Those of you who are familiiar with Greek mythology may recall that nepenthe was described in Homer’s Odyssey as a drug that helps the user forget what troubles them. This is an especially approrpriate title for the seventh episode of Star Trek: Picard as the key characters in this story are struggling with their secrets and would likely love a magic cure to help them forget.
Despite the emphasis on troubling secrets, Nepenthe feels more like a true sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation than any other episode of this series so far. That is largely due to the long anticipated appearance of William Riker and Deanna Troi but there are other subtle nods to TNG in this week’s story. As usual for this series, expect spoilers.
As you may recall from David’s review of the previous episode, Picard has finally found Soji on the Artifact Borg cube and the two have escaped from the Romulans thanks to a specialized transporter on the ship. They go to the world of Nepenthe – the home of two old friends and former crew from the Enterprise. Elron has chosen to remain on the Artifact to defend ex-Borg Hugh while the Romulans have the La Sirena caught in a tractor beam.
But first, let us look at the beginning of this episode which is actually a continuation of a key moment from several weeks ago. In an earlier appearance, Agnes Jurati was approached in Okinawa by the head of Starfleet Security – a Vulcan woman known as “Oh”. She questions Jurati about what she told Picard about synthetic life form research and then compels her to accompany our hero on his quest to find Soji. Oh gives Jurati a tracking element which Agnes is forced to eat.
In the present, Picard and Soji have transported to Nepenthe and are immediately confronted by a young girl armed with a bow and arrows. That’s Kestra, daughter of Will Riker and Deanna Troi. By the way, that is a sublte reference to TNG as Kestra was the name of Deanna’s older sister who had drowned as a child. Another reference soon follows when Picard recognizes Kestra and pretends to surrender. He suggests she aim for his heart which is artificial.
Will and Deanna appear to be living an idyllic life on this planet. They grow their own food, Kestra hunts for meat and the family enjoys a simplistic existence though Will points out he is still on active reserve status with Starfleet. What struck me about this episode is that Riker and Troi never question whether they should help Picard on his mysterious quest. They will do whatever it takes to help him regardless of whatever danger he may bring to their home.
Meanwhile, the Romulan warrior Elron has remained behind on the Artifact to protect the ex-Borg Hugh. The Romulan Narissa begins coldly slaughtering reclaimed Borg on her way to kill Hugh and sadly, young Elron is unable to protect him. We watch another older Star Trek character die and while this death was not quite as savage as Icheb’s, Hugh’s killing carries more emotional weight for me. This will undoubtedly have a huge impact on Seven of Nine who is already bordering on obsession with her desire for vengeance.
And finally, we also catch up with Captain Rios and the crew of the La Sirena. They have managed to escape from the artifiact and are en route to meet Picard and Soji on the planet Nepenthe. A Romulan ship keeps following and despite using every evasive trick in the book, they cannot seem to shake their pursuer. This is because Agnes Jurati had consumed the tracking device earlier. Wracked with guilt over killing Maddox and putting these people in danger, Agnes kills herself. It is unsettling to see her convulsing and foaming at the mouth while she dies.
Back on Nepenthe, Kestra has learned the location of the planet that Soji sees in her dreams thanks to an old Starfleet friend of her father’s. Our heroes make plans to travel to this world but the Romulans are already on their way to the same planet…
Performance – While the performances from the TNG alumni convey the emotions of longtime friends who haven’t seen each other in ages, the standout performance in Nepenthe comes from young Lulu Wilson who plays Kestra. Star Trek has had its share of performances from child actors that were questionable – to put it kindly. Wilson manages show the emotional sensitivity of Deanna Troi and the adventerous spirit of Riker in her performance. She truly feels like the child of Troi and Riker here. Wilson’s scenes with Soji – especially when these two characters say goodbye – is touching and heartfelt. Although only fourteen years old at the time of this writing, Wilson is already making a name for herself in the horror genre and it is nice to see her expanding her horizons.
Michelle Hurd as Raffi continues to be my favorite breakout character. Her moments of taking care of Jurati are tender and sweet. Kudos to Alison Pill as well; she portrays Jurati as a normally fidgety but hopeful character wracked with guilt over the actions she has taken on this adventure. Isa Briones continues to turn in a compelling performmance of a woman coming to terms with her android nature. At one point she does a little Data-like head tilt which suggests she has spent time studying Brent Spiner’s old performances as Commander Data. She is overwhelmed; the life she thought she had was a lie and she is figuring out what her place in the universe is.
Cinematography – It feels redundant to say that Star Trek: Picard boasts some gorgeous visuals and this episode is no exception. What strikes me about Nepenthe is just how atypical this episode looks compared to the average Star Trek show. Don’t get me wrong – the La Sirena and the Artifact Borg cube are still around and look as sci-fi as ever. But most of this episode looks so rustic. Much of it takes place at the home of Will Riker and Deanna and their abode reminds me very much of Kirk’s house in Generations. Riker cooks dinner in an old fashioned brick oven and his young daughter, Kestra, wields a bow and carries a broken old compass. It is a very refreshing visual feast, to say the least.
Nepenthe serves as a convergence point. Many of the plotlines from the earlier episodes of Picard are resolved and now we are headed to the final showdown. The time spent at the Riker family home feels like taking a breather and it is wonderful seeing old friends again and this time they have no hidden agendas. It is simply a true heartfelt reunion. As of this writing there are only three episodes left in this season. David has you covered for the next episode and I’ll be back for the one after that.