This Star Trek: Picard review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 6
How you felt about this week’s Star Trek: Picard probably depends on how invested you have been in the Soji/Narek storyline so far, as their relationship and the implications of Narek’s lies came to an intense head in “The Impossible Box.”
For me, the character of Soji and the relationship between Soji and Narek have been underdeveloped, which means many of the emotional gut punches that were meant to land in “The Impossible Box” just… didn’t for me. I care about Soji because Picard cares about Soji, but, even after six episodes, I feel like I know less about who she is as an individual than I did about Dahj in one episode. Most three-year-olds I know have more personality than they know what to do with, but not Soji. She’s still a blank slate for others to project their opinions about synthetics onto.
For Narek, this means a certain degree of fear and loathing, mixed with a confusing attraction that complicates things slightly for the evil Romulan. While we might not know exactly what Narek’s deal is yet, we know he is part of the Tal Shiar, whose sole purpose it is to root out synthetic life and destroy it.
It’s been implied that he lost his brother, and that the loss drives in him in his mission for some reason. Given all of this, why would Narek give up everything he knows and believes and has been working towards for a girl he met two weeks ago? (I mean, other than decency.) The short answer: he wouldn’t, and Star Trek: Picard half-heartedly trying to convince us that he might does not carry a lot of suspense. The Narek/Soji relationship has felt unequal and lacking depth or chemistry from the beginning. I’m glad “The Impossible Box” doesn’t try to argue that Narek would even consider it—nothing we’ve learned about this character suggests he would do something like that.
However, the way the camera lingers on Narek’s teary eyes after he has betrayed Soji’s trust and condemned her to death, suggests the show wants us to have some sympathy for Narek, or believe that he might grow to have some regret surrounding this decision. Feel free to try, Star Trek: Picard. I love a redemption story as much as the next person, but Narek has dug himself into a deep antagonist hole so far: preying on Soji’s vulnerabilities in order to complete his mission, and locking her in a room to die only moments after asking her to trust him with the most guarded parts of herself. If Narek can’t see the “humanity” in Soji after spending time with her in the ways that he has, then his redemption is going to be hard-won should Picard try for it—at least for this viewer.
And what of Soji’s “humanity,” so to speak? In “The Impossible Box,” we learn that everything Soji has, from childhood keepsakes to the necklace her father supposedly gave her and Dahj, are only 37 months old. The phone calls she makes to her mother every night only last for 70 seconds before her body responds to some programming, putting her to sleep before she can realize her mother is maybe a hologram? It’s horrifying, and I wish Star Trek: Picard let us feel that horror a little more, brought us closer to what it must feel like to be Soji at this moment: to learn that her entire life has been a lie, that her mother and father might not even exist.
For a series that presumably comes down on the side of synthetic life being able to attain some definition of humanity (The Next Generation did with Data), Picard seems unwilling to complexify Soji’s emotional capacity in relatable ways. In the scene following Soji’s introduction to Picard, the two travel with Hugh into a hidden part of The Artifact. Soji stands calmly while Hugh and Picard discuss the nature of the room, even though moments before she was almost murdered by her fuck buddy. It’s a missed opportunity in a string of many to explain to us who this character is: which is to say what she is feeling and thinking. Instead, it feels like someone hit the “pause” button on Soji’s emotional reaction, which is not a good look for a synthetic character (or any character really).
While Soji struggles with the idea that she isn’t human by the most literal of definitions, Jean-Luc is forced to face the experience that once temporarily robbed him of his humanity: his time with the Borg. It says a lot about how dedicated to this mission Picard truly is that he is willing to dive back into the trauma of his assimilation in order to find Soji.
This episode and the last have really dived into the exploration of former Borg as survivors, giving us moving, complex moments of shared traumatic experience between Picard and Seven last week and Picard and Hugh this week. The highlight of “The Impossible Box” was not the introduction of Picard and Soji (and it should have been), but rather the reunion of Picard and Hugh, who pledges to help Jean-Luc in whatever way he can. The moment relies on the considerable weight of The Next Generation nostalgia and storytelling, sure, but it is also simply nice to see a character enthusiastically offer Picard their assistance after so many episodes of people refusing or begrudgingly doing so.
Elnor was one such character, reluctant to help Jean-Luc when they first came back together because of how the older man had hurt him when he left him as a boy without so much as a goodbye. This is no longer the case, as Elnor willfully ignores Jean-Luc’s command that he stay on the ship rather than come aboard The Artifact to protect him. Elnor shows up in the nick of time, buying Jean-Luc and Soji the extra time they need to escape The Artifact. But at what cost?
The episode ends with Elnor preparing to defend Hugh from the approaching Romulans, seemingly confident in his ability to strike them all down. But there are many more Romulans than there are Elnors, and the lone Romulan seemingly brought a sword to a gunfight. I doubt this is Elnor’s last stand (and it better not be Hugh’s, whose fate I am much more worried about). Something tells me Star Trek: Picard is looking forward to getting Elnor and Narek in the same room/storyline together, exploring what it means to be Romulan in this new, post-Romulus world, and how the two men responded very differently to the tragedies in their lives brought about by the same, horrific events.
Elsewhere in the episode, Agnes is understandably having trouble getting over that time she killed her ex-lover, Bruce Maddox. We don’t get any more information about why Dr. Jurati did what she did (we have our theories), but her very human response to the trauma of watching him die at her hand suggests she at least thinks she had a “good” reason for it.
Rios and Agnes hook-up, which is a bit out of left field and also makes me side-eye Rios’ judgment. He went from respecting Agnes’ announcement that their kiss was a mistake, inquiring how she is feeling and listening to her self-description as “hollow” before welcoming her 180-degree turn back into a sexual advance, even though she was obviously not OK.
Rios is much more likable in his interactions with Raffi, who continues to have a hard time with her son’s rejection. After helping Picard get access to The Artifact by calling in a favor/strong-arming her Federation contact, she returns to her drinking. But she does open up to Rios about her son. He holds Raffi’s hand and puts her to bed, demonstrating the kind of thoughtful, caring response I wish he had shown with Agnes.
Elnor gets some great lines/moments in this episode, including an “I already hate this place” upon La Sirena’s arrival at The Artifact.
“They don’t change; they metastasize.” – JL, on the Borg
“No one gets it right all of the time.” – Captain Rios
“You’re not real. You never were.” Narek is the worst.
Why doesn’t Soji respond to Picard in the same way that Dahj did? Does she not have the same kind of “memories” of him implanted in her unconscious?
We get more insight into the current state of ex-Borg rights from Hugh, who tells Jean-Luc that they are just enslaved as ever: this time, at the hands of the Romulans rather than the Borg Queen. Will Picard speak for them? How powerful that would be, Hugh says.
Speaking of the Borg Queen, Picard and Soji use her portal transport device to peace the hell off of The Artifact. This technology felt a bit hand-wavey and convenient to me.
Soji’s “memories” of her creation come from a planet with two red moons and electrical storms.
It’s in epsiodes like this that I wonder what Beverly Crusher is up to. She and Geordi were Hugh’s main voices of support when the Enterprise first encountered him, the lone survivor of a wrecked Borg ship, in “I, Borg.” How would they feel about what Hugh is up to? Have they spoken since their encounters on the Enterprise?
Seriously, does Soji never try to call Dahj?