Sunday, March 1, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E6 "The Impossible Box"


This is the episode that kickstarts everything that we've been waiting for and that the previous 5 have been building up for, and it did not disappoint. Probably my favorite episode so far (hence all the words).

It starts with a scene where we get to see Soji as young. It's unclear if it's a flashback or a dream, but as the scene plays out it seems more and more like a nightmare. Soji sneaks into her father laboratory to try to see what he is doing but she can't make it out. Before she has any answers she wakes up. She tells Narek about her nightmare who immediately becomes very interested.

Their relationship actually plays out really well. It's clear neither of them is showing themselves invested while at the same time both are trying to figure out each others mysteries. There is both coolness and passion and the actors do a decent job conveying both simultaneously. Obviously at the best of times I would've wanted this to get even more depth before the things that unfold in this episode, but considering their time table I think they've done it well enough.

Jump to scene where Agnes explains to Picard what happened to Maddox in the previous episode. Picard doesn't seem to have any suspicions about it, if he does he is hiding it very well. Agnes, who up until now has been a bit like the Tully of this series - fun but at times unclear what purpose they serve - has obviously done a huge character development here and I find that the actress plays the role well. She probably really did love Maddox but something has happened that made her feel that she needed to act the way she did. I read many fan theories on the internet and won't jump into any at any length here, but one that hadn't even occurred to me is that Agnes wasn't actually converted until Commander Oh first sought her out. My idea was that Agnes had been an undercover agent from the start and the love affair with Maddox was just part of that.

Agnes went from dullest to possibly among the most interesting characters just by murdering someone.

But of course the whole thing would be a lot more interesting if it turns out Agnes had been on Maddox' side to begin with and some information that was given to her along the way made her change her mind hard enough to actually kill the man she loved. What could that information possibly be? You'd think if it's enough to convert one of the biggest experts and supposedly fans of synthetics on Earth into wanting them all dead as well, it's something that would convert pretty much anyone, even Picard. Yet this isn't information that has been readily spread, so what could be the reason for this? Of course, all that only matters if the latter fan theory turns out to be the correct one, but I really hope it is.

Agnes goes on to tell Picard that Maddox created Dahj and Soji to find out why the ban was put into effect, which sounds a lot like was actually intending on using them as baits for the Tal Shiar all along. I mean what else could it mean? Then why did he implant memories of Picard in them? Is whatever is happening now, with Picard being part of the effort to uncover the conspiracy part of Maddox' plan all along?

Meanwhile they're closing in on the Artifact, as the decommissioned Borg Cube is called and Picard is becoming visibly anxious at the prospect of having to get back on board on one. This angst will only escalate into a right out panic attack but we're not quite there yet.

I wouldn't trust it either.

Elnor, who is every bit the "innocent and naïve young man"-trope, comes and talks his "absolute candor" with them, revealing that he can tell that Agnes has conflicting emotions and "something she is trying to hide". He says it completely without any afterthought however, it is clear he also does not suspect Agnes of any foul play. Yet.

Picard goes into his quarters and starts looking at images of the Borg. It doesn't actually seem to be making him feel better, rather the opposite, until he gets to a picture of Hugh who as we know is now the General Director of the Artifact. Hugh is an ex-borg like Seven of Nine, but unlike Seven Picard has a history with Hugh. A good one. He spawns an idea for how to get on the Artifact that is only half as crazy as the previous idea he went through with.

Cut to a scene I don't quite get. Rios is standing half naked by the comms kicking some ball or other when Agnes comes. It's apparently in the middle of the night and neither of them can sleep. They kiss (I mean ok?). They talk. Rios is being incredibly understanding, almost to the point where I wonder if this is another one of those holograms he uses because it doesn't really feel like the "real" Rios at all (unless this is his way of sweet talking her, and I mean sure that can be a thing). Agnes says she feels "hollow, hopeless, lonely, afraid". Apparently this makes her want company because then they go bang.

I don't mind fraternizing but I want it to have a purpose in the story if they're going to dedicate a long scene to it. Like I don't need to see people use the bathroom or have showers or any of those things that humans do regularly unless it will actually further the story some way. Is this scene going to do that? Are they a thing now? Is it to show that Agnes just goes from one guy to the next so she is actually stone hearted (which she clearly is not). Is Agnes actually a synthetic too? Now that would be a revelation.

Over at the Artifact Narek's sister says she has finally had it enough with Narek's softcore approach and it is time to bring in the big guns. Narek tells her about Soji's dreams and tells her that the dreams must fill a function. "Why would he make them dream?". He tells her he wants to use the dream to get into Soji's subconscious, where the information they want probably lies. Namely where the planet of synthetics is hidden, because apparently that is a thing and that is the thing they are looking for.

Maybe the same planet the changelings are from, coincidentally?

They've mentioned a "them" before so we already knew there were going to be more synthetics than Soji. How many more though? Now that they are talking about a planet of synthetics, do they actually mean a whole planet inhabited of synthetic people, like thousands?

Picard realizes that the only way to get onto the Artifact is to have some sort of diplomatic envoy documents from the Federation. He realizes he can't ask for them himself so he asks Raffi to pull some contacts. She does and manages to find an admiral or similar who understands that if Picard shows up at the Artifact without the right documentation it could lead to a much larger political problem than just handing the documents to him will. Raffi puts it bluntly when she says "Picard -is- Federation, his face is probably still on the damn brochures". Said and done, Picard has his green card to get on board to meet the General Director (ie Hugh), the snag is that he must go alone.

On board the Artifact Soji tells Narek more about the dream. She tells him that she intended to speak to her mom about it but fell asleep during the conversation, which is something we have seen before. Narek asks her if she knows if this happens often, but Soji is unsure. Narek tells her that the computer has recorded that Soji's messages to her mom, which she does every evening, always takes exactly 70 seconds. No more and no less. Obviously this makes Soji both confused and concerned, and the next time she speaks to her mother she tries to stay awake but fails.

When she wakes up again and realizes what happened she decides to look through all her old stuff - pictures, diaries, drawings - that she has saved and scan them for age. The scanner (which she conveniently has, is this standard equipment or where did she find one?) keeps telling her the items are approximately 37 months old, so almost precisely 3 years and definitely way too new to be part of her childhood. Every item she has is the exact same age so I'll be honest, after a while I would want to test the machine on something else that I did know the age of just to make sure it wasn't malfunctioning into saying "37 months" about everything.

The Impossible Box is not just a toy Narek has but clearly a reference to Soji herself.

Picard gets on board the Artifact and gets completely overwhelmed by all the old memories he has of being part of the Borg Collective. He has a panic attack but is saved by Hugh who pulls his mind back to safety. Patrick Stewart plays the scene perfectly of course and you can really see the sheer stress and panic he is feeling.

Soji tells Narek that everything she thought she knew up until know doesn't seem to be true and he suggests that her memories might be implanted into her for some purpose. To uncover that purpose he wants to lead Soji through the ancient Romulan meditation ritual of Zhal Makh, which is essentially the Vulcan mindmeld but without all the touching of faces. Soji agrees.

Meanwhile Hugh is giving Picard a bit of a tour of the establishment and showing him how they de-Borg the Borgs. Though they swap between the scenes of Soji and Picard fairly quickly (and in a nice way, it's never confusing) I didn't find it clear whether they were taking place simultaneously. We will soon find out that they seem to be.

On board Picards space ship (technically Rios' but whatever) Rios and Raffi have a conversation. Raffi wonders why the Tal Shiar has decided to keep Soji alive when they killed Dahj as soon as possible. Since they had all the information about what Dahj looked like they should have been able to find Soji without any trouble, as we know they have. We viewers know why the Romulans have kept her alive though and suspect that they won't trouble themselves with that much longer.

Soji and Narek go through the Zhal Makh together while Narek's sister is unknown to Soji watching them from another room. Narek takes Soji through her recurring nightmare since he believes that is the key to her subconscious. Before they start though, Narek reveals his true name to Soji, the one you only tell your beloved. But I wonder how that works then - for the person receiving the true name, how do you know for sure it's actually their true name? How does the person handing out the name know that the person receiving it is the right one and not someone you're actually going to divorce and hate in five years? Do you get yourself another true name then? Maybe Romulans don't behave like humans in that regard, once you've gotten someone's true name you're locked in with them forever. Sounds kind of scary actually.

Basically the Romulan equivalent of this.

In another part of the Artifact Picard and Hugh go to visit Soji but find that her quarters are not just empty, but also every item has been thrown around (we know Soji did this herself but Picard and Hugh do not know what happened in there). They try to find her with the computers, but the meditation chamber is sealed off, nothing in there can be found.

As Soji talks herself through her nightmare she manages to get further than she ever has before. As she gets into her fathers work shop, and goes beyond the part where she normally wakes up, she sees herself lying in parts on an operating table looking a lot like a wooden doll being assembled. As she looks up throught he sky view in the ceiling she sees two red moons covered in lightning storms. Nareks assumes this must be the moons of the planet they are looking for and tells Soji she is now done. Soji doesn't understand anything but before she can react, Narek leaves the meditation chamber and leaves behind a radiation-excreting device intended to kill her. Soji panics, goes into the same overdrive mode her sister did and smashes the floor open. As she jumps into the hole down into some sort of maintentance shaft, while Narek is watching from the other side of the glass, she also becomes visible to the computer again. Now it's a chase between Picard/Hugh and the Romulan security to try to get to her first.

As Picard runs through the Borg Cube with Hugh to try to find Soji someone calls out "Locutus?!". Picard barely reacts and reacts with confusion, but there is already so much at stake that the whole scene is easily missed. I am very curious to see if anything comes from this, because in that case it was a neat little foreshadowing.

Picard manages to find Soji first and also manages to convince her to trust him enough to come with him. Doesn't seem like she has very much of a choice though of course Soji doesn't understand much of what is going on. Hugh leads them to a secret old chamber previously used by the Borg Queen. The chamber holds a Spatial Trajector the Borgs assimilated from the Sikarians that allows you to teleport up to 40.000 light years away. Picard sends a message to Raffi that they are going to a place called Nepenthe and asks her to rendevouz them there. Before they manage to charge up the Spatial Trajector though, the Romulan security force finds them though and are just about to apprehend them when Elnor beams in and makes quick work of them. He offers to stay behind to kill off any more security forces coming and after Picard has hesitated a respectable amount of time, he even offers to release Elnor from his oath which would have made him effectively pointless in the series, he and Soji teleport off.

I find it a bit mean towards Hugh that Picard seems to have no qualms or second thoughts about leaving his old friend behind in the same situation, I can't even remember if he says good bye to him. After everything he did for him, tut tut tut. Picard seems to have a knack for discarding old friends.

While we don't get to see the fight, the episode ends with the implication of a lot of violence and presumably Elnor will be ok.

I guess they really wanted to make sure that we'd feel the pay off was worth the wait because wow - it was.  This episode brought to a heel everything that we have been waiting to come together, essentially Soji and Picard on the Artifact and Narek's probing into Soji's mind to find the hidden information. They didn't hold anything back but let it unfold pretty much perfectly, except for the sort of odd scene with Rios and Agnes (which don't get me wrong I didn't hate, I just don't understand the purpose of yet) there wasn't a dull moment. If the series keeps the pace and writing like this for the upcoming episodes it could be pretty epic. I doubt they'll manage that, but at least they got this one together nicely and this was one of the ones that really counted.

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