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Trekkin' for something else
Picard season 3 is shaping up to be a fan favorite, a veritable pantheon of pure fan service and fun.
It’s Friday and the serious news will wait. I’m here to talk about space, the final frontier. Every few years I subscribe to Paramount+ just to catch up on Jean-Luc Picard and the rest of the Trek universe. About 18 months ago, I wrote about the fan-produced gem “Star Trek Continues” which continues to play on YouTube. Now I’ve binge-watched the second season of “Picard” and caught up with season three (currently at episode five of ten, halfway through), along with watching the first episode of “Strange New Worlds.” Trek is alive again, and paying fair tribute to its ancestors instead of murdering their timeline.
(There’s some mild spoilers ahead, but nothing earth-shattering.)
If you haven’t followed Trek since the collapse of the J.J. Abrams reboot, you’re not alone. The reboots tried to make Trek into an action series, and failed. They failed to capture the real connections between the main characters, and lost most of the Trekker community’s interest. Of course every Trekker knows that contrary to the mocker opinion of James T. Kirk as an impulsive action hero, he was actually a pretty intellectual character who motivated his crew. Jean-Luc Picard has been said to be one of the most realistic models of an O-6 (Captain in the Navy) running a large ship with departments and crew. They are both relatable in their own way (though it was noted that Picard would have been medically retired after his time as a Borg—I’ll come back to that one.)
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Binging keeps my summary compact. No need for long reviews. Season two of “Picard” was a long goodbye to Q, who it turned out cared deeply for his muse, Picard (I wasn’t surprised as I always suspected it). It was also an homage to “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” with the hilarious recreation of the Kirk and Spock bus scene with the same actor who played the punk with an attitude in 1984 returning for a reprise. Instead of whales, the time-travel plot revolved around Picard’s past, with a touching play on the issues of mental health and suicide. And instead of a ground-breaking interracial kiss, there’s a kiss of another kind (somewhat gratuitous, and not ground-breaking). There really didn’t need to be a season three, because season two wrapped itself up fairly well with no loose ends.
Fortunately for us, Patrick Stewart decided to play Jean-Luc Picard one more time, and so far, season three is the reprise we’ve all been waiting for. It’s better than any of the movies, while mercilessly skewering them. Here the Blues Brothers meets The Next Generation, because Picard and Riker are puttin’ the band back together.
With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100%, so far (there’s episodes to come) this season is shaping up to be a fan favorite, a veritable pantheon of pure fan service and fun. Many of the defects of previous Trek storylines and character arcs have been repaired. Jean-Luc is in prime Captain (now Admiral) Picard form, “persuasive when I need to be.” Riker is his smiling, and at turns, mercurial self. The aliens range from spectral galactic space jellyfish, to laughing mockeries of Abrams’ Captain Nero, with a “good afternoon” hail, but Captain Vadic is a much better villain, and her ship, the Shrike, is a much better warship.
Worf is finally allowed to be the kickass Klingon warrior we all know he is, but was prevented from doing in TNG (he was the “muscle” who got his butt kicked to show how dangerous the villain is episode after episode, and in DS9 he was way too one-dimensional). The return of Dr. Beverly Crusher (Wesley had a cameo at the end of season two) and another son, Jack, injects a lot of mystery in the plot. We’re only on episode five and I haven’t figured out whether the Crushers are going to end up as villains or not. There’s a whole “Stranger Things” in space vibe going, since the main antagonists appear to be the Changelings seen throughout DS9, and I’m sure something about the Great Link will emerge as Starfleet is rocked to its core and restored as the Paladins of the Galaxy.
Captain Shaw is a new character, and he seems to exist for the primary reason of comedy, showing how absurd the 30 years of adventures Picard, Riker and the rest of the TNG crew have been. Todd Stashwick is the perfect foil to Patrick Stewart—his comic timing is perfect, funny without trying to be funny.
The scene where Shaw is humming on the turbolift with Picard and Riker as they head to meet a Starfleet security contingent to “face the music” for commandeering Shaw’s ship and nearly destroying it, is almost perfect. Shaw counts off all the times, episode by episode, movie by movie, where the Enterprise crew endangered humanity and the galaxy, only to save it, as “you guys have a chicken and egg problem.” Picard and Riker exchange a glance, smile, and Picard deadpans “old times!” In a more serious scene, Shaw notes how nearly everyone on his crew perished at Wolf 359, with Locutus commanding the Borg cube; he has reason to deeply hate and distrust Picard. As I mentioned above, it defies logic why Starfleet would keep Picard around after Locutus, but of course there would be no show or movies or series if logic mattered.
But so far, the best moment, by far, in this resurgent Trek is a ten-second scene where Riker, as acting captain of Shaw’s ship, the Titan, yields the command chair to Picard. Picard sits down in the chair and—wait for it—performs the Picard shirt tug. I can’t tell you how satisfying that was. I even spoke it just before it happened, my family as witness, then rewound to play it again.
The funny thing is we all know this is going to turn out fine. Starfleet will be restored and Picard will save the galaxy. I don’t care how bad the villains are. We get to see the TNG crew reunited. Instead of Data, we get Lore (he hasn’t shown up yet). And we know that LeVar Burton is returning as Geordi La Forge. The band is getting back together, and Trekkers are getting the equivalent of a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream: decadent, sweet and fun.
I also watched the first episode of “Strange New Worlds,” the prequel to Star Trek. It’s—interesting. I sort of liked it, as it has that feel of The Original Series. It has that social commentary feel to it that mirrored the Cold War, civil rights, progressive (in a good way) vibe that the Kirk/Spock/McCoy version gave us. The whole “World War III” and second Civil War earth history (and our future) thing in episode one could have played really sour but for some reason it didn’t for me. There are more episodes and I’m going to take them one by one, carefully.
There might be a reason to keep Paramount+ if this Trek (versus Discovery, which was a mess) catches the right spirit of what Trek should be. I’ll give it a chance and hope for the best.
Until next time, enjoy your Friday and LLAP.