The old gang’s all here, but the series also paves the way for a new class of heroes to balance the best and the worst of their forebears.
Whether it wants to be or not, Star Trek: Picard has always been about the legacy of its title character and, by extension, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In-universe, the series centers on venerable foes and old shames coming back to bite our heroes in the behind, while Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) offers personal reflections on his successes and failures. In the real world, the show’s third season summons the franchise’s familiar faces and reminds audiences of those treasured past adventures while hoping to tell a new story that can stand with them.
“The Bounty” brings both ideas to the fore. Picard frets over his son, Jack (Ed Speleers), inheriting his Irumodic Syndrome. That’s the same condition that afflicted an elder Jean-Luc in TNG’s “All Good Things” and is, apparently, the source of Jack’s hallucinations. A returning Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) worries about his daughter, Sidney (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), sharing his same stubbornness and putting her life on the line to serve Starfleet ideals in the same way he once did. And the motivation behind the Changeling threat seems to stem from lingering enmity over the virus Starfleet unleashed upon the Founders back in the days of Deep Space Nine. So much of the episode hinges on the notion of past mistakes or personal failings accruing to, well, the next generation.
But it also speaks to Star Trek: Picard’s approach to the old players and pieces of franchise history. This is an episode that features the return of Geordi, Moriarty (Daniel Davis), and for some godforsaken reason, another version of Data (Brent Spiner). In the same vein, “The Bounty” uses a trip to the fleet museum to spotlight the 1960s Enterprise, Sisko’s Defiant, and, most importantly for Seven (Jeri Ryan), the USS Voyager. Hell, a visit to Daystrom Station to recover the MacGuffin du jour includes shots of Section 31 storage units containing the Genesis Device from Wrath of Khan, a wild attack Tribble, and in what is a shocking bit of foreshadowing — the corpse of none other than James T. Kirk himself.
More so than season 1’s invocation of Jean-Luc’s role in recognizing artificial life and relations with the Romulans, or season 2’s return engagements from Q and Guinan and other homages, season 3 wants to dust off the well-loved parts of Trek history, and consider what they have left for us thirty years later.
[T]his episode is also the point where Star Trek: Picard’s fan service starts to become a little too cute and, in some places, even ungainly.
On the one hand, “The Bounty” harnesses all that history for a lovely theme — change and evolution are not a matter of replacing what came before, but rather building on it and adding to it. On the other, this episode is also the point where Star Trek: Picard’s fan service starts to become a little too cute and, in some places, even ungainly.
No aspect of the plot drives that dichotomy home better than the return of Data (or some new edition of him). The “A.I. security” at Daystrom Station turns out to be a synthetic android built by Altan Soong, containing a mix of Lal, B-4, Lore, and Data himself. Of course, the reappearance of Star Trek’s most iconic android is not without its fun callbacks, from the crow who flew through his dreams in TNG’s “Phantasms,” to the mostly wasted talents of Moriarty, to a heartening reprise of “Pop Goes the Weasel” shared between Riker and Data that pays homage to the characters’ first meeting.
But Heaven help us. Nemesis already gave Data a dramatic sacrifice and send-off. And if that weren’t enough, the whole thematic crescendo of Star Trek: Picard’s first season amounted to Data’s desire to be firmly and finally allowed to die. So why do this all over again?
I don’t mind the implausible but standard technobabble wizardry used to revive him. I do mind the way that choice undoes one of the few meaningful choices from not one but two very mixed outings for the Next Generation cast. I can understand the desire to bring Data back for what amounts to this season-length TNG reunion. But as the episode itself lampshades, the decision to have him return undermines two impactful endpoints for the character and feels ever cheaper in the process.
And yet, his new form at least ties into the episode’s themes: the way our children — be they biological, synthetic, or some combination of the two — comprise our best and worst qualities. Synth Data must overcome the partitions of multiple different precursors swimming around inside his positronic brain but strives to distill them into something singular and whole. Jack Crusher Jr. suffers from the genetic illness that’s plagued his father but also carries the loyalty and poetic bent that helped make the elder Picard an effective leader. Sidney LaForge butts heads with her father over not following his engineering path and recklessly putting herself at risk. Still, she also follows in his footsteps by devoting herself to a good cause and not being afraid to put it all on the line or bend the rules.
Once more, the theme is a pleasant one, even where the execution is mixed and mired in fanservice. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Worf (Michael Dorn), and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) skulking through Daystrom Station and encountering a set of callbacks en masse while the clock ticks end up playing more like a sop to the fans than a natural outgrowth of the story. (Even if Will’s banter with his old Klingon friend remains charming.) Geordi saying “Data” once more in wide-eyed wonder tugs at the heartstrings, although his presence feels shoehorned into a story that’s already trying to balance an absolute heap of characters. Seven reminiscing about the starship Voyager as the place where she was reborn is moving, even if it’s mostly a bit of texture that serves Jack’s arc more than her own.
For a season so concerned with legacy, this episode is laudably gracious in its spirit of wanting to do more but reminisce but also to pave the way for whatever and whoever comes next.
That’s the cinch of “The Bounty.” Unfortunately, the plotting here remains shaky. Vadic (Amanda Plummer) continues to be a hollow character bolstered by a crackling performance. The reveal that the Changelings’ grand heist was to retrieve Picard’s human remains scans as yet another cheesy, bonkers twist in an episode and a season that hasn’t been shy about laying them on thick. Even more, info dumps about some looming calamity on Frontier Day from all the Federation ships being networked (Hello Battlestar Galactica fans!) are clunky, and our heroes’ ability to evade anyone and everyone pursuing them grow more implausible by the minute. Even Troi’s last-minute capture here plays as a contrived way to get everyone in place for the inevitable full cast reunion.
All that aside, “The Bounty” has its heart in the right place, which helps cover for a lot of narrative nonsense. Stubborn parents like Picard, Geordi, and another Soong cyberneticist make peace with the idea that their children will, with any luck, take both the good and bad of their inheritance and make the best of it as a wholesome and aspirational place to land. One generation and another banding together to save the day, or at least the moment, has the “right passing the torch” quality. For a season so concerned with legacy, this episode is laudably gracious in its spirit of wanting to do more but reminisce but also to pave the way for whatever and whoever comes next.
But it is also, as Star Trek is wont to do of late, a commentary on the franchise itself. The older series that crusty Trekkies like your humble reviewer so cherish are not erased or tarnished by the new era of shows. They are, with any luck, a chance to build on what came before, add to it, and blend the old and the new to achieve something wonderful. Thus far, at least, Star Trek: Picard has achieved that more in theory or practice. But even with a mixed episode like this one, its mission is the right one, which helps cover for the turbulence along the way.