So here we are, at the very end. We talked last week about the perils of nostalgia, and yet even your cynical reviewer can’t resist the charms of the old Enterprise crew saving the galaxy one last time. But that’s largely to Picard’s credit, as despite a few missteps, the show does still understand how to wield nostalgia effectively.
Picard’s very last do-or-die mission involves one last confrontation with the Borg, who have been hiding not in a nebula, as we were meant to assume last week, but inside the gasses of Jupiter, broadcasting a signal, via Jack Crusher, to control the young Starfleet officers who have been assimilated, and are now mounting an attack on Earth.
Picard and crew figure out a plan in classic Next Generation style, and it involves Riker, Worf, and himself beaming onto the Borg ship. When they first beamed aboard a Borg cube on Next Generation, the Borg eerily ignored them, as they weren’t seen as a threat. Now the ship is eerily silent because it’s nearly empty, with only a few dead and rotting drones plugged into the system. The Borg Queen is assimilating Starfleet’s young officers because she no longer has a collective of her own. She’s dying, diseased and monstrous, with Jack as her only acolyte.
Picard has to get through to his son, before either Jack is lost forever or the Borg under his command destroy Earth, while the remaining Enterprise crew have an opportunity to destroy the Borg ship, killing Picard, Riker, and Worf in the process. We’ve all seen this before, and yet, like this week’s nostalgia, these old story tropes work because they’re earned.
Picard’s life-and-death heart-to-heart with his son is, on paper, the clichéd “evil guy who still has good in him is redeemed by the power of love,” and yet it works here because it’s rooted so deeply in Picard’s journey over these last three seasons. Jack, who seems blissfully unaware of the havoc he’s causing in the outside world, is content to be part of the collective, free of conflict, no longer feeling disconnected from the people around him. Picard opens up to him, perhaps more than he has since we first met the character, and admits he always kept people at a distance, even his found family in Starfleet, and he finally regrets that, having found his real family in Jack. Schmaltzy? A bit. But it’s a feather-soft landing for the themes of parenthood and regret we’ve been exploring all season.
We also see the remaining Enterprise crew struggle with a theme that’s run through all of Trek — the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few, and we’re reminded that they’re all willing not just to die for each other, but to sacrifice each other for the greater good if need be. The plot itself, which is fun but largely by-the-numbers, works not because the good guys win in the end, but because we’re reminded one last time of why these guys are good, and what they mean to each other.
And our warm embrace of our past favorites also works as well as it does, because the show still keeps one eye on the future. Our B story — in which Seven and Raffi are fighting back on the Titan, with only a few redshirts and the ship’s cook on their side — ends up serving as a backdoor pilot for the rumored-but-not-yet-greenlit spinoff Star Trek: Legacy, as Seven steps up as captain, figuring out how to free the Titan from Starfleet’s autopilot, and distracting the fleet long enough to buy Earth some time.
And we end, looking not towards the past, but towards the future. We get a wrap-up on where our characters have ended up a year later, and while we end the same way Next Generation did, with our crew enjoying the bonds of friendship over a friendly poker game (and one last Shakespearean monologue from Sir Patrick Stewart), the penultimate moment has Seven and her crew — Raffi, Sidney La Forge, and newly-minted ensign Jack Crusher — ready to seek out new life and new civilizations. And even our retirement-age characters are looking ahead to a bright future.
Nostalgia can be poison for a franchise, if it means we keep revisiting the past at the expense of the future. (Somehow, Palpatine has returned. Also, Boba Fett. And Darth Maul. And CGI Young Luke Skywalker. Make it stop.) But Picard has ended up being about more than revisiting the past, it’s been about embracing change and a new future, not just for our old characters — who have grown with the passage of time and will no doubt continue to do so — but for the next next generation, who will keep the story moving forward.
• We didn’t want to spoil this last week, but Captain Shaw dies in a shootout with the Borg. He gets a nice final emotional moment where he tells Seven it’s her ship now, and addresses her as Seven of Nine and not “Hansen.” We understand the impulse to push Shaw aside so Seven can be the hero (and headline the new spinoff, if Paramount decides to produce it), but Todd Stashwick was terrific in the role, and frankly, deserved better. We do see him in this episode in a moving pre-recorded message for Seven, but we would have happily watched him spar with her and generally be a grumpy bastard for a few more seasons. Picard showrunner Terry Matalas claims he has a satisfying way to bring him back for Legacy, and normally we’d roll our eyes at yet another Trek resurrection… but we want more Shaw. Find a not-entirely-stupid way to bring him back, and we’re on board.
• They couldn’t resist cramming in a little more fanservice — the President of the Federation is Anton Chekov, son of the original Enterprise helmsman, and voiced here by Walter Koenig (sans phony Russian accent).
• It usually bothers me when a character gets shot a few times and walks it off, but I’ll make an exception for Worf.
• We really sincerely hope this is the last we see of The Borg, which the franchise has done to death. And the Changelings go out with a whimper, as after infiltrating the highest levels of Starfleet and being set up as this season’s main villains, they barely get a mention this week.
• There’s also a post-credits scene, in which they couldn’t resist bringing one more character back from the dead. It’s a bit silly, but it serves to set up a potential storyline on Legacy, and let’s face it, if it weren’t a little bit silly, it wouldn’t be Star Trek.
• And that’s it for Jean-Luc Picard. See you in July when Strange New Worlds returns for season two. In the meantime, Paramount has also greenlit the long-rumored Section 31 series, in which Michelle Yeoh’s scenery-chewing villain from Discovery tangles with Starfleet’s black ops bureau. Although it’s now a one-off made-for-streaming movie, likely because Yeoh’s getting too many offers post-Oscar-win to commit to a series. No release date has been announced, but Paramount+ has rolled out a plan to do a small-screen Trek movie every two years (even as the latest big-screen outing for Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk continues to stall out in development hell). We’ll certainly write about those as they happen. And in the meantime, visit Subject’s ongoing TV coverage of The Big Door Prize, The Afterparty (the new season starts tomorrow on Apple TV), and the final seasons of Barry and Succession.