By golly, they stuck the landing. It wasn't flawless or groundbreaking or deep or anything crazy like that, but they saw this final adventure through to a satisfactory and satisfying conclusion. The result is certainly the best season of Star Trek in the Alex Kurtzman era, and one that honors the legacy of these characters and sends them off right.
This season of Star Trek: Picard might best be thought of as the final TNG movie that never happened after Nemesis tanked at the box office. It's structured like a movie and has the sensibilities and technical qualities of a movie (visual effects, production design, music, sound design) — and, yes, the mainstream dramatic concessions of a movie. It also has the length of several movies, which was perhaps the biggest problem with how the season was structured.
Yes, in retrospect, we spent far more time than we needed being stalked by Vadic, given the amount of information that was contained in those episodes (which is why I think a jaunt to the Founders, to get another perspective on Vadic's faction of shapeshifters, might've been a better way to fill some of this out with a little more current-day-Trek world-building that tied into the plot). And the nonsense around the portal weapon, M'Talas Prime, and Picard's corpse (and the attack used to "cover up" the theft in a way that did exactly the opposite) were meaningless time-fillers. But overall, even with the protracted conspiracy plot that was merely the front for the familiar Big Bad in the Borg Queen, these episodes were mostly individually well-paced and entertaining, aside from "Dominion" and the first 20 minutes of "Surrender." That's not a bad batting average at all.
Now we close everything out with "The Last Generation," which is a conventional popcorn sci-fi action extravaganza that wraps up the plot (effectively, more or less), and provides us with an extended, nearly 20-minute-long coda that allows us to decompress and say goodbye. It's the best of both worlds, if you'll forgive the expression. This is chock-full of Trek-movie-oriented action sequences and a Countdown to Disaster™, in which the Borg try to assimilate and/or destroy humanity yet again, as well as wonderful character moments that give everyone their moment in the sun. Is it everything it could've been? No, but it is enough.
Plot-wise, what's maybe most interesting here is that the Borg threat arises from a weakened collective that's on its last legs, taking an improvised tack of evolution over assimilation, in part because they were so thoroughly devastated in Voyager's "Endgame." The collective is a shell of itself (and feeding on itself; the bodies of drones are being consumed to provide fuel), and the Queen speaks of a desperate loneliness. This, she believes, she has in common with Jack. For the moment, Jack agrees with her; he's decked out in the full Locutus outfit and is masterminding the hijacked fleet's attack on Earth's defenses. The fact the Queen specifically needed Jack to send the signal to activate the Borg DNA within the members of the fleet is a purely arbitrary contrivance, but that's Trek for you. It does, on the other hand, allow the Borg Queen and Jack to be thematically linked through the issue of missing connections and isolation, leading to their desire for control and domination.
So an away team must get aboard the Borg cube (which, in a nice VFX touch, has been hidden in the gasses of Jupiter's Great Red Spot) to retrieve Jack and figure out how to stop the transmission controlling the infected crew members in the fleet. This is some pretty standard action plotting, but it's entertaining and with top-notch production values, and the characters bring it to life. Picard has to find out how to connect with Jack in the lion's den. Riker and Worf must locate the beacon on the Borg cube. And Geordi, Data, Crusher, and Troi must destroy the beacon from the Enterprise.
Patrick Stewart gets the dramatic heavy lifting as Picard must face the Queen again (who provides the necessary exposition dump, while playing the part of the goading, laughing villain, which, yes, is a bit of a cliché) and make an emotional appeal to his wayward son. Riker and Worf get into a scrape with some Borg drones, resulting in hand-to-hand combat and Worf's next great entry in his series of weekly one-liners: "Swords are fun" (said while he had a phaser hidden in the sword the whole time). And the Enterprise has to do its best Death Star run through the Borg cube to reach the beacon and destroy it. The action and VFX are well-executed — albeit not the least bit original — and are elevated by the familiar gravitas provided by these characters.
And what can I say? The writers play it safe. Safe, but exciting and cinematic. Conventions are followed. Picard's connection and emotional pleas to his son are, of course, the key to everything, but one that has been earned over the previous nine episodes. The Enterprise is cribbing from the Millennium Falcon, but, boy, does it look great. And Seven and Raffi do their part, retaking the Titan bridge and trying to stave off the attack for a few crucial minutes to give our heroes time to save the day.
It's a fairly predictable wind-up action toy, but a fun and entertaining one. The Queen and the cube get Blowed Up Real Good™. The ceased transmission returns everyone to normal. It's all pretty easy, and doesn't work us or anyone too hard, but there are moments of tension and foreboding (as when Picard says goodbye to Riker on the cube and truly means it because he expects to die) and, above all, there's the camaraderie. Having this cast together to do its thing makes a generic action movie into a meaningful one.
And after the crisis is resolved, we get an extended final act, where we get to check in on everyone. Allowing so much time for closing character beats is a huge selling point in this finale, and a crucially correct decision made by Terry Matalas and the writers. The counseling session between Data and Troi is a highlight, as we see that Data learns, "Being human is just as difficult as the desire to be human." (I love the little details, where Data goes an hour over his scheduled time, while Troi is looking up vacation spots on her PADD.)
Meanwhile, Captain Tuvok, rescued from Changeling captivity, delivers some news to Seven, who was prepared to resign, but is shown a recording of Shaw's recommendation to promote her. (Shaw was an inconsistently written character, but Todd Stashwick did a good job playing him, and killing him was an overly tropey mistake.) For Seven, it's a welcome victory after all the nonsense written for the character in the first two seasons.
And Raffi buries the hatchet with her ex (now that she's getting positive news coverage) and gets to talk to her granddaughter. Her last scene with Worf is a nice moment — although it might've been good to catch up with Worf's life outside of his coworkers. (Where's his son? Or Martok? How's the Klingon Empire doing? The blanks in Worf's past 20 years are screaming to be filled in.)
Then we jump ahead one year, where we see the Enterprise back at the museum, where Picard, Riker, and Geordi shut it down. Goodbye, old friend. And we see the Titan, rechristened the Enterprise-G, deployed with Seven as captain, Raffi as first officer, and Jack as an ensign (who, having been fast-tracked through to officer status, is given the role of "counselor to the captain" and for some reason gets a seat next to her, which is pushing it). Terry Matalas has pitched a series called Star Trek: Legacy, in which some of these characters might continue on, and this scene tries mightily to envision it.
But what better way could you end this show than that final scene in the bar, with the toast and the poker game? The amount of joy, conveyed by these actors after all these years, is ultimately why we're all here, right? It's a moment that would damn near cover up 100 plot holes, because it's about the characters, stupid.
And I know it's not just about these sentimental moments (which, yes, take great care to engineer and should be recognized as such). It's also about what this season of Star Trek was able to accomplish. It accomplished an entertaining adventure that managed to be serialized over 10 episodes without tanking. That's new, but it's also not a high bar. This was not, let it be said, brilliant plotting or science fiction. But Star Trek has always been about the balance between the ideas, the process, and the characters, and this season managed to find enough of all of those things to be successful, with the emphasis clearly being on the characters. For that, I'm glad.
Some final thoughts:
- The contributions of Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann, who scored the music of this season, cannot be overstated. They did a wonderful job, and were able to weave in Jerry Goldsmith's and James Horner's themes and sensibilities in a way that really gave this the feel of a Trek movie throughout.
- Walter Koenig's voice-over as UFP President Anton Chekov, issuing an emergency transmission to stay away from an Earth under siege, is three homages for the price of one: (1) He's playing the son of his famous TOS character who is (2) named in honor of the late Anton Yelchin who played the character in the Kelvin movies, and who (3) delivers a message that is a slightly tweaked version of the warning the president delivered in Star Trek IV.
- Terry Matalas said they spent a ton of time building the Enterprise-D bridge and then only had two days to shoot on it. That's just insane. The production schedule for this season must have been incredibly tight. It seems almost tragic to go to that much work and then only get two days of use out of it. And then what? Were the sets struck shortly thereafter?
- Despite the disappointing mediocrity of the first two seasons of Picard, I'm not one that finds them completely without merit and I don't need to see them completely ignored or undone. That said, this season had its own agenda, and I'm glad they didn't further clutter the story trying to address loose ends like the Jurati Borg or the mysterious anomaly from the end of last season.
- I enjoyed the post-credit sequence with Q visiting Jack in its irreverent, mirthy way, even though Q died at the end of last season. (There's no reason this can't work given Q's ability to transcend linear time.)
- Laris, however, is completely forgotten by the story, after having been shipped off in the season premiere. That does feel like an oversight given how much of Picard's character was affected by emotional change last season, culminating in his decision to pursue a romantic relationship with her. Granted, this season probably took about 10 times the emotional toll on Picard, but still, some sort of acknowledgement would've been nice.
- I feel like the "One Year Later" card should've appeared immediately after the scene where they shut down the Enterprise-D, rather than before it. (I know; of all the things to play Monday morning quarterback about.)
- Old Man Worf snoring on the bridge. ‘Nuff said.
- Quick shout-out for Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, who played Sidney La Forge. She was a consistently solid supporting performer, and would be a welcome presence in a spinoff, should one happen.
- It would've been nice if they could've gotten Guinan in that final bar scene, rather than just name-dropping her as if she were just off-camera, but there are limits to what TV producers can pull off, I suppose. The name-drop was better than nothing.
- It seems to me like they would give the Enterprise-G designation to a new ship, rather than the 20-year-old Titan, but hey.
- I wavered back and forth between 3 and 3.5 stars on this review, before finally settling on 3. The sentimental part of me wants to give it 3.5, but the reasonable part of me knows better and doesn't want to hand out stars like candy.
- That about does it. Thanks for joining me for this TNG reunion we never thought we'd get. I plan to be back for Strange New Worlds in June and hope most of you also return for that, although I'm not expecting nearly the level of interest here as what we had for TNG's last hurrah.
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