Nerd heaven

Star Trek Picard “Broken Pieces” In Depth Analysis and Review

March 14, 2020

Everything is coming together in this week's episode of Star Trek Picard "Broken Pieces". We delve deeply into Rios's character, seeing the broken pieces of his life symbolised in his holograms. We also get a much greater understanding of the mythology of the show. And it's exciting me. We're getting the big-scale science fiction coming into view, and we finally add a little more depth to the villains of the show. Let's dive in and geek out over this episode together.

Transcript

Welcome to Nerd Heaven

I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of the stars

And I am a nerd.

 

This is episode 18 of the podcast.

Today, we’re talking about the 8th episode of Star Trek Picard. Broken Pieces.

 

The description on Memory alpha reads

When devastating truths behind the Mars attack are revealed, Picard realizes just how far many will go to preserve secrets stretching back generations, all while the La Sirena crew grapples with secrets and revelations of their own. Narissa directs her guards to capture Elnor, setting off an unexpected chain of events on the Borg cube.

 

The episode was written by Michael Chabon

It was directed by Maja Vrvilo

And it first aired on the 12th of March 2020.

 

Make it so.

This episode is really starting to fill in the new mythology of the show now. That’s seen straight away with this week’s flashback, in which we learn about the origins of the Zhat Vash.

The episode begins with some beautiful scenes of a nebula. Just like the first episode. But we don’t see the Enterprise D. Instead, we zoom past 8 suns onto a planet.

The on screen label calls this Aia, the great world. It seems a group of Romulans, all female, sent out to study this strange phenomenon. A system of 8 stars, which seemed scientifically unfeasible. There they found, on a planet, the remnants of an ancient civilisation, and a storehouse of memories that explained how their civilisation died.

Yes. This is the kind of cool mythology I’ve been wanting from Star Trek.

We don’t even know the name of this ancient race, but they were clearly very advanced. I wonder if they knew the Iconians. They also operated in what is now Romulan space in the distant past.

The Romulans call this warning message “the admonition.” The first time they heard it, they formed the Zhat Vash. This was hundreds of years ago, so pre-Kirk.

And interestingly, Commodore Oh appears to be their leader. So, we’re left wondering again, is she biologically a Romulan or a Vulcan? We’ll come back to this later.

We don’t get to see the full extent of the message, but as Oh says, it drives many of them mad. In fact, after seeing it, most of them immediately commit suicide, some of them in quite unpleasent ways.

This is super dark. I actually found it pretty disturbing. It seems we’re getting a lot of suicide in this show. Now, I’m really fortunate that I’ve never been touched by suicide in my life, or my family, but even I am fiding this quite disturbing.

We’ll talk more about what this message means later, when Picard and crew figure it all out, but for now, let’s just say that the show has fleshed out more about the Zhat Vash, and why they hate synthetic lifeforms. Which is good.Our villains are finally getting some depth to them.

And, we learn that Rizzo really is a cold-hearted monster. While the others tear out their hair and do other horrific things to themselves, she stands there, clearly struggling with the images a little, but holding it all together. If she were a Vulcan, I’d call this emotional control. But I think that Rizzo just doesn’t have a heart. She’s an evil…..we’ll...let’s just say I don’t like her.

There are two kinds of Villains in fiction. There are some that you love to hate. These are the ones that you want to see more of. You get excited when they appear in an episode. Weyoun, Bester, Morden, Scorpius. And then there are others that you just kinda hope they die soon because you just don’t want to see them. Rizzo is firmly in the second camp for me. I find myself wanting her to die for all she’s done. Man, I promise I’m not so vindictive against real people. Just fictional ones.

We get confirmation now that it was the Zhat Vash who organised the synth attack on Mars. So they sabotaged the rescue efforts to help their own people. I’m kind of in a place where I can buy that now. They’re worried about what they consider to be a significantly greater threat than the supernova. And having read the novel, The Last Best Hope, it seems that due to their arrogance and price, half the Romulan leadership didn’t want Starfleet’s help to begin with.

We recognise another of these first Vhat Vash. Ramdha, the Romulan who was assimilated and then went crazy, calling Soji the destroyer. She doesn’t handle the admonition as well as Rizzo, but she does survive. This is making sense of a lot of what we’ve seen. It seems to have been the admonition itself that drove the borg cube to shut down after they assimilated Ramdha. Really interesting stuff.

Oh and Ramdha is Rizzo’s aunt. She raised Rizzo and Narak. Rizzo says that when Ramdha lost her mind, she did it with panache. I feel like panache is not the kind of word you’d expect to hear from a Romulan. 

I know they’re reallying speaking Romulan, and we’re just hearing a translation into english. But panache is a french word, included in our language for historical reasons. I dunno, it just didn’t feel right somehow to me.

There’s a nice bit of subtle foreshadowing when Rizzo says “I’d have made a much better borg than you. Resistance is futile.”

And let me just say, while I keep going on about hating Rizzo, I found Peyton List’s acting in this episode pretty darn good. I think she’s a lot better when she’s not so busy trying to seduce her brother or being Miss-Super-Evil-Face.

Once again, the romulans are choosing to fight Elnor hand to hand instead of shooting him with a disruptor. If they’d shot while he was stunned by that grenade, he’d be dead. This whole tradition of Zhat Vash fighting Qowat Milat by hand seems a plot convenience that exists purely so they can have a kick-butt sword wielding elf on the show. Don’t get me wrong, I love Elnor. He’s awesome. But a fighter who uses a sword just doesn’t work in a sci-fi setting like Star Trek.

Anyway, Seven saves him at the last minute and asks “Where is Hugh?”

Then there’s a very nice touching moment as Elnor breaks down and Seven has to, rather uncomfortably, console him. She does a good job seeing as though it’s pretty clear this is outside her comfort zone.

So apparently Seven knew Hugh off-screen, we just never got to see them together. My guess is that Seven gave Hugh the Fenris Ranger contact card. Elnor was actually in Hugh’s office when he found it. So that kinda makes sense now.

I’m still not thrilled about Hugh’s death. It feels like they’ve totally wasted the potential of his character. They made such a fuss about bringing him back, but barely did anything with him. And his death wasn’t satisfying. He didn’t die saving the day. He kinda failed. Yes, there’s a realism to that, because we don’t always die in some big grand moment. That’s kind of why I have somewhat defended Tasha Yar’s death. I dunno. I’m torn between my appreciation for gritty realism, and my desire for Hugh to have been treated with more respect.

It’s very clear that something weird is going on with Rios the minute he sees Soji. 

There’s a lot going on in this scene. Picard wants to go to Deep Space 12 to get reinforcements from Starfleet. Makes sense. They can’t fight off a whole fleet of Romulan ships by themselves. This understandable makes Soji nervous. She thought they would be heading straight for her homeworld. And then Raffi is suddenly very suspicious of Soji, given the revelations about Agnes.

First of all, I like that the crew have figured out that Agnus killed Bruce Maddox. They’re not gonna drag that out and have our characters unnaturally stupid. Good.

I can understand Raffi is distrustful because Picard knows nothing about Soji. He’s putting all his faith in that single Neuron. But, this was the mission. Rescuing Soji is the whole reason they came out here.

Picard is kinda kidding himself a bit, trying desperately to make up excuses for Agnes, because he doesn’t want her to be a Romulan spy, and a murderer. But he does accept reason, even though he doesn’t want to.

There was a nice little scene between Picard and Clancy. And I feel it redeems her as a character a little. She is starting to regain her respect for Picard, now that he’s proven to be right. She even calls him Admiral Picard. I love it when Picard says, “I’m sorry but if you say this is not a job for Starfleet then you are a waste of space.”

Anyway, she agrees. She’s sending a squadron to meet Picard at DS12. He’s to wait there for them to arrive.

I like how Raffi is getting all giddy with excitement about the whole conspiracy theory, even while knowing she shouldn’t because the whole thing is horrible. She does like her conspiracy theories.

It makes no sense that it takes Raffi so long to realise that the Rios she’s talking to is a hologram. I mean, his Irish accent is hard to miss. She must be really preoccupied.

The fact that the ENH recognises Soji and calls her Jana is very interesting information. It confirms that Rios has seen a soji-type android before. Which explains his reaction to her.

I’m not really a fan of the glowing eyes while thinking thing the holograms do in this episode. First of all, there’s no reason for them to do that. The Doctor never did that on Voyager. Second of all, why take so long to access such a simple piece of data. Computers today could gather that same information, from the internet, in a fraction of the time the hologram’s eyes glow. And this is 24th century computer technology. The whole thing is like programming an artificial progress bar when none is needed. You can maybe explain that they’re downloading this information from memory alpha, in which case, that’s pretty high bandwidth for subspace. But this is information I’d expect them to have locally.

But I like that the ENH actually proves useful, when Raffi realises she does have an astrogation question.

The Romulans were depicting an octanary system all over the borg cube. A system of 8 stars.

Enoch says that septenary systems are extremely rare. The only known account of an octanary is an apocryphal ancient Romulan star chart. Now Raffi begins to realise the conclave of 8 refers to the place where the bad guys met, not 8 people. Now they’re getting somewhere.

I like that they at least acknowledge here that the gravitational mechanics would be incredibly complex. Which, of course, is true. Having read the book, The Three Body Problem, I have an inkling of just how complex a trinary system would be. For a planet to actually exist in an octanary system seems pretty unrealistic. But again, we’ll come back to that.

I love Elnor’s childlike innocence. That combined with his kick-butt skills as a warrior make him quite an interesting character.

Seven’s plan, originally Hugh’s plan, is to regenerate the cube. Re-activate the borg drones. I love the shot of the drone rebuilding the ship. At first, I thought they were nano probes. But then when you realise the scale, they’re a lot bigger. Let’s call them macro probes. It seems a logical aspect of borg technology.

She’s playing a bit of a dangerous game. There are huge moral questions about what she’s doing, essentially re-assimilating the XBs, putting them into a localised micro-collective. Controlling their thoughts like a pseudo Borg queen. It’s chilling when she says “I might not want to release them.”

There’s a very nice character scene between Picard and Soji and the dinner table.

It doesn’t really push the plot forward at all, but it deepens both of their characters, and I really like it.

The choice of a scottish accent for the engineering hologram is quite on the nose, as a tribute to Scotty. Especially since Lorca already did that in Discovery. But it doesn’t really bother me. He’s quite different to Scotty. I actually quite like him.

The idea that this octanary system was artificially created is very interesting. My sense-of-wonder metre is going off. It’s showing you the power of this ancient race, whoever they were. Showing off isn’t a bad guess at their motivation, but clearly raffi has the better theory. Such an extreme act would call attention to a message you really want people to hear.

I’m enjoying Raffi’s little detective work in this episode. I think maybe she’s jumping to the truth more easily than she realistically should, but it’s still enjoyable.

There’s some good quiet scenes with Rios in his quarters in this episode. Nice to see his old Starlfleet uniform. Looks like Rios’s old ship, the ibn Majid might have been a sovereign class, like the Enterprise E, which is pretty awesome.

I don’t think it’s stated outright, but I get the impression Rios was first officer of the ship.

His captain’s name was Alonzo Vandermeer. Not a name we’ve heard before, I believe.

The scene with all the Rios holograms together is absurdly fun. I’m quite enjoying the engineer’s overuse of scottish slang. But that tactical hologram. How useless is he? The bloke just wants to sleep and laze around.

It seems the holograms don’t just have Rios’s appearance, and aspects of his personality, but his memories as well. But Rios has removed something from their memories. And it’s all about his time on the ibn Majid.

We learn that captain Vandermeer killed himself. Yet another suicide in this show.

So then we get Picard’s reunion with Agnes. There’s no more self-deception. Picards tells her straight. You will turn yourself over to the authorities for the murder of Bruce Maddox.

Agnes said Oh put her hands on her face and poured in poison. Why doesn’t she know that’s called a mind meld? Put her hands on my face seems a very awkward phrasing when she should just say “she mind melded with me.” Weird.

So Agnes gushes all over Soji’s human-like attributes. Just like Bashir and Kestra.

But Agnes says now that she’s met Soji, she’d never kill her. I’m finding that hard to buy. The admonition Oh showed her was so traumatic it caused her to kill her lover and mentor. But now, having met Soji, she’s a changed woman? I’m afraid I don’t trust Agnes at all at this point. Soji says she’d never give agnes the opportunity to kill her, but she’s giving her an opportunity right now.Why on Earth did Picard leave those two in a room together. That’s crazy. Agnes should be in the brig until they reach DS12. she certainly shouldn’t be roaming the ship and joining them at their makeshift conference table. “I’m done murdering people now, so that’s a good thing.” 

“Oh, well in that case Agnes, it’s all good. Take a seat, Mate.” I mean, come on.

Raffi refers to Rios’s record player as a walkman. Reminds me of an early Christopher Ecclestone Doctor Who Episode, where they refer to a jukebox as an ipod. Somehow it was funnier in Doctor Who.

Rizzo is going around murdering all the xbs. So Seven does what she doesn’t want to do. She takes control of the queen’s systems and re-assimilates the drones.

I got a thrill when the drones woke up, and we hear the voice of the collective say “We are borg.”

But was kinda disappointed when Rizzo immediately had all of them, every single one, ejected into space.

So here’s a rundown of what we know.

There was once some kind of sisterhood of Romulans. Not the Qowat Milat. Some other group. They found this planet in the octanary system, with a warning left behind by a long dead race. The impression I get is that once a species reaches a certain threshold of developing synthetic life, a threshold Starfleet is on the verge of, some outside force comes in and destroys that civilisation, rather than just the synthetics themselves taking over. This outside force theory seems much more compelling and creepy to me. So I kinda hope they are leaning that way.

Those who survived the horror of this admonition formed the Zhat Vash, dedicated to preventing the return of this outside force, by preventing all synthetic life from being created. In their minds, they’re saving the universe, which to be fair, they might just be.

One of them was Oh, a half Vulcan half Romulan. I’m not sure how such a person would come about. Romulans and Vulcans are completely disunited. Until recently, they weren’t even allowed in each other’s space. So how do two of them end up mating and producing a child? I know there’s a non-canon theory that Saviik was also half Romulan / Half Vulcan. I guess Nimbus III, the planet of intergalactic peace, may have been one place where vulcans and Romulans could have mixed. Oh’s mixed heritage explains a lot of things. Her lack of inner eyelids, but her ability to perform a mind meld.

Anyway, when Data is created, the Zhat Vash are concerned. So Oh infiltrates Starfleet and works her way up to chief of starfleet security. All with the hopes of preventing the Federation from developing true synthetic life.

She engineers the attack on mars, to turn the Federation against synths, and ban their research.

It works.

Bruce Maddox flees to a distant world and continues his research.

Then the ibn Majid encounters a ship from that world, containing two of Maddox’s creations. One of them looks identical to Soji and Dahj.

Starfleet treats this like any other first contact situation, but Oh gives orders to captain Vandermeer to kill the synth ambassadors. If he disobeys, the ibn Majid and its crew will all be killed. He’s got to know at this point that Oh is not above board. Does he consider going to someone else in Starfleet, I wonder? I guess he decides the only way to protect his crew is to carry out the order. So he does.

Rios goes at him hard for this. Telling him this was the wrong thing to do. Overcome with guilt, Vandermeer kills himself. And now Rios has to live with the guilt that his judgement pushed his captain over the edge. Rios is a broken person, symbolised by the 5 holograms, each a broken piece of him. He covers up the whole thing, so as to protect the ibn Majid. But he goes through post-traumatic stress from the whole experience and is booted out of starfleet.

Maddox sends two of his creations, Dahj and Soji, out into the universe, to find out the truth behind the synth ban. One to earth, the other to the Borg Cube. We can see how the borg cube is connected. They assimilated Ramdha, and the knowledge of the admonition caused the borg to all shut down. But how does Maddox know this connection? How does he know to send Soji there?

But it backfires. Her presence on the cube allows Narak and Rizzo to find the location of Maddox’s world, and now they’re sending a fleet to destroy it.

It’s all coming together, and I’m really liking it. The value of a mystery is all based on the payoff. So far, the mysteries on this show are paying off much better than the Red angle did on Discovery season 2. That, in my opinion, was the biggest weakness of that season. I loved the setup, and I loved the character stuff with Pike. Pike was awesome. But the payoff fell flatter than I’d hoped.

This episode only makes my excitement about Star Trek Picard grow. I feel like we’re in the middle of something very important. Something big. 

Now that she realises that she has put her people in danger, Soji isn’t willing to wait for Clancy’s squadron.  There’s no time to lose. They have to get home to protect the world from the Zhat Vash.

So she takes over the ship.

But I love Rios’s lullaby that gives him back control of the ship. Smart.

At this point, Picard is willing to let Soji take them straight to her home. “She’s done it Maddox’s way, she done it my way. Let’s let her try her way.”

I’m kinda torn on this. The Zhat Vash ships are on their way. We’ll see more of them leave the sub shortly. If we don’t get there before they do, it’s all over.

On the other hand, what can one little ship do against that Romulan fleet? Clancy told Picard to wait at DS12 for the squadron. How’s she gonna feel about him now that he’s disobeying that order. Just as they were starting to be able to work together again.

But they can at least get there in time to warn the synths of the coming danger. Maybe the synths have some defenses.

It’s understandable, and mildly amusing, that Picard doesn’t know how to operate the new holographic controls on this ship.

So they head off for a Borg transwarp conduit, which should get them there quicker.

While the un-reclaimed drones have all been flushed into space, there are still xbs on board, which Seven appears to be controlling. They swam Rizo. And yes! Finally, She dies! Woohoo.

Ah. I’m a terrible terrible person.

I’d say it’s more likely they’re assimilating her, rather than tearing her apart, so maybe she’s not fully dead. But assimilation seems a fitting punishment for her crimes. For her hate.

I don’t have a problem with her trying to save the universe from this big evil threat, but it’s the way she goes about it. Instead of warning everybody of the threat, she works in secret, because that’s the romulan way, and she doesn’t care who she hurts or kills in the process. That’s what upsets me about her.

Actually, on rewatch, what I thought was her assimilation, I think, was her beaming out to safety.

Darn it!

So Seven achieved nothing. She regained control of the cube, but the Romulans are all gone anyway.

We learn that as an ensign, Picard served on a ship called the Reliant. Not the same Relient from the wrath of khan, of course. That one was destroyed. This was probably the Relient A, or maybe the Relient B.

There’s a nice little conversation between Picard and Rios. Picard pointed out that the Zhat Vash set the trap, with the attack on Mars, but Starfleet could have side-stepped it. Instead, they gave in to fear. I feel like this theme of fear is even timlier that the writers intended, given the whole covid-19 thing going on right now. There’s certainly a lot of feat in the world right now.

Risk points out that there is still a very real danger.

Picard believes fear is the great destroyer, not the synthetics, or some outside force from 200,000 years ago.

I think they both have interesting points.

Picard is right about fear, but I think he’s not giving enough credence to the threat this outside force could represent.

Of course, what we need is more information. The truth can sometimes dissipate fear. Of course, the truth can also confirm our fears.

It’s all very interesting stuff.

It’s all very Star Trek.

As the La Sierrena enters the borg conduit, we see that Narak has found them again. Logical. He knows where they’re heading.

He follows them in.

I really enjoyed this episode, and I’m hungry for more. Bring it on.

With my ongoing walk to Mordor, I’ve been captured by Baron Wright. My next milestone is Bree. I’ve been recording my thoughts about Fellowship of the Ring, both the book and movie. After we’re finished with Star Trek Picard, I’ll be sharing my very first Lord of The Rings Read, Watch and Walk episodes.

But until next week, I’m Adam David Collings.

Live long and prosper.

Make it so.

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