This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.
From the beginning, the third season of Star Trek: Picard has been the Next Generation reunion the series’ previous two seasons have avoided. So far, the season has brought Jean-Luc Picard back into the orbit of Will Riker and Beverly Crusher, used iconography and theme music from the beloved 1990s series, and even caught up with Worf, Deanna Troi, and the LaForge family. Plus, there’s a new version of the USS Titan, with the Enterprise-F also on the way.
The third episode, “Seventeen Seconds,” even brought back actor Henry Dekker, who first appeared as Picard’s Nexus-induced Victorian son Thomas in Star Trek: Generations, to play a mysterious villain named Titus Rikka. But when that stranger’s face suddenly started to melt, Picard turned its attention to a completely different Trek series: Deep Space Nine.
Toward the end of the episode, Raffi and Worf interrogate Titus about the terrorist plot against the Federation, only to see his face briefly turn to liquid. It’s the exact same effect exhibited by a Starfleet officer aboard the USS Titan, whose face rubberizes when he gets punched by Jack Crusher. While Crusher has no idea what to make of the crewmember’s strange behavior, Worf is not phased.
“How long have you been away from the Great Link?” asks Worf, confirming what Trekkers suspected. The Changelings are back and they have a plan.
Deep Space Nine fans will remember that Changelings are the founders of the Dominion, the conquerors of the Gamma Quadrant who made their way into the Alpha Quadrant via the wormhole near Federation space station Deep Space Nine. The Changelings are shape-shifters who can take any form they wish but must regularly revert to their original golden liquid form and reconnect with one another in a giant, goopy pond they call “the Great Link.”
As Worf explains, he had been investigating a terrorist splinter of the Dominion who seeks to weaken the United Federation of Planets. By taking the shape of Starfleet officers, like the one who Jack fights on the Titan, Changelings have gained unprecedented access to sensitive places, making them a real threat to Federation security.
Fortunately, Worf has a man on the inside, so to speak. He learned about the plot from “an old friend,” most likely his old comrade on Deep Space Nine, Odo. After serving on the USS Enterprise, Worf transferred to DS9, where Odo served as constable. By the end of the series, Odo left the station to return to the Great Link, where he spread a cure for the Starfleet-designed disease that had infected his fellow Changelings.
More than a fun callback to an underrated, fan-favorite series, the Changeling reveal significantly heightens the stakes for Picard. Worf even explains that, while he and Raffi must work to stop the rogue Changelings’ plans, the Federation can’t officially acknowledge the operation or accuse the terrorist cell out of fear of reigniting the Dominion War. Worf and Raffi will have to fight in the shadows to stop this threat, which has also reached Picard and the Titan.
Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek show to embrace serialized storytelling, especially in its final seasons. These ongoing stories followed the Dominion War, in which the Changelings attempted to conquer the Alpha Quadrant by sending in their shock troopers the Jem’Hadar, their diplomats the Vorta, and their domineering and mysterious allies the Breen. So great was the threat to the Alpha Quadrant that even the Romulan Empire joined forces with the Federation and the Klingons to fight back the Dominion.
To be sure, the Federation has faced its share of threats, from the god-like beings that Kirk and crew regularly encountered in The Original Series to the rogue AI Control in season two of Discovery. But none of these forces were quite like the Dominion, a galactic superpower whose soft-paternalism was all-consuming, but quite unlike the more regimented threats such as the Romulans, the Klingons, and the Borg. Apropos of their name, the Dominion threatened total control over the Quadrant and very nearly achieved it.
But as big as the war was, it was largely relegated to Deep Space Nine, with very few references to it in other properties. The USS Voyager was in the Delta Quadrant during the entirety of the Dominion War, and only learned of it through occasional connections to the Alpha Quadrant. Next Generation ended before the Dominion was introduced in Deep Space Nine, but the final two TNG movies, Insurrection and Nemesis, only briefly referenced the war because producers feared too much crossover with another property would alienate viewers (those were different days indeed). As a result, the Dominion War only felt like a universe-shaking event in the pages of non-canon novels and comics.
By bringing Changelings into Picard, Star Trek not only finally acknowledges the depth of the Dominion War, but also the importance of Deep Space Nine to the larger Star Trek universe. Could this mean Picard is setting up the return of a few Dominion War veterans in its final season? We can’t wait to find out!
Star Trek: Picard season 3 is streaming Thursdays on Paramount+.