Thu Dec 21, 2023
In the original 1960s Star Trek series, baby-boomer Trekkies had the suave Captain Kirk to aspire to. But Gen Xers were even more fortunate to have the genteel Captain Picard gracing the small screen in Star Trek: the Next Generation (TNG).
TNG was my Star Trek. I eagerly awaited every new episode that aired Friday nights. Watching it was a family affair. There was no better science-fiction show on television (albeit the choices were slim back then). TNG not only had terrific writers, but also a cast that gelled like no other.
When we moved to Canada, we lived out of a hotel room for a few months. I was amazed to discover there were cable channels that played non-stop reruns of TNG. We sat in our hotel room watching episode after episode (this constant exposure is how we converted my sister into a Trekkie).
After TNG aired, a few more live-action Star Trek shows came out over the intervening years, including Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, and Strange New Worlds. But, even though these shows had some fantastic Captains at the helm (Captain Janeway was marvelous), Captain Jean-Luc Picard is still widely regarded as the best Star Trek Captain of all time. In 2020, when Star Trek: Picard came out, it was an absolute gift to the fans.
And, although the writing could never hope to equal TNG levels, it was just grand to see Picard back in action. Of course, without the camaraderie of the original TNG crew, Picard’s solo adventures were lacking that nostalgic spark. Until the old crew got back together in Season Three.
The first eight episodes of Season Three were terrific - sharp writing, great characters, and an intriguing plot. But, disappointingly, it all fell apart in the final episodes.
(Needless to say, this post contains major spoilers for Start Trek: Picard, so continue at your own discretion.)
When Jack Crusher Junior, with assistance from Deanna Troi, opened the red door in his mind, I was immediately disheartened. I was expecting some fresh and unexpected new foe. Instead, we got the Borg - again.
Put aside the fact that in Season Two, Agnes Jurati, after being assimilated by the Borg Queen, convinced the Queen to create a more amenable Borg collective where assimilation is voluntary. Season Three’s writers inexplicably ignore this plot development, along with the revelation in Season Two’s finale that the Borg are now petitioning for Federation membership.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Season Two’s Borg collective represent a schism or isolated sect of Borg, despite this idea being completely antithetical to the fundamental homogenous nature of the Borg collective. So, we are back to the original old-school Borg where “resistance is futile” simply because the Borg is a favourite villain amongst casual Star Trek viewers who care little for nuance or breaking with canon.
The Borg have been resurrected countless times in the Star Trek universe and Trekkies (I guess I’ll have to reluctantly group myself amongst them) are, quite frankly, sick of them.
Sadly, this well-worn throwback is just one symptom of the heavy-handed attempt by Picard’s writers to shoehorn in an ending to Picard that checks all the nostalgic boxes at the expense of a well-written denouement.
Okay, I’ll admit that it was absolutely glorious to see all the old crew together on the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D flying at warp speed to take on the Borg cube. But to get to this lovely moment, the writers sacrificed far too much for me to suspend my belief and truly enjoy it without reservation.
Here are the questionable plot concessions the writers made just to get the TNG crew together on the Enterprise-D:
To resurrect the old Enterprise-D, they made Geordi La Forge the custodian of a Starfleet Museum where he just happened to be fixing up the Enterprise-D to make it spaceworthy. It also conveniently happens to be the only functioning Starfleet ship not controlled by the Borg through software updates that all newer ships have.
Throughout the whole season, the primary villain was a chilling, Changeling bounty hunter called Vadic, played by the excellent Amanda Plummer. Plummer brought unhinged fervour and depth to this role with Vadic being the victim of unscrupulous, unethical experiments conducted by Starfleet scientists. But, just so they could bring back the tired old Borg, they shoved her unresolved story arc aside and killed her off prematurely. Not only did we lose a terrific villain, but the evil scientists seemingly “get away with it”.
Along similar lines as the previous point, they gunned down the refreshingly-jaded Captain Liam Shaw, played by Todd Stashwick. Stashwick was just fantastic in this role and I was extremely sad at his untimely demise. Couldn’t they at least have mothballed him for a future spinoff? Not only did they unceremoniously remove him from the story, but - in order to ensure that only the original TNG crew and nobody else made it onto the Enterprise-D - the writers came up with an awkward scene where Seven-of-Nine and Raffi urge Picard and crew to flee while they remain with Shaw’s body. The false urgency is laughable considering the firefight is over. Couldn’t the TNG crew have waited a few seconds so that Seven and Raffi could join them?
We eventually discover that the Borg obtained some assimilation code buried in Picard’s brain (from his corpse, no less, since the current Picard is a synthetic) so they can inject it into the transporter software and assimilate anyone who beams up. Okay, that’s bonkers enough, but what makes it an absolute joke is that this assimilation code only affects people under 25-years old. I’m sorry, but are we really supposed to just swallow this baloney whole without choking? The writers obviously didn’t give a shit about insulting the audience’s intelligence because this ridiculous conceit got them what they wanted: Only the older TNG crew remains to save the day.
So, with these creative liberties, the writers wrangled the TNG crew onto the bridge of the Enterprise-D. A final gift for the fans. Wonderful - seriously great.
But, after that seminal moment, the plot machinations slide further and further down before dissolving into mud.
Incredibly, the TNG crew develop new abilities, showing us all that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Data suddenly develops supercharged piloting skills and is able to pilot the Enterprise-D through an impossible course through to the centre of the Borg cube.
Deanna Troy suddenly discovers she can locate people with her thoughts. That would have been really handy in the TNG series.
Picard develops the amazing ability to connect himself to the Borg collective and assimilate or un-assimilate himself at will. Indeed, it seems that all that is required to un-assimilate oneself is free will, which allows Jack Crusher to leave the Borg Collective simply by wishing to do so. Perhaps assimilation has always been voluntary after all?
At the end, despite infiltrating the senior ranks in Starfleet and being a menacing threat until Vadic is killed off, the Changelings are mopped up with little fanfare in a throwaway line about reprogramming the transporter. Even a child with crayons could think of a better ending for them. Such as a final boss fight with the gelatinous blobs of their true form joining up all together into a giant slimeball or appearing as a bunch of twisted human corpses mashed together.
Jack Crusher is now an incredibly dangerous Borg “transmitter” who can telepathically control people and ends up destroying all of Earth’s planetary defences before bombarding Earth’s cities. We all know from the previous season that it is impossible to surgically remove this biological Borg component from your brain and it will eventually kill you. However, this does not stop Jack Crusher from being fast-tracked through StarFleet Academy to become an Ensign on a Starfleet ship. It seems that nepotism can overcome even serious extinction-level security risks.
Also, Jack Crusher now takes great pride in his family, so it seems bizarre that he does not voice any desire to meet his half-brother, Wesley Crusher. We all know that Wil Wheaton is extremely available and was probably waiting for a call from the show’s producers. But, unfortunately, it seems his brief cameo in Season Two was all the screen time he was going to get, despite the appearance of his mother and half-brother in this season. Seems like a lost opportunity for a family reunion.
But you know who they did bring back? The mortal immortal Q. After setting up a long story arc in Season Two which culminates in Q’s death, we learn in Season Three’s final moments that Q is not dead after all. Surprise! You can toss all the character development and final philosophical anguish of Season Two out the window.
It’s almost as if Season Three’s writers went out of their way to mock and cheapen every plot development in Season Two. The irony is that Season Three is a much better-written season in every way. Right up until the end, that is.
Ultimately, there can never be a satisfactory epilogue for a series as beloved as TNG. Perhaps the only feeling devoted fans are left with is that they must rewatch TNG immediately. I know that’s the way I felt.
Unfortunately even that isn’t a simple matter. In Canada at least, you must sign up for Paramount Plus to watch Star Trek: Picard. But TNG is not even on Paramount Plus. You’ll need to subscribe to Netflix to watch it.
I miss the golden age of streaming and am bummed that it’s over. Streaming is now fractured. But, it’s too expensive to subscribe to Netflix, Crave, Paramount Plus, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV Plus all at the same time. And all these services keep raising their prices, forcing you to pick only one.
That would mostly be okay as you can just rotate through subscriptions, subscribing and cancelling as necessary. Annoying and impractical for families who all watch different shows, but whatever. Most egregious of all, however, is that streaming platforms are all pushing the ad-supported version, which does not even support 4K and Dolby Vision.
In a blink of an eye, we’ve lost over twenty years of progress. The year 2000 called and it wants Cable TV back.