Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Discovery.
After last week’s admittedly tense and exciting offering took the main storyline of Season 3 to a pretty bland and unoriginal place, I was hopeful that Surrender could steady the ship ahead of the final pair of episodes. What we got this week was, instead, a bit of a misfire.
Parts of Surrender seemed to get stuck in the mud; bogged down, trying to stretch out a story that was too thin instead of moving it along at a more reasonable pace. Yet by the time the credits rolled, I felt that a massive part of the season’s ongoing story had been rushed to an unceremonious – and actually quite disappointing – ending.
After teases, brief demonstrations of power, and an acting performance that, to be blunt, was too over-the-top for my taste, Vadic has been killed off. And she died having accomplished… well, remarkably little. The scheme in which she was involved is still playing out, but narratively speaking, Vadic didn’t actually do much of anything except get in Picard’s way and slow down the story.
I’ve said several times as the season has ambled along that we needed to see more of Vadic: to get to know her, where she’s come from, where she hopes to go, and what her plans are for Jack. The reveal of her backstory in Dominion seemed to finally – albeit belatedly – get the ball rolling on that front, but Vadic died this week without telling us anything more. We know that she was a victim of a Section 31 experiment, and that she deliberately took on the appearance of her torturer. But this week, she just… died. And that appears to be all there is to see.
Picard is now left with no main villain, no secondary villain, no villain’s starship… but still a conspiracy to defeat. The only possible outcome at this point is a deus ex machina: some kind of Vadic fake-out, Floaty McFloatface’s unexpected re-emergence, or another adversary who will feel like a bolt from the blue. This is the Season 1 problem from a different angle: the final two episodes are going to have to dump a whole lot of exposition, at least one new character, and possibly even an entire new faction all at the last moment in order to have the most basic building blocks of a narrative to work with.
It was always unclear when Vadic and her nameless, faceless goons seized control of the Titan how they would extricate themselves from the situation in one piece – and how Picard and the crew would likewise save themselves. But even as Vadic was blown out into space I was thinking to myself, “okay, she’s a changeling so maybe she can survive the cold.” Then, as Vadic’s body shattered into pieces I was still thinking “well okay, she’s in pieces, but she’s a changeling… maybe she can reconstitute herself… or Floaty McFloatface can do something to pull them out of this situation.” I even wondered if Floaty McFloatface might’ve been left aboard the practically-deserted Shrike. It was only when the Shrike was destroyed that the realisation finally hit me: this is it. They’ve really taken the story down this route.
Showrunner Terry Matalas has desperately latched onto the legacy of The Wrath of Khan with Picard’s third season. But can you imagine what The Wrath of Khan would’ve been like if Khan had been killed half an hour before the end of the film – and Kirk and the crew had to rush off to defeat… who, exactly? An unnamed augment ally of Khan’s that we’ve never met? Another villain from The Original Series who hadn’t been mentioned in any way prior to that point? Such a horrible anticlimax would have probably ruined the film.
There’s room for an epilogue in a good story – as we see in The Wrath of Khan itself with Spock’s death and funeral. But there’s a reason why the defeat of the biggest villain in any story should come at the climax of the plot. This is one of the absolute basic, most fundamental rules of storytelling. And I can’t shake the feeling that, whatever may come next, Picard has got it wrong.
I said last week that the reveal of Vadic’s history had begun to put her characterisation into some kind of context. But with her death this week, none of that matters. Vadic still feels like a bland, one-dimensional villain stereotype; Khan without any of the interesting bits. A villain needs more than just a vaguely sympathetic backstory – they need a motive, and many of the best ones also have a connection to the hero. Picard and Vadic barely said more than a few words to each other all season long, and her interest in him seems more “business” than anything personal.
The CGI work used for Vadic’s ejection into space and ultimate shattering end wasn’t spectacular, either, so I can’t even say that this storyline was strangely conceived but at least pretty to look at. As Vadic was blown out into space things seemed to be working, but as soon as the “camera” cut to her icy body, visual quality took a dive. It wasn’t the worst CGI moment I’ve seen in modern Star Trek, but it’s noteworthy that this was supposed to be one of the big climactic moments of the season – and it could’ve looked better.
Other visual effects work in Surrender was on point, though, and it was really just this moment that didn’t look as good as it should have. Regrettably, this was the most important one to get right – and more should have been done in post-production to shore up what was supposed to be the climactic death of the season’s biggest villain.
Will we get to find out what Vadic actually wanted? What did she hope to “use” Jack and Picard’s corpse to achieve? These are pertinent questions, and in any other television series I’d say that there are still two episodes remaining, and that we should “trust the process.” After all, the writers and producers wouldn’t just dump entire characters and storylines with no explanation. Right?
But this is Star Trek: Picard – a series with a two-season legacy of doing precisely that. What happened to Narek? What happened to the Zhat Vash, to their beacon on Aia, to the super-synths, to the synths on Coppelius? What was the deal with the devastating anomaly that erupted, and where did Dr Jurati, Soji, and Elnor disappear to? This show has consistently dumped characters and storylines that were half-baked as it rushed off to do other things; Picard feels like the television equivalent of ADHD.
So I have very little confidence, now that Vadic, Floaty McFloatface, all the goons, and even the Shrike itself are gone that they’ll get so much as a cursory mention next time. Whatever Vadic’s plans may have been for Jack, it seems that they died with her. Although the changelings’ attack on Starfleet and Frontier Day will continue that aspect of the storyline, Vadic and her attempt to capture Jack not only kicked off the entire season, but it’s a plotline that has been running for eight episodes now. For that storyline to end so abruptly, without getting any kind of narrative payoff, is a profoundly strange decision.
Villains die all the time without getting what they want. But we don’t even know what Vadic wanted, what she hoped to use Jack to achieve… and unless I’m being even stupider than usual, I don’t see how it’s something we’re supposed to be able to infer from the scattered pieces of an incomplete puzzle that she leaves behind. Sure, Jack’s powers could be useful to a villain or a changeling, and I can see how Vadic might perceive them that way. But there’s one heck of a leap from “this skill could be useful” to the obsessive chase that Vadic performed – at Floaty McFloatface’s behest, no less. We don’t even know what Floaty McFloatface was, what their objectives may have been, and how all of this was supposed to come together to aid in the conspiracy – a conspiracy that feels already comprehensive and successful enough without whatever additional boost it could have gained from Jack.
All of this leaves Vadic as the one thing she should have never been allowed to become: boring. She’s a bland, uninspired, unoriginal, and just plain boring villain that tried to compensate for it all with a hammy, over-the-top performance. This over-acting could have been justified – had Vadic been more interesting and done… well, anything at all of consequence. But she died as she lived.
For all the flair, for all the ham, and for all the chewing of the scenery, Vadic ultimately did very little. Her two encounters with Picard and the Titan both ended in defeat, and the one possible redeeming quality that she could have had – competence – is also gone, shattered into frozen shards just like her corpse.
Not for the first time in Picard, I find myself saying this: what a waste.
It’s hard to see how the next two episodes won’t end up feeling like a complete bolt from the blue; a deus ex machina ending. If Picard was a more episodic series, or one based around multi-episode arcs, perhaps that would be okay. But Season 3 aimed to tell a single story split into ten parts. We’ve defeated the villain at part eight – without explaining who she was, what she hoped to achieve, or really anything about her beyond a tortured past. Where else can the story go from here?
I will caveat everything I’ve just said with two points. Firstly, it can be hard to judge one part of an ongoing story until everything comes into focus. It’s possible, however unlikely it may feel in the moment, that we’ll look back on Surrender much more kindly when the season ends; that something in the upcoming episodes will completely reframe all of this.
Secondly, although my expectations and hopes have been shot to pieces by two seasons of Picard that were difficult at best, I still want to hold out hope for a positive outcome. I don’t make these criticisms out of spite or malice.
Even the better parts of Surrender ask us to overlook things or set logic aside in order for storylines to unfold, and so it was with Riker and Troi. Finally, eight episodes into the promised TNG reunion, Deanna Troi got more than a cameo appearance and had the opportunity to make an impact on the story. That’s fantastic – and while it came too late in the game for my preference, I’m happy that we finally got to see her and spend time with her this week.
I would contend, though, that it’s quite the contrivance for Vadic and the changelings to have put Troi and Riker in the same cell. Their prison wasn’t exactly wanting for empty cells, and having two imprisoned characters sharing their innermost feelings… it’s just a bit of a trope. We’ve seen this before with different characters in more stories than I care to count, and it just didn’t feel especially original.
That being said, my only real criticism of this side of the story is that I could have happily spent longer with Riker and Troi. In earlier episodes, the death of Riker’s son had been a big part of his more cautious approach to the captaincy of the Titan, and caused a big fight with Picard. The scenes in which he and Troi talked it out seemed to pass by quite quickly – indicative, perhaps, of Surrender rushing around trying to tie up loose ends ahead of a major change in focus in the next two episodes.
Riker and Troi also seemed to drop into the story a point that could have been explosive – Troi “entered” Riker’s mind to remove some aspect of his emotional pain. Did Troi, who is empathic but not telepathic, learn this skill from Sybok? We’ve never seen her do anything like this before, yet it was raced past as almost a throwaway line in Surrender. You’d have thought Riker might’ve been a bit more angry about such a manipulation – but again, the story didn’t spend very long at all dealing with this idea.
I wonder if this notion of Troi “taking” something out of someone’s mind may have been set up in Surrender so that it can come into play in the next couple of episodes. We’ll save the speculation for my theory update, but it could be that Troi may use this ability again to help Jack – or even Picard.
In terms of both emotion and entertainment value, the scenes between Troi and Riker were among the best that Surrender had to offer, and although parts of their conversation felt curtailed by an episode that spent most of its time and focus elsewhere, what we did get to see was good enough to make Deanna Troi’s return to Picard a successful and enjoyable one.
Worf’s rescue mission also added a lot to this story – though to nitpick still further, there are a few points that weren’t clear. When did Worf install the stolen cloaking device aboard a shuttlecraft? Why are Worf and Raffi no longer using La Sirena – and have we now seen the last of that ship? After tripping the alarms, how did the away team escape? And when did they find time to lower the Shrike’s shields and deactivate its weapons systems?
Again, this part of the story felt cut down – and when other parts of both Dominion and Surrender seemed to be deliberately slowing things down and padding out a relatively thin story… I could have happily traded some of the scenes with Picard, Jack, and Geordi for a bit more of Worf, Raffi, Riker, and Troi aboard the Shrike.
Worf’s reunion with Troi was cute, though – and I think I detected a nod and a wink at the failed romantic plotline that the two engaged in near the end of The Next Generation’s run. Riker’s reaction to it was Surrender’s moment of comedy gold, and Jonathan Frakes’ comedic timing is as on point as ever!
Since we’re talking about Worf, there is something that’s been bugging me since he returned to Star Trek, and the reunion with Troi kind of shot it back into focus. All season long, Worf hasn’t mentioned his marriage and widowhood. In Deep Space Nine, Worf’s relationship with Jadzia Dax, and his response to her death, was a huge part of his character arc – and to be honest, it went a long way to making Worf into a more relatable character. Worf hasn’t so much as mentioned Jadzia… and even though time has passed and Worf has taken on a more calm and ethereal personality, it wouldn’t have gone amiss if he’d said something about her. As Worf was reunited with Troi, and seemed to be flattering her, harkening back to those episodes in The Next Generation’s seventh season… I felt this absence all the more.
Raffi hasn’t had much to do over the past few episodes really, and that unfortunate theme continued this week. Whatever work she was doing aboard the Shrike when Worf, Troi, and Riker reunited with her seemed to be little more than set dressing; a backdrop for the others to have their conversation in front of. Raffi’s first meeting with Deanna was neat, as both women acknowledged one another and continued to work, but that was all.
Aboard the Titan, Raffi got a well-choreographed sequence of explosive action, and I won’t deny that it looked fantastic – a great performance by Michelle Hurd to pull off some fast moves. But aside from the questionable idea of stabbing changelings to death, when they’re entirely comprised of a nondescript liquid, I just feel like we’ve skipped about a dozen steps. Raffi has clearly been working and training with Worf to hone her skills – but almost all of this has evidently happened off-screen. It’s not bad per se, but it’s another indicator in my view of the fact that Picard still hasn’t found enough time to spend with all of its characters.
I’ve had a lot to say about Data since his resurrection a couple of weeks ago, and I won’t repeat it all this time. You can go back to earlier reviews to see more details about why I think it’s hard to justify. But I will say that I’m glad that Picard didn’t completely ignore Data’s earlier death in Surrender, and was able to give a passing acknowledgement to the events of the Season 1 finale and Picard’s experience with Data in the digital afterlife. This moment – which was only a couple of lines, really – could certainly have been expanded, but given that the writers have ignored so many other story beats from both Picard’s earlier seasons and from other iterations of Star Trek, I want to give credit where it’s due and say that I appreciate the effort here.
As someone who’s never been much of a fan of Lore, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder going into Season 3. And in Surrender, we got to see Data and Lore clash for what appears to be the final time. For me, this sequence was an unnecessary stumbling block; a sequence of pure padding that added nothing to either the episode or the season itself. Given the issues with Vadic that we talked about above – and the fact that, to be blunt, we could easily have spent more time with at least half a dozen other characters – this easily-resolved Data-versus-Lore idea is something I wouldn’t have opted to include at all.
Similar to Vadic, Lore was relatively easy to defeat and accomplished very little from a narrative point of view. And as with Data, Lore is a character who I didn’t feel needed a resurrection and minor epilogue. His defeat in The Next Generation two-part episode Descent could have been left alone, and for my money, we’d already seen enough of Lore. Bringing him back could have served more of a purpose – he could have been connected, in some way, to the conspiracy, as he’d been present at Daystrom Station during the rogue changelings’ raid, just as one example.
If the decision had been taken to resurrect Data – a decision that I’ve already outlined my fundamental disagreement with – then perhaps in such a busy story, Lore should have been left behind. This aspect of Surrender brought a few sweet moments as Data looked back over some of his treasured memories… but a nostalgia overload on its own is not a justification for such a convoluted story.
I will hold up my hands and confess that Data’s memories, all of which were represented by props and objects from The Next Generation, was one of Surrender’s most emotional moments. Although this storyline wouldn’t have been one I’d have chosen, Brent Spiner played it exceptionally well, and the sequence hit many of the right emotional notes. As someone who first came to Star Trek in the early 1990s by way of The Next Generation, this walk down memory lane – figuratively speaking – was incredibly sweet for me.
Seeing Spot, Data’s cat from The Next Generation, was perhaps the highlight of this sequence. As a cat owner myself, I always appreciate seeing cats in stories like this, and Data’s line about Spot teaching him how to love was beautiful – and it brought a tear to my eye.
Perhaps the reason why I found the Data-Lore clash so unsatisfying was that it never really felt that Data was in danger. Even as Geordi and Picard watched the “map” of the golem’s brain being taken over by Lore, Data’s importance to the story meant that defeat here never felt like a realistic prospect. As Data surrendered his memories to Lore, it seemed obvious what he was doing – by taking on Data’s memories, Lore became Data. And so it proved.
As a result, this sequence – and particularly the parts with Picard and the others staring blankly at computer screens – didn’t feel tense and exciting, it felt frustrating. It was padding, and it got in the way of what could have been a more interesting story with Vadic and Jack on the bridge. In spite of the emotional highlights that Data’s reminiscences provided, this entire sub-plot feels like one that could have been skipped.
Criticisms like this next one can feel like nitpicking, and I suspect that, had the main thrust of the narrative been stronger, we wouldn’t be talking about it. With that caveat in mind, however, two major changes were made this week, and they seem to have come unnaturally at the whim of the plot. The ease with which changelings could be killed is the first one – Vadic and her henchman last week took multiple phaser blasts and shrugged them off, but this week, Raffi and Worf were literally killing changelings left, right, and centre. A single stab wound seemed to take down most of them – and a single phaser blast was enough to vaporise them.
Then there’s the number of people involved; both the changelings and the crew of the Titan seemed to grow in numbers from nowhere. Last week, Jack and Sidney ran through deserted hallways, but in Surrender, there seemed to be dozens of Starfleet personnel still aboard – despite Ro moving most of the ship’s complement to the Intrepid a couple of weeks ago. Vadic’s crew’s numbers also seemed to fluctuate – and apparently she took all but one of them with her to the Titan.
These points, in a stronger story, might’ve passed unnoticed – or ended up as nothing more than bullet points right at the end of a review in a kind of “huh, that’s a bit silly if you think about it” way. But because they seem to contribute to a bit of a muddled storyline – one that ended in unexceptional fashion – the sense of disappointment in some of these things is inflated.
Any story has to have a degree of flexibility – and I get that. But one of the foundations of suspension of disbelief, at least for me, is that a story must be basically internally consistent. The number of Vadic’s goons and Titan redshirts, and the damage a phaser hit does to a changeling were all far too inconsistent, serving the whims of the writers in a way that ended up feeling unsatisfying.
The way Vadic spoke to and about Jack in earlier episodes didn’t get any kind of payoff this week, even as the two of them came face to face for the first – and last – time. That was a disappointment, and for all the hot air that was blown on the bridge during their standoff, I don’t feel that their chat moved this plotline in any significant way. We’d already seen Jack’s hallucinatory experiences, and while Vadic hinted at the fact that she knew what he was seeing and, most significantly, what it could mean, she died before she could explain herself.
The fake-out with the grenade was clever, and the prop used for the explosive that Jack was holding was a neat one. We got to see other characters use these explosives in earlier episodes, but even if we hadn’t, I think it was pretty clear what Jack was meant to be holding. This aspect of Picard’s plan actually worked – and it’s the only moment since Vadic and her goons boarded the Titan that actually feels like it was planned. That it relied entirely on Geordi’s work with Data is… well, troublesome! But if we set that aside, I liked that Jack went to the bridge with a clear plan.
Because part of Jack’s plan required him to literally stall and delay Vadic while the Data-Lore clash was going on, some of these scenes on the bridge dragged. Vadic danced around her knowledge of Jack without actually revealing anything significant, and all of that contributed to the sense that Surrender wasn’t an especially well-paced episode. What was intended to be tension ended up feeling more like frustration.
I’m in two minds about the way in which Vadic was killed. On the one hand, it feels like a clever plan – overriding the emergency hatch and blowing her out into space. On the other… the way it was executed came across as unintentionally humourous rather than exciting and action-packed. Seven of Nine – who has had remarkably little to say and do all season long – got the Air Force One hero quip, but that kind of fell flat for me. Again, a bit of an unoriginal idea, and one that has been parodied to death. Because Seven hadn’t said more than two words to Vadic the whole time, it also felt unearned.
Seven finally got her clash with Captain Shaw, and while it probably wasn’t the right moment for an emotional blow-up about deadnaming, it was something that had been a long time coming. Had this conversation come at a better time – when they weren’t in immediate danger, perhaps – more could have been made of it. But as it is, it was fine.
After Vadic had been defeated and Shaw returned to the bridge, he seemed to behave as if he had a newfound respect for Seven. We didn’t get to see much of that, because this sequence was relatively short, but it’s something we might get a second glance at before the end of the season. I’m not sure. If what we got in Surrender is all we’ll see, then I’d give this storyline a grade C: a basic pass. Earlier episodes set up a clash between these characters, built upon it, and Surrender brought it to a head. It wasn’t strictly necessary, especially given the relative unimportance of the two characters involved. But it wasn’t handled badly.
Not for the first time this season, I find myself without much to say about Picard himself – which is odd when you consider the name of the series we’re watching! Picard contributed his ideas to the plan, and at least part of that seems to have worked. However, in Surrender, Picard himself was relegated to standing around, waiting for other characters who were more directly involved in key storylines to actually move the plot forward. Again, this was something that could feel frustrating.
In both previous seasons of the show, Jean-Luc Picard was at the heart of the adventure… for better and for worse. But this time, it feels like he’s being swept along by a narrative current that’s entirely outside of his control. Vadic’s conspiracy got things started, Dr Crusher told him the secret of Jack’s existence, Ro explained how Starfleet was compromised, Worf and Raffi did the legwork, Riker’s away team went to Daystrom Station… and the past couple of weeks, it fell to Jack, Sidney, Geordi, Data, and Seven to take most of the actions involved in advancing the story. Picard spent most of his time standing around, staring at screens.
After Worf, Riker, Troi, and Raffi returned to the Titan, we finally got that “the gang’s all here” reunion, as Picard and the crew sat around the conference table. It was a sweet sequence, and some of the characters exchanged pleasantries and talked about how they’d missed one another. It was also a moment that the series has been trying very hard to build up to. In context, I guess I have to say that it worked as well as it could’ve. And again, there’s no denying that it successfully plucked some of the nostalgic chords that it was aiming for.
I never felt that Picard should try to be “The Next Generation Season 8.” In fact, when the series was first announced, I was looking forward to seeing new characters, new stories, and Star Trek moving its internal timeline forwards for the first time in almost two decades. This reunion is, for me, a bittersweet one. It’s great to see everyone back, and I have to admit that the series has managed to find narrative justifications for everyone’s inclusion – even if some of them are more than a little convoluted! But at the same time, the promised “passing of the torch” never happened, and the new characters that had been created in earlier seasons have all been left behind. Even at the conference table, Seven, Raffi, Shaw, Jack, and the La Forge sisters were absent.
With two episodes left, I fear that Picard has been shot in the foot. The lack of a named villain heading into the final chapter of the story risks making whatever comes next feel like the dreaded deus ex machina, and after all of the problems and flaws in both Seasons 1 and 2… it’s disappointing in the extreme to think that we’re about to walk an all too familiar path. Season 3 has had its highlights, don’t get me wrong, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will end on a high, too. But Vadic’s death this week feels like a major stumble.
Surrender was also an episode with pacing difficulties. It got bogged down in too many places, spending too much time on ultimately unimportant minutiae. It stretched too little story too thinly across the runtime of an entire episode when some scenes could have been shaved down – or cut entirely – to allow for more explanation of Vadic, her connection to Jack, and her ultimate ambition. She died without explaining any of that – and her death leaves her feeling bland, uninteresting, and almost like a parody of better Star Trek villains.
Because of the way both of Picard’s earlier seasons landed, I can’t shake the feeling that this episode marks a turn for the worse, and that lessons that should have been learned have not been heeded. I desperately want to be able to tell you that I’m excited to see what comes next and that I’m confident that a solid, creditable, and narratively coherent ending has been written – and that next week will be a roaring return to form. But I can’t in all honesty say that.
In spite of the way Vadic had landed for me, I was hopeful that last week’s exploration of her personal history had set the stage for some of that crucial understanding that had been missing from her character. Because of her death this week, and the apparent wrapping up of her storyline and that of her crew on the Shrike, I don’t believe we’ll get that now. The next chapter of this story will be the unravelling of Vadic’s conspiracy – and the defeat of the remaining changelings. I hope that will be satisfying enough to plug what feels like a gaping narrative hole… but to be blunt, I doubt it.
As we head into the final two episodes of the season – and the series – I’m fighting hard against feelings of disappointment and dejection. The return of The Next Generation characters had already thrown a question-mark over this season for me, especially because of the unfinished stories left behind in Seasons 1 and 2. Vadic’s death feels like the continuation of a particularly disappointing theme, and I’m struggling to see where the story could possibly go from here.
I have desperately wanted to enjoy Picard, and to support the Star Trek franchise as it returns to the characters and stories of my favourite era. So far, despite some strong episodes, wonderful performances, and interesting concepts, the series as a whole has failed to deliver. Can the final two episodes of Season 3 rectify that… or at least ensure that it goes out on a high? I’m crossing my fingers. But I’m sceptical.
Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.