HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
“The Next Generation” makes a bold move as a title for the first episode of the new third season as it alludes not only to the series that gave us Picard, Riker, and Crusher but also hints at the events that are coming down the proverbial pike. From our introduction to villainous new aliens to the mission Picard undertakes to save an old friend, something is for sure about to happen. We just don’t know what quite yet.
“The Next Generation” opens aboard what we come to find out is the Helios where Dr. Crusher and an unknown young man with a British accent are apparently about to be boarded by an as yet unidentified hostile force. Crusher locks her compatriot in a separate section of the ship and goes to meet the intruders, where she efficiently annihilates them while sustaining wounds herself. As the ship readies itself to go to warp, Beverly Crusher sends an encoded subspace message to Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.
Picard himself is doing some house cleaning at his chateau and decides to give away a valuable painting of the Enterprise-D to Geordi LaForge, who has now taken over a prestigious posting for Starfleet. Laris tells Picard he shouldn’t, and they discuss her upcoming trip where she’ll be providing diplomatic security. Picard, meanwhile, states that he intends to enjoy himself by sipping Saurian Brandy while she works. Later that evening, he sits at his desk to write a letter and hears a familiar chirp. Tracing it to a box of his old things, he discovers that his Enterprise-D comm badge has activated with a message from Dr. Crusher asking for help. He goes to Laris who tells him he has to go.
Picard meets up with Riker in Guinan’s bar, where she’s selling ship models for “Frontier Day.” Picard enlists Riker’s help to go rescue Crusher, but he confesses he can’t exactly understand the coordinates she sent him. Riker identifies the cipher and finds that Crusher has sent them coordinates for a system outside of Federation space. They concoct a plan to hijack the Titan, using their former statuses to convince the captain, Liam Shaw, to take them to the edge of Federation space. Shaw rather sanctimoniously tells them no, but the ship’s first officer Seven of Nine, known as Annika Hansen per Shaw’s request, orders the Titan to the system anyway and frees up a shuttlecraft for them. Shaw is livid with her.
Somewhere, Raffi is attempting to make a drug deal, explaining to an Orion man that she’s out of Starfleet and single, owing to her girlfriend leaving her. He’s willing to give her drugs and a bit of the information she needs regarding the weapon missing from the Daystrom Insitute, after a bit of financial convincing. He mentions in his information something about a “Red Lady” being involved. She pings Starfleet intelligence to request a debriefing. Sometime later, Raffi makes her way back to her ship where she contacts her Starfleet Intelligence handler, explaining that she still doesn’t know who or what the “Red Lady” is. Her handler is less than helpful, so Raffi goes back to working with the computer. She eventually stumbles upon an image of a statue of a lady, made in a red material. She immediately flies to warn the relevant location just in time to watch as the unknown terrorists destroy the conference center by playing what looks to be a giant game of Portal with it.
Back on the other end of space, Picard and Riker board the Helios and find that it’s playing a list of music Picard had made for Crusher during their failed attempt at dating years prior. They discover the remains of the previous boarders, and Picard investigates the bridge only to find Crusher in some sort of cryogenic pod. A young man gets the drop on Riker, and he drags the captain to the bridge to confront Picard. Picard convinces him to hesitate, and Riker rounds on him, regaining control of the phaser. The young man confesses that he’s Crusher’s son while explaining that the men had led “them” right to the Helios. The episode ends with the tiny Helios facing off against a much larger, more menacing vessel.
I don’t know if anyone else remembers the final episode of MacGyver. I mean the original series, here, folks, because I’m old. If you don’t, it’s about Mac discovering that he has a son, and how that will ultimately impact his life. I found myself thinking about that episode a lot as I watched “The Next Generation” draw to a conclusion. Regarding Crusher’s alleged son, we neither know the young man’s name, nor whether he actually is Picard’s son in addition to Crusher’s. However, there’s a suspicious line early in the episode in which Picard admits that he’s not the sort of man who wants a legacy so much as he wants a new adventure. Y’all, given that last season was about getting Picard a lady friend, I’m a little concerned that this season is going to be about getting him a son to round out that legacy. Admittedly, this is just the first episode, so it is a bit early to be jumping to conclusions. However, I really hope that’s not where we’re going with this one.
We do find out that Crusher has been missing for twenty years, completely radio silent, even to her other Enterprise crewmates. From what we can tell, they’re all pretty close, so Crusher’s disappearance is pretty significant. We also find out that something may or may not be going on between Riker and his wife and daughter, which raises some interesting questions about how Troi will factor into this season.
Raffi and Seven may or may not actually be separated, but they’re certainly geographically distant. Neither seems overwhelmingly happy with their current assignment. For Raffi, though the work she’s doing is important, it’s incredibly draining as she has to fight her own addiction every day as well as her frustration with not being able to do enough to prevent a possible use of these missing weapons. Seven, on the other hand, is serving as First Officer under the most obnoxious Starfleet captain since Jellico. Y’all, I’m sure Todd Stashwick is a perfectly lovely person, but Liam Shaw is the sort of officer we all love to hate. He despises what he sees as irresponsible adventuring by Picard and Riker, and clearly has some sort of anti-Ex-B prejudice, going so far as to force Seven to use the human name she barely recognizes. As I have observed before, I’m really not going to grieve his loss when he gets sacrificed on the Great Altar of Roddenberry. While Raffi works through her frustration with a slightly more understanding mysterious handler, Seven decides to burn it all down and throw in her lot with Picard and Riker.
I’m also not wild about how the show dispenses with Laris so quickly. After spending an entire season convincing both Picard and viewers that their relationship is everything that Picard has needed to complete himself, shipping her off to a random assignment seems a little strange. I really hope that we aren’t going to see some sort of strange love triangle develop, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Now, I realize that this review implies that I did not enjoy this episode. I did. I thought the pacing was great, and seeing the chemistry between Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and Sir Patrick Stewart (Picard) brought me levels of joy I can barely express. Seeing Riker humiliate LaForge’s young daughter as though he’s the awkward uncle was just fantastically pitch perfect, and I really look forward to seeing more out of that relationship. I’m also a sucker for new aliens, so I can’t wait to see which species Picard intends to introduce. Similarly, I’d love to know what drove Crusher to convince Picard, of all people, to leave Starfleet out of her rescue.
“The Next Generation” offers us some solid world-building that provides great hints at what’s to come while remaining grounded in the world the previous seasons have created. That’s how you do an opening episode. Strap in, we’re in for a wild ride this third season, gentle readers.
Four cups of Earl Grey Tea for the fun
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- I love the phalaenopsis orchids Crusher evidently keeps. Speaking of Crusher, I’m thrilled they start off by giving her a BFG.
- If Paramount doesn’t sell us the Frontier Day Enterprise-D models, I’m going to cry.
- I can’t wait to find out more about the mysterious man eavesdropping on our heroes in Guinan’s bar.
- The amount of awkward aging jokes was too much fun to be cringeworthy, though I do wonder how Picard hadn’t noticed automated warp.
- I’m really hoping that at some point the series rediscovers light. I’m not really all that keen on squinting at the TV to try and discern the images from a Snyderverse Picard.