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Star Trek: Picard - Review- 3.01-The Next Generation: When An Old Friend Calls

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Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
There are few things in life we treasure these days more than old friends. Whether it's the friend you meet every few months or years for a drink and carry on past conversations as though it was yesterday. Or reconnecting with newer friends with whom you've lost touch. Or even that one dear friend, who, despite how long you've been out of touch, you would drop everything for if they were to call when there's trouble. Friends are our most prized possessions. The third and final season of Star Trek: Picard begins with a tense exploration of all those types of friends.

In the aptly entitled "The Next Generation," we are given a glimpse of the future of Starfleet, but first, we must take a detour to what's happening with our friends from the past series of the same name. The first old friend we find is Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), trying to defend her ship and someone who is there with her from the intruders who have been hunting her from boarding her ship. This is and is different from the Beverly we remember. Yes, the old Beverly would fiercely defend another person, and no, it's not quite the same Beverly who has become a bad-ass warrior, wielding a phaser rifle, who outwits and kills her attackers. Wounded, a desperate and distraught Beverly sends a distress call to perhaps the one person she feels she can trust, Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. Why, after 20 years (we learn) is she calling Picard? One reason is her message to him that Starfleet can't be trusted, but a second reason is revealed with the twist at the end of the episode. Here's hoping Beverly's plight is the focus of the entire season and finally allows McFadden to step into the spotlight she was often denied in Star Trek: Next Generation.
Her distress call reaches Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who is packing up his chateau to eagerly accompany Laris (Orla Brady) on a Romulan diplomatic mission off-world. He wants to send one of his most prized possessions to Geordi La Forge, whom we do not see, but learn is in charge of the Starfleet Museum. Picard is torn over how to respond to the call until Laris convinces him he must go help his old friend and former lover (a relationship long-time Star Trek fans had suspected).
>Of course, the first person he reaches out to for help is Captain William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Over drinks in a bar near Starfleet command, which is preparing to celebrate Frontier Days in honor of the Enterprise and Starfleet glory days, Riker jumps at the chance to go on another mission with his former commanding officer. While not totally out of character for Riker, it does tell us a lot about where the character is these days. Clearly, he misses the action and quickly devises an out-of-the-box ruse to get a ship for their mission. He also reveals that his relationship with his wife and family is on rocky ground, and he welcomes the distraction. Frakes and Stewart don't miss a beat returning to the familiar banter and rhythm they shared in the original series. They also poke fun at the fact that both of them are a little older and slower than they used to be. However, what they haven't lost is the energy that helps give this episode distinct Next Generation vibes.
Riker's ruse to get a ship that can transport them to the edge of Federation space, near the spot of Beverly's last transmitted coordinates, takes him back to his last command, the U.S.S. Titan, which has been refurbished and is now commanded by Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick). Shaw immediately comes across as a jerk, not bothering to hide his disdain for the wine Picard brings as a gift, Riker's command style and taste in music, or Seven of Nine's Borg history.
Starfleet's newest Commander is Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan); as Shaw prefers, she is called Commander Anika Hansen. Also aboard the Titan is a connection to another old friend, a young Ensign named Sidney La Forge (Ashei Sharpe Chestnut), Geordi's daughter. Sidney is played by LeVar Burton's real-life daughter.
It doesn't take much to convince Seven of Nine to help due to her frustration with the rules she is forced to obey, but she respects that Picard reminds her he believes she is where she belongs. The new commander is willing to put her new career on the line to help Picard and Riker on their mission out of all the respect and friendship that Shaw does not grasp. What is surprising is that after discovering she disobeyed his orders and took the ship to the edge of the Federation for the Admiral, Captain Shaw does not immediately relieve her of duty and instead orders her to write a full report. This could be a glimmer that Shaw is not the jerk he first appears to be. Time will tell. What this does look like, however, is the producers setting up the long-overdue and well-deserved spin-off for Ryan, which fans have been asking for.
Meanwhile, another old friend, Raffi (Michelle Hurd), has been working undercover for Starfleet Intelligence, searching for dangerous experimental weapons that have been stolen. Raffi is having a tough time battling her demons while trying to get information, but ultimately learns a valuable clue tied to someone or something called "The Red Lady." Deciphering the clue sends her rushing back, but she is too late to prevent the attack and utter destruction of a Starfleet facility that housed a giant Red Lady statue to honor heroic Starfleet Captain Rachel Garrett, which was being dedicated. The question is, was the statue the only "Red Lady" being targeted? Could her mission be tied to whoever it is hunting Beverly Crusher?
Using a shuttle they have "borrowed" from the Titan, Picard and Riker leave Federation space and find Beverly's ship not sitting adrift. Once on board, they see signs of a fierce battle and Beverly herself in a stasis/healing chamber. They are surprised when confronted by a young man protecting her and upset that their actions have led whoever has been hunting them right to their ship. It could be debated which is the greater surprise, the identity of the young man, who claims to be her son (but he is not Wesley), or the size of the enemy ship that emerges from the fog that surrounds them.
This first episode, "The Next Generation," does an exceptional job of setting up what looks to be an exciting final season for Star Trek: Picard. It is filled with multiple tips of the hat to previous Next Generation episodes, like Picard's flute, the Rachel Garrett reference, and others. The effects and set design are outstanding and have posed many intriguing questions to be answered.What did Picard and Beverly fight about the last time they were together over 20 years ago? Why did Beverly cut herself off from not only Jean-Luc but all of her friends from Next Generation? Why is she hiding outside of Federation space, hunted, and mistrusting Starfleet? Will her mission and Raffi's ultimately turn out to be connected?
If this season is about getting the original Next Generation gang back together to save Beverly, count me in. Although the episode was not as spectacular as I was led to believe, it was still a solid start to the show's final season. The mere presence or promise of the return of the rest of the original cast will keep it from going off the rails, like last season's time-traveling missteps. Surely, we can expect a visit from Wesley Crusher (Will Wheaton) to meet his little brother if they still need to meet. Yes, there's nothing better than catching up with old friends, and with these old friends, it's going to be a great ride of fun and adventure.
One final note, a special kudo to the producers for their simple yet elegant tribute to the late Annie Wersching, whose brilliant portrayal of the Borg Queen was one of the highlights of last season.

What are your thoughts on Star Trek: Picard season 3, episode 1 "The Next Generation"? Share them in the comments below.

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