The Latest Star Trek Picard Season 3 Cameo Is A Perfect Deep Cut

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the latest episode of "Star Trek: Picard."

Unless you've been living in a derelict Borg cube hopelessly severed from the Collective, you've probably noticed that this season of "Star Trek: Picard" has doubled down on "The Next Generation" to whole new levels of nostalgia. For some, that's exactly what they've been waiting for from this series ever since it was first announced. For others, well, just check out /Film's recap by Witney Seibold of the very last episode, titled "Vox," for the other end of the spectrum of reactions.

But for showrunner Terry Matalas, this third and final season has provided the best excuse to go out on a high note, smashing together various eras of "Trek" history to give Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and the rest of our original heroes one last grand adventure. While that has obviously meant reuniting our title character with old friends like Brent Spiner's Data and LeVar Burton's Geordi LaForge, it's also made room for several deep cuts and unexpected references of lore from years past. This time, one sneakily clever reappearance by a previously established "The Next Generation" character gave one dramatic death at the hands of the Borg a little extra irony.

As the plot line surrounding the Changeling conspiracy to take down Starfleet once and for all barrels towards its explosive conclusion on Frontier Day, the festivities allowed for one familiar face to briefly take centerstage: a certain Admiral Elizabeth Shelby on the bridge of the Enterprise-F, portrayed by actor Elizabeth Dennehy. Of course, Trekkies have seen this particular character before in the classic "The Next Generation" two-parter, "The Best of Both Worlds" — which shocked the fanbase by having Picard assimilated by the Borg.

A blast from the past

The Borg. Why does it always have to be the Borg? Picard's lasting trauma from his previous assimilation by the biggest bad in all of "Trek" has lingered throughout the decades, having been explored throughout "The Next Generation," the subsequent movies, and even earlier this season in "Picard." But as much as Picard is a central figure in the Federation, he didn't face off against this threat alone. Back in the season 3 finale of "The Next Generation," Starfleet dispatched Captain Elizabeth Shelby to the Enterprise-D, a bona fide Borg expert tasked with helping to repel the imminent Borg invasion. Fans will remember that she and Riker almost immediately rubbed one another the wrong way, thanks to a combo of clashing styles, a little bit of political overambition, and, most unforgivably of all, beating Riker at a hand of poker.

Still, the young officer proved her worth when Picard was captured by the enemy as she led the away mission to retrieve the captain. Though she couldn't quite prevent his assimilation and subsequent rampage during the Battle of Wolf 359, her efforts helped cripple the Borg cube and set up their eventual rescue of Picard from Borg clutches. Riker smoothed over any differences between the unlikely pair by promoting her to first officer in Picard's absence and eventually commander, Starfleet tasked her with rebuilding their fleet to prepare for future attacks, and she even reappeared once more down the line in an incredibly silly episode of "Star Trek: Lower Decks."

All's well that ends well ... right? Well, maybe not. Just ask the dearly departed Ro Laren.

One for the road

Having so much Borg experience under her belt, it was perhaps only a matter of time before "Star Trek: Picard" recruited the services of Elizabeth Shelby upon the shocking revelation that the Changelings had been collaborating with the sinister Borg. Of course, none of us could've predicted exactly how she'd be used in the latest episode. Or how bleakly ironic her final appearance would be.

With all of Starfleet blissfully unaware of the danger at their doorstep, the fleet celebrates the storied Frontier Day by gathering en masse to test out their fancy, system-wide new gadgetry. Synchronously linking each and every ship to the other for a much more efficient level of defense — hint: if your newfangled tech looks like the Borg and sounds like the Borg, it's probably the Borg — the system makes the fleet disastrously vulnerable to sabotage. That's exactly what happens when Picard & Co. show up, interrupt Admiral Shelby's grandiose speech, and trigger the defense mechanisms of the starships in orbit around Earth. Even Picard notes the irony of Shelby endorsing a plan of action that's "so Borg-like," showing how even the most decorated figures in Starfleet could lower their guard in such a time of (perceived) peace.

When the Borg inevitably begins their assimilation of the fleet and turn their drones against the ships, a completely bewildered and overwhelmed Shelby becomes one of the first and most tragic victims of the attack. It's an unceremonious and deeply upsetting end for a character who's lived through some of the darkest moments in all of "Trek" canon, but the instinct to bring her back for such a small but crucial role in "Picard" pays off effectively.

The "Star Trek: Picard" series finale airs on Paramount+ April 20, 2023.