Thursday, 5 March 2020

Picard: The Impossible Box

Hands down, best episode of the season so far and coming off the back of the slightly bizarre Stardust City Rag probably enhanced it that little bit more. 

There's a pretty even 50/50 split between the Soji/Narek narrative and the Picard thread which ultimately sees the two combined this week. Lets take Soji’s first as this week’s opening flashback is her story. It's now apparent that she is plagued by a recurring dream revolving around entering her father’s lab as a child but is then awoken suddenly. We know that Narek is fully aware of her synthetic nature and its especially evident this week in the way he questions Soji, almost testing her parameters and finding how far he can push without activating her as happened with her twin, Dahj. 

So too from what he says does Soji herself suspect something is wrong - her mother’s daily call lasts exactly 70 seconds every time and when she delves deeper, all of her possessions, photos and even the twin ring necklace all appear to be no more than 37 months old (eagle eyed viewers watch out for the Adventures of Flotter lunchbox that gets strewn on the desk at one point in a quirky Voyager homage).  

This storyline really does turn around on a pinhead. One moment its all sweetness, loving and joy and the next Narek is attempting to dispose of his faux girlfriend in a Romulan meditation chamber. 

On the other side, Picard's arrival at the Artifact is engineered through the work of a seemingly spiralling into despair Raffi pulling in a favour putting the admiral aboard a Borg Cube for the first time since The Best of Both Worlds. Reviewing the data from the ship, the episode fully utilises the franchise history pulling together images from the classic Borg cliffhanger alongside I, Borg and First Contact including one haunting composite of "current" Picard against his appearance as Locutus.

The architecture has gone through some serious transitions even seemingly alive in some respects, rippling along the walls in a pixellated effect. What is more significant with The Impossible Box is that it does something that First Contact and to a great extent every Picard/Borg encounter  did aside from Family in that it directly addresses Jean-Luc's PTSD.

Utilising more of said flashbacks, we can see he is visibly shaken and it looks as though the writers have taken a great deal of care and attention to revisit the trauma as realistically as possible. You do sense that Patrick Stewart will have been a big influence on ensuring this was covered and throughout his time on the cube it remains hauntingly in the background even if in a look from a former Borg or from Picard himself.

Picard's reunion with Hugh does see to take place at break-neck speed with the majority of their time together focusing on the tragedy of those Borg that have been released from their cybernetic slavery. What is touching and something not in the script is the warmth in the hug that the pair give when they are reunited. It genuinely feels like a weight has been lifted from the admiral's shoulders and he does appear to relax to a degree.

The escape from the Artifact once Soji is activated feels again as though the episode steps up through the gears and leaves the crew of the La Sirena separated for the time being.

Let's also not ignore the repercussions of Jurati's actions from the end of last - none so far because she was the only one present when his life support was terminated. In another rather speedy escalation, she hooks up with Rios. The signs have been there although this is lightning quick plot development which is highly surprising given the pace of Picard over six weeks.

The title of the episode appears initially to refer to the Romulan puzzle that Narek is so fond of however on the larger scale it may well be a nod to the Artifact itself but most certainly to Soji. Her existence to seek out the truth behind the synth ban and the "impossible" fact of her very creation are a fascinating and core part of the story of Picard so far.

This series really is blowing open a lot of previously unexplored areas of the franchise; truly diving into what it means to be disconnected from the Borg and regaining your individuality, the damage it does and the length of the recovery plus on the side of the Romulans we have a much greater and more intricate understanding of this once super-secret society. It's eye-opening to see people complaining about the deconstruction of the Romulan Empire and how its xenophobic, closed nature is no more. Their homeworld was destroyed and the boundaries that existed simply cannot hold any longer; the Senate doesn't exist, its members are scattered across light years and the only real order now seems to come from the less-than-covert Tal'Shiar although their puppetmasters are ensuring their nature remains firmly shadowy. For me this dive into the two alien races has been a big draw with The Impossible Box just adding more to the mix but reassuringly there's no humanising of enemies that we've experienced from I, Borg or The Abandoned from Deep Space Nine in relation to the Jem'Hadar. The Romulans have stayed untrustworthy for the most part even if there have been significant alterations to the structure of their society.

The way in which episode six changes pace and tone towards the end does seem fairly jarring and events do take a massive turn from the pedestrian pace that we have experienced thus far.It does however get to the centre of Star Trek in my opinion. There is hope, joy and a sense of positivity in the air with that Picard/Hugh reunion as well as a genuine moment of terror as the Romulans are closing in, causing Hugh to make use of some hidden Borg tech acquired from the Sikarians (Voyager's Prime Factors if you're interested in your homages).

The Impossible Box sets the scene for the last third of the season; a big shift in position and the combination of two storylines potentially meaning we'll see a more spritely run to the end of the series. 

Catch up on all our Picard season one episode reviews here.

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