“The Impossible Box”
Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 6 – Debuted Thursday, February 27, 2020
Written by Nick Zayas
Directed by Maja Vrvilo
After a bleak episode last week, this episode takes its time exploring the frailties of the main characters while it moves the overall season narrative forward as the two plot threads come together in an urgent final act.
[WARNING: Spoilers from here on]
As Picard says to Hugh, “I’ll take a friendly face.” After last week’s seeming rock bottom of darkness and despair, the plot moves forward… and seemingly if slowly back into the light. The episode starts with a careful pace and give us plenty of time to see the vulnerabilities of the characters. There are well crafted moments between Rios and Agnes, Rios and Raffi, Picard, Elnor and Agnes, and a particularly lovely re-introduction between Picard and Hugh. The Narek and Soji scenes are finally going somewhere and have a sense of weight and urgency to them, and even the (thankfully) brief scenes between Narek and Narissa aren’t too creepy-incest or mustache twirling this time, minus a cheek-stroke or two.
After last week, poor Raffi is heartbroken, and unfortunately has gone on quite the bender of booze and snakeleaf self-medication. She pulls herself together enough to turn on her charm with her old friend Emmy, a captain-rank Starfleet official. Hurd really brings depth to Raffi (as always) and you can see this is the kind of acting Raffi’s done many times; as an addict, it’s a safe bet that she’s put on “everything is fine” and “aren’t I charming, so you’ll go away and stop asking questions” faces more times than she can count. Unfortunately Picard proves that he’s totally missing Raffi’s real state of mind, when he awkwardly starts applauding her performance. She crawls back to bed, and Rios comes to check on her. In a scene with a lot of quiet understanding, Raffi confides to Rios that she has a son. The scene really brings out the talents of Hurd and Santiago Cabrera, and the characters’ longtime friendship feels very real.
Speaking of Rios, he shows off his football (or soccer if you must) skills while he can’t sleep, and is joined by a troubled Dr. Jurati in search of some companionship. The two have some chemistry building after last week’s little interaction on the bridge over the rock ’em sock ’em robot hologram. While the hookup between Agnes and Chris Rios has a slightly creepy subtext for Agnes, it’s also a very human thing for Agnes to try to escape her feelings of guilt and worry about Maddox and yet also want to feel alive after seeing someone die. It still seems a little ill-advised, and they both seem to know it even though they still go for it.
Picard, forced to beam over to the Borg cube solo, arrives feeling frail and alone, and a flood of memories of his assimilation and Borg life come back to him. No surprise, Patrick Stewart owns the fragility created by his haunted past exquisitely, making us feel every difficult moment right along with him. But his view of the Borg and the cube is quickly reframed when Hugh calls out to him and he realizes the Borg are in fact former drones who have come to help him. As he visits with Hugh and tours the reclamation project, Sir Patrick Stewart does some of his finest acting as we watch Picard coming to understand that he’s not the only one who went through assimilation and recovery, and that he’s one of the lucky ones… this is really the first time in a long time we’ve seen him look back on that experience in a more reflective way (without the anger of First Contact) and see how much it has damaged him, and others. As Picard says, the Borg underneath their cybernetic parts “are victims, not monsters.”
Back on the Narek and Soji plotline, the slow “seed of doubt” tactic is finally paying off. Isa Briones does a great job with Soji’s slow recognition that something is terribly wrong… finding out the calls to her mother were 70 seconds exactly, realizing she fell asleep every time, and discovering that every item she owns is only 37 months old. Narek ups the intensity by introducing Soji to the Romulan practice of Zhal Makh, which is used to help her recall her dream of being a child and running away from her father’s workroom. The question of Soji’s sentience and having a “subconscious” is fascinating, and builds on the foundations we saw from TNG where Data starts to dream. Here, as Narek says, her dreams are where her programing reconciles the obvious dissonance of her life and her implanted memories of being an organic person (growing up, going to school, etc.).
One writing issue that has stood out throughout these episodes is that with what we’ve seen of Soji so far, she hasn’t been allowed to have much of a personality; she mostly just stands there, and is told things or is manipulated by others. Even though we only got a single episode with Dahj, her personality was more out front, and it was clear she had more agency in her life. Let’s hope Soji, now freed of her manipulative relationship with Narek, can blossom as a character.
As Narek pushes Soji, he grows closer and close to activating her. Once he gets her to look around enough to provide clues about the location of their home, he leave his little Rubik’s Cube puzzle box behind, but this time it opens to emit a red cloud of radiation. It’s not clear why he thought this was a good way to kill her, because it’s not instantaneous, which means she’ll suffer, and since he clearly has feelings for her, why would he want that? And of course, thanks to the slow process of the gas making its way across the room, there’s plenty of time for her “Mom AI” to activate her into self-protection mode.
There are a few plot contrivances that can generally be overlooked but are still an issue if you think about it for any length of time. The Queen’s cell on the Borg cube is cool idea, but one that seems a bit silly when it’s pretty clear a Borg Queen can be “re-born” with a different host. The big one is of course the spatial trajector technology that the Borg got from assimilating the Sikarians at some point after the USS Voyager passed through their space in the first season of Voygaer. The technology lets our heroes escape to the planet Napenthe, where a friendly face or two waits them. But the existence of the spatial trajector raises more questions; if the Borg now have the technology to jump 40,000 light years at will, this combined with their transwarp hubs (which were admittedly crippled by Janeway, but could likely be rebuilt) would make them pretty formidable enemies still.
- Romulans having three names seems really confusing.
- Why did Elnor need to stay behind? Hopefully we’ll find out at the start of the next episode.
- Soji’s journal has in highlighter GIRLS RULE. Hopefully by the 24th century, young women won’t feel that they have to have such a rallying cry, as sexism won’t be a thing.
- Among Soji’s childhood artifacts is a storage case with “The Adventures of Flotter” art on it. A fairly deep cut Voyager reference, the holoseries is enjoyed by 24th century kids like Naomi Wildman.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released on CBS All Access in the USA Thursdays at 12:01 AM PT/3:01 AM ET. In Canada it airs Thursdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel at 6PM PT /9PM ET and streams on Crave. For the rest of the world it streams Fridays on Amazon Prime Video. Episodes are released weekly.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news at TrekMovie.