Star Trek Picard: Nepenthe

"Be compassionate, be patient, be curious. Be Jean-Luc Picard."

By nature I love brevity: A welcome change. Maybe last week's leap forward in quality wasn't a fluke after all. Also, it reinforces exactly what matters in this show: Jean-Luc Picard.

Last week's 'The Impossible Box' led up to the climactic event of Soji's activation, when she suddenly began the process of discovering who she is. This episode is the beginning of a similar process for Picard. He finally woke up. And it's about time.

I think back to a line from 'Remembrance', the pilot. Before the interview about the Mars attack, Picard's friend Zhaban tells him to "Be the Captain they remember." And yet, since that episode, Picard hasn't been the Captain we remember. And he hasn't been that Captain precisely because he is trying to be.

Picard has been isolated from the world for fourteen years. Now that he's back, he still wants to live in the world he left, the TNG world where he and his united crew of professionals take on the galaxy on the side of the good guys. But he doesn't live in that world anymore. Instead, he has a crew of broken, desperate, or inexperienced misfits, taking on a galaxy where the good guys are few, far between, and imperfect.

But while we see this plain as day, Picard doesn't. He returns to Starfleet after fourteen years and asks for a ship and a crew based on a wild conspiracy theory and no evidence. He throws a discriminatory sign on the ground and picks a fight with a local populace, all the while oblivious to their pain and bitterness. And he leads a round of applause when Raffi permanently ends a long friendship in order to get them the clearance they need and then drinks away her sorrow. Consistently, Picard doesn't quite get it.

In a way, both Picard and Soji needed to be woken up to the real world. Soji saw everything as it was, but had a fundamental mistrust of all of it. Picard couldn't see anything except through his heavily selective filter. And who better to help them both see right again than two of the oldest of friends?

It's hard to understate how much seeing the Rikers feels like returning home. Jonathan Frakes slips back into his role like he never left it, and Marina Sirtis' calm, comforting presence is pulled straight from TNG. Bolstered by a strong child performance from Lulu Wilson as Kestra Riker, the episode is able to anchor us firmly in the peace and quiet of the Riker homestead. Though my 'everything is going too well to last' alarm was on Red Alert half the time, it was still really nice. I'm probably just too cynical, or maybe something Doug Aarniokoski's direction was setting me on edge. Regardless, it kept me from fully allowing it to wash over me.

It's been interesting to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction to this episode, as opposed to the comparatively negative reaction to 'Stardust City Rag'. Both featured the returns of popular characters from the franchise. Both featured the deaths of other popular characters from the franchise. There were parts of this episode that were darker and more violent than we've seen on Trek prior to Discovery, just like 'Stardust'. The difference, as I see it, is Picard.

As I watched 'Stardust City Rag', I thought about how much fun Patrick Stewart must have been having with his accent. I thought about how good Patrick Stewart is at acting when he made his impassioned plea to Seven not to kill Bjayzl. Do you know what I didn't think for a second, except during the two minutes when he was talking to Seven in the transporter room about being former Borg? I didn't think, 'I am watching Jean-Luc Picard'. I was watching Patrick Stewart, but I wasn't watching Jean-Luc Picard.

I may have to amend that now that I see what they are doing with his character. It may be that when I go back and rewatch the season, the growth he is now undergoing will help me to believe his condition before that growth. We'll have to see. Regardless, I think that the reason this episode works so well is because Picard works so well. Everything else (the darkness, the violence, even the plot) is less important.

Speaking of the plot, I won't say much about it. I've had Agnes more or less pegged in exactly the role they've revealed for her for a few weeks now. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining to watch the rest of the crew slowly discover it, but I think that's the strength of the cast and not of the writing.

Pensees:

-Oh's sunglasses only got more distracting and annoying in this episode. I really don't understand that costuming choice at all.

-Oh said, 'Take this', and handed Agnes a piece of machinery. I don't know about you, but my first reaction given that information would not have been to put it in my mouth.

-Boy, a fat lot of help Elnor was. Hugh and every other XB on that ship is dead now, and he took out what, a dozen faceless guards? And now he's hiding in the corner waiting for Seven to come bail him out.

-RIP Hugh. I really wish they'd kept him around; it really didn't seem necessary to kill him at this point. But we'll see what the future holds. I'm not ruling anything out.

-The way Frakes pronounced 'Kzinti' makes me imagine that on set, somebody kept telling him it sounded too much like 'Xindi' and so finally he overpronounced it to make them happy.

-Thaddeus was the name of Riker's Civil War ancestor, as revealed in the Voyager episode 'Death Wish'. Kestra was the name of Troi's older sister, as revealed in the Next Generation episode 'Dark Page'.

-This is not the first time Isa Briones has done that head tilt. I've liked her little nods to Data so far.

-Riker is still on active reserve with Starfleet.

-According to Isa Briones, both LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn visited the set during the production of this episode.

-Homework for this episode (if you're interested to get more background on the world and characters): TNG: 'Tapestry' for a look at another time Picard had to own up to the real world. It'll also tell you where he got his duritanium heart.

Quotes:

Picard: "You might want to point that thing at my head. My heart is solid duritanium."

Kestra: "I'd never shoot you, 'cause I'm a pacifist. But I could."
Soji: "I'll keep that in mind."

Kestra: "I think you're amazing."
Soji: "Because I have mucus and spit?"
Kestra: "Because you're only three years old. I get to be the boss of you."

Raffi: "Agnes. Take a seat, honey."

Raffi: "Auntie Raffi is going to hook you up with whatever you need."
Agnes: "Is it cake?"
Raffi: "You bet it's cake."

Riker, about the pizza: "Red alert!"

Troi: "Her capacity to trust is a flaw in her programming."

Rios: "Is it Agnes? Is she still having stomach trouble?"
EMH: "I'm currently more concerned with the fact that she's in a coma."

5 out of 6 wood-stove pizzas. Mmmmm...

--
CoramDeo is turning on his homing beacon. Godspeed, friend.

7 comments:

sunbunny said...

I cringed so hard when Picard was clapping at the unraveling of Raffi's life. Also found it funny that literally everyone on this ship is smoking, drinking, or both, and Agnes wants to know if she can have cake.

I really loved Kestra. That Thad's death could have been prevented but for the synth ban is a little overly convenient.

I also had the sense of impending doom and was relieved that the Riker-Troi clan managed to escape a disaster. Protect Kestra at all costs.

Deanna was so right when she dressed Picard down. He was being such an ass to Soji who has literally just discovered her entire life (and recent serious relationship) was nothing but lies and manipulation. Give her a damn minute, Picard!

Billie Doux said...

A lovely review, CoramDeo. And I loved the photo you chose. Just looking at it makes me smile. Riker and Troi were exactly as they should have been.

I liked Kestra a lot, too. Good casting.

milostanfield said...

Loved the last two episodes. This is moving toward some of the best Trek ever. Thursday night will be the new center of my TV week, now that "The Outsider" is ending.

This review is required reading for anyone watching "Picard". Thank you. Your explanation of Picard’s character cleared up so much of the puzzlement I’ve had about Jean-Luc’s actions.

I’ve also had problems with Jurati’s character going from "competent nerd" to "Tilly silly" to "tragic victim", but Michelle Hurd has handled whatever the writers threw at her. She’s good. The reveal of her conversation with Sunglasses helped alot. I also liked how Rios got her to confess. I hope Raffi sobers up. Too good an actress to waste on a perpetual drunk.

So many great character moments during the Nepenthe visit. Two for Riker who 1) read his Captain like a book, and 2) saved a pizza, cancelling Red Alert. And one of many for Kestra: telling Soji a tale she had been told by her parents about Data made me tear up. The Trek mythology passed to a new generation through stories. I loved that.

Slightly off-topic. Someone mentioned earlier which species were in which Quadrant. What about the Vulcans and Andorians? I’m assuming Alpha?

CoramDeo said...

milostanfield, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad my review was helpful. You're right that Jurati has been a little inconsistent with her characterization. One minor point is that she is played by Allison Pill, not Michelle Hurd, but yeah, both are great actresses who have done great things with their material. To answer your final question, both Vulcan and Andoria are located in the Alpha Quadrant.

Skye francis-maidstone said...

I had the same thought exactly.. someone hands you some piececof tech and says "take this" and you eat it?? Maybe she was distracted by the sunglasses.

Loved the episode and series as a whole. Nice review!

BrianN said...

Agreed on Oh's sunglasses...it looks like a lame joke, like a Romulan attempt at humor.
Of course Picard isnt himself...he lost the centerpiece of his life, Starfleet. When they turned and ran, he slowly slipped away.
Jurati ate the pill because of the vision Oh gave her and/or Oh took control of her and made her suggestible.

Corylea said...

Sunglasses aren't only used to protect one's eyes from the sun; they're also used to protect one's eyes from the gaze of others. I think maybe Oh wore those sunglasses so that Agnes couldn't see her eyes. It's harder to tell if someone is lying or if someone is a sociopath if you can't see their eyes...

Can Romulans mind meld, or is Oh a Vulcan after all?

Whichever species she is, they've given her TERRIBLE ears. Look at Spock in TOS to see how pointed ears should go.

(I've only just now seen this episode because my husband was too sick to watch for several weeks.)