The finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation is more of a transition than a firm resolution. Many character arcs are intentionally left unfinished — they knew that this crew would be moving their adventures to movie screens, so some of them would be completed there. The show was also episodic in nature, which made this finale vastly different than that of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
With one small scene, however, the episode "All Good Things ..." perfectly completes a very particular TNG journey. For years we had seen the senior staff crew gather for a poker game, and we used to think that everyone was there. That wasn't true. There was always someone missing.
Jean-Luc Picard was never a part of the game. Maybe it was just something that captains didn't do, though Kirk, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer joined in crew bonding exercises often. Some of us never questioned his absence — it was only when he showed up at the door to Riker's quarters (Deck 8) in this episode that we realized he had never joined the game.
The crew is surprised, with Riker immediately thinking there's a crisis and the game is about to end. That's far from true. Picard is there because he was wondering if he might join them. They have a chair ready for him immediately.
The very personal and private Jean-Luc takes a big step here, and perhaps it was the journeys through time that he just took in the episode that made him want to do this. Looking around at his family, he says, "I should have done this a long time ago."
Deanna Troi's response is perfect: "You were always welcome."
It's almost a mirror to real life, where the classically trained acting veteran Patrick Stewart attempted, during the show's first season, to keep decorum in the face of his fellow cast members very often goofing around. Not to an unprofessional degree, just to a degree that Stewart was not used to. He never converted them, they ended up converting him. Stewart relented, got in on the fun, and proved to be just as big a ham as the rest of them.
As the Captain deals the cards at the end of the scene, he says that the sky's the limit. With that, the Enterprise-D sails off and the show was at its end. The televised adventure was over, but movies were coming ... and many years later, Jean-Luc would get another TV series. How does that one begin? Naturally, it starts with Picard dreaming of Data, playing poker, and Picard not wanting "the game to end."
Welcome back to Warp Factor, where we're looking at this glorious TNG finale. It's our series finale as well. We don't want the game to end, but it's time to put an end to our trek through the stars. Thank you for watching. A part of us, a very important part, will always remain here.