Here's your chance to beam out to avoid spoilers for episode 7 of "Star Trek: Picard."
Last week's episode of "Star Trek: Picard" — "The Impossible Box" — was always going to be a tough act to follow, but we're optimistic and while this week's installment, entitled "Nepenthe," isn't quite as good as last week's, but is still extremely enjoyable.
We start, as we seem to with every episode, with a flashback. (Although unlike previous episodes, this flashback is only a matter of a few weeks ago.) We're at the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, Japan and Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) appears to be having her lunch when she's approached by Starfleet's director of security Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) who wants to know all about Jurati's recent meeting with Jean-Luc Picard.
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Sound familiar? It should be, we saw a little bit of this in episode 3, but now we're going to get the whole conversation. There's been a host of wild theories about this exchange buzzing about on social media, but now we will get to see what actually transpired.
Oh seems to know everything about Jurati's recent activities and movements, including her second meeting at the Picard château in La Barre, France. Jurati attempts to introduce a little humor into the conversation, but Oh is having none of it. She says that she wants the doctor to accompany Picard on his quest to find Dr. Maddox and removing her sunglasses to show just how serious the situation is, she says, "Let me show you what will happen if synthetic life is allowed to exist…" And she performs a Vulcan mind meld.
Jurati is bombarded with images that start with some people dressed in black in a circle, surrounded by rocks with something very bright at the center, then what looks like a thermonuclear detonation on the surface of a planet, some Vulcans or Romulans (they both have green blood) literally tearing at their skin, a city being consumed by a nuclear explosion, Vulcans/Romulans taking their own lives and finally a whole planet exploding.
As you might expect, this is enough to make Jurati vomit her lunch back up as Oh looks on, with a cold, calculating expression on her face. "What do you want me to do?" Jurati asks, regaining at least a little of her composure. Oh hands her a tracking device that must be chewed and swallowed.
"What I'm going to ask you to do will require a terrible sacrifice…" Oh says.
The images of the flashbacks give little away. How did Oh get these memories, are they second hand, or is she from the future? She's obviously Vulcan (Romulans can't mind meld), so are the beings in the flashbacks Vulcan or Romulan (both have green blood)? Is that the Earth being destroyed?
We cut to the present day, so to speak, and La Sirena and Rios (Santiago Cabrera), Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Jurati are struggling to free themselves from the Romulan tractor beam holding them in place following Picard's (Patrick Stewart) and Soji's (Isa Briones) escape through the spacial trajector to a planet called Nepenthe.
Meanwhile, following that escape, Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) has been taken captive by Narissa (Peyton List) and naturally she's pretty miffed that Soji managed to escape. Lined up next to Hugh is a group of his recovering former Borg drones and in a truly gut-wrenching moment of absolute evil, Narissa has her guard blast one. You instantly feel Hugh's pain. So much invested time and painstaking effort that has gone into the recovery of each and every XB (the adopted abbreviation for ex-Borg). She probes him for Picard and Soji's location, but Hugh doesn't give anything away, so Narissa has her guards kill all the innocent XB.
"[They died] because you helped Picard and a synthetic escape, because you ruined years of patient work by dozens of operatives across hundreds of star systems, because you may have doomed a trillion souls across half the galaxy," she sneers as Hugh sobs over the bodies of his dead companions.
We disliked the character of Narissa anyway (we're meant to) mostly because of the weird and incestuous behavior towards her brother, but now we have another reason to wish a particularly outlandish and unpleasant trademark "Star Trek" demise on her.
Meanwhile, her brother Narek (Harry Treadaway) powers up a snazzy looking Romulan shuttlecraft, called a Snakehead, and begins tracking La Sirena just as Narissa orders that it be released from the tractor beam. Rios contacts Elnor (Evan Evagora) who has found Hugh, alone and slumped in a corridor, and he tells them to continue without him. "I am needed here," he says.
"Adios kid," Rios says, simultaneously lighting a cigar and acknowledging Elnor's bravery and La Sirena engages its warp drive engines and streaks off. Only to be followed by Narek. Cue opening credits.
We cut to the lush, verdant world that is Nepenthe and Soji and Picard materialize from their journey via the spacial trajector. (Lucky thing Picard had coordinates near where he wanted to go.) They are greeted by a very sweet girl named Kestra (LuLu Wilson) named after Deanna Troi's older sister, seen in "The Next Generation" episode "Dark Page" (S07, E07). We already knew Picard was here to see Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and this confirms it. There's also a nice throwback to Picard's artificial heart that we learned about in "The Next Generation" episode "Tapestry" (S06, E15).
Kestra is naturally inquisitive about Soji's origins as the three make their way through the woods and what could've have been a lazy exposition dump is handled refreshingly well: the dialogue is well written and believable. Picard explains that Soji's father is Commander Data and since Soji herself is still struggling with the fact that she's an android and that her sister, Dahj, was murdered. We get to watch her come to terms with this over the course of the episode and it's another example that illustrates how much this show has improved from the beginning.
They approach a clearing and in front of them is a beautiful log cabin-style home…and then comes the moment that almost every "Star Trek" fan has been waiting for since this show started; the reunion between Picard and his former USS Enterprise 1701-D shipmates Deanna Troi and William Riker – who are happily married, just as we always hoped they would be.
There's no denying, it's wonderful to see them; Troi is outside with her gardening gloves on and Riker is inside, listening to jazz and prepping the ingredients for home-made pizza. What's beautifully well written is that both of them, Troi and Riker, both independently deduce within just a few seconds that their long-time friend is in trouble. And then Riker says, "Shields up" in only the way that Riker can – a house with shields! How much fun would that be in keeping unwanted kids off your front lawn?!
Following Picard's first return to a Borg cube last week since "The Next Generation" two-part cliffhanger "The Best of Both Worlds" (S03, E26 and S04, E01) this episode has clearly been influenced by the one that followed that, "Family," with Troi and Riker replacing Robert and Marie Picard, since they're all the family that Jean-Luc really has left. The scene that introduces us to Kestra is even reminiscent of young René Picard’s cheeky “highway robbery” of uncle Jean-Luc as he walked from town to the château.
It's quite dialogue intensive, so it's crucial that it was well-written, which it is thankfully, although Marina Sirtis lets her North London accent creep in a little more than before, which, to be perfectly honest, is much nicer. As for Frakes, it's nice to see him on this side of the camera for a change. Despite his active involvement in the director's chair on this show, "Discovery" and even "The Orville" he's seldom actually seen on screen these days.
Picard explains that he had a plan, but everything seems to have gone awry. Soji meanwhile has made a new friend in Kestra, who is in awe that Soji's an android and simultaneously proving invaluable in Soji's recovery and acceptance of who she is.
"Do you play the violin?" Kestra asks, intrigued. "Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Can you run super fast, jump really high and bend steel with your hands?"
"Turns out, yes I can," Soji replies, smiling and showing the first indications of acceptance.
Kestra quickly adopts the role of little sister and it's very effective. Through her, Soji learns a lot about Data and in particular about how he always wanted to be more human.
We learn that Troi and Riker also had a son, Thaddeus Troi-Riker (presumably named after Riker's great, great grandfather, known as Old Iron Boots) but he died. Not much attention is given to it at this stage, but we find out a little more later on.
Back on La Sirena meanwhile, every time Rios drops out of warp, Narek is not far behind in his Romulan Snakehead scoutship, leading Rios to conclude that they're being tracked. On the bridge, Jurati is becoming increasing uncomfortable and Raffi, who's now sober and focused, starts picking her apart.
"I remember you the night we left Earth," Raffi says. "Standing there in your cute little blue coat, so excited about going out into space and meeting a real, live sentient synth, like you've always dreamed of, but it feels like the closer we get to finding her, the less you want to be there…"
"I just want to go home!" Jurati blurts out. "OK, I want you to turn this ship around, point it at the Earth and push 'play' – Picard can look after himself and somebody else can find that f***ing synth! Why does it have to be me?!" she shrieks as both Raffi and Rios look at her, a little shocked to say the least.
It's also a perfectly placed expletive, unlike the others we've seen so far in "Picard."
Rios gives a sly nod to Raffi, who winks back, gets up, puts her arm around Jurati, calms her and says reassuringly, "Now you're come along with Auntie Raffi, she's gonna get you whatever you need."
"Is it cake?" Jurati says, her face hopeful. And it's fun little throwaway one-liners like this that nicely reinforce her character.
Back on Nepenthe, Riker is making pizza in an outdoor, wood-burning oven. Apparently, the soil on the planet has regenerative qualities, which is why they chose it to make their home there. Riker asks about what exactly is going on, but Picard doesn't want to say. However, Riker's as sharp as a tack and deduces that it involves Romulans, specifically the Tal Shiar and that it's not Jean-Luc who's on the run, it's Soji. He also correctly surmises that she's an android and that she has Data's DNA in her.
He places the pizza into the oven and continues his pep-talk, offering the Admiral some advice through experience on how to handle a teenager like Soji. It's a wonderful scene between two of the greatest men ever to serve in Starfleet and two such dear friends.
Troi shares some time with Soji and introduces her to fresh tomatoes. Mmm. Troi speaks of her son, Thad, and how he was born and raised on starships and thus he felt like he had no homeworld of his own, but when he became sick, Troi and Riker came to Nepenthe and it became his homeworld. According to Troi, Thad had mendaxic neurosclerosis, a very rare silicon-based virus and in theory, completely curable – you just have to culture the infected cells in an active positronic matrix, but by the time Thad came down with MN, there were no active positronic matrices and no one was allowed to develop new ones, because of the synth ban. Incidentally, a silicon virus was encountered in the "Enterprise" episode "Observer Effect" (S04 E11).
This way the synth ban has also affected their lives. Then it's Troi's turn to give Picard a pep-talk about Soji's perception of reality and acting responsibly, which when combined with the "just be Picard" speech later on is a little conflicting.
Back on the Borg cube, Elnor is with Hugh and they trying to make their way to the Queen's chamber once again, only they get intercepted by Narissa. The Qowat Milat stands his ground, taking out all of Narissa's guards as she tries to blast them both.
"This is not how Zhat Vash fights the Qowat Milat," she purrs, holstering her weapon. Elnor sheaths his sword and the two fight hand-to-hand. It quickly becomes evident that Elnor has superior fighting skills so she pulls out a short blade dagger and holds it toward him, while casually pulling a second one out with her other hand and flinging it at Hugh, who has emerged from a corner. It plunges into his deck and Elnor rushes to his side, but it's too late.
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Hugh's death has shock value, yes, but tragically, the shock is less that a popular secondary character has been killed off and more that it's such a lame death. It's extremely sad to see Hugh go, he was developing into an interesting character that we really cared about and while it's important to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, he definitely deserved a more imaginative departure. That said, hopefully he won't be brought back to life in some absurd manner like we saw in "Discovery."
Raffi and Jurati are bonding over chocolate cake on La Sirena meanwhile, when the doctor breaks down into tears and then throws up. Again. Plus Rios is getting concerned because he can't seem to shake the Romulan (Narek) shadowing them.
Back on the beautiful Nepenthe, dinner is being served. Picard tries again to reach Rios without success and now he's getting concerned. While their pizza gets cold, Picard tries to convince Soji that she can trust him and she begins to believe he's telling the truth. As Troi and Riker look on, smiling, he talks about Data and about wasting his own life, but now he's alive again once more and nothing will stop him from completing this mission. As a result, she shares with everyone what happened during the Zhal Makh traditional Romulan meditation and of the "two red moons, dark as blood, and lightning."
And because Kestra is super cool, she fiddles around with a personal comms device under the table and within 60 seconds she's found it. According to Captain Crandall, it's in the Vayt sector, in the Ghulion system, on a planet with no name, just a number.
On La Sirena Rios is having a tête-à-tête with Jurati. He tells her that he thinks he knows why they're being followed: what if Raffi is being tracked? Jurati looks at him in horror, but of course her horror is from the fact that she knows that she is the one being tracked. Whether this is devilishly clever subterfuge on the part of Rios or what he genuinely thinks instead is not yet clear, but Jurati whispers, "It's not Raffi…" just as an alarm sounds and Raffi shouts from the bridge, "S**t! He's back!"
Rios runs off and leaves Jurati, who is unraveling at this point. Shaking, she stands and shuffles over to a replicator where she creates a uranium hydride hyposhot and sticks herself in the neck with it. Almost immediately she collapses and starts foaming at the mouth. The Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) is instantly activated and Jurati passes out. Inside Narek's Snakehead scoutship the tracking signal disappears from his display and he thumps the cockpit in frustration. Evidently, Rios does believe it could be Raffi and starts to approach the subject with her when the EMH informs him that Jurati is in a coma.
Back on the Borg cube, Elnor ponders his next move as he hunkers down and tries to hide from everyone who is now looking for him. He spies some a set of Fenris dogtags that are hanging under the control desk. They're just like the ones that Seven gave to Picard before she returned to Stardust City on Freecloud to kill Bajayzl, but did Picard leave them here and how did he know which control desk on the whole of the Borg cube to leave them hanging under? Did she have more than one set of tags? Is this what Hugh passed to Elnor before he died, if so, why were they hanging under the desk? Is this another scene that we haven't…er, seen? It's all a little unclear. Regardless, Elnor activates the emergency SOS and prays for rescue.
Riker and Picard share a few last minutes together and stroll to a breathtakingly stunning wooden pier that extends into lake, surround by lush green vegetation. Where is this planet Nepenthe? That's where I want to be. Picard asks if Riker ever thinks about shipping out again, to which Riker replies, "Well, I am still on active reserve, but it would have to be a very good reason," thus laying the groundwork for a potential return to the show.
Kestra and Soji share a last intimate moment, everyone hugs and it's all a bit emotionally overwhelming to be honest. Credit where credit's due, at least the writers didn't have Riker and Troi angry at Picard for abandoning them. Soji and Picard beam up to La Sirena and we fade to black.
If you watch the teaser for next week's episode at the end of this one, you'll see more of the images that Oh showed Jurati in their mind meld…and we're now convinced that this synthetic lifeform plot ties in with Control somehow. Moreover, two of the images of planetary destruction seen during the mind-meld are reused VFX from the "Discovery" episode “If Memory Serves" (S02, E08) of Control’s attacks on Earth from Spock’s vision of the Red Angel. Whether this does indeed imply a connection, or it's a budget-saving exercise to reuse the visual effect is not yet known.
"Nepenthe" isn't as sharp or as finely tuned as last week's episode, but it's reassuring that the return of Troi and Riker wasn't just a for-the-sake-of-it cameo, plus Kestra basically stole every scene she was in. Credit to writers Samantha Humphrey and Michael Chabon and director Doug Aarniokoski. That said, one or two smaller details could've been handled better.
Decompress the shuttle bay ✓
- Shields for a house! That's so cool.
- Nice throwback to Picard's artificial heart, care of one unruly Nausicaan.
- Raffi struggles not to puke herself when Jurati vomits up her Red Velvet. Ha!
- Kestra is brilliant, both written and acted and she steals every scene she's in.
- Gotta love the EMH: "What is the nature of the me- bloodyhell…"
- Lots of "Trek" Easter eggs, including Kzinti, Tyken’s Rift and gormagander.
Use the tractor beam ✗
- Nooooooooooooooo! Hugh's gone..?!! What a senseless waste.
- Jurati is convinced to murder her beloved Dr. Maddox way too easily by Oh.
- The message Picard gets from Troi is a little conflicting.
- Riker can't make pizza; no sauce, no mozzarella, plus it only needs 2 minutes.
- We're sailing a little bit too close to too much lens flare in this episode.
- Just how did those Fenris tags get under the table for Elnor to find?
Last week we reported that "Discovery" had wrapped on principal photography for the third season, well we can report that it's been renewed for Season 5 no less. The fourth season will probably start production in July and apparently CBS is planning on shooting Seasons 4 and 5 back-to-back at Pinewood Studios in Toronto.
The 10-episode "Star Trek: Picard" series will air on the paid subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the U.S., and in Canada on Bell Media's Space and OTT service Crave. New episodes will air each week, with episode 8, entitled "Broken Pieces" debuting on 12 March 2020.
CBS and Amazon Studios have announced that the new show will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries worldwide within 24 hours of its premiere on CBS All Access and Space in the US and Canada, respectively.
CBS All Access subscription is the home of "Star Trek: Picard," "Star Trek: Discovery" and a host of other original and archival CBS television shows. Subscriptions start at $5.99 a month. You can try CBS All Access for a week free here.
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