Thursday, April 20, 2023

Picard, Season 3: The Last Generation

Picard, Season 3
"The Last Generation"
Aired: April 20, 2023
30 of 30 produced
30 of 30 released


The Enterprise flies into the Death Star to destroy the core of Star Trek.




So, it's done. We can evaluate this as an episode of Star Trek and as an overall season-length arc. As an individual episode, you can practically feel the creators straining with every fiber of their beings to remind us of Star Trek stories we like. You've got the tricorder beeps from Star Trek II, the Federation President, in this case, Chekov's son, warning people to avoid Earth at all costs from Star Trek IV, Jack Crusher being dolled up like Locutus Part II, Alice Krige as the Borg Queen saying "your future's end," fading the episode out to a poker game, a post credits scene with Q telling Jack that his trial is just beginning...

And look. I am not made of stone. Various heartstring-pulling moments worked to some degree on me.  But they're in the service of what is ultimately a rather dumb, extremely poorly paced, action schlock story. The closest this episode came to a "Star Trek moment," by which I mean something ethically, philosophically, or conceptually challenging, was the crew having to decide to destroy the Borg Cube (sigh) while their friends were on board, sacrificing the few for the many. But that choice was undone almost as soon as it was made, by Data flying the Enterprise D through the Borg Cube a la the Death Star run in Return of the Jedi.

This last underscores to me what Star Trek has become. It's an action franchise now. Gone are the "hard sci-fi" days of trying to realistically portray the realities of space flight, especially taking a large ship through an unstable gravity field (a la "The Pegasus"). Instead, ships can do whatever looks cool, and can warp instantly into any location the story demands. Gone are the days of "soft sci-fi," in which a technology would be imagined and its effect on regular humans explored (a la "Hollow Pursuits").  Instead, we are given a whiz bang world in which everything is taken for granted, nothing is consistent, and technologies only show up to solve a plot problem, as opposed to presenting a character problem. Gone are the days of finding non-violent solutions to problems, opting for diplomacy first, and eschewing the destruction of sentient life no matter how opposed its goals are to one's own (a la "I, Borg" or "Silicon Avatar"). Instead, we shoot first and ask questions later, with massive pew pew space battles standing in for ideas, and the constant, unremitting sound of space rifles and space pistols cocking in the place of characters thinking their way through problems.

As a plot, the emotional beat of Jean-Luc Picard reconnecting to the Borg to reach out to his son, who has felt alone all his life, basically works. It's kind of "aww, sweet" when they hug, and that's what impels him to sever himself from the Borg. But if you think about it for too long, it falls apart. The Borg Queen, voiced by Alice Krige, says that the Borg are pursuing a new, non-mechanical, biological approach to assimilation. OK, but then why is Jack made up to look like Locutus, with pipes connecting his body to the machines? Oh, right - because that's what fans are familiar with. It's what sells, and what the producers think will drive subscriptions to Paramount Plus. And why did Jack feel alone all his life? Well, because. Because the writers chose to separate him from his father for no real reason but to "raise the stakes" and create "dramatic tension" between Beverly and Picard.

After the action is over, the denouement has Jack Crusher "fast tracked" past academy training and put on the bridge of a new Starfleet vessel - well, and old one really - now captained by Seven of Nine, and rechristening the Titan as USS Enterprise G. I am very much against fast tracking anyone through the academy, which is a very Abrams move. Why not have Jack show up to his first day as a cadet instead? Oh right, because they need to set up a sequel spinoff. Why not have the ship name remain, honoring the lineage of the Titan? Oh, right, because we need to have an "Enterprise" or no one will want to watch (a problem which, to be fair, has been in evidence since the year 2000). And so two lines of ships are disrespected - the Titan being an afterthought, and the Enterprise now being a renamed, underpowered, non-flagship.

Production notes: The show is still abysmally, ridiculously dark. They turned down the lights on the D bridge for this episode, just in case you got excited by actually seeing things last time. The CGI is top shelf, and the D looks great in action. Frankly, these were some of the most emotional moments, as the D ship shots paired with the TNG music cues created undeniable nostalgia.

The characters we care about all get their moments of screen time, their Marvel Movie jokes, and it's OK. They act roughly the way they're supposed to act.  The new characters get the bare minimum of development. Raffi gets to meet her grandkid, resolving a plot line I certainly did not care about given its perfunctory development in seasons one and two (total screen time five minutes or less).

So on the plus side, it's a better send off for the characters than Nemesis. But, when it comes down to it, this send off already existed, tied to a far, far better science fiction story with way less dumb action: "All Good Things."

Ultimately, I would give this episode a 6, because it marries effective fan service with lots of dumb and unsatisfying action. The series as a whole I would give a 5. It's subpar from a storytelling perspective. It took ten hours to tell one movie's worth of story. The changeling plot that took 8 episodes was an elaborate red herring, which is extremely unsatisfying, to put it mildly. It destroyed the Borg, hopefully for good, but it didn't make them interesting in the slightest. It just traded on our excitement from prior Borg stories.

It is the best season of Kurtzman Trek, which is akin to winning the Nicest Authoritarian Dictator or Tallest Hobbit award. It gets things half right - with basically good characters being nice to one another (a step up from the previous seasons of miserable people doing terrible things). But it still fails to tell a story that justifies its own existence or is intellectually challenging in any way whatsoever. Compared to the movies, it lands right around "Star Trek Beyond" for me. Not fundamentally unpleasant, but not really requiring a second viewing, basically ever. I was only really outright offended once this season (Worf's decapitation spree), which is a new record for this iteration of the franchise.

I'm sorry to be a downer, I really am. I wanted this to be better. I don't think I'm being unfair to it. It just didn't do it for me. I would classify myself, fairly I think, as an Über fan. Star Trek has formed a core pillar of my identity as a fan, a reader, a viewer of TV, and as a person, for three and a half decades now. I am very familiar with what I think it is, and what I like in it. And this just isn't it.

I am glad other fans seem to like it. But I am sad if this is the best that the franchise can be going forward.



  1. Your comments remind me of Christopher Tolkien's reaction to the Jackson movies. He could recognize the basic structure, but the movies lost the seriousness and beauty of the books, in favour of more action and narrow escapes.

    This new Star Trek makes me feel old, but not just in a bad way. "Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;" and you've toiled mightily in the dark mines I would not set foot in to bring us these bitter gems. Thank you.

    1. I am sure that my rejection of NuTrek strikes some people in the same way Tolkien fans' rejection of Jackson does.

      The key difference being that the Jackson movies are well written, expertly paced stories, setting aside canon alterations and elisions, which do not bother me (someone who enjoys Tolkien but not religiously).

      NuTrek is both badly done *and* not consistent with canonical events or tone.

  2. What bugs me about this episode/season is that in the end huge part of Starfleet is either:
    - dead if they were over 25 years old
    - traumatized because they were used to kill their friends/superiors if they were under 25 years old
    but it's not addressed in any way and we just get a general Happy Ending

    It could be an interesting, although a bit dark angle to explore, but I guess we viewers are supposed simply to ignore it

    1. There's a lot of that in Kurtzman Trek. Incredibly dramatic, universe breaking things occur, and then are never mentioned again (see also: Spore Drive, Red Angel, New Borg).