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Star Trek: The Next Generation finale has me pumped for new Picard series

Commentary: The landmark episode All Good Things, which turns 25 Thursday, is an enduring story of loyalty, perseverance and bravery channeled through Picard's journey.

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All Good Things jumps around between three time periods.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

In May of 1994, I was about to graduate high school. I wore Doc Martens, listened to Bob Dylan, read Jack Kerouac and worshipped Star Trek. I was preparing for the life-shaking transition to college as the crew of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation was getting ready to warp from the small screen to the movie theater. We were both heading for the next big thing.

On May 23, 1994, when the two-part TNG series finale All Good Things aired, I watched it live. The critics loved it. I loved it. But I haven't seen it since. My '90s fashion choices may not have stood the test of time, but will All Good Things? I'm going to find out. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of both Star Trek and CNET.) 

This future Picard rocks a beard.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

I'm especially interested in revisiting the finale in light of the upcoming Star Trek: Picard, a new series that picks up with Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, decades after the captain's last on-screen appearance in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis. (Watch the trailer for Star Trek: Picard here.) Will All Good Things get me excited for Picard's return? 

Ninety minutes later: OK, I'm back. Deep breath. Here's how it went.

Picard first pops up in All Good Things wearing a gray bathrobe, babbling about bouncing back and forth through time. Star Trek and time travel go together like Tribbles and quadrotriticale. 

The intro credits and music arrive and I feel chills and realize how long it's been since I've watched any Next Gen at all. Too damn long. Every episode is available on Netflix at the touch of a button -- a far cry from when they came on expensive VHS tapes with two episodes per tape.

All Good Things bounces between three timelines: the past takes us back to the pilot episode Encounter At Farpoint, broadcast in 1987; the present, at the end of the show's seventh season; and the future. Powerful alien trickster Q (John de Lancie), one of Trek's most engaging guest stars, returns to bookend the show, but the main villain is a technobabble-inducing temporal anomaly that could wipe out the entire history of humanity.

In Picard's future vision, he sports a beard and works in a field of grapes, his Starfleet career as a captain and later an ambassador left far behind. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) visits the vineyard, telling Picard it's been 25 years since he last stood in the Enterprise and called him "captain." Cleverly the writers avoided obvious happy endings in this future segment. Riker is an admiral and Beverly Crusher married Picard, but their marriage is now over, Deanna Troi is dead, and Picard is suffering from an incurable disease that causes mental confusion.

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Q returns to judge humanity in All Good Things.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

It isn't the most memorable Star Trek plot, but it does an admirable job pulling the series together and giving the television portion of TNG an honorable ending. As the Game of Thrones finale proved, it's hard to tie up a TV show in a way that satisfies fans who've invested so much in the characters and the journey. 

All Good Things is such a satisfying way to end a TV show. The time travel device is a nifty bit of writing, both harking back to the beginning and looking ahead to the future. The spot-on recreation of the first episode gives us a hit of nostalgia and reminds us how far we've come together, while the future storyline reassures us these characters are real and three-dimensional and will live on even when the show ends.

The episode isn't about bravado or giant action set pieces. Ultimately, it's about spending time with Picard and his beloved crew, and it reminds me why I loved The Next Generation in the first place. It didn't just give us the next chapter of Star Trek, it gave us some damn fine science fiction populated by people we cared about.

The crew members save humanity, but only by first sacrificing themselves. It's a decision they accept across all three timelines. Q gives humanity a pass this time around, leaving the present-day Enterprisers to gather together for a card game at the end. It helps that TNG wasn't saying goodbye, it was just morphing toward its next phase.

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All Good Things ends with a parting view of the crew.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Though TNG stands strong in the Star Trek universe, not all its episodes have aged well. The season 1 episode Code of Honor comes off as both racist and sexist with its portrayal of an African-inspired alien race as a primitive community that keeps women in subservient roles. And there was that terrible time Dr. Crusher fell for an alien space ghost that also shared weird sexy times with her grandmother. Try not to dwell on that one. 

But I didn't realize how much I missed Jean-Luc and his expansive heart until I rewatched All Good Things. I can't wait to welcome him back, an old friend long missing.

Star Trek: Picard isn't beholden to the future timeline seen in All Good Things, but it offers an intriguing vision for what could be. We've been promised a very different kind of Star Trek when Picard arrives on CBS All Access later this year. Presciently, Q offered us a roadmap for this in All Good Things: "We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons," he tells Picard. "That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

Make it so.

What about you? Now that you've had 25 years to contemplate the television adventures of Picard and his crew, share your Star Trek: The Next Generation and All Good Things memories in the comments.

Originally published May 22.