It’s a minor miracle that Star Trek: Picard even exists. The idea that Sir Patrick Stewart would return to the role that made him a household name two decades after last portraying Star Trek: The Next Generation icon Captain Jean-Luc Picard seemed impossible until the day it was announced by the man himself in 2018 at a Las Vegas Star Trek convention. The initial excitement and buzz around the project somewhat dissipated when the show’s polarizing first season debuted. Set 20 years after the final TNG film, Star Trek: Nemesis, there was no Enterprise, Picard’s old crew were nowhere to be found, and Starfleet had seemingly lost its moral authority. Moreover, the empathetic, brilliant Jean-Luc Picard had become something of a sad old man. Season 2, hindered by pandemic restrictions, was met with an equally divisive reaction. This time, however, Trekkies can breathe a sigh of relief. Star Trek: Picard season 3 takes the series out in style as it tells the epic farewell story the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation always deserved.
Set shortly after season 2, the new season begins with the retired Picard receiving a mysterious distress call from Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), the Enterprise’s former chief medical officer who disappeared years earlier for reasons unknown. Beverly informs Picard he can’t trust Starfleet Command, so he enlists his former first officer and close friend Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to help him rescue the good doctor. With the help of Commander Seven Of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Picard and Riker hitch a ride on the USS Titan-A to search for Beverly. The pair end up uncovering both personal revelations and a galaxy-altering conspiracy. Over the season’s first six episodes (which were screened for this review), Picard reassembles his old colleagues from the Enterprise to take on one final threat that could potentially decimate Starfleet and the Federation.
While Picard, Riker, and Crusher are the early focus in season 3, the entire TNG cast eventually show up, all of them in fantastic form. The noble Klingon warrior Worf (Michael Dorn) now considers himself a pacifist, though one who carries a very large sword. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) has become a decorated Starfleet officer and family man, with both of his adult daughters now serving in Starfleet. Brent Spiner, most famous for portraying the late android Data, returns as Lore, Data’s evil twin brother, though his return is not as straightforward as it might seem. The lone holdover from the first two seasons of Picard is Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), who mostly manages to hold her own among all these franchise legends.
The entire TNG cast is still at the top of their game, embodying these characters like they never stopped playing them. However, the standout performance is Frakes as Riker, who has become much crankier and funnier in his old age. Frakes largely abandoned acting in favor of directing gigs after Star Trek, but the twinkle in Riker’s eye suggests Frakes is still very good at this, and he’s clearly having a blast back in his Starfleet uniform. He even manages some genuine pathos in scenes with Stewart’s Picard, as the two old friends grapple with personal failings and potentially disastrous starship shenanigans.
The first two seasons of Picard came under fire for their relatively slow pace, largely personal stakes, and the amount of time they spent on Earth. New showrunner Terry Matalas has corrected essentially all of these issues. In many ways, season 3 feels like an entirely different show from the previous two, one that embraces the traditional trappings of Star Trek in ways Picard actively avoided before. There’s no more wallowing in grief or confronting long-buried mommy issues for Jean-Luc Picard this season — the man is once again on a mission to save innocent lives at any cost.
The details of the season’s overarching plot deserve to remain secret, but it’s clear this is a story Matalas, a lifelong Star Trek fanatic, has wanted to tell for quite some time. Crusher sends the initial distress call as she’s being pursued by Vadic (Amanda Plummer), a mysterious new villain with a grudge against the Federation. To say more about Vadic’s motivations would spoil too much, but her vendetta against the Federation has some inspired roots in a much-loved corner of Star Trek lore.
After experimenting with form and tone over its first two seasons (with mixed results), Star Trek: Picard season 3 is an unqualified triumph. The plot is compelling, the performances are strong across the board, and it’s even surprisingly funny. It’s arguably the best Star Trek story since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended its run in 1999. The love and respect for these characters and their universe is apparent, and if this truly is the final chapter for Jean-Luc Picard and the cast of TNG, it’s a more than fitting sendoff.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 begins streaming on Paramount+ Thursday, February 16. Season 3 consists of ten episodes that will stream weekly.