In episode 7, Jean Luc and Soji arrive on the planet Nepenthe seeking refuge with old Next Generation friends Will Riker and Deanna Troi, who now live there with their teen daughter. Elnor, Hugh and the xBs face Narissa’s wrath on the Artifact, while La Sirena is stuck in the cube’s tractor beam. Once the ship gets free, Narek follows them in a small ship. On La Sirena, Agnes tries to cope with the magnitude of her betrayals, with the help of Raffi, Chris and the EMH.
Nepenthe has two meanings: It is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey as a potion which induces forgetfulness of pain and sorrow, such as opium or a medicinal herb like borage. The second meaning is more interesting and just as pertinent to our story.
Nepenthes is a genus of carnivorous plants, the tropical pitcher plants, which act as a literal honey trap, using bright colors, an attractive smell and sugary nectar to lure prey to the edge of their tube shaped trap. The slippery digestive fluids on the lips and inside of the plant then stop the prey from escaping, acting like quicksand so that the harder the prey fights to escape, the further entrapped it becomes.
Both senses of Nepenthe are being used on Star Trek: Picard this season.
Nepenthe(s) as a honey trap is what Narek did to Soji all season and, on a smaller scale, Seven did to Bejayzl in episode 5. In the past, Bejayzl used herself as a honey trap on Seven, so Seven was only returning the favor. Will someone return the favor for Narek?
Nepenthe as a balm for your pain is Counselor Troi and Auntie Raffi’s department, depending on whether you want to go the mellow or intense route. Do you want to try pizza, wine and conversation with old friends or cake, snakeweed and casual sex with people you’ve recently met? Or maybe you’re the type who goes for adrenaline rush-inducing sword fights on an empty stomach with your archenemy. On a Borg cube.
No judgement here. Everybody’s just trying to survive. Not that I condone murder as stress relief, of course.
Yikes! Okay. This week, we flashback to Commodore Oh’s
mindrape of visit with Agnes back on Earth before the mission began. It’s as bad as we feared. First, Oh introduces herself and tells Agnes that Starfleet security knows every word that’s been said between her and Picard. Agnes realizes she’s been under close surveillance.
Oh doesn’t know what was discussed when Agnes went to Chateau Picard. Good job with the security scans, Laris.
Next, Oh tells Agnes that Picard is going into space to search for Soji and they want Agnes to go with. Agnes gets nervous, starting to say, “I’ve never…” but she interrupts herself. It’s clear she doesn’t want to go on a space journey.
Oh says that they need her for more than just her professional expertise. “Let me show you what will happen if synthetic life is allowed to exist.” She removes her sunglasses
to reveal laser eyes and puts her finger tips on Agnes’ face in the Vulcan mind meld position, saying the opening incantation, “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”
Agnes tries to resist, but we all know that resistance is futile. The Zhat Vash don’t operate all that differently from the Borg. Informed consent is not required.
Images from Oh and Agnes’ mind meld, via Imgur:
The mind meld is full of apocalyptic visions of suicides, city-wide destruction and planetary explosions. When they finish, Oh screams in anguish and Agnes vomits up her lunch.
Then Agnes turns to Oh with resolve and asks, “What do you need me to do?” This must be the usual response, because Oh is already prepared. She hands Agnes a small, glowing blue heart and tells her to chew and swallow it. It’s a tracker.
It looks a lot like my heart-shaped CBD gummies, which I also chew and swallow. Oh no. NO!!
Theme of the episode: Justified paranoia.
You’re not crazy if they’re actually out to get you. THERE ARE SPIES EVERYWHERE.
Agnes chews and swallows her heart-shaped gummy, while Oh tells her that they require a terrible sacrifice of her.
Was the terrible sacrifice supposed to be killing Bruce Maddox, the ex boyfriend who abandoned her at their lowest moment, stealing her best idea, then ignored her for 14 years while building their dream project without her and claiming the work as his own? Because that doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to me.
But maybe that’s just the tainted gummies talking.
In the present day, La Sirena is caught in the Artifact’s Borg tractor beam, one of the scariest experiences in the galaxy when it’s a cube run by the Borg. Raffi frantically tries to unlock the tractor beam while Rios rues the day he ever met Picard.
Agnes tells them to let the Romulans know that Soji isn’t on board, since she’s the one they want. She’s sure that when they find that out, they’ll let the ship go. No one thinks to ask Agnes how she knows that Soji is the only one they want.
Narissa has captured Hugh and is questioning him with a line of disposable xBs standing nearby. When he doesn’t answer her questions, a minion shoots a random xB instead of Hugh. Elnor is nowhere to be found.
Narissa wants to know where Hugh sent Picard and Soji. She gets bored with his refusal to answer and has her minions shoot the entire line up of xBs. Narissa explains herself to Hugh, while holding a knife to his throat.
Narissa: “I hate this vile cube. It’s obscene. As are you and your xBs. But that isn’t why these things died. They died because of you. Because you helped Picard and the synthetic escape. Because you ruined years of patient work by dozens of operatives across hundreds of star systems. Because you may have doomed a trillion souls across half the galaxy. I would kill you, too, but you’re Federation, and you’re protected by that asinine treaty.”
Narissa was just marking time while she questioned Hugh. She was waiting for Narek to make his way to a small scoutship. Once he’s ready to take off, Narissa gives the order for La Sirena to be released from the tractor beam. Narek notes that his signal lock on the ship, or rather on the tracker inside Agnes, is strong.
Raffi is suspicious when the ship is released without warning, but Rios intends to outrun anyone who chases them. Agnes reminds them that Elnor is still on the cube. Rios signals Elnor and tells him it’s time to go.
Now that Hugh has been left alone with the bodies of the slain xBs, Brave Sir Elnor has come out of hiding. He tells Rios to leave without him. He wants to stay behind and stop another xB slaughter.
Dude, you were standing just out of sight during the first one.
Rios agrees to cut Elnor loose so he can continue LARPing on the cube. The cube has many more playmates than La Sirena, which is full of boring grown ups.
Picard and Soji transport (traject?) into the woods on Nepenthe, planet of solace and honey traps. They are met by Kestra, young teen daughter of Deanna and Will, who is out LARPing and hunting. Kestra points an arrow at Picard’s chest. He tells her she’d be better off pointing it at his head, since his heart is made of solid duritanium.
Too bad Elnor missed this, but Soji deserves to be the focus of the visit, after everything she’s been through.
As they walk through the woods, Kestra asks Soji how she knows Picard. Soji says that she doesn’t, she only followed him because he said he knew “the man he called my father.” Soji doesn’t trust anyone.
Note that Picard is referring to Data as Soji’s father, while she hasn’t heard of him yet.
We don’t know who Soji thinks of as her father, if anyone, since his face was blurred in the dream and her mom-AI always answers the phone.
Soji’s Current State of Mind
This is the start of Soji facing her considerable trauma. The show only dealt with it on a superficial level in episode 6, focusing instead on the emotional states of the men who herded her through the episode, Narek and Picard.
Soji was on the move throughout episode 6, with information coming at her faster than she could process it. She only processed her experiences subconsciously, because that’s what her programming forces her to do. Her creator, Bruce Maddox, decided that she and Dahj shouldn’t be self-aware, unlike Data and Lore, who had a different creator. Even after Soji and Dahj each activated, they remained ignorant of their own nature and history.
In the TNG episode Measure of a Man, Bruce Maddox accepted the court’s ruling that Data had rights and left him in peace for the rest of of his life. Years later, he stole Agnes’ idea and the work they’d done together, then created Soji and Dahj without her. He sent Dahj and Soji into dangerous situations in an unaware state, without their consent, setting both up for mindrape and sexual assault.
Soji experienced both in her relationship with Narek. Her used her body and mind. If she’d been aware of her spy mission, the way that Narek and Narissa are, and the way Data was aware of his nature and missions, they wouldn’t have been able to use her the way that they did. Now she has to live with the knowledge that her innocence was used against her and her “parents” set her up to be used. And with the knowledge that Dahj may well have been used in the same way before she was murdered by the same people.
If Soji had known what her mission was, she would have been more effective in her mission, just like other spies. Instead, Maddox let her be used, humiliated and nearly killed, without regard to how that would affect her as a person. If there’s a season 1 villain, it’s Bruce Maddox.
Soji chose to sleep with Narek, even though she knew he was Tal Shiar and she didn’t fully trust him. It may have been part of her programming to seek out a relationship with the Tal Shiar. Without the knowledge of who she herself was and her own importance, she was unable to fully consent. If she was programmed into it, she didn’t consent at all.
Narek’s affair with Soji was sexual assault because he knew who she was, that she couldn’t fully consent, and his ultimate goal was to bring harm to her, yet he slept with her anyway. He used sex as an opportunity to practice mind control techniques on her, such as gaslighting and undermining her.
This was Narek’s job as a spy and he’s good at it. He used the subtle techniques of an abusive relationship to force Soji to question herself, until she couldn’t be sure what was real and what wasn’t anymore. Then he delivered the final blow and told her that she herself was the thing that wasn’t real, even as she was still disoriented from the dream and him telling her his true name. He was hoping she wouldn’t recover from the cognitive and emotional dissonance in time to react to the radiation before it killed her.
Then Picard assumed she’d be programmed to trust him without question, just as Dahj was. He didn’t mean to treat her like an object instead of an individual person, but he did. Between Picard and Narek, she was funneled through episode 6 like Alice going down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.
Now Soji has come out the other side and she’s a different person, but she’s not sure who that is. Picard and Narek both still have more information about her true nature than her, BUT NEITHER HAVE BOTHERED TO SHARE.
This is important to remember right now. Picard has given Soji zero information about anything and arrived when she was in the middle of saving herself. He just showed up out of nowhere and expected her to be grateful that he was there to save her.
Meanwhile, the man Soji was dating assured her over and over that he would help her, then told her he loved her. A few minutes later, he tried to kill her.
She knows that she can’t trust her “parents” either. Their lies led to this disaster.
Soji is understandably not in the mood to be controlled by or trust anyone right now, but she’s most especially not interested in listening to strange men who say they want to help her.
A Note on Jean Luc Picard
I have all the sympathy in the world for Picard in this episode. He’s an elderly man and he’s just accomplished an extraordinary thing, for mostly selfless reasons. He’s exhausted, and deserves the rest and care he gets from Deanna and Will. I wrote extensively about his state of mind, physical condition and previous trauma in my episode 6 recap.
In this recap, it’s Soji’s turn. She didn’t ask Picard to save her and she very well may have been able to save herself, especially with Hugh’s help. Hugh is her friend and he surely would have helped her without Picard’s interference. If it sounds like I’m treating Jean Luc harshly in this recap, it’s partially because I’m looking at the situation from Soji’s perspective.
It’s also because this season is about Jean Luc having a reckoning with his impatient, controlling tendencies and the way they affect those around him. Even Deanna and Will have well-earned words with Jean Luc, as so many of those who knew him in the past have done.
Kestra holds out an old compass that’s probably from Earth, which means it doesn’t work on Nepenthe. She explains that it finds north and she got it from her friend Captain Crandall, who lives at Infinity Lake and is older than Picard.
She asks if Soji believes her so far. Soji asks if Kestra has lied to her yet. Kestra says that she hasn’t, other than wearing a Wild Girl of the Woods costume instead of her regular clothes. Her arrows are real, but she’d never shoot a humanoid, because she’s a pacifist, though she could.
She does, however hunt animals, so they don’t fall under her 24th century pacifist label, which is disappointing.
Soji accepts Kestra’s statements as truth. Kestra tells her the compass is broken. Then she asks Picard who Soji’s father is.
He says it was Data. Kestra turns to Soji to confirm that she’s an android.
When Kestra says the word android, Soji’s world is turned upside down and inside out all over again. Now she understands what Narek meant when he said she wasn’t real.
Picard soon realizes what he’s done and tries to calm Soji the way you might calm a horse. She bats his hands away from her general being. No one wants to be touched by the man who didn’t even think enough of them to directly tell them who they were. He’s literally just revealed her biggest secret to a stranger in casual conversation.
The only way Soji could be treated worse would be to be purposefully tortured. She’s been living under the synth ban and with the hatred of the xBs. She understands the implications of this revelation in a way he surely does not, with his entitled Starfleet/vineyard owner life and romanticization of Data.
Soji just found out that not only is she not “real”, her existence is illegal in the Federation. And Picard just brought her back into the Federation, once again without informed consent.
More helpful dialogue from Picard: “I know it must be very hard. Everything you believed in, your memories, your identity…”
Soji: “My dreams, my body, my parents, my sister, all of it was fake.”
Picard: “No, no, not Dahj. Dahj was real. I am so sorry. Your sister is dead. She was murdered by those people who nearly killed you.”
Soji: “Whatever. None of this is real. Just get on with the mind game.”
She’s softly crying by now, shutting down emotionally and going into survival mode. She walks forward, ahead of the others. Kestra gives Picard a dirty look and runs ahead, calling to her mother and father. They’ve reached the house. Soji looks at the gorgeous, rustic mansion like it’s a mirage in the desert.
Everything has been taken away from Soji. Everything. She’s not dead, but she’s now been stripped bare in an unimaginable way. She’s not even alive in the way we normally understand it. Unlike traumatized characters in previous episodes, including Picard, she hasn’t even come through this ordeal with her life. This is a much deeper existential crisis than surviving torture.
And, moments after discovering this, she has to enter what appears to be a perfect home and life. It must feel like another slap in the face.
Former Enterprise Counselor Deanna Troi comes out of the house and sees Jean Luc. As they hug each other, Deanna uses her empathic abilities to get a read on his condition. She can tell that he’s in trouble and isn’t feeling well. He lets her know that the trouble is bad, but insists he’s feeling fine. He tries to introduce Soji as Dr Soji Asha, but she tells them that she’s just Soji.
Will is inside cooking and listening to jazz, two longtime hobbies of his. He too gives Jean Luc a big hug. As soon as he takes a good look at Jean Luc’s face, he can see that there’s trouble afoot and raises the shields around the house. Jean Luc suggests that he also run anti-cloaking scans. Will says the reason for all the extra security measures is recent trouble with the Kzinti, but he figures out that Picard is on the run from the Romulans.
He reminds Picard of Newton’s Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Maybe we should be worried about the good deeds the Riker-Trois are about to do.
Deanna sends Soji to the shower, then asks Picard why she can’t read Soji even though she appears to be human. Picard doesn’t answer her directly. He does admit that he’s in over his head, having rescued the damsel in distress, but lost his ship and crew in the process. Plus, he now realizes that his plan only went this far and he doesn’t know what to do next.
He’s forgotten that it’s time to gather the team, rehash the mission so far, and ask for options as to as how to proceed. And that his ambitious experts are likely already working on plans of their own. In fact, he gets in a little dig at his new crew instead.
Deanna recognizes that he’s exhausted and needs a long nap, then dinner. Will tells him it’s time to form a new plan. In other words, they each do the jobs they used to do on the Enterprise.
Kestra brings in a
killer rabbit bunnycorn she’s hunted. Deanna checks to make sure she removed the venom sacks while skinning it, so that it’s poison doesn’t kill them when they eat it.
As Deanna prepares to take Picard to their son Thad’s bedroom, they assure him that he can stay with them for as long as he needs.
Soji uses as outdoor shower while Kestra questions her on her superpowers. First she asks about Data’s hobbies- play the violin (no), like Sherlock Holmes (yes). Then more general skills- run really fast, jump super high, bend steel (yes to all). Finally, the more personal comparisons- does she have blood, spit and mucus? Yes. Data didn’t have mucus.
Kestra tells Soji stories about Data, based on the stories she’s heard from her parents. She’s so matter of fact and non threatening about the situation that she helps normalize it for Soji, but that also makes it more real. These people loved Data, but he’s gone, and Soji will never know him. Neither she nor they know how she was made from him.
Soji thought she’d lived a life with a family, but actually she’s only three years old. She doesn’t know if any of her memories are real, other than the last few weeks, when Narek was lying to her in order to use her, then murder her, and Ramdha told her she’s the Destroyer. Every answer she gets serves to make her feel more lost and alone. She lies on her bed and silently cries. This is the first chance she’s had to let everything sink in.
Kestra tries to comfort her. Soji explains that she was still hoping she was human until Kestra said she’s an android.
Deanna and Jean Luc look at old photos of the captain with young Thad and discuss Thad’s talent for making up languages and cultures. It turns out that Thad died several years ago, but Deanna and Will have left his room exactly as it was when he was alive. He would have turned 18 just last week. His memory is still painful for the whole family.
Jean Luc tries to continue the conversation, but Deanna abruptly changes the topic and tells Jean Luc again that he can stay as long as he likes. He promises to leave as soon as he figures out where he going next. He doesn’t want to put the family in danger. Deanna gets teary and explains that she can’t bear the thought of anything happening to Kestra,
her only remaining child because she’s not as brave as she used to be.
Over on La Sirena, the crew has discovered that someone is following them, staying just at or beyond the limits of the ship’s scanners. They assume, correctly, that it’s a Romulan who’s been with them since they left the Artifact. It’s Narek, in his little snakehead scoutship, with “double subthrusters, massive firepower for their size,” according to Rios.
They attempt to shake the scoutship by making a backwards jump, figuring Narek will be way beyond them before he figures out he’s lost them. Rios lays out an alternate course for Nepenthe.
And now, it’s time for a patented Dr Agnes Jurati melt down.
Agnes: “I’m sorry, I want to be the fun crew member who says, “Let’s hide in that comet,” and it turns out to be a giant gormagander or something, but, can I ask a maybe dumb question? Do you guys actually want to go to Nepenthe?”
Abandoning Picard and Soji? Not fun. Which Raffi explains. Agnes starts to walk away in a snit.
Raffi: “Wow. I remember you the night we left Earth, standing there in your cute little blue coat, so excited about going out into space and meeting a real live sentient synth like you’ve always dreamed of. But it seems like the closer we get to finding her, the less you want to be there.”
I knew there was some chemistry happening between Raffi and Agnes in that first scene. If it’s not canon that Raffi’s bisexual, I will be very disappointed.
Agnes just really, really wants to go home, right now. “Somebody else can find that f—ing synth! Why does it have to be me?”
Rios: “I got a paying client Agnes. You just came along for the ride.”
Raffi: “And now, you come along for the ride with Auntie Raffi. She’s gonna hook you up with whatever you need.”
Agnes: “Is it cake?”
Raffi: “You bet it’s cake.”
Agnes the human tracking device knows they aren’t going to lose their tail anytime soon and was, after all, coerced into doing this after Oh showed her whatever that was in the mind meld.
Back to the Troi-Rikers, where Will asks Picard what’s going on, but Picard refuses to tell him. He doesn’t want to involve Will and his family any further in his problems. Will drily says that it would be great if ignorance of danger was enough to save people from it.
Picard tries to backpedal. Will ignores him and talks about the native basil that grows everywhere on the planet. He says that everything grows easily there, because of the soil’s regenerative powers. It’s what brought them to the planet.
Kestra and Soji come outside, speaking Viveen fluently to each other. Will is impressed, since it’s one of the languages their son Thad made up. Soji read through the 300 page dictionary in 2 minutes and memorized the entire language.
Soji looks over at Will’s pizza fixings and tilts her head in a way that’s a mirror image of Data. Things begin to make more sense in Will’s mind. He introduces himself to Soji, then sends the girls inside for more tomatoes.
Will tells Picard that he’s going to try guessing what’s going on. Picard doesn’t have to say anything. He guesses that Soji is Data’s daughter and on the run from the Tal Shiar.
Then he lets Picard have it for his “classic Picard arrogance”, which he should have left on the bridge of his starship. He says that Picard’s need to control everyone won’t work with a young person like Soji. Will isn’t sure Picard is up for the humbling experience of dealing with a teenager. Picard isn’t sure he’s up for it either, which Will takes as a good sign.
Deanna shows Soji the real tomatoes she grows in her garden. Soji has never had food that didn’t come from a replicator. Deanna tells her to try a tomato. Soji thinks it tastes real, and “real is so much better.”
Deanna sends Kestra inside using Harpanthi, another of Thad’s languages. He invented 12 altogether, including Pahplah, the language of butterflies, a sign language which uses wingbeats instead of words.
Deanna tells Soji Thad’s story. He was born and spent the first several years of his life on starships. He was fascinated by the idea of a homeworld and created a fantasy homeworld of his own, Ardani. When he became ill and they moved to Nepenthe, it became his homeworld.
He had mandaxic neurosclerosis, a rare silicon-based virus. It’s curable, but the cure requires culturing the infected cells in an active positronic matrix. Thad got sick after the synth ban, so there were no active positronic matrices and no one was allowed to develop new ones.
Deanna: “So you see, Soji, real isn’t always better.”
Soji opens up to Deanna about what happened between her and Narek and how it’s left her unable to trust anyone. She talks about her false memories and how now she can’t be sure anything is real. She can’t be sure what’s happening now is real and consequently, the way that Deanna and Will have taken her in, when they don’t even know her, makes her trust them less.
Deanna listens sympathetically as Soji speaks. But Picard interrupts her and mocks her for doubting the intentions of people who are being so welcoming to her. He can’t imagine why she would think someone would create such an elaborate plot. Except she just went through a much more elaborate plot.
He’s probably feeling embarrassed that Soji doesn’t trust his old friends. He hasn’t even tried to speak to her yet, but he’s ready to judge her trauma and reactions to it.
When she tries to walk away, he blocks her path. She roughly shoves him out of the way.
Riker chastises her as Picard chuckles and says that she could have broken him in half. Deanna gets up and tells Picard that he had it coming.
She asks if Picard has any idea of what Soji has been through, or if he’s just been a jerk to her since he picked her up, the way he just was? Then she lets Picard and Riker have it. Since both have been through trauma themselves, they ought to be able to understand that Soji is going through a difficult time. Staying with people who are strangers to her only makes it harder.
I have a feeling that Deanna often wanted to give them similar lectures on the Enterprise, but couldn’t because of her lower rank. She only stops because the pizza starts burning, representative of the smoke coming out of her ears.
Deanna relents, and tells Picard he needs to be compassionate, patient and curious with Soji. He adds- useful. Deanna tells him they’ll pretend that the dinner table is the ready room of the Enterprise and figure out their next move.
Will yells to them that it was only the tomato that burned. The symbol of what’s real just went up in smoke. A sign that things aren’t what they seem at the Troi-Rikers’.
Meanwhile, back on the Artifact, Narissa’s slaughter of the innocent xBs was the last straw for Hugh. He and Elnor are on their way back to the queen’s cell, where Hugh intends to use Borg weaponry to take control of the cube away from the Romulans. He promised to protect and defend the xBs and Narissa has made that impossible with the Romulans in charge.
No sooner has Hugh spoken than Narissa appears from the shadows, where she was waiting to hear just those words. Having provoked him into open rebellion, which is a violation of the Romulan-Federation treaty, she’s now allowed to kill him.
Elnor steps in front of Hugh. Duels are his department. He says, “Please friends, choose to live.” But he says it in Romulan this time. Narissa accepts his challenge, but admits that this wasn’t what she was expecting.
Elnor takes out Narissa’s guards. She puts away her disruptor and says, “This is not how Zhat Vash fight Qowat Milat. If that’s what you are.”
He’s the first male Qowat Milat, so her confusion is warranted. This the first time we’ve heard anyone say out loud that they’re Zhat Vash. Narissa must be sure that she’ll kill Hugh and Elnor. The fact that there’s a standard procedure for Qowat Milat-Zhat Vash duels suggests that they are mortal enemies.
Elnor puts his sword away and they have a brief hand to hand fight before Narissa pulls out knives. She points one at Elnor’s face while throwing another into Hugh’s jugular vein in his neck. Elnor runs to Hugh. Narissa prepares to fire her disruptor, but Elnor pulls the knife out of Hugh’s neck and throws it at her. She transports away as it embeds itself in a wall.
Hugh bleeds out as he gives Elnor instructions to find an xB to activate the queen’s cell, so that the hope he’s felt momentarily wasn’t in vain. Then he dies, in extreme close up.
This is so not okay.
A giant slice of cake materializes in extreme close up on La Sirena.
The odd tonal shifts on this show continue.
Raffi brings the cake to Agnes, along with chocolate milk. This is her third slice of comfort cake. Agnes tells Raffi she’s a good person. Raffi says she’s the wreckage of a good person. In an emergency she can scrape together enough pieces to temporarily create a good person, but it won’t hold for long.
Agnes bursts into tears. Raffi asks if she’s crying over Chris. Agnes settles for a moment and emphatically tells Raffi that Chris is not the problem.
Good to know that she has no regrets about their tryst.
Raffi realizes that Bruce Maddox must be the problem. She guesses that it must have been hard to see him, then lose him again so quickly. Agnes doesn’t say anything.
Raffi was right about both men, just not in the way she thought. It’s hard for Agnes to lie to Chris and Raffi about the tracker and it was hard to murder Bruce. Agnes is a bundle of guilt.
Chris rushes to the back end of the ship, interrupting their conversation, to tell them that Narek is back. Agnes vomits up red velvet cake, which Chris mistakes for blood. Raffi calls on the Emergency Hospitality Hologram.
Agnes vomited up red, the color of blood, which is what makes you real. I’m putting that in the “possible hints that Agnes is a synth” column, but it’s probably just another sign that she’s lying.
It’s dinnertime at the Troi-Rikers. Guests get an extra slice of firebaked pizza. Picard is obsessing about the lack of contact from Rios, even though he left the crew in a mess they had to escape from and then Nepenthe was a few days away.
He decides that it’s time to make preparations to ditch Rios and find another ship. Will and Deanna tell him there’s weekly passenger service out of Infinity Lake Spaceport, but they rarely get independent ships. Kestra brings up Captain Rupert Crandall again, saying that he’s been everywhere and he has a broken down ship, the Inside Straight. Deanna and Will both sternly cast doubt on Crandall’s reputation.
Will asks where Picard and Soji intend to go. Soji says she wants to search for her home planet. She tells them a little about Narek’s attempts to gain information from her. Picard, Will and Deanna work to convince her that she can trust them. Finally, Picard tells her that she’s given him a mission, a new reason to live when he had none.
That convinces her to talk. It’s meant to be a heartwarming moment, but there’s no reason that Picard calling her his mission should positively affect her feelings of safety. Narek made her his mission, too. The dinner table looks like Narek’s meditation room. She should be ready to bolt at any moment, not trust them because they smiled and were nice to her.
Soji tells them about her dream of the two red moons and the lightning storms. They make the same assumption that Narek did, that the moons circle Soji’s homeworld. Will suggests that Picard contact Starfleet for backup, since the Romulans will already be on their way to the planet. Kestra texts Crandall, who quickly identifies the planet. “It’s in the Vayt sector. The Ghulion system. The planet doesn’t have a name, only a number.”
They all smile at how wonderfully this has worked out.
Except for that stupid, stupid idea of calling in Starfleet to help.
They just don’t get it, even after everything. Even if Starfleet would help, which they won’t, this has to be an off the books operation, because the synths are illegal lifeforms. Best case scenario, Starfleet puts Soji in the drawer next to B4. Worst case, they destroy her on sight.
These people are terrible at being on the run.
Chris brings Agnes down to sick bay so that he can talk to her alone. He’s worried that somebody placed a tracker on Raffi while she was on Freecloud. He thinks the way she said goodbye to them, then returned to the ship, is suspicious. Agnes starts to confess that she’s the one with the tracker, but he doesn’t think that’s possible, because she hasn’t left the ship since they left Earth. Before she can say more, Raffi yells to him that Narek is back, so he returns to the bridge. He gives her a long look in the eye before he leaves.
Agnes is left alone with the guilt, which is now eating her up inside. She goes to the replicator and synthesizes uranium hydride, which the computer says might have neurotoxic effects, depending on the species. She steels herself, then injects the uranium into her neck. Within a second she collapses and seizes due to its effects. The poor EMH pops up to treat her.
The uranium must have had an immediate effect on the tracker, because Narek loses the signal. He yells a Romulan profanity, “Qazh!”
Rios sits down on the bridge and tells Raffi he has an idea about losing Narek that she’s not going to like. She’s saved from whatever he’s going to try by the EMH telling him that Agnes is in a coma.
Elnor finds a spot to hide in the cube. He huddles on the floor and notices one of Seven’s Fenris Ranger SOS cards hanging next to his head, so he activates it.
Let’s just accept that when you are Elnor, these things just happen to you. Maybe that was the queen’s cell, even though Hugh said he needed an xB to get him in. Maybe Picard dropped the card in just the right spot.
Picard has finally heard from Rios that La Sirena is on the way, but complains to Will about his new motley crew and their baggage. He asks if Will ever considers going back to active duty. Will is still in the reserves, but would only go for a very good reason.
They sit on Will’s dock next to a lake and it’s clear that Will is happy with his life. He doesn’t feel the same restlessness that Picard felt at the vineyard. He tells Picard that no one would blame him for permanently retiring. But then he says that he was surprised when Picard retired the last time. Picard thanks Will for not trying to talk him out of this mission.
While Soji sleeps, Kestra draws her. Once Soji wakes up, they say they’ll miss each other. Kestra says that when something bad happened to her, she got through it because of her parents. She suggests that Soji could let Picard help her through the bad things that have happened.
Everyone hugs goodbye. Kestra gives Soji the compass, saying that she just has to pretend it works. Picard and Soji beam up to La Sirena and the Troi-Rikers go back to their lives.
Glad to see they finally remembered Picard’s artificial heart.
Biggest takeaway from the episode: We all need to hire Laris to sweep our homes, devices, cars and lives for surveillance opportunities. Picard was crazy not to bring her with him as his bodyguard and security chief.
2nd biggest takeaway: We all need Deanna Troi, Will Riker and their pizza oven to come live with us. Wait- that was a huge house. We’re moving in with them on Nepenthe. Somebody get a message to Captain Crandall that we need him to come pick us up, after he swings by Chateau Picard to get Laris and Zhaban.
This would be Retirement Scenario #2. Everybody goes to Nepenthe and lives happily ever after growing their own food. Raffi and Agnes start a wellness spa with Deanna and Will. Rios gives Crandall a run for his money as an independent operator, but the spa is fabulously successful, so there’s enough business for everyone. Both businesses are able to create franchises all over the planet and employ all of their friends and relations for generations to come. Soji and Kestra have a successful side company doing research on curing rare diseases. They let Picard think he’s in charge while ignoring most of his orders. Zani and the Qowat Milat set up a convent on Nepenthe with a rival spa, but there’s enough wellness for everyone. Picard lives to be 200, happily grumbling at everyone about the good old days.
Picard Is Not Your Grandfather
Kestra doesn’t know Picard very well if she thinks he’s going to patiently talk someone through their huge life problems. He’ll happily rescue you, provide a place of refuge and hire whatever help you need, but he’s not a counselor. He sets up a situation then moves on to the next big thing. His role in Soji’s life is likely to help her find her place in the universe.
Picard thought the TNG staff he worked with for decades were baggage-free because they knew to insulate him from their personal problems whenever possible. He didn’t even play in the officers’ poker game.
That crew consisted of a unique android searching for his humanity; a blind man dealing with his disability; a widow raising her gifted son alone; a gifted boy who’d tragically lost his father; a mixed race empath from a difficult family situation who’d been in a previous relationship with the first officer; said first officer, who had a knack for finding trouble; and an orphaned Klingon who’d been raised by humans who was also a single parent. That sounds like baggage to me.
On this trip, Picard has had a tendency to leave a trail of bodies and newly traumatized people behind him, as if he’s an Avenger. That and all of the near miss foreshadowing in this episode (the arrow pointed at Picard’s heart, the fire in the pizza oven, flames over Will as viewed from inside the oven, eating the venomous bunny, fear of losing another child, etc) have me worried that the Romulans will find the Troi-Rikers. While they can defend themselves, they might end up losing their happy, peaceful sanctuary, which holds the memories of their son.
Some Thoughts on Color and Symbolism
There is an odd connection between life, death, food, red, fire, rebellion and the right to live that I haven’t quite figured out yet. The Romulans’ color is green, like their blood, which also signifies racism, slavery, the Artifact and the xBs. Agnes, Oh and the tracking device have been signified by blue. Deanna also wore blue in this episode, the traditional color for science officers in Starfleet.
Fire was featured in the Chateau Picard fireplaces, at the Troi-Riker dinner table, in Will’s pizza oven and during Narek and Soji’s meditation ritual- two times that Soji felt safe; the ancestral home protected by Tal Shiar and Jean Luc; and the hearth of a very protective father/son figure. Make of that what you will.
I think fire= the home fires burning. One of this season’s themes is home and family.
Fire was also featured in the explosions in the mind meld, including a homeworld exploding, so the existential threat that the Zhat Vash are afraid of might have something to do with the loss of home and family, a loss that’s even more devastating than the loss of their homeworlds in the supernova.
Maybe home is where the heart is, not where the home fires burn. Yet we had two artificial hearts in this episode, the one beating in Picard’s chest and the one carrying the tracker that Oh gave to Agnes. Agnes and Picard have both lost the people they were closest to, Bruce and Data, perhaps signifying that they’ve lost their hearts/heart/will to go on and directions in life. In which case, maybe they need to follow Soji, who was given a compass by Kestra, the Wild Girl of the Real Woods.
Dreams and Mind Games Are Ongoing Themes
The season started with Picard’s dream of Data holding a poker hand which included an impossible 5 queens, possibly 5 Borg queens, but they were all the queen of hearts, and he showed them just as the red planet Mars was destroyed, so we come back to that connection between red, fire, life and death. Add queens, homes, hearts and minds to the list. Soji’s dream is a key plot point. We’ve also seen into the mind in other unusual ways- hallucinations, a mind meld, traumatic flashbacks.
Then there are the ways that others are constantly messing with people’s minds, from lies and gaslighting to the elaborate con jobs of Bejayzl and the Zhat Vash and the complete mind control of the Borg.
This season is playing with both the idea of different ways of seeing and processing information and the possibility that our minds could be playing tricks on us. Memories have turned out to be false, dreams and hallucinations aren’t real, then maybe they are, drugs alter sensory perceptions.
As Soji said, how do we ever know that anything is real? What are the criteria to determine that one thing is real and another isn’t? Can we ever be sure? Or do we simply pick the lie we prefer?
How Dare You: Hugh Can’t Be Gone for Good
Hugh wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the xBs are the most hated species in the galaxy. We’ve already been shown that there’s a thriving black market trade in Borg technology. It was implied that the Federation does little to stop the murder of xBs which supplies the trade. It was up to Seven to retaliate for the murder of Icheb, a Starfleet officer, and to shut down the crime ring which was responsible. Can you imagine Kirk’s response if Chekov or Sulu had been murdered for their organs? Where was Starfleet?
Ideally the Artifact’s xBs would be returned to their families and homeworlds, but the Federation didn’t even make saving them from enslavement part of its Artifact treaty with the Romulans. The xBs are the equivalent of kidnap victims and prisoners of war who were put into forced labor camps, then rescued by an enemy, the Romulans, who hated them more than their kidnappers. Their condition as Borg drones isn’t even the result of brainwashing or Stockholm Syndrome. Borg drones have no choice but to comply.
Hugh appeared to be dead or close to it the last time we saw him, but Seven of Nine has brought characters back from the dead before using Borg technology (Voyager episode Mortal Coil), so there’s still hope for him. On Voyager she said that Borg drones can be brought back to life up to 73 hours after death.
I do wish that Elnor hadn’t abandoned his body, though. Hopefully some xBs have it.
The Impossible Box Continues
There are still many puzzles here, but the first one to keep in mind is that Bruce Maddox claimed the Tal Shiar had destroyed his lab, yet the Tal Shiar/Zhat Vash on the Artifact are going to great lengths to find that very same lab. Bruce Maddox went into hiding 14 years ago and created something no one thought was possible during a time when it shouldn’t have been possible. He’s the greatest puzzlemaker in this series, and I’m willing to bet there are puzzles and traps within Soji to protect him and his work.
Narek went from having full authority in the cube to following the La Sirena in a tiny scoutship. He’s now trapped in an impossible box and continues to fidget with a Romulan puzzle as he flies. His character is similar to one of Marvel’s Black Widow spies. It’s implied that he’s been in training since he was a child and has never known any other life or way of thinking. He’s also studied synths and waited for Soji for his entire life. I think some of his feelings for her were real- he was fascinated by her, by how real she was, and could barely bring himself to give her up. Her way of thinking challenged his in the way you want your life partner to challenge your thinking.
Now that Narek is alone, instead of surrounded by the Zhat Vash/Romulan machine, how will he respond? We’ve seen how Picard is affected by being without Starfleet to back him up. Narek is another side to that story. So is Elnor without the Qowat Milat. And Soji without her preprogrammed identity.
What do you do when you lose everything you thought you needed? An impossible box can keep you safe while you’re inside.
Meanwhile, Agnes is also trapped in a box, the La Sirena, and is a box for the tracker. She uses another box, the replicator, to find a way out. The mind meld took away the box she’s lived in for her entire life and left her free floating in empty space, that cold, dark place that wants to kill you.
Soji and Picard have escaped boxes and are in the open on the planet Nepenthe- or are they? The planet is named for two different kinds of traps. Will trusting these people ultimately turn out to be a trap for Soji, once they learn what Agnes learned in the mind meld? Soji points out that the openness of the planet is just empty space for her, more of the void she feels inside.
The house could be just another impossible box. It’s a box that means safety for Picard and the Troi-Rikers.
One thing that’s puzzling me is the pristine condition of Thad’s room. None of those papers were aged. It looked like Thad had left his room minutes before, not years.
Did he? Did they find a way to save Thad on Nepenthe, possibly one that was illegal, and so they kept it secret from the Admiral, who was in Romulan space and couldn’t be told easily? They might continue to keep the secret because of his brain illness and deterioration and the way he occasionally becomes a stickler for the rules, unless he’s the one who’s breaking them.
When Deanna and Will picked up his and Soji’s arrival on the house’s sensors, they might have sent Thad to stay with Captain Crandall and sent Kestra out to slow Picard down while they did so and prepared the house. That would explain why Will and Deanna were so intent on steering Picard away from any contact with Crandall.
I find it hard to believe that Will and Deanna wouldn’t have pulled every string available to them to save their son. Maybe they found someone to build an illegal positronic matrix or maybe they used an illegal experimental drug. People will try anything when their child’s life is at stake.
Thad created a language spoken by butterflies. Did he transform in some way on Nepenthe? Maybe he’s been in hiding in the impossible box that is Nepenthe, using it as his cocoon. Now that he’s turned 18, they might plan to get false papers for him, so that he can live openly again.
The Three Musketeers or Another Story?
Agnes, Raffi and Chris became the Three Musketeers (the novel Picard read to Elnor on Vashti in episode 4) in this episode, alone on the ship. Agnes is Athos, the tragic former aristocrat who had to kill her former lover. In the Three Musketeers, Athos’ wife fakes her death and comes back as a villain, so the theory that the Bruce Maddox we met was a synth may well be correct. Raffi is Porthos, friendly and fun-loving with connections everywhere. And Rios is Aramis, the big-hearted deep-thinker with a love of strategy and women.
Elnor and Picard decided not to play out The Three Musketeers after all. Elnor went to play Lord of the Rings on the Artifact, casting himself as Legolas to Hugh’s Gimli. He’s a well-trained but very inexperienced elf, so he had to call Seven at the end. Hopefully she’ll play Gandalf the Wizard and bring Hugh back. Then maybe she’ll take on Elnor as her apprentice and teach him the ropes of being an itinerant warrior.
Picard just wants to return to the Star Trek role he originated, with his own familiar crew. Deanna and Will did what they could for him, but their story has moved on, just like his. Soji doesn’t know what her truth is, never mind what archetype she might choose to follow. Picard and Soji need to accept that they aren’t who they used to be and figure out what their story is now.
The Romulans have cast Soji as the ultimate villain and convinced the Federation to go along with it by banning synths. Oh showed Agnes horror and destruction, but we haven’t been given any context for it yet. I have a suspicion that the Zhat Vash don’t fully understand their prophecy either. Those images are so intense that they don’t lend themselves to careful analysis and they come from a distant time, so the original meaning may have been lost. Without Ramdha or someone like her to explain the details to the audience, I remain skeptical.
If we may return to the musketeers, Picard is the Treville of the story, the wise but long suffering captain of the guards. He tried to cast Elnor as D’Artagnan rescuing Soji, but Soji was already rescuing herself. She’s not a human woman like Constance was in the novel. She may be Queen Anne, she may be Cardinal Richelieu or she may be D’Artagnan, while Elnor and Seven go off to star in a show about the Fenris Rangers.
Narissa is the evil Comte de Rochefort, taking too much pleasure in sadistic work, whether or not she ends up fighting on the side of right in the end.
Images courtesy of CBS AllAccess.