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It seems like Jean-Luc Picard never learns. At the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale “All Good Things…”, the Captain finally joins his senior officers of the USS Enterprise for a game of cards. “I should have done this a long time ago,” he admits with some resignation.
But when the Captain returned to screens for Star Trek: Picard, after a twenty-year absence following the dismal final TNG movie Star Trek: Nemesis, he didn’t bring his old crew with him. Sure, Data, Riker, and Troi dropped by for an episode or two, but Picard spent most of his time with a new renegade gang. It wasn’t until Picard hit its third and final season that the Captain was rejoined by his most famous crew.
Patrick Stewart recently explained to The Wrap the reservations he had about the final season. Although he admits that he is “moved” by the “strong sentimental feelings” about TNG, he also believes reunions are antithetical to the series. “That’s essentially not what Star Trek was about,” he countered. “I didn’t want for all of that work to collapse into internal jokes about the previous show or comedic episodes or even romantic episodes.”
Leaving aside the fact that Next Generation only got the green light after the success of movies that brought back The Original Series cast, there’s certainly validity to Stewart’s concerns. For all of their commercial success, viewers have complained about the increasingly self-referential nature of rival Star Wars, following the lead of Disney’s big money-maker the MCU. While knowing in-jokes work well on Lower Decks, and Picard season one did open with a shot of memorabilia from TNG (including the Picard Day banner from “The Pegasus,” an unlikely keepsake for the child-phobic Captain), Jean-Luc would be a poor fit in the same approach.
For most, showrunner Terry Matalas managed to get the series back on course by charting a careful path between knowing winks and new territory. The surprise return of Ro Laren, for example, both resolved a dangling plot from TNG and showed growth by both the Bajoran dissident and Picard. At the same time, new characters held their own against long-time favorites, none more so than Todd Stashwick’s persnickety Captain Liam Shaw.
In many ways, Stewart’s feelings about Star Trek: Picard simply continue a gap between what he and the fans want for his character. As the actors gained more leverage as producers, they exerted greater control over storylines. Sometimes, this control resulted in interesting takes on established characters, as with the swashbuckling, sleeveless shirt-wearing Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. Other times, that led to scenes of Picard racing dune buggies and romancing attractive ladies who aren’t Beverly Crusher.
Despite his misgivings, Stewart is glad that he listened to Matalas’s advice for the third season. “I was always a little uneasy that it would just be thought of as cashing in on the success of an earlier series,” said Stewart, before confessing that the show’s final season exceeded expectations. “It was more than that. And that was the work of my fellow producers and directors and showrunners—Terry Matalas in particular for what he created for us.”
Truly, Matalas and others showed Picard that rejoining the TNG crew was something he should have done a long time (or at least two seasons) ago. He was always welcome.