Bringing the old gang back together can often seem like an alluringly romantic idea.
And why not? You had fun once, or many times, years back so, of course, you’re going to have fun again because all good things live and endure as long as we will them to, right?
Sadly, life being life, and time being time in all its diminishingly corrosive glory, that’s not always the case, and we have to face the fact that reality and romance don’t always mix.
But in the third and final season of Picard, getting the Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) gang back in the one place and time is proving to be an absolute boon, proof that some good things last because they were so damn good to begin with.
In episodes three to six, the slow, simmering mystery of the first two instalments coalesces, and yes that word is used deliberately, into a grand conspiracy where it emerges that the Changelings behind the Dominion War, or at least a terrorist splinter group thereof who doesn’t much like the peace Odo and others brokered, have infiltrated Starfleet in a bid to lay the entire Federation to waste.
Now, the TNG crew are no strangers to dark plotting to neuter and control the Federation, having faced off another near-invisible threat in the season 1 episode “Conspiracy” so the one thing you don’t see them doing is running around in a panic.
Actually, truth be told, we have NEVER seen them do that, and so it is that as Worf (Michael Dorn) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd), who have methodically uncovered some weird goings-on in the criminal worlds that infest the Federation, reveal to Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Will Riker (Joanathan Frakes), Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), who by the way — SPOILER ALERT!!! — has a son with Jean-Luc naked Jack (Ed Speleers) and Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) that very sinister things are afoot and that the entire future of the Federation they all know and love is under grave and manifest threat.
Honestly, at that point, most of us would likely hit the panic button but then we are not the crew of the Enterprise-D, trained to eat evil threats and malevolent problems for breakfast; even so, the Changelings are everywhere, and after a surprise appearance by Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) who warns them all of how deep and wide the infestation is, and how much is at stake, the crew have to go on the run with all of Changeling -puppeted Starfleet hot on their tail.
Still there’s running, and there’s careful hiding while still investigating which is precisely what Picard et. al do when they head to the Daystrom Institute where they do their best, with their help of a creation of Altan Inigo Soong who has created a Data/Lore (all played, naturally, by Brent Spiner) analogue who is the repository of all the knowledge at the Institute and who can tell everyone exactly what it is the Changelings have stolen and what they intend to do with it.
Apart from being almost continually fired upon by Changelings, either in the form of Vadic (Amanda Plummer) who’s been pursuing Jack Crusher, and thus the whole crew, since episode one, or various Starfleet personnel, and being forced to destroy the nacelle of the one of Starfleet’s one ships, everything is going super swimmingly well.
Actually, it’s not with the conspiracy so big and vast – remember the Changelings can be ANYONE – that the job ahead of the crew is huge and bound to fill up the remaining four episodes of the season with adventures that feel just like the emotionally-resonant grand old adventures of TNG.
See, you really can go back!
Or forward, or something; the point is that Star Trek: Picard season 3 is proving to be the highlight of the entire series, a deep dive into nostalgia that, while it has plenty of nods to an illustrious past, feel as fresh and new as its very threatened present.
That is why these episodes are proving so damn enjoyable; we get to see characters we have loved for decades now (assuming you’re as long in the tooth as this reviewer) acting much like they used to but also very much as their present selves, with the differences, such as Worf’s newly-acquired pacifism or Riker and Burton’s family-centric lives – we get not one but two La Forge daughters, Sidney and Alandra (played by Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut and Le Var’s own daughter Micah respectively), being used to infuse Picard S3 with a current vibrancy that really works for the show.
Herein lies a lesson for any show that attempts characters from long, long ago, an increasingly common thing in the age of streaming plenty where content creation has become a ceaseless race to leverage any and all old brands.
If you’re going to do it, then do it like Star Trek: Picard and revive parts of the old show that will work in the present, or that pay homage to past characters such as Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) who pops up as a security manifestation of the Data/Lore system – Easter eggs are great but don’t do over do; Picard has been cleverly judicious in what it’s used and when – while also making sure you make them relevant and up-to-date.
Picard has done that engrossing aplomb, matching some of Trek’s most-loved characters with a riveting full-speed-ahead story that takes no prisoners but which also plenty of opportunities for quiet character moments such as between Picard and Jack who as a newly-minted in-person combo have a lot of catching up to do.
The genius of these episodes, and the season as a whole, is that they sustain the quality of both character evocation and narrative zest throughout, delivering up a storyline that’s both big and intimate, proof indeed that you can bring the gang back together and it will be a roaring success.
Next up this week … episode 7 “Dominion”, dropping 30 March US/31 March Australia …