One advantage Star Trek: Picard Season 3 had before an episode aired was the foreknowledge it was, effectively, a reunion of The Next Generation cast. Fans desperately wanted to see Worf, Geordi La Forge and Beverly Crusher again. However, Star Trek's best couple, Will Riker and Deanna Troi, were part of Picard from the beginning. Their character journeys are as profound as any in the show. Literary legend Michael Chabon took the creative lead on Picard Season 1, taking the story and characters in provocative directions.
Understandably, some fans took umbrage to the relative melancholy in the show, given the hopeful The Next Generation finale. The revelation Will and Deanna lost one of their two children to a sci-fi disease felt like too much. It was supposed to. The power of their story in Season 3 only works if Riker and Troi are having difficulty. Riker took off on a hare-brained adventure with Jean-Luc Picard because of an offense. What Deanna did was, in its own way, also beautiful. More frustrating is how long The Next Generation producers kept the couple apart. This went beyond the typical "will they or won't they" arc. Riker and Troi often had one-off relationships with guest stars, some recurring. However, the two most important people in Riker and Troi's development never gave up on them.
Riker and Troi Were in Love Because of Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis
The pilot episode of The Next Generation revealed Riker and Troi had a deep, emotional relationship prior to the series. However, the writers eventually found it easier to pair them off. "The fans loved the Troi-Riker thing, producers…ignored it…. Jonathan and I refused to let it die," Sirtis said in a Picard featurette. Frakes added they would often remind each other the characters were in love. He described it as the foundation on which they built their performances. The characters didn't get together for good until Star Trek: Insurrection. They were married in Nemesis, the final film. Frankly, it is lucky the new storytellers did not break them up if only to have them fall in love again.
In Season 1, Jean-Luck Picard and Soji, an "offspring" of Data's being hunted by Romulans, took refuge with Riker and Troi on Nepenthe. They moved to this rural planet for their son Thad, who had an illness that took his life. Despite losing a child, the couple seemed to be as happy as ever. Season 3 introduced the idea that Deanna used her deep empathic connection with Will Riker to try to ease his grief. When Riker realized this, he felt robbed of his "last connection" with his son. As only Star Trek can, the most romantic scene in the series takes place in a prison cell. They talk through their feelings and reaffirm their love, allowing Troi to rescue Riker and the others in the finale.
The wedge that formed between them wasn't something as lazy as infidelity nor as devastating as the loss of their son. Rather, Deanna tried to spare Will's pain. Her empathic abilities meant she not only felt her grief but the sorrow of everyone who tried to comfort her. Taking Will Riker's grief was her way of choosing to bear that burden rather than having it thrust upon her. He felt betrayed until he realized his "Imzadi" was trying to help him in a way he couldn't help her. Sharing their vulnerabilities made them both stronger. It is why Worf's relationship with Jax on Deep Space 9 was far better than his last-minute fling with Troi in The Next Generation.
Why Will Riker and Deanna Troi Are Star Trek's Best Example of 'True Love'
The writers put words in the characters' mouths, and the directors determine how we see them. However, Frakes and Sirtis prove the effect performance has on storytelling with how Riker and Troi persisted. Subtly playing scenes with romantic undertones helped build the relationship, even against the producers' wishes. In a prison cell on a spaceship, the actors were able to draw on decades of familiarity. Yet, the substance of the scene also paid homage to the characters' bond and what it was that made them perfect for each other. They joked about infidelity because their issues were about deeper traumas. Nonetheless, the conflict ended with acceptance and forgiveness.
The best thing the Deanna Troi and Worf pairing ever did was set up the joke where Worf is "inappropriate" when he rescues Troi and Riker. Both characters had extensive romantic pasts on The Next Generation. Yet, the actors' choices ensured that even the ill-advised ones only strengthened the audience's feeling the two were meant for each other. The tragedy of Picard Season 1 to their reunion in Season 3 was a perfect escalation of the obstacles they have already overcome.
They are the opposite of Star Wars' Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala because neither of them ever tries to "possess" the other. Riker and Troi are supportive of each other, in her case, to a fault. While some scenes in The Next Generation were written for jealousy, the performances elevated it to something far less petty. The wedge between Riker and Troi honored their love for each other. Riker did not want her burdened by his feelings. She tried to take his sorrow away so only one of them had to suffer. It is easily the best example of "true love" in Star Trek, and the fans could see it back in the 1980s.
Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1 to 3 are all streaming exclusively on Paramount+.