Star Trek: Picard review: “Nepenthe” and “Broken Pieces” (S1, E7 & E8)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A HEADY MIX OF NOSTALGIA AND THE FUTURE … JUST LEAVE YOUR SYNTH AT HOME OKAY?

Your mobile phone is a threat to the galaxy.

Well, that’s not strictly speaking true but if it were to suddenly to develop sentience and start talking back to you (Siri doesn’t count) and blowing its nose (hello mucus!) then you can bet the Romulan Zhat Vash would be onto it in a flash.

Yep, the Zhat Vash my friend do actually exist.

The shadowy group that Picard’s (Patrick Stweart) ex-Tal Shiar household and vineyard manager Laris (Oral Brady) help back on Earth warned him about are not only real but so serious about their mission to eradicate all artificial life from the galaxy that they are the ones who initiated the Mars attack that led to the Federation shutting down its research into android life, among other things.

You know, a group is not to be trifled with when it is willing to kill thousands of people to make a point that synths could kill lots of people … except it turns out the synths didn’t.

Not of their own accord anyway.

Making inspired use of the oft-misquoted “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it” rationalisation, Picard, which continues to build and build into a richly-layered show that can still kid around when needed, explored how fanaticism can drive people to contravene the very principles they supposedly have vowed to uphold.

And we know how fanatically twisted the Zhat Vash are because we are taken to the planet Aia, the happily-named “Grief World” – yep, huge with the tourist set, HUGE – 14 years previously where, surprise, surprise, Commander Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) ushers in a group of initiates into the cult by showing them the Admonition, a multi-tens-of-millenia warning from an unknown and extinct alien race who built AIs and lived, or rather died, to apocalyptically regret it.

The scenes show in this 300,000 home movie are so bad it turns out that everyone goes self-mutiliatingly or suicidally made, leaving only Narissa / Lieutenant Rizzo (Peyton List) and her aunt Ramdha (rebecca Wisocky) alive and kicking and ready to kick some android butt.

Oh and Rizzo are, of course, Starfleet moles and Ramdha is an ex-Borg so the links between various facets of the story are getting ever tighter and more intriguing, building up to a no doubt epic two-parter finale.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

What is most interesting about this flashback is how it underscores one of the key themes of these two quite different episodes – the need for all of us to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to be part of a family and to accomplish something worthwhile.

Exhibit A in this regard is Soji Asha (Isa Briones), recently aware that’s an android and none too happy about it who feels betrayed by everyone she’s ever known and every she does know and let’s be fair, everyone she will be ever know.

Yep, she has the betrayal vibes bad, BAD I tell you!

But rather than serve up a disgruntled character who quickly becomes annoying, even if the source of her anger is an entirely reasonable one, Picard rather deftly explores her complex feelings against the backdrop of one of the most enduring relationships in Star Trek – the close bond between Picard and his old, much-loved crew mates William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).

It’s an inspired move, turning what could’ve been a heartwarming but snoozy nostalgia-fest into a reunion that manifestly moves the narrative forward in some intensely meaningful ways.

Seeing Picard, Riker and Troi – the latter two of whom are (mostly) happily ensconced on the planet of Nepenthe with their rambunctious, extrovert daughter Kestra (Lulu Wilson) – together is a joy no doubt, but it’s not the main thrust of an episode which is all about Soji coming to grips with who she is and who she belongs with.

It’s conversations with Kestra in particular and Deanna too which play a key role in Soji coming from a place of bitter betrayal to the point where she’s able to make a decision about where she should move forward to and who she should do that with.

As character building and advancement goes, it’s neatly, elegantly and affectingly done, offering up a welcome return visit to old friends but one which has relevancy here and now and which moves Picard briskly but movingly on in its full-speed-ahead narrative.

It’s a masterclass in the importance of taking time to let your characters breathe and grow, and how that is time well spent because it means the action sequences actually have a lot more potency and emotional resonance as a result.

Thus the second of these two episodes, the far more action-oriented “Broken Pieces”, in which Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) rescues Elnor (Evan Evagora) and tries to take over the Borg Cube Artifact all while Picard and the gang speed towards Soji home planetary system which sports eight, count ’em, eight suns, benefits from the time taken to establish Soji in her new reality.

Or at least establish her enough that her actions following the departure of Picard and Soji from Nepenthe via La Sirena, who finally shake Narek’s (Harry Treadaway) tail – or do they? Nope, they don’t – make sense.

We get why she’s so driven to get to her home planet and why saving her AI brethren, to whom Rios (Santiago Cabrera) has a fascinating and emotionally powerful link, is so important to her all of a sudden.

Without “Nepenthe” giving her time to meaningfully come to terms, at least in part, with her new android identity, “Broken Pieces” wouldn’t have had the impact it did, offering up some rollicking adventure, startling confessions – Agnes Durati (Alison Pill) comes clean on her reluctant recruitment to Oh’s spy ring and her murder of Dr Bruce Maddox (Jon Ales) – and a pell-mell dash to Soji’s home planet, ahead of a massive Romulan fleet, led by Narissa.

Sure it would’ve still been exciting and thrilling and all the things you want when events are building to a BIG, massive finale, but having Soji come to understand the importance of building somewhere and to someone or multiple someones, gave the eighth episode an affecting emotional impact it might otherwise have lacked.

Suffice to day, emotion was one thing not lacking in the two episodes.

In addition to Soji transformative journey, Picard’s reunion with old friends, we had Rios confronting old ghosts, Seven of None becoming her old Borg self (and yet not) Jurati owning her many recent sins and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) struggling not to turn to the bottle again when things get tough.

That’s a lot of emotional journeying going on, all of which added richness and nuance, and quite a bit of humour at times, to two episodes which had more than their fair share of full-on action but which never lost sight of the fact that there are real people and androids at the heart of its story and that forsaking them could mean losing its identity as the thinking person’s thriller.

Next up, is the first instalment of the finale two-parter, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” in which things get very messy and fiery …

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