TV reviews

Star Trek: Picard 1×07 – ‘Nepenthe’ – Review

Let’s be honest, this is the one we’ve all been waiting for. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s hard not to fill up a little at the sound of that theme accompanying that hug.

From the moment the first trailer showing the return of both Riker and Troi in Star Trek: Picard, fans have been hanging on with bated breath for the duo to make their appearance on screen. Nobody knew that it would happen to be in one of the most consequential of all the episodes so far in terms of moving the overall story along, and it’s reassuring to see this didn’t overshadow things.

So far, we’ve had Worf (albeit in a photo all the way back in ‘Remembrance’) and Data (confined to dream sequences), but those have really been just mere shadows of The Next Generation we know and love, so the chance to see Picard properly interacting with some of his former crew mates is a tantalising one, as we haven’t really known where any of the former Enterprise-D (and E) team are nowadays.

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One thing you can say about Picard is that it’s shaken up the world we thought we knew from TNG days. As well as the core characters having each gone their separate ways, the Federation isn’t the solid, unassailable institution which it supposedly was all along, and seems to now be internally divided, as well as having been infiltrated by Romulan deep cover spies. It’s no longer the safe haven it once was, and even Picard – Admiral or not – no longer has any sway or influence there.

Anybody who’s been watching so far will have seen things haven’t exactly turned out as might have been expected (or hoped). Picard, for example, had resigned from Starfleet as part of an unsuccessful gamble and become something of a pariah, as well as his having now been diagnosed with early signs of the rare neurological condition which had afflicted his possible future self in the TNG finale, ‘All Good Things’, so things are looking a little bleak on a personal level.

It appears that nobody can be allowed a truly happy ending in this current iteration of Star Trek, and it seems to have carried over to the Rikers, last seen in Star Trek: Nemesis having tied the knot, and with the couple jumping ship for Riker to take his first command. Even Will and Deanna are finding that their lives post-Enterprise haven’t quite turned out how they’d hoped, and have been tinged with tragedy, in a manner which seems even more poignant and ironic in light of the death of Data, and just what consequences that ultimately had.

So, yes, this reunion is tinged with sadness, but it’s still a real thrill to see the trio back together again after almost two decades. There’s a real chemistry and rapport between Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, and it’s almost like they’ve never been away; apart from a few grey hairs and lines here and there, as well as them all being in civvies rather than unforgiving spandex jumpsuits, it feels like an unbroken line between then and now.

It’s fascinating to see where the Rikers are now, especially as they’ve chosen a life not dissimilar to Picard’s: leaving Starfleet, and eking a rural existence just about as far away from starships as you could envisage. Lulu Wilson is a real delight as Kestra, the Rikers’ daughter, and brings to the part a genuine warmth and likeability. Her interaction with Soji (Isa Briones) has real heart, and at a point where Soji is coming to terms with her own identity as well as losing her brother, the bond forming between her and Kestra helps ease things for her a little.

In fact, between Kestra and Elnor (Evan Evagora), there’s been a much-needed sense of lightness here, to give us a bit of respite from the otherwise unremitting grimness of things. Although coming across previously as being little more than Brunette Legolas, in some ways his innocence combined with his single-mindedness and sense of duty is starting to become charmingly reminiscent of some of the TNG style of characterisation; this increasingly endearing naïf is starting to come into his own at last.

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Innocence is something which has cruelly been robbed from poor Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), as we start to get a true insight into what could have turned her from a bright-eyed ingénue to a killer (albeit a reluctant one) in ‘Stardust City Rag’. It’s so harrowing to learn how she’s been manipulated, and the awful impact this is having on her, as her internal dialogue is causing conflict between what she’s been shown and what she’s learning along the way. It’s also also a shock to see her taking things decisively into her own hands, and the terrible cost it carries.

In fact, ‘Nepenthe’ has surprisingly few missteps or wrong notes in evidence, and it feels like a culmination of all the varied threads which have slowly (almost interminably so at times) been drawing people and events together. For once, even Narek (Harry Treadaway) and Narissa (Peyton List) haven’t been a source of grating irritation, helped no doubt by the limited amount of interaction between the two (as well as Narek having very little dialogue at all, spending most of his time trying to look brooding while playing with a space Rubik’s puzzle).

A major theme in this episode is home: Soji’s fate has been set in motion by a quest by the Romulans to find hers; the Rikers made a new home for themselves on Nepenthe when life took an unexpected turn; and Picard realised his family’s Chateau wasn’t where he truly belonged. For the first time in a number of episodes, Star Trek: Picard feels as though it’s finally found a home of its own too.

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