Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Picard: Nepenthe

Picard certainly hit us with the emotional punch this week. 

Off the back of his and Soji’s escape from the Artifact, Jean-Luc is reunited with former crewmates Riker and Troi at their home on the planet of Nepenthe. Certainly times have changed for the Rikers since their marriage in Nemesis

Their time aboard starships is over (although Will is still listed on the reserves list) due to a change of family situation however they are without hesitation when it comes to offering help to their former captain. The episode is a return to the more relaxed pace of the season after the series of frantic events that closed out The Impossible Box with Nepenthe feeling, at its core, as the biggest piece of fan service the show has produced thus far and by god is it sublimely executed. 

The reunion of the three iconic The Next Generation characters is masterfully carried off and just as you would wish it to be. The emotions feel so real you can taste them. The Rikers provide both familiarity and a level headed opinion of Picard’s predicament in what might be construed as a ‘breather’ before the closing three episodes of this first year.  The revelation that the Rikers’ oldest child, Thad(dius) Troi-Riker died die to a disease that could have been cured with positronic technology which had been outlawed is heartbreaking while also providing that little edge of tension and conflict not visually but more from within these characters. Note; the name of their son comes from one of Riker’s ancestors who was mentioned in Voyager’s Death Wish

Marina Sirtis thoroughly deserved to be listed on the opening credits as Special Guest Star offering up some fine Deanna moments and even slipping slightly into that classic counsellor role for which she was known on the Enterprise. Along with Frakes, her appearance here goes above and beyond anything she's done since All Good Things... and finally casts aside, for me, the rather poor material she had to work with on Nemesis (nothing awful about the Voyager eps but this is far better and more natural!).

Their daughter on the other hand is named in memory of Deanna’s older sister, Kestra, famously played by Kirsten Dunst in The Next Generation’s final season episode, Dark Page. While Will and Deanna allow for a more personal approach to Picard’s mission and two people he can rely on, Kestra acts in the same manner with Soji has she begins to come to terms with the fact that she is an android and not a human as she was led to believe and truly believed. Kestra is a free spirit if ever there was and surely her return to Picard has to be guaranteed. She's a wonderful addition to the crew/family and fits right in with the direction the family has taken.

The relationship between Thad and Kestra is mentioned a lot; the theme of family is therefore right at the front of this week's story in multiple forms from the bond of the three former Starfleet officers through to the bond that Kestra and Soji have. The little nuances that Isa Briones adds into her role emphasise that link to Data and clearly wash away any suggestion that they may be linked to Lore. However, we do know that the Romulans are intent on finding the homeworld of these Soong-esque synthetics and who knows what else will be discovered there before the season is out.

Nepenthe  is the episode fans have wanted and have finally been delivered after 20 years. Riker is probably at his best since The Pegasus, clearly relaxed and at home in his shielded house complete with its outdoor pizza oven. Frakes carries off the older, wiser but still active and fun Will with aplomb and y'know, he's on the reserve list so there's always a chance to get him back on a starship...

Over on the Artifact there's a lot less joy as Hugh and Elrond are attempting to make their escape from the Romulans. Hugh's fellow XB's are executed under orders from Narissa  while Narek takes out a rather funky new Romulan scout class ship to hunt down Soji by following the La Sirena.

Our opening flashback actually reveals a little bit about what's going on in the present, taking us back three weeks to when Commodore Oh met with Jurati before she joined the crew. Certainly the mindmeld indicates that Oh is a Vulcan but potentially she might be one from the future who has seen the carnage unleashed by the synthetics and has come back to work with the Romulans to "save" the galaxy. Might this explain Oh's sympathies to the Federation's former enemy? It does however answer how Narek is able to keep up with the La Sirena even with some nifty piloting from Rios.

The thought that Jurati was playing a different game has been subtle for the last two weeks but in Nepenthe there's the dawning realisation that assisting Oh is definitely not one of her best life choices. While she has been less than forthright and displayed a very nervous disposition since day one, Agnes' ultimate choice helps her crewmates over the Romulans.

Alison Pill has been incredibly understated in Picard and the twist we now find her character in make her even more fascinating - in fact as does everyone in the show. There are many more layers here than Discovery  and not necessarily just the story but in the development of the people.

Over the last two weeks for example, Elrond has frankly had sod all to do but in Nepenthe he's elevated from sidekick to be able to do what he was brought into the crew for. With a swift fighting style he's able to dispatch Romulans at pace and is thrown into a well crafted one on one hand to hand duel with Narissa. 

Hugh's appearance here acts more to assist Elrond's escape but it's not all happy endings for everyone and there's certainly a jarring event that comes unexpectedly out of nowhere to make the episode feel ever much more grounded. Hugh's last revelation that Elrond will need to get a part-Borg to help him activate the transporter Picard used to escape only goes to ensure that a certain Fenris Ranger will be back on screen next week.

The split between the Artifact and Nepenthe was always going to be 25% to 75%. This is too big an opportunity not to enjoy the return of two The Next Generation characters and it's done in precisely the right way. They're people beyond the uniforms of Starfleet and their life choices - particularly based around giving the chronically ill Thad a "home planet" are totally believable. There's real depth to their story and the way in which it ties to the overall narrative is equally as solid a part of the series. 

Nepenthe is simply superb. The mix of classic and new absolutely plays on the heart strings and is emotionally satisfying at every single turn. The Troi-Rikers' return is played perfectly, gives us a break from the oncoming storm and proves firmly that Picard is doing the right thing by the fan base. t is new and different but Star Trek can exist and evolve without having to be set purely within the ranks of Starfleet. It has and always will be about people, characters and relationships and here, for 45 minutes, they absolutely nailed it.

Catch up on all our Picard season one episode reviews here.

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Thanks to Chris Groves for assistance with screencaps

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