For those who haven’t watched the two previous seasons of Star Trek: Picard, or only remember those seasons hazily, season 3 hasn’t really asked you to know much about what happened on the show before The Next Generation crew got back together. For all intents and purposes, Picard season 3 is a soft reboot for this series, and more of a direct sequel to TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the TNG-era films. But the big revelation at the end of episode 6, “The Bounty,” is a very specific callback to the Picard season 1 finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2.”
At the end of “The Bounty,” one season-long mystery has been solved: We now know what the Changelings stole from Daystrom Station: the human body of Jean-Luc Picard.
Throughout season 3, a few characters — including Jack and Vadic — make jokes about Picard’s current physiological status. In episode 2, Vadic says, “Jean-Luc Picard, in the positronic flesh.” Meanwhile, in episode 6, when Picard tells Jack that he died from Irumodic syndrome, Jack respondeds, “Right, the positronics.” This refers to Picard’s positronic brain, which is the same kind of brain Data had in The Next Generation. When Picard died in “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2,” his consciousness was transferred into a Synth body, which differed from an android body in several ways. This body is flesh-and-blood, and Picard will age normally, and still die around the time he would normally die from old age. (Assuming he doesn’t die in a phaser fight or on a starship before that!)
Turning Picard into an artificial lifeform was a huge part of the theme of season 1. Don’t get it twisted. The message of Picard season 1 wasn’t in favor of group-think AI or hivemind unoriginality like the Borg, but instead, asserted a different thought experiment: Shouldn’t synthetic bodies be treated morally the same as biological ones? At the time, season 1 showrunner Michael Chabon put it like this: “If we didn’t do it, then that meant we were totally chickening out on one of our clear, stated theses of the series — that synthetic life is just as valuable as organic life. If Picard believes that premise, and by extension, we believe it, and the Federation and Starfleet believe it, then the ultimate test and the ultimate proof of that belief can be found in making Jean-Luc Picard a synthetic life form.”
Still when Jean-Luc Picard left one body for another, cyberpunk style, a huge philosophical question was born: Was this the same person? The famous Star Trek fan wiki, Memory Alpha, briefly listed the “Gollum Picard” as a separate character before eventually combining the entries. Chabon responded to a fan question on Instagram who asked, would Picard have “Ship of Theseus ponderings” if he saw his dead body, and Chabon said, “I would.”
“Ship of Theseus,” a thought experiment based on the Greek hero of the same name, asks whether an object is still the same object if it’s had all its original parts replaced with different ones. Has the original object’s identity been irrevocably changed? In other words: is Synth Picard still Picard?
With season 3, showrunner Terry Matalas has brought that massively complex question back, but with a twist. It seems unlikely that season 3 will feature a moment like the two Visions debating in Wandavision about the Ship of Theseus, but instead, Picard’s organic body is part of a bigger puzzle.
Why do the Changelings want Picard’s organic body? The good money is on some kind of duplication plot. We’ve seen how the Changelings can pass for organic now, so perhaps, a super-shapeshifter that looks like Picard is coming.
There’s also the question of his Borg implants, which we know were implanted in his body. Not all of these can be removed. Perhaps the Changelings want to extract those? Picard also has an artificial heart, which he got in his twenties after getting in a bar fight and being stabbed through the back. It seems unlikely that anybody would want his artificial heart, but then again, the Changelings move in mysterious ways.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 streams Thursdays on Paramount+.