Star Trek: Picard begins its third and final season haunted by the fact that (how to put this delicately?) the show’s first two seasons basically sucked. I’m honestly at a loss to decide which of the two was worse, but at the moment am inclined to say the second. Planned as a big reunion and last hurrah for the franchise’s Next Generation crew, the new season promises to bring a major course correction. Plenty of familiar faces will return, and the series gives off airs of wanting to fix past mistakes and go out with a bang.
Whether any of that will really work out of course depends on how the season as a whole goes. Critics who’ve seen more episodes in advance seem to be mostly supportive (aside from the reviewer at Engadget, who minces no words about hating every second of it). I can only speak to what Paramount+ has officially streamed. As far as that goes, I have to say that the season 3 premiere episode alone is better than the entirety of the first two seasons combined. Unless the show really tanks hard over the next few episodes (which is entirely possible, given its track record), I’m cautiously optimistic.
|Title:||Star Trek: Picard|
|Episode:||3.01 – The Next Generation|
|Release Date:||February 16, 2023|
Season 3 arrives amid quite a lot of buzz trumpeting the return of several key members of the Next Generation cast, and seems to be specifically developed as a soft-reset in order to lure in former TNG fans even if they may not have watched the first two seasons of Picard itself. To that end, the only relevant details from seasons 1 and 2 that a viewer might need to know are pretty minor and could be easily picked up from context clues.
- Picard (Patrick Stewart) knows Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a character first introduced on Star Trek: Voyager. They’re friends now and worked together in both previous seasons.
- Also returning is Raffi (Michelle Hurd), an antsy former Starfleet officer who has a checkered past with drug addiction. She and Seven were an item for a bit, but seem to have broken up between seasons.
- Picard has a Romulan girlfriend named Laris (Orla Brady), who gets one scene in the premiere that feels like it’ll probably be her only appearance.
That’s pretty much it. Other Picard-specific characters Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) and Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) were written out last season. I suppose it’s possible Jurati at least could appear later, but she’s not referenced at all in the season premiere.
Season 1 ended with a really big plot twist involving Picard’s bodily health that was so stupid, and so hated by viewers, that the show has tried to downplay and ignore it ever since. I wouldn’t be surprised if that goes totally unmentioned this season.
Everything Old Is New Again
The TNG love-fest begins with the return of Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). We find her alone, or nearly so, on a starship at the far end of the galaxy. When attacked by mysterious aliens, she goes Sarah Connor on their asses and single-handedly fights them all off with a phaser shotgun (that’s undoubtedly meant to look badass, but honestly seems like a dumb and impractical weapon). Wounded in the skirmish, Crusher sends an encrypted distress call to the only man she can trust, retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, asking him for help but instructing him not to tell anyone in Starfleet. Thus sets in motion the season’s new storyline.
Technically, Picard breaks that rule right off the bat by bringing this information to his former First Officer, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who may still serve in Starfleet as a captain but is more than happy to abandon protocol and go on a secret adventure with his old friend. Not currently assigned to a ship of his own, Riker hatches a scheme to commandeer his last commission, the U.S.S. Titan, under the guise of performing a surprise inspection. Wouldn’t you know it, the current First Officer aboard that ship is none other than friendly face Seven of Nine, who would love to help them if not for her strict taskmaster of a captain. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that she may find a way to get them where they want to go.
Meanwhile, Raffi is off on her own investigating a terror plot against Starfleet. Needless to say, this will surely tie in with the attack on Crusher’s ship.
That’s about all there is for plot in the premiere. The episode mostly focuses on reintroducing old characters and setting up the new story. The season sets a conspiracy thriller vibe, has some effective humor and character rapport, and feels more like a feature film than a TV series. These are all good things. Despite the focus on TNG characters, the episode is stolen by TV character actor Todd Stashwick (who once played a Romulan on Star Trek: Enterprise) as the ball-busting Capt. Shaw, who has no patience for Picard and Riker and refuses to play along with their shenanigans.
In all, the episode is a lot of fun. If I wanted to nitpick, I’d admit that it’s extremely heavy on fan-service, and borrows liberally from plot-points already covered in previous Star Trek TV shows and movies. That may be unavoidable with a franchise as long-lived as this one. Even so, I enjoyed the hell out of watching it. That more than I could say for much of anything in the first two seasons. I hope that continues to be the case going forward. I’ll be very annoyed if the rest of the season falls apart and I’m forced to eat my words.
Paramount+ streams Star Trek: Picard in 4K HRD and the result is very consistent with the show’s first two seasons, which unfortunately isn’t very impressive. The 2.40:1 image is rather soft and barely looks 1080p quality, much less 4K. Black levels are milky and the photography has a very flat contrast range, with no sense of HDR at all.
Even more so than the first two seasons, almost every scene in the premiere episode is underlit in an attempt to look “cinematic” or something. Starship corridors that logically should be flooded with industrial lighting are instead dark and shadowy for mood. Even brighter highlights that ought to pop, such as phaser blasts or the ships jumping to warp, never exceed Standard Dynamic Range.
Thankfully, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack has a lot of fun starship flyby effects and impressive surround ambiance. While dynamic range didn’t knock my socks off, it has at least a little bit of bassy rumble.