Star Trek: Picard’s Riker Isn’t A Changeling, He’s Something Even Better

We have a theory that Will Riker is not a Changeling on Star Trek: Picard, but in fact who we've been seeing for the first half of the current season is the transporter double Thomas Riker who we haven't heard from in decades.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

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Jonathan Frakes as both Will Riker (Right) and Thomas Riker (Left) in “Second Chances” – Star Trek: The Next Generation S6 E24

WARNING! SPOILERS follow for Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard!

There’s a well-founded theory making the rounds around the web, including on Reddit, that for at least part of Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard, Jonathan Frakes hasn’t been playing Will Riker but a Changeling. There are a lot of good reasons to think that, at the very least, the person who appears to be Will Riker is someone else, but I have a theory that doesn’t point to an alien infiltrator. I think the man who really replaced Riker is his transporter double Thomas Riker, who hasn’t been heard from since the 1994 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Defiant,” and I think he’s aboard the USS Titan as a Section 31 agent.

First, as to why fans think Star Trek has given us a Changeling Riker, there is some compelling proof. Chief among the points the theorists make is that he acts uncharacteristically hostile toward his old mentor and friend in the latest episode of Picard, telling Picard toward the end “You’ve just killed us all,” and throwing him off the Titan’s bridge. Giving up so easily on his crew’s chances of escape and blaming Picard for the predicament do not seem at all Riker-like.

Fans also noticed some other interesting little moments. In the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard‘s third season, as Riker and Picard get up from their table at a bar, a very suspicious-looking man notices them and he and Riker may or may not exchange a glance. Later, when they board the Titan, Riker takes a moment to pay special attention to Ensign Foster (Chad Lindberg) who later proves to be a Changeling (or at least, a Changeling assumes his form, we don’t know when the Changeling started impersonating the ensign).

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Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker (?) about to kick Picard off the Titan bridge in “Seventeen Seconds” – Star Trek: Picard S3 E3

So why do I think Star Trek: Picard‘s Riker is Thomas Riker rather than a Changeling? I’m convinced that at the very least, the guy who throws Picard off the bridge at the end of “Seventeen Seconds” is not Will Riker. I think it has a greater chance of being Thomas Riker than a Changeling for three reasons: motivation, emotion, and theme.

First, in terms of motivation, assuming for the sake of argument that Star Trek: Picard‘s Will Riker is an impostor, he doesn’t seem to be working against the interests of the Federation, Starfleet, or even Picard. His attempts to get away from Vadic (Amanda Plummer) are failing, but he’s genuinely trying.

Of course, that alone doesn’t mean Riker isn’t a changeling. Worf (Michael Dorn) tells us there was a schism in the Great Link, so it could be that Riker is a Changeling working against the anti-Federation shapeshifters. This would actually explain quite a bit… but not everything, which leads me to my second point.

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Worf unveils a Changeling in “Seventeen Seconds” – Star Trek: Picard S3 E3

Star Trek: Picard‘s Riker, whether he is an impostor or not, shows genuine emotion when he talks about Riker and Troi’s dead son, which he wouldn’t if he were a Changeling. He also wouldn’t have any motive to defend Picard to Jack Crusher (Ed Speleer) like he does in “Seventeen Seconds.” But Thomas Riker is a different story.

No, Thaddeus was not Thomas Riker’s son, but in his two previous appearances, Thomas expresses understandable ownership over Will Riker’s life, particularly when it comes to his relationship with Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The last time Thomas Riker saw Will and Deanna, the pair were still strictly friends and colleagues. The fact that Thomas previously felt Will had wasted his opportunity with Deanna, and now potentially knows the two are married with children, could make him even more emotional over the life he feels was stolen from him.

Finally, there’s the third reason: theme. Star Trek: Picard‘s final season seems to be looking to tie up a lot of loose ends, particularly when it comes to old antagonists, and Thomas Riker could very well be one of those loose ends. The Dominion’s Changelings have returned, Vadic’s past is still a mystery but seems to have something to do with Picard, and both Brent Spiner’s Lore and even Daniel Davis’ holographic Moriarty are on their way back.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the last time we saw Thomas Riker and the series kind of left the transporter double hanging. After working with the Maquis and hijacking the Defiant, Thomas is turned over to the Cardassians. Later, when Cardassia joins the Dominion, the Maquis are all said to be killed by the Dominion, but Thomas Riker’s fate is never specifically mentioned.

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Thomas Riker hijacks the titular ship to cause havoc in Cardassian in “Defiant” – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine S3 E9

Imagine what a prize Thomas Riker would be for the clandestine Section 31. He’s physically identical to Will Riker, and — unlike a Changeling — would have no trouble with blood screenings or anything of the sort. As Will Riker’s career improved over the years, so would Section 31’s access.

From what we know of Section 31, if they wanted to get Thomas Riker out of a Cardassian prison, they’d be more than capable of managing it.

From Worf, we know that Starfleet never publicly acknowledged the schism in the Great Link, but Section 31 would no doubt be aware of it. If they learned something about Vadic and the Changelings, they may have sent Thomas Riker as early as the premiere episode to impersonate Will and gain access to the Titan.

If Star Trek: Picard‘s Riker is the transporter double, that would also explain why he isn’t as accomplished at commanding a starship as Will Riker — who had much more experience and confidence — and why he doesn’t share Will’s implicit trust and respect for Picard.

Whether I’m right or wrong, we should all find out soon enough. Episode 4 of Star Trek: Picard‘s third and final season streams Thursday morning on Paramount+.