The arrival of Worf and Raffi to the U.S.S. Titan finally unites the two initially disparate stories that this season of Picard has been telling, and everything is the better for it. (And not just because of Worf’s criticism of Chateau Picard wine or the easy way he and Riker slide right back into snarking at one another.) Unlike last season, which spent its midsection largely bogged down in pointless side quests and diversions that ultimately made its ending feel rushed and messy, season 3 appears to be deliberately building toward a genuine climax. Everything feels deliberately plotted, from the Changelings’ almost certainly disastrous plans to disrupt or attack Frontier Day to Jack Crusher’s erratic behavior that may or may not be connected to the hereditary disease he has just discovered he possesses.
Much of the hour is technically a heist drama, as Raffi, Worf, and Riker break into Daystrom Station in the hopes of figuring out Vadic’s larger plan. Ro Laren (RIP!) believed the group was planning to attack the Federation’s Frontier Day celebrations in some way; Worf and Raffi think the theft of portal tech they used to destroy the random recruitment station was just a distraction; and no one knows precisely what other, more dangerous items the Changelings might have stolen along with it. Their search for the station’s manifest reveals a treasure trove of deep-cut Trek references, including a Genesis device; a violent, genetically modified Tribble; what appears to be the skeletal remains of James T. Kirk; and the previously mentioned sentient hologram, Professor Moriarty. (FYI: There’s no way this episode would have name-dropped Section 31 like 15 times if that Emperor Georgiou spin-off wasn’t happening, just saying!!)
The other half is a surprisingly moving trip down memory lane, as the Titan is forced to hide among the famous starships of the Fleet Museum while Picard attempts to convince its commander, one Geordi La Forge, to help them figure out a way to keep Starfleet (and the Changelings) from tracking their ship for long enough for them to get their friends out of Daystrom. It’s, unsurprisingly, an utter delight to see Geordi again, particularly as he’s become a well-meaning if wildly overprotective father who seems determined to prevent his daughters from making the same sort of risky decisions he made with complete abandon back when he was their age.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve gotten older right alongside these characters I grew up watching, but there’s something wonderfully moving about not only seeing them all together again, but watching them navigate a world where they aren’t necessarily the brash young heroes we all remember. Instead, they’re people who’ve had to make choices and compromises they likely once swore they never would, and both the characters and the audience have to reckon with that. (Geordi and Jean-Luc’s conversation about the things we pass on is particularly well done.)
LeVar Burton isn’t the only exciting return we are treated to this episode, as Riker and his team discover that one of the secrets of Daystrom Station is, in fact, that it’s housing a new version of Data. (Welcome back to Picard for the third time as a totally different character, Brent Spiner!) A flesh and blood synth like Picard himself, this Data is seemingly an amalgamation of many versions of the character we’ve previously seen on Star Trek, including Lal, B-4, Lore, and the original recipe android, all placed inside the same physical vessel and given the aesthetic of old age.