Star Trek: Picard, series 3 review: fans will be overjoyed – then devastated – with this curtain call

Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard - Trae Patton/Paramount+
Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard - Trae Patton/Paramount+

The great shame of the final series of Star Trek: Picard (Amazon Prime Video) is that it feels like the start of something rather than the end. Having gone out of its way to side-swerve nostalgic Trekkies in its first two seasons, only now, as the final frontier looms, does this spin-off for Patrick Stewart’s eponymous chrome-domed captain give fans what they want: to bring the gang back together.

The first character on screen is Gates McFadden’s Doctor Beverly Crusher. Last seen 21 years ago in the dreadful Star Trek: Nemesis, Beverly is back – fleeing alien spaceships while ignoring the entreaties of a mysterious passenger sealed in the adjoining chamber of her craft.

Shortly afterwards, the former Captain – now Admiral – Picard reunites with his old bestie and second-in-command Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes). They’re in a dimly lit bar, conspiring convivially. Their plan: board a Federation Starship under false pretensions to rescue the imperilled Crusher (after freezing Picard out for two decades, she sends an SOS out of the blue). Next stop: Trekkie heaven.

Yet alongside the thrill of Jean-Luc and his former First Officer trading zingers, it’s hard not to feel a sting of regret that the Amazon spin-off didn’t get here sooner. What a shame, in hindsight, that seasons one and two should tiptoe around the legacy of the Next Generation.

Gates McFadden in Star Trek: Picard - Trae Patton/Paramount+
Gates McFadden in Star Trek: Picard - Trae Patton/Paramount+

Picard’s years going boldly across the universe weren’t entirely glossed over. There were cameos by Frakes and by Marina Sirtis as Riker’s wife Deanna Troi (she returns in the latest series). And the second run of episodes was devoted entirely to the digital afterlife of Picard’s dearly-departed android pal Data.

But, with novelist Michael Chabon setting the tone as showrunner, Picard was chiefly interested in exploring such deep – and, in the context, dreary – subjects as mortality and the meaning of life. The pace was plodding; Stewart was required to act and look every one of his 80-odd years. This was more Stark Trek than Star Trek and did nobody any favours. Besides, the franchise had already mulled over the ageing process in the original William Shatner-Leonard Nimoy films.

That’s all out the window here. That old stirring TNG theme tune – itself pinched from Star Trek: The Motion Picture – has been dusted down. There are space battles and an enormous galaxy-hopping dreadnought called the Shrike, piloted by a vengeful captain (Amanda Plummer). Picard also confirms a romance between Jean-Luc and Beverly. The “will they/won’t they?” relationship had been teased in the original Next Generation only to be hand-waved away in the movies.

Picard’s derring-do carries self-conscious echoes of epic Star Trek moments from the past (a spirit likewise evoked in the excellent Paramount+ reboot Star Trek: Strange New Worlds). There are, in particular, multiple callbacks to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. An early interstellar stand-off unfolds in a tangerine nebula that is a dead ringer for one from the 1982 classic. And, just as in Khan, a major character learns they have a secret son.

More than anything, though, Picard series three feels like a much-delayed return for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Incoming showrunner Terry Matalas has spoken of wanting to give the crew a deserving send-off after the underwhelming adieu that was Nemesis.

He’s true to his word. Michael Dorn’s Worf, complete with an oddly-shaped Klingon weapon, resurfaces. As does engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Jeri Ryan’s Borg Seven of Nine. Best of all, Stewart, an outstanding scenery chewer as well as a great actor, gets to cross swords with the vast space ham that is Frakes.

It’s wonderful. It’s also officially the end. Trekkies will be overjoyed – and then devastated the fun is over almost as soon as it has begun.