The Inverse Review

Picard Season 3 is Star Trek’s Biggest Comeback Yet, and Its Most Radical

For the latest Star Trek series, the stakes are bigger than you think.

Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher in 'Picard' Season 3
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The future of Star Trek isn’t just nostalgia. Although the buzz around Picard season 3 focuses on the reunion of the Next Generation, and the season is replete with callbacks to the classic feature films, the most striking thing about this season is that it looks forward.

If you think Picard Season 3 will be a warm, fuzzy trip down memory lane, think again. What makes it work is that this is a sequel to the most famous era of Star Trek. And this time, everything is on the line.

What makes Picard Season 3 so compelling — and just plain watchable — is that none of this continuity matters as much as you might think. Back in 1982, The Wrath of Khan promised the return of Khan, a villain who had only appeared once in the 1967 TOS episode “Space Seed.” After the smash success of Wrath, the TOS canon and origin story of Khan felt less important than the events of the film. You didn’t need to have seen any of The Original Series (or the previous movie) to enjoy The Wrath of Khan, though, for longtime fans, that film felt like an old-school adventure, even if the film itself was risky and radical.

This is the feeling of Star Trek: Picard Season 3.

In the spirit of films like The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, Picard Season 3 amps up the stakes of the Trek universe to tell a story that is paradoxically simple and intricate at the same time. You don’t need a flowchart to understand what’s going on in Picard Season 3, but if you do remember certain characters and situations from The Next Generation, the experience will be emotional on a completely different level. The show is endlessly geeky with its retro callbacks, but the story isn’t a vehicle for fan service.

This is a season in which things happen that cannot be undone. The stakes are high, and nobody should expect a smooth ride. Where Picard Season 2 existed in a kind of closed-loop time paradox, Season 3 takes this era of Trek into the future, without any do-overs.

Picard Season 3 introduces a massive new threat to Starfleet, but, crucially, this threat is not a generic, galaxy-ending doomsday explosion. The threat is a natural outgrowth of things that happened in the TNG/DS9/Voyager era. In other words, there are consequences for some of the things that Starfleet has done over the years. Starfleet has made mistakes, and a few of those mistakes have come back to haunt this venerable space navy.

But the mistakes of Starfleet are only dramatically interesting if we’re also talking about our beloved TNG characters facing their own personal flaws, too. What sets Star Trek apart from Star Wars is usually the fact that it acknowledges the failures of human nature (“the dark side”) along with the good stuff. In this way, Picard Season 3 returns both the inner light and inner darkness of the human soul. Yes, there’s a bit of “seeking new life” this season, but the tone is closer to the emotional character stakes of the movies. This character work also is what defined TNG, which, paradoxically, couldn't allow the crew to change too much week-to-week, because that really wasn’t how TV worked back then.

Captain Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Admiral Picard (Patrick Stewart) on the USS Titan in Picard Season 3.


Successful sequels are often called “different, but the same.” What makes Picard Season 3 the same is that it touches on aspects of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager canons. But, what makes it different is our beloved characters behave slightly more realistically than they did back in the 1990s. These people are a big space family, but that doesn’t mean they’re a happy family all the time. The action and the threats to Starfleet are exciting, but we only care because of the people. The show is still, ostensibly, about Jean-Luc Picard. But his relationships with his most important friends and family is the real focus of the show.

All of the new Trek series since 2017 (other than Picard) have begun in a preexisting timeline. Strange New Worlds is a prequel. Discovery began as a prequel. Lower Decks and Prodigy technically take place a decade and change before Picard. So, if you’ve been looking for adventures that tell the continuing stories of Starfleet after Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Nemesis, the events of Star Trek: Picard have pretty much been the only game in town. And with Season 3, Picard is finally taking that aspect seriously.

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 debuts on Paramount+ on Thursday, February 16, 2023. New episodes drop on Thursdays, for 10 weeks.

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