Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Kayshon, His Eyes Open was a great episode. It’s only the second episode of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to look back in a few weeks and say it was the best – or one of the best – offerings in all of Season 2. Both of its storylines worked exceptionally well, even though they were wholly separate. There were plenty of jokes, humorous situations, and comic moments, there was great interplay between different characters, including some new characters we didn’t know, and the episode resolved the Boimler situation in a way that was completely unexpected.
The episode opened with a scene that was simultaneously funny and interesting – and which set up the character conflict between Mariner and Jet. Though the comic situation with Mariner and Jet turning up the sonic shower was funny, it was also interesting to see the inside of a sonic shower. This is a technology that has been mentioned on dozens of occasions in Star Trek – going all the way back as far as The Motion Picture – but this is perhaps our best look at a sonic shower so far. It was also our first look at communal sonic showers (at least as far as I can recall) and it was interesting to note that junior officers and “lower deckers” are expected to use these kinds of facilities. This communal shower is something we would almost certainly find aboard ships like the USS Defiant – though past iterations of the franchise seem to imply that ships like the Enterprise-D and USS Voyager have individual sonic showers in their crew quarters. I couldn’t tell if Mariner and Jet were turning up the heat or the frequency of the sonic waves, though!
I neglected to mention this last time, but there has been a significant change to the show’s title sequence. The battle that the USS Cerritos retreats from now features Klingon and Pakled ships alongside Borg and Romulans. It isn’t clear who’s fighting who – the Pakleds and the Romulans seem to be firing at each other, with the Borg firing at everyone! A very confused battle, that’s for sure. The Pakled ships use the same design as the craft the Cerritos and Titan battled in the Season 1 finale.
After the title sequence we jump into the main thrust of the plot featuring Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi. On this side of the story there was only one part that I felt was a bit of a flop: Captain Freeman’s command evaluation. It didn’t really do anything for her character, and seemed to be present as a minor storyline only to provide an excuse for Freeman not checking in with the away team. However, I feel that the episode could’ve proceeded just fine without this unnecessary explanation, and reallocating the minute or two this took up to either the Boimler or Mariner-led stories would’ve been fine too. It’s nice to spend time with the senior staff as well as the ensigns, but on this occasion it was such a minor point that it could’ve been skipped and the episode would’ve been no worse for it.
The Cerritos being assigned to catalogue a collection of artefacts was a fantastic way for the episode to drop in a huge number of references to past iterations of Star Trek. Most of these played no role whatsoever in the story, but it was so much fun to try to spot all of the things in this collection. There were some contemporary references too – a vehicle that resembled the Curiosity or Perseverance rovers currently on Mars, as well as what looked like a fidget spinner (remember those?)
The titular Kayshon is, as the trailers had already established, a Tamarian. First encountered in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Darmok, the Tamarians were a race that the Federation had previously found it difficult to communicate with due to their peculiar language. Tamarians spoke entirely through metaphors, and without crucial context it was impossible for the universal translator to communicate meaning – even though it could translate many words in a literal sense. However, it seems that by the early 2380s (when Lower Decks is set) that limitation has been largely overcome!
One great thing about Lower Decks is how the show looks at the aftermath of some past Star Trek stories. In Season 1 we had the return of Landru, as the crew of the Cerritos returned to Beta III decades after Captain Kirk’s mission there. In this case, we get a much more positive portrayal of Starfleet and their actions. In the aftermath of the events depicted in Darmok, the Federation and the Tamarians evidently found ways to work together to overcome the language barrier, allowing at least one Tamarian to serve in Starfleet.
Kayshon himself didn’t get a lot of screen time, as he was turned into a puppet by the collector’s automated defence system. This was pretty random, but it was necessary to keep him out of the way in order for the Mariner-versus-Jet storyline to play out. I’m not sure if Kayshon is set to be a recurring character or not, but if so it would be nice to learn more about the Tamarians.
I won’t go over every item I spotted in the collection, but there were definitely some fun ones. There were multiple references to The Next Generation in particular, with items from episodes like The Pegasus, The Battle, and The Royale. Khan’s amulet/pendant was also displayed prominently, as were crates of Château Picard wine – a reference to the Picard family vineyard most recently seen in Star Trek: Picard.
Kahless’ “fornication helmet” was one of the most random, funny items in the whole collection, and became a minor plot point later in the episode. Dissecting a joke ruins it, of course, but this one is multi-layered for Trekkies and it works so well. Past iterations of the franchise have established that Klingon “love-making” is particularly aggressive and physically taxing, so the idea that some ancient Klingons might’ve worn helmets doesn’t come from nowhere. Gosh this is awkward to write about – I’m asexual, so any discussion of such topics is difficult!
The main thrust of the plot on this side of the episode was Mariner and Jet’s inability to work together. Both wanted to take the lead and assume command after Kayshon became incapacitated, but they have opposite styles of leadership that simply do not gel. Both characters want to be assertive, yet both realise that in doing so – and in competing with one another – they made mistakes that led to the situation becoming worse.
Some of this was a little on-the-nose; we didn’t need to hear the two characters say everything out loud to understand what was going on. But in a twenty-minute animated episode that was pressed for time, perhaps such things are to be expected! Regardless, none of the exposition from Jet or Mariner as they called each other out, and came to realise their mistakes, detracted from the story. It was still a solid character piece for them both.
Mariner in particular is our protagonist and our heroine, so naturally we’re more invested in her than we are in Jet. Mariner’s lines at this point in the story, recognising her own mistakes and perhaps more importantly, recognising why she had made those mistakes, feels right in line with her growth across Season 1. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Mariner’s Season 1 character arc has been one of the best things about Lower Decks, and I stand by that. The way she was able to recognise her own error here, and then throw the decision-making to Rutherford and Tendi, was great to see. Mariner appears to have solidified the better parts of that character arc from last time, and any fears I might’ve had of a regression or resetting of her character have proven to be unfounded.
Tendi and Rutherford are able to put their heads together and figure out an escape plan that neither Mariner nor Jet were able to, and while the situation aboard the collector’s ship was left unresolved (they abandoned ship with the defence system still online) the character story between Jet and Mariner worked exceptionally well.
Before we get into Boimler’s story I want to just look briefly at Rutherford and Tendi. Last time, their B-plot was very rushed and unfortunately didn’t work all that well. This time they were secondary players in a Mariner-centric story, which is fine. But I stand by what I said recently – Rutherford’s implant/memory loss storyline has been a waste of a good concept.
For whatever reason, Lower Decks appears to have shelved Rutherford’s memory loss, which was one of the final reveals at the end of Season 1. By the end of the last episode he was basically back to normal, his friendships with Mariner and Tendi having been re-established off-screen. There was an opportunity to play the memory loss thing straight, or to take a comedic look at it. There was also an opportunity to change up Rutherford altogether, perhaps by giving him different cybernetic implants that could do different things – or at least look a little different. As it is, the memory loss story that was set up at the end of Season 1 just didn’t go anywhere. It may yet play a role in a future episode, but if so it will be limited in scope to a single story rather than being a part of Rutherford’s character across the season. I’m left wondering why Lower Decks bothered to tee up something and then not follow it through.
Aboard the USS Titan, Boimler is doing his best. We saw him seemingly struggling in the trailers for Season 2, as well as at the tail end of last episode, but despite the way it may have looked, he does seem to be settling in as well as someone with his anxieties and neuroses possibly could. There has always been a little of Reg Barclay in the way Boimler is portrayed, and we definitely saw elements of that with him on this occasion, particularly the oblivious way he wrote down everything Riker was saying in the conference room.
Speaking of Riker, it was great to welcome Jonathan Frakes back to the role once more. We’d known he was coming back, of course, but having an entire Titan-focused storyline was great. It was a bit of a shame not to have Troi alongside him, but perhaps there wouldn’t have been enough time to give both of them enough to do to make it worthwhile.
The three members of the Titan’s senior staff that Boimler teamed up with for the away mission felt pretty bland at first, but when they were cornered by the Pakleds in the mine they came into their own. Boimler stood up for himself, telling them that he didn’t join Starfleet to fight and get killed, and seeing him say that they each shared their own reasons for joining up as well. Though we’re unlikely to see any of these characters again, I liked that this moment gave each of them a bit more personality – as well as showing off Boimler’s love of Starfleet once again.
The episode didn’t entirely conclude the Pakled threat, though. I wonder if we’ll find out more about their mysterious benefactor, the one Riker believed is orchestrating their attacks on Federation targets. This could be something that runs in the background all season, or it could be explored in-depth in another episode. In a way I’d like to see the Pakled situation resolved, though in light of Boimler’s hilarious line at the end of the episode about “serialised” stories and characters – a reference to the way other modern Star Trek series tell their stories – perhaps it won’t happen!
The away mission to the mine was a fun jaunt, and I think we really got to see Boimler at his best. He can be timid and anxious much of the time, but when pushed into a corner Boimler is willing to stand up for himself and for Starfleet, and we saw him do so here. Not only that, but his in-depth knowledge of past Starfleet missions allowed him to step up and save the away team.
One of the most interesting things going into Season 2 was the question of Boimler’s status on the Titan. I had a few theories about how and why he might get bumped back to the Cerritos, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted the direction Lower Decks would go in this regard! The Next Generation Season 6 episode Second Chances introduced Thomas Riker – a transporter-created clone of William Riker. Thomas would later be captured by the Cardassians after defecting to the Maquis, and his fate after that is unknown. To recreate that storyline for Boimler was so unexpected, but it worked wonderfully.
We can certainly nitpick it and argue that demoting one of the Boimlers after he’d saved the lives of the away team is unfair, but this was Lower Decks pushing him back to the Cerritos to allow the rest of the season to pan out, so I think we can overlook that. The transporter duplicate situation was such a random occurrence, yet it was one which harkened back to Star Trek’s past – and I love it. It worked brilliantly, being utterly unpredictable and allowing Boimler to return to the Cerritos with his head held high. He didn’t fail, he wasn’t booted off the ship, and he didn’t need to ask for a demotion after feeling overwhelmed. Circumstances simply got in the way, and I think for Boimler as a character, and for his self-esteem in particular, those are good things.
The second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, gave me “evil twin” vibes. He certainly seems a lot more confident and outgoing than “our” Boimler, and I can’t help but wonder if Lower Decks is setting up a future villain. Will a future episode revolve around a Boimler-versus-Boimler battle? We’ll have to wait and see!
Speaking of creating villains, Jet seemed very angry at being spurned by Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford at the episode’s end. There was a moment where his face was in the centre of the frame as he walked away where I was thinking that we’d just witnessed the creation of another villain. I won’t be surprised to see him come back in a much more antagonistic role later in the season, so watch this space.
So that was Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Definitely the high point of the season so far, and one of the best episodes that the series has yet produced. There were a lot of references to Star Trek’s past, several of which played significant roles in the story. The two principle characters featured – Mariner and Boimler – stayed true to their growth and arcs from Season 1, making them both feel like fully-rounded protagonists.
The animation, as always, was fantastic. Lower Decks has a great visual style, and seeing the different colour palettes used for the Cerritos and Titan makes for a wonderful contrast between different 24th Century aesthetics. The Cerritos is very much in the style of the Enterprise-D, whereas the Titan has a distinctive Enterprise-E/Sovereign class feel throughout. The contrast works incredibly well, and having two stories set on the two different ships really played this up on this occasion.
Several of the secondary or guest characters worked really well this week too. Obviously Jet played off exceptionally against Mariner, but also we had Boimler’s away team colleagues who, despite seeming pretty one-dimensional at first, soon came into their own.
Overall, I had a great time with this week’s episode. It’s set a high bar for the rest of Season 2, and I hope that the series can continue to rise to the occasion!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
For reasons that still aren’t crystal clear over thirty years later, Gates McFadden was dropped after Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr Crusher had been a mainstay of the show’s first season, going a long way to humanising the otherwise stoic Captain Picard, as well as bringing a family dynamic to the series. Her absence in Season 2 was an obstacle for the show to overcome, and to replace her, Gene Roddenberry and the creative team introduced a new character: Dr Katherine Pulaski.
I have to hold up my hands and admit to being a fan of Dr Pulaski. There are certainly elements to her characterisation that worked less well, and we’ll look at those in a moment, but on the whole I felt her inclusion in the series took The Next Generation to different places, places it wouldn’t have been able to reach without her. That’s my own bias coming into play as we delve into her character today.
The intention behind Dr Pulaski’s introduction was to shake up The Next Generation. Across the show’s first season there hadn’t been much interpersonal drama between the main characters – something that was a marked change from The Original Series. In Star Trek’s first incarnation, the “frenemy” relationship between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular was a source of both drama and humour, and it seems clear to me that The Next Generation lacked that in Season 1, and that Dr Pulaski was created to try to bring that element back to Star Trek.
When I think about Dr Crusher, with the possible exception of her role in the two-part episode Descent, I wouldn’t use the terms “strong” or “forceful” to describe her personality. She’s a reasonably quiet, slightly soft-spoken character, clearly very compassionate but also quite agreeable, especially when pressed by Captain Picard. To call her “bland” might be unkind, but she was never meant to be the standout character among the cast of The Next Generation.
Dr Pulaski is the polar opposite. She’s opinionated, outspoken, and occasionally brash. Though she does form firm friendships with other members of the senior staff, she’s much more of a standalone, individualist character. These are all traits that she inherited from The Original Series’ Dr McCoy, and we can see a very definite McCoy influence for practically her entire run on the series.
The role of a doctor in Star Trek is naturally a limited one, and that was especially true when the franchise was primarily interested in episodic storytelling. Dr Pulaski’s scenes are largely limited to Sickbay or dealing with medical-themed stories and events, and this naturally puts constraints on what she – and other doctors in the franchise too – can do. In episodes with a strong medical storyline, I’d argue that Dr Pulaski shines, and aspects of her personality that might otherwise come across as abrasive can instead feel determined and driven. In stories without much going on in Sickbay she’s naturally of less use to the writers, and it shows.
One of the main areas of criticism when Dr Pulaski came aboard was her relationship with Data. Designed to mimic the Spock-McCoy dynamic from The Original Series, some of Dr Pulaski’s early scenes and episodes with Data did not work as intended. She came across as patronising and looking down at Data – and that’s putting the most positive spin possible on it! At worst, Dr Pulaski was actively degrading and dehumanising in the way she spoke to and about Data, and that’s something that many fans found hard to take.
Though we’re more aware in 2021 of the need to be inclusive and attentive to the needs of neurodivergent people, non-binary folks, and other marginalised groups, even in 1988 many fans were uncomfortable at seeing Data dehumanised and talked about in the abstract. Fans had had a whole year to get to know Data, and just like we balked at Dr Bruce Maddox’s treatment of him in the episode The Measure of a Man, so too fans felt Dr Pulaski was treating Data unfairly. This is legitimate criticism, and soured many fans on Dr Pulaski almost from her first moment on the series.
Though I was perhaps a little unkind in my characterisation of Dr Crusher earlier, there were many fans of The Next Generation who liked the character and wanted her back. A letter-writing campaign began almost from the moment Season 2 premiered – supposedly with some involvement from Patrick Stewart – to convince the producers to bring back Gates McFadden and dump Dr Pulaski. Though I daresay this would’ve happened regardless of how well Dr Pulaski’s character had been received, the fact that those early episodes featured a conflict with Data that certainly went too far and crossed a line didn’t help her cause.
Despite all of that, by the time Season 2 was finding its feet, Dr Pulaski had become established as a regular member of the crew of the Enterprise-D, and had settled into her role in Sickbay about as well as she could. The fact that she was a strong and decisive personality may have been divisive among fans, but in my opinion she elevated the role of the ship’s medical officer, taking what had been a secondary position with Dr Crusher in Season 1 and transforming it into a more important role, especially in medical storylines. Even when Dr Crusher returned in Season 3, this aspect of the show continued to an extent; Dr Pulaski’s legacy on the show, despite the character being dropped with little fanfare, may be that Dr Crusher found more prominent storylines.
The comparisons with Dr Crusher are inescapable, and one other aspect that viewers felt was missing after Dr Crusher departed the series was a relationship with Picard. Dr Crusher and Picard had history as well as more than a little romantic tension, whereas Dr Pulaski didn’t have that connection with Picard – or with anyone else. Though there was a storyline in the episode The Icarus Factor involving a past relationship with Commander Riker’s father, this didn’t become a major aspect of her character, and she remained romantically un-attached for the rest of her tenure.
Though the episode Unnatural Selection is perhaps the story where she was given the most to do, where I felt we saw Dr Pulaski at her best was in episodes like Time Squared, where she tended to a second Captain Picard from several hours in the future, Up The Long Ladder, in which she takes part in a traditional Klingon ceremony with Worf, and though there are two sides to her relationship with Data on display in Peak Performance, the way she consoled him after his defeat at Strategema was sweet. In these moments we see different aspects of her character – her medical expertise, her embrace of different cultures, and through her evolving relationship with Data, her ability to overcome her own prejudice.
Perhaps the fact that Dr Pulaski had anti-android prejudice to begin with made her too unpopular with fans to be redeemable. Her occasionally blunt persona didn’t help her in that regard either. But had we met Dr Pulaski in Season 1 not Season 2, I think it’s possible for her evolving relationship with Data to have provided a deeply satisfying character arc.
The problem Dr Pulaski faced was that she joined a series that already had a full season – 25 episodes – under its belt. The characters had grown together and been through some major events in Season 1, particularly the death of their friend and colleague Tasha Yar. Yar’s own deep relationship with Data, which was jump-started by the events of The Naked Now, had gone a long way to humanising him across Season 1, and there was something charming in the “android who longs to be human” story. In Encounter At Farpoint, Riker called Data “Pinocchio,” and across Season 1 that’s how viewers came to know Data. Dropping in Dr Pulaski at the beginning of Season 2 and giving her a very prejudiced way of looking at this character we’d come to know and love was a bridge too far for many viewers, and although the relationship improved dramatically over the course of the season, her early interactions with Data remained a sore spot.
Dr Pulaski was present for all but two episodes of Season 2. However, most episodes didn’t have a major medical focus, and thus she was really a secondary character much of the time. Even so, I’d argue that she brought a lot to the show, and despite the introduction of her character not really succeeding in the way the creative team intended, Dr Pulaski certainly achieved her objective of shaking up the crew. Though she was never a villain, the introduction of Dr Pulaski showed that there can still be disagreements and interpersonal drama among Starfleet officers in the 24th Century, and that not everyone has to agree all the time. The Next Generation could, at times, fall into the trap of being too idealistic in its portrayal of characters in particular, and while there were adversaries and antagonists in Season 1 – including some from the Federation – Dr Pulaski was the first main character on the show to pull in a different direction. In that sense she arguably laid the groundwork for storylines we’d see from Season 4 onwards with characters like Ro Laren, and in particular the non-Starfleet crews we’d meet in Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
The fact that Dr Pulaski was never shy and didn’t pull her punches is something I found charming and appealing about her, particularly when compared to Dr Crusher’s Season 1 persona. She could be opinionated and even pushy at times, but she always did her best to help those in her care and didn’t bat an eyelid at the wacky situations the Enterprise-D would find itself in. Not only that, but she grew as a character across her single season on the show, particularly in terms of her relationship with Data and her understanding of different kinds of life. The Next Generation set out to seek out new life, and while Dr Pulaski’s old fashioned idea of what “life” is may have held her back at first, over time she came to recognise that Data was a valuable colleague and even a friend, even if she didn’t understand everything about him.
Had she been kept around and spent more time on the show, perhaps we would have seen those themes continue to play out. There was scope for her relationship with Worf to develop, not romantically necessarily but certainly putting them in more stories that would have allowed their friendship to grow and for both characters to learn more about the other’s culture. Her relationship with Kyle Riker could have been revisited, allowing for a more complex and nuanced relationship with William Riker on the Enterprise-D. And though she could never replace Dr Crusher in terms of having a close relationship with Captain Picard, the dynamic between the two – particularly the power play between a man who’s used to being the sole commanding officer of his ship and the doctor who’s the unquestioned master of Sickbay – would have been interesting to explore. There was scope for her to occasionally push back against Picard and other main characters, asserting herself more strongly than Dr Crusher usually would.
All of that and more would have been interesting to see, and while Dr Crusher had some great stories from Season 3 onwards, I’ve always felt at least a little sad that we didn’t get more from Dr Pulaski. At the very least it would have been nice to know how she came to depart the Enterprise-D and what her next role was going to be. Did she transfer to a different starship, return to Earth, retire? We don’t know, and I think it’s highly unlikely we will ever get any kind of solid confirmation of Dr Pulaski’s post-Season 2 life.
I found Dr Pulaski an interesting character and a welcome addition to The Next Generation, even though not every aspect of her characterisation succeeded or achieved its intended objectives. She remains an interesting character in Star Trek, particularly within the 24th Century, and I’ve always been fascinated by this single-season character. Season 2 of The Next Generation marked a change and uptick in the show’s quality – whence comes the expression “growing the beard,” a reference to Commander Riker’s facial hair! Though she wasn’t front-and-centre at every moment, Dr Pulaski played a significant role in the evolving series, helping it grow and become better than it had been in its first season. We can’t argue that the introduction of her character is somehow responsible for The Next Generation’s increasing success in that era, but we can’t dismiss it as mere coincidence either.
And perhaps that’s Dr Pulaski’s real legacy. She was a part of The Next Generation at a key moment – its powerful second season. Season 2 provided much more of a blueprint for the show’s future success – and for the successful development of Deep Space Nine and other parts of the franchise – than The Original Series-inspired first season had. Dr Pulaski, though originally intended to be a throwback to Star Trek’s first series, played a role in the franchise’s evolution as a character who wasn’t afraid to shake things up, stand up to her commander, and hold her ground. We can see elements of her personality in a number of Star Trek characters who came later, even continuing to the modern day.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all characters and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Nemesis, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Star Trek’s First Contact Day event took place earlier this week, and in addition to some fun panels with members of the cast and behind-the-scenes teams we got three teaser trailers for upcoming Star Trek shows. I’ve already taken a look at elements from the Discovery Season 4 teaser and the Picard Season 2 teaser, so this time it’s Lower Decks’ turn to go under the microscope! And a microscope seems appropriate considering series creator Mike McMahan called this teaser a “microscopic look” at the upcoming season!
Lower Decks is not really a show that lends itself to a great deal of theory-crafting. Its episodic format and somewhat random nature mean speculating about specific storylines feels futile! Despite that, however, there are a couple of big questions raised by the teaser, and I’ll do my best to look at them in turn.
First up, the bridge crew. Aside from Commander Ransom (who appeared to be possessed!) the rest of the bridge crew were absent from the teaser. What could that indicate? After Shaxs was killed off at the end of Season 1, it feels as though the main characters are not as “safe” as we might expect, so perhaps another member of the senior staff won’t survive the season? That could be one explanation! Alternatively, the bridge crew could’ve been kept under wraps to avoid spoiling Shaxs’ replacement, particularly if there’s a new character who’s either visually distinctive or perhaps a returning character from a past iteration of the franchise.
We’ve seen a number of guest-stars across Season 1 who had been involved in Star Trek in the past – such as John de Lancie and JG Hertzler – but it would be potentially really interesting if someone we knew well from a past iteration of the franchise were to have a recurring role. Tuvok could replace Shaxs as head of security, for example, or time-travel shenanigans could see the return of someone like Travis Mayweather from Enterprise. That could be a great twist, and bringing back a character who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the franchise right now seems like a lot of fun!
We’ve seen Prodigy go down a similar road with the return of a holographic Captain Janeway, and that series has a lot of potential. Maybe it would risk feeling repetitive coming so soon after Prodigy’s announcement of Janeway’s return, but even so I think it could be fantastic if done well. There must be plenty of ex-Star Trek stars who’d love the chance to come back even in voiceover form!
Next let’s look at Ensign Rutherford. At the end of Season 1, Rutherford’s trademark cybernetic implant was ripped out. This put him in a coma, and when he awoke he was missing all of his memories from Season 1, including meeting Tendi. In the teaser, though, his implant was back (and looking exactly the same as it did last season) and he seemed to be friends with Tendi and Mariner again – so what happened?
We’ve been promised that Season 2 won’t simply “reset” Lower Decks and ignore the events of the Season 1 finale, so somehow Rutherford has gotten a new implant and rebuilt his relationships with Mariner and Tendi. I hope we get to see at least some of that, because there’s potential in a “we used to be friends but you can’t remember” storyline, both from a dramatic and comedic perspective.
The implant was okay, and certainly gives Rutherford a distinctive design. Having had it removed in Season 1, though, there was potential to redesign it or do something different with Rutherford, and changing things up for him could open up new storytelling possibilities for the character. We’ll have to see what – if anything – the show does with all of that.
That brings us to Boimler! At the end of Season 1, Boimler was promoted and transferred to the USS Titan under Riker’s command. Mike McMahan had already said that Season 2 would begin with him serving there; as mentioned there would be no “reset” to keep him on the Cerritos. And we saw in the teaser the first signs that his posting was not going well!
After cutting to Boimler, the first thing we see is him screaming loudly, panicking and unable to cope with whatever bizarre situation the Titan has got itself into. Up next, with the ship seemingly on course for a nebula, ion storm, or other spatial anomaly, Boimler doesn’t understand one of Riker’s turns of phrase, loudly exclaiming “what does that even mean?!”
It seems safe to assume that, somehow, Boimler will find himself back aboard the Cerritos. But how? In one of the teaser’s other scenes, we seemed to see Boimler taking part in some kind of away mission, working on a computer while three other figures – clearly not the three other ensigns – defended him from being attacked. Did this mission happen during his time on the Titan? The absence of the other ensigns hints at that, and not seeing the three of them together at all in the teaser suggests that Boimler could remain aboard the Titan for more than just a few minutes during episode 1!
For a show that bills Mariner as its main character, we didn’t see as much of her in the teaser as I might’ve expected. She was briefly seen wearing anbo-jyutsu armour (first seen in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Icarus Factor) and again fighting off a group of Cardassians. Neither of those short sequences told us much from a story point of view – except that, at some point in the season, she presumably takes part in an anbo-jyutsu match and battles some Cardassians!
The Cardassian fight looked like it could potentially be a flashback; on rewatching it I’m not entirely sure why I think that, but it was my initial reaction so I’m sticking with it! We saw a flashback of Mariner in Season 1 when she visited Deep Space Nine, so perhaps this will be something similar. And it’s worth noting that the only anbo-jyutsu match we’ve ever seen in Star Trek featured Riker – who will be making an appearance in the season. Could Mariner face off against Riker? And if so, could the “prize” be getting Boimler back?
Other things I spotted in the teaser were: a Miranda-class ship coming under attack, a mugato (the white ape-like creature with a horn) from The Original Series Season 2 episode A Private Little War, Ransom’s “possession” possibly taking place on either the Klingon or Cardassian homeworld (a guess based on the architecture in the background), Mariner’s Cardassian fight taking place in front of four lights (perhaps an homage to The Next Generation Season 6 episode Chain of Command), and the Titan seemingly coming under attack while on course for the anomaly.
The only character who didn’t have much to do in the teaser was Ensign Tendi. She had one moment with what looked like a snake-alien (or perhaps just a bunch of snakes) and she had the trailer’s only real line, wondering about how Boimler is getting on. In Season 1 Tendi never really found the right fit, with different stories trying out different personalities for her. She spent most of the season in “new and eager” mode, overawed by every small detail she encountered. Attempts to move her away from that had her turning clumsy, like Boimler, or into a super-genius like Rutherford, and I never really felt that Tendi was a settled character. Perhaps her lack of role in the teaser is indicative of that trend continuing – but I hope not. It would be great for her to find a niche and settle in.
For a teaser that barely clocked in at thirty seconds, the Lower Decks team crammed a heck of a lot in! I’m sure I missed things even having rewatched it a dozen times, so be sure to take a look for yourself to see what you can spot!
The first season of Lower Decks was fantastic, but sadly marred by a stupid decision on the business end from ViacomCBS to split up the show’s broadcast by geography. The resultant damage to Lower Decks from lost hype and interest was a problem during Season 1, and there’s no getting away from that. However, now that an international agreement has been struck to give Lower Decks a home on Amazon Prime Video, its future feels a little more settled.
Speaking of the show’s future, a third season has now been confirmed. With all of the other exciting things going on from First Contact Day I didn’t spot that announcement at first, but it’s now official! Obviously ViacomCBS was pleased with the reaction to the show both in the USA and around the world when it finally made its international debut, and that’s great news. If the creative team can keep up the quality, it would be great to see it run for four seasons, five, or potentially even more.
Lower Decks is the only upcoming Star Trek project to have an official broadcast date: Season 2 will premiere on the 12th of August. Presumably that means the 13th of August for the rest of us! Oh well, that’s only four months away! We can start to get excited already!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available. The series is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and for other iterations of the franchise.
A couple of days ago I wrote up some preliminary predictions for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, and now it’s the turn of Star Trek: Picard Season 2 to get the same treatment. Season 1 left several big mysteries behind, and while some may be addressed it seems as though Season 2 will see Picard and the crew move on to new adventures.
A significant portion of Season 1 was occupied by recruiting the crew, but after they came together basically to do one job – find Soji – and accomplished that objective, the big thing that Season 2 needs to do is find a truly convincing reason for keeping the crew together. Rios seemingly worked as a commercial pilot, and the others have lives of their own too. Now that Soji is safe and the super-synths have been called off, what exactly is preventing everyone from drifting back to their old lives?
Right now, I see that as perhaps the biggest challenge and point of interest. What will bind this disparate crew together after their mission is complete? Unlike a Starfleet crew they don’t have a new mission or new orders, and they aren’t just going to fly around aimlessly in La Sirena looking for adventure. So finding a convincing reason for keeping them together – or reuniting them if they’ve already separated as of the beginning of the season – will be key.
As I said last time, it’s very early in the process to be considering what may or may not be included in the upcoming season. At time of writing filming hasn’t even commenced; Picard is filmed in California, and while production is in theory able to resume it’s a slow process. There have been suggestions that February may be the goal for filming to begin – but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been given a timeframe that didn’t pan out, so watch this space. I’m not claiming any “insider information,” nor saying that anything on my list is certain to happen. This is guesswork at best – educated guesswork in some places, perhaps, but nothing more.
With those big caveats out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Number 1: A Galaxy-class ship.
Season 1 showed us a beautiful CGI rendition of the Galaxy-class Enterprise-D. But this ship was only seen in Picard’s dream and didn’t make a real appearance – despite the Federation fleet in the season finale presenting a good opportunity to do so. One lesson I hope the team behind Picard has learned is that the two fleets we saw during the standoff over Coppelius looked less impressive for being comprised of only a single starship design each – and bringing more ships into the show would be something great to see.
Obviously Picard himself has connections with several different classes of ship: the Sovereign-class from his time aboard the Enterprise-E, the Constellation-class from the Stargazer, and we even saw him on a Deep Space Nine Danube-class runabout once. But no ship design is more greatly associated with Picard than the Galaxy-class, and while the Enterprise-D is gone, there were others, including those which served in the Dominion War.
In an alternate timeline seen in the Voyager fourth season episode Timeless, Galaxy-class ships were still in use in the 2390s, which is close to the time in which Picard is set. An updated Galaxy-class Enterprise-D was also seen in The Next Generation’s finale All Good Things in sequences set in the 2390s.
In addition, Excelsior-class ships from the late 23rd Century were shown to be in use for decades, and the Galaxy-class ship seems like such a versatile vessel that it would make sense to see them still in use. La Sirena will clearly continue to be the home for Picard and his new crew, and I’m not suggesting they be given their own Galaxy-class ship somehow! But it would be wonderful to see Picard’s reaction to a real-life Galaxy-class ship, triggering memories of his time aboard the Enterprise-D.
Number 2: Confirmation of Narek’s fate.
The two-part Season 1 finale had some issues. From my point of view, the biggest problem was that the final two episodes had far too much story to cram into a relatively short span of time; new characters, new antagonists, new storylines, and a whole new civilisation were all introduced right at the end of the season.
One of the consequences of this was the abandonment of some previously-important storylines. Narek, who was a major character across the rest of the first season, was symbolic of this, as his character was simply dumped without any explanation or resolution midway through the finale.
I know that Narek wasn’t everyone’s favourite character in Season 1, but I found him genuinely interesting. He looked certain to play out a relatively common trope in thriller stories: the spy with a heart of gold who abandons his mission after falling in love with his target… but to my surprise – and great enjoyment – he didn’t go down that route and remained loyal to the Zhat Vash crusade.
There are several possibilities for what happened to Narek after his attempt to destroy Soji and Sutra’s beacon. He could have been recovered by the Romulans, he could have been handed over to the Federation, he could have remained a prisoner of the synths on Coppelius, or he could even have renounced his wicked ways and joined Picard’s crew. The latter may seem less likely, but as we didn’t see or hear anything about Narek after the beacon attack it would be great if Season 2 could give us the rest of the story – even if it’s just by way of a line or two of dialogue.
Number 3: Riker and Troi.
Though I believe Riker actor Jonathan Frakes will be returning to Picard in the director’s chair, we don’t yet know whether Riker and/or Troi will return in Season 2. However, I would argue that their post-The Next Generation storylines have more to give, and I would love to see them both back.
One thing I was very keen on in the run-up to Season 1 is for the show to avoid being The Next Generation Season 8, and by only including a few classic characters in a few episodes, I would say the show accomplished that goal. But there is still a lot of interest from fans about the fates of many characters we knew and loved in past iterations of Star Trek, and the already-established Troi-Riker family could be a stepping stone for telling some of those stories too.
It would also be interesting to see whether the events of Season 1 have brought either Riker, Troi, or both back to Starfleet on a permanent basis. Riker described himself as “acting captain” in the Season 1 finale, so perhaps he will return to his family home on Nepenthe. But maybe not!
If Season 2 is to feature Starfleet more significantly than Season 1 did, we will need at least one Starfleet character to be portrayed on screen. Someone Picard knew and can work with would be a good bet, as he could call on them to help out, cashing in favours. However, I did also like the way Raffi used her Starfleet contacts in Season 1, as well as the introduction of Admiral Clancy.
Number 4: Revisiting an event from Picard’s past – such as the Stargazer or the Borg.
Season 1 saw Picard confront his past with the Borg as he boarded the Artifact. But there’s scope to further explore his history with the Borg, especially if the faction were to come back in a major way. Nothing we saw in Season 1 suggested that the Borg threat has gone away, and the super-synths we met in the finale could possibly have a connection to Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains.
The inclusion of Seven of Nine and the ex-Borg could also contribute to a Borg story. Perhaps the ex-Borg would work together with Picard to use knowledge or technology from the Artifact to defeat another Borg threat. The Borg would also be a reason for Picard’s new crew staying together instead of going their separate ways.
Alternatively we could revisit an event from Picard’s past that The Next Generation hinted at but didn’t explore in detail. We know Picard commanded the USS Stargazer and that Jack Crusher – husband to Beverly and father to Wesley – was killed. But the specifics of that event have never been shown on screen.
The inclusion of Dr Benayoun in Season 1 connected to Picard’s time aboard the Stargazer, and a storyline looking back at this time could bring back this character. It would also be a way for Dr Crusher and even Wesley to be included – perhaps something that happened around the time of Jack Crusher’s death is going to be relevant to a new event or storyline.
Number 5: Development of Seven of Nine and Raffi’s relationship.
The Season 1 finale showed Raffi and Seven of Nine had become close, and the possibility for the two to enter a relationship would be something really interesting for Season 2 to look at in more detail. We know that Seven of Nine and Chakotay had a relationship toward the end of Voyager, and that Raffi has a son from a previous relationship. But this could be a great opportunity for some more LGBT+ representation – in this case, perhaps, bisexuality.
Both characters saw significant development in Season 1 – Raffi by finding her son and Seven of Nine by avenging Icheb. Seeing Seven of Nine finally break out of the repetitive, emotionally stifled character she was in Voyager was genuinely cathartic, and giving her even more opportunities to show off her humanity and emotional side would be fantastic.
Both characters have experienced the loss of either a child or child figure, and that could strengthen their bond. They’re different people, and having gone through very different life experiences have responded differently to loss – Seven by becoming obsessed with revenge, and Raffi by falling into addiction.
They could help each other overcome these issues. Seven of Nine could help Raffi through recovery from her drug and alcohol addictions, and Raffi in turn could help Seven move on from the loss of Icheb and the murder of Bjayzl. There’s a lot of scope for very interesting and emotional stories in this pair of characters.
Number 6: Foreshadowing of the Romulan-Vulcan reunification seen in Discovery Season 3.
Discovery’s third season confirmed that Vulcans and Romulans had managed to set their differences aside – for the most part – and come back together. Though Discovery said this happened “centuries” after Spock’s first visit to Romulus, perhaps we could see some movement in that direction in Picard.
The attack on Mars and its aftermath has arguably left Federation-Romulan relations – and by extension, relations between the Vulcans and Romulans – at an all-time low. However, the unmasking of the Zhat Vash and their role in the attack may have led ordinary Romulans to look upon the Federation less harshly, and if there have been reforms to Romulan society – as was hinted at by the use of the name “Romulan Free State” instead of “Romulan Star Empire” – maybe the beginnings of reunification have already been seen.
Picard had a heavy focus on the Romulans in Season 1, and at least one Romulan character – Elnor – will return in Season 2. Thus the show is the perfect vehicle to show the path forward, bridging the gap between the secretive Romulan Empire of The Next Generation’s era and the reunified Ni’Var of Discovery’s 32nd Century.
The return of a character such as Tuvok could also be a part of this; seeing Elnor working closely with a Vulcan could set up his character for a future role in the reunification process, for example. With Seven of Nine already confirmed to be coming back, bringing one of her Voyager colleagues on board would be great to see.
Number 7: Spend more time with Starfleet.
Season 1 made good on its promise of taking Picard away from Starfleet. While two members of the new crew are ex-Starfleet officers – as well as Picard himself – they operate outside of the organisation. I wouldn’t want to see that change; Picard has done what no other Star Trek show ever really did by focusing entirely on a non-Starfleet crew and that’s been fantastic. But there is scope to see more of Starfleet at the beginning of the 25th Century.
After Season 1 saw Picard and his crew largely working against Starfleet, from him being denied access to a Starfleet ship to Raffi and Rios breaking all the rules to gain access to the Artifact, it would be great to see some cooperation. The Season 1 finale gave us a taste of that with Riker and his armada, but there are more ways Picard and La Sirena could work with Starfleet while still remaining separate.
Alternatively – or perhaps additionally – we could see more of the story of Season 2 unfold from Starfleet’s point of view. Admiral Clancy was our major Starfleet character in Season 1 and she could certainly return. But this could also be how another legacy character is introduced, and Picard could work alongside them for some reason.
Having at least one major character being a Starfleet officer, and depicting events within Starfleet, would be something I think I’d like to see Season 2 do, provided it could balance that with keeping La Sirena on the outside. Starfleet and the Federation have always been a huge part of Star Trek, and while it was great to see that they’re still the “good guys,” spending more time with them next season would be fantastic.
Number 8: Consequences for Dr Jurati.
Though she did so under the influence of a mind-meld, Dr Jurati still murdered Dr Maddox in Season 1. Star Trek has done some great courtroom drama stories over the years, and I think it would be really interesting to see Dr Jurati arrested and even stand trial. Would the mind-meld be a suitable defence in the eyes of the law? We’ve never seen such a case in Star Trek.
This is another storyline that the finale rushed and ultimately failed to do justice to. At the beginning of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 Dr Jurati is still expecting to turn herself in and be arrested for murder, as Picard insisted she would be. However, by the end of Part 2 she seems free to remain aboard La Sirena and has even formed a relationship with Rios.
The question of Dr Jurati’s culpability is potentially interesting. Despite still being under the influence of the mind-meld she refused to try to harm Soji, pushing through Commodore Oh’s brainwashing. If she could stop herself from harming Soji, how did she harm Dr Maddox – someone with whom she was intimate?
Even if the legal side of things is only briefly addressed, such as a line of dialogue telling us that the charges were dropped, Dr Jurati may suffer psychological effects from what she did. She murdered someone she was very close to, and threatened to sabotage Picard’s mission. Even if he and the others have forgiven her, will she be able to so easily forgive herself? She has already attempted suicide once, and this is an angle the show could look at in more detail as well.
Number 9: The return of Dr Soong.
Even if Season 2 takes Picard away from Coppelius for the most part, it would be great to catch up with Dr Soong – a character who felt underdeveloped in the Season 1 finale. We never learned why Dr Soong wanted to transfer his mind to a synthetic body, nor what the consequences are for him of giving that body to Picard.
I picked up a hint or two in Season 1 that Dr Soong may be sick or dying, so perhaps donating the synthetic body he planned to use to Picard has condemned him to death. Alternatively, however, he may simply be able to build a new one now that he understands the mind-transfer process.
A story on Coppelius could also show us what impact the loss of Data’s neurons may have on Dr Soong. Without them, is he able to build new synths, or build another golem for himself? The finale left these questions unanswered, and while I don’t expect Season 2 to spend all of its time tying up loose ends, it would be nice to see some of these points addressed.
Dr Soong is of course played by Data actor Brent Spiner, and welcoming him back to Star Trek was wonderful in Season 1. It would be great if a role could be found for him in Season 2, even if it was only for a single episode.
Number 10: Guinan.
This is a total cheat since we already have confirmation that Guinan is coming back, but I wanted to include it anyway. Sir Patrick Stewart invited Guinan actress Whoopi Goldberg to join the show for its second season months ago, so it seems like Guinan will have a significant role in the season. Whether she’ll be a recurring character or make an appearance in a single episode isn’t known at this stage, but she will certainly be back.
Picard and Guinan’s relationship was touched on in The Next Generation, but never fully explained. There’s certainly scope to learn more about how they came together, why their relationship goes “beyond friendship, beyond family,” as well as what the impact of Picard’s reclusion had on Guinan. What has Guinan been doing since we last saw her? We simply don’t know – so it will be interesting to find out!
Number 11: Foreshadowing the dilithium shortage seen in Discovery Season 3.
This is the second “foreshadowing Discovery” entry on this list, and I don’t expect (or want) Picard Season 2 to spend all of its runtime doing that. However, this is another way that we could potentially see a connection to the events of Picard’s sister show.
For some unknown reason, by the 28th or 29th Centuries dilithium supplies in the galaxy were beginning to run low. This is what prompted Starfleet to begin seeking out new sources of the important fuel, ultimately culminating in the Burn, as well as the people of Ni’Var withdrawing from the Federation believing their alternative propulsion experiments caused the Burn.
Though the dilithium shortage depicted in Discovery’s recent season is centuries away, the beginnings of it could be seen in Picard… somehow. Perhaps dilithium supplies were already beginning to run low but the Federation was keeping it quiet, or perhaps they discovered a major cache of dilithium similar to the Verubin Nebula’s planet some time in this era which kept them going for centuries.
Even a single line of dialogue noting that a starship is on a mission to seek out new sources of dilithium would be a subtle nod to fans of Discovery, and a minor way in which the two shows could be connected.
Number 12: A broader look at the galaxy as the 25th Century dawns.
Despite bringing back a few legacy characters – not all of whom survived – and spending a lot of time with the Romulans, Season 1 didn’t paint a very broad picture of the state of the galaxy. We know that the Federation is doing well, despite the attack on Mars and the effects of the Dominion War years earlier. But what of other factions? And is all well in Starfleet?
There are so many races and factions that Season 2 could look at that I don’t know where to begin. But rather than a repetition of Season 1, with its relatively narrow focus on one faction and a handful of events, it would be great if Season 2 could expand the map and look at a few different places and peoples – even if that means doing so in less detail.
Right now, Picard is the only Star Trek production set in this post-Nemesis era. I wouldn’t be surprised if more shows, miniseries, and films were announced, but for the foreseeable future we only have Picard to show us the galaxy and what’s been going on in the years since Nemesis. Obviously the attack on Mars was a significant event, but there must be other things that happened in that twenty-year span.
As I mentioned in my last piece, a personal favourite story arc of mine is Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War, so I would be fascinated to learn anything about Bajor, Cardassia, DS9, the Gamma Quadrant, or the Dominion. But given Picard’s lack of connection to those events (except for a link to Bajor via Ro Laren) perhaps that isn’t on the agenda this time. Still, anything we could get to look at the bigger picture of the galaxy would be wonderful.
Number 13: Looking at current events.
One thing Picard Season 1 did very well was show how Picard’s mental health was suffering as a result of his rejection by Starfleet. I think a lot of people who’ve been through almost a year of lockdowns and isolation could watch the Season 1 premiere, Remembrance, and empathise much more with the isolated, lonely Admiral Picard than they could when it was first broadcast.
Star Trek has never shied away from using its sci-fi setting to tackle real-world issues, and the biggest right now is of course the pandemic and its associated effects. Season 2 may have had a complete draft written before the pandemic hit – production was meant to take place last year, after all – but there has been plenty of time to change things up and include contemporary themes. Not every series has to use the pandemic as inspiration, and in many ways people come to sci-fi and fantasy to escape the real world – something that’s arguably even more necessary right now – so maybe this won’t happen.
Number 14: The return of Laris and Zhaban.
Laris and Zhaban – Picard’s Romulan assistants – served a fairly typical adventure story role in Season 1. They were the safe reminders of home that Picard had to leave behind when setting off on his quest; a role filled by the residents of Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings, for example.
But they were also more than that. The decision to make them Romulans did serve a purpose – without them, Picard would never have learned of the Zhat Vash, for example. But given Picard’s complicated history with the Romulans after abandoning his efforts to help them evacuate their homeworld, the question of why these two ex-Tal Shiar operatives were so steadfastly loyal to him raised its head.
Maybe this is simply a minor plot contrivance, but I don’t want to just overlook it and say it’s fine. What did Picard do to win their trust and loyalty so strongly that they’d follow him to isolation on Earth? And why did they choose not to follow him into space when he set out to help Soji? It wasn’t to attend to the grape harvest, surely.
Some further development of these two characters would be welcome, and while I know they did feature in a novel, most folks don’t read those and it arguably isn’t canon – Star Trek, unlike Star Wars, has always drawn a line between what happens on screen and what happens in apocryphal works. So their backstory in relation to Picard is still, in my opinion at least, an open question that Season 2 could address.
Number 15: The Artifact will come under Federation control.
Though parts of it have been picked over by the Romulans for decades, the opportunity to study a largely-intact Borg vessel does not present itself every day. Unless the Borg have somehow been defeated off-screen between the events of Nemesis and Picard – which I very much doubt given their popularity among fans – the Federation will surely want to avail itself of this opportunity.
The Artifact crash-landed on Coppelius at the end of Season 1, but with the planet designated a Federation protectorate they now have access to the wreck. Who knows what Federation scientists could learn about the Borg if not constrained by the Romulans. The Artifact may not play a big role in Season 2, but I would argue it is incredibly important to the Federation. That may even be the cynical reason why they chose to send a fleet to defend Coppelius.
Number 16: The appearance of Section 31.
If you followed my reviews and theories during Season 1, you may remember that I thought of numerous ways that Section 31 could’ve been included. This stemmed from the production side of Star Trek: Section 31 had recently been a major part of Discovery, and there’s an upcoming Section 31 series in development. For those reasons, Section 31 seemed like a way that all three Star Trek projects could’ve had a familiar theme.
It didn’t happen in Season 1, of course, and with Discovery completely ignoring Section 31 in its third season perhaps you could argue that it’s less important this time around. But I don’t necessarily agree. The Section 31 series is still coming, with pre-production having already begun and Michelle Yeoh’s departure from Discovery setting the stage.
In addition, Discovery introduced us to the enigmatic Kovich in Season 3, played by famed director David Cronenberg. If you followed my Discovery theories, you’ll know I’ve posited the idea that he is an operative of Section 31 – or maybe even its leader in the 32nd Century.
As a result, Section 31 remains one way that many of the ongoing Star Trek projects can find common ground, despite being split up along the timeline. It would remind fans of each series that they’re watching one part of a greater whole, and connecting the Star Trek franchise together will hopefully help fans of one show jump over to others that are currently in production. I know of many people who have either watched Discovery or Picard – but not both. Finding more ways to connect the shows and bring the franchise together will be important to Star Trek’s future – and vital to its ongoing success.
Number 17: Fallout from Picard’s newfound synthetic status.
There had been a widespread ban on synthetic life for over a decade as a result of the attack on Mars. Though we learned in Season 1’s closing moments that the ban has been rescinded, the attack, its aftermath, and the ban may have lingering effects on non-synthetics. Will Picard face discrimination and hate as a result of his synthetic nature?
Perhaps, given the reaction in some areas of the fandom to Picard becoming a synth and the whole death-and-rebirth narrative, Season 2 will seek to downplay Picard’s status. But it would be interesting to explore the ramifications. We’ve talked about Riker, Troi, and Guinan possibly being major characters in the story – how will they react to Picard being synthetic? Can Troi read synthetic minds? Would Guinan feel he’s no longer the same person given her sensitivity to such things?
There are real-world analogies that anti-synthetic discrimination could be used to show. Star Trek has, on many occasions in the past, looked at the complex issues of race relations in the United States, and in the wake of the events of 2020 and ongoing efforts to ensure racial justice and equality, this could be something the synthetic storyline highlights.
There are also interesting legal and ethical questions that the show could address. Most significantly: is Picard the same person as he was, or is he legally and morally a distinct person now that he has a synthetic body? Will Starfleet, for example, consider him to be the same retired Admiral, or will he no longer have those privileges?
Number 18: Making peace with the super-synths.
Although she stood down and turned off the synths’ beacon on Coppelius, Soji did nevertheless contact the super-synths (the villains I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” for their similarity to that video game faction). There may yet be consequences for having done so, because the super-synths might not simply return to dark space to wait for another faction to contact them – they may already be en route to the Milky Way galaxy.
Even if the super-synths themselves don’t initiate a conflict, from Starfleet’s point of view it makes sense to reach out and tell them what happened. By explaining Starfleet’s position – that they value synthetic life and will not seek to harm the Coppelius synths – perhaps a conflict could be avoided. Making the attempt seems like something Starfleet would do, at least.
There’s a lot of potential to make the super-synths more than a plot device and one-dimensional incomprehensible villain. They could, as previously suggested, connect to the Borg. They could also be expanded upon as we learn more about them, their name, their motivations, and so on. We know precious little about the super-synths right now, and it would be great to learn more. Was their offer to help the synths genuine – or was it a trap?
Soji, as the instigator of contact with the super-synths, could be just the person to help pacify them if they turn out to be on the warpath. That could be why she needs Picard and the crew of La Sirena: to seek out the super-synths and prevent a war.
Number 19: Shutting down the beacon on Aia.
Now that the Zhat Vash have been exposed, we don’t really know what will become of their anti-synthetic crusade. The decision to have Commodore Oh withdraw so quickly in the Season 1 finale is not one I particularly liked; the Zhat Vash were presented as zealots who would stop at nothing to achieve their goal of wiping out synthetic life, and despite Soji closing the portal, from Oh’s point of view she could just open another one.
However, criticisms aside, it makes sense that Starfleet – or at least Picard – would want to find the octonary star system and shut down the beacon on Aia. Not only would this prevent the Zhat Vash from continuing to use it, but it would also avoid the possibility of other synths accidentally finding it and using it to contact the super-synths.
This should be a priority for Starfleet, at least in my opinion! Though we may not see it for ourselves, this could be something communicated in a line or two of dialogue, just noting that the beacon has been shut down.
Alternatively it could be a major storyline, with Picard and La Sirena setting out to find Aia and continue their fight against the Zhat Vash. I’m not sure if this would be the right way to go – it feels like an epilogue to Season 1 rather than the main event for Season 2. But it could make for an interesting episode!
Number 20: The return of Dr Crusher (or another major character from The Next Generation era).
Dr Crusher was the only major character from The Next Generation who wasn’t confirmed to be alive in Season 1. We saw Troi and Riker, of course, and thanks to Zhaban we heard about Worf and La Forge too. But despite how close Picard and Dr Crusher were – they had even married in an alternate timeline – no mention was made of her.
The question of what became of their relationship is an open one. In the aftermath of Picard’s resignation and retirement, did Dr Crusher visit him? Were they married, or romantically involved? If so, could the wedding of Troi and Riker (that we saw in Nemesis) have been the prompt for them to revisit their relationship?
Picard was clearly single in Season 1, so if he and Dr Crusher had been romantically involved it’s clearly something that has already ended. But his new lease on life – thanks to a new body and overcoming his depression – could mean he wants to renew things or at least contact her.
Alternatively we could learn that Dr Crusher has died, or that she and Picard never got together. They could even have had a major falling-out and may not have spoken in over a decade. Such a storyline could see them coming back together, moving on from whatever caused the fight.
So that’s it. I didn’t plan to write this at first, but writing up some preliminary guesses for Discovery Season 4 was so much fun that I wanted to do the same thing for Picard Season 2 as well!
Picard Season 2 will – fingers crossed – begin filming some time soon. I wouldn’t bet on seeing it on our screens in 2021, though, just because of how much time post-production will take. So it may be a while before we see Picard, Raffi, Elnor, Rios, Dr Jurati, and Seven of Nine! But that doesn’t mean speculating and guessing about what may be coming is any less enjoyable.
These are not even theories – I want to call them guesses rather than anything else. So please, please don’t get carried away thinking that any of these are destined to happen. We all need to remember to take such theories and predictions with a pinch of salt at the best of times, and guesswork this far out when we know less than nothing about the upcoming season is almost silly! So as fun as this was to put together, let’s all try not to get too excited about anything listed above.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are further spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery (including the Season 3 trailers) and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s been a little over six months since Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard came to an end. The series set up a number of mysteries, and while many of them were completely resolved by the first season finale, some weren’t. Some of these may be addressed in future – in fact, that’s something I’d really like to see – but assuming the series follows a similar pattern to Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and his new crew will likely warp away to a different adventure next time. That may mean that we never learn the truth behind these mysterious unresolved story threads.
Many television series nowadays set up mysteries or unanswered questions early on that become important later, and I don’t mean to come across as impatiently banging on the table demanding we get answers to everything now! Part of the fun of watching a series like Star Trek: Picard – at least for me – is the theorising and speculating, trying to figure out the puzzles that the producers and writers have created.
One small caveat: it’s possible that some of these points have been addressed in non-canon sources (like comic books) but I’m not counting that. Star Trek, unlike Star Wars, has always drawn a clear line between official canon and unofficial sources. Occasionally we will see points from unofficial material make its way into Star Trek, but unless we see these points resolved on screen, the potential exists for the writers of Season 2 – or indeed of any future Star Trek production – to overwrite anything published in a novel, comic, video game, etc.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the list!
Number 1: Who are Laris and Zhaban, and what is the nature of their relationship with Picard?
The first few episodes of Season 1 introduced us to Laris and Zhaban – Picard’s assistants at his vineyard in France. Laris and Zhaban are Romulans, and not just any Romulans but former Tal Shiar operatives. I assumed, before we learned what happened to Picard’s planned rescue armada, that he had won their loyalty by saving them (or their families) from the Romulan supernova. But now we know that Picard only evacuated a minuscule number of Romulans, most of whom wound up on the planet Vashti. Those refugees detest Picard for abandoning them – even though the decision was taken by the Federation rather than him personally.
So the question remains: why are Laris and Zhaban so loyal to Picard that they’d give up everything to become housemaids and winemakers on Earth? Even if he saved their lives during the evacuation, very shortly afterwards he gave up on helping their people and their cause. Not only do they seem 100% fine with that, but they appear to have made no effort to help either, despite being operatives of the Tal Shiar.
A related point would be why didn’t Laris and Zhaban accompany Picard when he left the vineyard to go back into space? Picard seems to convince them to stay behind by telling them he needs them to attend to the grape harvest – but if you stop to think about it, this doesn’t make much sense. If they’re staying with him out of sheer stubborn loyalty – for some as-yet-unidentified reason – why would they allow him to head off on a dangerous mission unaccompanied?
And finally, now that Picard seems to have a ship and loyal crew, what will happen to Laris and Zhaban back on Earth? Are they just going to remain behind as custodians of the vineyard while Picard is away? That’s certainly a possibility, but it still raises the question of why he has such steadfast loyalty from them.
Laris and Zhaban filled a story role in Season 1, not only by introducing Picard (and us as the audience) to the idea of the Zhat Vash’s existence, but also by being representations of Picard’s home and safe harbour that he has to leave behind as he goes on his adventure. They serve the same role as some of the Hobbiton Hobbits in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels in that regard. As a story point and character archetype that’s fine, but in the Star Trek galaxy, given everything we learned about Picard and the Romulans, some explanation would be nice!
Number 2: What happened to Soji’s Trill friend after Maps and Legends?
Maps and Legends (the second episode of Season 1) introduced us to a Trill character: Dr Kunamadéstifee. The two sequences in which she featured appeared to have a lot of horror film-style foreshadowing, leading to a theory I held onto for almost the whole of the season that she was going to meet an unpleasant fate. However, after Maps and Legends the character was abruptly dropped with no explanation.
From a production point of view, it would have been beneficial to keep this character around. Soji had precious little interaction with anyone aside from Narek for much of the season, and a character like Dr Kunamadéstifee could have been a friend she could speak to, if only occasionally. Star Trek has always had guest stars who make a single appearance then don’t return, and from that point of view this isn’t odd or out of the ordinary. But it would still be nice to learn what became of Dr Kunamadéstifee – one way or the other!
Number 3: Why was Dr Bruce Maddox on Freecloud?
This is a huge point, because right now it represents a gaping hole in the story of the first season. I’ve talked about this before, but just to recap: the storyline of the first half of the season was about locating Bruce Maddox, who had been missing since the ban on synthetic life. Maddox was eventually tracked to Freecloud, and the only reason he’d travelled to the dangerous planet was because his lab had “been destroyed by the Tal Shiar.”
Obviously he can’t have been referring to his lab on Coppelius – Picard was literally sat in that room at one point, and it didn’t look destroyed to me! But even assuming Maddox had built a second lab away from Coppelius, why did he not simply return there if the new facility had been attacked? Why did he go to Freecloud instead? Dr Soong and the other synths would have welcomed him with open arms, yet he chose to go to a dangerous place and visit a woman he owed a lot of money to.
Bjayzl may not have killed him or successfully sold him to the Tal Shiar, but she contributed to his death by weakening him significantly. Travelling to Freecloud – and to Bjayzl’s club in particular – appears to be an act of desperation or of last resort, yet Maddox clearly had other options.
Right now, the only reason Maddox was on Freecloud is to enable other aspects of the storyline to make sense, and to get Picard and other characters into position. Without Maddox, Picard would have had to find a different way to track down Soji, so he’s important to the plot. Unfortunately, the lack of explanation to this point leaves a pretty wide plot hole, and because finding Maddox was the main focus of the first half of the season, it’s one I can’t overlook. It needs a satisfactory expanation.
Number 4: What will happen to the ex-Borg and the Artifact?
At the climax of the Artifact’s storyline, Seven of Nine and Elnor attempted to lead a rebellion of ex-Borg against the Romulans. However, Rizzo and the Zhat Vash were prepared and ended up killing a lot of xBs. Not all of them were killed, though, and while we don’t know how many survived, there clearly were survivors after the Artifact arrived at Coppelius. A Borg cube can easily have tens of thousands of drones aboard, and while it was suggested that Rizzo killed the majority of them, we don’t really know how many could have survived. It could easily be hundreds – or possibly more.
Seven of Nine appeared to take on a leadership role for the xBs, filling a void left by Hugh’s death. Many xBs seemed confused or traumatised by their experiences – and they will need someone to help them get through that. At the end of the Season 1 finale, though, both Seven of Nine and Elnor had rejoined Picard aboard La Sirena, and the ship then warped away to an unknown destination. Without Seven of Nine, what will happen to the ex-Borg?
The Artifact itself is likely to come under Starfleet control, at least in my opinion. Its wreckage on Coppelius is largely intact, and presumably the Federation will want to study as much Borg technology as it can get its hands on. It’s possible that something has happened in the galaxy in the two decades that we didn’t see that may have resolved or ended the Borg threat, but that was never mentioned on screen so I assume Starfleet would be very keen to get its hands on a mostly-intact Borg cube – even if it had been picked at by Romulans and may be several years out-of-date!
The ex-Borg are another matter, though. There appeared to be a wide range of races, including many non-Federation species. Some may wish to return home, but in the case of species like the Hirogen, that may not be possible. The Federation may offer them all refugee status and help them reacclimate to life outside the Borg Collective, but it still seems very strange to me that Seven of Nine has just seemingly abandoned the survivors. It’s possible that the final scenes of Season 1 took place many months later, in which case this may have been handled off-screen. Still, it would be nice to get a proper resolution, even if it’s just a couple of lines of dialogue.
Number 5: What will Starfleet do about Aia?
Somewhere beyond Romulan space – and out of reach of Starfleet – lies Aia, a planet at the centre of eight stars. The stars were deliberately moved and aligned to strongly indicate Aia’s location, and at some point in the past – perhaps centuries ago – the Romulans stumbled upon it. On Aia there’s a beacon left behind by a powerful synthetic race (I nicknamed them the “Mass Effect Reapers”) and it tells synthetics to contact them. The Romulans would interpret this information as something apocalyptic, and the Zhat Vash came to believe that any synthetic life would ultimately lead to the extinction of all sentient organic life in the galaxy.
The beacon was more complicated than that, and instead contained an instruction for synths, telling them to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” if they need help or are being persecuted by organics. Given the immense power that the “Mass Effect Reapers” appear to possess, surely Starfleet can’t risk leaving the beacon on Aia for anyone to find.
The beacon already caused massive problems – the attack on Mars and the Romulan attempt to attack Coppelius being just two examples, and there may be countless others. Leaving it alone will not only perpetuate the Zhat Vash’s conspiracy theory, but will also be dangerous. What if someone else encounters the beacon and contacts the “Mass Effect Reapers”?
I have a theory that – somehow – the Romulans have “cloaked” the octonary star system and Aia, otherwise surely with 24th Century scanning technology and telescopes the Federation would have noticed it. So it may not be as easy as just travelling there and shutting it down. Attempting to do so could even lead to war with the Romulans. However, I think it’s a risk the Federation will have to take; leaving the beacon alone is simply not an option.
Number 6: Who are the super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers”?
The “Mass Effect Reapers” – nicknamed for their similarities to a faction from a video game series – are a total unknown quantity. There are many possibilities for who they are and what their motivations are, but we only caught the barest of glimpses of them in the Season 1 finale, and in the aftermath of Picard’s “death,” no one mentioned them. Surely, however, they’re an existential threat to Starfleet – and indeed the whole galaxy – on a scale comparable to the Borg. Heck, they could actually be the Borg.
I have a theory that the “Mass Effect Reapers” may be the cause of the Burn – a galactic catastrophe seen in the trailers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. If that’s the case, perhaps Discovery will explain this faction’s backstory in more detail. If they reside in an area of space far beyond the Milky Way galaxy it could have taken them centuries to travel here, meaning the timelines match up for Discovery’s far-future setting.
Theories aside, we know next to nothing about this faction. They were powerful enough to move stars and to create a sustainable eight-star octonary system. They also appear to have altruistic motivations when it comes to synthetic life, offering to help synths in their struggle against organic oppressors. But is that genuine? Or when they arrive would they simply harvest or assimilate whoever they found? We simply don’t know, but it feels like something that could easily be a trap.
Soji was talked into closing the beacon – but whoever the “Mass Effect Reapers” are, they’re now aware of the existence of the Federation, the Romulans, and the Coppelius synths. If I were Starfleet, I’d immediately work on a plan to contact them and try to open a dialogue. Explaining what happened, and that the Coppelius synths are safe, may be the only way to avert a conflict.
Number 7: Why was Dr Soong planning to transfer his mind to a synthetic body?
When Picard and the crew of La Sirena arrived on Coppelius they met Dr Soong – the son of Data’s creator. Dr Soong was working on a synthetic body for himself, but had been unable to perfect the mind-transfer that he would have needed to accomplish that goal. He ended up donating the body – nicknamed the “golem” – to Picard, but what consequences (if any) will there be for that?
Sadly we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Dr Soong, but I felt it was at least hinted at in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 that he needed a synthetic body. Perhaps he, like Picard, is dying? The finale had a lot of story to get through and rather skipped over that point, so we don’t really know why Dr Soong wanted to become a synth. Was it a desire for immortality? Was it because of illness? Was it because all of his friends were synths and he felt left out? We simply don’t know.
With Brent Spiner set to reprise the role in Season 2, I’d say we have a decent chance of finding out.
Number 8: What became of Narek?
Narek’s story came to an abrupt end partway through Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2. After convincing Raffi and Rios to go along with his plan to attack the synths’ beacon, Narek was wrestled to the ground by a group of synths during the botched attack. After that he was never seen or referenced again.
Apparently there’s a deleted or unfilmed scene from the episode which was to depict Narek being taken into custody by the Federation. While it isn’t canon, it remains the most likely outcome. However, there are other possibilities. Narek could have been retrieved by the Romulans during their mission to Coppelius, being transported aboard a Romulan ship during the standoff. He could have been held by the synths, who have cause to hate him for unleashing the Zhat Vash upon them. He could have recanted his Zhat Vash ideology and left aboard La Sirena with Picard – though I consider this one unlikely.
There are many reasons why Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 was a mixed episode and a somewhat stumbling finale. The lack of any resolution to the story of a major character is just one of them. Though unconfirmed at this stage, I doubt Narek will return as a major character in Season 2, so unless we get some dialogue or a cameo confirming his fate, the deleted/unfilmed scene may be all we have to go on.
Number 9: Are the synths safe on Coppelius?
The timely arrival of Riker’s Starfleet armada is the only reason Coppelius wasn’t obliterated from orbit by a massive Romulan attack fleet. Soji may have listened to Picard and shut down the beacon, but Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash are fanatics and zealots, and the idea that they would have simply stood down having witnessed that and having heard Picard’s speech doesn’t make a lot of sense.
With that in mind, what’s to stop them returning at any point in the future to finish the job and destroy this colony of synths? Unless Starfleet plans to permanently base an entire fleet in the system, and perhaps build a Starbase there too, it seems like the synths can never be safe if they remain on Coppelius. Evacuating them to a new home would seem to be the safest option.
Number 10: Who knows that Picard is now a synth?
Obviously Dr Soong, Dr Jurati, and Soji know that Picard is now a synth. The rest of La Sirena’s crew must know too, as will Seven of Nine. At the very end of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 Picard basically admitted it out loud in front of all of them. But does anyone else know? What about Riker and Troi? They played big roles in Season 1, but Riker left Coppelius before Picard’s “death” so he may not be aware of what transpired.
There are potential ramifications for Picard’s death-and-rebirth. From Starfleet’s perspective, is he the same Jean-Luc Picard as before? To his friends he may seem the same, but to those prejudiced against synths after a long prohibition on synthetic life, will they treat him the same? Picard may reunite with other people from his past in Season 2 – someone like Dr Crusher or Guinan. I wonder how they will react if they learn what happened.
So that’s it. Ten unresolved mysteries from Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Some of these I fully expect future seasons to tackle, but others feel in danger of being abandoned as Picard and the crew move on to new adventures.
Overall, Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard did a good job of resolving the mysteries and storylines that it set up. But there are some that fell by the wayside and didn’t get a proper conclusion. If the plan is to continue these stories and make more of them in future seasons then I’m all for it, because that sounds fantastic. But if we aren’t going to see these storylines and characters return, doing something to bring proper closure is something I really hope the producers and writers try to do.
Star Trek: Picard is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Nepenthe, as well as for the first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery Season 2.
Hugh! Poor, poor Hugh. When I heard Jonathan Del Arco was returning for Star Trek: Picard, well before the show had premiered, my first reaction was “What? Really?” Of all of the characters in Star Trek’s history, I just felt that Hugh, who had only appeared in a couple of episodes of The Next Generation, wouldn’t have been my first choice when thinking about characters to bring back. But I was wrong – the way Hugh has developed as a character between The Next Generation and his appearances this season was incredible, and his death this week was genuinely heartbreaking.
Star Trek: Picard’s death toll, for legacy characters anyway, now stands at three – Bruce Maddox, Icheb, and now Hugh. In the aftermath of series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones this was always a possibility – no main character on television should consider themselves “safe” any more. But of the three, Hugh’s death hit me the hardest.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Where last week’s episode, The Impossible Box, was an edge-of-your-seat wild ride, Nepenthe was a quieter affair, but intensely emotional. Simply processing everything that happened will take some time. Nepenthe didn’t merely advance the storyline of Star Trek: Picard, it took us on a detour that looked at Riker and Troi, and thus broadened our understanding of how the overall story of Star Trek has progressed since the events of Voyager and Nemesis. In that sense, it felt like an episode that was “made for fans” far more explicitly than anything else we’ve seen so far this season, even counting Seven of Nine’s appearance.
If someone were to ask me why I’ve been so in love with Star Trek: Picard, I could give many reasons. But Nepenthe encapsulated them all perfectly. It brought back those nostalgic feelings, but it used characters and name-drops from the past in a way that made sense and tied in perfectly with the main plotline of the show. Unlike some other franchises we could mention, nothing in Nepenthe felt like fanservice, or overplayed the nostalgia card; Star Trek: Picard has been like a perfectly-cut jigsaw puzzle, with each piece of the story slotting neatly into place as the overall picture is now slowly coming together.
After the standard recap to bring us all up to speed, the episode kicks off with a flashback to just three weeks ago. We see more of the meeting between Dr Jurati and Commodore Oh from The End is the Beginning – and we see why it wasn’t shown in full in that episode. This is the moment Dr Jurati was recruited to join the Commodore Oh-Zhat Vash conspiracy, and I think we can now say with relative certainty that Commodore Oh is not a Romulan agent, but is in fact the Vulcan she has always claimed to be. While, in theory, there should be no reason Romulans can’t mild-meld, it’s never been shown on screen and that further adds to the evidence that Commodore Oh is a Vulcan. Whether her alliance with the Zhat Vash is new or not is unclear, but she is certainly fully signed up with their anti-synth crusade.
I had to go back and look at one part of this sequence several times before I could be sure, but at least part of what Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati in her mind-meld is taken directly from Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. The two shows were always close from a thematic perspective, as both were looking at the possibility of rogue AIs and how they could be a danger, but this sequence seems to suggest that there’s more to it than thematic coincidence. In Discovery, the AI named Control was trying to acquire data stored in the USS Discovery’s computer which contained many millennia of information collected by an ancient lifeform, and if it had been successful it would have used its newfound power to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. This seems to be the reason for the Romulans’ fear of synthetic life – that they will go rogue and start killing their creators. At least two of the shots of life in the galaxy being wiped out that Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati in the mind-meld were identical to the vision Michael Burnham and Spock received.
Could this simply be a case of reusing shots to save money? After all, in the past Star Trek has shown the same Klingon ship blowing up on half a dozen occasions or more, and numerous models were reused over and over again from the era of The Original Series films through The Next Generation and its spin-offs. Given that the two clips I could identify in the mind-meld were less than a second long, I suppose we shouldn’t discount the possibility entirely. However, I’m not convinced that this is the reason. CGI nowadays requires far less effort and financial investment than many practical effects – like exploding starships – did in the past. For the sake of a couple of seconds’ worth of footage it would have been relatively inexpensive and not particularly time-consuming to make something altogether new if that was the aim. So I’m getting the sense that there’s a connection between Discovery’s Control AI and the Romulans in Star Trek: Picard – as I have been saying for several weeks in my Star Trek: Picard theories series! While I will save further speculation about what this could mean for my next theory post, I wanted to acknowledge it here too.
Mind-melds have been inconsistent in the way they’re presented in Star Trek. This one was more in line with the confusing jumble of images that Spock showed to Alternate Reality Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek film, rather than the calmer, slower-paced mind-melds that we’ve seen in The Original Series and The Next Generation. Obviously we didn’t get the full effect that Dr Jurati did, because the horrors she was shown caused her to vomit up her lunch. It was enough to immediately convince her, without any further persuasion needed from Commodore Oh, to sign up with the conspiracy and do anything – even kill her former friend and love interest and betray Picard.
Dr Jurati is given a tracking device, which she has to eat – and yes that is “eat” not “swallow”, which was interesting! The action then jumps to the present day, where La Sirena is caught in a tractor beam that the Artifact has deployed. Raffi and Rios are scrambling around on the bridge trying to break free. While Raffi attempts to break La Sirena free, she hacks into the Artifact’s computer and seems to see some drawings – possibly those drawn by Ramdha or another xB. Whether these will come into play or not is unclear, but the drawings, which were a pattern of circles repeated over and over, were at least visually interesting. So many aspects of Star Trek: Picard have been brilliantly set up by the creators and writers that almost everything we see or hear on screen has the potential to turn into a story point!
Dr Jurati is clearly terrified, trying to get Raffi and Rios to tell the Romulans that they “just want to go home” as it’s not really La Sirena that the Romulans are after. The others dismiss her semi-hysterical shouting, and then we get the beginning of Hugh’s punishment for the crime of aiding Picard. I didn’t expect Hugh to turn on his friend, and he never did, but there was always the possibility, as he didn’t know that Soji was synthetic, that learning her true nature might’ve shifted something for him. However, he stands by his promise to protect Soji and Picard, even as Rizzo executes one of the xBs. Even knowing the stakes he refuses to tell her – putting his loyalty to Picard ahead of his feelings for the room full of xBs, who Rizzo orders executed when he refuses to tell her where they went.
Rizzo also confirms that the operation to track and extract information from Soji has been ongoing for several years and has involved a number of different people, which is a neat thing to know I suppose.
This was definitely an emotional scene, and as I mentioned already, Jonathan Del Arco gives an amazing performance as Hugh sees people he has worked so hard to help cruelly and coldly murdered in front of him. His reaction to their deaths was raw and heartbreaking.
Peyton List, who plays Rizzo, was also on good form. Some of her earlier performances in the series have been a tad one-dimensional in parts. Rizzo as a character is, like Michelle Yeoh’s Terran Empress from Star Trek: Discovery, someone who is basically evil for the sake of being evil – or at least, that’s how I characterised her before this scene in Nepenthe. We finally get to see Rizzo’s motivation here – helpfully informed by the earlier mind-meld sequence. Far from being evil, she’s terrified. Synthetic life frightens her, and she genuinely fears that, were Soji allowed to live, all sentient life in the galaxy – “a trillion souls” as she puts it – would be wiped out. How it is that the Zhat Vash have come to know this – or rather, believe this – is not yet clear, but again I think the Control AI from Discovery surely has a role to play somehow. This second dimension changes what has been a rather flat villain and we are finally a big step closer to understanding why the Zhat Vash are so militant in their anti-synthetic crusade – and why, despite his feelings for her, Narek felt he had no choice when it came to killing Soji.
Speaking of Narek, he boards a one-person spacecraft in the Artifact’s hangar bay and departs the cube. La Sirena is no longer caught in a tractor beam – though Rios and Raffi realise it is undoubtedly a trap. We get a great scene as La Sirena skims along the Artifact’s hull at close range, showing off the incredible level of detail that has gone into the CGI work on both vessels. Elnor, who seems to have struck up a bond with Hugh since we last saw him, opts to remain behind to help the xBs after seeing them executed, and La Sirena warps off toward Nepenthe with Narek close behind.
For the first time since the show premiered, the main cast actually felt like a crew in this moment. And I know it seems silly as they’re all split up, but leaving Elnor behind was emotional for Rios, Raffi, and Dr Jurati – they clearly think they will never see him again. Whether they’re right or not doesn’t matter right now, because in that moment there was a sense of camaraderie; a bond between La Sirena’s crewmates. This is definitely something that Star Trek: Picard has lacked when compared to other shows. Even Deep Space Nine and Voyager, which both had different interpretations of a “divided” crew, had a sense of fellowship – and finally, seven episodes in, we saw some of that here. It was a nice throwback to the way crews have been in other Star Trek shows, and I really hope we see more of that going forward as Soji joins the crew and they’re all – hopefully – reunited with Elnor in a future episode.
If you’ve been here before and read my other reviews, you’ll know I like to nitpick. And even in an episode as good as Nepenthe, there are still small things to pick at. After the credits roll, we’re with Picard and Soji as they materialise on Nepenthe – a few minutes’ walk from Troi and Riker’s house. That was some luck with the spatial trajector! I know it’s possible to get exact transport coordinates, but did Picard tell Hugh exactly where on the planet to send them? Did he know, by heart, the rough location of Riker’s house? Anyway, after they materialise they’re set upon by a girl brandishing a bow and arrow. Picard makes reference to his artificial heart – as seen in the episode Tapestry from the fifth season of The Next Generation – and it’s clear he recognises the girl. He calls her Kestra – which was the name of Deanna Troi’s sister from the seventh season of The Next Generation, specifically the episode Dark Page. It was nice to get a couple of little references in quick succession like that – and as always, neither of them got in the way of the flow of the story. Star Trek: Picard has handled its links to the franchise extraordinarily well.
While walking with Kestra to her home, Picard drops two huge bombshells on Soji. The first is that her father is Data, which means she’s an android. And the second is that Dahj has died. Soji, unsure really of what’s happened or who to trust, doesn’t really react. In this moment she doesn’t have space to process what she’s feeling, so grieving for Dahj will have to come later. Whereas Dahj seemed to have, as part of her programming, a desire to find Picard and an inherent feeling of safety in his presence, this seems to be absent in Soji for the duration of the episode. While she will, later, start to warm up to him and come around to the idea of trusting him, that feeling of safety and a desire to turn to Picard for protection does not seem to have been programmed into her in the way it was with Dahj. If I were to speculate as to why, I’d say it was probably because Dahj’s assignment was on Earth, whereas Soji’s was on the Artifact. It makes sense for Dahj to run to Picard as he was someone Maddox knew he could trust and was a stone’s throw away. On the Artifact, running to Picard would be difficult if not impossible, and Soji may have had someone else programmed into her as part of her activation, or she may have simply been programmed to defend herself. It’s also possible that, as Picard and Hugh intervened, Soji is not fully activated in the way Dahj was.
Picard was clearly expecting a different reaction from Soji. Even though he only knew Dahj for a short time, she trusted him implicitly, turned to him for help, and even saved his life. Because Soji and Dahj look identical – “more than twins”, as the show puts it – I wonder if he’s expecting her to behave in an identical manner too. When she doesn’t, it almost seems as if he doesn’t know what to do or what to say; she isn’t what he expected, and he may even feel disappointed by that, underneath the frustration of constantly messing things up.
The cabin was an absolutely lovely set, and must have been a fun location to film on for the actors. It’s rustic in its appearance, but it’s what I’d call “21st Century rustic” in that this is clearly not a log cabin from the 1800s! It makes sense as the home of a couple who know their way around technology but want the appearance of something from an earlier time, and as we’ll see that is basically exactly what the cabin is. Of all the sets used so far in Star Trek: Picard, including the vineyard, this is the one which feels most like a modern-day building, though. I liked that, because I could see how that kind of design could still be popular or could make a comeback, but I can also see that being a point of criticism for some, as it is definitely different from any other 24th Century buildings we’ve seen in earlier Star Trek shows.
While we’re dealing with the aesthetic, though, Star Trek: Picard has definitely fallen into the trap that The Next Generation and its contemporaries also fell into in that every planet visited is clearly California! We had Picard’s home in France, the town on Vashti, and now Nepenthe. While they are all different in some respects, they’re not so different that you’d be tricked into thinking they weren’t all filmed within fifty miles of each other. In a way, I think we’ve probably been spoilt by big-budget shows like Game of Thrones, which famously had filming locations right across Europe from Croatia to Northern Ireland and Iceland. Expecting something on that level was unrealistic, and to the credit of the showrunners the locations mentioned do all have a different tone – it’s just that they are all very definitely filmed in California.
The music in Star Trek: Picard has generally been great, but the music played as Picard reunites with Troi was a cut above and absolutely outstanding. Much of the emotion in any scene is tied to the music, even if we as the audience don’t realise it. And as Kestra delivers Picard and Soji to her mother we get a beautiful piece that ebbs and flows with the emotions of the characters.
Troi, as an empath, can tell that Picard is in trouble – which is of course why he came to them in the first place. However, it’s her next moment after they embrace that really got me. We know, as of Maps and Legends, that Picard is dying. And Troi wordlessly touches his face and conveys, with just a bare look, that she knows his health is beginning to fail. He tries to reassure her that he’s fine, but of course we know better.
The next scene is the one we’ve all been waiting for since we first saw Riker in the second Star Trek: Picard trailer last year: the reunion between the Captain and his Number One. Jonathan Frakes’ performance in this scene reflects perfectly what the audience has been feeling for this whole journey: the excitement and pure joy of seeing an old friend again. That’s what nostalgia is, in a way. We’re just as happy to be reunited with Picard after all this time as Riker is in this moment. The last time we saw Riker and Picard, at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, they were parting ways as Riker was moving on to take command of his own ship. A lot has happened since then as Troi and Riker seem settled in their home and with a teenage daughter to boot.
Riker’s home is not as rustic as it seems. Upon learning that Picard is in trouble and hiding out, he barks orders at the cabin’s computer: “shields up!” being my favourite, a classic Riker line from The Next Generation, delivered in exactly the way we’d remember from that show. There was also a neat little name-drop of the Kzinti – a feline-like species that featured in an episode of The Animated Series back in the 1970s! That might actually be my favourite one-line reference so far in the whole series; tying Star Trek: Picard to Captain Kirk’s lesser-known adventures.
The young actress playing Kestra does a great job in this scene as she brings a hunted “bunnicorn” to Riker to prepare for dinner. It’s clear that, having grown up in a rural setting, Kestra is much more comfortable with hunting and skinning than many would be in the 24th Century – or even in the 21st! Sometimes younger performers, especially those cast for smaller roles, can end up coming across inauthentic in their delivery of lines and the way they inhabit their roles, but none of that was the case here. She did a great job and was convincing as the daughter of Riker and Troi.
Soji takes a shower – outside, of course, to add to the feeling of a rustic cabin-in-the-woods – and Kestra pesters her with questions, all of which related to things Data enjoyed or could do: playing the violin, reading Sherlock Holmes, and finally her physical abilities like running and jumping – which we sad Dahj do in Remembrance – and being able to bend steel. Soji has just done this, when she ripped a hole in the floor of the meditation room to escape, but we also saw Data do so on several occasions, notably in Star Trek: Nemesis and in The Measure of a Man, the second-season episode of The Next Generation which introduced Bruce Maddox. Kestra is immediately accepting of Soji. Not that the others weren’t, of course, but she takes to Soji as a friend whereas Picard sees himself as more of a guardian. Soji needed that, I feel, after everything she’s been through.
The questions Kestra asked about whether she has, among other things, saliva, were reminiscent of the observations Dr Bashir made of Data in The Next Generation episode Birthright, a two-parter from the sixth season. Both Bashir and Kestra were interested less in the extraordinary things an android could do – like calculate unimaginably huge numbers in an instant – and more in the ways that their creators had tried to make them ordinary. Data could breathe and had a pulse, and Soji has normal body fluids like saliva. Whether intentional or not, and I have to assume it was given how much care and attention has gone into Star Trek: Picard at this point, I loved this little callback to Data and The Next Generation.
Kestra’s parents have clearly told her so much about Data, and again as a long-time fan I think that’s something I wanted to see even if I would never have realised it. To know that Data, who died in Nemesis almost twenty years ago, is still remembered by his friends is a great feeling – and as someone who had longed to be human, this most human of legacies is something I think he would have approved of. As Kestra keeps up her questions and discussion of Data, Soji says that, until she heard the word “android” used, she was still hoping that she might be human after all. This is a lot to take in for her, as in the last few hours her whole life has been exposed as a lie and everything has come crashing down: her boyfriend, her job, her family, and her whole identity. Now she’s stuck on a planet she doesn’t know with people she’s never met, and she feels horribly unsettled not just with them but in her own skin – or whatever the android equivalent of skin is.
It was a nice touch to see the term “android” back in Nepenthe, after previous episodes of Star Trek: Picard had almost entirely used the terms “synth” or “synthetic” when discussing artificial life. I still feel, despite the presence of holograms on La Sirena, that there must be a reason for that. The vision Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati, and the idea of rogue AIs destroying sentient life which motivates her and the Zhat Vash, are not exclusive problems caused by Soji-type androids. As we saw with Control in Star Trek: Discovery, any kind of AI is potentially susceptible.
An emotional Deanna leads Picard to her son’s bedroom, and we learn that not everything worked out for the Troi-Riker family after we last saw them. Their son, and Kestra’s older brother, died a few years previously. As is not uncommon with grieving parents, Riker and Troi have kept his bedroom as he left it, and as it’s presumably the only other available room, this is where she offers Picard a rest. We got a nice photo of Picard – in his post-Nemesis uniform – holding Thad as a baby, and Deanna gives Picard a very unconvincing “we’re fine!” when discussing him. It’s clearly still incredibly painful for her – whether she feels the loss even more as someone who has empathic traits isn’t clear, but as an episode dealing with the loss of a child and looking at how families and parents respond to that, Nepenthe was right up there with many other Star Trek episodes throughout the years that have tackled complex emotional topics.
One thing that is clear, though, as Picard and Troi continue this conversation, is that she is uncomfortable with their presence. Not because she didn’t want to see him – she clearly does – but because of the danger their visit poses. Having lost her son, she cannot bear the idea of her daughter being in any kind of danger. Nepenthe can be a stopover for Picard and Soji, then, but any hope of a permanent shelter or even a longer stay is dashed – and Picard knows that. He probably knew it before they ever arrived, but if he had hope of staying beyond a few days it’s gone without Riker or Troi having to come out and say so.
La Sirena is up next, and the trio still aboard have realised that they’re being pursued. Narek is clearly an expert pilot, and has managed to get his ship to sit in a kind of “blind spot”, almost unnoticeable to Rios. They discuss how to throw him off their tail, and Rios performs a new manoeuvre of dropping out of warp very suddenly so that Narek will “overshoot” La Sirena without realising. Star Trek’s warp drive has always been a bit of a mess in canon, so this being a new tactic is fine. I think it’s not original in that it’s something other sci fi franchises have used in the past, but as a narrative device it worked well here, I felt.
Dr Jurati then pipes up asking Raffi and Rios if they really want to go to Nepenthe or if they can instead pack up and go back to Earth. We know, as the audience, that she’s getting cold feet about her mission, frightened of what might happen if she ended up face-to-face with Soji. But Rios and Raffi don’t know what’s going on – or how it is that they’re being tracked – so Raffi assumes she’s just frightened and takes her off the bridge. Dr Jurati made reference to a gormagander in this scene, which was a space-dwelling life-form seen in Short Treks and Star Trek: Discovery, continuing the theme of the episode tying itself into other stories in the franchise!
Riker is cooking dinner on Nepenthe when Picard walks up. He’s reluctant to tell him too much about Soji or what happened, but Riker is able to figure out much of it from Soji’s behaviour. Picard has been a man alone in his mission so far. Dr Jurati, the only person on La Sirena who we thought was on his side is actually working for the enemy, and the others are just along for the ride or for pay. Even Elnor, who had signed on for Picard’s hopeless cause, has chosen to stay on the Artifact where he feels he’s more needed. So in this moment, when he had a genuine friend offering to help, it seems strange that Picard chose not to. Of course part of it has to do with what happened to Riker’s son and the presence of Kestra and Troi – he doesn’t want to endanger them any further. But telling Riker the full truth – something he failed to do for Hugh, the only other trustworthy face he’s seen since he left Earth – was an option.
Seeing Soji immediately pick up on Thad and Kestra’s made-up language was great, and we’ve seen her in previous episodes speak Romulan and the language of the xB called “nameless”, so we know it’s a skill she possesses. What I absolutely did not like in this sequence, or rather, what I felt had not been set up at all and failed to work, was Soji’s awkward Data-esque head tilting motion. That was a Data trademark from his earliest appearances in The Next Generation, but we’ve never seen Soji behave in such an artificial way. Whatever techniques Bruce Maddox and his team used to create her, they had improved upon the formula used by Data’s creator Dr Soong, meaning we shouldn’t see her do something that looked so odd and artificial. It was clearly put in as a story point, one which Riker immediately picked up on, and I know as a single second of screen time it doesn’t seem worth commenting on, but of all the Soji moments in Nepenthe, I felt it was by far the weakest, and its inclusion was not a good decision given that it had never been set up. There were plenty of other ways for Riker to pick up on Soji’s true nature, or of course, as mentioned above, Picard could have explained the situation.
Riker gives Picard a piece of his mind – calling him out for trying to carry everything himself and not let anyone help, calling it “classic Picard arrogance”. This wasn’t an attack, it was the “absolute candor” of an old friend. (See what I did there?)
In the tomato garden, Troi offers Soji a home-grown tomato. For someone who’s only ever had replicated food, she can sense the difference right away. There’s a message here too, I think, for us as the audience. We live in a world where food is increasingly processed, and more often than not something that comes in a packet from a supermarket. Many of us in the modern world are out of touch with food production and where our food comes from, and there is a uniqueness to something grown at home that I think we can all relate to.
Troi uses the example of the tomato to explain to Soji why “real” isn’t always better. Soji says that she is not real – like replicated food as they had just been discussing. But it turns out that the illness that killed Thad was something that could have been cured using a positronic matrix – i.e. an android brain. Unfortunately, due to the ban on synthetic life, no such matrix was available to synthesise a cure, and Thad died as a result. While an interesting metaphor, and something Soji desperately needed to hear, this also adds a personal dimension to the synth ban. Not only has it gotten Dahj killed, but we now know that the ban directly resulted in the death of Troi and Riker’s son. I’d absolutely argue that this raises the stakes even higher in Picard’s coming battle against the Zhat Vash and their allies in Starfleet.
Soji finally opens up, telling Troi a little about what happened with Narek and how he betrayed her trust. Narek has really done a number on Soji. In addition to everything she’s gone through and learnt in the last few hours, she finds it impossible to really trust anyone, and that’s all thanks to Narek’s manipulations. I wrote last time that the Narek-Soji storyline can be seen as analogous to gaslighting, and again I feel we see part of that here. Having been lied to, having had her head messed with and dissected by Narek, Soji is finding it incredibly hard to trust anyone, even Picard.
Their conversation is interrupted by Picard and Riker, however, and Soji storms off after Picard tries the old “reverse psychology” technique. He should have left the counselling to, well, the counsellor, because he really just managed to make things worse. Troi gives him a second dressing-down for the way he acted, and he starts to realise in this moment what’s going on and why Soji hasn’t behaved the same way that Dahj did. He will have to earn her trust, despite going out of his way to save her.
Elnor and Hugh are racing around the Artifact with a mission – they plan to return to the “queen cell” that they used to help Picard and Soji escape, and use the “immense power” it contains to seize control of the Artifact. Unfortunately they run into Rizzo, who has been tracking them. We finally, for the first time since Picard left Earth, get a mention of the Zhat Vash and confirmation that Rizzo is indeed a Zhat Vash operative. That aspect of the show had all but disappeared as Picard and everyone else insisted on referring to their adversaries as the Tal Shiar. As I said last time, this does make a kind of sense from an in-universe point of view, but I think it could be offputting for casual viewers in particular, as following the ins and outs of various Romulan factions is not easy, and the last thing viewers want when watching a show is to not understand the basics like who’s who and what’s going on.
Interestingly, Elnor doesn’t really seem to react to this revelation, though it is clear that the Zhat Vash and Qowat Milat know of each others’ existence. I had speculated that Elnor, having been told by Picard that he was facing off against the Tal Shiar, might have reacted badly to the involvement of the Zhat Vash. He still might, if he learns that Picard knew and didn’t tell him, but in this moment he doesn’t even react at all, he simply continues the fight. After dispatching a couple of Rizzo’s guards, the two engage in a hand-to-hand battle, but Rizzo uses a hidden blade to kill Hugh. In his dying moments, Hugh tells Elnor to find an xB and use them to activate whatever is in the “queen cell” – presumably something which will allow them to work together and overthrow their Romulan guards. Rizzo beams away before Elnor can avenge Hugh’s death, but I’m sure she’ll get her comeuppance sooner or later.
Raffi and Dr Jurati are sharing cake in the back of La Sirena. One thing I liked, both with the replicator in this scene and with transporters in various episodes since the show premiered, is that the materialisation process for both replicators and the transporter is significantly faster than it had been in The Next Generation and shows of that era. The faster pace, which allows both people and goods to appear almost instantaneously, feels like a natural progression of those similar technologies, and I appreciated that. Dr Jurati breaks down on being told she’s a good person – she’s been wrestling with her feelings and emotions since she killed Maddox. In that moment she was able to do the deed, but it’s broken her and, if she survives, her usefulness as an operative to the Commodore Oh-Zhat Vash conspiracy is surely at an end. If she did plan to stick around and kill Soji, I just don’t see her being able to go through with it.
As Dr Jurati vomits up her cake – the second time in this episode that poor Alison Pill has had to throw up on screen – Raffi escorts her to sickbay. Rios informs them that Narek is still on their tail, which I’m sure could only make Dr Jurati feel worse at this point, as it’s her presence that allows him to track La Sirena.
Dinner is finally served at the Troi-Riker cabin. After Picard has been unable to contact Rios aboard La Sirena, Kestra mentions a Capt. Crandall who has a ship, and again we got a couple of name-drops, this time of the Klingon homeworld, Qo’nos, most recently seen in Star Trek: Discovery, and Tyken’s Rift, which refers to the episode Night Terrors from the fourth season of The Next Generation. Picard and Soji did leave Nepenthe at the end of the episode, but I wonder if this Capt. Crandall will come back into play in future, as Star Trek: Picard has hardly wasted a second of runtime in any of its episodes on dead ends.
Picard uses himself, or rather, his physical state, to try to persuade Soji to trust him, remembering his encounter with Dahj and getting Soji to use her newly-activated skills to assess him to determine whether he’s telling the truth.
During the conversation, Picard confesses to Soji and the others his true reason for helping her. Partly it’s a desire to help Data, to repay Data’s sacrifice by helping what Picard considers to be his offspring. But the other element to his willingness to help is that Dahj essentially snapped him out of a fourteen-year-long depression, giving him motivation and a cause again, which is clearly something he never felt he’d get. I’ve written before about how Picard has been depressed in Star Trek: Picard. The first two episodes in particular looked at that side of him and his life since Nemesis, but it’s in this moment that Picard acknowledges it for himself. It can be hard for someone dealing with depression to even realise what’s happening, and acknowledging that privately to oneself is incredibly difficult to do because it means acknowledging what society still considers to be a weakness. Picard has been depressed, and if anyone says “but the Picard I remember never would be depressed!” then I have two things to say. First is that they should go and watch The Measure of a Man from the second season of The Next Generation – a review of which can be found here – and watch how Picard acts when he seems like he’s going to lose the case. Watch him in the scene with Guinan in Ten-Forward and compare it to how he was acting in the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. Also look at his emotional, angry reaction to the Borg in First Contact and compare that to his fear and hatred in last week’s episode. This is the man we’ve known. The second thing I’d say is that anyone believing that certain people, even fictional characters, could “never” fall into depression needs to get some fucking empathy because that can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Anyone who’s lived a life has had ups and downs; Picard’s “down” was intense and long-lasting, and just because someone has been lucky in life never to suffer like that, or see someone close to them suffer, well that doesn’t mean it can’t happen or that it doesn’t happen to others. This moronic criticism plagued Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi a couple of years ago too. It was as stupid, insensitive, and ignorant about mental health then as it is now. Rant over.
Picard acknowledges for the first time how bad he’d been feeling. And though he doesn’t say it, his gratitude to Dahj for snapping him out of it and giving him something worth believing in again is a powerful motivator when it comes to helping Soji.
This was a deeply personal speech, but delivered in the calm Picard style that we remember from The Next Generation. He doesn’t raise his voice, he doesn’t try to be sarcastic or pushy or aggressive, or anything else. He gently makes his case to her, and after everything she’s been through, Soji relents and shares with Picard and the others the information she gave Narek. Last week I nitpicked this information, saying that in an area the size of the explored galaxy, a planetary body with two red moons and a lightning storm is hardly conclusive. There are other issues, too, such as the fact that nothing in her dream indicated that lightning storms were a constant presence on that world, nor that whatever caused the moons to appear red from the surface would be noticeable from space. I also said, however, that none of this would matter for the sake of the story! And in moments, Kestra has texted this Capt. Crandall and found the location of the planet – an unnamed world in the Vayt Sector.
So much to unpack here, but let’s start with Picard saying “thoughts?” to Troi and Riker. For a brief moment, we weren’t at a cabin in the wilds of Nepenthe, but on the Enterprise-D in the briefing room. That moment, as Picard asked the two for their opinions and they replied in turn could have been transposed to that setting and it would have slotted perfectly into place. I loved it as a nostalgia trip.
Next, though it wasn’t necessarily approached this way in the episode, how do we feel about young Kestra having a literally under-the-table text conversation with Capt. Crandall, who Riker describes as “unstable”? In another episode of Star Trek, perhaps that concept could be explored more. As we live in a world where almost all young people over the age of nine or ten have an internet-enabled device, what they use that technology for and who they communicate with is an issue that parents, schools, and governments will have to face.
Armed with the location of Soji’s homeworld – or at least, a good candidate for it – there’s a renewed optimism to Picard’s mission, and hope that he and Soji might be able to get there in time – though what exactly they will find there isn’t known. Troi and Riker, when they discussed Maddox around the table, seemed to imply that Soji and Dahj may not be the only synthetics living there – could there be a machine civilisation on this world for Picard to make first contact with? And how does this tie into what we already know from Stardust City Rag about Maddox’s lab having been destroyed by the Tal Shiar?
Rios takes Dr Jurati to the sickbay area of La Sirena. We get a better look at this area than last time. La Sirena is a small ship, but still larger than the Runabouts seen in Deep Space Nine or Voyager’s Delta Flyer. The rear area of the ship seems to double as a sickbay with a couple of beds and also a meeting/conference area with a table. Rios suspects they’re being tracked by Narek, which is how he keeps finding them. But he’s mistaken in his choice of who to trust – he feels that Raffi, after her time on Freecloud, may be spying on them or being tracked herself. This had been set up perfectly last week – not the suspicion of Raffi itself, but that Rios, when left with only two people on board, would turn to Dr Jurati having shared an intimate moment with her last time. He’s known Raffi longer, but he also knows she has a drug issue. He hasn’t known Dr Jurati very long at all, but they have shared a very close moment – possibly the first time in a long time that the lonely starship captain had been with anyone. His suspicion of Raffi only makes Dr Jurati feel still worse, and she comes right out and admits that she’s the one being tracked, but in that same moment Raffi calls Rios to the bridge to deal with Narek. There’s a look between Rios and Jurati that could be interpreted as him understanding what she said – or at least planting a seed for that understanding next week. In the moment, however, he has to deal with Narek and runs to the bridge.
Overwhelmed, unable to cope, and now having probably blown her cover and ruined her relationship with the only person on La Sirena she could have conceivably turned to for help, Dr Jurati uses the replicator to synthesise poison, which she uses a hypospray to inject herself with. Alison Pill was phenomenal here, no exaggeration. Without saying a word, the expressions on her face, the shaky way she raises and lowers the hypospray before finally taking the plunge and using it was riveting and disturbing to watch. Even though Star Trek: Picard is science fiction and her suicide method was a hypospray, there was something gritty, realistic, and outright disturbing to watching her try to take her own life. Suicide can be hard to portray on screen, often being overly dramatic and stylised, or worse, the “noble” suicide where a character kills himself or herself for the greater good. This scene was neither of those things. Dr Jurati made the attempt on her own life because she couldn’t live with the double guilt of what she’d done to her former friend, and that she was putting her new friends in danger. She was at the end of her rope, and felt that she had nowhere to turn to and no other option – it was an act of desperation. And it was portrayed as such. The camerawork stayed on her face and upper body throughout the scene, starting with her dash to the replicator and ending with her collapsing on the floor.
I don’t think this is the end for her – La Sirena’s EMH will make sure of that – but her crime will now surely be exposed, and it will be up to Picard, Soji, and the others what to do with a murderer and a spy.
Taking the poison does appear to have the side-effect of neutralising the tracking device, at least temporarily. Aboard his ship, Narek watches a single light blink out on his map, and is unable to find it again. For someone who had seemed to be wavering, Narek feels, in this wordless scene, like he’s once again found his faith in the Zhat Vash cause. Whether that will hold up if he meets Soji again is not clear, though.
On La Sirena’s bridge, Rios is clearly still suspicious of Raffi, but the EMH’s call notifies him that Dr Jurati is in a coma and they both seem to drop that conversation as he runs to be by her side in sickbay. Raffi remains alone on the bridge, seeming to dismiss his short investigation with an eye-roll. The action then jumps back to the Artifact, where Elnor is now alone and hiding out from Rizzo’s security forces. He spots a Fenris Rangers badge/chip and activates it – the call will bring Seven of Nine and her vigilante group to the Artifact. Elnor just has to lay low until they get there, then he can – presumably – use Seven of Nine to do whatever it was that Hugh wanted to do with the “queen cell”. In another scene with no dialogue, I really got the impression of Elnor being a man alone, trapped against impossible odds. He’s way out of his depth as a man with a sword on a Borg cube – and he knows it.
It’s time for goodbyes on Nepenthe, and we get a scene glimpsed in the trailers as Riker and Picard sit down on a wooden dock. They talk, one-on-one, about the mission, about Picard jumping back into galactic affairs, and again Picard’s “condition” – i.e. his terminal illness – is again referenced. Picard always valued Riker’s advice, and had always insisted on being given his unfiltered opinion, and just as in The Next Generation, Riker obliges here.
There was a strange kind of Americana vibe to two older men sat on a fishing dock that I feel served the scene well given their conversation. The staging, in that sense, was fantastic, even if it wouldn’t have been something we’d necessarily say was “Star Trek-y” just reading about it. Seeing the full scene unfold, however, was a different experience, and just like how in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, seeing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy camping in the wilderness was a great scene, so too was this one. The “thank you” Picard gave to Riker – not just for letting him stay but really for everything they did together – was beautiful, but tinged with emotion knowing that Picard thinks he may never get another chance to say it.
I get the sense that Riker would have signed up in a heartbeat – but Picard can’t and won’t ask him to leave his family. He has obligations on Nepenthe, and Picard is content to head off to Soji’s homeworld with the new crew he has put together.
We already knew Picard, Riker, and Troi have a great connection. And that was on full display in Nepenthe, no doubt. What really surprised me, however, was the bond between Soji and Kestra. They got together like kids whose parents are friends often do – how many of us remember something like that from our own childhoods? But the bond they forged was genuine, and when Kestra says she will miss her, she really means it. Partly, I’m sure, that’s because she lives in a quiet, rural area, and Soji represents someone new and something altogether different and exciting. But largely it is because the two young women got along really well together – Soji may have made her first genuine friend on the show thus far. The hug between them as Soji and Picard prepared to depart was no less emotional than Picard’s was with Riker and Troi.
As La Sirena enters transporter range, Picard and Soji are beamed aboard, leaving the Troi-Riker family behind. I can’t tell right now whether it’s the last we’ll see of them in the series, or whether we might get Riker steaming back in to save the day if something goes wrong. We’ll have to see as the final episodes unfold.
So that was Nepenthe. As I said at the beginning, a quieter episode in some respects, but an intensely emotional one. The theme of nostalgia was once again perfectly played and never overused, with enough screen time given to all of La Sirena’s crew to balance out the scenes with Riker and Troi. Unless the show’s creators have a surprise in mind for later episodes, which they just might, I think we’ve seen all of the legacy characters that we knew would be in the show now.
After The Impossible Box, I sat back in my seat and felt this amazing sensation that you might experience after an intense rollercoaster at a theme park. When the credits rolled on Nepenthe, I almost cried, such was the intensity of emotion than ran through almost every scene. Some of them hit particularly hard – as some of you may know if you’re regulars, my own mental health is somewhat complicated, and my history with some of the issues raised in the episode brought feelings and memories to the fore.
Overall I loved Nepenthe. Seeing Riker and Troi was a treat after so long, and finally Picard and La Sirena now have their final destination in mind. Elnor may need help first, though.
Nepenthe is available to stream now, along with the first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard, on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.