Star Trek #1498: Nepenthe

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Picard visits some old friends who may be able to help.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Riker and Troi!

WHY WE DON'T: Things get a little too deadly on the Cube.

Well this one got me right in the feels. I didn't think I would respond so emotionally to seeing Riker and Troi again, but they were the perfect friends to visit at this point in the season, and I don't think any other crew member could have done the job. These were, after all, Picard's right and left hand on the bridge of the Enterprise, and though they're more familiar with him then back in the day, the advisory relationship still holds. How Riker guesses the whole story without being told - which means he understands the risk of harboring Picard, and has a great line about hidden danger - and their talk on the lake, where he refuses to talk his old captain out of his mission (quite the opposite), are perfect. But it's Deanna I find the most touching, and I don't know there was a scene she was involved with that didn't make me well up. I love her warmth, and her pain, and how she calls Picard out when he's being folksy and humorous at Soji situation and attitude. On the show, Troi could often seem surplus to requirements, but here we see how she absolutely essential to Picard, compensating for his lack of people skills.

Now, I mentioned her pain, and that's an important element of the episode, and a manifestation of what they're doing with this show. When we last saw Troi and Riker, they had just gotten married and were moving to Will's new command, the USS Titan. Where are they 25 years later? There's a simple answer to that question, but the show adds a lot more detail than it needs to. They're retired, sure. They've had kids, yes. That might have been it. Just keep it to what's essentially to the plot. Instead, they take a world-building approach. A son who died, which is why they are on a planet that has regenerative properties (the Ba'ku planet must still be quarantined), though he could have been cured if synths hadn't been banned (evoking stem-cell therapies under threat from religious advocates)... A son who had a facility with languages and invented several, along with a fantasy world in which he and his sister played (Kestra is in full Miyazaki attire)... Kestra herself (named after her long-lost sister revealed in Dark Page; Thad is a deeper cut, Riker's ancestor from that Voyager episode), a teenager who spends time on her mobile during dinner, has connections with an old freighter captain of dubious reputation... Some of this will pay off, but I really don't expect all of it to. It just creates a fuller, richer world, especially in the case of Riker and Troi's past. We haven't seen them in forever, and yet I get a lump in my throat when their shared tragedy bubbles up to the surface. Troi is always changing the subject, haunted by the boy's death, oh man, I love her so much. From my early TNG reviews a dozen years ago, you wouldn't think I'd ever say that, but there it is.

Kestra helps out with the search for Soji's homeworld, but her real function is to be a mirror of the young android, someone Soji can relate to and who can integrate her into the group. Not surprisingly, Soji has trust issues. She, and the Troiker back-story aren't there to necessarily advance the plot, they're there to resonate with it. Soji vacillates between thinking she's not real and the situation's not real (i.e. part of a manipulation, like Narek's). We have invented languages, fantasy cultures to accommodate them, discussion on real vs. replicated tomatoes (you say tomatahs)... It's existential poetry.

Meanwhile, La Sirena is heading for Nepenthe to pick them back up, followed by Narek whose agenda remains just nebulous enough (to reclaim his love, or to follow her to her homeworld?). And now Jurati has had enough. Through an unhelpful flashback, we see her conversation with Commodore Oh, but we can't be convinced by it, not yet. A mindmeld (and a horror show of memories) might have an effect on Agnes' mind, but it's still opinion, not fact. Seeing the Earth attacked in the vision is not FACT, and I can't yet believe it's enough to have her commit murder on Oh's behalf. And maybe she isn't sure herself. Heading towards a complete nervous breakdown, she asks to be taken home, she wants off the ship, the mission, and filled with regret once she realizes the Romulan "snake head" (love that) is tracking them through a transponder she digested on Earth, she takes a great risk by taking some neutralizing agent. There may be hope for her yet, but if someone has to punish her, she'll be first in line to do it herself. Rios gives her the benefit of the doubt and instead mistrusts Raffi (who I still can't gauge, especially when she's being nice, like she is here), so I guess Oh chooses her operatives well.

And on the Borg Cube, I'm sad to see Narek's sister killing off the XBs, apparently all of them if Elnar has to call on Seven to open the Queen's Cell to take over the ship, Hugh especially. The former drone is the one who pays for Picard's escape with Soji, and I wish he'd thought this through a little better. Like have some way protect his guys, if not himself. But in the end, the show wants to cater to Seven's story (ok, I'm intrigued, and that Next Week trailer looks BANANAS), and for plot reasons, they all have to die. Elnor gets to do a lot of martial arts, though he meets his match in Narek's sister who just doesn't play fair. His inability to recognize treachery is his greatest weakness as a fighter. But again, if we'd kept Seven on the team from the beginning, we wouldn't have needed Elnor at all. I might warm up to his presence if I see it as another "resonance", essentially a riff on truth/lie, i.e. real/fake. With Chabon's hands on the wheel, the approach may naturally be more novelistic, and that kind of thematic accumulation is what novels are all about.

LESSON: Three pieces of cake and a transponder candy is too much.

REWATCHABILITY - High: I'm all about the poignant reunion between Picard and his best friends.


Michael May said...

I am Riker and Troi in the photo at the top of this post; Picard is this review.

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