Friday, February 17, 2023

Picard, Season 3: The Next Generation

Picard, Season 3
"The Next Generation"
Aired: February 16, 2023
21 of 30 produced
21 of 30 released


Well, here we go again, God willing for the last time. Picard receives a distress call one day before retirement from an old flame, Doctor Beverly Crusher.

Pictured: The best thing in the episode.


Matthew: It shouldn't have been like this. The previous shows shouldn't have been so awful that show runners would have to beg and plead to long-time fans to give it a shot, because it really would feel like Star Trek again. What other entertainment property has had such a straightforward admission of the crappiness of its own recent output, while the same executive is in charge? But it is like this, and that makes this a hard show to enjoy on its own merits, divorced from how unpleasant the previous shows have been, how low the expectations they have set are, and how divided and even toxic the discourse around the show is, with fawning sycophancy on one side and vehement criticism on the other. So let me just say that, if you haven't watched Picard Season 3 and intend to for the sake of enjoying it, stop reading this and any other discussion of it, and absolutely do not catch up on prior seasons of Kurtzman Trek! This will likely maximize your chances of enjoying it in a way that I was unable to.

OK. Now that that's out of the way, here goes. There's no way to sugarcoat this, but the show opens with five minutes of a phaser firefight between Doctor Crusher and some unidentified aliens. Crusher is using a phaser rifle from the TNG movies, but for some reason it's now pump action like a shotgun and runs out of power after maybe ten shots. O...K? Then, we shift to what feels like an eternity of Picard and his Romulan housekeeper.... Laris (not Tallin, who was a Laris-lookalike "watcher" in 21st Century Earth, that Picard fell in love with or something?) going through his things in preparation for his retirement with her, upon which they can begin their romance. This scene reeeeeally drags, as they exchange nauseatingly trite dialogue about getting old, how a man is made of his memories... blah blah blah. At this point, it's difficult not to feel the weight of those prior two seasons pressing down on any capacity to enjoy this show, because those seasons also veered between dumb action schlock and pointless "writerly" dialogue rife with gratingly nonsensical pseudo-profundity.

Matthew: But things pick up quite a bit when Picard receives Crusher's urgent transmission requesting help. And NOW (but not last year, or the year before) Picard decides that in order to rescue Crusher, he must call the old gang back into action, starting with Riker. 

The Riker scenes are lovely. Their chemistry is solid, their dialogue is amusing if nothing particularly special, and they do things that Trek fans can recognize and enjoy, like going to a bar, visiting a beautiful Spacedock, and trying to pull rank in order to hornswaggle Riker's old ship, the Titan, out to Crusher's location. I enjoyed all of this stuff, and it kind of felt like a Star Trek movie for a while, after I washed the taste of the Earth scenes out of my mouth.

On the other hand, Seven of Nine is now the first officer on this ship, under Captain Shaw. Why is she a Commander, when she can only have been in Starfleet for maybe a year, max? Who knows. Captain Shaw is thoroughly unpleasant and does not wish to help. Now, this is a reasonable position to take on the basis of orders, chain of command, and the like. But the writers here have decided to make things much nastier and more personal, with Shaw outright insulting both Picard and Riker. It's kind of baffling, really, when you could have an Admiral Nechayev type whose motivations and demeanor make sense within the world, but whatever. Anyway, Seven disobeys Shaw and sets Riker and Picard up with a shuttle, and they rendezvous with Crusher's ship. They find her in a medical pod, watched over by her as yet unknown and for some reason English-accented "son." Will this be Picard's heretofore unknown son with Crusher, a la Star Trek 2? Almost certainly - since obviously English accents are hereditary. As this episode's "cliffhanger," (sigh) a ship looking very much like the Narada/Scimitar shows up (sigh), comically huge, and menacingly looms over Crusher's ship to finish the episode.

Matthew: BUT MEANWHILE, in another interminable set of scenes that pull us away from what we actually want to see (i.e. characters we actually care about doing things that make sense), we have interludes with Secret Agent Raffi Musiker, who is tracking down a WEAPON OF FRIGHTENING POWER. She is on yet another Star Wars Drug Planet, tracking down cryptic references to "The Red Lady." Apparently, there is something with "quantum tunneling" that is being developed (the writers clearly have absolutely no idea what this means), and we see the terrifying results when yet another Space 9/11 occurs, in which a large Starfleet building is "tunneled" out of its foundations and dropped on the nearby city scape, with disembodied screaming noises and everything.

So yeah. This stuff all happened, I guess. The scenes are not very enjoyable because they drag in terms of pacing, they take us away from characters we care about, and they introduce yet another Doomsday Machine That Can Destroy Everything, just like every Abrams movie and every Kurtzman-led season of TV thus far.


Matthew: Patrick Stewart's performance is much in line with the prior two seasons - too quiet and halting by half, and very fragile seeming. But when he and Frakes are on screen together, the whole show comes alive with humor and charm, from both of them. I could almost squint and see a TNG movie when they were on screen together. Which isn't TNG the show, but it's sure better than Kurtzman Trek has been. I thoroughly disliked Todd Stashwick as Captain Shaw, which I guess is a credit to the actor, because he was written as a flaming asshole.

Matthew: Jeri Ryan is still acting the heck out of her scenes, imbuing her Commander Annika Hansen with a real pathos. She wants to fit in and make a life in Starfleet, which is what Admirals Picard and Janeway want for her, but she just can't make a go of it. Michele Hurd is fine, she is just in the wrong franchise. Her level of damage makes no sense in this world. She's an addict and she's poor - in a world with universal magical healthcare and zero material want. But I believe her character's feelings, which is a credit to Hurd.

Production Values

Matthew: Every single minute of this episode, I kept thinking: TURN THE LIGHTS ON. Jean-Luc Picard's chateau is entirely dark. Beverly Crusher has her room on her ship in the dark. The Titan's bridge crew works in the dark. Captain Shaw eats his blue steak in the dark. Is this like Discovery Season 3? Has something destroyed power generation capacity in the 25th century? Is a Rogue Space Dad going around turning off the lights in every room? Have humans evolved past the need for ambient room lighting in order to see? It's really ridiculous looking. This isn't cinematic lighting a la the TNG movies, where you thought "this looks different than the show" but it still made a lick of sense as a place real humans would work and live. This is just DARK. Comically, stupidly dark. Of course this is not something unique to Star Trek, as it has been a much discussed (and maligned) feature of Game of Thrones. I just wish this trend would die. DPs and cinematographers are not impressing anyone besides each other.

Matthew: Besides being too dark, the scenes in Spacedock, and the Titan ship exteriors were all lovely CGI. Spacedock especially looked glorious. The designs felt closer to Star Trek than the space shots and CGI have been in the last 6 years of Kurtzman shows, and they certainly leaned into the James Horner-esque musical cues as they left Spacedock. The dark uniforms (obtained in a DCEU Zach Snyder garage sale perhaps?) do a good job of looking Starfleet-ish while also slimming aging actors.

Matthew: Since Kevin is a theatrical wig devotee, I will say I noticed Riker's obvious hairpiece here. It looks lovely, and I only know it's a rug because I've seen Frakes' real hair in photographs. Patrick Stewart still looks extremely, unsettlingly old. Gates McFadden looks fine in her hairpiece, and while obviously in her seventies, feels convincing as an action star. Which is not what I want her to be, of course, but fine.


Matthew: I keep mentioning the TNG movies, because it's almost impossible for me to not see this as a piece with them. This is like a really long, meandering, poorly paced single movie that is ten hours long - sort of like butter scraped over too much bread. This of course puts the season at the sort of risk that Kevin and I have exhaustively detailed in past seasons of Kurtzman Trek - if they blow it halfway through, you're consigned to five more episodes of crap. This is not crap yet. The discourse from people I respect is that it will not turn into crap. But prior experience makes it very hard not to see the outlines of that crap very clearly in the shape of this episode. On our scale, I think this is a 3. It's average. If I were to plot out a "potential quality" graph, proceeding forward along the X axis, comparing it to the movies, I think the ceiling of this story is Insurrection-level, and the floor is Nemesis-level. Which to be honest, isn't all that bad. It's kind of dumb, but it's not world-breakingly dumb, which is what prior seasons have been. Baby steps? I have been told by people whose opinions I trust that there will be a point at which the overwhelming feeling of "this is Real Star Trek" will wash over me and bring tears to my eyes. I can tell you that it did not happen in this episode, but neither has it been foreclosed by this episode.

Click to embiggen!
Note: I do not know if Kevin will be joining me on reviews, as such, the provisional rating on our combined scale is a 6. This will be amended as needs be if and when Kevin joins in.
Kevin: So I largely agree with Matt's critiques. Shaw is an active dick to the point that it leaves him underwritten. Ed Jellico was a real asshole, both in terms of the quantum of his assholery and in the sense that he is an asshole that might actually exist. Shaw is just actively pissed in a way the story did no work to contextualize. The Titan leaving Spacedock does not make me feel like the Enterprise leaving Spacedock just because you use the same score. Nothing happened in 45 minutes that wasn't set up in the teaser. Crusher is running from something that got no development or discussion of any kind. The result is that I just don't care about the stakes, because there aren't any. Frakes and Stewart have some lovely chemistry. The end result is an episode I didn't really enjoy but didn't hate. Nothing terrible or continuity shredding happens. It's just...there. So I agree with the 3, and I think will largely confine myself to jumping in briefly rather than full reviews. I just don't enjoy talking about Picard. It feels like two camps of people on different planets and there's nothing actually to talk about. I'm not begrudging people who like this or got something out of it. Lord knows everyone needs something to take the edge of....[gestures broadly], but I don't feel talking about it is gratifying or useful. So I'll jump in, but I don't think I have granular reviews in me. But yeah, my score is a somewhat resigned 3.


  1. I'll consider myself fortunate I didn't watch past the first few episodes of season 1. I just watched this episode and so far it's hugging the top end of your projection graph.
    From what I've heard, there are about three real Star Trek stories in this season. While that's not as many as TNG which had about that many per episode, that's three more than from all the Discovery and Picard episodes I was unfortunate enough to see, combined.
    I haven't watched Strange New Worlds or Prodigy yet, but I'm feeling that hope again for a real Star Trek story, from the top end of your projection graph, and beyond . . .

    1. If you bailed before "Stardust City Rag" in Season 1, consider yourself fortunate and don't look back. :-)