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Picard (Season 3)

 A few years ago, when the first season of Picard came out, I gave it a fairly damning review on here. I gave up on season 2, but season 3 seems to have turned things around a bit, so it seemed worth a look. And it is indeed much more fun, which is what I mostly look for in a space opera. 

I’ve seen people argue pretty convincingly that this new, improved Picard is really just fan service, and to be fair it does exist primarily to drop loads of references to Star Trek: The Next Generation. But it’s still an improvement, I think. The first season of Picard seemed to have been made by people who were a bit embarrassed by Star Trek’s baggage, and now it appears to have been wrenched from their grasp and placed in the hands of someone who absolutely loves it, which has to be preferable. And cunningly, I have forgotten most of TNG, so I probably didn’t spot most of the references, and was able to enjoy this series as a bit of straightforward (if fairly generic) Star Trek

The story - I was going to say - is simple… but it really isn’t. My son dipped into it for a couple of episodes while he was at home over Easter, and trying to bring him up to speed made me realise just how loopily convoluted it all is, as the new writers wriggle out of corners they’ve been painted into by the previous writers, who had in turn been painted into corners by the original series. Picard himself is now a robot, for some reason, and the plot revolves around his long ago assimilation by the Borg in one of those old episodes I’ve half forgotten. Many of the other cast members are towing baggage of similar complexity. (Lord knows what Data’s deal is - how is he old?) 

Anyway, Starfleet is being taken over by a sinister alien influence (which should come as no surprise to them, since it seems to happen every couple of months). Only JL Picard can save the day, but not until he’s rounded up all his old bridge crew to help him. The first few episodes are one long Run Deep, Run Silent submarines-in-space battle (a bit like the one in The Wrath of Khan). The second half goes more conspiracy thriller. The bad guys are the shape-shifting Changelings from Deep Space Nine, until - slightly too late to be dramatically interesting - that’s revealed to be a feint and the real bad guys turn out to be the dreaded Borg, who have worked out a (rather nifty) new way of assimilating the Federation. In  the climactic episodes our OAP heroes race to save the day as all the younger, more suggestible people become part of a malevolent hive mind and turn on their elders, like on Twitter.

Back when the first Star Trek movies were coming out, reviews and Mad magazine parodies were full of gags about how old the cast were, and many references were made to their hairpieces and paunches. But that was in the early ‘80s,  barely a decade after the original show had aired. I suppose William Shatner and co were probably in their fifties. Nobody now seems to find it remarkable that Patrick Stewart and his merry band are returning to their roles after nearly forty years. I guess we’ve grown used to the idea of old rock stars (another reliable butt of jokes when I was a yoof) so we can take old space heroes in our stride. But it’s quite amusing that, in order to make it work, the show ends up taking the same route as Quatermass IV, with a threat that turns the young into mindless puppets while only the oldies resist. (Is it meant to be satire, or is that an accident?)  I don’t care - I’m old and getting older, so I was cheering them on, while worrying that their sciatica will be playing up like billy-o after all that running about.

It’s very, very far from perfect. There are a lot of windy speeches, and much fruitless groping towards unearned epiphanies. Jeri Ryan is still oddly underused as Seven of Nine, who is just another badass space lady now, having lost her strange mix of comic froideur and touching vulnerability. The Borg remain the most easily defeated of space villains - so unsettling and grotesque when they first turn up, but so easy to dispose of. Pro tip: if your sinister space-cube features gaps so big that a whole starship full of boomers can fly around inside it, you should probably consider installing a gun or something to protect the central doohickey that you’re using to turn their weans against them. The Borg adapt, but they never learn.

But although the story isn’t simple, it isn’t important either. This is a nostalgia machine designed to get the original cast back together on the bridge of their original Enterprise, and if that’s something you want to see, Picard delivers with it with a certain amount of style and good humour. There’s a splendidly grumpy starship captain (Todd Stashwick), and a good, scenery-chewing villainess (Amanda Plummer). If this had been the first season rather than the third (and final) one, I’d have said it was full of promise.


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