[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 8 “Surrender.”]
Star Trek: Picard brought back Patrick Stewart’s Next Generation costars for its final season, and so far, it’s been one reunion after another.
But it’s the eighth episode in which we see everyone together again — Picard (Stewart), Crusher (Gates McFadden), Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Geordi (LeVar Burton), Worf (Michael Dorn), Deanna (Marina Sirtis), and Data (Brent Spiner). McFadden talks about filming that scene and Crusher’s arc this season.
When you first signed on to come back to Star Trek, how much had you known about Crusher’s arc?
Gates McFadden: Nothing. I was contacted by [showrunner] Terry Matalas and he said, “Would you be interested? We have a really great storyline.” I said, “I’m interested. Tell me the storyline.” I think it was clear to the producers that the reason it was interesting for us to come back was if they would honor each character in some way, and they did. They gave all of us tremendous arcs. I love the arc of Beverly Crusher. Patrick had told us three years ago or so that he was going to do a show on his own without us, and he just wanted us to know and maybe we would occasionally have a guest star appearance. But this was quite different. This was really as if it was its own movie actually, so it was so much fun!
What was your reaction to Jack (Ed Speleers) being Crusher and Picard’s son? I love it.
I do, too. I am always honored to have anything that’s connected with motherhood because I really think parenting is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most rewarding by far, so anything that has to do with that on board. But the fact that she had gone away, was out of Starfleet, was a little bit of a renegade in that she was commandeering her own ship, she was doing something she believed in, and sometimes skirting the law because in order to get medicine places, you had to sometimes do a weapons exchange… I love the fact that we don’t know everything that’s happened to her.
She raised this son single-handedly, for the second time really, but this time really off alone. It’s a tribute to single parents everywhere and to the parents up on the space station. There are sacrifices that have to be made. And I loved the fact that she was still a scientist, doing research. She was still a doctor, and she very much was protecting her son from a serious trouble if she had just let everyone know whose son it was. I know it was controversial, but I don’t think she’s a selfish person at all. How do you read it?
I agree. What works is that you don’t ignore the past and pretend this is her first child. So you can understand why she wants to protect Jack.
Yeah, and the argument that they crafted between us — which obviously Patrick had final say in, and I did lose a couple things that I thought were more on Crusher’s side, but the show is called Picard, not Crusher and rightfully so … It was only last season that Picard really dealt with his issues about his parents. So in a way, I think there’s a lot of truth when she says, “I don’t know how it would’ve been,” and she did what she felt was right for various reasons. Some of it is just a mother’s instinct, which if you stay to the end, we don’t know what would’ve happened had that child been out and about in the world.
Can you share what was lost from Crusher’s side in that argument?
I won’t because I think it’s a beautiful scene. … There was more of how much she had really wanted Jack to contact him and that he had made his decision, but she was against that decision. You have to make a choice as a parent: Are you going to be loyal to the father of the child or are you going to be loyal to your child? If the child says, “don’t, I don’t want him to know. I don’t want you to tell him.” You’re in a tricky spot there. [Also] she really did strongly believe there would be a target on his back, and I think she was right.
How was it for you to step back into Crusher’s shoes?
The shoes were more comfortable, as was the costume. [Laughs] I loved my costumes! I had the coolest jackets. I want them.
What’s really special about this is how many groups of people who have worked together on a series have the chance — I’m sure it’s happened before and it will happen again, but it’s pretty rare that you are also friends in real life, so we know what’s going on in our lives. We see each other a lot. But then to be able to act our old characters who have evolved just as we have evolved as human beings, because hopefully as you get older you might get a little wiser — either that or maybe set in your ways, I don’t know which… The chance to explore that through characters you love is pretty terrific. I look into Jean-Luc Picard’s eyes and there’s chemistry already. There’s something there. I have a history with both Sir Patrick Stewart and with the character.
In this episode, everyone’s back together for a scene that honestly was not long enough for me.
What was it like on set?
It was a little bit difficult because there was a lens and we were changing some of the ideas that the director had at that time, so it wasn’t as relaxed as I think we all thought it was going to be. But it ended up later being very, very relaxed. It’s so much fun to be back around a table, the Observation Lounge. We just missed the Ready Room. That was a room I really liked going into for scenes. It had the fish, the Shakespeare book. It was great.
How far will Crusher go to keep Jack safe? Does she have a line on cross? Her maternal and doctor sides have to constantly be in conflict.
They are. That’s very much in the last two episodes. She’s in great turmoil about it.
What is so amazing about the franchise in general is that no matter what the stakes and how many conflicts you have, you all collaborate to work together for the greater good. That’s the choice that everybody makes. … It resonates with me because it’s rarely the easy choice. It’s usually the difficult choice. There’s not one character in that crew that wouldn’t be willing to give their lives to save the others.
Talk about filming scenes like Crusher and Picard’s argument. They’re so heavy with all these years that have passed.
Patrick and I loved doing [that]. It was what we’d been longing to do. I longed for scenes like that in film and earlier on in the original Next Gen where they’re more raw. Because people who love each other fight, but you have to learn how to also forgive and go forward and work together. And that’s what is so special. It’s real life in the sense of the way character relationships are, but the technology is very advanced and not so real, but soon may be real because right now we’re going so fast. People are working on virtual realities that are very like the Holodeck, so who knows?
It wasn’t difficult to shoot. What took time was the script. We went back and forth with giving our point of view to the writers and the producers. … We were really listened to. You don’t always get what you asked for, but I think we got a terrific balance. It was just a few takes and it was great because we both were ready to do the scene.
What might the future hold for those two?
I think they might be in different spots in their lives. She’s certainly very happy to be back into the world that she was so used to and that she loved so much, which is the world of the Federation … and [she] would like to participate in the world very much. I certainly don’t see her as somebody retiring.
What else can you say about how the series ends for Crusher?
She’s three-dimensional, which is fantastic. All of us are three-dimensional or more, and it’s nice when we’re validated and challenged and tolerant and then when we learn, and I think she’s learned a lot. She’s probably made some mistakes. I can’t give out the very end, which I know people want to know. [Laughs] And I don’t blame them. But what’s very clear is there’s a lot of love amongst the members of the cast and with the new members. I love Ed Speleers, who plays my son. I love the daughters of Geordi La Forge. All the actors are so good. And then there’s Jeri [Ryan] and Michelle [Hurd] and Todd [Stashwick], who we all adore and now the public’s going crazy for. I’m over the moon that people are liking it, that I had so much fun doing it. It’s a privilege.
What was your reaction to the last script?
I feel that it’s a very complete story and that it leaves a lot of things not completely defined, and people are just going to have to fill in their own blanks and hope for more.
How that you’ve stepped back into her shoes, do you see this as the final time or would you do it again if the right opportunity arose?
I would definitely do it again in a minute. Jonathan and I were talking about that this last weekend. I feel a legacy show would be fantastic. They could focus on different characters and then maybe everyone would come back for a bit and focus on another character.
What really is exciting to me, honestly, about this show, other than yes, I was so happy to have a part and be part of it, but I don’t think it’s that often that we see such a balance of young and old characters, different generations, actually sort of three generations on the Titan ship, collaborating, respecting each other and working together, and people standing up for each other. That’s a very beautiful thing to see. It’s something I believe we need to do more of in our own world today in society.
Star Trek: Picard, Thursdays, Paramount+