Star Trek #1497: The Impossible Box

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Picard boards the Borg Cube while Narek unlocks Soji's secrets.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Finally, Picard gets there. The Blade Runner vibe.

WHY WE DON'T: Did anyone think Elnor WOULDN'T follow Picard onto the Cube?

REVIEW: The characters converge, and there is much rejoicing. Is it wrong of me to like the Romulan/Soji side of things more than the Picard and crew side of things in this episode? Because I do. Soji's investigation of herself and the Philip K. Dick-type revelation that she is a three-year-old invention is very interesting, and I like how the reinforcement of memory through photos (in this case faked) is, via Dick, similar to what we know of Blade Runner's replicants. A nice adaptation of what happens to be one of my favorite films. Her Max Headroom mom is no help, so she runs to Narek to help her explain this, but will he betray her or his Tal Shiar masters? I was expecting the latter (and it may yet happen), but the former has more immediate emotional cost for him, and ultimately, Hugh will be the one who makes the necessary sacrifice, more on which next episode.

It's incredible how much we're learning about the Romulans from this series. It's perhaps appropriate that the most secretive race in the universe has felt unexplored despite first appearing in 1966. Unification and Nemesis stand out as crucial pieces of the puzzle, but Star Trek: Picard goes well beyond those stories by adding a lot of meat to the culture. Narek has a secret name he would only give to his beloved (and in this at least, he does appear to betray the Tal Shiar, and then himself). The whole thing with the puzzle box, which must be teased patiently so it gives up its secrets, as a part of Romulan culture, but also as a metaphor for Soji herself. And of course, there isn't just one kind of Romulan. Brutality is also a part of their being, and so Narek's despicable sister is the hammer that would smash the box open instead. Lovely stuff. We also get to walk into a Romulan temple of sorts, getting a hint of their faith, if we can use that word. If their Vulcan cousins developed logic as a cultural ethos, then Romulans are more about knowing themselves and withholding it from others, a different kind of emotional control. The dream path Narek uses for hypnosis therapy is effectively used to get secret information out of her without turning her into a living weapon, and a masterful interrogation. Of course, the ensuing assassination attempt does activate her - some cool stuff there - but maybe Narek was secretly hoping it would. That red gas didn't seem like too effective a threat, maybe by design.

Meanwhile, Picard needs to get aboard that other "impossible box", the Borg Cube, and with the help of a few friends, does so. This is by way of diplomatic credentials issued by someone who owes Raffi a favor (a bridge definitely burned), in a moment that has some flair, but is ultimately undone by Picard's cringy applause as Raffi walks away drunk and stoned. Oof. Are they making Picard a fogy old dude who only thinks of himself and his mission on purpose, or is this just a badly calbrated moment? You may also cringe at the Jurati-Rios one-night stand; I'm not sure how Agnes is a viable character after what happened with Maddox, so is this just desperate misbehaving, or is it meant to lead somewhere? Equally problematic is Elnor, whose bond to Picard makes him at once save him and disobey him several times. He's only needed because the plot decides he is (the transport chamber needs to cool down, so he has to stay behind, okay), and it's really obvious he would follow Picard to the Cube. What's not obvious is how, but I don't really need to know either.

I'm frankly more interested in Picard's reaction to being on a Cube after all this time, seeing his trauma and bitterness come out, but also embracing Hugh as son (I love how much Hugh smiles in this), and being in awe of what he's been able to achieved on the Artifact. Picard's apprehension starts early, with a cool shot of him merging with an image of Locutus, and continues as feels disoriented landing on the ship. Could his irumodic syndrome be inflaming his PTSD? Hugh shows another way, poignantly describing former Borg (XBs, important to rebrand and use language as a weapon to change minds) as the most hated beings in the galaxy, monsters when in reality, they are victims, and prisoners of the Romulans' "generosity". He seems to believe Picard's advocacy would help matters, but perhaps he overestimates the Admiral's pull right now. Another tragedy. In the end, he helps Picard and Soji escape via a spatial trajector, technology assimilated from the Sikarians, suggesting a dark fate for a race introduced in the early Voyager episode, "Prime Factors". This really is a post-tragedy universe and we're just trying to get through the day.

LESSON: That prized vintage lunchbox could be a fake.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: The Romulan content alone is worth the price of admission, but while the La Sirena crew subplots fail to engage, at least the story seems to get into higher gear.


Devin Clancy said...

I felt like the writer, director and especially the composer thought Raffi's scene with her friend was played a lot more broadly and humorously than it was.

She was not playing the funny drunk trying to hold it together. I feel like she was giving it an annoyed edge combined with sadness and bitterness. But everyone else involved in the production acted like it was supposed to be funny somehow.


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