Yes, I know this is late, but I wanted to review as many 1945 Retro Hugo eligible stories as possible before the Hugo and Retro Hugo nominations close on Friday. But welcome anyway to my latest episode by episode review of Star Trek Picard. Previous installments may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last saw Jean-Luc Picard, he and Soji were using the Borg Queen’s emergency transporter to escape from the decommissioned Borg Cube, while the Zhat Vash were closing in. “Nepenthe” picks up where “The Impossible Box” left off, when Picard and Soji arrive on the titular planet, which is almost ridiculously idyllic.
However, Picard and Soji don’t have much time to contemplate the idyllic landscape before they find themselves menaced by a humanoid figure with bow and arrows, a humanoid figure that turns out to be a teenaged girl. Luckily, Picard knows the girl. Her name is Kestra and she is the daughter of Will Riker and Deanna Troi who have retired to Nepenthe following a personal tragedy. For Riker and Troi have lost their son Thaddeus, who apparently was a gifted conlanguer and worldbuilder, to a silicon based viral disease that would have been curable if not for the Federation’s ban on synthetic lifeforms. Of course, this silicon based virus makes zero scientific sense, but then Star Trek is full of nonsense science. And the point is very clearly to illustrate that the Federation’s ban of synthetic lifeforms has consequences beyond depriving the Federation of cheap labour (hey, there’s always prisoners. And no, I’m not going to let that one go) and halting the research of Bruce Maddox and Agnes Jurati.
Though it is horrible that poor Deanna Troi lost two children in her life. Okay, so everybody involved would probably rather forget “The Child”, one of those really, really awful Next Generation episodes, where a ball of glowing light impregnates Deanna Troi and gives her one of those accelerated alien miracle pregnancies, before the resulting child heroically sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise. And indeed Troi and everybody else immediately seemed to forget that this event had ever happened and it was never referred to again. However, Star Trek Picard seems to remember a lot of those really dreadful Next Generation episodes everybody involved would prefer to forget. And so Deanna Troi has lost two children in her life. And considering the tragic death of Icheb the Ex-Borg two episodes ago, I honestly wonder what it is with Star Trek Picard and killing off the children, whether biological or adopted, of established female Star Trek characters.
Troi and Riker welcome Picard warmly, even though he does bring potential trouble to their doorstep. The warmth and friendship in the scenes between Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis feels genuine, probably because it is. After all, these people have known each other for 32 years now and obviously like each other and it shows in their scenes together. And indeed, it’s the warmth between both characters and actors that turns this episode into something special. At any rate, pretty much every reviewer, even those who normally are critical of Star Trek Picard, seems to have liked it, even though “Nepenthe” has very little in the way of plot, even by the standards of Star Trek Picard.
Basically, the bulk of the episode is given over to Picard, Riker, Troi, Soji and Kestra talking and making and eating pizza. Nonetheless, it’s highly enjoyable, which is testament to the skills of both the head writer, Hugo, Nebula and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, who is much better at character pieces than the average Star Trek writer, and the actors who bring these characters to life. And that’s why we happily spend 45 minutes watching some people eating pizza. Okay, so I may be biassed here, after all I like quiet character pieces and scenes involving food, so “Nepenthe” is right up my ally. But most other folks, even those who don’t much care for Picard, seemed to like it as well.
In his review of this episode, Camestros Felapton points out that Nepenthe is the name of the drug of forgetting and curing sorrow in the Odyssey. Camestros also points out that scholars believe that the Nepenthe mentioned by Homer was borage, which contains alkaloids and is a crucial ingredient of the famous Frankfurt green sauce, which is traditionally served with asparagus. Which reminds me that I should make some, when asparagus season starts up, provided I can find the required herb mix locally. And no, I’m not sure what this has to do with Star Trek Picard, except that “Nepenthe” is a very food-centric episode and that I suspect that you could probably find the necessary ingredients of Frankfurt green sauce in Troi’s vegetable and herb garden.
Riker and Troi quickly figure out what’s up with Soji, Troi because she cannot read Soji and Riker because she reminds him of Data. Meanwhile, Kestra isn’t all that interested in Picard, even though he is the greatest captain ever according to her father. But then, what approx. fifteen-year-old girl would be interested in an old man who used to be a friend of her parents? However, Kestra is very interested in Soji and peppers her with questions. “Are you related to Picard? Is he your Dad? Is he your Granddad?” Picard finally tells Kestra that Soji is the daughter of an old friend, but that doesn’t satisfy Kestra either, she wants to know which friend. “I suppose you’ve heard of Commander Data”, Picard says, whereupon Kestra blurts out, “So you’re an android?”
But while Kestra’s lack of tact can be forgiven, Picard, who really should know better, is not exactly tactful either. And so he grossly underestimates how traumatised Soji is (to be fair, Picard probably has no idea about the relationship between Soji and Narek) and how her raging paranoia is the result of that trauma. On the other hand, Deanna, who is a psychologist after all, quickly realises that Soji is deeply traumatised and even tells Picard off for being insensitive. But then, Picard has never been someone who’s particularly good with emotions.
Meanwhile, Kestra, who is obviously lonely and also still mourning the loss of her brother, thinks that Soji is the coolest person ever and that being an android must be so awesome, even if Data always wanted to be human, something Kestra cannot quite comprehend. The bonding between Kestra and Soji is lovely to watch and I can’t be the only one who’d be up for Star Trek: The Next Next Generation, featuring Wesley, Alexander, Kestra, Soji and the kid of Miles and Keiko O’Brien. Hell, maybe they could even bring in Elnor, since he seems to have sort of adopted Picard.
Over pizza, Picard, Riker, Troi and Soji figure out what Elnor was after, namely the location of Soji’s “homeworld”. “You have a homeworld”, Kestra, who like her brother was born in space and didn’t really have a homeworld until Nepenthe, exclaims. Kestra also figures out where that homeworld is with the help of a neighbour she has befriended. So now Picard and Soji and the La Sirena crew know where they have to go next.
Talking of which, the La Sirena crew has problems of its own, because the Romulans are firing at them. Rios manages to go to Warp and escape, but he and Raffi quickly realise that they are being trailed by what turns out to be a very pissed off Narek, who has a new fidget toy now that his magic box has presumably been destroyed by Soji.
Meanwhile, Agnes Jurati is still traumatised from everything that happened, including killing Bruce Maddox. Agnes also stars in the traditional flashback at the beginning of the episode, where we finally see what happened when Vulcan/Romulan Zhat Vash mole inside Starfleet Commodore Oh payed her a visit a few episodes ago. Oh tells Agnes that she needs her help and asks her to swallow a tracker. Then she shows her horrible, if way too quickly flashing images, of explosions, destructions and androids via a mind meld. So is Oh a Vulcan sympathising with the Romulans or can Romulans now mind meld, too? After Commodore Oh breaks contact, Agnes promptly vomits onto her shoes? This never happened to Spock.
Being a lot more perceptive than Jean-Luc Picard, both Raffi and Rios that something is wrong with Agnes, especially since Agnes – who wanted nothing more than to meet a real-life android – just wants to go home now. So Raffi feeds Agnes some red velvet cake from the replicator and tries to figure out what’s wrong. “Is it Rios?” she asks, so Raffi noticed that Rios and Agnes slept with each other as well, even though she was drunk and high at the time. Agnes shakes her head, so Raffi asks, “It’s Bruce Maddox, isn’t it?” which triggers yet another impressive vomitting fit. “Is that blood?” Rios asks, before he takes Agnes to the sickbay.
As far as I know this is the first time we’ve seen someone vomit in Star Trek. But then, vomitting is one of those things you apparently cannot show on US network televisions for unfathomable reasons, so they needed the freedom of streaming to be able to show someone puking onto a starship deck. Furthermore, Rios apparently has a lot more faith in Federation medical science than me, because he doesn’t even slightly panic when a woman he slept with suddenly starts vomitting all over the place.
Meanwhile, Narek is still trailing the La Sirena and Agnes realises just how he’s doing it. And so, when Rios and Raffi leave her alone to try and shake of Narek, Agnes uses the replicator to synthesise a neurotoxin which knocks out the tracker and puts Agnes into a coma, when she injects it into her neck. So now the La Sirena is free of Romulan pursuit, but also short one crew member.
Or make that two, because Elnor is still on the decommissioned Borg cube after covering Picard and Soji’s escape. Elnor managed to get away, but Hugh was captured and is being interrogated by Narissa who has one of her subordinates shoot the Ex-Borg Hugh has helped to save in an attempt to get him to talk. Hugh, however, doesn’t give away Picard and Soji’s destination. So Narissa orders all of the Ex-Borg killed. Elnor intervenes and fights Narissa, but both the Ex-Borg and Hugh are killed in the resulting fight. Killing off Hugh feels very much like a waste, especially since his death is mainly intended to royally piss off Elnor. First Icheb and now Hugh – what is it with Star Trek Picard fridging Ex-Borg?
Elnor is understandably furious that he wasn’t able to save Hugh and the other Ex-Borg. He hides away on the cube, unsure what to do now. Then he suddenly holds the com device Seven of Nine had given Picard, the device which will call in the Fenris Rangers, in his hand and activates it. From the trailer, it looks as if we will be seeing more of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, which is always welcome. And is it just me or has Elnor latched on to Seven? On the other hand, he was raised by Romulan warrior nuns, so it makes sense that he would seek out the closest thing to his “mothers” when left alone in the universe.
“Nepenthe” is a lovely character piece about old friends eating pizza and new not-quite friends eating red velvet cake. The gore and the Ex-Borg murders are a bit incongruous, though.