Picard – Interview with Dave Blass and James Mackinnon on Season 3’s Blu-ray release

The incredible third season of Picard is finally arriving on Blu-ray. This season, which received widespread critical acclaim, presents us with our beloved heroes of old, and asks the heady question: are they the same as before? And if not, what are they now?

Picard himself has undergone countless traumas – mutilation at the hands of the Borg, the loss of loved ones, and in the first season of Picard, he was reincarnated into a synthetic golem (the less said about that, the better). So is he still our Picard?

The same questions are being asked of the entire crew: Riker, Worf, Deanna, Geordi, Beverly, even the being that used to be Data – who and what are they now that so much time has passed?

Picard Season 3

Turns out they’re the same… and they’re different, too. Picard’s third season allows the legacy cast to grow into something greater than the sum of their parts, and it does so with such joy, love and understanding that the end result is nothing short of magical. It’s the missing final chapter of the Next Gen saga which the franchise truly deserved, but it’s also some of the best Trek ever to grace our screens.

And if you want to own it, you now can (thank god). The new home release of the third season is packed with extras, making it a must-buy if you’re a fan. But it also houses several fantastic featurettes, many of which champion the often unsung design aspects of the show.

“I think that there’s a kind of simplicity in the design of Star Trek”, says Dave Blass, production designer on season three as we catch up via Zoom early one morning. “I think that era, the era of the Next Gen crew, has a distinct feel. The screens, the carpets, the L-CARS system… and we worked hard to bring that back. Because it should just… look like Star Trek.”

“So”, I ask, “you have to change it up a bit, right?” Dave laughs. “We’re not trying to modernise it! We just wanted to upgrade the look to the extent that it should look and feel like the evolution of, say, the Enterprise D to the Enterprise E. You know? Different things, but a lot of it the same. An elevator should look like an elevator. In one of the hallways, we had that classic holodeck door, and I was looking at it, thinking… Why does that door look like that? I have no idea! But in the future, it’ll make sense! Here’s what I mean: a roll-up door now looks like a roll-up door twenty years ago. And we kind of applied that idea across the board.”

The featurettes do a terrific job of really digging into the nitty-gritty of building the sets from the ground up. Dave and the rest of the crew always look deeply gratified to finally get the chance to discuss their craft on these dense, thrilling vignettes, and Dave has the same look as he talks to me now – the guy loves what he does.

“The transporter room in The Undiscovered Country is the same one they used in Next Gen”, Dave says. “Now that’s because they used the same set, but from a world-building point of view? You’ve just established that that piece of technology hasn’t changed in a century. And that really does say something, you know? About the world, these stories are told in.”

I tell Dave that my question up front – whether our beloved characters are the same ones we grew up with – applies to the sets and the look of this season. “Is it the same?”, he muses. “No… but it should give you the same vibe, the same feeling, walking in. When we were standing there on set watching the cast walk in, we were all in tears watching it happen.

We wanted the audience to feel like it was the same thing. The sets from the shows are gone, it’s a recreation… but it should feel right. We went deep on fixing every little thing before we even got started… and that’s why everything is perfect.”

James Mackinnon, the makeup department head on season three of Picard, echoes Dave’s sentiments. “All the stuff we’ve recreated, we’ve taken it and… we haven’t changed it too much, we’ve just elevated it, made it… not better!” He laughs placatingly. “Just newer. Because our materials are different, right? It was foam latex back then, silicone didn’t exist, and foam latex was opaque so you’d be painting depth, which is very thick makeup. But that worked with a 35mm camera back then, because the image was fuzzy and a little blurry… but today’s cameras? Crisp. You can see every pore on a woman’s face, every edge.”

He pauses. I can imagine him there on set, touching up prosthetics between takes on the promenade of Deep Space Nine. He shakes himself free of his reverie, continuing on. “And as an artist now, I’m still learning, still fine-tuning how to hide that prosthetic edge which would take you out of reality, and go, oh… That’s Michael Dorn with makeup on! As an artist, I have to make sure you don’t call me up and go… I watched episode ten, and at three and a half minutes in, that makeup looked like shit! The fans – including you and me – are passionate. We don’t want to be taken out of it. And that’s been our goal, the goal of all of us, this season – to make it work, and to make sure you’re happy.” He pauses and grins at me. “And I gotta say, Paul… I’m happy, too.”

The special features on the physical release of season three also champion Terry Matalas, the showrunner who came on board and turned Picard from a tonally wonky experiment to an unabashed success; a love letter to everything good in Star Trek. Matalas spends quite a bit of time in the making of featurettes laying out his approach, but James sums up Terry’s appeal beautifully as we wrap up our talk.

“Terry’s passion for the world, and his scripts…” He smiles. “The season was elevated far above any other season, and we were all so glad he came on. But to be able to see that passion from him, and make that stuff from his excitement as a kid… That helped us, that gave us permission in a way, to achieve this orchestra of elements. Every episode was amazing! But because of his deep knowledge of Trek, it let us pull from and play with other eras of Trek. I got to do Ferenghi back during DS9 and Voyager… and here I get to do it again, to learn from my mistakes… not mistakes! But learn from things I can now do better because I’m a better artist now.”

And that’s what Picard’s third season does: it does Star Trek again, does Picard again, but better. It learns from its mistakes and serves up something singularly magnificent in the process.

The Blu-ray steel book edition of Picard: Season Three is available in stores on November 21, and was kindly provided for us by Paramount Home Media.

Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven
Writer of Loose Units for Penguin. Host of ABCs Steam Punks. Host of 28 Plays Later. Unicorn enthusiast. Unicron enthusiast.

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