‘Picard’ Season 3 Showrunner Terry Matalas Breaks Down Episode 9

Apr 14, 2023

Star Trek: Picard is sadly coming to an end with its third and final season, but the action hasn’t slowed down, especially not where the penultimate episode is concerned. This week, “Võx” delivered some shocking truths about Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers) and what the Changelings—and ultimately the Borg—are really up to. In addition to revelations, Episode 9 also brought with it the tragic death of Captain Shaw (Todd Stashwick) which puts Seven (Jeri Ryan) into the unique position of becoming the captain of the U.S.S. Titan, after its shocking assimilation by the Borg. With Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of The Next Generation crew returning to the U.S.S. Enterprise, the finale is posed to become the last great adventure for a cast that means the world to Star Trek fans.

Ahead of the Episode 9 premiere, Collider had the opportunity to chat with Star Trek: Picard showrunner Terry Matalas to unpack the Borg revelation, why the Borg is targeting the younger demographic, bringing back Admiral Shelby, killing off Captain Shaw and how he could return for Star Trek: Legacy, recreating the Enterprise D, and where things are headed for the final episode of the series.

COLLIDER: So I feel like with this episode, we almost have to invert the questions a little bit and start at the end because those final 10 minutes are just everything I want to hear. What was it like that first day on the set of the bridge of Enterprise D?

TERRY MATALAS: Because this season was really ambitious, we didn’t have a lot of time and money. So, to build that Enterprise bridge, and we did, every square inch of it as exact as it was, meant that we had to build it from the second we pulled the trigger on Season 3. But it also meant we only had two days to shoot on it.

Oh, wow.

MATALAS: So that meant the second we walked on the bridge, we didn’t have a lot of time to look around and smell the roses. So, it was, “Alright, everybody, let’s have our quick moment.” And then, me as a director had to wrangle these cats who, wonderfully, wanted to lament about the time somebody fell and ran into the wall, and broke this and that, and they want to sing and dance and tell jokes, and all the things that you’ve heard about as fans throughout the years when you yell cut. And you think it’s delightful as a fan, but as a director, it’s hard, especially when you only have two hours.

So, I was mostly terrified because I knew that if we didn’t get this right, the fans were gonna revolt. But it was undeniably incredible, this legendary moment to have them on. But it didn’t really hit me until we cut it all together and added the music and everything that we had accomplished, what we had set out to do.

Image via Paramount+

Obviously, you have this really long history, professionally, with Star Trek, but you’re also a fan of the franchise. So what was it like for you when you realized that you were going to be the man to put this crew back on that bridge?

MATALAS: It hits me at different moments all the time. It was daunting. I just didn’t want to screw it up. Even now it hasn’t aired yet, it airs tonight, and I’m so nervous about it. I don’t think I will sleep tonight, I think I will probably mostly be looking at the returns on Twitter to see how people are reacting. So, you know, it’s a hell of a thing. And I wanted to do it for them too. I mean, they all had an emotional response walking out of that terminal lift and seeing it again. But it felt like the right Enterprise to be on. You know, we have many options. We could have rebuilt the E, we could have made it one of Kirk’s ships, but it felt like we wanted to end at the beginning here. And so that’s where we went with it.

In building that, is that the original voice of the computer, Majel Barrett?

MATALAS: Yeah, it is archival clips of Majel.

What was that like getting to bring that in and really add all the nostalgia for it? It feels like the ship again.

MATALAS: It had to be her. And then we went back and forth as to whether or not we use AI, but at the time we were doing it, it wasn’t quite there. So we used clips from [Star Trek: The New Generation] to make it even more authentic, but it had to be her on that ship or else it wasn’t right.

What was it like for you to direct so much of the emotional stakes in this particular episode? You know, we have this really powerful moment with Jack and Picard when they’re talking about the truth of everything, you have a death sequence, you have so many big moments. What was it like for you building those out, and were there any visuals that you knew you wanted to incorporate into this episode?

MATALAS: Yeah, the moment with Jack and Picard in the crew quarters, I knew I wanted to have this sense of isolation between the two, the sense of darkness between them. This quiet moment of dread between them was very important. The sense of fear from Picard, when he looked at his son, was very important. It was the culmination of that storyline that, this is Picard’s worst nightmare, to face this threat again in the form of his son, that he had passed on the very worst part of him. And he’s inadvertently rejecting his son in the worst way possible, and his son is seeing that.

We always knew that was the crux of the season. We were building to this moment, and that rejection would propel Jack to try and prove himself, in every way, that he was not Borg, that he would go find the queen and kill her himself and prove that he’s not this cybernetic monster. And unfortunately, it did not work out that way.

I really love Jack’s moxie for thinking he could take on the Borg Queen with just a phaser.

MATALAS: Well, kids today, am I right?

Exactly. I was like, “Your parents are so smart, and you’re showing that you did not inherit all of that intelligence.”

MATALAS: It’s that James Kirk rushing-in-where-angels-fear-to-tread spirit, the kids-always-know-better-than-their-parents thing. And again, he gets that from his old man, that sense of rage that the young Picard had, that we knew about back in TNG. We heard about that.

Honestly, I’m just excited that we can finally talk about the Borg because I love the Borg, and the revelation that this whole time it has been Borg-related, there have been clues. Can you talk a little bit about some of the foreshadowing that has been incorporated throughout the season, and what it’s been like seeing fans slowly pick up on some of those moments, mostly some of the most recent episodes as well?

MATALAS: It’s certainly been hidden in plain sight. The very first words you hear in the season are the words, “The Borg,” from Jack listening to his father’s logs on the Eleos to Shaw’s experience with Wolf 359. I think that this season possibly works better as a binge than it does in the week-to-week hivemind of Star Trek fans.

Image via Paramount+

The Collective?

MATALAS: The Trek Collective certainly picks up on Borg and screams Borg with each other easier. So much so that they start to look for alternatives, like Pah Wraiths being one? Which is, you know, certainly not one that we ever would have thought people would go to. So that’s a little bit trickier. There’s certainly going to be fans that are disappointed we didn’t go with Pah Wraiths, but that wasn’t a red herring we ever suggested. We always thought they would air towards some kind of Changeling alternative. So that’s a new revelation for us as we watch this unfold.

I was laughing that they want everybody under 25, essentially. What was the decision of 25? I was personally offended because I was like, “I’m 30! You mean I won’t be assimilated by the Borg?” Is there a purpose behind that cut-off?

MATALAS: Well, it was based on real biology about when portions of the brain actually stop forming. But we always knew we wanted the last generation to save the next. That was always the storyline. But there is a moment in biology in which the cerebral cortex stops its formation, and so that was when we figured that Borg biology would be key.

Jumping back to the reveal at the top of the episode, I’m a sucker for music, so I really appreciated the song choice, but what factored into that song choice? I also found it funny because at the last 10 minutes, I’m crying, so the fact that the opening song is “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” was perfect begin-at-the-end vibes there.

MATALAS: I think we heard it for the first time, actually, in the Eleos, when Riker and Picard board the Eleos, when he says, “It’s part of a compilation of classics I played,” so I believe it’s part of the Picard mix.

Oh, interesting, I missed that the first time around. I’ll have to rewatch that episode. I think that the moment when Deanna realizes what she’s dealing with, and she just books it is unironically hilarious because she’s like, “You won’t be alone, Jack,” and then she’s like, “Sike! I’m heading out of here.” What factored into that decision in the writing? I think it’s so perfect, but I’m really curious to know when playing with that scene, how that came about.

MATALAS: Well, it was, “What is the thing that would make her so terrified that she couldn’t stop and have an explanation for Jack, that she’d immediately have to go talk to the parents about?” And her seeing a Borg Cube was definitely, “I gotta go talk to your parents about this first because they’re gonna need to explain this to you.” It definitely felt reasonable.

Image via Paramount+

We don’t see the Borg Queen’s face in this, but we do get in the credits that the voice is Alice Krige. Is that who it is, or is it somebody else? Is it another one of the Borg Queens? Because there’ve been several.

MATALAS: It is Alice Krige as the Borg Queen. You will see in the finale, though, it is voiced by Alice Krige, but the Borg Queen does not look good when you see her. Janeway did a number on them the last time we saw them, and there’s a reason she needs Jack.

Interesting. You know, I think at least two of these postmortems I am on the record saying, “I really thought this episode was where Shaw was going to bite it,” and he finally, unfortunately, tragically dies in this episode. What went into the decision to kill him off?

MATALAS: It was always part of Shaw’s arc to die at the hands of the Borg. It was always going to be, from the beginning, how he went out.

I mean, it really is his worst nightmare.

MATALAS: It’s his worst nightmare, but one he faces heroically, and he gets to be the one who sends them on the escape pod. They are the lucky ones this time. You know, the story was always about the brave lieutenant who sent them off. He gets to be the one who does that, and I think he’d probably have it no other way. And in his last moments, he gets to show Seven of Nine the respect that he always knew she was due. That was always his story, for sure.

There’s some beautiful irony in the fact that the Borg have taken over the ship at that point, and so he’s essentially turning over his ship to somebody who was formerly Borg. There’s just so much beauty in how his death is constructed and played out. How hard has it been for you to see how much fans love Shaw, knowing that this was coming? Are you prepared for the waterworks?

MATALAS: Look, I love that people have loved him because the journey has been from hate to love with him, you know? So, that has been gratifying. I will say that we’re not done with Shaw yet, in some ways, [and] that Todd Stashwick appears in all 10 episodes this season. But he is dead.

I guess that kind of plays into my next question; is there a way to work him into a future legacy storyline? Like, “He may be dead, but…”?

MATALAS: I will say this, because I have to say this, there is currently no Star Trek: Legacy in development at Paramount+. But from the very beginning of this season, there has always been a plan for this character to be part of the spin-off, and it is absolutely amazing how. And should we be so lucky to ever have a discussion, it would be very cool, and Todd Stashwick would absolutely be a part of it.

Image via Paramount+

I feel like the fans definitely want that, and they definitely want it to be in conversation at some point. I feel like the fan interest in that is only growing by the episode. Going back to the Borg, which is a great segue from Shaw’s worst fears, I guess now we know why like Jack and Seven hit it off so quickly because there’s that Borg connection there that we see. Are we going to see any more of the way that he connects with other Borg as we careen toward the last episode?

MATALAS: Well, he certainly has been fully seduced by the Collective. So, you will learn more about why, and how he feels about it, but he’s in trouble, and there’s probably only one person who can relate to him at this point.

This is true. I feel like people will probably be asking this tomorrow when the episode airs, but is there a connection between the Borg plot in Season 2 at all with the Borg plot in Season 3, or are those two very different?

MATALAS: I could say that the Borg Conduit, from Season 2, was a bit of a distraction so that they could open the real one where they are, which you’ll discover in the finale.

There’s a really fun cameo in this episode with Admiral Shelby. Can you talk a little bit about bringing that character back in?

MATALAS: Who better in an episode about the Borg taking over and assimilating Starfleet, and to see again then Admiral Shelby? It just seemed perfect, and she’s so good.

She’s fantastic, it was very fun.

MATALAS: It was so great to see her again, and she just was phenomenal coming onto the bridge. She had that monologue down so tight, I think she did that whole thing in an hour. It was so great.

Oh, wow, that’s really impressive. Are there any Easter eggs in this episode that you’re really excited for fans to see, or ones that maybe you geeked out about having in this episode… aside from the giant Easter egg of seeing the bridge again, and all the fun little bits of that?

MATALAS: Nolan North is the voice of the captain of the Excelsior. He’s a great, amazing voiceover artist from many video games that he does. That’s a nice cameo. Some of the ship names have quite a bit of significance. The Hikaru Sulu, and whatnot are really cool in Frontier Day.

Image via Paramount+

So what can you tease for the finale?

MATALAS: It’s big. It’s definitely the biggest episode of the series. It definitely will feel like a movie, and definitely will be a passing of the torch to the next generation.

Which I think we all want. Mentioning that it feels like a movie is a perfect segue for my last question, which is, why was it so important to bring these last two episodes to cinemas? Is it to have that final Next Generation movie?

MATALAS: I think everybody just saw these two and were like, “They should be in a movie theater.” They always felt as cinematic as we could make television. And so, when the studio and the network saw them, they were like, “How do we get these on the big screen?” Which is amazing for us to do. It’s pretty great, and they really hold up. When they said they were going to do it in IMAX I was like, “Whoa, I wish I had known that when we were shooting it.” But when we tested it and brought it in, it really holds up. It really feels like a movie. So, it’ll be really exciting to see that next week with a crowd and see how it plays.

So, will it play like two episodes with the opening sequence and all of that, or will it be re-cut so it’s just straight through?

MATALAS: It will play like two episodes, but having watched it, even though it has the second title, it just feels like a movie. Especially since the second episode is a little bit longer, and has quite a few codas to wrap things up, you feel the cinema of it?

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 is streaming now on Paramount+.

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