My episode-by-episode reviews of Star Trek: Picard continue with the seventh episode, “Nepenthe,” in which Jean-Luc and Soji, having fled the Romulan-controlled Borg cube, meet up with Riker and Troi from The Next Generation while Elnor learns the limits of one sword against multiple opponents with disruptor pistols and knives, and the rest of the motley crew deal with a host of obstacles and riddles.
I predicted at the end of my last review that things were heating up, and this episode did not disappoint. Several of the plot threads moved forward. There was action and also more than a bit of bloodshed. There was also a boatload of character development. This series continues to be entertaining while also taking the Trek universe into interesting new directions.
I’m not quite willing to say it was a good episode, simply because bad things happened to characters that I think a lot of viewers liked. That doesn’t mean that the quality of the writing or production are bad. Sometimes stories have tragic turns. The quality of the series rises, yet again, in my opinion.
And I think I have now reached the point where it is impossible for me to say anything more without major spoilers. Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
You’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
Seriously, don’t scroll further!
Turn back now!
Okay, if you’re still reading, it’s your own fault!
My last couple of reviews have turned into really long recaps, and I’m not sure how valuable that is. So this time, rather than try to follow the episode itself in viewing order, I’m going to focus on the three main threads.
But first, we have a flashback. This episode begins with a flashback to the moments three weeks earlier when Commander Oh, who appears to be a Vulcan, talks to Dr. Jurati. We didn’t see their full conversation before, though I (and a lot of other folks) have been speculating the Oh recruited her as a spy, and possible even arranged for her timely arrival at Chateau Picard. Anyway, Oh tells her what she knows about what Jean-Luc is trying to do, and asks for her help, as we thought. When Jurati expresses skepticism, Oh mindmelds with her. We see a lot of images, some quite apocalyptic. Jurati agrees. Oh gives her a tablet to swallow that will make it possible for Star Fleet to track, specifically mentioning that she has to chew it for it to work. And then, we’re on to this week!
First Plot Thread: Near the end of the last episode, Jean-Luc and Soji stepped through a portal to a location which Jean-Luc requested after Hugh explained the limits of the unusual device in the Queen’s Chamber of the Borg cube. In this episode, they step through into what appears to be a temperate forest, and are immediately confronted by an obscure figure armed with a bow and arrow. The person turns out to be a child, I would guess between 12-14 years of age, and someone that Jean-Luc recognizes, as among other things he asks, “Are your parents about?”
The kid identifies herself as Kestra and quickly bonds with Soji, trying tind out if she is Jean-Luc’s granddaughter. This line of questions leads to the moment when Jean-Luc tells the child that Soji’s father is Commander Data, which leads the child to guessing the Soji is an android—a fact that during all of the dodging gunfire and fleeing Romulan assassins Jean-Luc hasn’t gotten around to telling Soji. Things in this area continue to go downhill for most of the episode. It is revealed that the child’s parents are Jean-Lucs former subordinates, Will Ryker and Deanna Troi. They have retired from Star Fleet and live on this world raising their daughter while Deanna tends a garden and Will has been able to jump fully into the hobby he pursued only sporadically on Star Trek: the Next Generation of cooking food the old fashioned way.
I need to digress a bit here. I actively try to avoid reading anyone else’s reviews of this series until I complete my own, but because I surf a lot of sci fi and related news pages all the time, it is impossible to avoid seeing links to the reviews. A lot of the titles for those reviews include the word “nostalgia” for this episode, and I understand why. But it can give the impression that this episode would only appeal to hardcore fans of the Next Generation, so I want to point out for the record that I disliked nearly half of all the episodes of the entire run of the Next Generation when it was airing, and furthermore that there was only one character of all the recurring or regular cast that I loathed more than Deanna Troi. And while the character I loathed more than Troi wasn’t Riker, I often could barely stand Riker in a lot of those episodes. In the years since, I have come to realize that most of the reasons I disliked Troi were because of a boatload of misogynist tropes that kept being thrown into her plots which I was a bit too naive to recognize at the time. I have also realized that most of the episodes in which I disliked Riker, his character was leaning into various toxic masculine tropes. The point is, last year during all the trailers and previews, the scenes indicating Jean-Luc would be reunited with these two characters from the earlier series were my least favorites, okay?
All of that is to give context to this: this segment of the episode was awesome. I now love Deanna and Will and feel privileged to have seen what became of them after leaving the Next Generation.
So much happens in the scenes in this sequence. Last time I mentioned that it was a relief that none of the characters delivered (yet another) a monologue about what an arrogant jerk Jean-Luc sometimes was, and therefore a casual observer might think I would dislike this episode. Nope! Both Will and Deanna call out Jean-Luc on this character trait, but neither one is a monologue, and more importantly, neither one also couples this observation with blaming him for things that were not in his control. This takes a bit of unpacking.
Jean-Luc tells Will and Deanna enough that they activate shields around their property and also activate anti-cloaking scanners. He confesses that the mere act of running to them may bring lots of danger upon them. From these things, a few other comments, and observing Soji, Will correctly infers most of the plot of the previous several episodes, and then admonishes Jean-Luc. But the admonishment isn’t about big political or interstellar affairs issues. It is instead about how he is handling Soji and her issues. “You’re dealing with, essentially a teen-ager, and that is a challenge. And frankly, I’m not sure you’re up to it.” Similarly, when Jean-Luc mishandles another exchange with Soji, Deanna points out that he deserved Soji’s anger. He keeps assuming that she has the same amount of information and experience as he does.
And on the second viewing of the episode, I realized that these were the scenes that redeemed Will and Deanna for me, because they aren’t talking as Star Fleet officers, but rather as parents who have jointly raised two children (one of whom died before reaching adulthood) and have come to understand their own limitations in this regard. This makes their critiques of how Jean-Luc is handling his own relationship with Soji make sense, and the crisis surrounding her, rather than things that happened 14 years ago.
There is a really meaningful revelation about Deanna & Will’s older child, who has died sometime before this. And while the scientific details of the disease that took him don’t actually add up, they do reasonate with both Soji’s journey to understanding herself, and the bigger mystery of the Utopia Planitia shipyards disaster that Jean-Luc hasn’t yet unraveled.
Lots of wonderful things happen with both Jean-Luc’s plotline and Soji’s plotline in this episode. I really hope that this is not the last we see of Will, Deanna, nor their daughter, Kestra, in this or other Trek related series. Jean-Luc needed the advice, and Soji needed to start figuring out who she can trust. They made a lot of progress by the time their ride off world had arrived.
Second plot thread: also near the end of last episode, before stepping through the portal, Jean-Luc told Rafi and Captain Rios to leave without him and to rendezvous at Nepenthe. Right after cutting communication, Captain Rios noticed that Elnor was no longer on the bridge. The new episode begins right after that moment, when before they can do anything with that realization, a tractor beam from the cube grabs them, so they are unable to flee.
We see that the Romulans have grabbed the ship so that Narek can get in his ship and get into position to track them. They don’t know this. There is a bit of an argument of how they could get away, and also whether they should try to get Elnor back. Elnor tells them to go without him. Jurati gets more than a bit hysterical about insisting that they take her back to Earth. After they fly off, Rafi takes Jurati to the mess and plies here with red velvet cake and chocolate milk while trying to calm her down. Rios, meanwhile, notices that a cloaked ship is following them. Rios tries some things that should lose the tail, but it doesn’t work. Rios has a conversation with Jurati where he says he suspects the Rafi might have a tracker on her (because she made a big deal about leaving at Freecloud, but then came back and hasn’t explained why). When his next attempt to shake Narek doesn’t work, he begins a conversation with Rafi which might have ended with her being tossed out an airlock…
Except, Dr. Jurati dials up something on the sickbay replicator. After the medical-looking thing is created, the computer warns about neurotoxic effects in some species. Jurati picks up the instrument and injects the contents into her jugular vein. She almost immediately goes into a seizure, which activates the Emergency Medical Hologram. The EMH interrupts Rios and Rafi’s conversation to inform them of Jurati’s condition. We don’t see the full conversation between Rafi, Rios, and the EMH, but Rios tries to shake Narek again afterward, and we do see on Narek’s ship how the thing he was tracking vanishes from his computer display.
Third plot thread: near the end of the last episode, Elnor heard Jean-Luc’s communication that they had met Soji and were jointly fleeing Romulan security. He beamed down to the cube, and arrived in time to kill at least three Romulans who were about to gun down Jean-Luc, Soji, and Hugh. He insisted on staying behind to help Hugh slow down any pursuit as Jean-Luc and Soji stepped through the portal. When the new episode begins, Narek’s Eviler Sister has Hugh and a bunch of ex-Borgs lined up. When Hugh refuses to explain how he killed a bunch of guards and where Jean-Luc his, she orders the other ex-Borgs killed. She can’t kill Hugh outright because he’s a Federation Citizen, but she has the guards take him away and vows to do something that will change his mind,.
Elnor, who we presume has been hiding because Hugh told him to, comes out of hiding and kills several of the guards. Hugh starts to take Elnor back to the Queen’s Chamber, vowing that he will turn the power of the cube against the Romulans. Eviler Sister and a very of her minions appear, points out that statement is a treaty violation, so now she can kill him. Elnor tries to protect Hugh and does manage to kill a couple more of the Romulans before Eviler Sister throws a knife at Hugh. Then she beams out, leaving Hugh to die in Elnor’s arms. Elnor ends up holed up in Hugh’s office, literally hiding under the desk and clearly understanding now how far over his head he is. And then he notices a familar looking little amulet thing dangling under the desk. When he grabs and squeezes it, we briefly see a message light up that includes the words Fenris and SOS.
I’ve also been watching the aftershow, The Ready Room after each episode, which among other things always includes a clip from next week’s episode. Given the last thing we saw Elnor do, it wasn’t much of a surprise the Seven of Nine shows up next week at the cube, thinking she is responding to a call from help from Hugh.
Should be fun!
A few random thoughts:
- I’m a bit confused as to why Eviler Sister was so obsessed with getting Hugh to talk. Narek is already tracking La Sirena, who presumably are going to lead them to Jean-Luc and Soji. She already has the information from Soji’s dream that should lead her to Soji’s homeworld, so why not throw Hugh into the brig, gather her forces, and go to said homeworld right away? I admit that one reason this bugs me is because I am not at all happy that they killed Hugh.
- There’s another problem related to this. In episode five we learn that Bruce Maddox had fled to Freecloud because the Romulan secret police have already raided and destroyed his once secret lab. Isn’t that where Soji was made? So wasn’t it on the world that Soji’s dream identifies? So haven’t the Romulans already been there? I guess this means that Maddox moved his lab after sending Soji and Dahj with their implanted memories and false identities to the Borg Reclamation Project and Earth respectively?
- I know that how Will & Deanna’s son died was important for Soji’s character development (among other things), but silicon-based viruses shouldn’t be able to infect carbon-based lifeforms. Oh, well, this is hardly the first time that Trek has relied upon eye-roll inducing hand-wavium.
- I really liked all the scenes between Soji and Kestra. It was a great way give Soji some reason to trust someone, but also, they just worked well together. The actress playing Kestra was just great!
- I really liked that bit where Will says to Jean-Luc, “I told you 14 years ago if you led that mission, you’re be up to your ass in Romulans for the rest of your life.”
- The brief version of the vision Commodore Oh shared with Jurati didn’t seem, to me, to justify Jurati’s sudden willingness to switch sides and eventually kill her ex. On the otherhand, I kinda want to watch it again and again and look for clues. Of course, Oh didn’t ask Jurati if she could invade her mind, she just grabbed her and went it, which seems more than a bit mind-rape-y, you know? So maybe Oh also did some telepathic compulsion while se was at it?
- When are we going to see Laris and Zhaban again?
- Why did Hugh have to die?
Can’t wait for the next episode!
Some reviews from other people:
My reviews of previous episodes: