Everything begins to transition in episode 6 of Star Trek Picard. Jean-Luc finally meets up with both Hugh and Soji. What starts as an investigation turns into a daring rescue as Narak finally makes his move against her. Picard also has to confront his haunted past as a former Borg drone. Everything changes after this episode. Join me as we dig in deep to geek out over this one.
Welcome to Nerd Heaven.
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars, and I am a nerd.
This is episode 16 of the podcast.
Today, we’re talking about Star Trek Picard episode 6. The Impossible Box.
Oh, and I guess I should say happy leap day, because I’m recording this on the 29th of February.
The description for this episode on memory alpha reads
Picard and the crew track Soji to the Borg cube in Romulan space, resurfacing haunting memories for Picard. Meanwhile, Narek believes he finally found a way to safely exploit Soji for information.
This episode was written by Nick Zayas. That’s a name I haven’t seen associated with the show up until now.
It was directed by Maja Vrvilo
And first aired on the 27th of February 2020.
Make it so.
I really enjoyed this week’s episode. There was plenty I liked in last week’s episode as well, but it was pretty brutal. This episode allows us to take a little breath. But there’s still a little for us to chew on.
This week’s flashback is not so much a true flashback, as it is a nightmare of Soji’s childhood. Which we know must be implanted data, because she didn’t have a childhood. She creeps through a dark hallway on a stormy night, into a workshop where she sees her father. He yells at her and she wakes up.
And despite his accusations against her two weeks ago, Soji is still in a relationship with Narak.
I kinda got the idea she was gonna give him the boot, but then what couple don’t have arguments.
Narak’s perspective that “everyone is hiding something, whether they know it or not” is so very Romulan. But it’s specifically true for Soji. She’s hiding her true nature, a nature she knows nothing about.
Let’s think for a minute just what an incredible job Maddox must have done to create an android that believes she is human. All the little details. It’s not just the emotions. It’s the physical things. She’d have to eat, as Data did, but she’d have to taste. She’d feel sensations on her skin. She’d get hungry. She’d experience tiredness. There’s all the sensations and experiences related to her sexual relationship with Narak. And, if it’s not too delicate to say … She’d have to go to the toilet as well.
There are so many little things that could give away her true identity if they were not present.
She’d also have to pass scans.
I’m reminded that Picard thought that Soji was created out of flesh and blood, not machine parts, but still with an artificial positronic brain. Kind of like the humanoid cylons in Battlestar Galactica. So that goes a long way. But still, it’s a mind boggling achievement, significantly greater than anything Noonian Soong did.
I guess it’s also possible that there is programming within her that actively makes her ignore certain facts that should give away her true nature. Narak talks about this later in the episode.
So Romulans have a true name they only share with the one they give their heart to. That’s very Doctor Who.
Then we cut to the La Sirena and have to deal with the corpse in the room. How is Agnes going to get away with her murder of Bruce Maddox.
During that scene in sickbay last week, I thought it very odd that the EMH wasn’t on. He’s their medical officer and they definitely had a medical emergency. Some viewers thought that Maddox was under the medical care of Agnes. And there’s a reason for that.
It’s revealed in the Book The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack, but in the show itself, that Agnes was a qualified medical doctor before she met Maddox and began studying under him for her doctorate in robotics
So anyway, that makes a bit more sense. I’d forgotten this detail. I thought she was just in the room in the capacity as Maddox’s friend and lover.
So that makes a little more sense. That’s why she can now bluff her way out of it all, by telling Picard that Maddox died of his injuries and she was unable to save him. As long as nobody talks to the EMH.
I’m finding there’s a lot in this show that wouldn’t make sense if you haven’t read the extended materials. And that’s a bit of a problem.
But I’ve also got a bit of a problem with her backstory.
If we assume that Agnes Jurati is the same age as her actor, Alison Pill, then she’s only 34.
The synth ban happened 14 years ago. That means she was 20 when the synth ban happened. She met Maddox and began her robotics studies 2 years earlier.
So that means, she was a fully qualified doctor, out of medical school as a teenager.
She must be some super genius. That just doesn’t seem realistic to me.
I guess Agnes must be older than her character (much like Picard is a lot older than Patrick Stewart).
But that’s a little hard to swallow as well. I think she already looks younger than her 34 years.
I guess, 24th century medical advances and all that. After all, that’s how I explain Picard.
We don’t learn in this episode why Agnes killed him. What her deal is, but her relationship with Maddox gives her a perfect excuse for all the painful emotions she’s struggling with.
And then Elnor comes in and asks what the Artifact is, then realises it’s none of his business and that he should out-but. I missed that little joke on my first viewing. But I like it. This is a particular type of humour that I really enjoy. When people say something not quite right because they’re in a fish out of water situation.
I said in episode 3 that I was really liking Agnes as a character. She was the wide-eyed innocent who was just thrilled to be on board, who balanced out the other world-weary characters.
Well, we say how that turned out. She sure isn’t innocent anymore. And her innocence after rmeeting Oh was all an act.
But it seems that Elnor is now filling that hole.
I’ve heard people say that they don’t really like Elnor. He’s too child-like. But more and more, I think Elnor is playing out the Australian sense of humour. Evagora isn’t writing the lines of course, but there’s something very Aussie about the way he’s delivering those lines. We Aussies have a very self-deprecating sense of humour. And that’s all over his performance as Elnor. And I’m loving it.
Agnes raises a good question. Why would Maddox send Soji to the artifact, of all places, to learn the truth about the synth ban? I’d very much like to know the answer to that.
This episode forces Picard to confront something from his past that still haunts him to this day.
We’ve seen this in every Borg story Picard has taken part in. We saw in First Contact, that the emotional pain of his assimilation was as raw and fresh as the day he was taken.
Back in I Borg, Picard tried to convince Troi, and himself, that he was all good now. That he was fully recovered. But now, as an older and wiser man, he’s got no pretext.
He hasn’t set foot on a Borg Cube since he was assimilated. The borgified Enterprise engine room was a close approximation, but not the same.
By going aboard that artifact, Picard is going to have to confront his deepest fear.
I’ll admit I had to look up the word metastasize. It means to spread through the body like a disease, causing damage. That’s a good description of what the Borg do.
Even though Elnor is clueless about the culture around him, he’s got a keen sense of insight into people. He can see that Agnes is haunted by something she wants to forget.
And then we get a call back to that joke as he asks if he was in-butting.
Patrick Stewart is really selling Picard’s anxiety about the Borg. It’s absolutely wonderful.
And then. Finally, he says it. “Computer.”
For the last few episodes, characters have been giving verbal instructions to the ship’s computer, but they never actually begin by saying “computer.” It was very glaring by its absence.
So I cheered out loud when he said that. I think my wife may have rolled her eyes at me.
But that’s ok. I’m a nerd.
There’s lots of nice visual callbacks in the image search result that Picard runs. He sees Hugh as he first knew him, and as he looks now.
They like to do this weird camera shot where you see people through the translucent holographic screens, and their face blends with another.
But in this case, it’s very effective, as we see the image of Locutus merge with Picard’s face.
Of course, for the shot to work, the original image has the borg implants on the wrong side of Picard’s face. Which is wrong.
As I nit-picking?
Actually, it occurs to me now, that image of the borg not have been Locutas at all. It may have been a borg drone. Which makes it work.
There’s a shot in the opening credits that looks like the end of a Dalek eye stalk. I assume it’s meant to be some kind of Borg implant. But every time I see it, all I can think is Dalek.
As the La Sierra heads toward Romulan space, he learns, officially, that the neutral zone no longer exists.
In movies and TV shows, people’s emotional pain somehow morphs into romantic or sexual feelings. Which makes zero sense to me. If I was in the kind of pain Agnes is in, sexy fun times would be the last thing on my mind.
But people do sometimes turn to pleasure as a way to comfort themselves when they’re hurting, so I guess I can understand Agnes in this scene. It sure makes a lot more sense than that weird turbolift scene between Spock and Uhura in Star Trek 2009.
But what I like here is that Agnes verbally acknowledges that this is a mistake. And that it will not really help her in the long-term. At best, it’ll take her mind off her troubles for an hour or two at most.
This is a more grown-up approach to sex than Star Trek is known for.
The Romulan puzzle box not only acts as a symbol to demonstrate the difference in personality and approach between Narak and Rizzo, but also foreshadows Narak’s attempt to kill Soji later in the episode.
Finally we have a conversation between these two weird erotic siblings that actually moves their story forward. The last two times we’ve seen them together have been pretty pointless. Just rehashing the same old lines.
This time, we get some insight into Narak’s investigation. He is making progress. He is gaining insight into Soji. He has a plan.
So Narak addresses what I was talking about earlier. How can Soji not know she’s a machine?
Narak points out that all day, every day, there are probably little hints that she has to ignore. Maybe she’s actively programmed to ignore them. But as he says, “that cognitive dissonance must go somewhere.” In her dreams, she’s reconciling the sides of herself. This is a vulnerability he can exploit.
He can gain access to the information they want out of her, such as the location of her homeworld, without triggering her self-defense mechanisms, as they did with Dahj.
So Romulan space is still called Romulan space, and it’s still a violation of treaty for a Federation citizen to violate it without authorisation.
Raffi calls in an old favour from a friend to get diplomatic authorisations for Picard.
Or more specifically, blackmails the old friend.
But she got the job done.
There’s a nice character scene between Raffi and Rios, as she tells him about her estranged son, and the granddaughter she’ll never get to know.
I can’t imagine the pain of never getting to know your grandchild. I’m not a grandparent, but I’ve seen how special that relationship is to my parents. I’ve always known that relationship is special, from having my own grandparents, but now I’m seeing it from the other side in my parents.
Soji tries talking to her mother, actively trying not to fall asleep. She succeeds briefly. When she wakes up, she scans all her belongings. They are all 37 months old. Everything in her life is fabricated. She knows this now. Her entire life is a lie.
Can you imagine how that must feel?
Picard beams in, and he’s standing there alone, in the dark, on a Borg cube. He sees the regeneration alcoves. He hears the noises of the cube. That would be terrifying. We get to see a lot of rapid flashes, all from First Contact. And sound effects too from that movie. It’s great.
They go by pretty quick, but if you’re paying attention you’ll see corridors of the Enterprise E, even the Borg queen herself. And you hear the queen.
And finally Picard gets to meet Hugh again, after all these years. This was a great moment. And I love how happy they both were to see each other. And Hugh is instantly willing to do whatever he can for Picard. That was heart-warming.
If there’s one person who can understand how Picard is feeling here, it’s hugh.
The reason the freed borg refer to themselves as XBs is that, as Hugh puts it, a new name can sometimes be the first step to a new identity. That’s a lesson he learned on the Enterprise. Which of course, ties in beautifully to I Borg. Especially that scene when he says to Picard, “No, I am Hugh.”
Seeing these drones is a good reminder of what the borg are underneath. They’re victims, not monsters. Despite what he said earlier, about the Borg collectively, Picard has compassion for the individual drones. They were all people once.
But not everybody does. Hugh reminds us that ex borg are still among the most hated people in the galaxy.
I’m still not sure I buy that. But whatever.
Narak is going to use a Romulan meditation technique to help unlock the answers in Soji’s unconscious. But this meditation is forbidden for non Romulans, or round-ears as they are called. A slur of sorts.
But man, Narak has a lot of sway on this cube.
Narak begins to cement more of her trust by telling her his true name.
Narak teaches her to take control of the dream. To look in directions other than what she’s always done.
They do this with a window as practice, but this will be necessary once she gets into the lab.
Soji can’t see her father’s face. I guess because there’s no data to draw on. Her father doesn’t exist any more than her mother does. And then, she sees herself on the work table as a wooden doll. And Narak instructs her to look up at the skylight. She sees two moons. They may have uncovered enough data to locate her home. Wherever it was that she was assembled.
Hugh asks who Soji really is, and Picard says “there’s no time.” presumably so we don’t have to listen to exposition about stuff we already know. But Soji is being hidden from sensors, so they just have to sit around and wait. I assume during this time, Picard would explain the whole story to Hugh. It would certainly make no sense for him not to.
And now that he’s got what he wants from her, Narak is ready to kill her.
But he doesn’t just shoot her, he locks her in the chamber and leaves the puzzle box to release a fatal radiation.
Why do bad guys always use such elaborate ways to kill people, giving them a chance to find a way to escape? It makes no sense.
But we can see, Narak is still fighting his feelings. He’s made the decision to kill her, that’s what he knows he’s supposed to do. And yet, You can see it’s bothering him. He does have some form of feelings for her.
And of course, she uses her android strength to rip the floor open and escape.
Which allows Picard and Hugh to detect her.
Now it’s a race. Who will get to her first? Narak or Picard and hugh?
And finally, finally, Picard meets Soji.
He doesn’t have time to explain everything, but he explains enough to earn Soji’s trust.
She doesn’t have many options, so it seems logical to go with this stranger.
Hugh has discovered a special emergency escape device obtained after the borg assimilated the sikarians. This is a nice deep cut into Voyager’s history. Voyager encountered the Sikarians during their first year in the delta quadrant. They had extremely long-range transporter technology. Technology that could have helped them get all the way home to the alpha quadrant.
That’s really sad that they were assimilated. But not surprising. Every race in the Delta Quadrant is at risk.
Anyway, this technology is used to allow the queen to escape a cube.
They’re going to beam themselves to a planet called Nepenthe.
And then Elnor arrives to protect them from the Romulan guards.
Picard thanks him for disobeying his orders to stay on the ship.
The Romulans guards will just follow them through unless Elnor stays behind to fight them off to give Hugh time to hide the room.
But Picard can’t leave Elnor behind again.
This is a nice little healing moment in their relationship. But Picard can’t convince him to come.
So Elnor and Hugh remain behind on the cube. I have no doubt we’ll see them again. They’ll both want to find Picard and help him.
So the episode closes on that awesome line. “Please, my friends. Choose to live.”
I love that about Elnor. I love that he always begs him enemies to choose to live, rather than force him to kill them. He has a respect for life. All life.
We have officially hit the midpoint of the story now.
In story structure, the midpoint is an important moment. It’s a transition from ractivness to proactiveness.
In the first half of a book, the protagonist is reacting to the events of the first plot point. But in the second half, he or she is trying to be more proactive. To go on the offensive, rather than just being on the back foot the whole time.
The rescue of Soji feels like a similar transition.
No longer is Picard stumbling around, trying to figure out where Soji is, and why the Zhat Vash are after her.
Now, he has rescued her, and they will be working together, the hunted has become the huntress.
Of course, the protagonists attempts to go on the offensive usually fail. After all, there’s still half of the book to go. But there’s a shift of attitude, and a little change of power.
The story is in full force now. We’re gonna start seeing a lot of things happening. Everything changes from here on.
And that’s very exciting.
Next week’s episode eis called Nepenthe. So we’ll be seeing what Picard and Soji get up to when they arrive on that planet. Nepenthe sounds kind of Klingon. Similar to Rure Penthe. That’s logical, given that both the Klingons and Romulans exist in the beta quadrant.
So...I wonder … will we be seeing Klingons next week?
Everyone was a little nervous about what Klingons might look like in Picard, Would they look like discovery Klingons? And if so, what would that mean for worf?
Alex Kurtzman confirmed a while back, that if we ever see Worf, he will look the way he as always looked, explaining that just as there are different looking romulans, there are also different looking Klingons.
A lot of people really wanted to see some more variation in the Klingons in Discovery. A few TNG style Klingons in the background, just to show they still exist. Once again, Picard has learned from some of Discovery’s mistakes. We’ve already seen that with the Romulans. Picard has actually added to canon, explaining the disparate appearances of Romulans throughout the history of the franchise.
so...I’m included to trust them on this.
If we do see Klingons next week, I suspect there’ll be a mix of discovery style and TNG style.
Anyway, this is all just speculation based on a planet name. It’s entirely possible I’m completely wrong about any Klingon connection.
We’ll find out next week.
Now I haven’t been updating you on my progress in my walk to Mordor. I’ve just passed Crickhollow and my next milestone is Old Man Willow. I have 2981.2 km to reach the end of my adventure.
And a friend of mine has joined the walk as well. If you want to travel this journey with me, be sure to add me as a friend. You’ll find me as “Adam David Collings”
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I’ll see you next week.
Live long and Prosper.
Make it so.