Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Owes a Debt to One of the Best Original Series Movies
The Undiscovered Country's influence on Picard season 3 hints at a major game-changing event for the Star Trek universe.
This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.
When Star Trek: Picard’s first few episodes came out, it looked like we were in for yet another round of repeated references to The Wrath of Khan. The opening text “In the 25th century…” was a follow-up to Khan’s “In the 23rd century,” Dr. Crusher wears a jacket that looks very much like the away mission jackets from that film, and, of course, the whole season is following the story of Picard’s meeting with his estranged son. The reference to Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru in the title of episode 4, “No Win Scenario,” has our Wrath of Khan bingo card completely filled out.
However, as this year’s adventure has progressed, it’s become clear that season 3 is – thank goodness – more than just another re-tread of the best but also most over-referenced Star Trek movie. We’ve already talked about how this season is functioning as a sequel to Deep Space Nine and to First Contact as well as to The Next Generation (and Voyager) overall. But there’s another film that we think might be even more important to the overall story of Picard season 3: Wrath of Khan writer/director Nicholas Meyer’s second Star Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country.
We knew there would be superficial references to The Undiscovered Country before the season even started, thanks to the casting of Amanda Plummer as the villain Vadic. Plummer’s father, the late Christopher Plummer, played the main villain of The Undiscovered Country, the Klingon General Chang, chewing his Shakespearean dialogue with relish. Since then, we’ve seen people eating blue food and drinking Romulan ale, which Kirk and co. famously (and illegally) served to Klingon diplomats in The Undiscovered Country, and we’ve also seen the Enterprise NCC-1701-A, which Jack called “Kirk’s Enterprise” in the Picard season 3 episode “The Bounty.”
Of course, the ship most of us think of as “Kirk’s Enterprise” was the NCC-1701 — “no bloody A, B, C, or D,” as Scotty put it in the Next Generation episode “Relics.” That ship was blown up because it was full of Klingons in The Search for Spock. The NCC-1701-A was introduced at the very end of The Voyage Home, after the Bounty went to the bottom of San Francisco Bay, and was only seen in action in The Final Frontier (which many of us try to forget ever happened) and in The Undiscovered Country.
There are other Undiscovered Country easter eggs, too: Ro Laren’s final scenes in Picard season 3’s “Imposters” nod to the film. The Changelings who have infiltrated the Intrepid plant an explosive on Ro’s shuttle that kills her and damages the Intrepid, framing the Titan and her crew for the sabotage. It plays a lot like the attack on Chancellor Gorkon’s Bird of Prey, followed by Gorkon’s assassination and the framing of Kirk and McCoy. The use of a Klingon Bird of Prey’s cloaking device in “The Bounty” also calls back to the film and may even explain a minor continuity error. We’re told that the Titan crew have to turn off the cloaking device they steal in order to beam anyone up, but in The Voyage Home, the same cloaking device was used to beam up Gillian Taylor while cloaked. In The Undiscovered Country, on the other hand, the fact that most Klingon Birds of Prey cannot fire while cloaked was a major plot point – perhaps the writers mixed up the two functions.
But Picard season 3’s connections to The Undiscovered Country go deeper than simple callbacks. Showrunner Terry Matalas told SFX magazine in January that “[Season 3] feels like a feature film, a final feature film.” Although Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov appeared in Star Trek: Generations, and Leonard Nimoy’s original Spock appeared in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, the “final feature film” for the complete Original Series crew (minus Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s Nurse/Dr. Chapel) was The Undiscovered Country. The sixth installment in the film franchise was designed to be a farewell for the original Enterprise crew, sending all of them except for Captain Sulu off into retirement – season 3 of Picard is clearly intended to do much the same thing, albeit with a crew half-retired already.
Interestingly enough, both crew send-offs deal with conspiracies within Starfleet. In the case of Picard season 3, rogue Changeling terrorists have infiltrated Starfleet’s ranks in preparation for an attack during the highly-anticipated Frontier Day celebrations. Presumably, the terrorists who broke away from the Great Link are trying to shatter the peace between the Federation and the Dominion, which may sound like a familiar end goal to anyone who’s watched Star Trek VI.
The Undiscovered Country kicks off with the accidental destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis, a metaphor for the real-life nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986. The Klingon Empire finds itself on the verge of destruction and in need of help, and starts a tentative peace process with the Federation. Captain Spock, demonstrating that years of living and working with non-half-Vulcan humans still has not given him much understanding of human emotion, volunteers Captain Kirk and their crew for a diplomatic mission to escort the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon to the peace talks at Khitomer. This is especially awkward because Kirk’s son David was killed by Klingons in The Search for Spock, along with the Enterprise itself, which obviously makes the Captain a less than ideal candidate for Federation-Klingon diplomacy.
Klingon and Federation conspirators, who are, ironically, working together to sabotage the peace talks, assassinate Gorkon and frame Kirk and McCoy for it, getting them sent to Klingon Siberia after Worf’s identical ancestor fails in his attempt to defend them in a very dramatic Klingon court room. (Worf himself provides another connection with the film, but since Worf has been in more episodes of Star Trek than literally any other character in the franchise’s history, this in itself is not enough to be noteworthy!). The rest of the movie follows our heroes as they escape the Klingon prison camp and save the peace talks, leading to the Federation and the Klingons forming an alliance that ushers in a new era for the galaxy.
Picard season 3 seems to be taking a page from The Undiscovered Country and teeing up a similar event that could have a lasting impact on the future of the Star Trek universe. In an interview with SFX (via Trek Movie), Matalas actually namedropped The Undiscovered Country while teasing that this season “there is definitely a major event in the Star Trek universe” and that, like the events of Undiscovered Country, it “will feel like an event in Star Trek history.” This is presumably a reference to the destruction of Praxis and the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons, later known as the Khitomer Accords, which filled in some of the history that was missing between Kirk’s 23rd-century 5-year mission and the Federation’s enmity with the Klingons, and Worf’s serving on the bridge of the Enterprise in The Next Generation in the 24th century.
The Federation already signed a peace treaty with the Changelings and the Dominion in the Deep Space Nine finale, but the events of Picard season 3 could certainly alter diplomatic relations between the two galactic superpowers. However, Matalas might be referring to the overall themes and feel of the story rather than a more literal re-telling of the movie. The title “The Undiscovered Country,” for example, is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the film, the super-optimistic Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (the late David Warner), raising his glass of illegal booze, quotes it in a toast to “the future.” But Gorkon’s original Klingon version of Hamlet must say something different to the English version, because that’s not what Shakespeare meant in our Earth version of his play. In Hamlet, the “undiscovered country” is death – it is the place “from whose bourn no traveller returns.”
So, could the movie’s biggest influence on Picard season 3 be the impending death of a major Next Generation character? Matalas has hinted that one or more of our heroes might die this season, telling SFX that he can’t guarantee that they all make it out, though he does note that “in science fiction, there are always ways of seeing people again,” something he has already proved by bringing back Data for the second time on Picard. Although the show seems to be hinting at young Jack Crusher’s demise, it’s more likely that one of the old guard won’t make it, most likely Picard himself or Dr. Crusher.
However, with The Undiscovered Country, not wishing to just repeat The Wrath of Khan, Meyer did not kill off any of the core characters. The movie was far more concerned with having the characters confront the future. Matalas told SFX, “This season is very much a passing of the torch to the next generation.” So, like The Undiscovered Country, we may see our heroes move into a new phase of their lives rather than leave this mortal plane all together. Picard can go back to his still-new romance with Laris, Riker and Troi can reconcile and raise their daughter, and Geordi and Worf are clearly still going strong in their careers (like Undiscovered Country’s Sulu).
If Beverly and Jack make it out in one piece, they could go back to helping those in need beyond the Federation’s borders, although it’s possible the franchise could have bigger plans for the son of Jean-Luc Picard. After all, Matalas has already said he’d love to continue the stories of the “Last Generation and the Next” in a spinoff show, and there’s no doubt Paramount would want Ed Speelers back for the tentatively titled “Star Trek: Legacy.”
In the final lines of The Undiscovered Country, Uhura asked Captain Kirk for a course heading and he told her, “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.” Perhaps more than anything, that sign-off tells us all we really need to know about the ending of an era in Star Trek. Things change, people change, and characters move on, but Star Trek, as a franchise, remains forever young.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 streams on Thursdays on Paramount+.