Opinions on the series seem pretty divided, with some saying it's the best bit of Star Trek since [insert date in the long-ago times] and others that it's little more than nostalgia bait.
I think it's a bit of both. There were a lot of incidents and developments that got a proper emotional reaction out of me. But some did so more cheaply than others. To use a culinary metaphor, some of the storytelling choices are satisfying home-cooked meals while others are unprocessed junk food.
In case this wasn't obvious, this review contains FULL SPOILERS.
First, the positives. Here's a short list of things I thought were properly good:
- Jack Crusher as a character
- The Borg's plan to sneakily assimilate everyone by spreading Picard's Borgified DNA
- Ro Laren
- The crew of the Titan
- Seven becoming the captain at the end
I also can't deny that seeing the Enterprise-D again was a bit of a moment. Obviously it's nostalgia bait, but I thought it made enough sense in context that I went with it.
However I also kept running into issues with the story. In a vague attempt to be systematic, we'll call them the four Cs: contraception, Changelings, consequences and conclusions.
It's clear from context that Jack wasn't planned, so Crusher got pregnant accidentally. But this doesn't make sense. Contraception in the 21st century is advanced enough that we can prevent the majority of unplanned pregnancies. Futuristic contraception ought to be way better. Combine that with the fact Picard and Crusher are both educated professionals, and an accidental pregnancy looks unlikely. Even if it did happen, Crusher could have had an abortion.
For such a central plot point, it's clumsy. Two characters who previously handled their relationship with maturity are suddenly stupid teenagers.
This isn't the first time the show has pretended the future is weirdly primitive in order to create a story. In season two, it's revealed that Picard's mother was mentally ill, so her husband locked her in a room to stop her hurting herself. Even today we know that's cruel and counterproductive, which is why it's illegal.
I understand the impulse to have actual conflict, rather than everyone just calmly getting along and solving problems. But stuff like this feels forced.
Great to see these folks again. Just two questions:
- Why are they helping the Borg? It seems to be out of sheer malevolence, but like most such motivations it makes no sense. The Changelings hate non-shapeshifters, derisively calling them solids. Wouldn't the Borg be the ultimate solids? Also, surely the Borg's new genetic assimilation technique could also be applied to the Changelings? You'd think they'd be at least a bit worried about that. All of which could be sorted out if there were, for instance, multiple Changeling factions so we could see them hashing these issues out. Instead the Changelings are reduced to moustache-twirling villains.
- What did we learn about the Changelings that we didn't know before? For all the screen time they get, nothing new emerged. We don't understand their culture or history any more than we already did. They're just being used as a plot point, and as a smokescreen to delay the obvious reveal that the Borg are the main villains.
Here I think the show's desire to spring surprises on the audience has worked against it. By holding back the reveals of the Changelings and the Borg, the show ends up spinning its wheels when it could be fleshing out its antagonists.
Over its three seasons, Star Trek Picard has made a lot of big choices, and hardly any of them matter.
- At the end of season one, Picard died - except he was reborn in a synthetic body and went on just like before.
- Data also died, again, except now he's back.
- At the end of season two, Agnes became the new Borg Queen, with the promise that this would in some way transform the Borg. But in season three there's no sign of her and we're back to the original Borg Queen.
- At the end of season two, Picard was in a relationship with Laris, but she gets shoved to one side at the start of season three and never seen again.
- Q died in season two, except it turns out he can still pop up whenever he likes.
- In season three, Ro Laren died - except I've seen an interview with showrunner Terry Matalas in SFX where he says he left her an out. Same for Shelby, who got shot by a Borg, but who Matalas says may or may not be dead.
What we have here is something like the Star Wars sequel trilogy, the story of which lurched around from movie to movie. It's a series that's been pulled in twenty different directions, because its creators never agreed on what it was. Consequently, all sorts of interesting ideas have been brought up but then discarded, and the whole thing is wildly inconsistent despite heavy serialisation.
And that brings us to:
The only reason Star Trek Picard exists is that The Next Generation doesn't have a proper ending. Well, technically it ended twice, but neither was definitive.
The TV show ends beautifully with "All Good Things..." but that was written in the full knowledge that movies were coming. Hence it offers a potential future for the characters but then undoes it all, and ends with them all still together on the Enterprise-D. It's a deliberately open ending. I love it.
And then there's Nemesis. This offers endings for Data (dead, with a potential out) and Riker and Troi (married, off to another ship). In the process it undoes Worf's ending from Deep Space Nine, and does absolutely nothing for Picard, La Forge or Crusher. Also it's rubbish, but my point here is that it's not a conclusion.
A lot of the chatter around season three of Star Trek Picard has been that it finally gave the characters a fitting send-off. I disagree. It gave them a reunion and an adventure that I enjoyed. However, for the most part it doesn't end the story.
The one TNG character that genuinely does get an ending is Data, who finally achieves his goal of being human. That's satisfying in theory, but it comes far too easily given that Data is dead at the start of the story. Besides, I would argue that dying is part of being human, so Data already achieved his goal. The new ending feels like a reversion to the obvious.
Crusher becomes an admiral and Picard embraces fatherhood. Whether the two of them are in a relationship now, or if Picard's still with Laris, or what, I have no idea.
The other characters are largely unchanged by the story. Riker and Troi already had their ending, and all the show does is repeat it. La Forge and Worf's endings have happened off-screen, in that one has got married and had kids (implying he's stopped being a creep with women) and the other has chilled out a bit and got into yoga.
This is all exemplified by the final scene. Star Trek Picard concludes exactly the same way The Next Generation does: with the crew playing poker together before heading off to their next adventures. It's so telling that, for all the sturm und drang of the four movies and the three seasons of this show, we end up in the exact same place we finished in 1994. This must be deliberate; they use the same swirling overhead shot. It was a beautiful ending the first time, but doing it again feels like a cop-out to me.