How 'Picard' Season 3 Finally Broke a Classic Star Trek “Mandate” (2024)

It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago, as The Next Generation began its seventh and final season, there were still vocal Trekkie haters who claimed the show wasn’t really Star Trek. How times change. What was once the “new” Star Trek — a 1987 sequel to a 1960s sci-fi series — is now retro.

In 2023, Picard Season 3 is the second coming of The Next Generation. But, according to the people who made it, this season isn’t just about looking back. The callbacks may be tied to the ‘90s, but for showrunner Terry Matalas, his cast, and crew, this season is all about pushing the franchise into a brave new style of Star Trek storytelling.

Launched in 2020, Star Trek: Picard sought to tell ruminative down-to-Earth stories about the struggles and further adventures of a much older version of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Often called the Star Trek version of Logan, the tone of Picard has always been more earnest and darker than in The Next Generation. Despite its merits — including nuanced writing from Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon — aspects of Season 1 rubbed fans the wrong way. And while most hardcore fans loved the new Stargazer in Season 2, there’s debate on whether or not that season stuck the landing.

But now, it seems with Picard, the third time’s the charm. The advance buzz for Season 3 is overwhelmingly positive, with all critics noting there’s a pretty big tonal shift here. But how did it happen?

A new Picard story

“This season came to me very fast,” showrunner Terry Matalas tells Inverse. “I knew what all the big moves are and I had to sell it to Patrick [Stewart], to Secret Hideout, and to Paramount+ very quickly.” Matalas joined the Picard creative team after Season 1, and the tonal and aesthetic differences with Season 3 are all the result of his vision. Before joining Picard, and before helming the SyFy reboot of 12 Monkeys, Matalas was a production assistant on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. His nerd street cred is clear.

Although series star Patrick Stewart had initially been resistant to bringing back too many TNG characters just for the sake of it, Matalas won him over with the overall pitch for the season. Johnathan Frakes, who returns as Riker, and directs two episodes this season, was there when Matalas outlined his vision to Captain Picard himself.

“Before we started, Terry had lunch with me and Patrick [Stewart], and was very upfront about what he wanted to do,” Frakes says. “He asked if Patrick was cool with it, and Patrick was all in.”

Conflict on the Bridge

In Picard Season 3, the stakes are bigger, and the tone is closer to classic Star Trek feature films. “We wanted this season to be something monumental for this crew,” Matalas reveals. “It had to feel big, the same way The Undiscovered Country was for the original crew. The stakes have to be high because this is the last go at it.”

By now, most fans know that all seven cast members from The Next Generation are reunited in this season, along with a few secret surprises from the ‘90s Trek yet to be revealed. But, for the returning cast, there was a big difference between Picard Season 3, and the heyday of The Next Generation. In the ‘90s, the crew of the Enterprise didn’t argue with each other. In Picard Season 3, conflict is everywhere.

“In the original Next Gen the mandate was no conflict among the main bridge crew,” LeVar Burton says. “And that was tricky and unnatural. So, this was delicious to play, it was great fun.”

Because the show is still called Picard, you can easily guess which character Geordi La Forge (Burton) finds himself in conflict with. But he’s not the only one. Jean-Luc’s reunion with Beverly Crusher is also brimming with down-to-Earth conflict. For McFadden, the material in this season was bigger than anything she was ever able to do on TNG.

“I wish we'd had more scenes like this earlier on,” she says. “It was fantastic because Patrick and I are both theatre actors. So, it’s wonderful to just have a scene where you can really go for it.”

Stewart agrees with McFadden and notes that part of why he even agreed to do Picard at all, was because of the tonal difference of the series. “Some experiences that these characters have had, some are good. Some are not so good,” Stewart reveals reflectively. “And that had a strong effect on me and made it possible for me to sometimes sink a bit low in mood and temperament. I think it’s closer to real life.”

A new Star Trek ship, a new crew

While the final season of Picard creates an exciting story that allows The Next Generation cast to shine in bold new ways, it’s not only about the old gang. Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) — who appeared in the two previous seasons of Picard — return here. And through these characters, the future of Star Trek beyond this moment might be glimpsed. Seven, of course, originated on Star Trek: Voyager, but her arc in Picard has turned her into a much more well-rounded character. And this time out, she’s finally in Starfleet, the first officer on the USS Titan, and constantly sparring with Captain Liam Shaw, played by Todd Stashwick, probably famous to sci-fi fans for his role in the TV version of 12 Monkeys.

In the first episode, fans will notice that Shaw and Seven don’t get along. Like, at all. But Stashwick says this isn’t a mistake. It’s by design. “When choosing a first officer, you don't want someone who agrees with you,” he explains. “You want to have a dissenting opinion. You want to have someone who is the things you aren't.”

The Titan bridge is rounded out by several newcomers, too, perhaps most notably, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut as Sidney La Forge, one of the daughters of Geordi La Forge, who is the helmsman of the new USS Titan. Chestnut tells Inverse she decided to create a consistent way to control the Titan, by repeating certain patterns with her hands. “There’s a method to my madness if you look closely at my hands!” she says with a laugh. Sidney’s journey is also bigger than it might seem. But, detailing too much about her character, or, for that matter, Ed Speleers' new role, might be a spoiler. For now, let’s just say, there are plenty of new Starfleet heroes in Picard Season 3.

The future of 25th-Century Star Trek

Whether or not Star Trek: Picard Season 3 leads to a new season of a different Star Trek series remains to be seen. For now, this is the ending of this series and the ending of the story of The Next Generation crew. And the feeling will remind fans of the 1987-2005 era of Star Trek. But, Picard Season 3 is also a contemporary television show, and that means massive twists are coming, and the drama won’t unfold in the style of ‘90s Trek.

“I’m really interested in telling human stories,” Matalas says. “In terms of television, one influence on me is very much Ron Moore’s Battlestar. I like those situations where everybody's right and everybody's wrong. It’s really great dramatic territory.” Matalas explains his views on how to write effective twists and mystery boxes slightly differently than other showrunners in the business: “There is a practice in some writers' rooms that, if the audience can guess what you're doing, don't do it. And I don't subscribe to that. You have to accept the fact that the audience may guess what's going on, but they have to like it, too.”

Matalas is quick to point out he didn’t write the season by himself. He reteamed with two of his 12 Monkeys collaborators, Sean Terretta and Chris Monfette, and sings the praises of the other Picard writers, Cindy Appel, Jane Maggs, and Matt Okumura. “I had a tremendously brilliant writing staff. They worked really hard under difficult time constraints and a lot of pressure. And they shined through it all.”

Will team Matalas continue to tell stories set in the 25th Century era of Star Trek? The showrunner reveals that when one fan told him that this felt like the “beginning of the Terry Matalas era of Star Trek,” at first, he “winced.” At first.

“But, then, after I thought about it, I understood what they meant,” he says. “There is a different kind of tone here that blends a lot of different kinds of storytelling. I just hope people respond to it.”

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 debuts on Paramount+ on February 16, 2023. It will consist of 10 episodes.

How 'Picard' Season 3 Finally Broke a Classic Star Trek “Mandate” (2024)
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