Butch Cassidy Was Star Trek's Blueprint For Riker's Arc In Picard Season 3

Ask any sci-fi fan and they'll tell you that the genre is littered with some of the most legendary character pairings in all of fiction. Han Solo and Chewie. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. But when it came time to map out the arc of "Star Trek: Picard" season 3, showrunner Terry Matalas turned to a very different pop culture touchstone altogether: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Taking inspiration from classic Westerns is hardly a new development for "Trek," the franchise that regularly depicted the crew of "The Original Series" as frontiersmen exploring the great unknown in dusty, windswept locales. But for the final season of "Picard," Matalas explained to Entertainment Weekly in an interview that catching up with the fan-favorite cast of "The Next Generation" meant taking the show's most iconic buddy duo – Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his "Number One" William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) — and imbuing them all these years later with a fresh and unexpected dynamic.

Though we were reacquainted with Riker in previous seasons of "Picard," his recurring role in season 3 gives him and his former captain (now a happily retired Admiral) plenty more ground to cover. The two fearless Starfleet officers have gone from frequently butting heads under the chain of command to genuine friends over the long years, with "Picard" succinctly capturing their relationship as old war buddies who've been forged by the fires of countless adventures and near-death experiences together. Now, the first few episodes of season 3 feature the two re-teaming for another journey into space — one that's not strictly within the bounds of Federation protocol.

You know, kind of like two bandits attempting to pull off one last score together against all odds.

'One final adventure'

Sometimes, having a bona fide nerd at the helm of one of the nerdiest franchises ever created can come in handy. Like many fans, "Picard" season 3 showrunner Terry Matalas felt strongly that "The Next Generation" cast had unfinished business after the uneven ending provided by "Star Trek: Nemesis." As Matalas told EW, "I think the original series had a final send-off with 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.' This cast never really had that. So that was the goal from the beginning, to send 'em off in one final adventure that was both thrilling and deeply personal." The top priority, then, involved giving Picard and Riker one last ride that would take full advantage of a relationship that has grown "spicier," in the words of Jonathan Frakes himself.

Matalas went on to explain his reasoning behind pairing up the old crew once again:

"I thought it was important not to just get them all together in the first moment, but to earn each one of these character stories, to give each one of these characters their moment before they come together. If you were going to do a last 'Next Generation' movie, you would really only have two, maybe three hours to do that. That's what's beautiful about a 10-episode sort of 'mini' series. You can explore all of them and see how they're different and pair them up."

So far, season 3 has returned Picard and Riker to the familiarity of a Federation starship, albeit with a much more shoot-from-the-hip approach this time around that both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would approve of.

"Picard" debuts new episodes on Paramount+ every Thursday.