William Riker and Deanna Troi Are Still the Gold Standard of Star Trek Romance

TV Features Star Trek Picard
William Riker and Deanna Troi Are Still the Gold Standard of Star Trek Romance

The final season of Star Trek: Picard has been a delightfully sentimental nostalgia fest, a fever dream of fan service that has brought back every major character from Star Trek: The Next Generation and packed each episode with Easter eggs, callbacks, in-jokes, and classic references. Sure, many of these elements appear to exist for no other reason than to delight long-term Star Trek fans. Still, it’s hard to be but so angry at the show for simply playing the classics when even the most ridiculous twists are executed with so much care and heart. (There’s truly something to be said for watching a thing that’s clearly being made by people who love it as much as you do, and that’s in abundant evidence here.)

But while Picard’s overt sentimentality is certainly tons of fun, the series’ incorporation of classic elements and familiar themes doesn’t exist simply to make the old-timers happy. (Though that does often happen.) Instead, the deep history and genuine connection between these characters are presented as living things, and the show’s many callbacks aren’t just deployed for nostalgia’s sake, but to tell us something new about who these people have become in the decades since we last saw them together and how their relationships between and among one another have changed.

Star Trek: Picard Troi Riker Interior

Bellicose Worf has found something like inner peace. Geordi La Forge is now an overbearing dad trying to keep his Starfleet-enlisted daughters from taking the same risks he did at their age. And the bulk of Picard Season 3’s plot is driven by the longstanding will they/won’t they relationship between Jean-Luc Picard and former Enterprise medical officer Beverly Crusher—a connection that now involves a child that one has kept secret from the other for decades. But while Picard has yet to give us the romantic reunion between the two that many viewers (cough cough me cough) were likely expecting, Season 3 has still managed to reaffirm that, in the world of Star Trek, love can still conquer all no matter how much time has passed. Only, once again, they did it with the most famous couple in the franchise.

The relationship between William Riker and Deanna Troi is a love story that has spanned decades and multiple Star Trek properties. A pairing that many of us shipped before we even understood the concept of shipping, we’re seen them together and apart, romantically attached to other people and pining for one another. They’ve endured unimaginable tragedy, shared near-death escapes, and found their way back together time and time again. Their journey on Star Trek: Picard is no different. The duo first appeared in Season 1’s “Nepenthe,” in which it was revealed their son Thaddeus had recently passed away from a rare disease, a loss that is still obviously deeply felt by both of them in Season 3. The two, while not technically estranged, are clearly still having fairly significant marital difficulties, and Riker appears to have lost his faith (in pretty much everything) in the wake of his son’s death. That he eventually finds his way back to believing in something larger than himself and reconnects with his wife (who has her own sins to answer for in terms of their relationship) is just one piece in the larger story the show is telling, but it’s one of the most satisfying arcs of Season 3.

Picard smartly doesn’t cast its most famous couple in amber, leaving the two of them to essentially exist as relics meant to memorialize a love story we already saw play out. Instead, the Troi-Rikers reflect the lived experience of a lifetime together, and the hard work and sacrifice involved in committing your heart (and everything that comes along with it) to another person. Like every other legacy character on this show, both have changed in the years since the Enterprise-D crew was last on screen together, and Picard isn’t afraid to ask what that means about the people they’ve become. 

The Troi-Rikers have suffered a horrible loss, of a kind that most marriages don’t bounce back from. They’ve lied to one another. They’ve shut one another out. And they’ve hurt each other, in ways that range from abandonment to literal mind control. (It’s kind of wild that it’s taken this franchise this long to poke at the idea that Deanna has the power to suppress or enhance her husband’s emotions if she feels the situation requires it!!) But they’ve also apologized, forgiven, and loved one another enough to try to make amends and ultimately value their relationship over everything else in their lives. (Sorry that Riker ratted you out to Vadic to stop Changelings torturing his wife, Jean-Luc. His bad!)  And they actually talk to each other about what they’re feeling—whether that means corny flirting or finding a way to express difficult emotional truths. Granted, this is probably par for the course when one half of the relationship is someone whose literal job is to get people to talk about their feelings, but it never feels as though Riker resents Deanna for it, or that Troi wants anything other than to find a way to help her husband heal.

Unlike so many genre shows (particularly some of The Next Generation’s compatriots from the 1980s and 90s) that basically treat commitment as a death knell that meant a couple had no worthwhile stories left, Star Trek: Picard shows us a Riker and Troi whose lives are still a work in progress and whose relationship isn’t perfect. But they’re still growing, still changing, and, yes, still struggling to be their best selves—together, even after all this time. And that’s what makes all the difference. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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