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[This story contains spoilers for Picard season three’s final episode.]
Star Trek Picard’s third season finale takes the Next Generation crew back to where it all began — though showrunner Terry Matalas was too busy capturing its key scenes to take in the wonder of being on the bridge of the Enterprise-D nearly 30 years after TNG went off the air.
“The Last Generation” – written and directed by Matalas – concludes a season-long narrative with a finale that is a high-stakes mix of nostalgia and tears. The episode finds Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of his The Next Generation crew taking their old ship, the Enterprise-D, deep into the heart of a massive Borg cube to save Picard’s Borg-ified son, Jack (Ed Speleers), from the vengeful clutches of the Borg Queen (voiced by Star Trek: First Contact’s Alice Krige) before she can use Jack (AKA “Vox”) to assimilate the galaxy. Picard, Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) beam aboard the cube to stop her and save Jack, while the rest of the Enterprise crew – Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Data (Brent Spiner) – prepares their starship for one last engagement with their long-time enemy.
During the heartstring-tugging climax, the Enterprise literally swoops in above Picard and Jack to save the day, and it was during post-production on the making of this cinematic moment where all the creative intentions and goals Matalas had hoped to achieve for season three coalesced into one frame.
“I didn’t think we would pull it off,” Matalas tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But when the visual effects came in, and once Stephen Barton’s incredible score was added, seeing the Enterprise appear above the characters like that, that’s when I let myself consider the possibility that, ‘Hey, I think maybe we did it.’”
In an exclusive interview with THR, the showrunner beams down to discuss the making of key scenes from hour of Trek and its preceding episode, the challenges of shooting on the Enterprise-D bridge with limited time, hopes for future voyages via a proposed spinoff, Star Trek Legacy, and what it was like to make TV history by giving one of Star Trek’s most iconic casts another great series finale.
But getting to see the crew where they began, back on their Next Gen flagship – on a very expensive set for a brief amount of time – involved some logistic pressure.
“The studio was all for it,” Matalas explains, “but it just came down to time and money. They were like: ‘You have to find a way to pay for it.’ But it was one of the first ideas I had; it was part of my initial pitch to Patrick. The appearance of the ship was part of the pitch to LeVar and to the rest of the cast, in that during the last two hours we would be on the Enterprise-D. So right from the moment that the season started, we were figuring out how to build that in time for the finale.”
Helping production designer Dave Blass and his crew ensure that the set would be completed on time were TNG veterans Michael and Denise Okuda. They and Blass’ team consulted the original TNG bridge’s blueprints to physically re-create the set. Once it was completed, there was very little time for anyone – including lifelong Trek fan Matalas – to bask in the glow of what would become a fan-favorite accomplishment.
“The schedule didn’t allow a lot of time for all that, unfortunately. There was so much to do – we only had two days to shoot on it, for both the last two episodes. I know it was amazing for the cast to see it for the first time. But for me, as a director, whose job is to keep the train moving, to get everything shot in a very compressed timeframe, the ticking clock was very much on my mind.”
Also on Matalas’ mind was finding the best way to start the episode after episode nine, “Vox,” ended with the Enterprise warping off to once again save Earth. (Picard’s order in that scene – “Set a course for Earth, maximum warp” – is Matalas’ homage to the exact same line Stewart says in the 1996 feature Star Trek: First Contact). “Last Generation” starts with the first few seconds of The Next Generation’s famous opening title sequence: A brief flight through space, toward a bruise-colored streak of nebula, before a blinding star fills the frame with white. But the script originally had a different scene.
“What was scripted, actually, was to reprise the first shot of Picard from the TNG series premiere [‘Encounter at Farpoint’],” Matalas remembers. “It was going to be Picard walking up to the D’s observation lounge windows, stepping forward into the shot, and then we were going to transition from that to modern day Picard. But the cost of using that footage and up-resing it proved prohibitive. But I still wanted, by the time we were changing it all, to honor Next Gen. So we thought: ‘Well, what if we use that famous space shot from the titles, only we continue on with it and reveal the Enterprise?’ And it worked.”
From there, the audience hears a message from a new character – Federation President Chekov – voiced by an old favorite, The Original Series’ Walter Koneig. Chekov’s warning to avoid Earth as Borg-controlled starships lead an assault on it is a deep-ish cut for fans, as the scene contains key lines from a similar message delivered by a different Federation President in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
“Initially, I wanted to have Walter on camera for that scene. We were going to see President Chekov on the viewscreen deliver that message,” Matalas says. Sadly, the production ran out of time for that. “But, later on, when we were in post, we agreed it would still be amazing and powerful to hear him.”
Also powerful was seeing the Enterprise get its own “hero moment” on par with those of her crew: In order to rescue Picard and his son, Data pilots the Enterprise on a Death Star-esque trench run through the Borg cube’s vast, jagged interior.
“That’s all CG. The ship looks like the model in some shots, especially like the smaller, more-detailed model [TNG] used after season three, but that’s a testament to our brilliant visual effects team led by Jason Zimmerman and Brian Tatosky.”
The VFX team could not use ILM’s previous CG version of the Enterprise-D created for brief shots in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations feature film, so the production had to build a new one from scratch. While no models were used, the team did, however, get a chance to reference a physical piece of the Enterprise for their digital recreation: The saucer section model that famously crashes on the planet Veridian III in Generations. (Ironically, Geordi La Forge salvages that crashed saucer section for his friends’ “Last Generation” mission.)
Speaking of La Forge, seeing him in the Captain’s chair, taking command of the Enterprise bridge – for the first time since TNG’s season one episode “The Arsenal of Freedom” in 1987 – was a pivotal moment for the director.
“That was actually the most fun I had [shooting] on the bridge,” Matalas says. “Shooting Beverly at tactical, firing phasers, and seeing Geordi in the Captain’s chair, and Marina and Brent back at their usual stations – all of that was very exciting.”
It was another moment that proved stressful.
“Shooting the initial reunion, when they first walk on to the bridge, that I felt stressed. Because I knew if I had messed that up, it would have risked ruining it for fans,” says Matalas. “But that great emotional moment Marina has as Troi, when she can sense her husband is in danger, or Brent’s great performance asking the crew to trust his ‘gut’ for the first time – those were the moments that were most exciting for me.”
As exciting as the aforementioned action is, Matalas and his writing staff made sure the emotional drama was always fueling such scenes – never superseded by them. Especially a short but compelling beat aboard the soon-to-be-destroyed Borg cube, where Riker has a very “this is it” moment in the form of saying his goodbyes to his wife, Troi. It’s another powerful dramatic turn from Frakes this season, but according to Matalas, it was also a scene that the production raced the clock to get.
“That was one of the last shots we shot in the season, actually. Again, we were so pressed for time, but Frakes is just so good this season, that we had to fit that beat in,” says the showrunner. “I think we only had time for two takes of that.”
Time and family – what we leave behind and how it shapes what lies ahead – are at the forefront of both “Last Generation” and season threeas a whole, with those thematic auspices culminating in one more final showdown between Picard and his nemesis, the Borg Queen.
“It was always going to be the Borg Queen,” Matalas explains. “From the initial pitch, to the story break in the writers room, we had to have her because if the show is going to be about what you pass on, this idea of one’s legacy, then a key piece of Picard’s is the role she has had in it. And if we’re going to do a story about Picard as a father in that way, then it had to lead to the Borg Queen in another way, as in: ‘Hey, I’m a parent, a mother, too, aren’t I? I have a maternal stake in this as well.’ Only it’s one with an evil motivation to it. It’s also a generational story in that Jack is the key to the evolution of the Borg. Sort of an unintended consequence of what happened to Picard as Locutus.’”
As for what will happen to Picard, Jack, and the rest of the Enterprise crew in terms of more adventures featuring them on Paramount+, that remains surprisingly ambiguous – especially given the critical and ratings success of Star Trek Picard season three. (Recently, Picard entered the Nielsen Top 10 Streaming Shows for the first time – a Trek first.)
“Last Generation” wraps up the Next Gen crew while setting the stage for a show starring a new generation of Enterprise officers – headlined by some of their children under the command of Captain Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The turbolift doors to Seven’s bridge remain open for the old guard to boldly go along with the younger cast. Should there be a future with them in it, Matalas hopes it will take the form of Star Trek Legacy – a series that would follow the voyages of Jack, Sidney La Forge (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) and Seven on the newly-christened Enterprise-G. As of now, there’s no word from Paramount or Secret Hideout (which oversees and produces Trek’s TV empire) on whether or not Legacy is in the cards, but Matalas is aware of fans’ enthusiasm for Legacy to get the greenlight.
“I am very, very grateful that the fans want to see more of this very special and talented cast – so do I. At the moment, Star Trek Legacy is just a pie-in-the-sky wish of mine. There is nothing like that in development, currently. But one day, I hope. It would be an amazing thing to do.”
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