Mar 15, 2021
Star Trek: Picard “Nepenthe”
Previously on Picard 2: Picarder: Picard showed up on the Borg cube to rescue Soji at the exact same moment that Narek finally got the location of the android home planet out of her and tried to kill her. Picard and Soji managed to escape, but Picard’s pet Legolas got left behind. We found out that Jurati has a secret ulterior motive to spy on and sabotage Picard’s mission in order to avert a vague apocalypse.
This week’s flashback intro depicts the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa three weeks previously (as depicted in “The End is the Beginning”). Jurati is accosted outside the Institute by Commodore Oh, who reveals that she knows that Jurati met with Picard twice before and most of what she said there. She removes her awkward sunglasses and frames Jurati’s face with her hands in the mind-meld gesture, offering to show her what will happen if the android that Picard is looking for is allowed to live. We get a lightning-paced montage showing black-robed figures gathered witchily in a circle, planets exploding, people gouging their own eyes out, people phasering themselves in the head, and all manner of unpleasant things, presumably all related somehow.
Jurati vomits, and Oh convinces her she needs to accompany Picard on his mission to stop this. Jurati doesn’t ask what exactly happened in these vignettes, nor how Oh knows they will happen, which would be the very first two questions on my mind, but it’s gotta stay a secret for now, I guess. Oh hands Jurati a triangular tablet for her to eat so she can be tracked.
Back in the present, La Sirena is being held by a tractor beam from the Borg cube. Inside the cube, Rizzo (or Narissa, or whatever she’s calling herself right now) has all the ex-Borg AKA “xBs” lined up and has a gun to Hugh’s head, demanding to know where Picard and Soji went. He keeps mum, so she shoots all the xBs through the chest, killing them. Since Hugh refuses to say where the others are going, Narek sets out to tail La Sirena in a ship that’s half Jedi starfighter, half Nolan Batmobile.
The tractor beam abruptly disengages and Rios hits the gas. Jurati is the only one to notice they left Elnor behind. Back on the cube, Elnor comes running up to Hugh, who’s cradling his dead brethren alone, his life having been spared by his treaty protection as a Federation citizen. Rios’s ship calls him and Elnor again refuses to leave, since Hugh and the surviving xBs need his help. The fact that he’s already got one of these honor quest thingies going on doesn’t seem to cross his mind. The Picard motif blasts mightily on the soundtrack as La Sirena jumps to warp.
Picard and Soji reappear on Nepenthe, a planet with stunning natural beauty and one-horned bunny rabbits. They’re immediately set upon by a hooded figure in a bow and arrow. The figure gets closer and it turns out to be a preteen girl in war paint. Picard addresses her by her name, Kestra, and she lowers the bow.
Kestra brings them through the woods and chats. Picard introduces himself as a friend of Soji’s father, Data. Kestra blurts out, “Whoa, you’re an android?” causing no small amount of upset to Soji, for whom this is still a bit of a sore point. Soji goes on a tirade about how everything she knew was fake, including her sister, Dahj. “No, Dahj was real,” Picard interjects, and his use of the past tense brings up Dahj’s death, which Soji wasn’t yet aware of. “Whatever,” she says. “None of this was real. Just get on with the mind game.”
They come up on the house, which like all retired Starfleet officer’s houses, is a palace. (Supposedly they don’t use money in the Federation, but Starfleet must remunerate its officers somehow, because I doubt dog walkers get to live in digs like this.) Deanna Troi is out on the porch, pruning plants. We’ve all made lots of jokes about the way she dressed when she was in Starfleet, but right now she’s gardening in a low-cut blouse and heels. Maybe Betazoid culture simply lacks any concept of situationally appropriate clothing.
Troi greets Picard with a warm hug and turns toward Soji. Picard assures her it’s a long story. Cut to Riker in the kitchen grating cheese for a pizza. Seeing Picard, he’s next to gather Picard up in an embrace. Jonathan Frakes is the clear highlight of this episode. Unique among Star Trek veterans in that he really loves being a Star Trek veteran, Frakes sinks his teeth into this cameo, sliding right back in to Riker’s trademark sardonic confidence without missing a beat.
Riker deduces Picard is on the run, and immediately tells the computer to throw up energy shielding on the house, muttering about some trouble with the Kzinti. (That was an animated series callback, which officially makes Enterprise the only Trek series that hasn’t gotten a callback yet on Picard. And there have been a lot of fucking callbacks.) Kestra comes in with an animal she shot with her very real arrows, and Riker promises pizza with “bunnicorn” sausage after Picard gets some rest.
Kestra peppers Soji with questions while she showers. She asks about the extent of her android abilities. She asks if she has blood and spit and mucus (yes to all three), musing that Data probably would “do it like that”. Soji is confused by this remark, and Kestra clarifies that Data was always trying to be more human: “He could do all these amazing things, but all he ever wanted to do was have dreams and tell jokes and learn how to ballroom dance.”
Picard and Troi go into the room of Troi and Riker’s son, Thad, and reminisce while looking at a picture of Picard with baby Thad. “Last week would’ve been his 18th birthday,” Troi sighs. She confesses that, despite Riker’s assurance that Picard can stay as long as he likes, there’s no denying he’s in trouble, and she’s deathly afraid of something happening to her remaining child. “I’m not as brave as I used to be, Jean-Luc,” she sobs. “That means you’re getting wiser,” he says.
Meanwhile, out in space, La Sirena is getting tailed by Narek, close enough that it’d be considered tailgating if they were on the interstate.
Rios tries to shake him by jumping to warp and then dropping right back out so he’ll overshoot. A nervous-looking Jurati, getting cold feet about her dirty-secret betrayal mission, asks if anyone wants to just go home already. Rios refuses. Raffi offers Jurati some drugs to help her chill out, but Jurati will settle for cake.
Back on Nepenthe, Picard is meeting Riker, who’s out on the lawn sliding the pizzas into the brick oven. Riker prods Picard for details about his mysterious quest but he’s silent, saying he doesn’t want Riker’s family involved. Riker speculates, based on the available evidence and his keen knowledge of the old man, that he’s on the run from Romulans, and he’s trying to protect Soji, who’s related to Data: “I’d know that head tilt anywhere.” He asks how he’s doing so far.
Troi, meanwhile, offers Soji a tomato out of her garden, grown in the rich Nepenthean soil. It’s Soji’s first bite of non-replicated food. “Real is so much better,” she declares wistfully. Troi starts telling Soji about her dead son Thad. He died of “manaxic neurosclerosis”, a rare silicon-based virus that can be cured by culturing infected brain cells in a positronic matrix, only there were none around thanks to the synth ban. “So you see,” says Troi, “real isn’t always better.”
The idea that you can do medicine by culturing cells inside a robot’s brain is making my head hurt, so let’s just move past it. What’s really disappointing about this is the way they had to insert the Mars attack into yet another character’s tragic backstory. The Star Wars franchise gets criticized for making all its characters related, which makes the universe feel smaller; but what also makes a universe feel small is everyone’s destinies being tied up with the exact same event in the exact same way. Sometimes sad things just happen!
Even though Dahj trusted Picard implicitly the minute she got activated, Soji’s walls are still up. She says the way Troi is being all warm and friendly (just like Narek used to act) is making her trust Troi less. “How do I know it’s not another game? I don’t trust Kestra, I don’t trust you, and I definitely don’t trust Picard.” She runs out and pushes Picard over. Riker wants to get mad, but Troi scolds the two for not being more sensitive to her plight.
On the Artifact, Hugh and Elnor are marching their way to the queencell. “I’d forgotten the immense power hidden in there, or maybe I thought I’d be tempted to use it,” Hugh fumes, “but now we can take it back! We can take this cube away from them, forever.” Rizzo, hiding around the corner, is delighted to hear of this treaty violation, allowing her to kill Hugh.
Elnor pulls out his sword. Rizzo, who has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, starts shooting at him. Luckily, the Borg cube has lots of airy ceilings with nooks and crannies where he can run and hide and kill all of Rizzo’s guards with Prince of Persia moves. He whittles the entire contingent of guards down to just Rizzo, and starts engaging her in hand-to-hand combat. Hugh peers out from around a corner and Rizzo throws a knife in his neck. Elnor tries to throw it back but Rizzo beams away.
Hugh tells Elnor he’ll need an xB to get into the queencell. “How’s this for a lost cause?” he asks, then dies, adding another cross to the graveyard of old Trek characters killed by Picard.
On La Sirena, Jurati is wolfing down cake out of the replicator. Raffi is trying to schmooze her into talking about what’s making her so nervous, when all of a sudden Rios appears and announces that their Romulan pursuer is back. Jurati has such a flare-up of guilty conscience that she throws up.
It’s dinner hour at the Troi-Riker household, and they begin discussing how Picard and Soji are going to get off the planet. Kestra suggests hitching a ride from a crazy old local named Captain Crandall, but his ship is broken. Soji says she’ll probably want to head to her “home”, as in the place she was built, as seen in her dream. Picard wants to know where that is. Soji freezes up.
Picard shifts into diplomacy mode and starts speechifying, trying to earn her trust by appealing to her android side—she can observe his heartbeat, his pupil dilation, and his voice for signs of untrustworthiness. She points out that even if Picard believes he’s not lying, that doesn’t necessarily make him trustworthy. Where logos has failed, Picard tries pathos: he tells her how he took the mission not only out of loyalty to Data, but because before Dahj came to him, he was a sad and broken old man and now he has a way to do good in the universe again.
Satisfied that Picard has had a full character arc, Soji describes the planet she saw in her dream. Kestra sneakily texts Captain Crandall under the table. (Is it normal in the future for children to have the phone numbers of old men they’re not related to?) Indeed, Captain Crandall’s travels have taken him to this planet, which is in the Vayt sector, Ghulion system; but it’s too remote to have a name, only a number. “You have a homeworld,” she tells Soji, beaming.
Our stress-vomiting patient is being ushered into sickbay on La Sirena, protesting that she simply ate too much cake. Rios knows, and really just wants to talk in private about the guy tailing the ship. Rios suspects that somebody on board has a tracker planted on them, and, thanks to Raffi’s erratic behavior, and her mysterious errand on Freecloud, Rios suspects Raffi. Speak of the devil—Raffi calls from the pilot’s seat that their Romulan friend is back. Rios goes off to attend to it, and Jurati, wracked with guilt, replicates a poisonous hypospray, psyches herself up, and injects it.
For a brief moment it seems Jurati is dead, and Narek’s star map can’t pick up her tracker signal anymore. However, the EMH materializes and informs Rios that Jurati’s merely in a coma.
Alarms sound on the Artifact as Elnor scurries around in search of a hiding place. He ends up in the room where Rizzo was secretly monitoring Soji’s meditation session. I forget how exactly Rizzo ended up with the Fenris Rangers calling card that Seven left for Picard, but it’s on her desk now. Elnor grabs it and presses the button in the middle, either sending out an SOS to the Rangers, or letting his server know he still doesn’t have his mozzarella sticks.
Back on Nepenthe, the two old men have a nice winey stroll around Golden Pond and settle into a bench on the dock. Riker’s been on reserve ever since Thad got sick, but he would have to find a very good reason to ship out again. He says no one would blame Picard if he hung up his hero pants and let someone else save the galaxy for once. “Nobody but me, that is,” Riker adds. “I never thought you had any business retiring.”
The two have an emotional farewell in the yard while Kestra presents Soji with a broken compass as a memento. The two beam up to the strains of the Star Trek fanfare.
Next week: They have to go back to Nepenthe because Picard left his phone on the charger. Seven shows up late and doesn’t get a tip.