Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 6
“The Impossible Box”
Star Trek: Picard joins up the two main storylines when Picard makes his way to the decommissioned Borg Cube in search of Soji.
The main criticism of Star Trek: Picard that I’ve seen is that it moves far too slowly. It’s not an entirely unfair observation and one that I’ve talked about in previous reviews. In general I like the more deliberate pace because it allows more time to be in a particular moment and explore how the characters involved react to events. Investment in those moments is certainly essential to being onboard with the pacing and some scenes definitely work better than others. Plot does also eventually have to move on and we have been teased with Picard meeting Soji since the first episode so it feels about right that they should meet now that 60% of the season is complete.
We do still have to wait to actually explore what their connection will be as they only cross paths in the last few minutes of the episode and conditions are less than ideal for an extended conversation when they do. The episode builds up to their meeting, almost revelling in keeping them apart for as long as possible with Soji being pulled further away from Picard as he gets closer to her. It goes against the assumption that arriving at the decommissioned Borg Cube would mean the wait is over to get these characters in the same room and builds suspense nicely.
The episode is more about the Borg Cube itself than it is the meeting of Picard and Soji. There are other elements that come into play but the setting is definitely the subject here. The Borg Cube, as with everything else in this show, has to filter through Picard and his previous experiences with the Borg are the perfect catalyst for that connection. The previous episode established that Picard isn’t completely over the experience of being assimilated all those years ago and this episode builds on that idea by exploring how he currently feels about the Borg.
Patrick Stewart is unquestionably a great actor and sells every minute of his screen time here but there are issues with the choices made to express Picard’s feelings about the Borg. Jurati suggests that it’s possible the Borg on this Cube might have changed due to the Reclamation Project which prompts a really hostile reaction from Picard. He makes it clear that he doesn’t believe the Borg are capable of change because he sees them as a malevolent force that think of nothing but conquest. On the surface it’s a perfectly understandable reaction because Picard experienced what they do first hand and is still living with the emotional consequences of it. When actually considering what Picard is saying it doesn’t work quite as well. His opinion on the Borg is more or less accurate as they don’t hide their mission statement nor do they apologise for it but he’s living proof that the individual drones are people who have been indoctrinated into the Borg Collective against their will. Hugh is in this very episode as another reminder that it’s possible to come back from being a Drone, not to mention the fact that Seven of Nine was in the previous episode as another example of that so Picard’s dismissal of Jurati’s suggestion makes no sense for him as a character. It’s possible that the prospect of setting foot on a Borg Cube caused him to have a purely emotional reaction with no rational thought behind it but there could have still been a powerful hostile reaction without having him ignore facts that should be obvious to him.
This outburst is meant to draw a line between his wrong-headed belief and him realising that he was wrong later in the episode. The strongest scenes are between Picard and Hugh who reconnect after many years of not seeing one another. Notably Hugh is the first character from Picard’s past to greet him with warmth; everyone else has some sort of issue with him but Hugh remembers the part Picard played in giving him back his individuality and is forever grateful to him for that. He has taken charge of this project to follow that example and do for others what Picard helped do for him. It’s inspiring to see Hugh paying that forward and doing something really positive. I especially liked his reasoning behind calling the former Borg Ex-Bs; he sees a new name as being the first step towards a new identity. It’s something he learned from being on the Enterprise and has chosen to live by that. He follows this up by reminding Picard that Locutus is his past and Jean Luc Picard is who he is now. Ultimately that is what’s important and it’s how Hugh gets through the days.
The portrayal of Picard’s PTSD is excellent. Having his face superimposed over the image of him as Locutus as he revisits that painful time in his life is a great visual touch. It’s the perfect representation that he still carries the emotional scars with him and perhaps fears that Locutus may still be inside him. His memory flashes when he first arrives on the Cube support this and show how much anguish Picard is experiencing after revisiting a time in his life that he would rather forget. It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart’s performance is great as it always is and the visual touches compliment it perfectly.
Picard takes a tour of the operation and is genuinely proud of what has been accomplished. We get a dose of the classic inspirational Picard when Hugh states that the results are less than idea and he points out that what he’s doing is a good thing but there’s no requirement for it to be perfect. He sees people doing whatever they can to help restore victims to individuality and that’s definitely a positive thing so he sees no reason for Hugh to doubt whether it’s enough. He uses the word “victims” when describing the Borg which is supposed to be the conclusion of the small arc that began when he dismissed the very notion of them being able to change. That earlier view still makes no sense but the words used when telling Hugh how impressed he is are absolutely on point for Picard as a character.
Jonathan Del Arco deserves a special mention for his ability to humanise Hugh and the rest of the reclaimed Borg Drones by extension. He talks confidently about their value as individuals and his belief that they can find purpose once again. Since he managed to find a purpose after being freed from the Borg Collective he believes that it’s possible for all of them. The warmth and familiarity expressed in Del Arco’s scenes with Patrick Stewart is excellent and adds so much depth to their conversations as there is a tangible history between them that both actors make excellent use of.
There’s the slight suggestion of a potential purpose for Picard when this mission is over. The basis of his characterisation this season is that he has lost his sense of purpose and is desperate to reclaim it. Questioning who he is in the world that now exists has been an underlying thread in every episode in some way so it’s no surprise that Hugh would suggest he could be an advocate for free Borg because it’s a position he could slot naturally into since he understands what they’re going through. Picard’s reaction to this is interesting; he looks as if he’s about to speak and then stops himself. It could be because he doesn’t want to disappoint Hugh by telling him that that’s not something he has interest in pursuing or it could be that he’s stunned into silence because he had never considered himself in that role. Perhaps once he reflects on the possibility he will find himself drawn to it and actively put himself in that role. Picard does have a soft spot for lost people as shown by the connection he feels to the Romulans so having him latch onto the Ex-Bs could be a logical next step for him.
Hugh’s gratitude and obvious respect puts him in the position of wanting to do everything he can to help Picard. He’s more than happy to help him find Soji and aids in their evasion of the Romulans once they give chase right when Picard meets her. There is some background information given about Hugh such as his status as a Federation citizen which means he has something of an allegiance to that organisation rather than the Romulans so that him working against them in favour of Picard makes sense to some degree. Hugh feeling like he owes Picard his loyalty is a stronger and more interesting reason but it’s good to have a reminder that there is a complex political situation in the background. I’ll get into that a bit more later in the review.
The chase through the Cube is brief but exciting enough. Picard having to be at his most persuasive and get Soji on side very quickly makes for a strong moment with Patrick Stewart playing the sincerity mixed with desperation perfectly. Isa Briones playing Soji as constantly uncertain even after she has decided to go with Picard is an impressive subtle touch. The way she keeps her distance and constantly looks uneasy around him works really well as does the general sense that she is completely overwhelmed by everything that’s happening to her. If Soji is meant to be the audience perspective in this moment then it makes sense that it feels as if too much is happening at once.
Hugh leads Picard and Soji to the Queen’s Chamber and activates a transporter device with a range of 40,000 light years gained when the Borg assimilated the Sikarians -those who know Star Trek: Voyager inside out will remember this species- so that they can escape without a trace. It could be said that the existence of this device is a little too convenient thought the callback to Voyager serves as a reminder that this is a universe with a lot of history and that elements from the past can certainly be used to enrich a story without impacting it massively.
The sequence does suffer somewhat because it has too much going on. Elnor’s last minute appearance is certainly a surprise though not a welcome one. It does link into his pledge to protect Picard but the scene races through what could otherwise be a meaningful exchange. Elnor reminds Picard of his pledge, Picard releases him from it and Elnor declines to be released. It’s a weird moment that could have been emotionally resonant as it has all the hallmarks of something interesting. The situation appears hopeless as Elnor has a sword facing up against a lot of Romulans with Disruptors. There’s plenty of scope for Picard to feel guilty for bringing Elnor along on this mission as it’s likely that he will die buying time for Picard to escape. I don’t think for a second that Elnor will die as there’s a real opportunity to explore what it means to be Romulan now that their homeworld has been destroyed through his perspective as a contrast to Narek’s. Elnor lives an alternate philosophy of honesty and openness where Narek subscribes to the classic Romulan ideals of secrecy and deceit. Together they could form the pillars of a fascinating debate so I really hope this comes to pass.
This is the episode where we finally get progression on Soji’s character, her relationship with Narek and Narek’s relationship with his sister. She opens up to Narek about a disturbing recurring dream that she has where she as a young girl enters her father’s lab only to be woken abruptly by a burst of fear. Narek theorises to Narissa that understanding the dream is the key to understanding where she came from so he pretends to be eager to help her and walks -literally- her through a Romulan guided meditation technique where she can have greater control of her dream and better understand it.
It’s a strange sequence but works really well. I always enjoy getting insight into the culture of the various alien races on Star Trek and so much about the Romulans remains unexplored that there are so many possibilities. This technique reminded me of the Vulcan Mind Meld to some degree even though it played out far differently. Romulans are a disciplined race to a far different degree to Vulcans so it makes sense that their meditation techniques would develop along different lines. Narek’s instruction is largely about defining the feelings experienced during the dream and learning how to use them in order to find answers.
Isa Briones continues to impress in this sequence. She plays Soji with a mixture of curiosity, fear and determination as she journeys through her dream. It’s clear that every fibre of her being -or programming- is resisting what she is doing in an effort to hide the truth from her mind. The slow burn reveal of her faceless father, the doll that looks like her on a workbench and the visual indicator of where she came from works well as the information appears organically while being perfectly in tune with the suspense. Narissa watching what is supposed to be a private moment makes it more sinister and Narek becomes steadily more threatening as the information reveals itself.
The misstep here might be a character flaw or it might be a flaw in the writing but either way Narek leaving behind a lethal dose of radiation and hoping it would do the job if he simply locked the door was obviously never going to work. He knows that going on the offensive is likely to trigger her and he knows that didn’t end so well for the Romulans that attacked Dahj so it makes no sense that he would try to kill her so slowly as it gives her ample time to react. His actions mean that she becomes triggered and is able to escape which makes Narek look fairly stupid.
Soji and Narek’s relationship has been fairly repetitive up until this point and it’s difficult to understand why she continues to open up to him when he seems to relish keeping her in the dark about himself. Some of the dialogue indicates that he is genuinely falling for her though nothing that comes out of his mouth can be believed since he makes it clear early on that he is purposely enigmatic. He is so obviously manipulating Soji by offering her tiny morsels of information that will make her cast doubt on her very identity. One thing he mentions is that she calls her mother for precisely 70 seconds every day. We see in a prior episode and in this one that conversations with her mother cause her to involuntarily lose consciousness and this one strongly suggests that this happens so that she doesn’t have time to suspect that her mother might not be real. Once that doubt is in her head she tries to keep herself awake but fails so ends up examining everything she owns like photographs, clothes, childhood drawings and a beloved stuffed toy. Everything is 37 months old which leads her to conclude that what she remembers to be her life isn’t real.
Narek is colder than he has ever been when he tells her that she isn’t real and never was. It’s a cutting statement that confirms Soji’s worst fears about herself and frames Narek as an antagonist to her who has been taking advantage of their connection to learn more about her. His pained reaction when he leaves the room and waits for her to die suggests that he’s not entirely comfortable with his actions which doesn’t really track with what has been established up until this point. The fact that he might have genuine feelings for her doesn’t alter what he did to her nor does it do anything for his chances of redemption.
His relationship with Narissa continues to be fairly repetitive. Once again they have a variation on the same conversation with the minor difference of Narek taking control of their interaction by highlighting the value of his more measured approach and pointing out exactly why taking the time to understand Soji has brought him close to the desired result. Once again there’s an unsettling incestuous undertone to their relationship but Narek offering reasons for why his way is better and having Narissa concede is at least something different.
The episode is dragged down by the handling of the rest of the crew as well as Picard’s role within that. Raffi is shown to be struggling and doubling down on her self destructive tendencies. Her skills are needed to get them the necessary credentials to allow them near the Cube so she calls up an old friends, makes a case for them being granted access and merits applause from Picard when she succeeds. Picard’s behaviour around Raffi in this episode is everything I dislike about his characterisation in this show. He has become comfortable with manipulating people into doing things they aren’t comfortable with in service of his own personal goals with no regard of what the consequences might be. He has been shown to encourage Raffi’s addictive personality because he needs her help and in this episode he completely ignores her obviously diminished mental state because she can help at this particular time.
Raffi’s assistance grants them diplomatic clearance to approach the decommissioned Borg Cube; as I mentioned earlier in the review there is a political structure operating in the background that is a lot more important than it might seem. It’s mentioned in this episode that showing up at the Borg Cube without clearance would be seen as an act of War by the Romulans who would blame the Federation and almost certainly retaliate in a way that could lead to a catastrophic conflict. On that score it’s a really good thing they were granted clearance though there is a problem that arises later on that might impact the political situation. A state of emergency is declared on the Cube with every Romulan guard onboard chasing after Soji, Picard and Hugh as per Narek’s orders. It’s mentioned that Hugh is a Federation citizen in charge of the project. I wonder if his actions will be taken as an act of War as per the previously identified risk. It feels like something that wouldn’t be mentioned unless it were to become important and it could be interesting to use Hugh as the focal point for that.
At this point Raffi needs support from friends because her relationship with her son is over as far as she knows, she is about to have a grandchild that she will never get to meet and she loses another friend through her actions in this episode. Granted, only the latter has anything to do with Picard though it’s easily possible that her loyalty to him was a significant contributory facture in creating the rift that exists between her and her son. For Picard to just ignore the obvious signs that Raffi is coming apart is painfully out of character for him and feels at odds with the excellent characterisation elsewhere. I can believe that he has become more selfish in his old age and perhaps doesn’t realise it but this makes him seem ignorant which is far from what he should be.
There is a really strong scene between Raffi and Rios that really should have been between Raffi and Picard. Rios recognises that Raffi is in pain, listens to her and puts her to bed while taking the bottle away from her. As she sleeps he states that nobody gets everything right in life. This serves as a reminder that everyone on his ship is damaged in some way and looking for purpose. They have all made mistakes and shouldn’t continue to punish themselves for them because it will lead to them tearing themselves apart. Raffi’s current mental state is proof of how damaging that self loathing can be but Rios seems genuinely committed to helping her through it which is more than we can currently say for Picard.
All the good work done with Rios is countered by his interaction with Jurati. She comes to him visibly distraught after her -somehow still secret- murder of Bruce Maddox and makes it clear that she wants to sleep with him. Almost immediately she highlights that she understands doing so would be a mistake but she also knows that it’ll make her feel better for a while. It looks like Rios is going to back off when she points that out but ends up going through with it despite being made aware that she considers it to be a mistake. He goes from respecting that and listening to her talk about how hollow she feels to welcoming her sexual advance after hearing this which doesn’t paint him in the best light considering everything she told him. As for Jurati, we get no further understanding of what motivated her to kill Maddox though we do see that she’s haunted by her actions which may or may not make it easier to believe that she’s redeemable at a later point.
A compelling episode that digs into Picard’s lingering trauma after his experience of the Borg, makes great use of the Borg Cube setting and finally brings the two main plots together. Picard’s PTSD triggered by remembering his experience of being assimilated by the Borg is used really well in this episode. It’s odd that he denies the very possibility that Borg Drones can change given all the evidence he has personally witnessed to the contrary but the handling of his difficulty being around Borg again is excellent. Patrick Stewart’s performance combines perfectly with some notable visual flourishes to explore this brilliantly. His interactions with Hugh are great as well and it’s notable that Hugh is the first character from Picard’s past to warmly welcome him. He is clearly grateful for Picard’s role in helping him reclaim his individuality and is paying that forward by granting the same opportunity to other Drones. His talk about the value of a name in forging a new identity is a really nice touch and Jonathan Del Arco’s performance bears special mention. His desire to help Picard out of a natural loyalty to him makes perfect sense in context and helps carry the story forward. Picard finally meets Soji in this episode though it happens under less than ideal conditions. The escape sequence is impressively frantic if a little too busy and Soji struggling to decide whether Picard can be trusted or not helps ground the situation. Elnor’s sudden appearance makes for a really odd scene that could have been a strong emotional moment that makes use of the bond that exists between them but it’s over too quickly and uncomfortably adds to a sequence that already feels as if there is too much going on.
The forward movement on the Soj/Narek relationship is compelling. Narek is impressively duplicitous which adds to the tension in the guided meditation sequence. Isa Briones delivers an excellent performance throughout this episode with the meditation sequence being the highlight. The slow burn reveals of all of the elements in her dream work really well and Narek’s inevitable betrayal of her is good in theory though shows him to be stupid considering all he knows about what triggered Dahj. Further hints that he has genuine feelings for her are completely at odds with his actions but the way he continues to manipulate her with morsels of information pointing her in the right direction is interesting. His interactions with his sister are still largely repetitive though he does confidently take charge of the interaction which is something different at least. The episode is dragged down considerably by the portrayal of Picard’s crew. Raffi is clearly coming apart following what she went through in the previous episode but Picard ignores her clearly self destructive behaviour because he needs her help at this point. It makes him come across as ignorant and pretty much sums up the issues I have with how Picard is characterised in this show. Rios helping Raffi makes for some really nice moments between them that reinforces the fact that the everyone onboard is broken in some way and that he feels they shouldn’t let their regrets destroy them. His interaction with Jurati where he seems to respect that her desire to sleep with him is a known mistake for her before listening to her when she opens up to him and ending with accepting her desire to sleep with him even though he knows it’s a mistake is a really odd on that doesn’t paint Rios in the best light. Nothing further is learned about Jurat’s motivation for killing Maddox but she is clearly haunted by it which might make it possible for her to be redeemed to some degree.
- the portrayal of Picard’s Borg related PTSD
- visual flourishes combined with an excellent Patrick Stewart performance allowing for excellent exploration of this
- Picard and Hugh’s interactions
- insight into Hugh’s motivations
- Jonathan Del Arco’s performance
- the Rios and Raffi scenes
- the guided meditation sequence
- Isa Briones layered performance in the meditation
- building the tension as Soji learns the truth
- Narek’s expert manipulation of Soji and how that points her in a particular direction
- an exciting escape sequence
- Elnor’s arrival during the escape cluttering an already busy sequence
- events moving too quickly for Elnor’s actions to hit the right emotional beats
- Picard coming across as ignorant around Raffi when she is clearly coming apart
- this being inconsistent with the strong characterisation for Picard elsewhere in the episode
- Rios not coming across in a flattering light in his interaction with Jurati
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