I’m issuing a red alert to all Star Trek fans, especially the Next Generation faithful out there: If you’ve already abandoned ship on Star Trek: Picard, it’s time to beam back onboard. The upcoming third and final season on Paramount+ — premiering Thursday, Feb. 16; I’ve seen the first six episodes — is easily the best season yet: a rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing return to form that finally gives us what we’ve wanted all along, bringing back all our Next Generation favorites for a beautiful and emotional reunion. But it also adds new dimension to those old favorites while sprinkling in a host of intriguing new characters… including the best new Star Trek villain in ages.
Season 3 opens with Jean-Luc receiving an urgent distress call from his old friend — and flame — Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). His mission to save her brings him back into the orbit of his former Enterprise shipmates, including first officer Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who made a cameo in Season 1), security officer Worf (Michael Dorn) and engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton). The old gang not only needs to rescue one of their own, but they also have to untangle a complicated and deadly conspiracy that reaches the highest ranks of Starfleet. Oh, and there’s a vengeful villain with a powerful warship tracking Jean-Luc through space, too.
It’s almost a total reboot from previous seasons of Picard — and frankly, that’s not a bad thing. The first two seasons had their moments, but too often, they got bogged down in convoluted stories and characters that didn’t grab us like the originals did. Season 3 fixes a lot of these issues, streamlining the story and politely jettisoning most of the original Picard cast. In fact, if you haven’t watched Picard at all, you could probably just jump in here with not much of a learning curve. Michelle Hurd is thankfully back as Raffi, though, and she and Worf make a great pair as they dig up the roots of the Starfleet conspiracy.
Showrunner Terry Matalas guides the Season 3 ship with great reverence and affection for Star Trek history, and it’s a pleasure to watch Jean-Luc and his friends back on the bridge again; there’s a giddy energy to the actors as they get the band back together. Their banter is laced with sly teases and inside jokes, and the scripts are packed with nods, references and deep-cut cameos that will delight TNG super fans. This is more than just a nostalgia tour, though. Jean-Luc and company have to confront age-old grudges and long-forgotten dreams as they face their mortality, leading to some highly emotional scenes three decades in the making. (There’s one big twist I can’t reveal that changes everything we know about Jean-Luc and rocks his very foundation.)
Picard‘s final season also introduces a number of new faces like brash do-gooder Jack, played by Downton Abbey alum Ed Speleers, and — best of all — Amanda Plummer as Vadic, the cackling captain of a warship overloaded with advanced weaponry who is dead-set on destroying Jean-Luc. Plummer has an absolute ball with the role, giving Picard the kind of formidable antagonist it has sorely needed, and her spirited scenery-chewing puts her right up there with Khan and Q in the annals of great Star Trek bad guys.
Season 3 moves along a lot more nimbly than the previous two as well, with plainspoken storytelling that doesn’t get lost in overly complicated twists. The season does follow a serialized story, but it still finds time for quiet character moments along the way. This is the rare revival that goes beyond just coasting off what we loved years ago; it actually deepens and enriches the characters and relationships we know so well. It’s kind of what Star Trek: Picard should’ve been from the very beginning — but hey, better late than never.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Picard‘s final season brings back Next Generation favorites and introduces new wrinkles in what is easily the best season yet.