At the beginning of "Seventeen Seconds," the third episode of the third season of "Star Trek: Picard," Riker (Jonathan Frakes) talks about the moment he saw his son born. He relates a moment when his wife, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) ran into complications during childbirth, and there was a 17-second span where he wasn't sure if his son was going to survive. This conversation — seen in flashback — establishes that Riker has a lot more at stake than he did back in the days of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He is no longer a careerist, but a family man. It makes sense that the character, now older and wiser, would also be more cautious. It's a welcome evolution of the character, and one that an old Trekkie can appreciate.
Curiously, Picard (Patrick Stewart) seems to have become conversely cavalier in his old age. During a tense battle between the U.S.S. Titan and the mysterious Vadic (Amanda Plummer) onboard a warship called the Shrike, Picard will be the one to suggest methods of combat and to shout lines like "We can't give in!" On "Next Generation," Picard was the cautious one and Riker the adventurer. The flip provides a wonderful new depiction of the relationship between the two men. They are behaving as peers. Picard is no longer Riker's boss.
As such, when Picard mentions to Riker that his newfound propensity for caution may be inspired by a pat personal tragedy, Riker stares him in the face and tell him that Picard is out of line. Picard is also banished from the bridge so Riker can take command. Capt. Shaw (Todd Stashwick) was injured during a starship battle a while earlier.
Picard's cavalier attitude is indicative of both what's strong … and what's weak … about this new season.
Behaving Out Of Character
To reiterate, the third season of "Picard" is, overall, plenty strong, especially when compared to the horrendous first two seasons. The storytelling is clear, the pace is tolerable, and the characters are no longer all violent murderers. As stated in a previous review, this season of "Picard" feels like a really good "Next Generation" movie.
It is worth noting, however, that none of the "Next Generation" movies were stellar. The films had their moments, of course, but they were largely replete with inappropriate "badass" movie moments with a cast that was never selected for their capabilities as action stars. Perhaps not content to tell cerebral, talky stories, the filmmakers behind the four NextGen films panicked and fled into the genre that "Star Trek" is least prepared to inhabit: action. In "Star Trek: First Contact," for instance, Picard is seen wearing a tank top, a gun strapped across his back, swinging on tubes to escape a room full of flesh-melting gas. In "Star Trek: Nemesis," Picard drives a dune buggy during a machine gun battle. The moments are dumb, and Picard is completely out of character.
Picard's attitudes in "Seventeen Seconds" cement this season as deliberately cinematic and action-forward. Yes, the season still feels like proper "Star Trek" — characters are still in uniform, there is a chain of command, and most of the action takes place on a starship — but a Trekkie can lament the same things about this season as they could about the movies. "Seventeen Seconds" declares openly that audiences will not be getting a complex sci-fi story or an ethical dilemma. This will be about battles, mysteries, and resolving long-held personal issues left over from 1994.
The personal problems addressed in "Seventeen Seconds," fortunately, will be of great interest to Trekkies. In the episode, Picard finally has a face-to-face conversation with Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) after decades apart and, prior to that, decades of will-they-won't-they sexual tension. Picard makes several references to their many failed attempts at romance, while Crusher brings up a single date 20-something years prior when the two conceived Jack (Ed Speelers), the fugitive being hunted by Vadic. Although pregnant, Beverly never mentioned to Picard that he fathered a son, as she knew that he — being an in-demand Starfleet captain — would constantly be in danger. She says that she could protect her own son, but would have a less easy time protecting the son of the great Jean-Luc Picard. Understandably, Picard is angry, shooting back that he never had a chance to consider being a father, given that he didn't know.
The fact that the characters have bad blood feels weirdly satisfying. They were co-workers decades before, are now older (it seems the characters are anywhere from 80 to 110), and no longer have the patience to rest on nostalgia. This may be said of the third season of "Picard" in general. There are a lot of nostalgic images and storylines — there will always be fan service — but the series now seems focused on how the characters have grown, not how they've stayed the same. There is a straight-up fan service episode coming later in the series, but the showrunners showed a great deal of restraint in waiting a while before getting to it.
And speaking of nostalgic storylines, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Worf (Michael Dorn) find that a classic villain from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" is back: the Changelings.
The Changelings Are Back
Back at the ranch, Worf and Raffi have been working together to track down who broke into a Federation artifact vault and stole a badass portal weapon that Vadic has been using to displace buildings and redirect the Titan's photon torpedoes back at them. In so doing, they track down a seedy villain who, upon interrogation, reveals that he is in fact a shape-shifting liquid being who is up to no good. Fans of "Deep Space Nine" will be able to say a great deal about the Changelings, as they served as the central antagonists during that show's Dominion War. DS9's security chief Odo (the late René Auberjonois) was a changeling, and his species never managed to get humanoid faces quite right, leaving his face smooth and featureless. Changelings also need to "sleep" occasionally, reverting briefly back into their liquid state every day or so.
Worf and Raffi find that the Changelings experienced a political schism and that a group of them have become anti-Federation terrorists. They wanted more than the portal weapon. What could it be? Worf, in a little wink, mentions that he knew an honorable man among the Changelings, an express reference to Odo. The revelation comes when the Titan also discovers there is a Changeling on board, sabotaging the ship and helping Vadic for unknown reasons. Also, why is Jack suddenly having dark, violent visions? The mysteries that the audience is left with are tantalizing.
The pace of this season has been perfect, with revelations coming steadily and logically. The character moments, likewise, have been explored with tact and the showrunners have allowed conversations to play out in full. The only thing one may still feel some trepidation about is the fact that "Picard" features no cosmic mysteries, philosophy, or heady sci-fi ideas of "Star Trek" at its best.
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