Picard Just Changed Star Trek Forever: Terry Matalas on Legacy and a Post-Credit Surprise
Exclusive: Picard season 3 showrunner Terry Matalas breaks down the show's rip-roaring finale and what it means for the future of Star Trek!
This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.
What started in 1987 has ended. Instead of its original tepid exit in 2002 film Nemesis, the saga of The Next Generation has gone out with a bang in the epic and warm-hearted series finale of Picard. While this series began in 2020 as a somewhat risky Star Trek spinoff, the third season has emerged as a kind of soft reboot, bringing back the tone, aesthetic, and countless elements from ‘90s Star Trek. Season 3 has also emerged as a bona fide hit — becoming the first Star Trek Paramount+ series to break into the Nielsen top 10 of most popular streaming shows — as well as receiving a ton of critical acclaim, even more so than Strange New Worlds last year. Clearly, showrunner Terry Matalas did something right.
The series finale of Picard completes the story of season 3 but also gives the TNG crew a beautiful send-off. And then some. This epic conclusion features several goodbye parties for these beloved characters — as well as a setup for an entirely new, though currently hypothetical, spinoff series. To sort it all out, we talked to Matalas about the ending of “The Last Generation,” his dreams for a spinoff, and why the events of this finale are like Avengers: Endgame but for Star Trek.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Ending and Post-Credit Scene Explained
Depending on how you look at it, “The Last Generation” has perhaps four distinct endings, all of which take place after the initial ending. Not counting the post-credits scene, perhaps there are six endings?
The primary ending of the plot for this season finds Picard, Jack, and the crew of the Enterprise-D defeating the Borg Queen, and then Riker narrating a heartfelt Captain’s Log, which wraps up the plot points specific to this season, including de-Borging everyone in Starfleet and catching all the Changelings, with the help of Admiral Beverly Crusher, the new head of Starfleet Medical.
We then flash-forward “One Year Later,” and Riker, Geordi, and Jean-Luc put the Enterprise-D in the Fleet Museum. But after we leave one Enterprise, another is revealed, as Jack and Beverly bring Jean-Luc to the Titan, which has been rechristened as the Enterprise-G, with Captain Seven in command. Raffi is the first officer, Jack is appointed special counselor to Captain Seven.
Matalas points out that this season was “always headed to this point,” with a new trio on the new Enterprise. He also says that the appearance of Q in the post-credits scene is not a throwaway and that he “has a specific story in mind” for what happens to Jack Crusher. As Q explains to Jack, while Jean-Luc’s trial is over, his son’s is just beginning. But how is Q alive in the first place? Wasn’t he dying in season 2? When Jack asks these exact questions, Q simply explains it away: don’t think so linearly!
But, outside of those hypotheticals, the real ending of the show is clearly one specific scene: the crew of the Enterprise-D drinking and playing poker in a LA Ten Forward, just as they did in the final episode of TNG.
“We shot them around the table playing poker for 45 minutes. And then had them ad-lib,” Matalas tells Den of Geek. “I wanted the audience to feel like you were with them, with these characters, with these actors, open and honest in that moment. I wanted to capture what they were really like. So, to do that, I just ran the camera, so I could get genuine smiles, get them being real. Get them talking over each other. I think on the Blu-ray, we’ll maybe release more of that footage.”
Nostalgia Versus Honoring History
Bringing the TNG crew back together is not just a love letter to the fans who have been missing this particular flavor of Star Trek, but it proves, as Picard says, “the past matters.” That said, there is knee jerk criticism of this kind of thing in big pop-culture franchises, with some armchair social media critics determined to write things off for “too much fan service” or “nostalgia bait.”
For Matalas, this argument feels “lazy,” because with something as massive as Star Trek, it’s not just about Easter eggs and throwbacks, it’s simply the fact that the franchise has been around for five decades.
“If you ever sit down with somebody who’s 83, if you ever sit down with somebody who’s 46, we spend a lot of time talking about the past,” Matalas says. “Star Trek is 56 years old now.”
He continues, “If you go into somebody’s house and they’ve lived there for 56 years, do you point at everything on their walls and their furniture and the music they listen to and say, ‘Member Berries!’ Or is that just the world that they lived in, you know? I get that there may be some people who have that point of view, but you know, when you have this many people responding to it in some way, I don’t think you can thumb your nose at this stuff.”
Matalas also points out that the point of Picard wasn’t to be a subversive show that questioned why fans liked the things they liked. “Andor is one way to go. I love Andor and I think that it’s brilliant. But this series could never be that and that’s not what these people wanted to do. I think there’s a valid criticism somewhere in that nostalgia argument, but I think this was earned. If all we cared about was member berries we would have just plopped the crew on the Enterprise-D in the first episode.”
Overall, the goal of Picard season 3 was always slightly meta: tell a story within this fictional universe that expanded the canon of the TNG/DS9/Voyager years, but also hit notes that end the story of these characters and allow some wiggle room for a spinoff.
That said, Matalas points out that for all the nostalgia, nothing about Picard season 3 was crafted to simply retell stories that had already been told.
“Nobody wanted to make TNG season 8,” he stresses. “None of these actors wanted to play their characters from that series. They wanted to play them differently and changed from the decades. They wanted to play them challenged and damaged and different, the way that [older] human beings are in their 70s and 80s. You can call that ‘darker.’ You can call that whatever you like. But those are the edicts brought to you as a showrunner and a producer and to us as writers. Many, many creative forces are involved in making this show, and then, you have six weeks to put it all together and that’s the show you’re making.”
Star Trek: Legacy?
Now that Picard is officially over, the question many fans have is — what’s next? In terms of the franchise, the answer to that question is myriad: Strange New Worlds season 2 in June 2023, the final season of Discovery in early 2024, more Lower Decks and Prodigy, a show called Starfleet Academy, and a Michelle Yeoh-focused Section 31 movie, too. But none of these Star Trek shows continue in the present-tense canon of the early 25th century. For Matalas, the idea that all the younger members of Starfleet were briefly assimilated by the Borg at the same time could, hypothetically, be an event similar to “the Blip” in the MCU.
“It could be like that post-snap universe in Marvel,” he explains. “What an incredible thing to explore, right? Almost all of Starfleet’s youth has been part of this thing. They’ve been connected. They’ve been touched by this moment in history. That’s a whole generation of people who had this singular moment. It’s a really great question. What would that mean socially? Did some people wish they’d stayed in that world? Or those who felt violated by that? It would be tremendous Star Trek storytelling and would be incredible material for some incredible writers to explore.”
But Matalas is quick to point out that, for now, those concepts are hypothetical. As of this writing, there is not a Picard spinoff planned or announced. If the Matalas-coined Star Trek: Legacy series does eventually get a green light at Paramount, it would of course follow Captain Seven on the new Enterprise-G. Matalas knows what would happen next. He knows what Jack Crusher’s future is after that post-credits scene with Q. He also has a very surprising way that Todd Stashwick — Captain Liam Shaw himself — could return, although he remains tight-lipped about the specifics.
“I know quite a few things,” Matalas says. “I’ve known exactly how Todd [Stashwick] is involved or would be involved if we should ever be so lucky to come back. Todd knows. and we’ve always known. And Jeri [Ryan] knows and it’s the coolest thing ever.”
Star Trek: Picard season 3 is streaming now on Paramount+.