There is something to be said for nostalgia. When done correctly it can evoke a sense of wonder reminding you of a specific moment in your life that is both comforting and joyous. When done incorrectly it comes across as nothing more than pandering or, what so many of us now know as ‘fan service’. Picard as a series has carefully walked across the knifes edge of nostalgia never quite slipping one way or another. This episode comes the closest to slipping from that blade but, although steeped in nostalgia, it manages to gracefully avoid the obvious pitfalls before it. Let’s talk bout Nepenthe.
Desperate for a place to hide from the Zhat Vash, Picard and Soji find themselves in the company of old friends. With Picard safe, the crew of the La Sirena are forced to battle it out with the Romulans in order to retrieve the retired Admiral and his android ward.
Is it a ‘Good’ Episode?
The title Nepenthe has multiple meanings. The first and most obvious is that it is the planet that Picard and Soji go to to escape their Romulan pursuers. The second meaning is a deeper one that fully encompasses the feel and tone of this episode.
In Homer’s Odyssey Nepenthe was a drug used to relieve grief and pain from the users mind. Used by Helen to ‘quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill’ it has since become recognized as an opiate of sorts. In the context of the episode the Planet Napethe serves as both a respite for Picard and Soji, revealing them, albeit temporarily, of their grief and pain, but also serves as a deeper purpose to those that live on the planet itself, William Riker, Deanna Troi-Riker and their daughter Kestra.
It the time since we have seen the former shipmates of Jean Luc Picard, our intrepid former crew-members of the USS Enterprise have gone through some tough times of their own. Facing a great loss, of which I will talk further on below in the ‘Spoilers’ section, the three have retreated into a place that serves as their very own opiate allowing them to find a solace in one another. So, when their old friend arrives it is both a joy and a concern for this family when they discover what he has been up to in recent history. It is through this that Picard begins to help Soji come to terms with her self awareness resulting in one of the most touching stories this season has had so far.
To see both Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis return once again to the Star Trek and reunite with Patrick Stewart was nothing short of pure joy for me. The last time we saw them was a brief moment in the past via Star Trek Enterprise so this marks their first appearance post Star Trek Nemesis in the official timeline. Sure, many years have passed since both we and their characters have seen one another but, like the dearest of friends, they pick up right where they leave off not missing the slightest of beats. While there is much pain in this reunion it is also filled with immense joy that must be seen to be fully appreciated. Frakes was incredible on his own, having not been in front of the camera for some time, his joy at being back with the Captain of the Enterprise if both touching and emotionally fulfilling but the real standout in this segment was that of Mirina Sirtis. We will talk more on that below as to dive in would be full of spoilers.
Now it would have been easy for this episode to be nothing but a trip down memory lane, and I would have been perfectly happy with that, but there is a story to tell and frankly, it would have been a great disservice to ignore the primary cast while focusing on those we have longed to see once more. While Picard faces the past as he tries to help Soji to accept her future, the crew of the La Sirena have to face troubles of their own with Romulans chasing the ship and the unlikely duo of Elnor and Hugh deal with issues of their own. The title works for each of these parts of the story as well as the remaining crew of the La Sirena seek their own refuge especially that of Dr. Jurarti. Throughout the story she finds herself struggling with her actions in the previous episode while trying to accept the things showed her by Commodore Oh. It is a deep pain that is clear throughout the story and actor Alison Pill does a phenomenal job with the role. And damn can that girl eat cake!
While Agnes devours cake, On the Borg cube we also see the continued efforts of Elnor and Hugh as they attempt their final escape from the treacherous Romulan, Narissa. Their adventure is cut short when they come face to face with the Zhat Vash agent and boy do things escalate. Both come to a point where it is clear they will be in a different place next week and I look forward to where their story is going.
Overall, this is, to me, the finest episode in the series so far. While touching and thoroughly satisfying (even parts that I like very much, more on that below), it is also the calm before the storm. Every hurricane has an eye, a place where the winds surround a quite and peaceful location, this is that eye and the storm is about to really get bad. I can not wait to see what they have in store for us.
Observation Deck: Lots of SPOILERS HERE SO BE WARNED
Okay, here we go!
We open with the moment that Agnes Jurati discovers the truth and that truth comes in the form of a mind meld from Commodore Oh. This is revelatory for more than just one reason. First off, this shows that Agnes is indeed a human and not an android as some of the speculation has gone. Unless somehow Vulcans can mind-meld with positronic brains there is no chance she is artificial. Unless, of course, this was an implanted memory… Secondly, this proves that Oh is in fact a Vulcan and not a Romulan. While related, Romulan’s do not have the mental abilities Vulcans do so this indicates that she is possibly part of a Vulcan Sect not unlike that of the one Elnor trained with. If there is a special warrior nun sect in the Romulan culture, why wouldn’t there be it’s equal and opposite in the Vulcan side…one that works with the Zhat Vash itself?
What Agnes see’s however is disturbing in and of itself. Depicting Vulcans tearing their faces off, stark white android visages and the destruction of entire civilizations, this revelation is not unlike what was seen in Discovery when Control encountered Spock and Michael. I have to wonder if this will not have a direct correlation to Control and, honestly, I hope it doesn’t. Oh specifically says that the Zhat Vash were formed thousands of years ago, not hundreds, so it seems that this will not be the case. Let’s hope it is something unique and they are not shoehorning in a forced continuity.
It is worth noting that Oh offers Agnes a ‘Blue Pill’ that is a tracking device. What makes this interesting is that, in the Matrix, the Blue Pill was the one that kept the person ignorant of the truth while the ‘Red Pill’ opened their eyes to the true world around them. Was this a subtle hint to the viewers that what the Zhat Vash believe is in fact a deception itself or that they did not show Agnes the real truth but a false one to force her hand?
We learn in the episode that Will and Deanna had not one kid, but two. Unfortunately, thanks in part to the ban on synthetics, the two lost their oldest sun, one Thad Riker-Troi. While William Riker seems to have come to terms with this loss, or at least hides it well for the sake of his family, it is both Kestra and Deanna that really still hurt with the pain of this loss. Lulu Wilson, does a phenomenal job balancing both her grief of this previous loss with her wonderment and joy in helping Dajh find herself in the revelation of her androidal heritage.
While Wilson did an outstanding job, Sirtis found a profound connection with her character making her portrayal of Deanna Troi one of the most heartfelt and believable that we have ever seen so far. With her character still dealing with the deep loss of her son, we see this pain and suffering across every line in Commander Deanna Troi’s face and body. Even when she is smiling and truly joyful at Picard’s return, there is a deep sorrow that permeates her character. What makes this even more personal is that Sirtis herself lost a loved one of her own not long ago making this revelation all the more touching and personal. I don’t know if this role was filmed prior to her loss, but regardless, the pain we see in Troi/Sirtis’ face is some of the most genuine and most powerful moments in much of Star Trek history.
One of the biggest and most disappointing moments in this is the death of yet another favorite character of the past, this time that of Hugh. I have to say, I felt this was not only unnecessary but also pretty cruel. I had hoped that Hugh would have had a much larger role in the story giving him a true and just end to his incredible story. Instead, he is killed with a throwing knife. A freaking throwing knife. Seriously, Icheb and now Hugh? Chabon, you’re a dick….but a damn good storyteller. I still hate you though.
Some additional cool moments/thoughts,
- Picard mentions his artificial heart, something we learned about in the STNG series.
- It seems that the unicorn type creatures are more than common in Star Trek, first we get a dog unicorn and now we get a Bunnicorn! Thankfully the latter is edible as long as you remove the poison sacs.
- The reunion between Riker and Picard was something so very touching, I mean, geez the joy in Riker’s face alone was something special.
- So Agnes put herself in a coma to keep the Romulan’s from tracking her body. Hmmmmmm I have to wonder if this is going to backfire somehow.
- I absolutely love Kestra Riker-Troi and really hope this isn’t the last we see of her. Maybe give her a roll on a new series with her joining Star Fleet, making her a generational character? Or heck, give her a cool non-star fleet role, who says we need to follow a Federation ship again, I mean, this is turning out pretty damned good so yeah… Did you catch the reference in her name though? Kestra was the name of Troi’s older sister who died prior to her birth. Interesting that something similar happened to Deanna’s own son as well.
- Looks like someone summoned a certain Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01….maybe the 7th of 9?
- The use Data’s mannerisms in Dahj was awesome and the fact that Riker picked up on them was pretty awesome.
- Great reference to an obscure animated series alien species the Kzinti. Apparently they are still causing trouble, specifically to the Riker-Troi family.
As usual, a few shots from next week’s episode. Just fyi, next weeks review may be a little later than usual thanks to a thing called life, but you can bet we will have it for you right here on LateToTheGame!
You can watch this episode now on CBSAllAccess. Do it now. It is well worth it.
Thanks for reading the SciFi TV Review I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you!
If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday and for more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here.
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Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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Late To The Game 2/13/2020