Picard: Nepenthe

[Multiple spoilers and warnings about themes around suicide]

Nepenthe was a drug of forgetting in the Odyssey used as a cure for sorrow, which is an odd title for an episode about remembering. There is no shortage of sorrow though, even the reunion with Riker and Troi in their bucolic home has its own shadow of loss.

Jean-luc and Soji slow down as they pause in their journey and Will Riker acts as a kind of Tom Bombadil offering at least some brief shelter to the beleagured fugitives. Of course, the Enterprise crew reunion overwhelms this episode. It’s the inevitable big cameo and return of old favourites but Frakes and Sirtis do a magnificent job and are given their own bittersweet story of loss and grief. There is an odd sense of Riker being the older man here, almost as if he is mentoring Jean-Luc. Meanwhile it is Troi’s turn this week to give Jean-Luc the stern dressing down but she does it so well that I’ll forgive that we’ve had maybe a few too many of those. If anything, some of the earlier ones could have been dispensed with so as to gives Troi’s moment more space to hit home.

Soji has to grapple with questions of trust and quite rightly. She has zero reason to trust anything currently. Bonding with Troi and Riker’s daughter Kestra, gives her route to coming to terms with what she is and the questions she needs to answer. Interestingly, the odd dalliance with fantasy tropes that has been running through Picard, comes to the fore. The Troi-Riker’s older child Thad died from an incurable illness but his younger sister remembers him through the fantasy homeworld he had created including a panoply of imagined languages.

Another aspect made overt, is the emphasis on handmade food. When we first see Riker he is making pizza dough and leaves flour all over Jean-Luc when they hug. The protracted interaction between Soji, Kestra, Deanna, Jean-Luc and Will is framed by his continued assembly and cooking of pizza. Soji even suggests this emphasis on authenticity in the Troi-Riker lifestyle is a comment on her but both Deanna and the show imply something different.

The plot uses food to contrast moral authenticity (something Soji has regardless of whether she and her memories are fabricated) and so it is no surprise to find on board La Sirena, Agnes Jurati faced with replicated cake rather than handmade pizza with home grown tomatoes. The flashbacks that start episodes of Picard have caught up with the plot and we learn that Agnes was shown the “truth” about synthetic life forms via a Vulcan mind meld. It remains unclear whether Agnes is on a moral spectrum but manifestly the guilt and tension is destroying her. The eventual self-harm is traumatic and upsetting but helps the ship avoid Narek’s attempt to follow them to Soji. Alison Pill’s acting is superb catching the severe emotional distress of the character but still touching elements of humour and compassion. I don’t know where Agnes’s story is going and we still don’t know what was revealed to her or how she has been manipulated by Commodore Oh. I’m not even sure now whether the Commodore is a Romulan infiltrator or is acting in what she considers is the best interest of Starfleet.

Upsetting too is the eventual reprisals by Narissa on Hugh and the XB’s on the artefact. I’m not happy about Hugh’s fate. Quite where Elnor’s story is going I am not sure but there better be justice for the ex-Borgs by the end of this storyline or I’ll be having severe words with Michael Chabon.

Other Things

  • Yeah…I get why the incurable disease that Deanna’s son died from had to be ‘silicon based’ but it makes zero sense. A human body is going to be a desert for a tiny silicon virus if such a thing were possible.
  • I know I already said that I’m cross about Hugh dying but I’ll say it again.
  • Apparently nepenthe was thought to be borage – a word that is oddly close to borg but I assume that is coincidence.
  • I genuinely think that Federation society would have this fixation on hand made non-replicated food. Jean-Luc is the epitome of it, with his vineyard (and again, yes the local government of that region would find incentives to keep viticulture alive) but we also saw Maddox baking and of course Riker creating pizza from scratch.
  • It’s hard to tell if Riker and Troi would work as characters if we didn’t know who they were already but I think they would.

16 responses to “Picard: Nepenthe”

  1. Its odd, not much happens in this episode (and evil sister is textbook evil) but it was so charming on the planet and so well acted on the ship this would have been the best episode yet, if not for Hughs totally unnecessary death.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s often seemed to me that replicated food is, well, all right in its way – contains all the right nutrients and so forth – but the stored patterns for materializing it are simplified, somehow, so they don’t contain all the right nuances and tiny variations in flavour that characterize real food. And people can tell the difference (or, maybe, are food snobs and pretend they can tell the difference.)

    Riker and Troi’s house seems like a perfect example of how life in the Federation should be – a pastoral idyll, only with defensive shields and anti-cloaking sensors coming online at the first word of command. (The Federation is, after all, supposed to be a post-scarcity economy – and, really, even Raffi Musiker’s sort-of trailer home in Vasquez Rocks looked pretty nice, compared to accommodation for drop-out junkie ex-military types today.)

    Regarding Jurati – I’m inclined to wonder how much she’s been persuaded by Commodore Oh, and how much she’s been indoctrinated, or even programmed by her… and that led me on to further musings, about communication, and whether, with sufficiently advanced methods of communication, you can plausibly tell the difference between persuasion, indoctrination, and programming. I think this comes up as a minor point in one of Stanislaw Lem’s stories, involving a theological debate between two robots, one of which has far superior communications technology than the other. (I believe it’s the “Twenty-First Voyage” in The Star Diaries.

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    • My inetrpretation is that
      – replicated food is basiccally the standard option – all apples taste the same (or maybe they ghave 2 varieties), the same with all velvet cakes etc. So there is no room for creativity and the small nuances between two “real” foods.
      And in a society without money (which at least on Earth they said is the case) ist all about wanting to do a craft, about the artisinal way that allows imperfections and deviations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh and in a Restaurant you woild also LEARN about food. You can only replicate what you know. If you go to Restaurant you learn new dishes (that you may replicate at home). And of course a restaurant visit is a social event, probably more so in that future.

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    • Given the hints that Commodore Oh is at least partially a Romulan, I suspect that her use of the mind meld might have been deceptive, esp. since she’s didn’t Jurati if she could do it, which seems like a breach of Vulcan ethics.

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  3. Ah, borage, a crucial ingredient of Frankfurt green sauce, which is served with asparagus. And no, I have no idea what this has to do with Picard, the Borg or the Romulans.

    And yes, I’m also very cross that Hugh is dead.

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  4. Also, didn’t that opening scene on the Artifact feel like…something was left out? The previous ep ended with Elnor facing down the oncoming Romulans and uttering his trademark line, “Please, my friends, choose to live”? And then all of a sudden Hugh is lined up with his twelve…ex-Borg patients, I guess they are, with no indication of how everybody got there? I mean, I can buy Elnor being momentarily overwhelmed and Narissa, or someone else, snatching Hugh away as he fought but that should have been shown.

    Narissa was just looking for an excuse to kill Hugh and anything would have worked. However, I was glad they shifted her to a more conventional villain (and the actor was better at that anyway) than that creepy incest vibe.

    And Commodore Oh definitely is a Vulcan, doing that forced mind meld.

    What she showed Agnes in the meld though…is that real, or made up to manipulate her? For cripes sake, I hope they’re not linking the synth storyline back to Control.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I thought it felt like they had skipped a scene there – I thought Elnor would show up in the nick of time to save the XBs. It felt a lot like their and Hugh’s deaths were unnecessary fridgings.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Just binged 4-6 So skipping spoilers. What I will say is I’m digging the direction. They’re letting the camera dwell for longer than is usual in modern productions sometimes, but then go for a more stacatto edit for effect, like when Picard boards the Cube, or Soji is dating her possessions.

    From a narrative perspective: nuance, ambiguity, regrets, attoning for bad choices…

    This is my sort of show.

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    • As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the slower pace is due to the showrunner, the literary novelist Michael Chabon. (Also, apparently Patrick Stewart is pretty heavily involved in the show’s direction, and that’s something he might have insisted upon, since after all he’s no spring chicken.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s definitely seeping into the direction and videography too, which is refreshing. Something Dennis Vilneuve has been bringing back on the big screen too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I also like how the recurring theme of trust and faith in your friends is a commentary on the darker Federation. After all, turning inwards and disdaining non-Federation life is a repudiation of that whole “No being is an island” ethos that this episode seems to be hammering

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Agree on Hugh.
    I don’t know replicator vs. “real” food needs much explanation. With microwaves we have the equivalent of a replicator food service, and some of it’s very tasty, but lots of us still choose to cook. Or bake bread despite the widespread availability of good bread in many areas.
    This was a wonderfully sweet episode, Hugh’s fate aside.

    Liked by 1 person

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