Star Trek Picard "Nepenthe" - Detailed Analysis and Review

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By Adam David Collings. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Wow. This was a fantastic episode. Bringing back Riker and Troi wasn't just a nostalgia stunt. These character were very well used to fantastic effect. This is a beautiful character episode that adds more depth to Riker and Troi's characters than was done by any of the TNG movies. This episode is packed with scene after scene that makes you feel a variety of emotions. Let's dig in and geek out over this wonderful piece of television.

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This is episode 17 of the podcast.

Today, we’re talking about Star Trek Picard episode 7 - Nepenthe.

I’m away at Ulverstone in North-West Tasmania for a church family camp. So you might hear some rolling waves or even a fairy penguin or two in the background of this episode, because Star Trek waits for no one.

And wow, what an episode we have to talk about!

The description on Memory Alpha reads

Picard and Soji transport to the planet Nepenthe, home to some old and trusted friends. As the rest of La Sirena's crew attempt to join them, Picard helps Soji make sense of her recently unlocked memories. Meanwhile, Hugh and Elnor are left on the Borg cube and must face an angered Narissa.

The episode was written by Samantha Humphrey and Michael Chabon

It was directed by Douglas Aarniokoski

And it first aired on 5 March 2020.

And of course, it guest starred Jonathan Frakes and Marini Sirtis.

Make it so.

Man, I loved this episode. It exemplified what Star Trek Picard is, when it’s at it’s best.

It was a slow-paced deeply character-driven story.

This week’s flashback takes place just 3 days ago, taking us back to Episode 3 of the show. We get to see a little of what went on between Commodore Oh and Agnus. She asks a few questions about what Agnus told Picard and then she says she’ll show Agnus what will happen if Synthetic lifeforms are allowed to exist. And she performs a mind meld with her.

So up until now, my assumption has been that Oh is a Romulan posing as a Vulcan.

But can Romulans perform mind melds? We know they are an offshoot of the Vulcan race, and we know that mind melds are a very ancient Vulcan practice, but to my knowledge we have never seen, in any canon or non-canon source, a Romulan perform a mind meld.

Raffi and Maddox both believe there are Starfleet officers complicit with the Zhat Vash behind this whole thing, so maybe Oh really is a Vulcan, just working with the Romulans. It seems pretty obvious to me that she knows Rizzo is a Romulan.

We don’t know exactly know what she showed Agnus. A few rapid flashes of images. I believe there was an exploding planet in there. We don’t have a full enough picture to see what exactly it was to change Agnus’s mind so completely, to drive her to betray Picard and murder Maddox. It had to be really compelling. So far, we haven’t seen any compelling motivation from the bad guys in this show, other than, “they hate synthetic life”, which is pretty weak.

Did Oh convince her, or mind control her? We don’t know enough. In fact, this flashback doesn’t really tell us anything new, other than a mind meld was performed.

Anyway, Oh gets Raffi to swallow a tracking device, which will come back later in the episode.

Back in present day, The La Sierenna is caught in a borg tractor beam at the artefact.

And poor Hugh is being interrogated by Rizzo. I am so ready for her to die!

Rizzo says she can’t kill Hugh because as a Federation citizen, it would be a treaty violation. She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who cares about treaty violations. Her real motivation here is to get Hugh to talk. She can’t get the information out of him that she needs if he’s dead. So instead, she starts killing ex borg. Knowing how much Hugh cares for them.

When Hugh refuses to talk, she let’s the La Sierra go, but sends Narak out to follow them.

Elnor stays behind to help Hugh. This is where he is needed. MY biggest question is, where was Elnor while Hugh was being interrogated. Why didn’t he just jump in and behead Rizzo right then and there.

What I like here is that the people in this show are not stupid. Rios thinks that Raffi hacked the tractor beam, because that’s what she was trying to do, but within seconds, they realise that’s not the case. They know this is suspicious and they have their guard up from that moment on.

That brings us to the planet Nepenthe, which is very earth-like. Looks like a bit of a paradise planet. Picard and Soji emerge from the Sakarian gateway thing and are immediately confronted by a warrior armed with a bow and arrow.

Quick aside. Am I the only one terrified that the borg now have the technology to beam a drone onto a planet from lightyears away? One drone is all it would take to cause an apocalypse. And they’re using it solely as a means of escape for the queen. That seems … illogical.

Anyway. I love how Picard points out that his heart is solid durateneum. I think this is the first time it’s been made clear to new audiences that Picard has an artificial heart. Of course, it turns out the warrior is a child, and that Picard knows her, and her parents. By this point, I’m sure we’ve all guessed that her parents are Riker and Troi.

I love that they named their daughter Kestra, after Deanna’s older sister, who tragically died when she was just Deanna was just a newborn. That story is told in one of the few really good Lwaxana episodes that TNG did “Dark Page”. DS9 did several good Lwaxana episodes, and one bad one. Anyway, I Think that’s a wonderful tribute to her sister.

We’ll learn later in the episode about Will and Deanna’s other child, who also has a significant name.

Through a nice conversation between Soji and Kestra, we find that Soji trusts nobody, including Picard. After what she’s just been through with Narak, and the shock of finding out her entire life is a life, I really don’t blame her.

The way Picard breaks the news to Soji that she’s an android was really sloppy. He should have handled that with a lot more delicacy. He should have put off Kestra’s question, and taken the time during the walk to break the news to Soji as gently as he could.

Personally, I think that discovering you’re not a “real person” but are actually artificial, would be a massive shock, and quite a difficult thing to accept.

But this is all another case of Picard being a good man, but not perfect. Sometimes he stumbles, even just on the little things. And I love that about this show.

He kinda stumbles again when he tells her that Dahj WAS real. That implies that Dahj is dead.

She assumes this whole thing is just another mind game. Again, I don’t blame her.

And we get our first glimpse of Troi. I love the look of joy on her face when she sees Picard.

She knows immediately he’s in trouble. And then she just clouds over as she senses the depth of what Picard has been through, and is still going through. Because, of course, she’s an empath.

Marina Sirtis is absolutely fantastic in this episode. It’s a good reminder of what a great actor she is. Something Star Trek didn’t always give her the opportunity to show.

When Picard introduces Soji and Dr. Soji Asher, she says “just Soji.” She’s just learned that her doctorate, and her surname are both lies. Nice touch.

Then we get to see Riker for the first time.

He may not have his wife’s empathic abilities but he can either see in Picard’s face, or just knows he wouldn’t show up for a social call.

And so Riker says “Shields Up!” That’s such an iconic Riker line. Loved it. And I just love that Riker has shields on his house. He’s prepared for all eventualities. I thought he said “we’ve had some problems with the Xindi, would have been a nice nod to Enterprise, but no, it’s the Kzinti. Have you heard of them? Top points if you recognise the name. I didn’t. But they’re a race of aggressive felines that were previously seen in Star Trek The Animated series. So that’s a pretty deep cut.

Deanna recognises the emotion on Soji’s face and acknowledges that she’s been through genuine trauma. But she can’t sense those emotions. This makes me wonder if she could sense Data’s emotions once he installed the emotion chip. The movies never answered that question. Either way, Troi respects the truth of Soji’s emotions, artificial or not.

Picard tells his friends that he is in over his head. I think this is the first time he’s slowed down long enough to truly realise that. He’s lost his crew, and his plan was not as fully formed as he’d thought. He was so focussed on finding and rescuing Soji, he hadn’t given any thought to what he’d do once he found her.

He needs a place to regroup and formulate a new plan. And where better than he with his most trusted friends.

Will Riker, his right hand, and Deanna Troi, his conscience.

I’m loving the relationship the Rikers have with their daughter. It seems like a very happy family. And that’s probably, partly because of, rather than just in spite of, the tragedy we’ll learn about later.

From what we see of it, Nepenthe is a beautiful world, but I would have liked it if it were just a little more alien. Apparently they have venomous animals called bunnicorns, but they look exactly like rabbits. The name bunnicorn is a bit on the nose. Actually, a lot on the nose. I know they don’t have infinite budget, but I’d have liked it if they’d used a CGI creature, just to add a little alien-ness to the planet. At least in TOS they put horns on the dog.

Kestra is fascinated that Soji is Data’s daughter. She asks her if she plays the violin or likes Sherlock Holmes, two things we know about Data. That’s a very kid way to approach it.

Kestra is more fascinated with the little human details about Soji, than the superhuman things. The fact that she has mucus fascinates her.

This reminds me of the time Julian Bashir met Data. He wasn’t impressed that Data had super strength and speed. He was fascinated that Data breathed and had a circulatory system.

Soji doesn’t understand in what sense Data could be her father. She was created long after Data died. Picard really needs to take some time to explain this whole neuronic clone thing to her.

I like the relationship that is developing between Kestra and Soji in this episode. There are so many great character scenes. It’s just one after another after another.

I like the subtle little moment as Deanna sighs before opening the door to Thad’s room.

We learn that the Rikers had a son. Had being the operative word. Last week would have been his 18th birthday. So that’s a very sad development. I love the photo of Picard in uniform holding baby Thad. Picard has such a smile on his face. By this point in his life, he’d mostly gotten over his fear of children, but this was just any child. This was the child of his dearest friends. Of course he’s gonna have a huge smile plastered all over his face.

I love the acknowledgement from Picard that as Kestra’s aching for her brother slowly fades, it brings a whole different ache to Deanna and Will. I love the writing in this episode.

Their son’s name was Thaddeus Riker. Thad was likely named after Colonel Thaddius Riker, an ancestor of Will’s. He fought in the American Civil War during the 1860s and was named Old Iron Boots by his fellow soldiers. Will knows this story well, and was shocked once to learn that Colonel Riker was rescued by a Q posing as a human. It’s doubtful he remembers this detail, however, as he was transported to the USS Voyager in the Delta Quadrant to give evidence in a trial against the Q, before being returned to the alpha quadrant with his memories erased.

Rios has figured out that somebody is tailing them. Again, the crew are not stupid.

Another thing Rios and Raffi are noticing is that Agnes is not herself.

Agnes makes a comment about wanting to be the fun crewmember who suggests hiding in a comet that turns out to be a giant gormagander. This seems like a bit of a Star Wars reference, referring, obviously, to Empire Strikes Back, where the Millennium Falcon hides in a cave in an asteroid, that turns out to be a giant space worm.

But it’s also a reference to something that was introduced into Star Trek lore by Star Trek Discovery. The gormagander is a space wale. A sentient animal that flies through space. They were on the endangered species list in the 23rd century, so the fact that Agnes is making this comment suggest that maybe they are a little more plentiful in the 24th. Which is cool.

Agnus is really out of character at this point. She suggests abandoning the mission, abandoning Picard and abandoning Soji. She was so excited to meet a real living synth, and now she wants no part of it. She’s getting really bad at hiding her true feelings.

I love the little shorthand between Rios and Raffi. With just a look, she says “Leave it to me, I’ll work on her.” And with a look of his own, Rios says, “Go for it, she’s all yours.”

That demonstrates the shared history of two old friends better than Raffi’s use of JL as a nickname for Picard. Not that I particularly mind the JL thing.

Next we get yet another wonderful scene. This time between Picard and Riker. Picard is still trying to protect the Rikers from all this and he thinks the best way to do that is to tell them nothing about his situation. Riker’s comeback is both stinging and heartbreaking.

“I was just thinking about how great it would be if ignorance of danger was all it took to keep it away from the people we love.”

It’s a very personal statement for Riker, as we see him choke up while he says it.

The soil on Nepenthe has regenerative powers. Things grow really well here. It’s why they came here. It seems Captain Riker gave up his Starfleet career to move here to Napenthe for the sake of his son’s health. He and Deanna thought that maybe it would help.

Soji is exhibiting more and more android traits. Now that she’s activated, she’s found she can read a 300 page book in a few seconds. And she gives a little head tilt. I recognised that as very Data long before Riker called it out. I’m sure you did too.

Riker shows Picard how foolish he’s been trying to keep everything to himself, but essentially recounting the entire story of the show so far. He’s not an idiot any more than Rios and Raffi. And he reminds Picard that he’s not the captain of a starship anymore. He’s dealing with a teenager. Something Picard has no experience with. But Riker does.

We get some interesting insight into Thad. He grew up on Starships, mostly, on the USS Titan presumably. He never felt like he had a homeworld. His mother was from Betazed. His father was from Earth. Thad didn’t feel like either of those planets was his home. He was a child of space. But he was fascinated by the idea of a homeworld and invented his own. Ardani. He came up with various different cultures and even whole languages. It’s very creative. I can so identify with that as a writer. Already, this boy that we’ve never seen on screen has so much more depth than half the characters on Discovery. Interesting that. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bagging out Discovery. I like Discovery, but I must admit, I’m loving Picard more.

Eventually, when they came to Nepenthe, for Thad’s health, it became his homeworld, and he loved it.

He had Manadaxic neurosclerosis, a silicon-based virus. The heart-breaking thing is that it was curable, using positronic technology, which of course was banned after the synth attack on mars. The machine that could have saved Thad’s life was made illegal. I wonder if Riker and Troi tried to get their hands on it through illegal means to save their son.

This ties into an interesting discussion which starts with a comparison of grown verses replicated food, and culminates in the question of whether real is always better than synthetic.

You know what I love about this scene. It’s allowing Troi to be a counsellor again. Her character was used pretty badly in most of the TNG movies. She got to be a counsellor for one brief but fantastic scene in Generations, and then that was it. Voyager gave her the chance to do a little more, but it’s been a long time since we’ve really seen Troi being so awesome in her field. It’s fantastic.

But Soji still doesn’t trust anyone. All these friendly faces, these people being caring, just when she needs that more than ever, it could just be another mind game like the one Narak played on her in the meditation chamber. Again, I don’t blame her. And yet I know these people. I know she can trust them.

Picard responds to this with bluntness.

As Riker said, Picard’s not so great with teenagers. He may not be up to the challenge.

But then Troi calls him out and says he had it coming when Soji shoves him.

“To you, the idea that this could be some kind of subterfuge or simulation is preposterous, but to her, it would be more of the same.”

And then she makes a great suggestion.

Pretend our dinner table is the ready room of the enterprise, or more accurately, the conference lounge.

I really love Troi and Riker in this episode, but especially Troi.

So Hugh is determined to take the cube from the Zhat Vash. He wants to protect the Xbs. As we established last week, they are victims. Hugh is one of the few people who care about them.

Sadly, the stupid-face Rizzo appears at that moment. And here we run into that problem. No matter how good you are with a sword, you’re useless against a phaser. At least a lightsaber can deflect blaster bolts. But Elnor just carries a metal sword.

Fortunately for him, the Zhat Vash have a duelling tradition of hand-to-hand combat against the Qowat Milat. If that weren’t the case, Elnor would be dead now.

But in some ways, this is subterfuge on Rizzo’s part, and there is a cost. Tragically, that cost is Hugh.

What sucks the most is that Elnor fails to kill Rizzo because she beams out at the last second. Oh man. I’ll be cheering when Elnor finally chops off her head.

I can’t believe Hugh died. That’s so sad. This show has quite a high body count. At least died a hero, trying to save the Xbs from the Zhat Vash. I hope Elnor can fulfil his legacy by saving them in Hugh’s name.

You know what upsets me the most about Hugh’s death here. We’ll never get to see him meet Seven. I was sure those two would share scenes together in this show. And we’ll never get to see him reunite with Geordi, his first friend. I feel like both Descent and now Picard have robbed us of that reunion. Which is sad.

Raffi is trying to draw out what’s bothering Agnes. She thinks it’s just the pain of losing Maddox. But then Agnes absolutely breaks down. She can’t hold in all the stuff that she’s hiding.

But before they can really dig deeper into this, Rios announces that Narak is back, still following them, which doesn’t seem possible.

Remember that tracking device Oh had Agnes swallow?

I like how Riker just casually calls Troi Imzadi like a pet name now. Back in TNG, they would use this term sparingly, only on special occasions. But they, they’re been married for 20 years. They’re extremely comfortable with one another. Imzadi seems a natural pet name to use at this point in their relationship.

WE get a classic Star Trek conference scene, but it has pizza! I’ve missed these scenes. So having one again, with Riker and Troi, but also their daughter and Dahj. That was so cool.

And did I mention pizza?

I also like how Kestra makes a worthwhile contribution to the discussion, but not in a way that feels unrealistic for a child of her age. I really like Kestra.

Rios is playing an interesting game with Agnes. I don’t for one minute think he truly believes that Raffi is being tracked, on purpose or otherwise. Given the strange way Agnes is acting, I think he suspects she has something to do with it, and he’s trying to draw her out by expressing his fake suspicions of Raffi. Remember, he already knows that Raffi was doing down on Freecloud, and why she returned to the La Sirena.

And it kinda works. She admits, “it’s not her.”

And then we get a very dark scene. Agnes replicates a neutron-toxin. It appears this is a suicide attempt. Is this just because she feels guilty, or does she think killing herself will stop Narak tracking them? Maybe this is part of her mission from Oh.

I think she is probably trying to prevent Narak from tracking them, from the way she kind of psychs herself into it, saying “you can do this,” which was horrifying, by the way.

I wanted to reach into the screen and stop her.

But I couldn’t

She injects herself.

And then she collapses.

And then she starts foaming at the mouth.

This was horrific.

And my theory is proven true, because once she starts to die, Narak suddenly loses the signal.

The EMH gets reactivated and manages to save her life, but she’s stuck in a coma.

I wonder what Rios’s idea was, the one Raffi wasn’t gonna like. We never actually get to find out.

That’s an odd bit of storytelling. I wonder if that will come back later. If not, why include that line at all?

Meanwhile Elnor finds a tag and presses it. It activates a Ferris Ranger SOS. I guess he’s calling Seven of Nine to come help him. Cool!. But what on earth was it doing hanging here in a Borg cube? That’s kind of weird.

Now that they’re not being tracked, the La Sirena can finally meet Picard on Nepenthe.

I kinda laughed when Picard said his new crew carry way more baggage than the TNG crew ever did. Because, of course, Rodenberry wouldn’t allow them to have baggage.

Riker makes it clear he’s still on active reserve with Starfleet, but it would take a very good reason to get him back in uniform again.

We have another nice scene between Picard and Riker as they sit by the pond. We do see an interesting rock formation in the background, that lends a little alien-ness to this planet.

But then we get an awesome scene between Soji and Kestra. It seems Soji has lost one sister, only to gain another.

And I LOVE how Kestra talks about what got her through her hard times was her parents. As a parent myself that affects me deeply. I think the hope of every parent is that their child might be able to say those words to someone.

She urges Soji to let Picard be that support to her, a father figure. Those two have a bit of work ahead of them to really let each other in.

In noticed in the credits that Jay Chattaway was credited as having written Lullaby #2 in this episode. Not sure what that piece of music was. Jay Chattaway was a regular composer on Star Trek back in the 90s. Especially on Voyager. Maybe it was just a little music queue that they referenced in the score of this episode. I’m really not sure.

This was a phenomenal episode. It gave me such a Star Trek: The Next Generation feel, and yet, it was very much not TNG. TNG only ever tried to do a character episode like this one. Family. This show takes the best of what we remember nostalgically, but does something very new and fresh with it.

I’ve really enjoyed Star Trek Picard up until now, but if I didn’t already, Nepenthe has definitely made me love it.

Well done to everyone involved in bringing this beautiful chapter of the story to our screens.

Next week’s episode is called Broken pieces. I wonder what it will bring. A quest to find Soji’s homeworld, no doubt.

It’ll be very exciting.

As for my walk to Mordor, I got a whole lot of steps in yesterday. Packing for our trip and then walking along the beach with my daughter. I just encountered Old Man Willow, and my next milestone is Tom Bombadil’s house. That’ll be a trippy experience.

Stay tuned for the next episode of the Nerd Heaven Podcast. Please consider giving the show a review wherever you listen to podcasts, or if you are watching on youTube, click that like button.

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Have a fantastic week.

Live long and prosper.

Make it so.

57 episodes