Having fled from the Romulans, Picard and Soji find themselves on Nepenthe, where Picard seeks temporary sanctuary with his old friends Deanna Troi and Will Riker. Meanwhile, La Sirena can’t seem to shake off their pursuit, leading Rios to suspect that there may be a traitor on board his ship.
Star Trek has never shied away from crossovers and cameo appearances, and we’ve already seen a fair few in Picard to date. Even before the series started airing, we knew that Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis were going to show up at some point – and this is that point.
It’s been twenty in-universe years since we saw Troi and Riker tie the know and ride happily into the sunset aboard the USS Titan. These days, they hang out in the bucolic idyll that is the planet Nepenthe, growing produce, cooking pizzas and raising their daughter, Kestra. However, there’s someone missing from this happy scene – their deceased son, Thaddeus.
Given that Icheb got fridged earlier this season, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the writers decided to pull a similar stunt for the Troi-Riker family, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. To add a bit more context, Thaddeus (aka Thad) fell ill with a “silicon virus”, a disease that’s easily curable for anyone with access to a positronic network. Unfortunately, this happened after the whole ban on synthetic life forms, so Troi and Riker had no way of curing their son, and instead had to watch him die. Naturally, this makes things more than a little awkward when Picard shows up on their doorstep with a fully functioning android in tow.
Not only does this whole plot element feel contrived, but it’s also an unnecessary bit of trauma to load onto these two beloved characters. We see in the episode that it’s affected Troi – she claims not to be as brave as she used to be – but this didn’t need the death of a child. Just becoming a parent could have been motivation enough to not want to be out on the galactic front lines. And while we’re piling trope upon trope, of course Thad was no ordinary child – he was a super genius capable of inventing entire new languages.
Despite the sad undertones, Troi and Riker do their best to put on their best “retired to the country” airs. Having just been betrayed by Narek, however, Soji finds it difficult to relax and trust any of them, with the situation only made worse by some tactless comments from Picard. These felt really poorly written and out of character – this is the Jean-Luc Picard who frequently conducted delicate negotiations between disparate alien species, a man whose oratory skills were once known and respected throughout the quadrant. Are we supposed to accredit his verbal sloppiness to the onset of Irumodic Syndrome?
Meanwhile, we also have two other plot threads continuing in this episode. Through flashback, we learn that not only did Commodore Oh mind meld with Agnes, she also got her to swallow a tracker – a tracker that the Romulans can now use to follow La Sirena. While Rios seems suspicious of Raffi – either genuinely or as some kind of plan to smoke out the real traitor – Agnes binges on cake before having a change of heart, disabling the tracker via a method that also puts her into a coma.
Elsewhere, Elnor and Hugh are still stuck on the Artifact, and to be honest I was almost expecting this to turn into Die Hard With an Elnor. Instead, yet another character feels the wrath of the writers, as poor Hugh gets knifed in the throat. I was really enjoying our reunion with Hugh, and seeing how the character had evolved into a quiet and reserved person but with a clear inner strength. Now it feels like he too has been unnecessarily killed off.
Observations and Questions
- Kestra is named for Deanna’s sister, who died as a child. Thaddeus is the name of one of Riker’s ancestors.
- The images that Oh showed to Jurati seem to be the same as the visions of Control destroying organic life that we saw in Discovery season two. Is this just conveniently reused footage, or is Control itself the reason the Romulans fear synthetic life?
- Did Oh use the mind meld to brainwash Jurati into killing Maddox, or was she convinced to do it of her own free will just from seeing the visions?
- The whole “tomatoes these days are flavourless unless you grown your own” attitude has a very 21st century feel to it.
- Despite their costumes and comedy accents, I do find it hard to keep track of which Rios hologram is which.
- Picard says that Deanna must know what it’s like to lose a sibling, but her experience is very different to Kestra’s. Deanna didn’t even realise she had had a sister until season seven of TNG, whereas Kestra always knew about her brother, and still remembers him. Both are difficult and traumatic situations, of course, but still quite different.
- Picard mentions his artificial heart when confronted by Kestra.
- Kestra is well versed in Data’s antics, citing several of the hobbies we saw him enjoy in TNG.
Summary – Nepenthe: Sometimes the real treasure is the friends we make along the way.