Old Friends - Picard, Riker, and Troi (Marina Sirtis) on 'Star Trek: Picard'
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Star Trek: Picard brought back a pair of old favorites this week.

But it didn’t rest solely on nostalgia. With the seventh episode of the series, ‘Nepenthe,’ Star Trek: Picard did what fans hoped the series would do every week.

It balanced action with tenderness. Intensity with compassion. And guile with wisdom.

In other words, the series summed up all the things that made Star Trek fans love Patrick Stewart’s performance as the iconic captain all along.

Star Trek: Picard hit a home run this week. So let’s find out how.

Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) enters the Riker (Jonathan Frakes) house on 'Star Trek: Picard'

The Plot

After escaping the Artifact on last week’s Star Trek: Picard, Picard and Soji seek refuge on the planet Nepenthe. There, Picard is reunited with a pair of familiar faces: his old crewmates, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).

Soji (Isa Briones) comes to grips with the revelation that she is an android. And it isn’t easy. After all, if you found out, quite out of the blue, that you were only three days old, you’d be less than happy.

Fortunately for Soji, she has the Rikers’ young daughter, Kestra (Lulu Wilson). Kestra and Soji bond, as Soji finds she can’t trust Picard quite as easily as her twin sister, Dahj.

And while on Nepenthe, Picard relearns the facets of his nature that can help Soji through her crisis.

Back in space, Picard’s crew is on the run from Narek (Harry Treadaway) and the Romulans.  Aboard La Sirena, Agnes (Alison Pill) faces the truths she learned, for which she killed Maddox a couple episodes back.  Starfleet showed her a vision in which Earth will be obliterated should synthetic life continue to exist.

While on the Artifact, Narissa (Peyton List) interrogates Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) about Picard’s whereabouts. Also on the Artifact Elnor (Evan Evagora) lingers in the shadows.

Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Soji (Isa Briones) arrive on Nepenthe on 'Star Trek: Picard'

The Performances

This episode of Star Trek: Picard is Isa Briones’s coming-out party. Her performance as Soji has been ramping up for weeks. But here she gets to play with a wider, more subtle range of emotions.

With ‘The Impossible Box,’ the sixth episode, Briones got to play with the heightened emotions – anger, fear, rage. Here she gets to play with those, too, but on a smaller, more intimate scale.

And, as a certified Star Trek fan boy, I was already predisposed to be happy to see Frakes and Sirtis as Riker and Troi, respectively. But their performances resonate as more than cameos or fan service. Neither actor has missed a beat and both remember how to play their roles perfectly.

But the years between now and their last appearance in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis have made them different. In a lot of ways, as with Picard himself, this is the first time we’re seeing the old crew as people rather than as their jobs.

And the crew of La Sirena, left on the run, steps up their game as well. Most of their scenes involve frantic freak-outs, but Santiago Cabrera as Rios and Michelle Hurd as Raffi handle it well. And when the weight of Agnes’s burden becomes too much for her, Alison Pill injects the performance with the appropriate distance from the rest of the team.

Peyton List gets to go full villain back on the Artifact, and she makes Narissa the biggest scumbag in the galaxy. She chews the scenery but never goes over-the-top. List injects Star Trek: Picard with an air of menace that was missing from Bjazel in ‘Stardust City Rag‘ and the shady Starfleet brass from early in the season. No conspiracy, no “are they evil or not?” quandaries. Narissa is sheer evil, and List plays it full tilt.

And she takes full advantage of the truly heartbreaking moment of the episode.

Riker hears Picard out on 'Star Trek: Picard'

Writing And Presentation

As was the case with ‘The Impossible Box,’ it would have been very easy for this episode of Star Trek: Picard to degenerate into fan service.

The script by Samantha Humphrey and showrunner Michael Chabon is sharp. It’s fast-moving and covers a lot of ground, but it also conveys a soft touch. The scenes on Nepenthe aren’t just about catching up with Riker and Troi. They’re about Picard relearning who he is from the people who know him best.

Agnes’s revelation about what’s at stake with the potential resurgence of synthetic life adds another building block to the overall arc of Star Trek: Picard. And finally gives the series broader stakes. I’d prefer if they weren’t Marvel-esque “the world will explode” stakes – something more complicated, as befits a Star Trek: The Next Generation spinoff.  But knowing where we’re going has been a welcome addition to the series.

As far as pacing and visuals, director Douglas Aarniokoski knows when to keep the episode moving and when to pump the breaks. He gives the heart-to-heart scenes the gravitas and emotional weight the series and the episode need. And the fun action beats and intense, dark interrogation scenes are handled with the same skill.

This was a sharp episode, fast-moving when it needs to be, reflective when necessary, and consistently engaging.

It’s a tall order after the success of ‘The Impossible Box,’ but Star Trek: Picard topped itself with ‘Nepenthe.’

The Captain and Number One share a toast on 'Star Trek: Picard'

The Breakdown

Since Star Trek returned to television with Star Trek: Discovery, there have been flashes of brilliance. But it’s not been uncommon for them to be snuffed out pretty quickly.

With ‘Nepenthe,’ Star Trek: Picard accomplishes what its immediate predecessor couldn’t: a winning streak.

In back-to-back episodes, Star Trek: Picard raised its own bar and produced some of the best television in the franchise’s history.

New episodes of Star Trek: Picard stream every Thursday on CBS All Access in the United States. They are available the following day on Amazon Prime Video elsewhere in the world.

All images courtesy of startrek.com.

'Star Trek: Picard' - Nepenthe

9.2

Acting

9.0/10

Writing

9.2/10

Direction

9.3/10

Entertainment Value

9.4/10

Pros

  • The Enterprise crew's reunion is more than just fan service
  • Isa Briones brings her A-game
  • Pacing and writing are extremely strong
  • More light is shed on the stakes of the series

Cons

  • The stakes themselves are a little over-the-top
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