Star Trek: Picard: “The Impossible Box”

Three episodes of Picard this time around, and they’re an odd set to review together:

“The Impossible Box” finishes the second third of the season, as Picard and company make it to the Borg cube and find Soji. It’s the most exciting episode of the season to this point, and starts moving the story into high gear.

So, oddly, the next episode, “Nepenthe”, isn’t really part of any of the three parts of the season (beginning, middle and end). Rather, it’s a pause, a time for the characters (and viewers) to reflect on where we are. While the popular focus has been on the return of Will Riker and Deanne Troi, it also allows Soji and Picard to adjust to recent developments which have left them reeling, while the crew of La Sirena deal with some their own problems.

Finally, “Broken Pieces” resolves several plot points, in a way clearing the decks for the two-part finale, as well as giving us some insight – finally – into Captain Rios.

All three episodes are quite good, and quite different, and everything seems to be coming together. More after the cut:

We’ll get the weak bit out of the way first: Dr. Jurati’s explanation in “The Impossible Box” for Maddox’s death doesn’t hold up given the technology we know is omnipresent in the Star Trek universe, especially the near-ubiquitous surveillance. While I don’t really expect Trek to ever really grapple with the social implications of this (which were barely imagined when NextGen built several episodes around them), blatantly ignoring them in a key plot point is pretty weak. Mechanically it’s an excuse to get Picard onto the cube without grappling with Jurati’s internal conflict quite yet, but it could have been done differently.

Otherwise “Box” is a fine episode. Picard’s arrival on the Borg cube effectively shows his PTSD from his past experiences with them. I was pleased with the characterization of director Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco, reprising his role from NextGen), who is an unalloyed friendly face who remembers Picard fondly (as well he might, as Picard was instrumental in disconnecting him from the collective). The series has done a good job of mixing up its characters and plot points, so one can readily believe that any new encounter could be either dangerous or not. But Hugh as a genuinely admirable figure in a dark place is welcome.

Alas, Picard gets to the cube a little too late for Soji, who gets activated just after giving the Romulans the information they need to find the synthetics’ homeward. The presence of a long-distance teleporter on the cube is a little too convenient, although at least they do have to pay some price for it, in leaving Hugh and Elnor behind to cover their escape.

“Nepenthe” has been widely seen as a love letter to NextGen, and while there’s something to that, we also see that 18 years of life hasn’t left Riker and Troi unchanged: They’ve had two children, and one of them died (although tying the lack of a cure to the lack of synthetic life forms seemed silly and pointless). They’re semi-retired, raising their daughter Kestra in the wilderness (albeit in a large, high-tech house). Riker is as big as bold as ever, but Troi seems diminished by her experiences. The story doesn’t really go into it, but one could interpret it as Troi wearing her emotions on her sleeve, while Riker covers his with his personality.

The relationship between Soji and Kestra is the emotional heart of the episode, as both are in a sense children, though Soji of course believes she has years of experience – but as a human, not an android. They’re each awkward around the other, but also both curious about Soji’s nature. The safe space on Nepenthe gives Soji the opportunity to think about herself without having to deal with other events immediately. She has to decide whether she trusts Picard, and Picard has to come to grips with the fact that she doesn’t automatically trust him. It’s not like he’s never faced this situation, but it’s been years, and of course he has a lot of relatively-recent history of not earning peoples’ trust, so he has his own self-doubt.

Lastly, we learn that Commodore Oh had given Dr. Jurati a vision of a horrible future if synthetics were allowed to exist, and Jurati ingested a tracking device. This explains why she killed Maddox. La Sirena leaves the cube to go meet with Picard and Soji, but realizes they’re being followed by Narek. Jurati finally decides to (nearly) kill herself to destroy the tracking device, freeing them to make the rendezvous.

In “Broken Pieces” a lot gets revealed. We learn that the Romulan hatred of synthetics comes from a sort of race memory from an earlier species which had created synthetics which led to a racial armageddon. We also learn that Commodore Oh is half-Vulcan half-Romulan, which in isolation seems a little convenient (a Romulan mole getting all the way to the chief of Starfleet Security?), but maybe they’ll dive into it a little bit more.

On La Sirena, Jurati wakes up and explains what’s been driving Oh, Narek and Narissa. But much more interesting, Rios withdraws into his room and Raffi interviews his holograms to try to figure out why. This is hilarious because of the wide range Santiago Cabrera displays in playing the various holograms. Also, it seems like the holograms are exaggerated characters from the original series: The wide-eyed navigator (Chekov), the Scottish engineer (Scotty), and the overly-friendly doctor (McCoy). I’m not sure about the other two, though. In any event, these sequences are pretty great, but eventually Raffi just confronts Rios, and he explains that he’d been ousted from Starfleet after his ship had encountered a pair of synthetic ambassadors, which his captain had killed on orders, and then committed suicide.

While Picard had managed to convince Starfleet to meet them at Deep Space Twelve, the crew instead decide to head through a Borg wormhole to the synthetics’ planet – probably a good call given how compromised Starfleet seems to be. So ultimately this episode has done double duty of working through some plot elements, but also bringing the crew together. So off they head through the wormhole – with Narek in pursuit, having presumably figured out the fastest way they can get there.

Oh, I almost forgot! Elnor has his own small arc, trying to failing to save Hugh, but then being rescued by Seven of Nine, who activates the Borg cube to fight off the Romulans. Although largely a side story, it works quite well, as Seven and Elnor are – like almost everyone else in this story – somewhat damaged individuals, but at different ends of the experience spectrum. Elnor’s embrace of Seven when she rescues him is genuinely touching, and it’s easy to see how the two of them can work together despite their differences.

One of the interesting things about Picard – which I’ve mentioned before – is that Picard doesn’t have the weight of Starfleet or even the Enterprise to work with, and he’s also no longer an action hero, nor are the others on La Sirena. Yet they’re heading into a massive confrontation on a small ship with no backup (except, one might infer, a Borg cube that will show up sometime). So all the pieces are in place for the last two episodes.

Now we’ll see if they can pay off all the buildup.

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