Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 3 Is A Showcase For The Talents Of Jonathan Frakes

Jonathan Frakes has always seen "Star Trek" as an action/adventure franchise, as he once admitted during a behind-the-scenes interview for "Star Trek: First Contact," which he directed. As the man who played Cmdr. William Riker on seven seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," it makes logical sense that he would see things that way. Riker was a man of action, always in charge of away missions, and a jocular cowboy when in command. This persona would be played with to great effect decades later on "Star Trek: Lower Decks," wherein Riker was finally depicted working as a starship captain — a long-sought position — and laughing heartily as he plunged his crew into danger. 

As an actor, Frakes began his career in the late 1970s, appearing on the soap opera "The Doctors." As a director, Frakes started working on episodes of NextGen during its third season, helming the episode "The Offspring." He would go on to direct seven additional episodes, as well as three episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and three episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager" before making "First Contact" and the 1998 follow-up "Star Trek: Insurrection." These credits would be impressive enough, but they were but the start of an extensive directing career for Frakes who would go on to oversee episodes of "Roswell," "Leverage," "Castle," "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Burn Notice," "Falling Skies," "The Librarians," and some of the newer Trek shows to boot. 

Now 70, Frakes is a veteran of the industry, capably handling an episode of TV just as well as his character could a starship. His most recent credit is episode three of the third season of "Star Trek: Picard," called "Seventeen Seconds." It's the most action-packed yet, and Frakes' professional stamp is all over it. 

Riker, now stern

In "Picard," Riker is now an old man, likely in his 80s (medicine is excellent in the 25th century, so he only looks to be 69 or 70). While Riker spent the bulk of "Next Generation" fretting about his career and gunning for command of a starship, he wouldn't achieve that goal until the end of "Star Trek: Nemesis" when he took command of the U.S.S. Titan. In "Picard," he still holds the rank of Captain but has long since retired, now spending time with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as a colleague. 

The idea of a retired Riker is almost antithetical to the character, meaning Frakes was free to explore him on a more personal level. For instance, how do he and Picard relate now that one is no longer the other's boss? Picard still technically outranks Riker — Picard is an Admiral — but neither has to answer to the other. With the power dynamic evened out, the two men communicate differently. Riker is now free to take the lead, to explain to Picard what needs to be done and, in one notable scene of "Seventeen Seconds," berate Picard for his bad decisions. It's incredibly jarring to see Riker yell "You're out of line!" to his old commanding officer. 

Additionally, what happens to the careerist when his career goals have all been achieved? It seems that Riker is now a devoted husband and father, and Trekkies can now see how much Riker's jocular personality has come to influence every aspect of his life. He still has the laidback demeanor of the poker-playing Commander Trekkies once knew so well, but has not affected a serious note of protective sternness to his interactions, revealing that he is now working for personal reasons and not professional ones.

Frakes as director

As stated above, Frakes has liked to present "Star Trek" as being more adventure-forward than its cerebral reputation would have one believe. It's telling that his Trek films are both slick and feature notable starship battles. "First Contact" even began with a Borg invasion of Earth, and the SFX on the space vessels still looks good today. 

As a director, Frakes often strained to make the banal, everyday TV shooting schedule into something more interesting. As previously mentioned in the pages of /Film, Frakes was once asked to direct a NextGen episode called "Cause and Effect" (March 23, 1992), wherein the U.S.S. Enterprise encountered a time loop, and several scenes were repeated. Frakes had to find ways to shoot different scenes with identical dialogue, communicating to audiences that time was repeating itself. Over the course of the episode, Frakes found new places to put the camera, new ways to light the set, and new ways to make the filmmaking more crisp and dynamic. Frakes' knack for special effects and action filmmaking led him to direct bright, kid-friendly adventure films like "Clockstoppers" and "Thunderbirds," both films with a great deal of Trek-like vehicle- and tech-fetish. 

In "Seventeen Seconds," Frakes pulls double duty. The episode is largely about a nebula battle — bearing shades of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" — and Frakes employs exciting space exteriors and tense starship interiors to wring every possible thrill from the scenario. He also displays a new depth to Riker's character, showing that, yes, even the careerist can grow up. 

Frakes started in soap operas and has been on a steady upward trajectory ever since. One can't help but admire him.