In episode 6 of Star Trek: Picard the separate storylines finally meet, as the La Sirena reaches the Artifact, Soji figures out her true nature with a little help from her favorite Romulan spy and Jean Luc is reunited with Hugh and a few dozen of his former Borg compatriots. As you might expect, none of this goes smoothly. In fact, the themes of the week are emotional breakdown in the face of trauma, trust vs coercion vs betrayal, family vs fellow hostages, recovery vs repression vs mental illness and the general sense that we don’t control as much of our lives as we wish we did, even our own feelings and actions.
We begin with a dream instead of a flashback, or maybe a flashback disguised as a dream. The dream belongs to Soji, so it’s her creative brain working to make sense of her world, much as ours do and eventually Data’s did.
In Soji’s dream, there may also be elements of inserted memory that belong to someone else. Narek is counting on it. The Alex Kurtzman version of Star Trek is taking more than a few cues from Blade Runner 2049.
In the dream, a little girl who looks like Soji walks down a hall at night, during a lightning storm, calling out for her father. She reaches a door and slowly opens it, but the man inside is blocked from view by a table full of peach colored orchid plants. The girl tiptoes around the table. Just as she’s about to see what’s on the other side, the man yells her name, “Soji!” She wakes up.
She’s in her bed with Narek. He asks if she’s okay. She tells him she had a recurring dream. He wants to hear about it, because he wants to know everything about her. She doesn’t trust his sincerity toward her anymore. The talk turns to the Romulan love of secrecy. She asks about his true name, since Romulans each have several names they save for different circumstances: a name they use with outsiders, a name for use with family and a true name they only tell their true love.
The Romulans are such romantics underneath it all.
And so easily hurt. Everything we’ve seen speaks of people who are constantly afraid that their trust will be broken, so they are going to make others earn that trust through endless tests, then at the first sign of betrayal, they will be the ones to break the trust first. Unlike Klingons, who do work from strong hearts which can handle any injury thrown at them, Romulan traditions suggest intensely deep hearts that once broken, might not ever heal, so they guard them jealously.
If you haven’t read the series companion novel The Last Hope, I recommend it. It gives valuable insight into the Romulan way of life and philosophy, along with the events that lead up to the Mars attack. I’ll try to review and summarize it soon.
Narek looks extremely uncomfortable when Soji asks him about his true name, like maybe he thinks she’s asking for a lifetime commitment. Or maybe his sister is right and one part of him would like to give Soji that lifetime commitment. Soji doesn’t trust Narek- she’s not the one giving off vibes that signal intense feelings.
Like any man who thinks he’s just been asked for more than he wants to give, Narek practically jumps out of bed and throws his clothes on. 😉 He changes the subject back to the dream, but Soji doesn’t have any clarity about it. He suggests she call her mother- that suggestion comes purely from Narek’s spy side, though he tries to make it look like he’s being a caring boyfriend.
Then he bolts. Soji calls his name, “Narek!” As the door is closing behind him, he calls back, “That’s not my name.”
Well played, young spy. That line draws her in, but also pushes her away and suggests that she’s hurt him somehow. It leaves her hanging, unable to figure out if she did something wrong and what it might be. She’s primed to find him again once she figures out how long she should wait between meetings.
Narek is playing a game that’s hard on the spy, since he has to feign affection well enough to fool the enhanced senses of an android. He has to be relaxed around his girlfriend but also can never relax.
I suspect Agnes is doing something similar and we’re watching her crumble under the weight of her deceptions, not to mention the murder she committed.
As far as we know, she’s not trained for this the way Narek is.
Agnes is currently acting as medical officer and reporting on Maddox’s death to Picard. The official story is that while Bruce’s individual injuries were treatable, his heart couldn’t take the strain of everything combined. Picard is sympathetic to Agnes’ situation as Bruce’s doctor and former girlfriend/coworker. Agnes acknowledges that she had no idea how hard it would be.
She changes the subject to the Artifact and Soji. Elnor joins them and allows the writers to remind us that Picard was briefly turned into a Borg drone named Locutus while captain of the Enterprise. The Borg used information obtained from his mind to inflict terrible damage on the Federation and its people during the war that followed.
Jean Luc was recovered after several days with the Borg and his outward appearance restored. Like all former drones, he still has Borg technology scattered throughout his body. The assimilation process involves the injection of nanoprobes and other tech that is embedded too thoroughly to safely remove.
Agnes gives an interesting description of the cube: “But this cube is cut off from the rest of the collective. They’re outcasts, stranded. And under Romulan control. Maybe they’ve changed.”
Previous descriptions of the cube have described it and its drones as dead to the collective, not simply cut off with outcasts who are stranded, as if they’re waiting for their queen to mount a rescue mission. “Under Romulan control” will take on more meaning later.
Picard loses it at the suggestion that the Borg on the cube might have changed. He forgets that she doesn’t mean the entire collective and reminds her that the Borg are monsters who devour entire species within hours and spread like cancer through the galaxy.
Ah, Jean Luc, during these trying times it feels like we’re all triggered more easily than we used to be.
After he leaves, Elnor apologizes for Picard. Elnor has been watching this scene closely and picked up every emotional nuance. He realizes that Agnes, like Jean Luc, is haunted by something she’d rather forget. She gets upset when he mentions it- annoyed by his Absolute Candor, as she predicted.
Like any normal Romulan, she doesn’t want anyone to even acknowledge that her secrets exist. Except she’s not supposed to be a Romulan.
My experience is that the people who have difficulty with honesty are the ones who are juggling so many layers of lies that they have difficulty keeping them straight in their own minds. They don’t like it when someone uses the truth to confuse them and everyone else. Frequently they can’t even remember what the truth is anymore.
Agnes strikes me as one of those people. She’s not evil, but the cover up of Bruce’s murder and her meeting with Commodore Oh weren’t the beginning of her lies. She’s not a spy, but she’s not solely what she presented herself to Bruce as when they met, either.
Picard goes to his study and visibly works to calm down. As he’s aged, the Battle of Wolf 359 and the number of people who died there have probably weighed more heavily on him. He may meet people who blame him for that, just as he’s also blamed for the deaths on Mars, the way Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko blamed Picard for the loss of his wife.
A Note on Picard’s Age and Health
It’s a lie that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. What doesn’t kill you makes you either develop better coping skills or get better at repression, both of which work like a bandage rather than a cure. Either way, you’ve sustained an injury that’s left a scar. Eventually, layers of psychological and physical trauma take a toll on your body and come back to haunt you. No one wants to hear that they’ll eventually age, but if you’re one of the lucky ones who live long enough, you will.
With age, old injuries and memories rise to the surface more easily, even if they were dealt with at the time and through continuing work. New insults to the mind or body trigger old wounds to reopen, the way chicken pox can come back as shingles in later years as the immune system ages.
This series is doing an excellent job of showing how someone who just gets on with things in the prime of life may be overwhelmed by the need to finish processing those events later, when they eventually slow down. And with showing how an aging body and mind can’t keep up with a will that’s as strong as ever. Picard’s will (or id or ambition- whatever you want to call it) is definitely as strong as ever.
Jean Luc Picard is still the same man he’s always been, but his brain and body don’t work the way they used to. He has mental processing issues, his brain chemicals aren’t balanced in the same way, his metabolism has slowed down considerably. None of us wants to accept those limitations, but that’s the reality of age and illness, and another 400 years of medical advancement will only be able to slow the onset of ageing and death so much.
Picard has lived an active life and sustained many intense injuries, including head injuries. Those are the people that ageing often affects the most, along with the chronically ill, which he’s also dealing with. Being assimilated can’t have been good for him, nor having an artificial heart. Nor having his mind invaded by the alien probe in The Inner Light or being tortured by the Cardassians. He’s experienced the loss of all of his blood relations and many of his created family, emotional blows which would age the best of us.
Picard is doing pretty well, when everything is taken into consideration, but he’s an old man who’s been through a lot, for any century.
Once he’s gotten himself under control again, Jean Luc has the computer pull up files on the Artifact, the Borg and treaties pertaining to the Artifact. Time to plot his method of actually getting onto a Romulan secret research site.
He views before and after photos of drone and xB Hugh, then looks at himself as the drone Locutus. The camera turns to superimpose Locutus over Jean Luc, and he touches his face, remembering his injuries. He is both the before and after in that moment. Like the other xBs, his after isn’t a fully healed man, just a man who got on with things.
The Puzzle of the Opening Credits
The opening credits sequence plays, which also includes before and after versions of Picard, a man who is broken, examined in detail, then reassembled as a whole person.
The opening credits sequence can also be viewed as a complicated Romulan puzzle course with the prize of a whole Picard. Romulans view the world through the lens of puzzles and mysteries. In order to gain their trust, you must prove your prowess at the games they set for you. Picard himself is now both game and prize. Soji is the same.
This is important to remember when questioning why Romulans do things the way they do- a proper Romulan would never choose the most direct, easy way, anymore than they would use the front door of their homes.
The La Sirena is still in the Beta Quadrant, in what was formerly the neutral zone. Rios works out alone on the bridge by kicking around a soccer ball. It must be hot on the ship tonight, because he’s shirtless, and when Agnes joins him, she’s in the scifi female version of the same, a tight black tank top. Clearly their chemistry is coming to a boil. Let’s listen in to Agnes’ version of seduction:
Agnes: “Why do you like it out here?”
Chris: “In space?”
Agnes: “It’s cold and empty and it wants to kill you.”
Yep, she’s still got it. Actually, I think there’s a metaphor involved here. Who hurt you, Agnes?
This type of talk totally does it for Rios, who loves fixing broken birds. He’s the type who’s learned to stay away from people because he gets attached too easily, then gets his heart broken. Now Agnes is in front of him, plucky and hurting and undeniable.
They share a drink and he looks into her soul. He can read hearts, but not minds, so they kiss and discuss having sex. He recommends it, but she knows it’s a mistake. He asks what she’s feeling. An interesting list: “Hollow, hopeless, lonely, afraid.”
She describes herself the way she describes space, as alone, empty, unknowable, irredeemable. As if she’s soulless, like a machine.
They agree that sex won’t solve anything long-term, but feeling alive in the face of death for a few hours is its own reward.
Narek finds Narissa playing with his Tan Zhekran, a Romulan version of the Rubik’s cube, and reacts much as he probably did when he was 10. Narissa is only slightly more controlled. Allowing her brother to steer this operation, on which her career depends, is driving her mad. She provokes him purposely in retaliation, as siblings do. She views the Tan Zhekran as nothing more than a toy which he’s ridiculously obsessed with. He assures her it’s more than that. She dreams of smashing it open to get to the prize hidden inside.
The irony of that will be clear later.
In the meantime, Narek tells Narissa about Soji’s dreams. She doesn’t see the importance of something as subtle as dreams, but she knows her brother and can see that his obsession with Soji is becoming dangerous. He rescues the conversation by explaining that Soji’s dreams exist for a reason, since she’s a created being.
Narek explains that there are two sides to Soji’s consciousness, separated by a firewall: her waking consciousness on one side, which holds her cover identity, and the rest of her programming on the unconscious side, allowing her to remain ignorant of her true nature. He hypothesizes that the dreams exist to allow the two sides of Soji’s mind to process the cognitive dissonance she faces everyday as a result of not knowing the truth about herself. During sleep they work together to process her daily experiences. While she’s unconscious her mind forms a view of the world that her waking self can live with.
Narek convinces Narissa that he can exploit Soji’s dreams so that she reveals information she doesn’t even realize she knows. That way, they can get what they want without activating her.
Narissa: “So now? Keep sharing her bed. Endlessly fidgeting with her until she pops open like that stupid box.”
Narek: “The key to opening the Tan Zhekran is taking the time to understand what’s keeping it closed. Listen… Feel… Move each piece…. Ever so slightly… And then… Once you’re sure…”
It takes a long moment for the box to slowly unfold and reveal a small doll playing peek-a-boo. The box still has secrets. And Narissa still became impatient, waiting for it to open.
Is it me, or are this episode’s conversations making sex and death sound like the same thing?
Now that Rios has had some sex, he’s ready to bring up death with Picard. Specifically, the fact that they’re about to enter Romulan space and will be at the Artifact in a few hours. The Romulans will stop them and become very angry, either at the border or at the cube.
Picard has a plan. It involves the Qowat Milat method of Absolute Candor. Elnor, having heard his name mentioned, sort of, practices candor by noting the weird tension between Chris and Agnes.
Romance by way of helping a murderer/reluctant spy with her fear and depression does bring an odd sort of sexual tension. Agnes’ energy is just odd, period. But it’s good to see how aware of his surroundings Elnor is at all times. If he lives long enough to gain the experience to interpret what he feels in the Force he’ll be an an unbeatable Jedi knight,
and he’s probably not a Palpatine.
Picard, being Picard, doesn’t quite get the idea of Absolute Candor. He hauls Raffi out of her multi-day drunken bender to phone a Starfleet friend and con her out of Federation diplomatic credentials for him. Raffi is technically truthful about what she wants and why, but this is a situation where lies of omission count.
The Starfleet official, Raffi’s old friend (and possibly lover), Emmy, is shocked that they are in Romulan space and about to commit an Act of War. Raffi tells Emmy that “every part of [Picard] that’s not ego is rampaging id.” Rios and Picard both are surprised she’d say it out loud, but don’t deny it. Emmy accepts defeat and gives Picard a 24 hour pass, but tells Raffi not to call her again.
Picard’s plan is to use the diplomatic credentials to set up a meeting with Hugh, who is both his old friend and the Director of the Borg Reclamation Project, as we’ve already seen. The Project operates under treaty with the Federation, so the Romulans are obligated to allow a Federation Envoy in.
The Downfall of Jean Luc Picard: Absolute Candor, Lying to Yourself and the Abuse of Personal Influence
Rather than sneaking into the cube, Picard is using the strategy of being “truthful” about the lie he’s created, that the Federation has sent him. This is not Absolute Candor. This is a former Starfleet captain bending the rules to suit his needs.
If you are wondering why Picard is not fully healed from his traumas and why his Starfleet career eventually collapsed, look no further. Some people use substances to mask their trauma, as Raffi is. Some hide in isolation and depression, as Rios did and Picard was eventually forced into.
Some people lie to themselves and abuse their power/influence over others, whatever form that power may take, until the lies and power don’t work anymore. That’s what Picard does, at times.
On the Enterprise, his loyal crew would call him on his excesses. With Riker on one side, Deanna on the other, Geordi behind him, and Beverly in front of him, there was always someone to gently question his high handedness. As it turns out, that cocoon of supportive friends was what was holding him together.
When he left the Enterprise for the Verity and the Romulan rescue mission, his relationships with Raffi and the rest of his crew were too new for them to be comfortable challenging him the way old friends would. Plus, Raffi is also single minded and obsessive. He and Raffi convinced themselves that nothing in the Federation was as important as what they were doing.
They were working in Romulan space, seeing the hardships there, but not seeing the hardships their mission was causing in the Federation. To this day, both are still unwilling to see the other side of that story, so neither understand the resentment aimed at them.
And so neither is able to process what happened to them when they were dismissed from Starfleet, because they don’t understand it. They can’t see that the hardships caused by diverting so many resources to Romulan space would also indirectly cause deaths on poorer Federation worlds and that the situation would continue to worsen.
Both Raffi and Picard were also dealing with lingering personal issues while working on the Romulan crisis. Focusing on rescuing others served as a drug which distracted them from facing the insides of their heads. It was heroism as a form of workaholism, and they were going to use every form of influence they had to keep their drug flowing.
Now, Picard thinks he’s following the way of Absolute Candor with this plan, but he’s avoiding facing the truth of the way he’s pushed his own plans to save Soji, while endangering others and barreling past their needs. I suspect he has a little further to fall before we piece him back together.
For example, he applauds Raffi’s performance, but doesn’t acknowledge her pain and suffering, her inebriated condition or what doing this favor for him has cost her. She burned a friendship for Picard, but he acts as though they are still in Starfleet and she owed him that performance. Chris has to nearly carry her from the bridge. Like his prosecution of the Romulan rescue mission, Picard’s pursuit of Soji is single minded and he’s not paying attention to how it’s affecting the people around him.
This is where we can see that Rios is truly the captain of this ship and is still Starfleet at heart. Or maybe he’s too good for Starfleet. He’s watching out for his shipmates, even though this is a charter flight. By all rights, these passengers aren’t Rios’ responsibility, beyond their basic needs, since Picard brought them on as part of his team. Yet in episode 5, Chris didn’t take his eyes off the others after he’d finished his part of the deal on the planet, though Picard dismissed him. He saved their lives when Vup almost fired on them.
Chris settles Raffi on her bed and sits next to her. She tells him she has a son and notes how strange it is that she’s never told Chris before, despite how many years they’ve known each other. In tears, Raffi explains that she and her son are estranged, so she’ll never know her baby granddaughter. Then she rolls over to pass out. Chris tenderly covers her with a blanket. As he gets up to leave, he tells her that no one gets everything in life right. He takes her bottle of booze with him.
On the cube, Soji tells Narek that she had the same dream again. She tried to tell her mom about it, but fell asleep during the call. He asks her if she realizes that every one of her calls to her mother lasts exactly 70 seconds.
Back in her room, Soji sits at her desk instead of on her bed and calls her mom. Her mom says that her dad is in his lab, so he’s not available to talk. Then she notices that Soji is tired and insists that her daughter lie down, if she doesn’t have to be at work soon. Soji is immediately drowsy, but fights sleep, even stabbing her hand with a utensil. It’s no use though, and within moments Soji passes out. Mom smiles. Presumably a data transfer ensues over the next minute.
Emmy comes through with Jean Luc’s credentials as a Federation Special Envoy to meet with the Reclamation Project’s Executive Director, Hugh. He’s the only one who has permission to board the Artifact and he only has permission to meet with Hugh.
As they sit outside the cube waiting for instructions, Jean Luc has vivid visual flashbacks of the Borg. He’s being massively triggered by the thought of boarding the cube and the sight of it filling La Sirena’s view screen.
Rios receives specific transport coordinates for Picard. Elnor wants to accompany Picard as his personal guard, but is forbidden. Picard orders him to stay on the ship, no matter what.
Picard carries Dahj’s necklace with him.
Soji wakes up and frantically checks the age on all of her possessions using some sort of handheld chronometer. Everything, from her journal to her photos to her childhood stuffed animal reads as 37 months old. The last thing she checks is the necklace that matches Dahj’s. Same age. She can’t lie to herself any longer, but she doesn’t know what the truth is.
Picard beams onto an isolated area of the cube. The cube reacts to his presence, as panels rearrange themselves. Images of Borg flash through his mind as he wanders the aisles of the cube looking for Hugh. On a dangerous cross bridge, he stumbles to his knees. An unreclaimed Borg awakens in his regeneration alcove. Picard has more flashes, including one of the Queen from First Contact.
Is he being triggered or is someone probing his mind?
Two xBs take his arms and he yells for them to stop. Hugh, who is now nearby, says they’re trying to help Picard. Now that Picard is stable, they leave without a word.
Hugh approaches Picard and welcomes him to the cube. With a smile and true emotion, he says he’ll help Jean Luc, any way he can. Picard is happy to finally be greeted by a friendly face. They give each other a huge, heartfelt hug.
After everyone who’s met up with Picard and either yelled at him or, at best, been ambivalent, how ironic is it that it’s the Borg who are happy to see him? But then, they always were, weren’t they? 😉😱
Hugh shows Picard around the Artifact. Picard asks how Hugh can stand being there. Hugh explains that the Project needed a Director and as a Federation citizen he’s free to leave at any time, unlike the newly reclaimed xBs. He tells Jean Luc that they call themselves xBs instead of Borg because he learned on the Enterprise that a new name is the first step to a new identity.
Picard is tense, visibly hunched in on himself, closing one eye as if he’s afraid the Borg might try to put a new prosthetic in. Hugh reminds him that it’s not a Borg cube and he’s not Locutus. That’s all in the past. But Picard continues having a hard time accepting that these Borg are benign. Hugh asks how he can help.
Picard says that he’s looking for Soji. Hugh has already figured out that she’s in trouble, because he’s the best and Narek’s not as sneaky as he thinks he is. Hugh calls Narek a dashing young spy, so I guess he’s not completely immune to Narek’s charms.
They set off to find Soji, who is with her dashing young spy.
He’s wearing a truly fabulous spy coat that’s the final mark of him as a romantic lead or I’ve never watched an epic, sweeping tale in my life. If he’s not the Marius of this piece, wavering between sides and one of the linchpins of the story along with Cosette/Soji, I don’t know who is.
After Soji tells Narek about her chronometer results, he asks her what she thinks it means. She doesn’t understand how everything in her life can be fabricated. He wonders if her memories could be implanted, to enable someone to use her for an unknown purpose on the Artifact. Then he offers to take her through the Zhal Makh, a traditional Romulan meditation practice that’s normally closed to non-Romulans, to help her figure out what’s happening to her. She agrees.
Hugh walks Picard through an xB recovery ward, where the wounds left behind after the removal of Borg prosthetics are healed. The xBs are left with scars and disabilities, but they are no longer Borg. Picard is struck by their need and fragility. He finally feels compassion for the Borg drones, realizing they are all kidnap victims, just like him. He sees the importance of the work Hugh is doing.
Hugh: “The outcomes are far from ideal.”
Picard, echoing his realization that when he abandoned the Romulans, he allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good: “What you’re doing is good, Hugh. There’s no need for it to be perfect. After all these years, you’re showing what the Borg are, underneath. They’re victims, not monsters.”
Compare this to the Picard of a few hours ago, who saw them as a cancer.
Hugh: “Still, we remain the most hated people in the galaxy. Just as helpless and enslaved as before. (Whispers) Only now, our queen is a Romulan.”
Picard: “Thank you for showing me this.”
Hugh: “No one could understand it better than you. And a Picard who might advocate for a free Borg- Now that would be quite a thing, wouldn’t it? And you did come all this way.”
Hugh checks on Soji’s location, then takes Picard to her quarters. She called in sick due to realizing her entire life is a lie.
What did Hugh mean by “Our queen is a Romulan”? Was Hugh was being literal or figuratively speaking about the Romulans being in charge of the Artifact? He could have said something like “the Romulans might as well be our Queen” if he were speaking figuratively. If the xBs have a Romulan queen, is she an xB who is covertly in control, like maybe Ramdha, or a Tal Shiar officer who plugs in to give orders, like maybe Narissa?
Moving on, let’s also file away the idea of a Picard who advocates with the Federation and the Romulans for a free Borg for the future, shall we? So much story potential there.
Chris makes Raffi a cup of coffee so she’s alert when he tells her he won their bet about whether or not Soji is alive. Raffi is Raffi, so her shock over being wrong about a sure thing sets her mind working. She’s quickly back to normal, grappling with why the Tal Shiar would keep a synth alive when it goes against everything they believe in.
Narek has to threaten the guard at the Zhal Makh door to get him to let Soji in.
That guard seemed like a plant, am I right? The meditation room probably doesn’t normally require a high status guard, more like a keypad and an access code. Or do we think the xBs are rebelling by trying out arcane Romulan ritual meditation?
Inside, the room is cosy, with a labyrinth on the floor and candles burning at specific points along the path. Narek has Soji take her boots off, then tells her that he’s safe to show her his true self in this room. He says his true name is Hrai Yan.
She’s not expecting this revelation and he has to repeat it. She doesn’t respond directly- she doesn’t have a true name to give back, which is probably the Romulan response, and doesn’t trust him enough to say “I love you”, the human equivalent. She asks how to begin the ritual instead.
That was an odd sequence. Narek is usually much smoother with his machinations. I hope we eventually find out whether or not Hrai Yan is actually his true name. Narissa is listening in, so they aren’t even in private. He must have meant to make Soji feel more emotional and vulnerable, but I wonder if he also wanted to tell her his true feelings just once, while he had the chance, since he knew she’d understand the significance.
Appropriately, the word for the beginning of the path is “closing”, even though you start at an opening. He says it’s because you close your eyes to help reach the center of your mind, but it seems clear that the term is derived from the Romulan love of hiding and puzzles. Like the little doll, they are now closed inside the impossible box and won’t leave until the puzzle is solved.
Soji walks the path and describes her dream. Narek questions her in detail. Narissa listens for clues to the location of Soji’s homeworld. When Soji reaches her father’s lab, she can’t see her father because of the orchids, then she “wakes up”, frightened. Narek gives her a pep talk and sends her back in.
As Picard and Hugh reach Soji’s quarters, an announcement is playing in the hallway, but is silenced once the door to Soji’s room closes: “Sectors 5-8 through 5-21 and all Omicron sectors are temporarily closed due to detected chronometric activity. If you have entered any of the afflicted sectors in the past 48 hours, please proceed to…”
“Chronometric” breaks down to mean time measurement, which Soji did earlier in the episode, but whatever has happened now is big enough to shut down operations in parts of the cube. Picard and, more importantly, Hugh, Narissa and Narek all ignore this announcement, as far as we are shown. Was this a normal workplace accident or did time travel just occur on the Artifact?
When he sees the state of Soji’s room, Picard realizes she’s in the process of figuring out who she is. Hugh asks what he means, but Picard is too rushed to explain. Soji has dropped off the locator grid.
In her dream, Narek instructs Soji to stay in the lab, even though her father yells at her. When her father turns to her, his face is blurred. She sees herself on a lab table, but in pieces like a broken wooden doll. Narek tells her to look up through the skylight. She sees two blood red moons. There’s been a lightning storm throughout her dream.
Narissa complements Narek on finally achieving their goal. She leaves to look up a planet with frequent electrical storms and two red moons.
Soji anxiously asks Narek what the dream means. He goes to her and says that she’s found home. She’s now at the center of the path. He tells her not to worry anymore. She still doesn’t understand and asks why her father was working on her. Narek kisses her and, with tears in his eyes, tells her, “Because you’re not real. You never were.”
Narek winds up the Tan Zhekran, puts it down, then leaves the room and locks Soji in. This time when the box opens up a noxious red gas pours out of the opening. The guard watches Soji while Narek turns his back to the door and cries.
Soji is not in the mood to be part of Narek’s tragic love story today. She activates, smashes a hole in the floor, and jumps through. Narek stops the guard from entering the room to go after her, telling him the radiation from the box is too dangerous.
Narek has a thing for dangerous toys that aren’t what they seem.
Soji reappears on Hugh’s locator. They realize she’s dropping through the floor and rush to meet her when she crashes through the ceiling. As they rush by, an xB recognizes Picard as Locutus. Narek sends a Tal Shiar team to intercept her.
Soji drops to the floor in front of Hugh and Picard. Picard begs her to trust him, showing her Dahj’s necklace. She reluctantly agrees. They run, since an army of Romulans is after them. Hugh takes them to the queen’s cell, which he and Picard both remember because they are Borg, even though they’ve never personally been there. Hugh says that when you’re an xB and on a cube, the knowledge you need just shows up when you need it.
He messes with tech and calls up a complicated holo control panel, then explains that this particular travel device was assimilated after Jean Luc left the collective, when the Borg picked up some Sikarians. A gateway emerges that’s called a spatial trajector, with a range of 40,000 light years- they can basically go anywhere they’d want to go. Soji has also tapped into the collective knowledge and joins Hugh in saying the range of the trajector.
She has Borg tech is incorporated into her design.
Picard explains the situation to Raffi and Rios. He tells them he’ll meet them on the planet of Nepenthe. Rios notices that Elnor has disappeared. Elnor shows up outside the queen’s cell and quickly kills 3 Romulans who have found them.
Picard orders Elnor to come with him and Soji, but it will take Hugh a few minutes to power down the trajector and wipe the location of their jump. Elnor decides to stay behind and guard their escape. Picard swears he won’t leave Elnor behind again, which is everything Elnor’s ever wanted to hear. But this is the fight Elnor’s been dreaming about ever since Picard read The Three Musketeers to him and he’s not going to miss it.
Picard and Soji step through the
Guardian of Forever spatial trajector. Hugh begins powering down the device, then he and Elnor step out into the hallway. Elnor greets the Romulans with his trademark line, “Please my friends, choose to live.”
The Sikarians and their spatial trajector appeared in season 1 of Voyager.
Elnor was able to sneak onto the cube without setting off alarms because he’s a Romulan. If my theory that he’s Narissa and Narek’s brother is correct, his DNA may also be a close enough match to one of theirs to pass through biodetectors. He may even have an old Zhat Vash ID chip embedded in him.
Agnes was awfully nervous about going to the cube, almost as if she’s a former Borg drone herself, or perhaps a synth with embedded Borg tech. We’re also given the contrast between Elnor, who’s probably rarely been exposed to advanced technology, easily figuring out how and where to get himself onto the Borg Artifact, and Agnes the robotics expert, who’s spent her career at the Daystrom Institute, who spent most of episode 5 agonizing about pushing a couple of buttons on the transporter on cue.
The woman is hiding more than just the murder of Bruce Maddox.
I think she could be a synth, too, specifically Lore’s daughter. When Agnes was agitated in the med bay while Bruce was being treated and during his murder, some of her movements were very similar to Lore’s stiff, jerky movements. Lore could have created Jurati twins using one of his neurons as the first experimental prototype using a single positronic neuron to clone a new positronic brain. Like Soji and Dahj, she could be relatively young and have recently been activated, giving her memory and function issues. The mind meld with Oh might have activated her, leaving her doubly frightened if she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her body.
Part of Absolute Candor and being a warrior nun is knowing your enemy. Elnor observes people closely and reads them with honesty and depth, which allows him to see through the lies they tell themselves and each other. That’s a more valuable skill than most realize, especially when dealing with a culture that values secrecy and lies like the Romulans and dealing with oppressors like the Tal Shiar.
Being able to see the truth in someone’s eyes and mannerisms, despite what their words are saying, gives you an advantage that’s hard to beat, because it means it’s hard to fool you or turn you into a blind follower. Imagine how crazy that must make other Romulans. They have a culture that’s so steeped in layers of obfuscation that they usually don’t try to break all the way through. Someone who can get to the center of the maze with almost no effort would be infuriating.
The Continuity of Imagery in The Impossible Box: Narek vs Soji and the Doll vs the Radiation
This episode has amazing editing and continuity. Maja Vrvilo, the director, also does quite a bit of editing, so that shouldn’t be surprising. The transitions, tonality and motifs in this episode are Emmy worthy. Everything feeds on everything else and fits together like pieces of a puzzle, from the sound design to the methods of foreshadowing to the use of the Borg cube as the main set.
As an example, the title is The Impossible Box. Soji herself is an impossible box, a puzzle that Narek and Narissa must solve without breaking it/her. Early on, Narek plays with his Romulan Rubik’s cube, another impossible box, and uses it to explain his patient spy methods to Narissa. A tiny doll pops out when he solves the puzzle and the scene ends. Narisa sees his method and the box as barely useful. As the camera cuts away to La Sirena, we hear a loud bang on the ship. The sound combined with the opening of the box is like a bomb going off, but on first viewing, you only register it unconsciously.
Narek continues to work on Soji and draws her into the Zhal Makh, the life sized Romulan puzzle box, then helps her solve the puzzle inside her to his satisfaction. He leaves his prize standing in the middle of the box after telling her she’s just a doll, not realizing that he’s set her free by revealing her true nature to her.
When he walks away, he leaves his Tan Zhekran behind, with radiation pouring out that’s meant to kill Soji. That’s Narek’s silent explosion. Soji causes the real bang in the ship by activating herself so that she has access to her full range of abilities, then pounding a hole in the floor and escaping. He told her she was a doll in a box, and she responded by popping herself out of his box. He thought he was creating a metaphorical bang, the way he did when he opened the box with Narissa, but instead Soji creates a real, but delayed, sound when she crashes through the floor.
Meanwhile, we’ve repeatedly been shown images of people in squares and boxes, such as xBs and Narissa in mirrors and alcoves; faces in communication devices and photos such as Raffi’s friend Emmy, Soji’s mom-AI and the faces in Picard’s computer screen; the camera has frequently framed people’s faces in tight close up, using the screen itself as a box; and pieces of the set have been used as boxes, such as skylights in a shot from above, doorways and Soji’s quarters.
The Borg cube and La Sirena are obvious boxes, but the Borg queen’s cell is more important, an impossible box that was opened for this episode. Then Hugh, Soji and Picard all solved the puzzle that the Romulans couldn’t, while the one trustworthy Romulan, Elnor, watched. Once the puzzle was solved, Picard and Soji became real and popped out of the box and over to the planet of Nepenthe, where a couple of old friends live.
Narek was supposed to kill Soji when he’d gotten information about her home planet from her, but he used an ineffective method. Shouldn’t he have guessed that radiation wouldn’t work, based on previous reports, and gone with something closer to what killed Dahj, a combination of green acid slime and an exploding disruptor? Or the old failsafe of decapitation, dismemberment and burning?
(Am I the only one who takes vampires at their word anymore?)
Or was he hoping his method wouldn’t work? Maybe Narek became real when he popped out of the box, too. Perhaps he made his attempt look realistic, but sabotaged himself, hoping Soji would escape.
That could also have been part of his spy plan- he and Narissa could have assumed she’d escape, steal a shuttle and fly back to her homeworld. Then they’d follow her home. The clues from her dream that Narissa was so excited about are hardly definitive.
Even if Narek were to pretend that he’s on Soji’s side now, it’ll be hard to tell if he’s for real for a long time. Maybe he’s in love with her and wants to continue his work with synths. Maybe he needs to verify the location of the nest in person before they destroy it.
Everything about the episode had two potential sides to it, just like Narek and Agnes. Everyone told lies with a kernel of truth. Even Elnor disobeyed a direct order. Every situation was two things at once. Traps and paranoia ruled, but so did compassion and kindness. Which was real?
Star Trek: Picard Is the Borg. All Have Been and Will Be Assimilated.
The continuity I discussed above is a hallmark of this series. Each episode has a clear theme and the characters, plot, imagery, sound, etc, revolve around that theme each week. Episode 6 was a particularly coordinated example of this flow, probably because it was on the Borg cube. The Borg seek to establish order out of chaos, so this episode was orderly. Visual patterns repeated, musical themes repeated, behavior patterns repeated, Soji’s dream repeated.
I now suspect that episode 5 may have been particularly tonally disjointed on purpose because of the events of the episode. The characters’ peace of mind was being destroyed, so the flow of the episode, the imagery, the sound and the events failed to work in harmony with each other. The two former Borg, Seven and Jean Luc, had particularly difficult times. Seven had to relive one of the worst days of her human life. Jean Luc learned that he needed to visit a Borg cube to rescue Soji, triggering all sorts of bad memories.
In episode 5, we didn’t visit the Artifact at all, which I think I understand after seeing episode 6. Oddly enough, I think the cube has a harmonizing influence on all xBs within a certain range. No xB within the cube’s sphere of influence for very long would be as out of sync as Seven and Jean Luc. It’s the nature of the collective to find an equilibrium together. That tone wouldn’t have fit with the atonal nature of episode 5.
I suspect, after watching Jean Luc, Hugh, Soji and Seven together, that everyone with Borg nanoprobes is still connected, even across subspace, on some minimal level that generally stays unconscious. It’s only noticeable when they’re around other Borg or isolated for a period of time.
When an xB is separated from other xBs, an undercurrent of influence is always there, pushing them to bring order to chaos, to assimilate, to search for other xBs, leaving them restless.
You can see it in Seven’s need to bring order to the Beta quadrant with the Rangers, who serve as her collective. When Picard was on the Enterprise, his long standing crew served as a family who humanized him away from obsessive Borg tendencies. Once he was on the Verity, there was no one to pull him away from his ambition and obsessive drive to collect Romulans. He faux assimilated some Romulans into the Federation on planets such as Vashti, initially without getting prior approval from his federation superiors.
It was striking in this episode how much more alive and alert the xBs on the cube seemed, with Jean Luc’s consciousness added to the subconscious mix. The cube seemed to wake up when Picard came to visit and to know that he was there on a rescue mission. Though he was there to rescue Soji, he made rescue and escape an option in the collective consciousness, where they’d been hopeless before.
Even though Jean Luc was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, he felt compassion for them and they felt it for him and each other. That changed the xBs into a closer collective, which will have consequences for the Romulans. His ability to see himself and them as individuals was added to the mix, and we know the power that carries for Borg drones. They are now individuals with hope, ambition and a shared purpose, rather than drones who know nothing but the collective, Romulan oppression and Federation prejudice.
Unimatrix Zero: The Source of Soji’s Dreams and a Potential Rebellion?
Like Soji, Borg who had a genetic predisposition for it also used to dream, in a part of the collective mind called Unimatrix Zero. Could the combination of Soji’s Borg nanoprobes and her human genetic components be what allows her to dream and to access a connection to the rest of the Borg?
Unimatrix Zero was introduced in Voyager and frequently visited by Seven of Nine. The original version of the Borg collective dream consciousness existed within the network that the Queen controlled, but she had no knowledge of it. It existed, undetected by the Queen, for many years. Once she discovered Unimatrix Zero, she found a way to destroy it.
In theory, any Borg with the genetic capability, access to other Borg and the technology to enhance brainwaves in the correct manner should be able to re-establish a new Unimatrix Zero.
In the old collective, the drones reached Unimatrix Zero during regeneration. In this episode we saw former drones, such as Hugh and Picard/Locutus, feeling a connection to the cube and each other after they’d been disconnected from the Borg. They were able to access knowledge in their disconnected, waking state, as was Soji.
Hugh mentioned that now the xBs have a Romulan queen. She could be using something like Unimatrix Zero, but a version that can be accessed without regeneration, to communicate with drones and remain undetected. Or maybe she sends out orders while they sleep. It could be that the queen is one of the disordered former Romulan drones, and all of the disordered Romulans mainly still communicate as if they were Borg. Maybe Romulans are all genetically capable of reaching Unimatrix Zero, or something equivalent.
A brief history of the Borg.
The video discusses the fact that their collective memory becomes fragmented, then disappears, around 900 years ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are only 900 years old, although many people assume that it does. It could mean their memories were wiped around that time and they had to rebuild. They might have lost their queen(s). They could have met an enemy they couldn’t beat or they could have experienced a natural disaster. Either way, it might have been a bottleneck event for the species, in which their population was reduced nearly to extinction, but enough survived to repopulate over time.
In Picard’s episode 1 dream, which opened this series, Data had 5 queens in his poker hand. It could be that, rather than the Borg being the monolithic collective Picard has always believed them to be, there are 5 tribes of Borg, with 5 queens. This separation might have occured 900 years ago, when a disaster fragmented the collective in space and memory. And time?
Images courtesy of CBS AllAccess.