Picard’s “The Next Generation” in Review
From the moment its opening title card appeared — “In the 25th Century…” written in the Wrath of Khan font — I knew Picard’s Season 3 premiere was something special.
Aboard the starship Eleos, we see Beverly Crusher’s personal effects. The production design beautifully recreates the innards of a typical vessel from the TNG era. We’re reintroduced to Crusher, who embraces her inner Sarah Connor, impressively defending her ship and a passenger from mysterious adversaries. Gates McFadden enjoyed her action scenes this season, which shows in her performance. Wounded by her assailants and distressed when more arrive, she sends a coded transmission to an old associate: Jean-Luc Picard.
After a revised opening titles sequence, Picard is shown with Laris, packing up the study in Château Picard. He mentions that Geordi is running the Fleet Museum. Laris is about to depart on a new adventure, and Picard will follow. As usual, his study tantalises with easter eggs, including a gold-plated model of the Enterprise-D and his Ressikan flute, reinforcing that this is the Star Trek universe we know so well.
That night, Picard receives Crusher‘s distress call, unlocking the message with a command code he used in First Contact — “Picard-four-seven-alpha-tango.” Crusher has sent her coordinates along with the phrase “Hellbird” and a warning: “No Starfleet. Trust no-one.” Her message reminded me of the Season 1 TNG episode “Conspiracy”. Could the mind-controlling alien worms from that installment be involved?
Illuminated by firelight, Laris and Picard discuss Crusher’s message and her history with Picard. One of the most disappointing aspects of the TNG movies was that their relationship wasn’t explored more. Here, it’s explained that they had attempted to be lovers and, when that failed, Crusher disappeared, ending contact with the rest of the Enterprise crew for the past twenty years. Finally witnessing more acknowledgement of their relationship is nice and indicates that writer Terry Matalas understands these characters. The scene also showcases Laris doing what she does best, motivating Jean-Luc into action. Their goodbye is particularly poignant.
Meanwhile, Will Riker is at Guinan’s bar. The venue is preparing to celebrate Frontier Day, the 250th anniversary of Starfleet. Directly contrasting with Season 1, Picard consults Riker, instead of excluding all former shipmates from a potentially dangerous mission. Riker explains that Crusher’s codeword was the name of a computer virus aboard the Enterprise when Picard was assimilated. Combining its numerology with Crusher’s co-ordinates indicate that she’s hiding in the Ryton system, outside Federation space. As the pair formulate a rescue plan, the similarities between this bar sequence and one in The Search for Spock are clear, echoing the fact that Terry Matalas is fond of the TOS movies.
On the planet M’Talas Prime (clever name there, Terry!), Raffi has been led into the planet’s criminal underworld. She’s investigating the theft of experimental quantum-tunnelling tech from Daystrom. An Orion drug dealer reluctantly gives her a clue: “the Red Lady”.
Riker’s plan is to divert his former command, the recently refitted USS Titan-A, to the Ryton system and then commandeer a shuttle. We’re treated to a reveal of the stunning starship, complete with Motion Picture drydock music in a redesigned Spacedock. Flyby shots of the Titan demonstrate the exquisite level of detail on its hull.
Reverence for the movies is again reflected once our characters board the Titan. The day-to-day running of the vessel comes from the Nick Myer nautical handbook… not just visually. Sound design, such as the bosun’s whistle, emulates what we’ve heard in the Myer-directed movies. All this creates a Starfleet that feels real and functional.
The Titan’s first officer is familiar: Seven of Nine. She’s being pressured, by the ship’s captain, into using her human name, “Annika Hanson”, rather than her Borg designation. This enables the series to allegorically explore the controversial issue of deadnaming.
Arriving on the bridge, we’re introduced to Sidney La Forge, daughter of Geordi La Forge. She has a comical reunion with Picard and Riker.
The Titan’s launch from the starbase is an epic scene, featuring Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner score. It’s been mentioned in many interviews that this season was designed to feel like a final TNG movie, evident in moments like this.
Surprisingly missing from the launch is Captain Liam Shaw, played by Todd Stashwick. Picard and Riker meet him in the galley, where Shaw has already begun eating. He declares he isn’t a fan of Château Picard wine and doesn’t share Riker’s love for jazz either. Stashwick’s portrayal subverts our expectations of Starfleet captains. Shaw refuses Picard’s request to divert to the Ryton system, reminding Picard that he’s retired. Given Crusher’s warning not to trust Starfleet, might Captain Shaw be involved in the conspiracy? Seemingly bigoted, he refers to Seven and Picard as “ex-Borg”, hinting at some unresolved tension.
Back on M’Talas Prime, Raffi is on the bridge of the La Sirena. She contacts an unidentified handler who refers to her as “a warrior” and instructs her to “find the Red Lady.”
Picard and Riker, with their plan ruined, are enduring further indignity, forced to sleep in bunk beds. In this fantastically written scene, they discuss Crusher, and Picard’s regrets.
Fortunately, Seven has decided her loyalty is to Picard, not Shaw. Matalas writes Seven as conflicted, longing to inspire others to follow her, much like how Janeway and Picard have inspired her. It turns out that Seven has diverted the Titan to the Ryton system, which Shaw is appalled by. “Borrowing” a shuttle, Riker and Picard flee the Titan.
Raffi locates a red statue of Rachel Garrett, the Enterprise-C captain from the TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. Raffi, devastatingly, arrives too late to prevent the destruction of a Federation recruitment building where the statue is located.
Aboard the crippled Eleos, Riker and Picard find Beverly in stasis and encounter her passenger — a young man played by Ed Speleers, who has a British accent. The man admits that Crusher is his mother, surprising Picard. Could this survivor, who announces that they’re being hunted, be the son of he and Crusher? Before any further questions can be answered, a huge alien ship arrives.
Emulating the start of a final TNG movie, this episode is huge in scope, with a fast-paced story and top-notch production design and special effects. It also features strong performances from the entire cast. Among the legacy characters, particular highlights are Jonathan Frakes and Jeri Ryan. In the scenes between Frakes and Patrick Stewart, their real camaraderie shows in their performances and interactions.
Repeatedly, Terry Matalas uses this season premiere to demonstrate his love for the Star Trek universe. Various plotlines are introduced and intriguing mysteries are presented. The result is an exciting opening episode that’s steeped in lore and sets up a thrilling new adventure.
Jamie Flint has been a Star Trek fan since he was four years old and caught the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on television. He quickly devoured the other movies and TV episodes and can fondly remember being the youngest person in the cinema watching Generations.
Thirty years later, you’ll find him watching all the series — both new and old — with his little family. Oh, and he is a big defender of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier!