We may have taken the long and painfully slow way round, but finally “Star Trek: Picard” brings its two storylines together and finds its Trekness again as Picard and co arrive at the Borg Reclamation Project and have a surprisingly (for this series) happy reunion in “The Impossible Box”.
On the Borg cube, Narek and Rizzo approach the endgame of their plan to extract vital information from Soji, while Soji’s sense of self starts to unravel. Meanwhile, spurred on by Maddox’s dying words, La Sirena is on a direct course for The Artefact – and trouble. It does seem like we could have got to this point (that is Picard visiting ‘the artefact’ – that apparently everyone in the galaxy knows about with the exception of dear, sweet Elnor) directly from episode 2 with little lost in the way of story or (hah) character development but it remains to be seen whether the remaining four episodes of season one will redeem all the time spent spinning our narrative wheels in episodes three to five.
Admittedly, the episode doesn’t get off to a great start, with Maddox’s death apparently handwaved away and no sign of the EMH or any kind of post-mortem examination. Picard never used to be this gullible and a line or two suggesting that Jurati has tampered with the medical records and EMH’s programme to cover up her murder would have been welcomed. That being said, the conversation between Picard and Jurati casts our redoubtable captain in a very different light and it’s a fascinating one. Seeing Picard as an ‘ex-Borg’ survivor is an idea-rich with dramatic potential and one which “The Next Generation” series and movies only flirted with, preferring to treat it more like being a rescued prisoner of war whose recovery required little more than a stare out of the window and a mud wrestle with his brother.
Yet, as “First Contact” showed, Picard retains some kind of link, some ephemeral connection with the Collective and that raises some interesting possibilities for this series which, alongside its main synthetics plot, seems to be positioning itself for some ex-Borg civil rights commentary. Also, “They don’t change, they metastasise” is a cracking line of dialogue, one of the best the series has offered so far. We also get definite confirmation that Janeway’s actions in “Endgame” did not destroy the Borg collective, apparently only wounding it and suggests The Artefact’s origins aren’t linked to that story although it’s by no means the deepest cut of “Star Trek: Voyager” lore this episode has to offer. It’s also interesting that, although played as almost comically naïve, Elnor’s also the only one who senses the levels and layers of deception within La Sirena’s complement.
Narek, meanwhile, continues to be the galaxy’s worst ‘secret agent’. He’s clumsy and unsubtle enough to give Daniel Craig’s Bond a run for his money while his sister Rizzo is giving off big Jane Badler (“V”) energy as she throws herself into her brother’s plot to uncover Soji’s secret origins. Of course, Soji’s mum is a simulated interface and of course, the series pretty much confirms this straight away before showing that Dahj’s/ Soji’s cover story and props are ridiculously easy to debunk.
During the journey to The Artefact, there’s time for another visit to Picard’s holo-study which I guess is just kept running all the time? Would it have been that expensive to give Picard some quarters? The study just seems dumber each time we see it. Still, it does give us the opportunity for a lovely blended shot of Picard and Locutus. Thank goodness we’ve got see-through screens now. It wouldn’t have worked half as well as a reflection in the old LCARS interface.
The rest of the scenes aboard La Sirena are the weaker part of this episode, feature out-of-nowhere intimacy between Rios and Jurati and Raffi drowning her self-inflicted sorrows in a bottle. JUrati’s jittery, wide-eyed vulnerability makes these scenes seem gratuitous unless it turns out to be a front for a ruthless, calculating persona we haven’t seen yet. Alison Pill definitely has the chops to pull off that kind of switch so I’m hoping to see a more steely, calculating side to her otherwise its difficult to believe she’ll be able to keep her secrets from her shipmates for very much longer.
I could grumble about how, once again, a seemingly insurmountable difficulty it overcome with dispiriting ease as Raffi manages to blag some diplomatic credentials for JL (how has this not ended up on the desk of Admiral ‘Sheer Fucking Hubris’ Clancy and how have Starfleet not sent a ship to catch up with ‘loose cannon’ Picard bu this point) but to be honest, any grumbles disappear once Picard and Hugh come face to face.
Picard on the Borg Cube is indisputably great, as is the idea the Romulan authorities are screwing with him by sending him to a traumatic beam-in site. But Hugh being happy to see Picard, without agenda or grudge, is a wonderful balm to this old Trekkie’s soul after the vicious nihilism of last week. The final act of this episode is everything last week’s horrible heist wasn’t. Action-oriented, fast-paced and moving the story forward without getting bogged down in leaden expository dialogue or cynical easter eggs. The use of assimilated Sikarian technology to facilitate the escape at the end is possibly the most obscure callback (Star Trek: Voyager S1E10 “Prime Factors”) I’ve yet seen in any “Star Trek” series and makes brilliant sense (if we assume the Borg found a way to operate it without the 20-kilometre thick layer of tetrahedral quartz) not only in this episode but in explaining away the niggling question of how the Borg Queen manages to be so omnipresent yet elusive in previous Borg encounters.
This is the series I was expecting following the two episodes of set-up, my favourite episode so far and while it could still go either way at this point, this is a much more promising start. Perhaps the sun is rising after all.