‘Picard’ Season 3 Showrunner Breaks Down Episode 5 & the TNG Connection
Mar 19, 2023
The fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard’s third and final season delivers a healthy dose of thrills, both aboard the U.S.S. Titan with the increasing stakes that Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is encountering with the Changeling plot and with Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Worf (Michael Dorn) as they try to unravel the very same plot in District Six.
Ahead of the premiere of Episode 5, Collider had the opportunity to chat with Picard’s showrunner Terry Matalas about “Imposters,” that jarring nightmare Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers) faced, the return of Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), Krinn, the gangster Vulcan, Worf’s shocking fake-out death, and what Easter eggs Star Trek fans should look for when they rewatch the episode.
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COLLIDER: Episode 5 starts with this absolutely killer cold open, with the nightmare that Jack is having. Were there ever any other variations for how this nightmare would play out?
TERRY MATALAS: No, it was always the bridge. I mean, what’s a more dramatic place for that to happen and more unexpected kind of Manchurian Candidate feeling of a massacre? Yeah, I’m trying to think, but I think that it was always there.
I was so excited to talk to Ed about getting to wear a Starfleet uniform because, as a Trekkie, that’s my own dream. So I was very eager to talk to him about it. Was there a lot of joy in getting to put Picard’s son into a Starfleet uniform?
MATALAS: Yeah. I mean, the second you get anybody like that on the show, you’re like, “What are they going to look like?” And you’re doing it in a really unexpected way here. The first time you see him is ominous, the phaser pointed at people that you’ve come to love. Then the next time, he’s actually given the uniform by Seven of Nine, now there’s a sense of dread that, “Is this going to be a prophecy for him?” So it’s sort of taking away the audience’s wish fulfillment and expectation of it in a weird way.
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I love the moment at the top of the episode after they’re told Starfleet’s coming, and you have this sweet little moment between Picard and Jack and Beverly. And I love that at this point, Picard would even think to be like, “Oh, you should join Starfleet, maybe when all of this dust has settled,” because it’s so funny because Jack has not shown any hints of caring about Starfleet. But I wondered, is this Picard’s subtle way of extending that, “I want you to be part of my family,” because we got that moment in the previous episode where Picard basically says, “Starfleet is my family”? Is that what’s happening?
MATALAS: I think it’s exactly that. I think that’s Picard’s love language. I think it’s also trying to get the kid an honest vocation. It’s trying to, “Maybe I can use my leverage within this organization to get this kid out of some of the hot water and off some of the wanted lists that he’s on, and get him in the family business.”
I was also really surprised and really excited to see Ro Laren brought back into the show. She’s such a fun character from The Next Generation. I can’t really think of any other characters for Picard that would have this same sort of emotional weight. But I am curious to know, were there other characters that went up on the whiteboard in the writer’s room when you were trying to decide who this character would be?
MATALAS: No, this story was always Ro Laren. This story was always– the pitch that I had for it was, “How great would it be to do a paranoia thriller with someone that you have all this baggage with?” The only way to be sure you’re sitting across from the person that you hope you’re sitting across from is to get through your trauma with them. I thought that if we could pull that off, we’d have a really interesting episode of television. But that required us getting Michelle Forbes and convincing the studio and the network it was the right idea, and educating a lot of people on who Ro Laren is. But no, there was never anyone else other than that. It was Ro Laren or bust.
You also have this really great connection with her history and the spy aspect and what’s going on with Worf, and it just fits together so naturally.
MATALAS: Exactly. It had to be her.
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There was a moment, speaking of Worf there and that whole thing, there was a moment in this episode when I was watching these screeners that I was getting ready to send you a message on Twitter and be like, “I can’t believe you did that.” I’m curious, what goes into a fake-out death that lands emotionally, but doesn’t drag it out or overplay it? Because this is done so well, and I appreciate that I didn’t have to wait for the next episode. We got that culmination within two scenes, I think.
MATALAS: Well, I don’t know that it really worked. Do you think it works?
I did. I love Worf. I love Michael Dorn. I was so excited that he was coming back to this series, and so when that moment happened—
MATALAS: You didn’t really think we were offing him in that moment, did you?
You never know. I fully was convinced.
MATALAS: Oh, that would’ve been terrible.
I know. I honestly was like, “Well, there goes a whole letter grade.”
MATALAS: I didn’t really think we would be fooling the audience with it. Part of me felt like the audience is very likely in on the shenanigans of Raffi and Worf. If they’re not, then you can only make them feel so bad for so long because they would probably be really hating you for such an anti-climactic death of such an amazing legacy actor. That’s why I can’t imagine that anybody really bought it, but we’ll see.
I was fully convinced.
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It played out very well because you have them have this first ploy that doesn’t work, and then they’re captured.
MATALAS: Yeah, but that would mean that you had a Star Trek: The Next Generation reunion without Worf ever seeing anybody. Well, look Star Wars did it.
I was afraid.
MATALAS: I’m glad that worked. I just never thought in a million years anyone would play.
I’m here to tell you I did. I thought maybe this was one of those things where the show was the stakes are really high this time. This is how high they are. And I was like, “Wow.” I mean, respect.
MATALAS: It could be, right? So, it was like, “We’ve got to get to it real quick,” and establishing his meditation and his heart slowed. He had done it twice. So hopefully we had nodded to it a few times enough for him to come back. For me, it feels like you’re just waiting for him to show up and do his thing.
I also loved that you had a Vulcan playing this gangster character. It’s very fun. It’s very Star Trek to me, especially the way the whole scene plays out with him being like, “Yes, that would be the correct thing to do. That is the logical path for me to take.” Were there ever any species that you thought for him to be? Because you could even see a quarrelsome Romulan because they’re always getting into trouble somewhere in the galaxy.
MATALAS: No, Romulan felt obvious. Vulcan to me, felt really interesting to me that there was a logic to crime, which he says, that there can be no paradise without crime. So once we had found that, that character came together. And once we thought about it as Kirk Acevedo, who I had worked with before, once we wrote it for Kirk, there was a danger to him that he could let some anger through. There was something really interesting about a Vulcan crime syndicate. Once we said that out loud in the room, I was like, “I haven’t seen that before.”
As soon as I saw that, I was like, I can picture a lot of people updating their characters for the Star Trek RPG games and being like, “I am now a Vulcan gangster.”
MATALAS: They’re saying “I want to be part of The Velashi crime syndicate.” It was a cool idea. So it seemed like a fun idea. And it’s the last time we’re going to be in District Six, so we wanted to go out with a really interesting criminal.
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It’s a fun world to be part of. I think the revelation that Starfleet is compromised all the way up the top of the chain. It’s kind of, not jaw-dropping because it’s been building to it, but it is a shock. We’ve seen Starfleet face these kinds of issues and situations before. Where do you think this ranks in the scheme of things, throughout the history of Star Trek and Starfleet?
MATALAS: I would definitely put it up there with one of their biggest problems that they’ve ever faced, if not their biggest, where this ends up going. They have a real problem right now that they don’t even know that they’re looking at, and it’s up to our heroes to deal with it.
Riker has always been very understanding of the situation of Ro and Picard. I went back and re-watched the episodes for The Next Generation. He’s always seemed very perceptive of that situation. So it was nice to have that tie-in with that final conversation with Riker and Picard at the end of the episode. What is really going through his head as he is watching all of this play out? Because you also have the Beverly of it all that’s happening, the Ro of it all. He’s watching his oldest friend go through so many things all at once, way out on the edges of Federation space.
MATALAS: Oh, it was interesting. Frakes and I always had this conversation early on in the season, that this was the story of Riker becoming, transitioning from little brother to older brother, really, this season. He really does. He really is there as the shoulder for Jean Luc for so much of this heartbreak this season, particularly in that last scene when he comes in, he is like, “I know what she meant to you.” He sees Picard go through so much, and not to mention the son. As you’ll see as the season continues, I mean, Picard will recognize the importance of this relationship by the end.
Are there any Easter eggs that people should keep their eyes out for when they go back and re-watch this episode?
MATALAS: When Ro’s two Starfleet officers walk into the observation room looking for Ro and Picard, there’s a little changeling guttural thing they do. If you’re listening carefully, they do a little thing.
Image via Paramount+
Do you have any favorite moments from this episode?
MATALAS: I think the scene with Ro and Picard with phasers on each other in the bar is one of the great moments of the season. When they don’t know– when they really have to force themselves into this catharsis, it is fantastic. I think both Michelle and Patrick are just on fire. I think it’s a spectacular scene. I’m really, really proud of how that came out. I think Cindy Appel, who wrote that, did just phenomenal writing in that, and that’s difficult to write. So I’m very, very, very proud of how that story came out. I’m also proud of Ed’s performance at the end. I love the tenderness between him and Gates at the end when she is being a mother, and then she finally asks, she’s like, “How did you know they were changelings?” And he turns, he says, “I didn’t.” Their performances, both of them, are phenomenal.
The tear down the cheek helps as well. He’s so good.
MATALAS: He’s so good. I love Shaw, and then the boys in the Turbo lift, when he starts rattling off all the things they’ve done that might piss off Starfleet is the Shaw moment of the week for me. There are so many things. I love the earring moment when that blows up and turns into the wall of crazy.
What can you tease for Episode 6?
MATALAS: Well, they’re on their own now, and they’re going to need help, and it’s time to get the rest of the band together.
Star Trek: Picard’s third and final season is streaming now on Paramount+.
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