If Picard has told us anything in its six aired episodes, it’s that you can’t outrun your past. Whether it’s a disgruntled ex-friend or bitter old enemy, our histories have a way of catching up to us, and none are more frightening than the one Picard faces in “The Impossible Box” — the Borg. As you may recall, the last time he was on a Borg vessel, it wasn’t under the best circumstances, making his trip to the Artifact a difficult proposition. This provides the episode with some of its best and unfortunately also its most frustrating material, as the show steps into the second half of its season.
Preparing For the Worst
The buildup to La Sirena’s arrival at the Artifact has some effective material — Picard sits quietly in his makeshift ready room, contemplating what lies ahead of him. He flicks through photos of the Romulans and the Borg, before stopping on Hugh. Looking at the former drone, then and now, has him reflecting on the nature of being a part of the collective, and what it means to reclaim your humanity after that (director Maja Vrvilo cleverly overlays Locutus’ face on top of Picard’s to drive this point home).
Stewart excels when playing this still, somber Picard (a far cry from his goofy French accent last week), though it’s a shame the writing isn’t always up to the same level, as Dr. Jurati bluntly reminds Picard (and the audience) what happened to him back in “The Best of Both Worlds”, as though the aforementioned image hadn’t made that point already. Speaking of Jurati, her villainous turn last week is apparently being stashed away to be dealt with later, though she does deal with her guilt by hooking up with Captain Rios — a thoroughly random turn of events that’s just sort of ‘there’ in the episode (but hey, at least they have more chemistry than Narek and Soji).
Betrayal on the Borg Cube
Speaking of our couple on the Borg cube, their story gets a significant boost here with, unsurprisingly, Narek betraying Soji, after learning the location of her home planet. Nobody is gladder than I that this storyline has finally gone somewhere, even if it does mean revisiting the same old “I just need more time” dialogue between Rizzo and Narek beforehand, but this turn of events just lacks the dramatic heft it so badly wants. For as much as we’ve all joked, it’s really not a great sign that Narek has more romantic chemistry with his sister than with Soji, and as such, his tear-filled betrayal feels little more than an obligatory step towards Soji joining Picard.
Similarly, the revelation that everything Soji knows is a lie doesn’t quite land for a few reasons. For one, the show has largely been interested in what Soji is as opposed to who she is up to now, and as such we don’t, as an audience, really know what’s being lost here. And if we don’t know who she is outside of being Data’s daughter or her position on the Artifact, then it’s difficult to get in her head when her world’s turned upside down. On another note, the fact that we’ve known of her origins since episode one doesn’t exactly help either, making the whole thing feel more inevitable than anything else, and not the kind of tragic inevitability the episode seems to be going for.
Returning to the Belly of the Beast
Back on the Picard side of things, Raffi gets a strong character beat when she must negotiate the crew’s way onto the Artifact. The fact that she does this while blind drunk, with the crew rallying around her, is a nice moment of accomplishment after last week’s crushing blow. And hey, diplomacy in Star Trek! But there’re more horrors to come when Picard beams over, as the damage that was done to him all those years ago begins to creep up on him once again. Images of attacking Borg drones (mostly from First Contact) flash before him, he becomes disoriented as all those horrible memories are stirred up once again, but a friendly voice — that of Hugh — cuts through the noise and settles his nerves.
There’s a comfort to Picard being greeted by a friendly face here, these old TNG characters brought back together by circumstance, and while I could say their reunion is a touch overplayed (to my memory, they weren’t exactly close in Hugh’s two appearances, with Picard spending most of “I, Borg” at odds with him), I’m happy to let it slide for how nice it is to see these two on-screen again. My problem though mostly has to do with Picard’s hurried change of heart, which sees him go from a “can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with” attitude to “they’re victims, not monsters” in the space of 3 scenes. The intention behind this is reasonable, with the idea that former Borg drones are people deserving of rights, not creatures to be feared, being very much in line with Star Trek‘s core philosophy. You could even say that this feeds nicely into the show’s (admittedly muddled) portrayal of the Romulans and their refugee crisis.
But the idea that Picard, a man who was assimilated and rehabilitated himself, has only now come to this conclusion doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny. Especially since just last week, he was palling around with Seven of Nine (who, by the way, feels oddly absent from this episode about rehabilitated Borg). Worse still, the rushed manner in which this arc takes place combined with the aforementioned dialogue, which heavily spells out his changed viewpoint, makes for a clumsily handled bit of storytelling, despite the ambition behind it. And it’s not as though his turn is in service of anything larger, at least not in this episode, as he just winds up escaping with Soji in the end.
So while it should be noted that “The Impossible Box” does make strides towards the franchise’s core ideas and is significantly more ambitious than “Stardust City Rag”, it still struggles to know what to do with itself. The character work just isn’t quite there, which is a problem for a show positioning itself as a “character study”. Add to that the fact that Picard is still juggling multiple disparate plot threads that, as of yet, still haven’t quite gelled together, with others just consistently falling flat, and you have an episode that’s frustrating in how close it is to being something better.
- The use of Sikarian technology from Voyager‘s “Prime Factors” is a nice touch.
- The EMH that saw Jurati kill Maddox is nowhere to seen or heard from here, which I’m sure is intentional and not just an oversight, but the fact that it doesn’t raise suspicion in the characters is strange.
- Whenever Narek speaks to Soji, his dialogue is so excessively heavy-handed, he might as well have a neon sign saying “I’m going to betray you!” over his head.
- Speaking of Narek, I’m curious whether making his betrayal of Soji a surprise to the audience would have given it more dramatic weight. Perhaps not, but the fact that what’s here feels so lacking has me wondering.
Star Trek: Picard airs Thursdays on CBS All Access and Fridays on Amazon Prime internationally.
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