In its series finale, Star Trek: Picard delivers the Valentine fans have been waiting for

Star Trek Picard Season 3 Finale, "The Last Generation" (Paramount+)

The swan song for The Next Generation is airy but endearing, with fireworks and family to spare.

One might say it’s been a long road getting from there to here. One hundred and seventy-eight episodes of The Next Generation. Four feature films. Multiple cameos across the franchise. Countess conventions. Three seasons of Star Trek: Picard. And taken together, thirty-six years’ worth of adventures since this wave of officers first strolled the bulkheads of the Federation flagship.

The creators of Star Trek: Enterprise brought back those familiar faces for the show’s much-maligned finale, and infamously billed it as a “valentine” to the franchise and its fans. Well, what Trekkies may recall with irony, Star Trek: Picard offers with conviction. “The Last Generation” is the valentine that fans of TNG, and the legion of stories and characters it launched, have been waiting for all this time.

Which is to say that it is paper thin, a bit stock in its sentiments. But it’s full of enough warmth and fond remembrances to be satisfying for anyone already poised to bask in the love.

“The Last Generation” is the valentine that fans of TNG, and the legion of stories and characters it launched, have been waiting for all this time.

Don’t think too hard about it, though. Picard (Patrick Stewart) ventures into a Borg cube to rescue Jack (Ed Speleers) from the Queen (Alice Krige). Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) join him in the mission, there to locate the beacon directing the Collective’s attack. Geordi (LeVar Burton), Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden), Data (Brent Spiner), and Troi (Marina Sirtis) provide support via the Enterprise-D. And Seven (Jeri Ryan) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) hold the line on the home front aboard the Titan.

The mechanics behind all of this don’t really add up. But they’re close enough, and more to the point, entertaining and endearing enough, to pass muster under Star Trek’s soft sci-fi standards.

Don’t focus too much on the technobabble excuses for why the Titan can break free from the Fleet Formation protocol and cloak-strafe its way through the entire Starfleet armada. Just enjoy Seven taking command and giving a speech about what they’re fighting for that inspires a pack of unprepared crewmembers to rise to the occasion. Don’t worry too much about how exactly the Enterprise-D can avoid detection and destruction when invading the Borg Cube. Just enjoy the Return of the Jedi-esque flight of the flagship into the belly of the beast before our heroes destroy its heart from the inside.

Don’t sweat trifling questions like why none of the Federation’s allies have shown up to help. Just enjoy one more “us against the world” challenge for the old guard. And don’t trouble yourself over how exactly the sequence of events our heroes set into motion manages to de-assimilate everyone instantly and restore the status quo. Just appreciate that all the major characters have a part to play in locating/reaching/neutralizing/escaping the beacon that’s caused all the trouble.

Star Trek Picard Season 3 Finale, "The Last Generation" (Paramount+)
Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker, Patrick Stewart as Picard and Michael Dorn as Worf in”The Last Generation” Episode 310, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“The Last Generation” is not an episode designed to please die-hards who dare to demand that, you know, things make sense. It is, instead, a finale that largely runs on “the feels”, and asks your indulgence, as so many past Star Trek outings have, for the cobbled-together plot points that make the stirring moments of treacle and triumph possible.

And somehow, it works. There is the faintest whiff of plausibility to all of this, and a bevy of touching grace notes for nearly every character. Both help the medicine go down.

Beverly gets to fire the weapons rather than wait in sickbay, and she receives absolution and affirmation for how she raised her son. Geordi gets to take command of the Enterprise and exude a sense of relief when he sees that his daughters have come out of this crisis unscathed. Data finally gets to live his dream of becoming human, negotiating an “impossible” flight based on a gut feeling, and whiling away the hours exploring his feelings with Counselor Troi. Deanna and Will revive the connection established between them in TNG’s very first episode, as the bond between these Imzadis, and the shared acceptance of their son’s loss, help them find one another even when sensors fail.

Worf takes one last opportunity to slay a few ghoulies with his Klingon blades (“Swords are more fun,” after all), and for someone who struggled for years to reconcile his own sense of family, he acts to help Raffi repair hers. For her part, Raffi’s bravery earns her the admiration of and reconciliation with her son that she’s long coveted. And once the excitement settles down, Seven receives a posthumous benediction from Shaw (Todd Stashwick), and a live one from none other than the real Tuvok (Tim Russ), which make her promotion to captain a permanent one.

Star Trek Picard Season 3 Finale, "The Last Generation" (Paramount+)
Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker, Patrick Stewart as Picard, Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi and Michael Dorn as Worf in “The Last Generation” Episode 310, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Has season 3 of Star Trek: Picard done the work to earn all of these wholesome bits of catharsis? No. Of course not. But there’s enough goodwill built up in these moments, enough recognition of longstanding character arcs and relationships, that the show’s still able to coast back to the shoreline, awash in heartwarming sentiment.

Credit where it’s due, though. I still take issue with the raft of retcons required to turn the Borg into the season’s secret Big Bads. I still object to rewriting decades-old continuity in the name of narrative convenience. But there’s something undeniably compelling about a near-zombified Borg Queen, deteriorated and desperate after years of suffering the effects of Janeway’s poison, exacting her revenge. The glimpses of her feeding on the corpses of her own decomposing drones and lurching towards “evolution” in lieu of assimilation, are startling.

Granted, the bog standard annihilation plot is trifling. But like Vadic, the Queen has genuine grievances with the Federation, and the stellar production design and prosthetics work help sell the horror and momentousness of the occasion.

For all the cackling terror the Queen inspires, for all the nostalgia “The Last Generation” douses this outing with, the emotional high point of the finale comes in a place apart from all the fireworks. Jack has given himself over to the Borg, looking the part of Locutus’ successor and serving as key to directing the new drones toward murder and mayhem. To reach him, to free him from the tangles of the Queen’s web, Jean-Luc makes a harrowing choice, freighted with meaning. He plugs back into the Collective, subjecting himself to the trauma he spent so long resolving, in order to try to spare his son from the same fate.

His decision comes with the gravity of the character’s long history of dealing with his psychological damage at the hands of his cybernetic tormentors, and Stewart rises to the occasion in a way he’s rarely done in Picard. And still, Jean-Luc’s moment with his son in the comparative tranquility of the Borg hive mind is not about trauma. It’s about family.

That theme is certainly trite but also comes with the weight of Picard’s struggles over that idea from the beginning of his story and the way his son faces the inverse of those concerns. As with Zero in Star Trek: Prodigy, Jack feels lost and starved for genuine connection, and so turns to the soothing harmony of voices within the Collective to fill that void. Jean-Luc, in turn, commiserates with his son. He knows what it’s like to perceive an impassable distance, to struggle to truly comprehend notions of family without a good example to follow and to feel isolated in that wake.

Only now Picard has managed to finally traverse that distance through his nascent bond with Jack. Their connection is fast and not 100% earned. But it plays on long-running threads about what having a child would mean for Picard that have stretched from Wesley to Data to Elnor and even to (god help us all) Shinzon.

The idea of Jack completing that part of Picard’s life, in a way he never thought possible, creating a family apart from the one he forged on the job, is a heartening one. It connects to the character’s longstanding difficulties with possibilities he turned away from yet still found himself mourning. Season 3 has at least worked on that idea in its own terms before reaching this emotional crescendo.

Star Trek Picard Season 3 Finale, "The Last Generation" (Paramount+)
LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker and Patrick Stewart as Picard in”The Last Generation” Episode 310, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Even when that epiphany is not enough, what breaks through from father to son is Picard’s willingness to stay with his child through the end, no matter what. It’s a personal sacrifice born of attachment that carries much more force than the weightless gesture toward martyrdom at the end of season 1. And if I may be so bold, Jean-Luc resolving to remain with his son through either acceptance or destruction plays in the same space as another complicated parent’s declaration that, “No matter what, I still want to be here with you.”

In the end, family, connection, and love, each springing forth from unexpected places, saves the universe. It’s a result as cheesy as it is charming. Star Trek: Picard doesn’t nail every step along the way, but it nails enough of the ones that count, in ways that feel right, to make this final bow a success.

Despite its title, “The Last Generation” doesn’t go all in on finality. The long epilogue all but includes a teaser for a Seven-centered spinoff, tantalizing us with the prospect of an unspoken catchphrase and more exploits to come. In the latest walk-back from season 2, the episode also includes an MCU-style post-credit scene where a reborn/nonlinear Q (John de Lancie) tells Jack that his adventures are just beginning. As it goes off the air, Star Trek: Picard is still prepping for the next brand extension.

But it does provide a suitable send-off to the Next Generation crew, one naturally rife with homages to the franchise’s past. Our heroes’ journey toward Earth comes with a visual echo of the old TNG intro. Walter Koenig returns to voice Pavel Chekov’s son, Anton, the President of Earth whose first name recalls a Star Trek performer lost too soon. His warning recalls another decorated officer’s commitment to ingenious solutions in desperate times. Jerry Goldsmith’s timeless theme plays in key moments. And after the stardust settles, another ship bearing the name “Enterprise” warps off into the final frontier once more.

Star Trek: Picard doesn’t nail every step along the way, but it nails enough of the ones that count, in ways that feel right.

Closer to home, though, the seven main players of the TNG cast gather round to laugh and reminisce and toast to their good times together again. Jean-Luc, naturally, dredges up a nautical quote from the Bard. Data recounts an old dirty joke that he’s still not permitted to finish. And the team ends this show the way they did the last one — sitting around the poker table, enjoying one another’s company.

There is not much new in all of this — either the season or its ending. But for two seasons, Star Trek: Picard tried “new”, at first with conviction, and then half-heartedly, and in both cases, it resulted in disaster. Season 3 is assuredly less ambitious, more content to revive past glories and emotional high points than forge them anew. But it’s also able to generate a much more satisfying swan song for these seminal figures than any attempt after “All Good Things”, despite the buckets of pure nostalgia.

That’s the beauty of a valentine, though. It doesn’t create love; it merely reminds you of what’s already there. And however imperfect the results, the people on our screens, the people behind the scenes, and the people watching at home all clearly love Star Trek: The Next Generation. They appreciate deeply what it meant to so many over the years. More than anything, that love and affection bleeds through the screen and buoys the season’s successes, its missteps, and particularly its finale. For a final farewell — and for a father, a son, and a found family still going after so long — maybe that’s enough.

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