Star Trek: Picard S3E1 “The Next Generation”- Review, Analysis, Speculation
[INTRO] — Welcome to spoilertown!
Welcome to spoilertown. If you watching Star Trek: Picard’s new season three and you have not seen the first episode, “The Next Generation,” then be warned that there will be spoilers from here on out.
[SECTION 1] — Recap
Let’s briefly summarize what happened in “The Next Generation.”
1: Beverly Crusher is ambushed and calls for help.
2: Jean-Luc Picard receives and decodes Beverly’s message and then he and his Romulan life partner, Laris, agree he needs to go help Beverly.
3: Picard next meets Riker in Guinan’s swanky space bar, and Riker decides to help his old comrade.
4: Despite Crusher’s warning not to inform Starfleet, Picard and Riker use their Starfleet ranks to take a Starfleet shuttle to a Starfleet ship where they meet a Starfleet-ed Seven Of Nine [“Its commander Hanson, actually”] in order to sneak past Starfleet.
5: Then they try to trick Captain Shaw into a course change.
6: Seven chooses to follow her gut instead of following orders and takes Picard and Riker where they need to go
7: Picard and Riker find Beverly’s ship, the wounded Beverly, and…Beverly’s son?
8: Meanwhile, Raffi is on Planet Bladerunner tracking down stolen Starfleet weapons. She doesn’t track them fast enough, apparently, as she witnessed the resultant terrorist attack on M’Talas.
[SECTION 2] — Impressions / Analysis
In comparison to Star Trek: Picard seasons 1 and 2, this is better. Waaaay better. We’ve only gotten one episode in, but it feels like a fresh start. An actual story is unfolding. Even though some of the same story elements from previous Kurtzman-style Trek are present here — Wrath Of Khan style mega-weapons, or an opener that just starts shooting, for example — the pacing was more cinematic, more character-driven. Unlike the blockbuster format of the first two seasons of Picard and the four seasons of Discovery we’ve gotten so far, here, in only one episode, the characters seem like actual people who have interior lives. They actually know each other, have worries and concerns that feel organic to the situation.
Sure, there’s still lots of nostalgia in this episode. But, how that nostalgia is deployed is important. Case in point, the bar scene between Riker and Picard. The nostalgia doesn’t eclipse the needs of this story — it serves the needs of the story. When Riker and Picard wonder aloud why Beverly hadn’t contacted them for 20 years, it is because they as characters don’t really know. Their lack of knowledge drives the plot. In the first two seasons, it sometimes seemed that characters were being puppeteer-ed from the outside by a writer winking at the audience. Here, though, the plot is driven more by what the characters want and feel and fear. That makes them seem more real. Picard and Riker’s discussion of the past isn’t nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake — it comes from how Beverly coded her message. Their shared past connects to their current concern for her. And voila. We have a story.
Another scene in this episode also leans into one of the things we love about Star Trek: characters sitting around a table, talking. The dinner scene with Captain Shaw is raw, awkward, antagonistic — and the scene is successful because it shows an exterior conflict of all their internal states. The audience knows Picard and Riker are trying to trick Captain Shaw. The Seven we meet when the doors open is formal and precise, more like the Seven we remember from Star Trek: Voyager, and not like the Seven in the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard, who is angry and impulsive and murderous. On the Titan, she’s clearly reigning herself in. And, of course, Captain Shaw clearly has some unstated problem with everyone at the table. You could cut the tension with a phaser beam. And it all works beautifully because the pacing is slow enough to be cinematic, and we get to see these wonderful characters inhabited by wonderful actors.
Other observations: the USS Titan-A feels lived in. The officers and crew feel competent. They actually do stuff that doesn’t sound like nonsense. And, even very briefly, we get a sense that the members of this crew each have interior lives.
Even the universe finally feels like a big place again. It takes time to cover distances.
For our part, this episode already feels like a huge departure from the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard and even from the format choices of Discovery. It feels like a deliberately paced, rich, dramatic, like a Star Trek film, the likes of which we have not seen in nearly 25 years. It is only one episode, sure. But…the promise is there. And perhaps that promise will be squandered. Only time will tell.
[SECTION 3] — Speculation
It is much too early to know what is going on, but not nearly early enough to guess. The central questions revolve around why Beverly Crusher ghosted — ahem, GHOSTED — her old crew for 20 years, and who the villain of this story might be.
Beverly’s ghosting must have something to do with with her son, whom we discover toward the end of the episode. Is this a clone of Jack Crusher? Is he an illegal augment of some type? An android? Or…as we might suspect, is he Picard’s son? One thing is clear: he’s connected to the reason why Beverly Crusher left her former crew in the dark for so long.
Perhaps she left to protect him. But from what? If this is Picard’s son, then perhaps he has Jean-Luc’s Irumodic Syndrome, which might require genetic engineering to correct. Genetic engineering is illegal in the Federation, so beverly would have had to leave the Federation to do anything like that. Which, maybe, is why she tells Picard not to trust Starfleet in her message. And we do see some DNA depictions in the LCARS end credits sequence, which is filled with clues to the story. So, maybe this season will discuss the Federation ban on genetic augmentation. That would be a fitting topic for a Star Trek story. We have, in real life, left behind our fear of a Borg-like existence and have begun augmenting ourselves in many ways. And, we are on the cusp of a revolution in genetic alterations as treatments. It makes sense that Star Trek might want to revisit this conversation.
Back to Beverly’s son: if this person is Picard’s son, it is a great theme to touch on regarding Picard, himself, a man who says he needs no legacy, but who was deeply wounded by the death of his extended family, who lamented being the last of his line.
The other big question concerns the villain. So far, that’s tougher to answer. Whoever is chasing Beverly Crusher wears a different mask every time they appear. They could be a brand new kind of threat, which is fine. But, we could also see the return of someone or something we’ve seen before. The alien parasites from the old Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Conspiracy”? They would certainly be capable of wearing “different masks,” so to speak.
Or, could the villain be connected to the Borg? More specifically, to the Battle of Wolf 359? This is a strong possibility for a couple of reasons.
One, in the LCARS end credits sequence, we are introduced to the USS Constance, which was ‘lost in action’ on stardate 44002.3, dramatized in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Best Of Both Worlds Part 2,” which depicts the the Battle of Wolf 359. We suspect that Captain Shaw, who demeans Seven Of Nine and gives Picard and Riker the iciest reception this side of Andor, might have had a relative or a loved one aboard the Constance. Distaste drips menacingly from his mouth as he says ‘ex-Borg drone.’ Surely that prejudice, that emotion, is not random.
Also, the log playing on Beverly’s computer at the start of the episode is from the same incident in Star Trek: The Next Generation, from the time of Picard’s assimilation as Locutus and the subsequent Battle of Wolf 359. ANNNDDD, the coded message Crusher sends to Picard is also connected to the period of his assimilation. Is our villain a survivor from the USS Constance? It is a strong guess.
Of course, the villains chasing Beverly Crusher down might also just be the Solanogen-based lifeforms From the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Schisms,” based on that interesting clicking language they were using at the start of this season.
We don’t know who the villain is, ultimatley. Not yet. Nor, do we know what kind of weapons they stole, or what their aim is. Raffi is just at the beginning of that puzzle. But, surely, Raffi’s handler is Worf, right? “You are a warrior” typed out in communication to Raffi is highly suggestive.
Connections to other pop culture might also provide clues. The episode opens with a tune, “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” by The Inkspots, playing over visuals of majestic nebula. It is very reminiscent of Star Trek: Picard’s season 1 first episode, with “Blue Skies” by Bing Crosby. Both songs are from the 1940s, and both sequences resemble each other, and the opening to season 2 with Irma Thomas’s “Time Is On My Side.” A simple call back or something more? At any rate, this might also be a subtle reference to the video game series Fallout? If so, then it is one of two accidental or subtle references to video games, the other being the big mega-weapon used in the terrorist attack…which is reminiscent of the gun technology from the game Portal (“the cake is a lie”). Dessert can be treacherous.
[SECTION 4] — Canon Connections
1 There are a ton of easter eggs and references floating around in this episode. Let’s dig in.
On Crusher’s ship, in the very start of the episode, we see classic drama masks, a reference to Crusher’s love of theater. We see pearls, which could be a reference to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Big Goodbye.” And there are flowers, which we saw Beverly caring for in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause And Effect”? And perhaps the deepest cut of all, we see an award, “Cor Caroli V, Medical Away Team, Honorary Citizens”, which is a reference to something we’ve never seen but only heard about, a medical mission Beverly was involved with. This was discussed in exposition in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Allegiance.” And, of course, we see a container with Jack Crusher’s name on it. Jack Crusher is Beverly Crusher’s long-deceased husband.
We see a number of nice mementos in Picard’s home — the painting that hung in the Enterprise-D Ready Room is now above his fireplace. or, at least it seems liek the same painting — the jury is still out. It was retrieved from the crashed Enterprise-D, and may even carry a little damage. We also see Picard’s Ressikan Flute from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light.” We also see the artifact that was gifted to Picard in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Chase”? We see, perhaps, a Promellian Battle Cruiser, too, in a bottle, from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Booby Trap.”
The access code that Picard uses — “Picard-4–7-Alpha-Tango” — is from Star Trek: First Contact.
The planet Raffi is on, M’talas, is a reference from Star Trek: Enterprise. And named for Trek writer and current Star Trek: Picard showrunner, Terry Matalas.
Then, while Raffi is googling the Red Lady, her search results shout out a number of other things. A list of holidays, for one, which includes the Bajoran Gratitude Festival. There is also a brief mention of the decommissioning of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-F. After all, there’s “plenty of letters in the alphabet” (Picard in Star Trek: First Contact). We also see mention of a Voyager-B.
The Red Lady Raffi was searching for ended up being a statue of Captain Rachel Garrett, captain of the USS Enterprise-C from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Captain Garrett and her crew were instrumental in the changing and restoration of the prime timeline. It seems like someone in this current show has a problem with Captain Garrett.
Speaking of Rachel Garrett’s statue, let’s do a hard, wild speculation here: is the villain, like, a clone of Rachel Garrett, created by Sela, the Romulan-Human daughter of alternate Tasha Yar, whom we met in TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise”? And further, does that imply that Sela is cloning Starfleet officers as infiltrators and spies, which then could finally explain the existence of the Picard clone, Shinzon? That’s it. That’s the wild speculation.
Coming back to canon connections, we revisit Guinan’s Bar in Los Angeles, which, if you believe the end credits sequence, will be recreated in holographic form later in the show, with safeties off.
The sheet music we see in the end credits is the song, “Pop Goes The Weasel,” which is a reference to the moment when Riker first met Data on the holodeck back in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Encounter at Farpoint.” We’ll have to keep an eye on the meaning of this Data reference.
And Geordi’s daughter, Sydney, was name dropped first by Geordi in an alternate timeline, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale, “All Good Things.”
And there is a reference to Rigel VIII, one of the first planets ever named in the Star Trek franchise.
A number of musical cues, font choices, and situations in this episode heavily reference other Star Trek films…from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Wrath Of Khan, The Search For Spock, First Contact…on and on. And much of that music coincided with on-screen, situational referencing. We have a LaForge offspring at the helm of the Titan, just like we had a Sulu offspring at the helm of the Enterprise-B (Star Trek: Generations). Picard and Riker are sort of stealing the USS Titan-A, sort of like how Kirk and company stole the Enterprise in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. We had a moment of total starship porn, when Picard and Riker approach the Titan, just like Kirk and Scotty approaching the Enterprise in Star Trek I: The Motion Picture. Picard and Riker are doing a surprise inspection as a ruse to get aboard the Titan, just like Kirk did in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. The reveal of the space station is a very Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Seven ordering the ship to leave spacedock is akin to Saavik doing the same thing in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. The opening of this episode of Star Trek: Picard is highly reminiscent of the opening to Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
Captain Shaw’s reaction to Picard, the ‘ex-Borg drone’ is just as icy and mean as Commander Benjamin’s Sisko’s reaction to Picard, for the same reason, in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot episode, “The Emissary.” Picard and Riker forced to sleep in bunk beds is a bit reminiscent of Kirk and McCoy on Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And of course, the long lost son routine was seen before in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
So, lots of love and lore went into this first episode of season 3 of Star Trek: Picard. But, will it be enough? Only time will tell. See you next week.