it’s kind of a compliment to both actor Ed Speleers and the show’s writing team; that these hallucinatory experiences should be so realistic, and conveyed in such a relatable way that they’re felt viscerally by someone who has had those kinds of experiences… for perhaps the first time, I find myself able to compliment the Star Trek franchise for a realistic, understandable, and sensitive presentation of a complex mental health symptom.

But that doesn’t make these moments any easier to watch, and simply processing recent episodes of Picard hasn’t been easy for me.

This mysterious door is part of Jack’s vision/hallucination.

I’m going to set this aspect of Jack’s story down at this point. Obviously what he’s going through is connected, somehow, to the changelings, Vadic, and the conspiracy; the show clearly isn’t going to turn around and say that none of that is related and Jack’s schizophrenic. But I’m finding it hard to go back to those scenes, to process that side of the story, and I don’t really know what else to say about it at this juncture. If and when that changes, I’ll talk about Jack in more detail.

Perhaps when the season is over and I’ve had some more time to think and to process what unfolded, I’ll write about Jack’s story and how it relates to my own experience in more depth. So… stay tuned, I guess. Hopefully this storyline won’t just fizzle out and will come to a suitable end.

Dr Crusher with her son.

One part of Jack’s storyline that has me a little concerned is his potential tie to the changelings. Having set up Jack as the son of Dr Crusher and Picard, it would not be my preference for a twist in the story to rip that away. For Jack to turn out to be a changeling, or for his “real” parents to be someone else… I don’t think that would work. It would risk undermining not only Jack’s story, but Picard’s and elements of Riker’s, too.

Such a storyline would also be incredibly derivative, as it would basically be a play-for-play repeat of The Next Generation Season 7 episode Bloodlines, in which Picard’s old enemy DaiMon Bok fabricated evidence that Picard had a son as part of a revenge plot. In short, Jack’s storyline has to square this circle without undoing or overwriting some of the powerful and engaging emotional moments that we’ve seen in the season so far. If we get to the end of the story and Jack is revealed as a changeling imposter, meaning Picard never had a son, then that’s going to make some of these scenes between him and Picard feel very different – and I would argue far less meaningful – in retrospect.

I hope Jack’s storyline will have a solid ending.

So I think that’s more or less all I have to say about Imposters.

It was a fun episode, a thoroughly enjoyable ride with plenty of tension, excitement, drama, and mystery. Picard Season 3 seems to be in a good place as we reach the halfway point, and I was thrilled to welcome back Michelle Forbes for one final outing as Ro Laren.

With Picard and the Titan now on the run, I think there’s potential for even more exciting and explosive storylines. What I’m most looking forward to, though, is finally seeing the remaining members of the Enterprise-D’s crew joining the story. This promised reunion only has five episodes left to really make an impact – and I guess my concern is that we may look back on episodes like Imposters less kindly in retrospect if we don’t get to spend enough time with all of these returning characters.

A few scattered final thoughts:

  • Dr Crusher once again felt under-used, and I’d have wanted to spend a bit more time with her.
  • We never really got to see The Next Generation crew during the Dominion War – so it’s fun to see Picard and co. facing off against changelings.
  • Is Ro going to be the only surprise character – or could someone else appear before the end of the season?
  • Terry Matalas has now brought back practically all of the main cast members from Twelve Monkeys – a series he worked on from 2015-18.
  • What was going on with Ro’s hair (or wig?) It didn’t look great…
  • Starfleet’s new phaser pistols remind me a lot of TNG-era Romulan disruptors.

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.

Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Season 3, Episode 4: No Win Scenario

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

The title of this week’s episode annoyed me! A “no-win scenario” should be written thus, with a hyphen, but Paramount opted not to abide by that particular rule of grammar. Still, I suppose I’m not one to talk!

After Seventeen Seconds had been fantastic across the board last week, I felt the quality dip slightly this time as No Win Scenario couldn’t quite reach that same level. There were a couple of moments where the conversations characters had felt like they were taken from a soap-opera, an incredibly rushed rationalisation for what was going on, and a big, explosive moment as the episode reached its climax that, for reasons we’ll get into, didn’t quite have the impact it was going for.

Picard exits the holodeck.

After last week’s episode ended with Picard and Riker experiencing a major falling-out, I was expecting that No Win Scenario would find a way to bring them back together. However, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly, nor for the conflict to just… fizzle out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always going to be happier to see Picard and Riker on friendly terms and working in common cause, but after such a spectacular blow-up last week that saw Picard banished from the bridge… I expected some kind of apology-come-resolution to settle this argument. No Win Scenario didn’t really deliver that, at least not in a meaningful way, and this aspect of the story – which had been a major part of last week’s episode and its cliffhanger ending – felt unsatisfying.

As happened more than once in Season 2, I felt that No Win Scenario was in a rush to bring this cliffhanger to a resolution so that there’d be enough time left to crack on with the rest of the story. While it’s possible that there will be ramifications for Picard and Riker if things settle down aboard the Titan, and we could re-visit this character conflict in a future episode to get a more conclusive ending, based on what we saw in No Win Scenario I was left feeling a bit empty; something significant was missing from the way this conflict wrapped up.

Picard and Riker’s argument seemed to fizzle out.

That last sentence also applies to my feelings on the conflict with Captain Vadic, and although the fight between the Titan and the Shrike came at the tail end of the episode, we’ll jump ahead to look at that next.

The use of an asteroid as a weapon was visually spectacular and just plain cool, with the animation work used to bring it to life being absolutely outstanding. There was a kind of poetic symmetry to Riker using the tractor-beam as a weapon after Vadic had done the same in Disengage a couple of weeks ago.

The Shrike was heavily damaged by Riker’s asteroid attack.

But here’s the problem that I have with the way this conflict came across: we still don’t know Vadic. We want to see her stopped and we don’t want her to succeed – but that’s only because we don’t want to see Jack Crusher or our other heroes harmed or captured. At this point in the story, Vadic is no-one… we don’t know who she is, what she wants, what her connection is to the rogue changelings and their scheme, or really anything else about her. She’s an over-the-top villain, almost a caricature of someone like Khan… and seeing her defeated just didn’t feel like it had any significance except insofar as it allowed the Titan to escape.

Think about some of the best, nastiest Star Trek villains from the franchise’s past. By the time the Battle of the Mutara Nebula ended in The Wrath of Khan, we didn’t just want Kirk to win – we wanted Khan to lose. Likewise for villains like Sela, Gul Dukat, or the Kelvin timeline’s Admiral Marcus – their stories were written in such a way that we wanted to see them beaten, defeated, and left for dead. I don’t feel any of that toward Vadic right now, and the reason is simple: I don’t know who she is or what she wants. She’s a speedbump; an obstacle for our heroes to overcome. I want to see her stopped, but only by default.

Picard Season 3 hasn’t earned a moment like this yet.

No Win Scenario set up the Shrike’s return and had the ship standing in the Titan’s way as Riker and Picard tried to guide the ship to safety. And this moment felt tense and exciting, with a genuine threat to our heroes. Jack in particular seemed to be in danger; with no shields to speak of, he could have been beamed away by Vadic, perhaps.

But in terms of Vadic herself… her defeat on this occasion felt unimportant and unearned. Sure, the Titan needed to get the Shrike out of the way to make an escape. But beyond that, seeing Vadic and her crew scrambling around on their damaged vessel just didn’t make much of an impression. Earlier in the episode we started the process of unravelling the Vadic mystery… but we haven’t made enough progress on that front for her to feel like a fully-rounded, fleshed-out character just yet. Unless and until that happens, these moments will continue to fall flat.

The Titan launches an asteroid at the Shrike.

A villain created to be as over-the-top as Vadic is supposed to be someone we can “love to hate.” And I’m hopeful that that feeling will come in the episodes ahead; we aren’t yet at the halfway point. But at this point in the story, Vadic isn’t someone I love to hate. In fact, she isn’t someone I “hate” at all, she’s someone who I don’t yet understand.

Had this moment with the Shrike and the asteroid come later, after we’d learned more about Vadic and what this conspiracy is that Picard and the crew will need to stop, then maybe her defeat in the moment would feel more significant and more impactful. At this point in the story, though, it didn’t. We’ll see more of Vadic, of this I’m sure, but there’s also a risk in defeating a villain at an early stage. The Shrike was incredibly intimidating at first… but we’ve already seen that it can be defeated. That could potentially lower the stakes and reduce the tension when we inevitably encounter Vadic further down the road.

We’ve already seen how Vadic can be beaten. Will that make the next encounter feel less tense?

With all that being said, there was a very interesting aspect to Vadic’s story this week. We knew, thanks to the presence of a changeling infiltrator aboard the Titan, that Vadic had some kind of relationship with the rogue changelings that Worf and Raffi uncovered in last week’s episode. I wasn’t alone in having speculated that Vadic might be a changeling herself – but it seems that isn’t the case. Maybe she truly is the bounty hunter she claimed to be – but there’s a close working relationship with at least one changeling that will be fascinating to see unfold.

As a concept, the idea of a changeling forming a body part is something that Star Trek has never really explored before – perhaps it was too gory for television networks in the ’60s or the ’90s to consider! But the idea that Vadic may have a kind of symbiotic relationship with a changeling is an interesting one, and if we learn, perhaps, that Vadic has had a hand amputated due to a wartime injury or a horrible accident, there’s a chance for such a story point to lead to some of that understanding that’s currently absent from her characterisation.

Vadic has a changeling-hand.

Another interesting aspect of the conversation Vadic had with the changeling was how fearful she seemed to be. In her first appearance in Disengage – her most significant thus far – Vadic had a kind of chaotic energy; a bizarre, unsettling, almost carefree approach. She knew that she was in a dominant position thanks to the power of her ship, but she revelled in the chase and in hunting her prey.

Contrast how she spoke to the crew of the Titan a couple of weeks ago with how she spoke to her changeling attaché in No Win Scenario – and particularly how fearful she seemed and how quick she was to acquiesce when pushed. The changeling clearly has some degree of leverage over Vadic here; there’s a power imbalance. But what could it be? For the second time, I find myself saying that “money” will not be anywhere close to a satisfactory explanation!

Vadic’s boss. I vote that we name him “Floaty McFloatface.”

Villains don’t need to be sympathetic. We just talked about examples of wonderful villains in Star Trek who were nasty pieces of work through-and-through. I don’t need to feel that a villain has a good point in order to understand them. But a villain needs motivation, and right now, Vadic’s true motives are obscured through a thick narrative fog. If a suitable ending to her story has been planned, written, and properly executed, then there’s no need to worry. In time we’ll come to understand what Vadic wants and be able to enjoy her comeuppance when she doesn’t get it.

But I’m afraid that Picard’s track record in these areas is once again ringing alarm bells. Season 1 came totally unstuck because it ran out of road and an acceptable ending couldn’t be constructed in the remaining time allotted to the show. Season 2 had a plethora of issues, but the same problem of a rushed, unsatisfying ending that didn’t have time to tie up enough loose ends was repeated. And Season 2 had the same creative team and showrunner as Season 3. So as we approach the midpoint of the season, I look upon Vadic’s story in particular with more than a little concern. There’s no small amount of work to do to give this character a genuine reason for behaving the way she does while also pulling out a creditable ending.

Why do Vadic do what Vadic do?

That’s enough about Vadic for now. Another character who caused me mixed feelings in No Win Scenario was Captain Shaw – and there are several parts to his story. Some worked better than others, and I’ll start by saying that Shaw is a more interesting and nuanced character than I’d been expecting. There’s also an inspired performance from Todd Stashwick, who really seems to be putting his all into the standoffish Starfleet captain.

You know there’s a “but” coming, though.

But unfortunately, Shaw’s story in No Win Scenario was muddled in more ways than one. First of all, we have the problem I could see coming a mile away: there are too many captains aboard the Titan. Shaw’s injury in Seventeen Seconds was a convenient excuse to bump Riker into the captain’s chair – but that was always implied to be a very temporary move. Shaw’s recovery should have seen him reclaim the chair – especially given his obvious dislike of Riker and Picard. A convoluted story beat involving Shaw being literally the only officer on the Titan capable of performing a technobabble engineering task may have gone some way to excusing his absence on the bridge… but by the end of the episode I fully expected him to come bursting out of the turbolift to reclaim his ship.

Captain Shaw.

We’ve seen other Star Trek stories where more than one character holding the rank of captain was present on the same ship, and that doesn’t have to be an issue in and of itself. In The Wrath of Khan, for instance, we had Admiral Kirk and Captain Spock aboard the Enterprise, and by the time of The Undiscovered Country Sulu had also been promoted and was in command of his own ship. But in this particular story, the way Shaw is written and the uncertain nature of both Riker and Picard’s status as Starfleet or ex-Starfleet or semi-retired officers just makes it feel unnecessarily complicated.

If the reason for Shaw sticking around was to have a big blow-up with Picard about the Battle of Wolf-359 and Picard’s assimilation… then I’m afraid it didn’t stick the landing and wasn’t worth the fuss. This was supposed to be one of the emotional punches of No Win Scenario, and a sequence that explained much of Captain Shaw’s hostility since Picard first came aboard the ship. But I didn’t feel there was sufficient buildup to Shaw’s outburst, which left the resulting scene feeling like it came from nowhere – and with character drama that could rival any soap-opera.

Shaw hated Picard for his role in the Battle of Wolf-359.

In principle, this is a clever idea. It forces Picard to confront a part of his past that he’s still uncomfortable with, and he has to do it in front of Jack at a time when the two are just beginning to get to know one another. But the execution here wasn’t great, nor was the shoehorning in of the Guinan’s Bar set that Paramount seems to insist on re-using as often as possible.

A captain who hates Picard because of what happened at Wolf-359? Why does that sound familiar? Oh, right: it’s because this was also the setup for Benjamin Sisko at the beginning of Deep Space Nine more than thirty years ago. In short, we’ve seen this argument before. There are differences between Shaw and Sisko, of course; Sisko’s anger was more of a slow-burning thing, whereas Shaw’s was a rapid explosion – perhaps influenced by the pain medication he claimed to be taking. But while those differences keep the two sequences and two characters feeling distinct, the underlying premise is so similar as to feel incredibly familiar to any long-standing Star Trek fan.

We’ve been here before…

Picard’s third season promised to draw on the legacy of Deep Space Nine in a way that modern Star Trek hasn’t so far – and by introducing a rogue faction of changelings that Odo warned Worf about, the writers have created a truly engaging epilogue to the Deep Space Nine story. But Shaw’s background being nigh-on identical to Sisko’s feels like it crosses the line from homage into plagiarism, and while it gives us a reason to feel more sympathy for Shaw, or at least to understand him better, it also feels like a pretty cheap recycling of such an important story beat.

With no Borg presence readily apparent in the story of the season (though that could admittedly change), I’m also a little confused as to why the story keeps returning to Picard’s Borg past. We had multiple references to The Best of Both Worlds in the season premiere, and now we have this big reveal that Shaw was present at the Battle of Wolf-359 too… but at this point, which again is nearly halfway through the season, these references don’t seem to be going anywhere.

The Enterprise-D flies past wrecked ships after the Battle of Wolf-359.

In Seasons 1 and 2, Picard’s Borg connection – and the trauma it brought him – were big plot points. We had his first visit to a Borg cube in the Season 1 episode The Impossible Box, which contained a truly excellent sequence looking at Picard’s post-traumatic stress and how being back in that environment was a trigger. And in Season 2, we saw how Picard had grown in regard to the Borg, being willing to at least listen to a Borg proposal – something that later set the stage for Seven of Nine’s character arc, learning to accept the Borg side of herself.

In both cases, though, the Borg connection to current events was readily apparent. We had the Artifact in Season 1, which showed up in pre-season marketing before appearing in either the first or second episode of the season (I forget which exactly). And in Season 2, the very first episode re-introduced the Borg in truly spectacular fashion. Both stories set up their Borg elements early on, meaning that their subsequent Borg connections worked and felt meaningful. That sense just isn’t present here.

Picard confronted his Borg demons in Season 1.

Narratively, I don’t see what we gain by Shaw bringing up Picard’s Borg past, either. As mentioned, Picard has basically come to terms with what his assimilation experience means by this point – from The Next Generation episode Family, the Deep Space Nine premiere, the film First Contact, and episodes in Picard Seasons 1 and 2, we’ve seen him process different parts of this experience. I’m struggling to see what – if anything – has been gained or could be gained in future, in a story all about Jean-Luc Picard, by re-hashing this aspect of his life – especially by re-doing a storyline that we’ve already seen play out.

For Captain Shaw, of course, his outburst was almost certainly a cathartic release; the outpouring of emotions bottled up for more than three decades. But – and I don’t mean this unkindly – I don’t really care about Shaw at this stage. He’s a new character, someone who’s only been on screen for a few minutes in total until now, and while this revelation certainly tells us something in a strictly factual sense about his background, I’m just not feeling its necessity… not to this story, at any rate. With Sisko, who was about to take centre-stage in his own series, it made sense to detail this defining incident in his life to set up where he was going to go over the course of Deep Space Nine’s run. For Shaw, who may or may not have much of a role to play over the remaining six episodes of Picard… again, I just don’t see why it was necessary to take this diversion.

Captain Shaw told his story to Picard and Jack.

I said a couple of weeks ago that I understood why Captain Shaw had been basically subbed in for Chris Rios – the character from Seasons 1 and 2 who had been dumped by the series. But if this connection to The Best of Both Worlds and the grumpy, standoffish persona is the only real reason why Captain Shaw exists… then I think I’d rather have had Rios in the captain’s chair this time around. Creating a brand-new character only to essentially re-do part of the plot of Deep Space Nine’s Emissary just doesn’t feel substantial or satisfying. But perhaps I’m biased in the sense that I felt Rios was treated incredibly poorly by the writers for much of last season!

It’s also worth saying that Shaw may yet have more to contribute. I don’t hate him by any means, and I think he has potential in some ways to be an interesting character, and as someone who isn’t a natural friend to Picard, he introduces a bit of drama and conflict into the story that wouldn’t necessarily be present otherwise. What I am saying, though, is that if this is Shaw’s only big moment – his main contribution to the season’s story – then I’m underwhelmed.

Captain Shaw: grease monkey.

One thing that I absolutely adored about No Win Scenario was the alien-nursery anomaly that the Titan found itself trapped inside of. Nothing could feel more “Star Trek” than seeing a spacefaring lifeform give birth, and it harkened back to the events of the very first episode of The Next Generation – as the characters themselves noted in the episode.

The life-forms that were born as the nursery-nebula erupted were beautiful, too, and the CGI artists and animators deserve so much praise for bringing these creatures to life in such spectacular fashion. The whole idea from concept to execution felt like it had been lifted from a classic episode of The Original Series or The Next Generation, with the threat of Vadic fading into the background and a scientific mystery for Picard, Riker, and the Crushers to unravel.

The Titan surrounded by spacefaring life-forms.

However, there was one aspect of this story that didn’t work particularly well, and because of who it involves it feels like quite a disappointment. In The Next Generation, Dr Crusher didn’t always get enough screen time or a lot to do; her scenes were mainly in sickbay, so in episodes with no medical element, she wasn’t always able to make much of a contribution to the story. Her return in Picard – and particularly having been outside of Starfleet for twenty years, operating independently – is an opportunity to right a thirty-five-year-old wrong, and show Dr Crusher in somewhat of a new light. We saw the beginnings of that in the season premiere as she grabbed a phaser rifle to defend her ship… but this week felt like a regression to the way she’d been treated in The Next Generation – and I don’t mean that in any sense as a compliment.

No Win Scenario had its attention on several storylines at once. There was the Picard-Riker spat, the Picard-Shaw confrontation, Picard’s attempt to get to know Jack, and off to one side was Seven of Nine as she hunted a rogue changeling. Even with a fifty-five minute runtime, Dr Crusher once again felt sidelined.

Dr Crusher didn’t get as much screen time as I’d have liked to see.

This mattered not only because, well, I wanted and still want to see more of Dr Crusher, but because her condensed storyline ended up feeling like it skipped a beat… or more like a dozen beats. Dr Crusher seemed to take a completely irrational leap of logic from “these energy pulses are increasing in frequency” to “the nebula must be a womb,” and it happened in a matter of seconds. In The Next Generation era, this kind of storyline would have played out at least slightly slower, and would have been in focus for longer. Dr Crusher would still have arrived at the same end point, but it seemed like one heck of a contrivance for her to figure out exactly what was going on based on a single piece of evidence and a very shaky hypothesis that she concocted in a matter of seconds.

We’re seeing the consequence of a busy season here. Not only were Worf and Raffi entirely absent this week, but there’s still no sign of Geordi or Lore, and of the characters who were present, not all of them got enough time to shine. We had some fantastic moments with Riker, Picard, Jack, and even Seven and Captain Shaw… but Dr Crusher appears to have drawn the short straw. And not for the first time.

Dr Crusher seemed to figure out what was happening unrealistically quickly.

Last week, I said in my review that I was beginning to feel concerned that Geordi and Troi hadn’t shown up yet, and that Worf and Raffi were off to one side in their own little narrative box, unable to interact with the rest of the cast of characters – and this week’s episode has really ramped that up. I’m less worried about Lore, partly I have to say because I’ve never been a huge Lore fan, but also because Brent Spiner has already been a big part of Picard in its first two seasons. But I have been genuinely excited to welcome back Geordi, and to see Worf getting back together with his old crew.

With Dr Crusher having parts of her story cut this week – or, perhaps more likely, not written in the first place – I feel even more concern for this supposed reunion. Even if Geordi, Troi, and Lore join the story next week, and Worf and Raffi’s storyline finally crosses over with the Titan’s, we’ll still have spent basically half the season without them. And based on what we saw with Dr Crusher this week… I’m not convinced that the writers will have given everyone enough to do.

We still haven’t seen Geordi and Lore, nor had more than a cameo from Troi.

In these truncated ten-episode seasons that have become commonplace not only in Star Trek, but in modern streaming series in general, there’s such a thing as too many characters and too many storylines. That’s part of the reason why, despite my objections, the likes of Soji and Elnor were dropped and didn’t come back this time around: there simply wasn’t space for them in an already-crowded series.

But having promised us a reunion, and talked about how characters who didn’t always get enough to do in The Next Generation might finally have an opportunity to contribute… Season 3 hasn’t yet delivered. Those ideas remain incredibly appealing, but it’s at the very least worth noting that we’re 40% of the way through and they haven’t happened yet. Not only that, but at points where characters could have been used and where this feeling could have materialised – as with Dr Crusher this week – it didn’t work as well as it should’ve.

Dr Crusher with Jack and Picard.

After we saw how Captain Shaw was unkind to and even deadnaming Seven of Nine, it was nice to see them working together and developing their very own kind of begrudging rapport. We haven’t really seen in Star Trek this kind of adversarial dynamic between captain and XO, with such unpleasantness and genuine dislike between them, at least not outside of a handful of one-off guest characters like Jellico. So it’s an interesting element to add to the story – and one that did manage to get a cathartic payoff as No Win Scenario reached its climax.

There was also a reason, of a sort, for the deadnaming, which had been an uncomfortable element earlier in the season. I stand by what I said, though: this kind of deadnaming should be socially unacceptable in Star Trek’s optimistic future, and while it served a narrative function in more ways than one, it’s still deeply uncomfortable in terms of what it says about the state of the Federation and the Star Trek galaxy.

The deadnaming of Seven of Nine got a narrative payoff… but still feels uncomfortable.

But the deadnaming of Seven of Nine provided a satisfying end to the changeling infiltration storyline – one which, again, succeeded at recapturing that elusive sense of “Star Trek.” Seven was able to figure out who the changeling was posing as, partly by working with Riker and partly because she’d developed friendships with other members of the crew – in this case, Ensign La Forge.

One contrivance here that I guess we’ll have to overlook is the changeling’s objective. If they wanted to ensure Jack Crusher’s capture – as Vadic’s changeling “boss” seemed to suggest is their main mission – then why on earth would the changeling wish to sabotage the Titan’s escape from certain death in the gravity well of a nebula? I could believe that they would place the success of their mission ahead of their own survival, but in terms of what we know about the changelings’ objective at this stage, if capturing Jack is priority #1, then the infiltrator shouldn’t have been trying to sabotage the Titan’s escape. We learned this week that Vadic only broke off her pursuit last time because she feared for the safety of her ship, not because killing Jack or trapping the Titan were important objectives, so again: the changeling infiltrator’s motives don’t really make a lot of sense here.

Why would the changeling try to prevent the Titan’s escape if doing so meant their own death and the death of Jack Crusher?

I can overlook this point, as in the context of the story it isn’t massive and is basically a glorified nitpick, but I think it’s worth taking note of these things as they arise. One or two contrivances here and there are almost inevitable – but too many risks damaging the overall integrity of the narrative, so keeping it to a minimum is essential in order to maintain suspension of disbelief.

The way in which the story as a whole was set up this week was again something that harkened back to The Next Generation and even The Original Series – the ship being adrift, trapped by an unknown space phenomenon, with time running out. Those are Star Trek tropes as old as the franchise itself! But the way in which No Win Scenario put a twist on them was unique – and very dark.

The Titan “sinking” into the nebula.

Instead of this story immediately leading to the crew springing into action and preparing their escape, there was a defeatist tone from the very first scene of the episode. Riker in particular was very bleak in the first half of the episode, sinking into dejection and depression as he couldn’t figure out a way to save the ship and crew.

This spin on a classic formula was incredibly well handled, and in many ways feels a lot more realistic than any episodes in those earlier Star Trek series. One thing that Star Trek hasn’t always managed to convey is just how deadly and dangerous space can be – and we saw firsthand this week that it’s possible for even an advanced Federation starship to find itself in an impossible situation. Past Star Trek stories succeeded at conveying a sense of danger, but there was always a positive, optimistic approach – never the kind of “lay down and wait to die” mentality that seemed pervasive on the Titan in parts of No Win Scenario. Yet it makes perfect sense that some people would react that way – and it perfectly fits the darker tone that Picard has when compared to The Next Generation.

Riker was one of the defeatists earlier in the episode.

We talked a little about how Picard has arguably already overcome much of his Borg-related trauma, or at least how we’ve seen him engaged in that process in both Picard and earlier Star Trek productions. One thing that we haven’t always seen is Picard asking for help, reaching out to someone else and saying that he needs them – but we got that through his scenes with Jack this week.

When facing what seemed to be imminent death, Picard asked Jack to spend some time with him, and as they talked, it became clear that Picard wasn’t doing it for Jack’s sake – but for his own. To hear him articulate that was deeply emotional, and both Sir Patrick Stewart and Ed Speleers excelled in that moment. This was, from their point of view, perhaps the only opportunity they were going to get to have this conversation – or any conversation, for that matter – and it was important for Picard to at least ask some of those questions of Jack, and to try to reach out to him.

Jack agreed to share a drink with Picard.

Picard had indicated earlier, I think in last week’s episode, that he felt the bridges between himself and Jack had long ago been burned, but it was great to see Riker encouraging him – albeit with the threat of death spurring them on – to give it a try. As his life seemed to be ending, Picard hoped to spend a moment or two with the son he never knew, and there’s something touching about that. Likewise, for Jack to reciprocate that, even if it was only for a moment, was something very sweet.

Male relationships – and the relationships men have with their fathers – can be difficult, and are often defined by a lack of emotion or warmth. Although I now identify as non-binary, I was assigned male at birth, and I can say from my own experience that my relationship with my father has never been warm, emotional, or loving. My father and I can make small-talk, sure, but he would never have a heart-to-heart with me about, well, anything… and the best I can hope for from him has always been a firm handshake.

Daddy issues…

What I’m trying to say is that, for many men, there may be something cathartic about a scene like the one between Picard and Jack. A father and son having a genuine and deeply emotional conversation is something that a lot of folks frankly just don’t get in their personal lives, and even though Picard’s relationship with Jack is new – and pretty complicated – there’s still something about it that brings almost a sense of emotional release.

Jean-Luc Picard is, for many of us, a kind of “space dad;” a character we’ve known for decades and who has often, through his position in the captain’s chair, felt like the patriarch of a family. I often wished I could be a part of that family when I watched The Next Generation in the early ’90s. So to see this conversation between Jack and Picard… I felt a very strong connection with Jack in those moments.

Jack felt very relatable this week.

I won’t lie, though, it still gave me a bit of a giggle to see Picard asking Jack whether he was 23 or 24. I don’t like to keep bringing this up (the show rather forces it upon us) but actor Ed Speleers, who plays Jack, simply does not pass for someone in his early twenties any more. It’s perhaps not quite as bad as some of those “teen” dramedies from the ’70s or ’80s in which actors in their thirties and sometimes even forties were trying – and utterly failing – to play teenagers… but it’s not far off. It’s no slight against the actor – I’m sure I couldn’t pass for thirty any more, let alone twenty… but I know my limitations so I wouldn’t try!

Picard clearly offended Jack several years earlier, as we saw in that flashback scene. One thing about that bugged me a little, and that’s how it seems to conflict with Picard’s status as a “hermit” in that period. Having retired and left Starfleet behind, it just strikes me as odd that he’d go halfway across the world to eat lunch at an establishment that he must’ve known would be frequented by Starfleet cadets and personnel.

Jack in the flashback scene.

But Picard’s sentiment that he considered Starfleet his “real” family obviously stung Jack, who was potentially considering reaching out to his father in that moment. I couldn’t tell, as the episode came to an end, whether Picard was finally realising that he’d seen Jack before… or whether that moment really is just something he doesn’t recall. Either way, I’m sure it’ll come up in a future episode as a sore spot; based on what Jack said in Disengage, he clearly carries some degree of resentment toward Picard – and that moment may be the crux of it.

So that only really leaves us with Riker, who, as mentioned, seemed to fall into a pretty deep depression this week. The story of the last two episodes has wanted to contrast Picard with Riker, first in their differing approaches to battling the Shrike and then this week as they tried to wrangle with the difficult situation the Titan found itself in. Taking the loss of Riker’s son – something we first learned about back in Season 1 – as a starting point, I think No Win Scenario built up a genuinely engaging new chapter for Riker’s story.

Riker’s story felt important and meaningful.

One of the challenges that a series like Picard faces comes from legacy characters. How can someone like Riker get an epilogue that’s both worth exploring in a narrative sense and that takes him to new thematic places without shaking him up so much that he doesn’t feel like the same person any more? The way in which Riker’s story unfolded over the past few weeks has actually mirrored Picard’s – especially from the show’s first season.

Picard faced defeat when Starfleet shut down his Romulan rescue mission, and instead of continuing to fight, he gave up. He went into (relatively) quiet retirement and left the galaxy to fend for itself. This week, we saw the same thing with Riker. He had the additional motive of wanting to preserve the wreck of the Titan so he could send one last message to Troi – but fundamentally, the same idea of falling into depression when confronted with a seemingly unsolvable problem was present.

Picard has been here too…

As I said in Season 1, what makes such stories meaningful isn’t where the characters begin, but where the journey takes them. And so it proved again with Riker – he found a reason to hope, a reason to try again, and through the whole experience of danger and trauma, he emerged out the other side with a newfound sense of purpose, reaching out to Troi to recommit to their relationship and to working on his personal issues and the issues they jointly had been facing. It’s by no means identical to what Picard went through in Season 1 – but it took him from a similarly dark place to find light at the end of the tunnel.

There is real value in showing heroic characters facing moments of self-doubt and depression. I wrote an entire essay a couple of years ago about how well this worked with Luke Skywalker over in the Star Wars franchise, and while Riker’s story was shorter and didn’t go into as much depth as Picard’s did in Season 1, for all of those same reasons I felt it worked well in No Win Scenario. It was understandable that Riker would feel the way he did – but it was also an inspiring story as we got to see him find a spark of hope and use that to regain at least some of his lost confidence.

How a story like this starts isn’t nearly as important as where it takes us…

So let’s start to wrap things up. No Win Scenario wasn’t as good as Seventeen Seconds had been last week. It crammed a lot in – and seems to have brought to a close the first chapter of Season 3’s story – but it skipped one whole storyline entirely, cut down Dr Crusher’s involvement to a mere contrivance, and had a couple of moments of soap-opera-level dialogue that just didn’t fit with the dark tone of the rest of the story.

However, it was a Star Trek episode through-and-through, one that recaptured much of the magic of The Next Generation era – but still found a way to update the formula, giving it a new spin fit for a streaming series in 2023. There were some deeply emotional, cathartic moments with Picard and Jack, an interesting twist in Captain Shaw’s story that led to a reconciliation of sorts with Seven, and some great CGI and visual effects to bring the starships, the nebula, and the spacefaring critters to life. I had fun with No Win Scenario in more ways than one.

A few scattered final thoughts:

  • Could Vadic also be a veteran of Wolf-359? I’ll expand on this idea in my next theory post!
  • Why didn’t the changeling either vaporise or revert to their liquid state when Seven killed them?
  • Too bad there’s already a “Riker manoeuvre,” because that’s what we could’ve called that tractor-beam/asteroid attack!
  • It was interesting to learn that the changeling was already aboard the Titan… makes me wonder how many rogue changelings are out there, and whether there may be more aboard other vessels.
  • Paramount is obviously trying to get its money’s worth out of the Ten-Forward bar set…
  • The actors playing the bridge crew each got a line or two of dialogue this week, which was nice to see.
  • Picard is still ridiculously dark and under-lit, and I wish they’d fix that. I needed to turn up the brightness on several of the still frames used in this review to compensate.

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.

Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Season 3, Episode 3: Seventeen Seconds

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Discovery.

For the first time since the beginning of Season 2, I had a genuinely wonderful time with Star Trek: Picard. This week’s episode, Seventeen Seconds, had none of the pacing concerns that were present earlier in the season, and practically every moment was tense, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable. Season 3 is finally hitting its stride, and if the next seven episodes reach the high bar set by Seventeen Seconds, we’ll be able to consider it a rousing success by the time the curtain falls.

But as the dust settles on Seventeen Seconds, there’s a question burning at the back of my mind that I can’t seem to shake. And here it is: did Picard blow its big reveal too early? I mean, we’re only three episodes into a ten-episode season, and it now feels like we know who the “real” big bad of the season is going to be: the rogue changelings. Should this have been dragged out for another episode or two, perhaps with Worf and Raffi taking longer to figure things out?

Worf was instrumental in finding out what was going on.

So let’s talk about this big revelation, because it’s something that a lot of fans had been wondering about. Pre-season interviews with members of the cast and crew had promised a connection with Deep Space Nine – the one Star Trek show from the ’90s that hasn’t gotten as much attention or love from the modern franchise. This connection came with the inclusion of the changelings, seemingly a rogue faction; an offshoot of the Founders who are bent on causing havoc for Starfleet and the Federation.

This angle is a genuinely interesting one to explore – but it has to be handled delicately in more ways than one! Similar to the Borg, the Founders can be completely overpowered as a faction if the story isn’t well-balanced – and we saw how, in Deep Space Nine, the idea of changeling infiltrators was used sparingly. Too many changelings in too many positions of power will completely throw the story off-balance, and risks making a win for our heroes feel like a bit of a deus ex machina!

Changeling infiltrator Titus Rikka.

Also, a story bringing back the Dominion and the Founders has to be careful not to tread on the toes of the truly wonderful ending to Deep Space Nine. It was incredibly touching to hear Worf speaking so highly of Odo – his friend in the Great Link – especially in light of the sad passing of René Auberjonois in 2019. But a huge part of Odo’s story in that final chapter involved communicating to his people that peace was an option and that the Federation didn’t pose a threat, so undoing that would obviously not be my preference.

And I think that’s where the real genius of this “rogue” faction of Founders could come into play! Rather than saying the Dominion are on the march, what Worf and Raffi have uncovered seems to suggest that only some members of the changeling race are involved – that a schism has been created in the Great Link between followers of Odo’s peaceful path and those who disagreed.

Seventeen Seconds paid homage to Odo.

In short, the line to walk here is a tricky one. It requires the story to keep Odo’s reputation intact, with the touching end to his story not being in any way damaged, undone, or overwritten. But at the same time, it has to find ways to make the rogue Founders engaging and menacing – and to give them motivation for their actions that doesn’t merely boil down to “we’re evil for the sake of it.” On the evidence presented in Seventeen Seconds, there’s reason to hope that the writers and producers have struck the right balance.

Having changelings on the loose also raises the stakes in terms of mystery! We know that Picard isn’t a changeling, and it seems safe to assume that Jack and Dr Crusher aren’t, either. But practically everyone else should fall under some degree of suspicion – and perhaps that could explain why Picard will turn to synthetic beings like Lore and Professor Moriarty: they may be the only ones he can be certain haven’t been replaced by changelings! But we’ll save the speculation for my next theory update.


I’m a huge Deep Space Nine fan – it could well be my favourite Star Trek series, all things considered. So bringing back a major faction from that series is fantastic, and it feels like Picard is leaning into Deep Space Nine in a way that modern Star Trek really hasn’t until now. Sure, there have been appearances in Lower Decks and a couple of obscure references in Discovery… but this feels like our first real opportunity to add some kind of epilogue to the Deep Space Nine story. The inclusion of Worf – who was, of course, a main character in the second half of DS9′s run – means that Picard can make these connections in a way that the series really wouldn’t have been able to before, and I guess my only real concern is that this clear fan-service won’t be too offputting or confusing for people who enjoyed The Next Generation but either haven’t seen Deep Space Nine in a while or who may have skipped it during its original run!

Making content “for fans” always carries this kind of risk. As Trekkies, you and I have almost certainly seen every episode of Deep Space Nine multiple times – even the irredeemably crap ones like Move Along Home. But Picard is trying to appeal not only to Trekkies like us, but to a more casual audience, including people who may not have liked Deep Space Nine or who didn’t stick with it for its entire run. I know several people in my personal life who are in that category – fans of The Next Generation and even of Voyager, but who for whatever reason didn’t stick with Deep Space Nine.

Seventeen Seconds provided just enough of a recap of the events of Deep Space Nine to inform viewers without getting in the way of the story.

In Seventeen Seconds, we got enough exposition and backstory to cover the basics. The show can’t spend all of its runtime bringing viewers up to speed on what happened in 175 episodes of Deep Space Nine, but what it has to do now is convey the basic points so that the story will be understandable for folks who didn’t watch or don’t remember those narrative arcs. Seventeen Seconds got this right, providing enough of an explanation without wasting too much time getting bogged down in it.

Again, Worf was well-used here. He didn’t simply drop heavy-handed exposition, he explained who the Founders were and who this rogue group may be in a brief but informative sequence. This older version of Worf, having had many off-screen experiences over the past thirty-plus years of in-universe time since we last saw him, feels like a mentor or elder statesman – precisely the kind of character to provide this kind of exposition in a way that feels natural. And natural is exactly how it felt!

We got an older, calmer presentation of Worf this week.

Sticking with returning classic characters, pre-season marketing focused on the return of the Enterprise-D’s crew for almost a year… so it’s odd, in a way, that three episodes in we still haven’t seen all of them, and that those we have seen aren’t all working together. Seventeen Seconds gave us Dr Crusher’s first significant on-screen interaction with Picard, and of course we’ve had Picard and Riker teamed up for three episodes now. But Worf is still off in his own little narrative box with Raffi, and there’s no sign of Geordi or Lore. Deanna Troi was briefly seen via a flashback, but again, that was hardly a major appearance.

One of the criticisms fans have made in the years since The Next Generation and its films were on the air is that not every character got enough to do. Everyone got spotlight episodes, of course, but genuine ensemble pieces where everyone made a significant contribution to the story were relatively uncommon, and in some episodes, characters like Dr Crusher would only get a handful of lines. Picard Season 3 was an opportunity to fix that – or at least to give these characters a final mission in which they could all collaborate and work together across a single, ten-episode-long narrative. I’m acutely aware that this is Picard’s final outing, and with basically one-third of the season already over, time is running out to make good on those pre-season promises of major roles for all of the returning characters. I’m hopeful that there will be enough time to have an enjoyable reunion with everyone – but it’s at least worth noting that it hasn’t happened yet!

Geordi still hasn’t made an appearance this season.

Another character who played a big role in pre-season marketing was Amanda Plummer’s Vadic. I said last week that I was a little concerned about Vadic, and how her claim to only be interested in Jack Crusher for the sake of money didn’t really justify her over-the-top presentation. As we learned in Seventeen Seconds, Vadic has at least one changeling ally: the spy embedded aboard the Titan. That ties her in some way to the rogue changelings and their conspiracy – and the portal-weapon that she used was similar (or identical?) to that used against the Federation base at the beginning of the season. But the extent of Vadic’s involvement is still up in the air – and I don’t think we have enough evidence at this stage to say that she is definitely a changeling herself!

In fact, I was struck by Vadic’s absence in Seventeen Seconds. She had a couple of moments in which we saw her happily deploying her portal-weapon, but we didn’t get to spend much time with her at all, which is certainly an interesting decision. As the main named villain of the season so far, I think it’s important to get to see her side of the story – and not merely to hear it second-hand via Worf or some other character. Obviously that doesn’t mean we need to have a lot of scenes with her in every episode, nor that her side of the story needs to be told at such an early stage… but it should happen some time!

Captain Vadic didn’t get much screen time this week.

Since I’ve already mentioned Vadic’s portal-weapon, let’s talk about that for a moment. I… was not blown away by this new piece of tech, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from the worst macguffin that Star Trek has thrown at us, but I felt that there was a considerable disconnect between its visual appearance and the way in which the narrative presented it.

In brief: the way the portals appeared on screen made it look like they should be relatively easy to avoid, even for a starship like the Titan. In this specific case, where Vadic’s goal appeared to be to force the Titan to remain inside the nebula, it makes sense to use a portal in this fashion… but that’s a very niche use case, and the military applications of such a device, especially in three-dimensional battles in outer space, don’t seem readily apparent – which also calls into question parts of Worf and Raffi’s story. It’s a powerful weapon, as we’ve seen, but one that I’d argue has some pretty big limitations.

The Titan encounters a portal.

The portal-weapon is also kind of unoriginal, with similar designs having appeared in everything from hard sci-fi all the way through to the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The most readily apparent point of comparison is to the video game Portal, which shares a name with this device. Again, I don’t necessarily hate it – and I concede that my criticisms are rather nitpicky – but I really feel a disconnect between the relatively small portals that appeared on screen and the way in which the crew of the Titan seemed to respond to them!

But there may be more to the portal-weapon that is yet to be revealed, and it may have additional uses later in the season. I can certainly see it being a useful tool… perhaps it could be used at the last second to transport characters away from danger, for example. I also suspect that Captain Vadic may meet her end by being spliced through her own portal-weapon! But maybe we should save that for my theory update.

The Titan and a portal aperture.

After a couple of weeks in which Picard looked faded, washed-out, and far too dark, I was pleased to note that this week, Seventeen Seconds only looked far too dark! The problems with colour temperature that had been present in the first two episodes of the season appear to have been fixed, at least on Amazon Prime Video, and I hope that particular issue won’t reoccur. It was a shame that it happened in the first place – and it makes Paramount look pretty unprofessional and incapable, let’s be honest – but at least it has been belatedly repaired.

The darkness issue is still ongoing, though, and this one feels much more like a creative choice. The lights on the Shrike, the Titan, the Eleos, La Sirena and in flashbacks in Guinan’s bar too, were all turned down, and the low brightness is noticeable even when compared to Seasons 1 and 2. With the colour temperature being corrected, there weren’t any scenes this week that I felt were unwatchably dark, or where main events couldn’t be perceived, but there are details in the periphery that I’m sure are functionally invisible as a result of this very deliberate choice of cinematography.

Picard Season 3 is still very dark – even now that the faded, washed-out look has been corrected.

CGI and visual effects were good in Seventeen Seconds, though, and I felt none of the dreaded “uncanny valley” that I flagged up in the season premiere. Whether that’s because there’s been any kind of change in the visual fidelity of Picard or whether I’m just getting reacclimated to the way Paramount and the Star Trek franchise handle their animation and visual effects… well, who can say, really? I’m just satisfied that I’m not being pulled out of the immersion every time the action cuts to the ships in space!

One particular sequence that I’d like to draw your attention to came right at the end of Seventeen Seconds. The moment where the disabled Titan appeared to “fall” – i.e. be dragged – into the nebula’s gravity well was spectacular, and successfully conveyed a sense of helplessness as the ship appears to be headed to its destruction. The effect was akin to a watercraft “sinking” under the surface – and that point of comparison feels apt. It was incredibly well done, and the perfect way to set up a cliffhanger ending.

The Titan falls into a gravity well.

One visual effect that could have been difficult to pull off was that of the changelings in their liquid form. In the 1990s, when Deep Space Nine was on the air, the effect used for Odo and other changelings looked good – by the standards of the time. In 2023, however, that “smooth and shiny” CGI effect is outdated, and the way in which it was brought up to modern spec was solid. The new “changeling goo” feels like a natural progression, and the kind of look that a remastered Deep Space Nine might want to adopt!

There are subtle changes, though. The Deep Space Nine effect was an amber, almost honey colour, whereas the new animation created for Seventeen Seconds had a duller, slightly greyer tone, perhaps closer to an organic compound than anything we’d seen in Deep Space Nine. In addition, the new visual effect feels much more substantial and textured, seeming to flow or ooze in a natural way. I like it, and I think it’s a great update to a classic visual effect!

The updated visual for a changeling in their liquid form.

As mentioned, I feel that the visual effect created for the Shrike’s portal-weapon may have clashed somewhat with the way the weapon was talked about and presented on-screen. But despite that, the effect itself was a clever one, and the way it seemed to unnaturally “bend” the light around it was really neat to see. It reminded me a little of Discovery’s black hole effects in Seasons 1 and 2 – a visual style influenced by the film Interstellar.

The battle sequences between the Shrike and the Titan were great, too, and the technobabble of the nebula “blinding” the Titan’s sensors really amped up the tension. Seventeen Seconds channeled the Battle of the Mutara Nebula from The Wrath of Khan in some of these sequences – but with the addition of forty years’ worth of improvements in visual effects!

The Titan’s crew had to be on lookout duty!

The only thing I’d say about the battle as a negative point is that – to quote Mr Spock from that same film – it “indicates two-dimensional thinking.” The Shrike and the Titan seemed, for the most part, to operate on a two-dimensional plane, not a three-dimensional space, and that was apparent particularly toward the end of the episode as the Shrike was able to “block” the Titan’s escape from the nebula by basically getting in the way. A line or two explaining how the Shrike could accelerate faster than the Titan, or some similar technobabble, could have negated part of this, perhaps.

This was also apparent in the operation of the portal-weapon, at least as presented visually. The relatively small portals opened in front of the Titan, but the ship had multiple routes to avoid it: up, down, left, right, or even simply coming to a halt. Again, this seems to clash with the way the weapon was emphasised in dialogue. Are these nitpicks? Absolutely!

Parts of this battle felt rather “2D.”

It would have been more impactful had we met the Titan’s changeling infiltrator before he was revealed. This anonymous character may go on to be a bigger part of subsequent episodes, but the revelation that there was a spy aboard the ship was blunted, at least a little, by the fact that it was an anonymous “extra” in that role. Had the officer been someone we’d met, even briefly, it would have been more exciting – especially if we’d never suspected that there was anything unusual about him!

This is, I suspect, a consequence of the relatively short ten-episode season. However, I really do believe it would have been worth doing – it’s something that would have turned up the surprise factor in the episode if it had been done well. A short scene or two featuring this character in his role as a Starfleet impostor would have been good enough to achieve this effect.

The changeling spy.

Star Trek has told stories that deal with impostors within Starfleet on many occasions, from episodes like Conspiracy and films like The Undiscovered Country through to the changeling stories in Deep Space Nine like Homefront – and, of course, Discovery’s first season. These stories usually work well and manage to be tense and exciting – but a common hallmark is that we’ve gotten to know the impostor or impostors, at least a little, before the truth of who they are is revealed. In fact, I’d argue that this is a big part of the way this narrative framework is intended to operate; it’s nowhere near as satisfying to say “there’s a spy in our midst!” and then reveal that the spy is just some anonymous background character that we’ve never met.

Look at how well the Michael Eddington story worked in Deep Space Nine, because that’s probably the best example of this kind of storyline in the Star Trek franchise. We got to know Eddington over the course of half a dozen episodes prior to his big reveal, so when he turned out to be a Maquis operative, it was a heck of a shock! The way the changeling infiltration storyline unfolded in Seventeen Seconds worked well, and there was some clever direction and editing to have Worf and Raffi’s uncovering of the plot followed up immediately by Jack’s confrontation with the changeling… but the sequence overall could have been improved, in my view anyway, if we’d met this spy ahead of time.

Michael Eddington was a Maquis infiltrator/rogue Starfleet officer in Deep Space Nine.

When the Titan’s science officer repeated multiple times that the nebula the ship was trapped in was behaving abnormally, my first thought was simply this: I sincerely hope that the story isn’t going to say that this whole thing is one elaborate trap! It’s too much of a contrivance to say that Vadic was purposefully trying to trap Picard and the Titan in the Rykon system given the difficulty involved in getting there and the seemingly obscure location of this nebula.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a normal nebula – and could even be “life, Jim, but not as we know it” – could open up some genuinely interesting story ideas! I feel certain that the “organic” elements of the nebula wouldn’t have been emphasised so prominently were they not going to be significant to the plot later on – but how, exactly, is shrouded in mystery right now.

What’s going on with this nebula?

There were two conflicts central to the character stories present in Seventeen Seconds: one between Picard and Dr Crusher and a second between Picard and Riker. We’ll talk about each in turn, but I think that both worked well in the context of the story.

It was interesting to see Picard and Dr Crusher having this deep and intense conversation about their son – and before we get into specifics, there’s one thing that jumped out at me. Here we have two older characters engaged in what is typically a storyline we’d associate with younger characters: pregnancy, paternity, and raising a child. It wasn’t lost on me that Sir Patrick Stewart is now in his 80s and that Gates McFadden is in her 70s, yet here they were having a discussion that would suit characters a generation younger!

Picard and Dr Crusher had a difficult conversation.

One of the themes that we’ve started to see in Picard’s third season is that of age – something that was also present in The Wrath of Khan, which serves as part of the season’s inspiration. Entering retirement, leaving friends and colleagues behind, and coming to terms with changes to both oneself and the wider world have all been touched upon – though not to quite the extent I’d been expecting, perhaps.

But this storyline – and especially Picard’s conversation with Dr Crusher – felt like it rolled back the years for both of them significantly. The intense discussion of whether Dr Crusher should have told Picard about her pregnancy is something we might’ve expected from far younger characters, so to see it handled – and handled so well – in Seventeen Seconds was great. It completely twisted the expected theme of age, and arguably also reinforces the notion that, in Star Trek’s advanced and optimistic future, humans can live longer, healthier, and more active lives.

Dr Crusher had a child later in life.

There was also a moment in the turbolift after Jack’s injury – the titular “seventeen-second” ride that Riker had talked about in a flashback sequence – in which Picard felt very much the new father, which again gives his story a far more youthful edge than I’d been expecting. Although the focus was on Jack’s injury and survival, those seconds with Picard in the turbolift felt akin to watching an anxious soon-to-be dad in the delivery room, waiting on the birth of his son.

There was deliberate symmetry to the turbolift ride that cut through the Picard-Riker fight, and perhaps has set the stage for their potential reconciliation next week. It’s also noteworthy that Riker was hardly youthful when he became a father – and as someone whose parents were older when I was a child, I appreciate that Star Trek is putting older characters into this position. Not every child is born to young parents – increasingly so, in some communities and cultures – and while many television shows and films do a wonderful job of highlighting the particular problems and issues facing teen parents, for example, it’s actually really nice – and dare I say a little cathartic, personally speaking – to see Star Trek acknowledging that some people become parents later in life. That wasn’t the main focus of Seventeen Seconds in any way, but it’s something that I personally can take away from the story.

Picard’s turbolift ride echoed Riker’s.

Before we get into the weeds too much, let me just say this: I suspect that the decision to pit Picard against both Dr Crusher and Riker in the same episode may not go down well with every fan! Part of the appeal of Picard Season 3 was in reuniting the cast of The Next Generation, and while the characters had disagreements during that show’s run, by and large they were on great terms. Some might say their friendships were a little too perfect, which is why Deep Space Nine and Voyager tried to insert more disputes between characters, and created characters from different backgrounds who had conflicting motivations.

But if the draw of an Enterprise-D reunion was bringing people back together for one last adventure, there’s a danger that these kinds of conflicts – especially if they drag on for multiple episodes – could detract from that, and I understand that argument even if I’m not personally fully signed-up with it. I hope that both conflicts will come to a satisfying conclusion, and that in fairly short order we can see Picard and his crew back on friendly terms – after all, that is a big part of what made this season interesting as a concept in the first place!

Picard and Riker on the bridge of the Titan.

My take on the first conflict is this: Dr Crusher is both correct in her belief that the son of Jean-Luc Picard would be in danger, while also being horribly inept when it comes to keep him “safe.” By leaving Starfleet and the Federation behind to go on a twenty-year unsanctioned medical mission, Dr Crusher has placed Jack in at least as much danger – if not more – than she ever would have if she’d remained in Starfleet. And that’s where this argument and this whole storyline could come unstuck.

Based on everything we know about Starfleet and the Federation, it’s generally a very safe environment. I could absolutely entertain the idea that Dr Crusher would feel a need to resign her commission in order to dedicate herself to raising Jack full-time… but the idea that she felt she had to do so beyond the borders of the Federation, in what is clearly a very complex and dangerous galaxy, risks undermining this aspect of the story. At best I guess we’ll have to call it a contrivance, something necessary to drive this part of the plot forward. At worst… well, it makes Dr Crusher look like a bit of an idiot. A dangerous idiot.

Did Dr Crusher get it wrong? Or are her reasons understandable?

This side of the story also feels as if it’s chafing uncomfortably against a massive part of the main plot from Season 2 – which was on our screens less than a year ago. The entire reason for the Confederation timeline, the mission back in time, and Q’s scheme was, at least as Q explained it, because Picard himself had been unable to let go of childhood trauma enough to settle down in a relationship. We’ve learned in Seventeen Seconds that he and Dr Crusher were once again pursuing a romantic relationship in the months or years after Nemesis, and Picard even stated that he would have been willing to be a husband and father, and that his reasons for not fully committing to Beverly were more to do with Jack Crusher Senior – his deceased best friend.

The story of Season 2 was already a terribly convoluted one that was on shaky ground, so anything that undermines it is a problem. And unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that parts of this storyline, as presented in Seventeen Seconds at least, are in that position. The writers tried to throw a bone to this, with Picard making an oblique reference to last season’s events, but that didn’t really go far enough and certainly hasn’t saved this aspect of the story.

Picard’s complicated romantic history with Dr Crusher treads on the toes of last season’s story.

We’ll have to go into more detail about this on another occasion – perhaps after having seen the entirety of Season 3 – but there are actually quite a few areas where these two productions seem to grate against one another. What’s so surprising about that, of course, is that Seasons 2 and 3 went into production back-to-back, with the same production team and showrunner present for both. I’m not saying I wanted or expected Seasons 2 and 3 to form a single ongoing story – though they certainly could have if a suitable story had been written – but it feels odd to see so many small and large points of conflict.

But we’re drifting off-topic! Picard’s second conflict was with Riker, and while the two men seemed to work together seamlessly at first, a radical difference in approach became apparent as the episode wore on.

Picard and Riker had different ideas about how to tackle Vadic and the Shrike.

So there’s a dichotomy here for me. On the one hand, I don’t particularly dislike this idea, and I feel that Seventeen Seconds handled it well. The conflict felt organic and natural, and it was presented as exactly what it was: a genuine difference of opinion and approach. The episode didn’t frame either Picard or Riker as being right or wrong, and there are interpretations as to how to approach a battle of this nature.

But on the other hand… the more I think about it, I can’t escape a simple reality: pitting Picard and Riker against one another would not be my choice, if for no other reason than the story, at least at this point, doesn’t seem to need it. I’ve spoken about this before, particularly in relation to Discovery, but it feels as if this extra element of drama has been concocted and then forced into a story that was already so tense and dramatic that it didn’t need it. Picard, Riker, and the rest of the crew of the Titan were already in a life-or-death, impossibly high-stakes confrontation, so throwing in a personal spat between two main characters didn’t really ramp that up; the tension and drama were already turned all the way up to eleven.

I think a lot of people were surprised by this conflict…

That being said, I have a theory about Riker that, were it to pan out, would completely explain this and basically negate all of those points of criticism. Even if my theory is wrong, the disagreement may end up resolved within the next episode, and that would set the season back on what feels like the “right” path: the path where these characters get back together for one final mission.

Just because I wouldn’t have chosen to tell a story in which Picard and Riker find themselves at loggerheads doesn’t mean that it didn’t work well in Seventeen Seconds, and the way in which their disagreement was built up and then spilled over into argument was well handled. By the time Riker banished Picard from the bridge, we had a solid understanding of both men’s positions and perspectives – and under the circumstances, that’s the most we could have asked from this storyline!

Riker at the end of the episode.

So let’s wrap things up!

Seventeen Seconds was a tense, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, and probably the best episode of Picard since the Season 2 premiere last year. There are nitpicks, as there almost always are, but they melt away when confronted with such an outstanding episode of television.

I’d felt that Season 3 had gotten off to a slow start, but the pacing this week felt perfect. There were no truncated or cut-down moments, and practically everyone got something significant to do. All in all, a great episode!

A few scattered final thoughts:

  • I liked the interaction between Seven and Ensign La Forge, showing how Seven has won respect and friendship from her colleagues, even if she doesn’t get it from Captain Shaw. After the “deadnaming” over the past couple of episodes, it was great to see La Forge call her “Seven!”
  • Captain Shaw is injured – but not dead! Will he remain in sickbay for the next few episodes… or will he come roaring back, take command of the ship back from Riker, and find a way out of the nebula?
  • Surely we’ve gotta see Geordi and Troi next week, right?
  • Worf and Raffi were able to track their target pretty easily… is that because of Worf’s skill, or because the story has its focus elsewhere?
  • With the Titan disabled, why did Vadic abandon her pursuit? Is capturing Jack no longer her objective?
  • Time is a bit of an issue: Dr Crusher says she found out about her pregnancy shortly after she last saw Picard – circa twenty years ago. And I don’t mean to be unkind, but actor Ed Speleers, who plays Jack, is clearly not twenty. A poor casting choice, or are we okay with giving a bit of “soap opera ageing” flexibility here?

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.

Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Season 3, Episode 2: Disengage

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

If you read my review of the season premiere last week, there’s almost no need to read this! In short, many of the points I made last time are the same this time: Disengage was an episode with the same contradictory feel as The Next Generation, one in which the main storyline seemed to edge along at a very slow pace while several story beats rushed past too quickly, or else didn’t get enough time dedicated to them.

And those story beats are more or less the same ones as last time, too: Raffi’s undercover mission seemed to race by, some of the scenes between Picard and Jack could have been extended, Riker didn’t get a lot of time to shine, and even the intrigue on the Titan with Captain Shaw and Seven didn’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. As I said last week, it’s a story with a contradictory feel.

The Shrike looms over the Eleos.

Let’s talk visuals. Both last week and this week, Picard looked incredibly washed-out and faded on my 4K HDR display. I tried adjusting my screen manually, but I could either get the default faded, washed-out look or I could get a horribly over-corrected, over-saturated look. Neither is right or natural, and the colour temperature of the season so far feels off. I hope this is something that Paramount can fix – but I doubt it.

In addition to the colour temperature issue, both episodes of the season so far have been incredibly dark. In multiple scenes and sequences – particularly those set in Raffi’s underworld city, but it wasn’t entirely restricted to that setting – it hasn’t always been easy to see what’s going on. Areas that should be in focus are poorly illuminated, and the washed-out effect doesn’t help here either. Again, this is something I’d hope Paramount would have been able to correct behind-the-scenes when it became apparent… but so far, no luck. I did manage to, shall we say, “source” a second copy of Disengage, but this was also plagued by the same issues.

Picard Season 3 has a dark, faded look in many scenes.

There are really two parts to this complaint. The first is that this is a deliberate choice of cinematography, presenting scenes in a dark, under-illuminated way to try to achieve a certain visual effect. The limitations of this are apparent, and one need only look at similar complaints in other television shows to see why turning the brightness down isn’t a good idea.

Secondly we have the way episodes are compiled and compressed for streaming, and I think there’s a technical issue here that Paramount has yet to get to grips with. Because the episodes were dark to begin with, compressing them down for streaming may have contributed to this faded, washed-out look. My screen isn’t a cheap model by any means, but it’s a problem if the only time Picard can look reasonable is when it’s seen on an expensive, high-end OLED television set.

For illustrative purposes, here’s a promo photo for Disengage featuring Seven of Nine and Captain Shaw…
…and here’s the photographed scene as it appeared in the episode. Note the radical difference in brightness, colour temperature, and tone.

So let’s take a step back. Where are we in terms of story? After two complete episodes – a full 20% of the season – it still feels like we’re at the beginning. The main events of both The Next Generation and Disengage appear to have taken place, for the most part, over the span of a few hours; the exception being Raffi’s sequences, which, despite being rushed, actually seem to take place over a longer spell of time.

This episode focused on Jack Crusher, the character who many of us had guessed was the son – somehow – of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher. This focus on Jack’s identity and backstory was worth doing, and although some moments didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an interesting and engaging story – one that has me wanting to learn more. But again, in terms of the overall narrative arc of the season, it feels as though Disengage crawled along at a pretty slow pace.

Is the main story progressing at the right pace? Or am I overthinking things?

Two episodes in and we’ve barely gotten off the starting line. Dr Crusher’s plea for help and Picard and Riker’s off-the-books rescue was the starting point for this story, yet after two entire episodes have passed, we haven’t moved much beyond that yet. It makes me feel as though some of the moments in Disengage could and perhaps should have been included last week.

The ten-episode seasons of modern television shows are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Picard would almost certainly never have been made if Paramount insisted on twenty episodes or more per season! And the serialised nature of these stories makes a ten-episode season akin to a ten-part movie, which is a great thing in many ways. But on the other hand, these truncated seasons don’t have as much room for manoeuvre, so getting bogged down at the starting line – or spending too long on side-quests – can end up having a serious knock-on impact. We saw this with Picard in both its first and second seasons… and I can’t shake the feeling, even at this relatively early stage, that the same problem is about to reoccur.

Captain Vadic and her crew on the Shrike.

Now for the contradiction! At several points, I felt that all we were getting of Riker were clips; cut-down snippets of what should’ve been longer scenes. There was scope to spend a lot more time with Riker as he tried to convince Picard of what he already knew: that Jack is his son. Having Riker realise that first was a genuinely great story point – one that showed just how close these two old friends are, and how Riker has a perceptiveness, even years later, that Picard can rely on. But it was blitzed through so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to really showcase this angle, and that’s a shame.

Re-establishing and evolving the relationship between Riker and Picard has been one of the best things about Star Trek: Picard, and feels like a real, solid justification for providing these characters with new storylines after such a long time. But it’s only really when the action slowed down in Season 1’s Nepenthe that the show truly excelled in terms of this kind of character-focused storytelling.

Picard and Riker had an all-too-brief chat about Jack.

I’d have wanted to spend a bit more time with Riker this week, and the moments we got with him felt somehow cut-down. The problem, as I’ve said before in Picard, isn’t that the core idea is in any way bad, it’s that it needed more screen time to properly unfold. There was merit in Riker seeing the obvious, and using him as the point-of-view character to convey the truth of Jack’s parentage; revealing to us as the audience something Picard couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see. But that got lost because of how short most of Riker’s scenes were, unfortunately.

We continue to rush through Raffi’s story to such an extent that certain elements, such as the inclusion of her ex-husband, felt almost gratuitous; the story clearly doesn’t have time to delve into this relationship in a big way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last we see – or even hear – of Raffi’s ex, and as I’ve said about narrative elements in Picard more than once: good idea, not enough time to do anything meaningful with it.

Raffi with her ex-husband.

Once again, Michelle Hurd excelled – but she did so in spite of the way the season has been scripted and/or edited. And despite jumping from point to point as she tried to chase down the terrorist or terrorists responsible for the attack, her storyline again feels like it hasn’t made a lot of progress from its start point.

Last week, Raffi was desperately trying to hunt down the person who stole “experimental weapons,” and this week she continued to do that. She found the broker who arranged the sale – but that’s all. Again, all of this could turn out to be okay… but I’m just worried about the pacing of the story in light of what happened in Seasons 1 and 2.

Parts of Raffi’s story continue to feel rushed.

All that being said, the moments we got with Raffi this week were among my favourites in the episode – and are probably among Raffi’s most interesting scenes, from a narrative point of view, that we’ve gotten in the entire series to date. It’s absolutely true that Raffi’s underworld planet borrows a lot both visually and thematically from Star Wars and dystopian sci-fi, but I think there’s more than enough room in the Star Trek galaxy for places like this to exist. We’ve caught glimpses of such worlds in past iterations of the franchise, too, so I think it works well.

The scenes with Sneed – the Ferengi broker – were fantastic. At first, I wondered if there might be some kind of connection to Quark or perhaps DaiMon Bok with the introduction of a Ferengi character, but Sneed was perfectly interesting on his own. And the last-minute arrival of Worf to save the day – revealing himself as Raffi’s “handler” – capped off this story in pitch-perfect fashion. There are nitpicks here, sure, but overall I felt it worked well.

Worf is back!

Let’s talk about Vadic, who made her first appearance of the season. I’m convinced that there’s more to Vadic than has been revealed so far – though it was noteworthy in Disengage that no one recognised her, or had even heard of her. That certainly calls into question some of the ideas that I and others may have had for who she could be and how she may be connected to Picard and the crew… but I don’t think it totally destroys all but the most outlandish of fan theories, so we’ll come back to that perhaps in my next theory update.

My concern about Vadic’s presentation in Disengage comes down to a single factor: her motivation. A villain this over-the-top (and Vadic was, for better or worse, certainly over-the-top in Disengage) needs to have a reason for being so. Khan – the character I and others compared Vadic with after her initial appearance in pre-season trailers – had a single-minded quest for vengeance. Like Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, he was willing to do anything and sacrifice anything to get his revenge on Kirk for years of being abandoned in a desolate wasteland, and that came across in his on-screen presentation.

Vadic lighting a cigarette.

If Vadic is motivated solely by money – as she claims – that seriously undermines her characterisation. Sure, Jack Crusher may be a valuable target – but does that justify the kind of “Khan meets the Wicked Witch of the West mixed with Dr Doofenshmirtz” presentation? Amanda Plummer really dialled it up to eleven with her villainous performance, letting every word, every syllable, drip with malice, and throwing in a wonderful cackle for good measure. But if Vadic only cares about money… I just feel there’s a disconnect between the character and the performance if that’s the case.

But there are still eight episodes left for Vadic’s story to unfold, and for her to become more than just a one-dimensional villain trope. I’d hoped we might’ve seen the beginnings of that in some way this week, and going into the episode I was probably more excited to meet Vadic than I was about any other character. While I wouldn’t describe her as a “let-down,” she’s definitely a character I think we need to see more of before we can really assess whether or not she’s going to work, and whether her inclusion will end up being a positive thing for the season… or might end up detracting from it.

If we’re to see Vadic as something more than a bog-standard villain trope, we need to know more about her and what’s driving her.

What we’ve heard about Vadic and her crew from Jack – as well as a couple of remarks of a rumoured ship matching the Shrike’s design from Seven of Nine – tells us that she has resources at her disposal. The Shrike was armed to the teeth, and more than outmatched the Titan – which Captain Shaw described this week as a vessel of exploration, which I thought was interesting. But that doesn’t really speak to who Vadic is or what her overall motivation might be – especially if, as the season seems to be suggesting, she’s the terrorist mastermind that Raffi and Worf have been chasing and who attacked the Federation facility last week.

So again, we need to learn more about this character. We obviously weren’t going to get her entire backstory and an explanation of her mission in a single episode, and I wasn’t expecting to. But I was expecting to at least see the beginnings of that – and so far, it feels that Vadic’s true identity and motivation is rather obscured. I don’t believe that “money” will be all there is to it… but just in case I’m wrong about that, let me say right now that it will be monumentally unsatisfying if that somehow were to be the case.

The Shrike’s tractor beam attack was neat, though.

In The Wrath of Khan, Kirk learned that he had a son: David Marcus. Continuing the theme of Season 3 being “Picard does The Wrath of Khan,” we have Jack Crusher being Picard’s own son. This revelation – that at least some fans saw coming – is an interesting one, though I hope the mechanics of how it came to be will be explained… somehow. I don’t need a detailed, no-holds-barred flashback sequence (please no) but some kind of explanation of the events surrounding Jack’s conception wouldn’t go amiss.

As I said last week: there’s a question of timing that I find particularly interesting. According to Riker, Dr Crusher has been absent from her friends’ lives for approximately twenty years, but Jack is clearly not twenty years old or younger – no offence to actor Ed Speleers! – which means he had to have been around before her unannounced departure. Could we learn that a threat against Beverly, Jack, or perhaps against Picard might’ve prompted her to take him and leave?

Why did Dr Crusher take Jack and leave everyone behind?

The question of safety is also a pertinent one. Based on one of Dr Crusher’s lines from pre-season trailers, in which she says something to Picard about “attempts on [his] life,” I’d been wondering whether Dr Crusher may have taken her son as far away as possible in order to keep him safe. But Jack’s long list of criminal offences and the huge bounty seemingly placed on his head would seem to run completely counter to that; at the very least, if this was Dr Crusher’s intention, she hasn’t done a very good job of it!

If we’re sticking with comparisons to The Wrath of Khan, will Jack Crusher end up meeting the same fate as David Marcus? And if so, will his death have the same kind of effect on Picard as David’s did on Kirk? It would be cruel to introduce this character and begin to explore his background and his relationship with both his mother and Picard only to see him killed off – but it could be poetic symmetry, too.

What will become of Jack in the end?

We’ve already seen Jack offering himself to Vadic in an attempted act of self-sacrifice – something not incomparable to how David stepped in to save Saavik’s life in The Search for Spock. Saavik’s name was seen, briefly, this week – used for the doomed shuttle that Picard and Riker piloted to the Eleos. According to background details released by Paramount, Saavik was the commanding officer of the original USS Titan in the late 23rd Century.

These references could be to honour the late Kirstie Alley, the first actress to play the role of Saavik, who passed away late last year. They could also just be coincidental references to tie Picard Season 3 into past iterations of Star Trek. But there’s also a very deliberate connection to The Wrath of Khan once again… and in light of what happened with David Marcus and Saavik, I can’t help but wonder whether the season is setting up Jack Crusher for a similarly sacrificial end.

Debris from the shuttlecraft Saavik…
…and Kirstie Alley as Saavik in The Wrath of Khan.

I hope that there will be time to explore some of what Dr Crusher and Jack have been doing. Jack’s crimes can’t and shouldn’t just be hand-waved away by the story; such an important part of his background needs to be fleshed out. It won’t be enough to say “Jack’s a criminal,” and leave it at that – we need to know some of the details of why he broke the law, whether some or all of it could be morally justifiable, and why, when he’s supposedly on a “mission of mercy,” such law-breaking was required in the first place.

As with Raffi’s criminal underworld, I think there’s scope to show off a side of the Star Trek galaxy that hasn’t always been front-and-centre, and there’s definitely a pathway to explain Jack’s criminality in a way that feels natural and even sympathetic. Saying that he “did what he had to do” in order to provide medical assistance is going to be part of that, for sure – but I hope there will be time to go into a bit more detail.

Jack has an extensive criminal record… and a list of aliases.

There’s also clearly more to Captain Shaw than meets the eye. Vadic alluded to his “psychological profile,” and I think that could potentially connect with his anti-Borg prejudice that we saw in last week’s episode. If Captain Shaw had lost someone to the Borg, such an event could have had an impact on him – and could explain why he’s so openly hostile to Picard and Seven of Nine in particular. I keep expecting Captain Shaw to be killed off – but there may be more of an arc for this character than I’d been expecting.

What I liked about Shaw’s story this week was the moral ambiguity of it. It’s tempting to portray Shaw as being cowardly; turning over Jack to Vadic in order to save himself. But there’s clearly more to it than that – he takes the responsibility of command very seriously, and his number one overriding priority seems to be to keep his crew safe. He’s outside Federation space, with no immediate hope of backup, facing an opponent that clearly outmatches him in terms of firepower… so risking the lives of everyone on his ship to save a wanted criminal is a big ask – even if we as the audience would want to see the son of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher kept safe.

Captain Shaw is growing on me.

Am I warming up to Captain Shaw?! That’s certainly not something I expected! But under the rude, unpleasant, and even bigoted exterior, I think we’ve seen glimpses of a good, upstanding captain. Putting aside the anti-Borg prejudice, Shaw reminds me, as I said last time, of the likes of The Search for Spock’s Captain Stiles, Discovery’s Captain Lorca, and The Next Generation’s Captain Jellico. Shaw isn’t wrong in his read on Picard and Riker – who snuck aboard his ship and took it on an unsanctioned mission. His anti-Borg attitude may be extreme, and targeting the wrong people, but I feel we may be on the verge of finding out how it came about. And finally, when he realised the true circumstances he was faced with, Shaw did the right thing – albeit at the last possible moment.

So Captain Shaw has turned out to be more complex than I expected. What’s more, he’s different enough from Chris Rios to provide some kind of justification for the latter’s departure from the series. These storylines wouldn’t have worked with Captain Rios, and while others could have been created to get the rest of the characters to similar narrative places, it would have been a lot more friendly and less adversarial. That’s more “Star Trek” in some ways – but perhaps less interesting in others!

Captain Shaw in the briefing room.

Picard seemed to be struggling with the idea of Jack being his son, and only really came to accept it at the end of the episode. As mentioned, I think there was scope to do a bit more with this idea – explaining why Picard felt that way, and whether he was trying to push those questions aside simply as a point of practicality given the time constraint, or whether it was because he feared the truth. The way Disengage presented Picard left it open as to which it might’ve been – I can see clear cases for both explanations, and the episode doesn’t seem to have picked a side.

The scene in which an injured Dr Crusher wordlessly conveyed the truth, though, was spectacularly well done, and the emotional high point of Disengage. The wordless scene was set to a fantastically evocative piece of music, and told us what I think most viewers already knew: that Jack is Picard’s son.

This was a fantastic scene all around.

Though this story was, overall, a tad rushed, and I’d have liked to have spent more time with Picard, Riker, and Jack in the moments leading up to it, there’s no faulting the final “reveal” itself. This moment also cemented Captain Shaw as an albeit begrudging ally, and has set the stage for the next chapter of the story as the Titan fled into a dangerous nebula.

A battle in a sensor-blind nebula? That sounds like yet another story beat from The Wrath of Khan! This season really is going all-in with the Khan comparisons… and so far, I’m really into that! It isn’t a straight copy; there are enough differences that we can consider it a variation on a theme. But the overt callbacks to one of the best things Star Trek has ever done are not going unnoticed – and after two muddled, lacklustre seasons, maybe this kind of big all-action blow-out is just what the doctor ordered.

The Titan opens fire on the Shrike.

Aside from the danger of coming across as repetitive – which Season 3 has thus far avoided, I have to say – the other potential pitfall here is that this story just feels a bit… safe. Not safe for our characters – not all of whom will make it to the end alive and unscathed, I’m fairly confident of that – but in terms of how the story comes across. This narrative framework is one that Star Trek has used before, and that could mean that we’ll end the season feeling it played things a bit too safe. We’ll have to see – but it’s worth keeping in mind.

So let’s start to wrap things up! Disengage finally saw the season move beyond its starting point, and we now have some idea of how the two main narrative arcs may come together. It was a treat to see Worf again after so long – but a shame he was on screen so briefly. The same can be said for Riker, whose contributions to the episode were a little too rushed for my liking.

Ensign La Forge.

Visually, Disengage was a bit of a disappointment due to a washed-out, faded look that didn’t suit an already dark episode. However, the CGI and other effects work was perfectly okay, and unlike last week I didn’t feel too much of the dreaded “uncanny valley” in CGI sequences featuring the Shrike and the Titan.

Whether Disengage did enough to advance its two main narratives is still an open question, and one that I feel particularly attuned to after the disappointments of Seasons 1 and 2. I’m crossing my fingers that it will all be alright, and that the next eight episodes will see the story advance and unfold at just the right pace. Both this week’s episode and last week’s have left me worried, though.

Time will tell…

Overall, I had a good time with Disengage. I don’t think it’s the best episode of the series or anything, but it feels like there’s the potential to consider it a solid addition, one that advanced key storylines just far enough. I certainly hope so, anyway!

Aside from pacing, my biggest point of concern – or rather, my biggest question-mark – coming out of Disengage has to do with Vadic and the way she’s both written and presented on screen. I feel that we’re going to learn something significant about Vadic in the weeks ahead that will completely reframe her characterisation, and give meaning and purpose to someone who feels a bit out-of-place right now. “Money” can’t be all there is – at least, I hope not!

So that was Disengage. Let’s see what Season 3 has in store for us next time.

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.

Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Season 3, Episode 1: The Next Generation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for The Next Generation and Voyager.

Before I’d even watched a single second of Star Trek: Picard Season 3, I was sceptical. In both Seasons 1 and 2, incredible premiere episodes gave way to stories that either failed to pull out a decent ending… or just failed across the board. Regardless of how The Next Generation landed, it’s the first chapter of a season-long story where success or failure will ultimately be determined over the next nine weeks. Having been burned by Picard twice now, I’m afraid that I begin this new season feeling more than a little jaded.

Taking the episode on its own merit, however, The Next Generation feels like a solid start. I wouldn’t say it was perfect – it’s an episode of contradictions, where a couple of story beats seemed to rush past in a heartbeat whilst its contribution to the overall narrative of the season may turn out to be too slow. But there were points of high excitement, fun little character moments, and more than enough intrigue spread across two distinct – yet surely connected – narrative threads to drive things forward and keep me engaged.

The new season has officially launched!

I said as Season 2 came to a close that I was bitterly disappointed to see most of the main cast being jettisoned in order to bring back characters from The Next Generation, and how I hoped their absences would be addressed somehow. Perhaps the most important of these characters was Laris, who, despite making only a handful of appearances across Seasons 1 and 2, was absolutely essential to last season’s story. Although we didn’t get to spend a great deal of time looking at Picard’s new relationship with her, I was pleased that Laris was able to be included and that we got to spend a little time with her before the main story took over.

I said in Season 1 that Laris and Zhaban served a similar role in the story to the residents of Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings – being the familiar and comforting faces of home that Picard had to leave behind as he set out on his adventure. And Laris once again seems to serve a similar function in Season 3 as Picard sets off on a new quest. It was great to welcome back Orla Brady, and to catch a glimpse of Picard’s newfound home life with Laris before the main story kicked off. I’m glad there was time to include those sequences – and it gives me hope that we might get to hear something of Elnor, Soji, and the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid as well.

We got to catch a glimpse of Picard’s life with Laris before the main story got underway.

One of the biggest problems that has tripped up Star Trek: Picard in both of its seasons so far has been pacing. This is something that we won’t be able to judge fairly until we’ve seen most of the rest of the season, but there are causes for concern at this early stage – at least in my opinion. The Next Generation introduced us to some kind of mysterious threat that seems to be hunting Dr Crusher… but after setting up that she was in danger, the main story arc of the season didn’t really progress beyond that. Picard and Riker arrived at her ship, the Eleos, but there wasn’t any time left to go into detail about who might be hunting her or what they want.

And that could be okay… if the rest of the season has time to explain all of these points and tie together the different character arcs and narrative threads. But it’s also worth noting that The Next Generation didn’t bolt out of the gate. We met several new characters, but not the villain hunting Dr Crusher, and the episode ended more or less in the same place as it began: with Dr Crusher having fended off an attack, and the help she had called for – Riker and Picard – having only just arrived. In both Seasons 1 and 2, pacing issues across much of the season meant that too much story was left on the table, with whole storylines and characters literally ignored and dumped as time ran out. I sincerely hope that this problem hasn’t been repeated, and that The Next Generation hasn’t set up the season for a disappointingly familiar end.

In terms of the main story of the season, I’m not sure how far we’ve progressed.

Conversely, parts of The Next Generation seemed to race through – or rush past – potentially-interesting story beats. There were quite a few different elements crammed in to kick off storylines and character arcs, and the result was that not all of them seemed to get enough time in the spotlight – even though the episode as a whole wasn’t in a horrible rush.

It’s a contradiction! Raffi’s story in the criminal underworld was a bit of a whirlwind, taking her from off-the-wagon junkie to undercover operative in a heartbeat, and then culminating mere moments later in her failure (or what she will undoubtedly see as her failure) to stop an attack against a Federation facility. This storyline didn’t necessarily need more time, but it certainly could have had longer to play out. In past iterations of Star Trek, a story like this could have been an episode (or even a two-parter) in itself; Picard’s own undercover mission in Gambit comes to mind!

Raffi on her undercover assignment.

I would have liked to have spent more time with Raffi. Although she and her nameless “handler” made mention of stolen weapons, I didn’t really feel that The Next Generation properly conveyed the stakes. It was only when the Federation facility was destroyed (a moment that had been shown in pre-season trailers) that the extent of the threat that Raffi was staring down became apparent – and by then this part of the episode was pretty much over.

If this storyline had a few more minutes dedicated to it, we could have had a bit more of a conversation about what this missing weapon was, why it was so dangerous, how long it had been since it was stolen… and more background that could have set up the attack on the base. As it is, it’s hard to get too invested in this story. We never saw the base, nor met anyone who might’ve been stationed there, and we don’t know if the weapon used to destroy it was the only one stolen or one of many. Without more information to put these points into some kind of context… it just feels a tad rushed.

The attack on the base and missing weapons could’ve used a bit more context.

That being said, Michelle Hurd did everything she could with the material she had and the limited screen time afforded her to really sell this storyline, and her emotional performance was deeply impressive. Given that she was working on her own for practically the entire time, it wasn’t an easy challenge to really sell the idea of Raffi being in this dark place, but Hurd rose to the occasion.

In terms of visual effects, The Next Generation had a couple of unspectacular moments. Generally, the quality of the animation work was high – and far better than the lacklustre visuals we saw in parts of Season 1. But there were a few moments with the USS Titan that I felt were just a bit “last-gen” and not quite up to modern standards, especially when we look at what other sci-fi series and franchises are doing.

The Titan in spacedock.

This is a consequence of Paramount and Star Trek not having the budget or resources that the likes of Disney and Star Wars do, and that’s okay. In a season in which a big return to space is clearly on the agenda, though, it’s at least noteworthy that not all of the CGI moments in The Next Generation stuck the landing.

At first I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about a couple of shots of the USS Titan that I didn’t like, but I think I’ve finally nailed it down. In short, the ship is in the “uncanny valley,” looking real, but not quite real enough. Between the “lens” and the “model” there was just a bit too much smoothness; panels and lines don’t have the textural variation we’d expect to see on a real object. This problem plagued CGI through the 2000s, and if you look at Enterprise or the Star Wars prequels you’ll see far more extreme examples. While it wasn’t terrible, it was noticeable enough to pull me out of the immersion on more than one occasion – and to leave me lamenting the loss of physical starship models!

Picard and Riker’s shuttle leaves the Titan.

Aside from the heavy-handed nostalgia play, I’m genuinely not sure what the title of this episode was supposed to be about. The characters who were in focus for the vast, vast majority of the time were very decidedly not the titular “next generation,” and those who arguably might be – Sidney La Forge and the character who identified himself as Dr Crusher’s son – were only on screen for a couple of minutes at the most.

This isn’t a big deal really, but when the title of the episode clearly indicates the same kind of passing of the torch that we got back in 1987, we didn’t really feel any of that as the story unfolded. Perhaps someone cleverer than I am might be able to pick up on what the writers and producers were going for here, but I’m struggling to see it!

Ensign Sidney La Forge.

A few points that The Next Generation glossed over could’ve used some additional clarification. The last time we saw Admiral Picard he’d just taken up a new role as Chancellor of Starfleet Academy, and the pin/combadge he wore during this episode was the same one we saw him wearing on the bridge of the Stargazer in Season 2. Yet Captain Shaw made the point that Picard had now retired from Starfleet – and used that to deny his request to change course. So did Picard cease to be Chancellor of the Academy in between Seasons 2 and 3? I guess he must’ve – perhaps while deciding to move to a new planet with Laris – but it wasn’t clear.

If he did retire, how was Captain Shaw convinced to allow him and Riker to “inspect” the Titan? Captain Shaw clearly didn’t want the two of them to be there, and wouldn’t have voluntarily allowed them on board, so the question of exactly what status a retired ex-Admiral and ex-Captain occupy is a bit up in the air. The episode seemed to want to have it both ways: to tell the story of the retired old guard, but also make sure they had a pathway to commandeering a starship.

The specifics of Picard’s place in Starfleet weren’t made clear.

Captain Shaw is a great character – though I’m still convinced he won’t last very long, one way or another! I noted influences from the likes of Captain Stiles from The Search for Spock and Edward Jellico from Chain of Command, as well as perhaps a dash of Discovery’s Gabriel Lorca, in his characterisation. The strict, rigid, no-nonsense approach that we’ve often seen other characters come up against was on full display, and where Captain Shaw could have come across as a bit of a wet blanket – an unnecessary bump in the road as our protagonists set out on their journey – I think it worked well in context. Starfleet is bound to be populated by career officers like Shaw, and while he comes across as unsympathetic and even malicious due to his treatment of Seven, Riker, and Picard… in a way he isn’t wrong. These two were trying to take his ship and crew on an unsanctioned, dangerous, clandestine mission, and he was right to be suspicious of them and call them out on it.

In terms of the narrative of this first chapter of the story, though, I can’t help but wonder whether it might’ve been better for Picard and/or Riker to have called in a different favour! Instead of sneaking aboard the Titan and trying to secretively reroute the ship, couldn’t they have called in a favour from someone else in Starfleet – someone who could have hooked them up with a ship, or at least gotten them a spot aboard a ship with a captain who likes and respects them? I know that Dr Crusher warned them not to involve Starfleet – but they did anyway, and so I guess my question is: was this their only option? Maybe that’s a bit of a nitpick… and if I’m wrong and Captain Shaw sticks around, perhaps he’ll have a contribution to make to the story that will be more than worthwhile. Time will tell!

Captain Shaw may be an unpleasant man… but he was right, in a way, to be suspicious of Picard and Riker.

So let’s talk about Dr Crusher’s son. As of the last time we saw her, Dr Crusher only had one son: Wesley. And as we saw at the end of Season 2, he’s off doing his own thing with the Travellers and Supervisors. So who is this new character really – and if he is Dr Crusher’s son, will we learn who his father might be?

The obvious connection – especially in a show called Star Trek: Picard – is that he’s Picard’s son, and especially considering that Laris mentioned earlier in the episode that Picard and Dr Crusher had “tried” to become lovers, that could very well play out. We’ll take a look at this in more detail when I update my theory list, but for now suffice to say that this seems to be the most likely outcome.

I’m sure we’ll find out a lot more about Crusher Jr. in the episodes ahead!

But even if we’ve figured out this character’s parentage, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Riker and Picard both noted that it’s been about twenty years since they last saw or heard from Dr Crusher… but her son is clearly not twenty years old or younger, so he must’ve been around during the years before she disappeared. That doesn’t mean she would have told her friends about having another child – but it does raise questions. If he’s Picard’s son, and Picard seemed to be in danger, could that explain why Dr Crusher chose to leave her friends behind? Was it all for his sake?

Again, that’s something we can consider in more detail in my theory update. This revelation of Dr Crusher’s colleague being her son raised a lot of questions – but it was also a story point that was blitzed past pretty quickly in The Next Generation. The character emerged, pointing a phaser at Riker, revealed his connection to Dr Crusher, and then it was time for a close-up look at the Shrike before the credits rolled. There was definitely scope to spend a minute or two more on this revelation – both for the sakes of Riker and Picard and for us as the audience. This bombshell didn’t get more than a few seconds in the spotlight before the episode rushed to its next point.

We could – and perhaps should – have spent a couple of minutes more on this moment.

Last season, I argued that an apparent studio-mandated decision to have every single episode end on a cliffhanger was to the story’s detriment, and with The Next Generation ending with not only one but arguably four shocking moments, I feel a tad worried that that trend might continue. In retrospect, Season 2 feels like it was chopped up quite artificially, with a strong focus on these cliffhanger endings to such an extent that it didn’t serve the story, splitting up storylines across multiple episodes unnecessarily. We’ll have to judge this aspect of Season 3 when it’s over, but it’s certainly noteworthy at this early stage that The Next Generation also ended in similar fashion.

Who was the mysterious stranger eavesdropping on Riker and Picard? It seems a safe assumption that he’s some kind of friend or ally of Vadic – the season’s main villain who was teased in pre-season trailers but is yet to make an appearance. He could also be a Starfleet operative, or perhaps someone aligned with Dr Crusher. But it felt like quite a played-out trope to have Riker and Picard meeting up in a bar to have their private chat about secretive and sensitive issues. I know it’s another nitpick – but couldn’t Riker have met up with Picard at the vineyard? If this character’s spying is going to be relevant to the story later on – and surely it will be in some form – it just feels a bit clichéd to have him overhear them speaking in such a public setting.

The stranger in Guinan’s bar.

One of the best things Picard did in its first season was re-establish the relationship between Riker and Picard, taking it beyond anything we ever saw in The Next Generation and the films of that era. No longer serving together opened up the possibility of a genuine and deep friendship between the two, and the episode Nepenthe was the perfect way to revisit Picard, Riker, and Troi and establish a new, post-Starfleet dynamic for them.

And The Next Generation picked up that thread from Season 1 and has begun the process of exploring it further. Picard turned to his old friend for help – and with both men being retired or no longer on active duty, there was the opportunity to really examine how well they work together and how close they’ve become. Although Riker and Picard worked well together, and there was trust and mutual respect between them really from the first season of The Next Generation, it’s only in Picard that we’ve seen this friendship genuinely blossom and come into its own. It’s been great to see – and it feels like the perfect and natural evolution of this relationship.

This episode did great things with the Riker-Picard relationship.

The themes of age and how we treat older people were present in The Next Generation, though perhaps not quite to the extent that I’d been expecting. We got a moment where Picard was unaware of the closure of a starbase and had to be corrected, and a comment from Riker about how both men were past their physical peak, but Riker’s story seems to be teeing up some kind of relationship or family dysfunction angle between himself, Troi, and their daughter Kestra. Jonathan Frakes seemed to suggest in a pre-season interview that Riker has felt unsettled and has been keen on returning to Starfleet, and that could be the source of the tension there.

Having seen Riker and Troi in semi-retirement in Season 1, seemingly doing the best that they could to have a happy family life and provide for their daughter, I hope that this story doesn’t end up coming across as a kind of gratuitous and unnecessary shake-up. I’d have been happy, quite frankly, to have left Troi and Riker behind, with Nepenthe serving as their post-The Next Generation epilogue. With them returning this time, I just hope that if there is to be a relationship dispute, it won’t feel tacked-on or overplayed.

Riker seemed to suggest that all may not be well in his marriage.

But we’ll have to wait for Troi’s return before we can assess how that particular storyline will land! For now, suffice to say it’s enough to cause a little concern, because undoing or otherwise overwriting what we got in Season 1 would not be my choice – especially if it seems only to be there to inject a sense of drama into an already-dramatic season of television.

I was surprised to see how heavily The Next Generation leaned on visual and musical callbacks to The Original Series films. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Undiscovered Country, and even The Motion Picture were all influential, with everything from fonts to musical motifs being directly lifted from those titles. I said before the season aired that I was getting a kind of “Picard does The Wrath of Khan” vibe from some of the clips we’d seen in trailers, but I wasn’t expecting to see the series lean so heavily on the feature films of the ’80s for inspiration. Don’t get me wrong – as a child of the ’80s, that style of sci-fi is exactly my kind of thing! And it worked well in The Next Generation. I just wasn’t expecting it!

There was a real ’80s flair to parts of The Next Generation.

Dr Crusher didn’t always get a lot to do in The Next Generation and the films that followed. She had some episodes in the spotlight, and we saw her take on a commanding role on the bridge in later episodes like Descent and All Good Things, but for the most part her role as the ship’s doctor was a limiting factor. Stories with medical mysteries or where characters had to visit sickbay were where we saw her most often.

With that in mind, where The Next Generation excelled was in ensuring that Dr Crusher stayed true to her characterisation, but took on much more of a leading role in an action-packed storyline. Traits like her courage, that we remember from her earlier appearances, came to the fore in a new way, and this bold direction for her character didn’t feel in any way forced. On the contrary, it felt like the natural evolution for her – especially if she’s been operating independently for such a long time.

Dr Crusher firing her phaser rifle.

The semi-automated Eleos was an interesting vessel, and I hope we get to spend a little more time with this starship. Dr Crusher and her son seem to rely on the ship’s computer for things like propulsion, where in past iterations of Star Trek we’d have expected to see people operating those stations and departments. But, as Seven reminded Picard aboard the Titan, it seems that Starfleet is embracing more and more automation. An analogy for things happening here in the real world, no doubt!

The “deadnaming” of Seven of Nine by Captain Shaw was something I was uncomfortable about at first, especially after Seven’s arc in Season 2 was all about embracing the Borg side of herself. Captain Shaw clearly has a chip on his shoulder about the Borg, as he made clear in a comment to Picard, so perhaps that’s something we’ll learn more about next time. He might’ve lost someone to the Borg, or even aboard the Artifact.

Commander Seven… uh, I mean Commander Hansen.

That being said, this kind of deadnaming – forcibly referring to someone by an old name with which they no longer identify – may have been a way of quickly communicating to us as the audience that Captain Shaw is someone we should dislike, and that kind of shorthand can work well in a story with time constraints. But in a broader sense, when we step back and think about Star Trek’s positive, progressive future and how far we’d have expected society to advance by the dawn of the 25th Century… surely something like deadnaming would be socially unacceptable, even for someone in a position of power like Captain Shaw.

In short, I can see why the writers chose to include this aspect of Shaw’s character. Seeing how uncomfortable it made Seven of Nine was a quick and relatively easy way to get across the message that this character isn’t someone we should be rooting for – and I get that. But it has an implication for the Star Trek galaxy as a whole that feels a little uncomfortable. I hope we’ll learn that the rest of the crew of the Titan have more respect for Seven and are willing to treat her better!

Captain Shaw is being set up as an antagonist.

So let’s start to wrap things up.

Season 3 is off to a solid start. My scepticism about the pacing of the episode is probably more to do with the muddled and mismanaged first and second seasons and the way those stories ended. I certainly hope that The Next Generation has set up this new story for success, and if nothing else it was nice to spend some more time with Riker and Picard, as well as Dr Crusher, Seven of Nine, and Raffi.

Seeing how these stories will come together is genuinely interesting, and while we could’ve spent a bit more time on Raffi’s side of things, with some more context provided about the stolen weapons and attack on the Federation outpost, it worked well enough. Captain Shaw was the only new character that we got to spend a lot of time with, and while I don’t like him, I can see where he’s coming from and can certainly appreciate that an organisation such as Starfleet must be populated with people just like him. Dr Crusher’s son and Ensign La Forge were on screen so briefly that we didn’t really get a good read on either – but there’s more than enough time in the episodes ahead to rectify that.

The final shot of the episode: the Eleos and the Shrike.

As I said a couple of weeks ago: it’s probably time to watch The Wrath of Khan if you haven’t seen it in a while! That film seems to be serving as inspiration for Season 3 right now, though the story is far from identical.

I had a good time with The Next Generation, taken on its own merit. It wasn’t perfect, and I don’t think it hit the same high notes as Season 1’s Remembrance or Season 2’s The Star Gazer – but if the story that it’s set up has been meticulously planned and will reach a better, more definitive end point than either of the show’s past outings managed, then none of that will ultimately matter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that will turn out to be the case.

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.