Very steadily (or, some might say very slowly), the plot of Star Trek Picard season 3 has begun to reveal itself over the course of the first three episodes. Since the start and that stormy night at Chateau Picard, we’ve known there’s something not-quite-right.
Beverly Crusher is in hiding, begging Jean-Luc Picard for help while insisting that Starfleet – the organisation which she devoted so much of her life to – cannot be trusted. The new crop of Star Trek captains, including the USS Titan’s Captain Shaw, aren’t happy. Raffi is tracking down an imminent attack.
While the newest Star Trek series was busy unveiling its new villain, reuniting its cast, and revealing that Jean-Luc Picard had a secret son, it hadn’t yet shared what the overarching antagonistic force was. Yes, we had Vadic and her bad haircut, but we didn’t know who she was working for, what her goal was, or how it involved Starfleet.
Now Star Trek Picard season 3 episode 3 is here, and the answers to some of the mysteries are beginning to take shape. And we mean literally take shape because the Changelings are back, and they mean business. We still don’t know why Vadic and her ship, the Shrike, are hunting down Jack Crusher, but we do know that the Changelings have infiltrated Starfleet and that they’re out for revenge after defeat in the Dominion war.
So, that starts to make sense of it all, then. What’s more, it connects Raffi and Worf’s B-plot with the (far more interesting) A-plot. It’s good news then: we’ve got plot progression, answers, old enemies, and an overarching threat.
And yet, bringing back the Changelings means that Star Trek Picard season 3 has missed out on a much worthier vein of opportunity for creative storytelling.
In 1988 Star Trek season 1 was coming to an end when it treated audiences to the episode ‘Conspiracy’. In ‘Conspiracy’ Captain Picard is contacted by a group of Starfleet captains who inform him that their ranks have been infiltrated by grub-like aliens.
From there, Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D work to uncover the mystery, as it’s revealed that small alien parasites have taken over the bodies and minds of the upper echelons of Starfleet command. Picard and Riker pull the infiltration out by the roots, and in the most graphic Star Trek scene to date (and a moment that will live on in the nightmares of many), they explode poor Commander Remmick with their phasers and proceed to burst the parasite queen inside him for good measure.
The entire episode has an unsettling quality, as the threat of the alien invasion (and the unknown of how far it’s progressed) looms over our Star Trek characters. Still, the single best moment of the episode is its ending.
Unlike the Changeling plot line at the end of the Dominion war, ‘Conspiracy’ ends with an unresolved cliffhanger. Commander Data reveals that the parasites had laid a homing beacon in the Alpha Quadrant, and at some point in the future, near or far, more parasites would be coming.
It was compelling and ominous, and the way the credits roll without the usual musical fanfare was downright creepy. This stands as one of the best moments in season 1 (not that there’s tough competition, to be fair) and is one of Star Trek’ great unresolved threads. In fact, it looked like this was where Star Trek Picard season 3 was headed: the continuation of the parasite plotline.
Here’s the thing: it would have been better for it.
If Star Trek Picard were to act as a sequel to ‘Conspiracy’, instead of plot lines seen in Deep Space Nine, it could have told the same story – for all intents and purposes – while doing something new at the same time. Instead of re-litigating old stories, it could have progressed one that has been crying out for continuation for almost forty years.
It would have been a natural and unexpected place to take the ‘Conspiracy’ and Star Trek Picard season 3, but instead, the decision was made to revert to nostalgia and bring a well-liked, well-established villain out of the cabinet instead. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, and the Changelings will no doubt make for plenty of drama and intrigue, as they did throughout Deep Space 9.
It’s just a shame that Star Trek Picard season 3 isn’t confident enough to stand on its own feet. The TV series feels the need to anchor itself to the past and emulate Star Trek’s greatest hits at every possible moment. Whether it’s the Dominion war with the Changelings or the shameless homage to The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek Picard looks backwards.
But it’s imitation, and it’ll never be able to boast the same legacy as that which it relies on so heavily for inspiration. If Star Trek Picard season 3 had made itself a sequel to ‘Conspiracy’ instead, with all the unfulfilled potential that exists there waiting to be exploited, it would have been able to justify itself with far more grace.
For more on Star Trek Picard, check out our Star Trek Picard season 3 review, or our explainers on Star Trek’s Moriarty, Rachel Garrett and the Red Lady. Or for more mystery, learn everything you can about the identity of Worf’s handler, before checking our the Star Trek Strange New Worlds season 2 release date.