A great many things become clear as “Star Trek: Picard” manoeuvres its characters and pieces for its first season endgame. Ironically, the episode called “Broken Pieces” is the one which starts to show how everything fits together.
But first, in depressingly customary form, we begin with another flashback – to fourteen years ago again – but this time it’s Narissa’s flashback as she remembers her induction into the Zhat Vash on Aia, ‘The Grief Planet’ at the heart of an eightfold star system. There lies a repository of knowledge, an archive of a previous civilisation which allowed the rise of artificial life to the point where it crossed some vaguely articulated threshold and brought about the equally vague ‘Destroyer’ who laid waste to the civilisation. It’s on the strength of these visions that the Zhat Vash establish themselves and their mission: to prevent the rise of synthetic life at any and all costs. The road to hell is still paved with good intentions it would seem, even for radicalised xenophobic religious zealots in the far future.
Meanwhile, with everyone but Elnor reunited on La Sirena, Patrick Stewart seems finally to have succeeded in his own personal search for Picard (take a bow, Counsellor Troi) as he begins to not only listen to his crew properly but also bring them together to function as a team. Secret and lies spill out in a near-stream-of-consciousness as everyone is brought up to speed in a more humane way than making them watch all seven previous episodes of the show.
On the Borg Cube, Elnor is rescued from certain capture by a Septim ex machina and the two make their way to the Queen cell to rid the cube of the Romulans once and for all. Unfortunately, this requires Seven of Nine to make a risky sacrifice: becoming a local Borg Queen – a Borg Princess? – to revive the local collective. It’s probably a clever metaphor for unionisation with Narissa and the Romulans as the corporate overlords who see the workforce as disposable. And dispose of them they do in one of “Star Trek: Picard”’s trademark ‘oh this will be cool/ oh it’s all over’ moments as Seven revives the Borg and Narissa blows them all out of the airlock, Ripley style. It’s something of a surprise that the Romulans believe this ends their threat given that previous canon, especially “Star Trek: First Contact” is very clear on the Borg not needing a breathable atmosphere to function. Narissa may just have created a cloud of free-floating Borg drones and it would have been cool to see them swarm the escaping Romulan ships, but that’s not the story we’re going to get.
While Narissa is descending from regular “Star Trek” villainy into cartoonish super-villainy, coming perilously close to being Trek’s answer to “Game Of Thrones”’ initially fascinating and quickly tediously infallible Ramsay Boulton, Jeri Ryan delivers possibly her best performance yet as Seven of Nine, especially in the pivotal scene of her struggle with the intoxicatingly seductive power of being the queen of her own collective and the breathtaking moment when she decides to give herself her own freedom again. Annika still has work to do and I’m glad we’ll get to see Seven do it.
There are a few fun character moments, although James Doohan’s ashes will be spinning in their orbital urn at the mangling of a ‘Scottish’ accent by Santiago Cabrera but at least the episode offers something of a canonical escape hatch for those dismayed by Trek’s newfound embracing of profanity. It occurred to me in watching this that swearing may not actually be that common in the bright and shiny Starfleet future. Maybe Admiral Kristen Clancy is just a foulmouthed throwback. I quite like the idea that she’s notorious in the higher echelons of the Federation for anachronistically lacing her vocabulary with, shall I say, more colourful metaphors. Maybe she’s the granddaughter of Doctor Gillian Taylor and remembers the way her old Granny from the 20th century used to talk? In any event given she’s the only character we’ve seen dropping f-bombs, maybe that’s just her ‘thing’.
It’s somewhat apposite that it’s in an episode written by showrunner Michael Chabon that the structural problems which have dogged the television show since its beginning are both explained and somewhat healed. The story, as it has been told up to this point, would have worked well as a novel. The interwoven flashback structure, the slow, expository early episodes, everything feels like it would have worked well in prose form but struggled to make the leap to the small screen. With the story now in more kinetic form, its expression in televisual form becomes easier and it explains why the series has made tentative improvements week on week since episode six. Chabon, in this episode, takes the broken pieces that came before and begins to make them whole again.
I’ve read “Star Trek” novels like this before, especially the ones by Peter David which pulled together disparate threads of lore into satisfyingly epic and cohesive and viewed through that lens, I’m starting to like what “Star Trek: Picard” is doing. The first five episodes still feel like they were about two episode’s worth of story stretched out over half a season and I doubt I’ll ever want to revisit them but I can see myself rewatching episodes 6 onwards. With only two episodes left, here’s hoping the series can stick the landing after such a shaky take-off.