One of the most anticipated things going right now is the main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation coming together for the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, which has already been filmed and is expected to arrive in early 2023. The reunion is the vision of executive producer Terry Matalas who is the sole showrunner for season three. A lifelong Trek fan, Matalas began his Hollywood career as a production assistant on Star Trek: Voyager. Leaving the franchise after Enterprise, Matalas successfully rose through the ranks to become showrunner on other series including Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, before returning to Trek for the second season of Picard.
In an excellent extended discussion on the latest episode of the Inglorious Treksperts podcast, Matalas discusses his long career in and out of Star Trek, and he offers a lot of insight into the upcoming third season of Picard and how it could be setting up another Star Trek series. You can listen to the full podcast below, and we have pulled out some of the big highlights.
Channeling love for TOS movie-era for season three
Little bits about Picard season three worked their way into the conversation, which spanned over an hour. As he talked about the origins of his Trek fandom, Matalas dropped tidbits about the kind of feeling he is evoking in season three of Picard:
I grew up Sunday afternoon on the couch with my dad as young as eight watching The Original Series, but I would say my first falling in love was Star Trek II, III, IV–you know what, I’ll throw V in there–VI… That would be an event, we would go to the movies to find out the next chapter of Captain Kirk… It was actually Star Trek III, where I remember vividly the Enterprise pulling up to spacedock and the Excelsior and all those things and feeling like the majesty of Starfleet and just the with today’s ILM visual effects, and it left such an impression on me. So much so that you’ll see a lot Spacedock in season three of Picard… But it felt like a fleet. It that felt like the Navy I loved so much. And again, that goes back to The Original Series [makes bosun whistle sound] and all that stuff, which I made sure in season three is just everywhere.
And when asked if he sees optimism as a core component that should be in all Star Trek, his answer swerved into season three hints again:
I think all these things are true but not necessarily absolute. Is Wrath of Khan, which some people would arguably pick as their one of their favorite Star Trek things, is that an optimistic movie? I guess it’s about new life. But then I would argue doesn’t all good drama always lean towards optimism in which good and love prevail. So, I don’t know if it’s a hard and fast rule of Star Trek. It certainly wants to be your North Star… There’s a moment in season three, which I’m cutting right now… it’s very much in the respect of those movies… But there was a moment I was like, “This episode has to at least come to the conclusion of incredible optimism and sense of wonder, and having Picard see a science fiction thing that makes him go, ‘Wow.’” And I think that that is an important aspect of Star Trek.
A Picard behind-the-scenes Tweet from Matalas shows how he has put his love of the TOS era movies into the series with this deep cut of a boatswain’s whistle (an homage to Star Trek IV).
— Terry Matalas (@TerryMatalas) September 14, 2021
Different visions for each season of Picard
Matalas talked about how when he joined season two of Star Trek: Picard, he saw he had some different ideas from the other executive producers and showrunners:
When I came on to season two of Picard, I was in the writers room with these giants. It was Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman and a host of other really brilliant writers. And we all started to pitch ideas. All of them were Star Trek ideas, and all of them were different. Like Michael’s Star Trek, what he loves about Star Trek, we share elements of it, but it’s different than mine. And it’s different from Akiva, which is very different. And then I have a different one. So it’s something I never really thought of. And I thought it was extraordinary in that room, which is: these are all valid Star Treks… For me, it’s a story of friendship, I think is really interesting. The crew and their bonds with these insurmountable odds and coming together. But it is different for everybody.
Reflecting on this, Matalas sees how it has made Picard an anthology series, with each season having a different vision:
In a weird way Picard has become a kind of an anthology. Season one is very different from season two, from Michael’s vision to Akiva’s deep dive into deconstructing Captain Picard. And season three is different from from those two… All of them though with the focus of Picard now dealing with some emotional aspect of his life. That’s important.
For his season, Terry returns to his TOS movie era focus, which played into how he pitched season three, particularly to the TNG cast:
Say what you want about Nemesis, bad or good. It didn’t feel like the end of those characters. They needed a sendoff. And that was the core pitch to Patrick [Stewart], and all of them. I called every one of them and I said, I want to talk about your characters where you think their characters are and want to send you all off the way that Star Trek VI was a pretty great sendoff for the original crew.
Getting chills on season 3 from TNG cast… and other big cameos
When asked if being on set with all these legacy stars was overwhelming as a fan, Matalas said it is especially hitting him now while he’s in post-production:
You had them all the time… there was one moment in particular… it’s a legendary moment, let’s just say. I will say they’re all reunited. And there’s some things going on and I remember turning to my assistant, and saying, “Right now, I should be in tears, but I’m too fucking stressed to get this right.” Because I don’t want to fuck it up. That’s the key.
The moments really hit in post, when now I can watch that moment and it’s not Patrick, Frakes, LeVar, and Gates, and Marina, and Michael. It’s Picard, and Riker, and Geordi. And the music is up. One of the things I’ve been spending a lot of time on right now is the music. It is very much in the spirit of [Jerry] Goldsmith and [James] Horner… And so when you see those moments with the score, then that hits. You’re like, “Oh, my God, we did this!”
As he discussed these special moments, he talked about how season three will include familiar characters beyond the main TNG cast:
And funny enough, there are moments that are–because there are some people who come back from Star Trek in this season that aren’t just the Next Gen cast. There’s one character who is in Next Gen who I was like, “I really want this character to come back.” And when they did, that was weirdly more thrilling than everything else in totality.
Giving the TNG characters their moments
Picking up on how hard it was to pitch the TNG reunion, Matalas talked about how the cast was involved and contributed their own ideas as well:
When we sat down with Patrick for the first time, it’s like this absolutely feels like what we should do. And Patrick had a key idea, which was an element of the story that was absolutely pivotal to the focus of it.
He also revealed more about how each character fits in to the season:
I didn’t want to make anything that they didn’t want to make… They all have big things to do. We all meet them and find out where they are now. And some of those those answers as to what they’re doing now are unexpected. So I wanted them to be happy and have input… They’ve lived with these characters. They go to the conventions. They know the stories that matter to these people. For Gates [McFadden], I wanted to make sure that Crusher really had a very strong story. That was a fascinating—it’s a fascinating character who let her son go off into the universe, who had once had a romantic relationship with Captain Picard. And where are they now? And sitting with LeVar and saying: “Here’s what I think’s going to happen to Geordi.” And LeVar [Burton] made me cry. There was a moment when I pitched it and he was so emotional and I got emotional. I was like, “This is one of those cool moments.”
Jonathan [Frakes] was working on season 2 and I said, “Hey, I have this idea. I want to tell you about Riker, and it’s a lot of Riker.” He’s like, “You want me to act?” They had to be happy or else I wouldn’t have felt good. And Brent [Spiner], we had many discussions with Brent about it. And all of them brought really great ideas to it. It wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. It was it was great.
However, bringing in the TNG cast did have a downside:
I think probably it’s a bit more difficult to go to the studio and say, “Great, we’re doing this, we need to make deals now with all of these legacy characters, and financially what can we afford and what does that mean for some of the new cast?” I think that was probably the hardest thing is that we just don’t have infinite cash or run time to do justice to the characters.
A Tweet sneak peek of season three from Matalas hints at Dr. Crusher’s return:
— Terry Matalas (@TerryMatalas) May 11, 2022
Seven’s arc and setting up the next 25th-century Trek show
Matalas started his Hollywood career back on Star Trek: Voyager as a production assistant. He talked about how it has been for him to be working with Jeri Ryan (Seven) again and talked about her arc in season three:
Jeri and I talk about this a lot because I was a PA on Jeri’s first year… And it’s kind of extraordinary to see her and to be there for her whole story. And we were friends back even then. And now to be directing her and taking her character to where her character goes at the end of season three. It’s that extraordinary thing that is happening now in television of characters of actors who can play the same character over 30 years.
Matalas has previously hinted at a potential Picard spin-off, possibly including Ryan and Michelle Hurd (Raffi). He was asked if he sees season three as a backdoor pilot for a potential future show and while he didn’t come out and confirm it, he did drop some hints about what is possible:
Uh, umm… I guess if this was a printed interview you would say, “The showrunner smiled devilishly…” To me, this is a period of time in the Star Trek universe that I would love to spend more time with. I think there’s nothing less than 30 legacy characters across these–Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Next Gen–that you would love to check in and see. We can’t get to them. We don’t get to Miles O’Brien. I’d love to get to Miles O’Brien! I could say one name you right now that comes back and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I really want to know what happens!” And you’re going to find out. So I would love nothing more than to stay in 2401 to tell more Star Trek stories in this universe. And so that’s all I will say…
In a weird way, it kind of feels like the present day of Star Trek to me, the Picard universe. That’s where we left off. It’s awesome that Discovery jumps back and Strange New Worlds jumps back and then Discovery jumps forward. But to me, there’s something very now still about that universe and the fallout of things. There’s quite a bit of in season three, the fallout of the Dominion War is important in the plot. That is so rich for exploration.
With season 3 involving so many legacy characters, which is a trend also seen with other franchises, Matalas was asked if he could see a show with entirely new characters, and he indicated that season 3 is sort of setting that up:
I think Star Trek is infinite. I think any one of these could not necessarily have a tie to a legacy character. And when I was talking about continuing to tell stories in this time period… season 3 is very much a passing the torch from one generation to the next. I love the moment where old Bones is walking around the Enterprise with Data. It’s a passing of the torch that feels right. I love when Spock came on Next Gen and had that arc with Sarek and Picard. That tapestry feels much richer to me when that can happen. So I think there are opportunities to tell the story of the next generation that crosses with the last because that’s the universe, right?
Matalas has had a varied career working on a number of series, but when asked what he might be looking to do next, he seemed to be happy sticking around:
I love Star Trek. I’d stay in Star Trek as long as I could. Star Trek is your way into every kind of story. It’s a can be a romance. It can be a Western. It can be a spy thriller. It can be a space opera. It can be space magic. Especially if you have the craving for science fiction and fantasy like that you want to do and time travel, there’s no better universe for that.
Hope for Enterprise too
After Voyager, Matalas stayed with the franchise on Star Trek: Enterprise as a production assistant working for co-creator and showrunner Brannon Braga, and it is also where he got his first official writing credits, providing the story for two episodes. He even got a planet named after him for the episode “Dear Doctor,” which Matalas revealed gets referenced again in season three. Matalas reflected on the show and how it fit into the early 2000s:
I think there’s something really cool about it being this submarine in space like the first time they go out there. I think maybe you could argue they got to things like transporters a little too soon… but I think those also comes down to budget, which is like, “I need to get them on a planet, I can’t get them in the shuttle every time I can’t burn this money.” But you watch the first episode now and it is of a different time. Would you be doing the decontamination room rub downs in today’s world? I don’t think so. I think even then we were like… But it’s got Scott Bakula, there’s a lot of interesting things. I think Connor [Trinneer] and Dominic [Keating] are fantastic. I think John Billingsley was really, really fucking good. I think it’s probably the right thing for that period of time. And they certainly push the envelope by the end of Trek and Mirror Universes. I remember when they built that Original Series bridge, and all we did was hang out down there. I think their heart was always in the right place.
He was asked if he thought the Enterprise characters could join other legacy characters and come back to the franchise, and Matalas said “absolutely,” even the dead one:
I think you could. There’s no question you could bring those characters in. I think that’s the beauty of Star Trek. It’s science fiction. Spock can die and come back, it’s okay. If the story is good, and it’s good for the character, then that’s great. Certainly Trip, I wouldn’t want to do an Enterprise thing without Trip. You’ve got to bring him back. I don’t know how, but you’d have to. I think all of the all of these things in Star Trek are viable options.
Listen to Matalas on Inglorious Treksperts
It’s worth listening to the entire episode of the podcast for more insights into season three and beyond with Matalas. It’s a great conversation across the board.
Find more Star Trek: Picard at TrekMovie.com.