Star Trek: Picard’s Biggest Twist Yet Is Straight Out of the Wrath of Khan Playbook

This season of Star Trek: Picard isn't just bringing back members of the old crew from The Next Generation. It's also bringing back the Wrath of Khan vibes.

Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: Picard Season 3
Photo: James Dimmock/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.

When we first met Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, creator Gene Roddenberry and his producers took pains to differentiate him from his 23rd-century predecessor. Where James Tiberius Kirk was all swagger and derring do, squinting dramatically into key lights and romancing ladies with his surely very real and not replicated hair, Picard was bald, patrician, and French.

But even as the show off-loaded Kirk’s galivanting qualities and middle initial to Number One William T. Riker, writers did make clear that neither man would make a good father. Kirk, for all his infamous alien romancing, had truly only one love: the USS Enterprise, with whom he always wanted to spend the rest of his life.

In early seasons of TNG, writers leaned heavily on Picard’s dislike of children. And while that character trait largely faded away, trotted out only for yearly Picard Day celebrations, the captain rarely showed interest in being anything more than uncle to René and mentor to Wesley Crusher. Even the latter relationship was largely relegated to scolding, telling Wesley to shut up or chastising him for following Tom Paris Nick Locarno.

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So when the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard made abundantly clear to everyone but Jean-Luc that Beverly Crusher’s less-irritating boy was not the son of her late husband Jack Crusher, fans were right to be as surprised as Picard. To be sure, writers (lightly) laced a will they/won’t they romance throughout the seven seasons of TNG. And Picard showrunner Terry Matalas has been open about his plans to revisit that romance for the series’ third and final season.

But few could have guessed that the driving force of that reunion would be a secret son sired between the two of them. It’s hard to say when exactly this would have happened, as the final TNG movie Nemesis showed no signs of them being interested in one another. Given that the movie is just over 20 years old, and that the Picard season three premiere “The Next Generation” makes clear that Beverly has been away for decades, the math itself makes for some shaky logic. Furthermore, the actor Ed Speleers, who plays the young Jack Crusher, is in his mid-thirties.

While all of these things can be explained away one way or another, the best reason to accept this surprise Picard twist is that this story beat has been used before in Star Trek history. Midway through The Wrath of Khan, Kirk and members of his crew beam aboard Regula I seeking Dr. Carol Marcus, a scientist with whom Jim had a former relationship. He’s immediately attacked by a young man, who angrily affirms that he is Dr. Marcus. When Carol arrives, Kirk puts two and two together: the young man is David, the son he fathered with the older Dr. Marcus.

Of course, viewers couldn’t do that math because the movie doesn’t show its work. Wrath of Khan is a sequel to the TOS episode “Space Seed,” bringing back Ricardo Montalbán’s hammy genetically-enhanced baddie Khan Noonien Singh, and even making reference to a his “beloved wife,” who may be Marla McGivers, the Starfleet lieutenant who joined Khan on his exile in that episode. But Marcus did not appear in any other story, nor did Kirk ever mention fathering a child with anyone, so Wrath of Khan has an easier time getting away with the twist.

When compared, the circumstances aren’t exactly the same, though. While Kirk and Picard both had a son with a doctor from their past, Wrath of Khan suggests Kirk already knew about David’s existence but was banned from being a part of the boy’s life by his mother. Kirk’s surprise in his first scene with David comes more from seeing his son as an adult for the first time, as he never thought that would be the case. It’s a whole different ballgame for Picard, who seemed to have no idea that Jack was out there at all. But now that Picard Jr. is here, let’s hope he fares better than Kirk’s kid did.

David left the Star Trek universe as quickly as he entered, getting killed off by Klingon Captain Kruge in The Search for Spock (David’s performer Merritt Butrick, did get to return as a different character for a season one episode of TNG). But his death provided motivation for not only Kirk’s anger with Kruge in Search for Spock, and for going into the past in The Voyage Home, but also became a key plot point when bad actors tried to undermine the Khitomer Accords in The Undiscovered Country.

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Two episodes into Picard season 3, it’s unclear if Jack Crusher will have a similar impact on his surprise daddy. He carries the name of Crusher’s first husband, Jean-Luc’s one-time close friend who died while serving under Picard on the USS Stargazer. Picard’s guilt about his role in Jack’s death was the primary reason that he and Beverly never stayed together, so Jack’s presence can either heal that rift or exacerbate it. But there’s no question that his newfound son will further change the erstwhile captain.

Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on Paramount+.