Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 7

Mar 5, 2020 | Posted by in TV
Picard

“Nepenthe”

Star Trek: Picard splits the crew when Picard takes refuge with a couple of old friends and the crew of La Sirena play cat and mouse with a Romulan pursuer.

As a life long fan of TNG this episode was one I was very much looking forward to. The return of William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is definitely something to get excited about and the episode most definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard. Their appearance was meaningful, the characters were used well and the required amount of time was taken to pay tribute to such a big part of Picard’s life.

Picard

Filling in the details

This is another slow paced episode which might seem odd on the surface since it took so long for things to happen only to slow right down almost immediately after. The previous episode significantly ramped things up with Soji learning more about her past before finally coming into contact with Picard and immediately being aggressively pursued by Romulans where this episode slows right down as Picard takes some time to figure out what his next move should be.

I can understand why some viewers might take issue with the pacing and I agree that it has taken a while for the story to move forward though I do like the more deliberate pace in general as it allows time to flesh out the characters and explore the moments that exist between them. I think that understanding what motivates the characters as well as getting a clear sense of how they relate to one another is essential for investing in the situations they find themselves in. Otherwise the story becomes a collection of events with no real substance to them. I’m not saying that this show has always used the time well but the decision to tell a slower paced story is a sound one.

In terms of plot movement this episode doesn’t have much. The high level events are Picard figuring out where to go next and getting back together with his crew. It’s basically an hour of television where very little happens but it still feels essential because the events of the previous episode necessitate taking a breath to digest everything that happened and then moving onto the next phase of the mission. Deanna tells Picard early on that he needs rest and that’s exactly what the bulk of this episode is which feels right and works well in context.

Picard

Old friends reunited

Will and Deanna join a very exclusive club in this show; those that aren’t annoyed at Picard for something he did in his past. Both are very glad to see him and offer their support without question. I’m not sure how this would translate for new viewers but the bond that exists between them was cultivated over several years between TNG and the TNG movies. They care about each other, trust each other and share a bond that is unbreakable. This comes across and is at the foundation of what this episode seeks to accomplish. Picard needs moral support and a sounding board to help him decide what to do next. Will and Deanna offer that to him and more. As a summation of Picard’s connection to them I’m reminded of the speech he gave as best man at their wedding. He called Will his “trusted right arm” and Deanna his “guide and conscience”. On the most basic level this is the function they perform here and it’s used to such great effect.

At first Picard regrets his decision to appear on their doorstep as it risks placing them in danger. He calls his decision to seek them out a “desperate impulse”. There is no resentment from Will or Deanna who only desire to help him. They approach this in a really interesting way; they let Picard take the time he needs to be comfortable in their presence following their initial offer of a place to stay before slowly pushing him towards letting them help him. They both know him really well and know what it takes to shake him out of his stubborn belief that he has to do everything alone.

Will’s approach is to outwardly respect his desire to not involve them while engineering a way for Picard to acknowledge what’s going on. He does this by using available clues to build up his own picture of the situation with some really spot on guesses. It makes sense given Will’s extensive experience both in Starfleet and under Picard’s command as well as being an excellent showcase of his ability to read people in order to properly assess a situation. These are skills that served him well during his career and continue to serve him well now. He uses his powers of deduction as a way to help convince Picard that he needs help and shouldn’t be reluctant to accept it. His point about Picard deciding who gets to be in the loop and who doesn’t not working now because he’s not the Captain of a starship that gets to make decisions like that is a strong one that highlights the changing nature of their lives as well as their relationship. He likens Picard’s situation with Soji to him dealing with a teenager which brings in Riker’s experience of being a parent. In his view Picard isn’t up to it because he has never raised children or really thought about doing so which means that there are things about being a parent that he is simply unable to understand. Will thinks that he’s ill equipped to figure out his next move with Soji because he’s unable to find a way to fully relate to her.

Picard

Soji finds an older sister

Deanna’s approach is to remind him of the man he used to be and encourage him to embrace that part of himself. He makes the wrong choice when dealing with Soji in front of her which provokes a violent reaction that Deanna feels was entirely justified. She lays out the reasons for it being a bad choice on his part and tells him that he needs to be “compassionate, patient, curious”; basically everything that Deanna once knew him to be. She appeals to him to let them help by proving that he needs it with her well chosen words that amount to everything he needs to hear at that moment. His conversation with Will is much more about the practical facts of the situation where his conversation with Deanna is around the emotional aspects of what he is dealing with. It’s the perfect use of both of those characters and a reminder of how they would be used at their best. Back on the Enterprise, Will would help Picard arrive at decisions by puzzling out the current situation with him where Deanna would help him understand how those decisions would affect people emotionally. It wasn’t always used well back then but it was a strong basis and could end up greatly enhancing a particular episode as it does this one. It’s great to see these characters again and to have them used so well.

Soji doesn’t interact with Will much but has a great scene with Deanna that helps her contextualise what she’s going through. She has just learned that her entire life has been a lie and that she isn’t even Human. The scene involves her trying a home grown tomato which gives Soji her first taste of something real both in a literal and figurative sense. She hasn’t ever eaten food that didn’t come out of a replicator so has no idea what “real” food tastes like just as she now no longer has any idea of what “real” life feels like. The reaction is a strong one because home grown food tastes better than food that has been replicated which leads her to conclude that real is always better. Deanna is there to offer her an alternate perspective by talking about her son who died of a silicon based virus. It would have been curable had their been active synthetics but since he contracted it after the ban there was no way to save him. Her point is that real isn’t always better because something artificial was needed to save their son and it wasn’t available at the time.

It’s an interesting point that has a clear impact on Soji though it doesn’t entirely make sense. A better way to tackle it would have been to highlight that “real” is difficult to actually define. Soji is an artificial life form but she is still a life form so that makes her “real” in the sense that she’s self aware aware and sentient. Her memories and everything she thought to be her life has been artificially created but still informs who she is as a person. Whether things actually happened or not should be immaterial at this point because they are real for her. Picard made sure to tell Dahj that her memories belonged to her so the same definitely applies here. Deanna’s point is that artificial is a valid way of existing and has advantages over “real” which is fine but she seems to have a narrow definition of what “real” actually is which doesn’t entirely fit with her character especially when considering how close she and Data were.

Picard

Pizza and sage advice, a winning combination

Soji is dealing with a lot as everything she thought she knew about herself has changed so it’s important for her to take some time to understand what this could mean to her. Finding out where she came from and why she created is the next logical step on her journey though there’s an understandable reluctance to have those questions answered as the answers might not make the situation better. Everything is in flux for her at the moment and she’s not even sure if anything she is experiencing is actually real as she’s so used to being manipulated and deceived by those around her. She doesn’t trust Picard at this point because she has no reason to and he so far hasn’t done an awful lot to earn it.

Will and Deanna’s daughter, Kestra (Lulu Wilson) is brilliantly used throughout the episode. She’s innocent and curious while being precocious but not in an obnoxious way. Lulu Wilson gives her a really strong and endearing personality that makes her a joy to watch. She also has natural chemistry with Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis that perfectly sells the parent/child connection that exists between them. The episode doesn’t dwell on the loss of her older brother though it is a significant part of it and is used to add texture to the family dynamic. It’s mentioned that Kestra’s pain fades a little each day which upsets Deanna because it will get to the point where she barely remembers her older brother. Losing someone close at a young age tends to have the effect of it being raw at first and then fading into a vague memory of who that person was. It’s tragic to have a memory like that diminished but it’s also a big part of grieving and moving on with your life after losing someone.

Kestra craves a sibling relationship because she spends so much time alone with nobody close to her own age to share her experiences with so she latches onto Soji as a surrogate sister. Even though Soji’s physical appearance is a great deal older than Kestra’s, she treats Soji like a younger sister after learning she was only created three years ago. Their dynamic is great with Kestra’s unapologetic curiosity vocalising the questions that are rattling through Soji’s brain. It ends up being a very useful way for Soji to work through her confusion while also allowing her to feel “real” because Kestra treats her as such. Using Kestra to move things along because she’s so endearingly tactless was a really clever way to connect story and character.

Picard

Deanna does what she does best…I don’t mean stating the obvious

Soji’s problems with trusting those around her are resolved to some degree when Picard understands that he needs to offer her something of himself for her to latch onto. He tells her about being driven to help her because she came from Data and that before this mission he was wasting his life but now he has purpose and feels more alive than he has in years so nothing will stop him from pursuing his goals. It’s not enough to make Soji trust him completely but it’s a start and allows her to realise that her best chance of being safe is with Picard.

Another thing that Will and Deanna’s presence allows is to serve as a reminder of how much things have changed in the intervening years. Before leaving, Picard and Will have a conversation about his current crew and Picard tells him that they have so much more baggage than the crew of the Enterprise ever did though that’s something Picard is guilty of as well. This is likely a deliberate reference to how storytelling has changed since TNG was on the air. Drama existed within the show and there was conflict between the characters but for the most part they would take hardship in their stride. This was because of the episodic nature of that show where Star Trek: Picard is much more modern and serialised which means that things play out far differently. I like to have the old style acknowledged in this way while highlighting that things have changed. Will and Deanna certainly take hardship in their stride here even though the loss of their son weighs on them. It hasn’t stopped them being happy and positive in their own lives which feels very TNG.

The main secondary plot involves Rios, Raffi and Jurati playing cat and mouse with Narek while trying to reach Picard. We finally get the details of Jurati’s conversation with Commodore Oh along with the reveal that Jurati ingested a tracker so that Picard’s mission could easily be followed. Commodore Oh showed Jurati a vision of the future where synthetics somehow cause untold destruction on a very large scale. How she came to witness this isn’t made clear but my working theory is that she’s from the future and has come back in time to prevent this apocalyptic scenario. Jurati is clearly thrown by what she sees which goes some way towards justifying her decision to end Maddox’ life though it’s somewhat extreme to have her go straight to killing even after what she has seen. It also makes no sense that she would keep this to herself as the conversation she has with Commodore Oh doesn’t establish that Jurati pledges her undying loyalty to Commodore Oh to the point that she will do anything for her so it’s still not clear why she doesn’t simply tell Picard what she was shown and have an open discussion with him about why that terrifies her. Picard would have probably assumed that he would be able to prevent it because he knows about it which could have created an extra source of tension as the characters all wonder if their actions are causing the dark future or helping to change it.

Picard

A promising team-up

Jurati’s guilt is weighing heavily on her which is causing her to act suspiciously. At first she just wants to be taken home which takes on an extra meaning because the audience now know that she is being tracked which makes her an ongoing danger to the mission. As far as Rios and Raffi are concerned she is simply terrified and wants to be taken back to safety so there are multiple layers to the events. Once the immediate danger is over, Raffi appears to take charge of making Jurati feel better which made for some awkward interactions. Raffiy’s behaviour suggests that she suspects there is more to Jurati than she’s letting on but what actually happens doesn’t support that. I got the impression that Raffi was manipulating Jurati in order to confirm her suspicions but it seems that she was actually simply concerned about her well-being and doing what she could to help her calm down. It’s odd that she treats Jurati like a child by offering her cake and chocolate milk though it could be her continuing to spiral after learning that her son doesn’t want her in his life any more. It’s possible she deeply desires a parental connection so her instincts kick in around Jurati who does come across as something of a scared child. It’s still a strange scene that plays as if Raffi is suspicious when she apparently isn’t so I’m sure there was a better choice that could have been made. The conversation they have about Raffi believing she can pull herself together to be a good person temporarily when the circumstances call for it is an interesting insight into Raffi’s opinion of herself even though it’s brief and part of a confusing scene.

This observation seems to be the motivation for Jurati putting herself into a coma in order to disable the tracker. It’s as if she realises that the people around her are good people who don’t deserve to be betrayed so she resorts to an extreme in order to makes sure they can’t be tracked any more. It works to some degree but relies on a stronger sense of who Jurati is being communicated than the show actually has. Her scene with Rios is another awkward interaction as I was still holding onto the belief that her suspicious behaviour was being noticed and was prompting the others to manipulate her into revealing what she was actually up to. Rios telling her he’s suspicious of Raffi seems to be a tactic to gauge her reaction but the episode would have us believe that he was actually suspicious of Raffi as nothing that happens supports the idea that Rios was onto Jurati. I was all set to compliment him for being intelligent and capable as a Captain but unfortunately he is being written as painfully unobservant for plot purposes which does none of the characters any favours.

The action on the Borg Cube is where the episode is at its weakest. Any opportunity for Hugh and Elnor to have a meaningful interaction is squandered by the fact that they spend the bulk of the episode fighting Romulans. Hugh’s anguish at witnessing several -perhaps all?- of the xBs murdered by Narissa in order to encourage him to talk was effective and played well by Jonathan Del Arco but the events in this plot move along too quickly to allow it to properly sink in. It makes sense that Hugh would be upset by this because he has made it his mission in life to help liberate people from the Borg Collective so to see their lives so casually discarded would be nothing short of heartbreaking. It makes sense that he doesn’t have time to properly grieve given the urgency of the situation but his untimely death means that this will never be explored.

Picard

Riker family portrait

Jonathan Del Arco plays the death scene well but it lacks in impact because it was done purely for shock value. Hugh was a character with a lot of potential and his story felt far from over so his death makes no sense in the context of the episode. It performs the function of isolating Elnor while giving him another lost cause to fight for but beyond that there’s nothing more to be said about it. It’s a waste of a great returning character who had more to give.

Narissa finally gets the opportunity to talk about something else but it’s hardly an improvement. She’s an incredibly shallow character who seems to be evil for the sake of being evil. Peyton List conveys this really well but she has so little to work with that her talents are wasted in such a forgettable role. The lack of a strong antagonist is definitely to this show’s detriment especially when the writers would have us believe that Narissa is supposed to be in that role. She doesn’t have to be as shallow as she is as the background lends itself to a really fascinating and complex motivation. She could have easily been a fundamentally good person who firmly believes that synthetics are going to bring about an apocalyptic scenario so has found a way to justify questionable actions in order to rid the galaxy of something she considers to be dangerous. Instead we get a generic villain lacking in depth or any interesting qualities to speak of. It’s such a waste and hard to believe it exists in the same episode that features such rich and textured characterisation from Will and Deanna.

Picard

Onward once again


Verdict

A strong episode that uses returning characters, Will Riker and Deanna Troi brilliantly in ways that respect the past while highlighting how the relationships have evolved over the years. As a TNG fan this was an episode I was eagerly anticipating and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Will and Deanna were used brilliantly with each of them helping inform Picard’s ongoing development in different ways. Their history with him allowed for excellent insight into his current mindset and their different approaches to challenging his stubbornness are a perfect way to capitalise on their characters as individuals. Will’s more practical events driven advice compliments Deanna’s emotionally driven advice perfectly and serves as an excellent reminder of how those characters helped him when used at their best during the years of TNG. The scenes between these characters are layered and a joy to watch. It’s also great to see characters who are happy to see Picard and living a happy life even though there was a significant loss in their past that still haunts them. Deanna also helps Soji significantly by helping her understand that real isn’t always better though it’s an odd choice as it suggests that Deanna has a clear definition of what “real” is even though it’s not as simple as she makes out. Given how close to Data she was it would make more sense for her to show Soji that she’s no less real than anyone else. Using the tomato was Soji’s first example of “real” food as well as her first encounter with something that isn’t artificial was an interesting idea that supports what she has been through but the approach needed more thought.

Kestra is a great addition to the episode and has an excellent dynamic with Soji. The background of her dealing with the loss of her brother and the pain of his loss fading more each day is a really strong examination of how grief affects the young and how it upsets Deanna to see the memory of Kestra’s brother fade in this way. Kestra is starved for a sibling connection so takes on the role of a surrogate older sister to Soji who responds favourably to this. It’s something she needs at this point and Kestra’s unapologetic curiosity forces Soji to consider the facts of her life. Soji does end up trusting Picard to some extent when he opens up to her about why he’s on the mission and how that gives his life purpose. It’s not complete trust but it is a start. The secondary plot on La Sirena is somewhat mixed as the episode fails to follow through on the suggestion that Raffi and Rios are suspicious of Jurati. Their interactions with Jurati play out as if they’re trying to get her to slip up but it seems that they weren’t actually suspicious which makes those interactions feel sloppy. The idea that Jurati feels guilty after realising that she is working against good people is reasonable enough but the characterisation isn’t strong enough to support that. There’s also no indication that she was fully loyal to Commodore Oh in the flashback so it’s unclear why she doesn’t simply tell Picard about the dark future that was shown to her. The action on the Borg Cube is the weakest aspect of the episode as there is no opportunity for meaningful interactions. Hugh and Elnor could have been an interesting pairing but there’s no time explore that. Hugh’s death is a complete waste of a character that had so much more to give and Narissa continues to be a completely shallow and generic villain with no interesting qualities to speak of. There’s definitely an imbalance in this episode between the strong Picard, Will and Deanna moments and the poorly thought out characterisation in the other plots.

Overall
  • 8.5/10
    Nepenthe - 8.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • Will Riker and Deanna Troi
  • the flawless use of the rich history that exists between Picard, Will and Deanna
  • Will and Deanna’s different yet equally valid approaches to challenging Picard
  • a great character in Kestra
  • the surrogate sibling dynamic between Soji and Kestra
  • Kestra’s unapologetic curiosity forcing Soji to consider the questions that will be in her head
  • Soji beginning to trust Picard after he offers her something of himself

 

Rise Against…

  • interactions on La Sirena that become odd when it’s clear that Raffi and Rios aren’t suspicious of Jurati
  • the flashback detailing Jurati’s conversation with Commodore Oh not justifying Jurati’s decisions
  • no time on the Borg Cube for depth or meaning
  • Hugh’s pointless depth
  • Narissa continuing to be a shallow and generic villain with no interesting qualities

 

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User Review
3.75/10 (2 votes)

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