SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments in “The Last Generation,” the series finale of “Star Trek: Picard,” currently streaming on Paramount+.
The last time the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast performed together on screen — in 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” — ended with a sour one-two punch: the sudden death of Data (Brent Spiner) and the financial failure of the film, which caused Paramount to stop making movies with the cast. Effectively, after a brilliantly successful seven-season run on TV, “The Next Generation” had been canceled from movie theaters.
Two decades later, when Terry Matalas was tapped to executive produce the final season of “Star Trek: Picard,” the lifelong “Trek” fan knew that he not only wanted to bring back the full “TNG” cast, but provide them with the swan song they had never received.
“I wanted it to feel like a proper send-off in the way that I felt watching ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,’” Matalas says of the final film to feature the full original “Star Trek” cast. “In this case, we had 10 hours, so we could do better. We could give each one of these characters more, and end in a sense of family in ways that they didn’t have time in a two-hour movie to do.”
In doing so, Matalas sought to rectify some of the perceived sins of the “TNG” movies: He resurrected Data and endowed him with a consciousness that allowed the android to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming fully human. And he brought back the Enterprise-D, the starship that had been destroyed in the climax of the first “TNG” film, 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.”
“In the most fanboy sense, I wanted to place the action figure set neatly and safely back on the shelf,” Matalas says. “If it’s the last we see of them, we see them in a wonderful grand moment together around the poker table. Not mourning the loss of Data. The Enterprise-D not crashed, but in a museum. Knowing that there is a bright future for ‘Star Trek’ and for their families. For me, that felt important as a fan, to feel like that’s where we left ‘The Next Generation.’”
That’s exactly what Matalas has done with “The Last Generation,” the thrilling series finale of “Star Trek: Picard”: Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) save their son Jack (Ed Speleers) — and the entirety of Starfleet — from assimilation by the Borg, with Data, Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis), Geordi (LeVar Burton) and Worf (Michael Dorn) all contributing to save the day. In the final scene, they all toast to their success and happiness and play a game of poker, a callback to the final scene of the “Next Generation” series finale “All Good Things.”
If that wasn’t enough, in the aftermath of the battle with the Borg, the U.S.S. Titan is rechristened the U.S.S. Enterprise-G, and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) — the “Star Trek: Voyager” character who has been on “Picard” from Season 1 — is promoted to be its captain. Jack, a new member of Starfleet, is stationed on the ship, along with Geordi’s daughter Sidney (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut). Even Q (John de Lancie) — the omnipotent being who has been a “Trek” mainstay since the “Next Generation” series premiere “Encounter at Farpoint” — shows up in a post-credits sequence in which he tells Jack that his trials “have just begun.”
That certainly seems like the set up for a “Picard” spinoff series, but in his interview with Variety, Matalas says that wasn’t quite his intention. He also shares the scenes he wanted to shoot for the finale but couldn’t, and his unconventional approach to filming that poker scene.
How much of the finale did you have in your head when you were building out the season?
A very surprising amount, actually. I knew that the initial pitch to Patrick, that he would have to assimilate himself again, to face the big trauma of his life, to save his son. I knew that they would be in the Enterprise-D for the last two hours, reunited. I knew Seven of Nine would become captain of the Enterprise. That was a delightful thing to say to Jeri, who was my old friend from way back. I was like, “By the end the season, you’ll be captain of the Enterprise.” She was like, “Excuse me, what?!” So there was quite a bit. Some of the how and why was why you need the brilliance of a talented writing room team to help you get there and figure that all out.
There was a moment in the finale where it seemed like Riker and Worf and Picard or some combination might actually die. Was that really on the table?
No, but I really wanted you to think that it might be for the drama. I don’t have it in me to kill my childhood heroes like that. I think some creators probably would. It felt like those characters would certainly feel like this is probably our last run. So I really wanted the surprise ending to be a happy ending.
Were there any other alternative endings that you considered?
There were things that we just simply didn’t have the time and money to shoot. In the very first iterations of script, we had discovered that Ro Laren had in fact survived, and had been beamed off of her shuttle and was still being used by the Changelings for information. It was already too ambitious of a schedule, so we weren’t able to be able to pull that off. We had a scene with [the Data-based android from Season 1] Soji and Data that we were also not able to shoot. We have wanted some more “Voyager” folks to come be part of Seven of Nine’s promotion to captain. It comes down to how many pennies you have left in the piggy bank after building a Borg cube and an Enterprise.
Was the Titan always going to be rechristened the Enterprise?
We had discussed it. We did toy with a different name, that it might be the Picard. But ultimately, it didn’t feel as genuine and as right for the legacy of “Star Trek” and Seven of Nine as the Enterprise. And certainly when you see the Titan with that name on its hull, you’re just like, yeah, it deserves that name. It just looks so right.
Did you always know you were bringing back Q after he supposedly died in Season 2 of “Picard”?
Yes. All the way from Season 2. John’s a dear friend of mine. On his last day [on Season 2], I said, “Look, I want to bring you back literally in the post-credit sequence for this final season. I will have no time and I will have no money, but I guarantee it will be one of the coolest Q scenes and it will be touching back to ‘Encounter at Farpoint.’” And he was like, “I’m in.”
We only had 20 minutes to shoot that scene. Right after we shot the scene in which Picard tells Jack that he’s Borg, we ushered John in in that awesome new costume and we just banged out real quick.
Alex and I talk all the time. If it’s something that’s going to be done, we want to make sure we don’t rush into it. We want to make sure we do it right. That’s where we’re at with it, I say coyly. At the moment, there’s nothing developed on it. But we talk all the time.
Part of why I’m asking is that I’ve rarely seen a finale set up a spinoff series more completely than you do with this one, with the scenes on the Enterprise-G. Am I right in thinking you wanted that to seed a future show?
Well, not specifically seeding for a spinoff, as lovely as that is to think about. I definitely wanted the feeling that it could go on, that it was a passing of the torch of the last generation to the next. That I really wanted. I think that’s the spirit of “Star Trek,” that they’re going to continue exploring strange new worlds. That’s a feeling of hope. So you want to get just a little taste of what that might be — for it to be a satisfying ending, it needed to be a satisfying beginning. Having said that, of course, I want to see Jack and Seven and Sidney and Raffi and everybody go on forever. But yeah, that was the creative impulse behind it.
Do you know what’s next for you?
I do not. Do you?
Oh my god, “Galaxy Quest” is like my most favorite thing ever. I just literally was showing it to my kid the other day. It remains one of the most perfect movies of all time. And I just lived it! I actually just lived it in every way. So yeah, I said put me in coach. I know what that is.
The final shot of the cast playing poker was such a lovely call back to the final shot of “All Good Things.” Were the actors really playing a full game of poker while the camera hovered over the table?
Yes. To make this a little different than “All Good Things,” I wanted the audience to feel like they were really with this cast, to have a little wish fulfillment. So I actually ran the camera for 45 minutes and let them just play. Let them be themselves. I really wanted the audience to be immersed in what it’s like to hang out with Patrick, Jonathan, Marina, Gates, LeVar, Michael, Brent. So all those smiles and all those jokes are real. And so we hang on it much longer than you normally would, so that the smiles and the jokes are genuine. They were all playing a form of poker as best as they could, you know, because they like to monkey around. Maybe when the Blu-ray comes out, we’ll have a longer chunk of it so you could see more.
Do you remember who won the game?
They played so many rounds. But I think they always made sure Patrick won.
I’m laughing because I asked Patrick that question, and he said, “I think I won.”
Yeah, I think they rigged it a little bit so he would win.
This interview has been edited and condensed.