This entry was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, this television series wouldn’t exist. To learn more, visit the SAG-AFTRA strike site.
The gang’s all here, at last — whereas “The Bounty” technically featured all seven core crew members from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Surrender” finally puts them exactly where we’ve been longing to see them: around the conference room table in the observation lounge. (Jokes. Obviously, we wanted to see them on the bridge of the Enterprise-D; but, even as of this week, such a thing seemed like an insane, never-gonna-happen idea.)
That said, the conference table really was the secondary centre of Next Gen, more so than Ten Forward, the holodeck, or the Captain’s ready room. Burdened with little more than shorthand exposition dumps and plot setups, that room nonetheless featured the most refined version of the team being the team; neither on the bridge at red alert nor drinking down in the bar, the lounge was a space for discussion, strategy, and the sharing of ideas. (And Captain Picard Day.) Here, it’s where everyone is introduced to the reborn version of Data, who both acknowledges the death of his prior self and reflects on the things that make him different (like having a bum neck). Deanna and Beverly reunite, and Deanna allows that she often spoke to her old best friend even when she wasn’t around, whenever she needed advice. Worf lets everyone know he demurred from sending them all severed heads, as doing so would have been passive aggressive. And Geordi says what has been clear to the fans from the moment the season was announced: it has been far, far too long.
But I’m ahead of myself. Here’s something: this season really doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that “Nepenthe” happened, huh? I think I can now safely say that “Nepenthe” was overall my favourite episode of Star Trek: Picard, so the erasure stings a little; not having Kestra’s wellbeing vouchsafed during Will and Deanna’s imprisonment on the Shrike stings a whole lot more. (I love Kestra. A mention was evidently considered and dropped that would have put her safely at Starfleet Academy, which explains why the bad guys didn’t nab her at the same time as they grabbed Deanna.) But the biggest bit of “Nepenthe” denial simply comes in this season’s retconning of the state of Will and Deanna’s marriage following the death of Thad Riker (an event which preceded “Nepenthe”). In the former episode, the couple was grieving, but united; in this episode, they make mention of having been apart for years, so long that Deanna comments on Will’s beard having gone grey. (Will’s beard was mighty and grey in “Nepenthe!” Further “Nepenthe” erasure!) Will tells his Imzadi (who’s tired of being called Imzadi) about having faced “bleakness” in the nebula in “No Win Scenario” and having come out the other side of it; but the whole emotional story for Riker this season is needless emotional reverse-engineering to arrive at… nothing much, really. Like with the La Forge family two episodes ago, I don’t have any real need for strife between the Riker-Trois; there’s enough trouble this season with Jack and Beverly and Picard and the whole Dominion thing. Will and Deanna come back together in “Surrender” bceause that’s what Will and Deanna do, and they don’t even seem particularly sore about it. They decide to sell their house. No big whoop.
On the Titan, Vadic has the bridge; the Jack Crusher family (plus Sidney) are locked up in sickbay; and Geordi and Data/Lore are in engineering. Seven’s sick of Shaw deadnaming her, and Shaw’s sick of people doing the right thing. (If Ed Speers has the most thankless role this season, Todd Stashwick is a close follow — Shaw’s motivations twist and turn with every contrivance the scripts require of him. Stashwick buckets down the charm to make up for it, though, so he mostly passes.) Vadic wants to play Russian Roulette with the bridge crew to get Jack to turn himself over, and Jack tries remote-piloting some of those ensigns to see if he can enter a prefix code and save the ship. Vadic kills T’Veen, which might have meant something if the show had developed any of the bridge extras; with Shaw due to go down swinging a couple of episodes from now anyway, for example, he might have made a more poignant choice. This is the point in the season where — due to the full reassembly of the Next Gen crew — there are far more characters than meaningful things for them to do, and the writers might have served themselves better by thinning the herd significantly here. (They do, admittedly, get rid of Vadic.)
Downstairs, it’s time for Data to duel Lore in a nebulous white field meant to represent their shared consciosuness, which is full of Data memorabilia. His Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe; his poker set; and, of course, that Tasha memorial hologram. Data calls them — his memories — the only sensible measure of the worth of a life. That’s a nice idea; it’s also nice that Lore, in return, has beef. Data got all the privileges, the affection, the opportunities; and (critical to Lore’s lifelong resentment of Data), Data didn’t even have the emotion (chip) to process any of it. Data begins handing his memories to Lore — and if his memories make him who he is, then this metaphorical surrender of the best parts of himself overwrites the vacant Lore, who had the emotion chip but never had any good times. This places a unified Data in control of the entire personality. This must be the third or fourth time Data has prevailed over Lore in a “final” battle, so the victory is not exactly surprising; in fact, I can’t help but wonder if having Lore be Spiner’s character this season, in spite of the creative project of bringing the original crew back together, might have yielded more interesting drama, if Lore had been made to serve in Data’s stead. But Stephen Barton sails the moment with an overwhelming musical cue as Data emerges, shoring up a somewhat undercooked resolution for the character’s resurrection. And seeing supercompetent Data immediately make short work of Vadic’s technological challenges… well, it doesn’t suck. The Next Gen team rallies, and they blow Vadic out into space, where she freezes. And hits a ship. And shatters. Fucking solids!
Much like “No Win Scenario,” “Surrender” serves as an act break for the season, giving the crew a victory and a moment to reflect, before teeing up the third and final portion of the story. It also gives a relatively good structural reason why Deanna’s been kept out of the story up till now: as soon as she sees Jack, she wants to talk to him about that red door.