Warning: This Star Trek: Picard review contains major spoilers for episode 6. Turn your ship around now to avoid spoilers!
There’s a feeling of disparate story threads coming together in “The Impossible Box” – and it’s hardly a surprise that it’s the captured Borg Cube that provides the focal point. With the first five instalments having painstakingly placed all the key players in position, Picard, Soji, and the Romulans are now set on a collision course that will completely change the shape of the show. It’s an episode of revelations, self-discovery, and pivotal characters being put through hell. As a result, it’s undoubtedly the best outing Star Trek: Picard episode so far.
Given his history with the Borg, Jean-Luc Picard setting foot on a Cube for the first time in 30 years would usually be the event grabbing the headlines, but here the Collective are far from the most dangerous thing out there. Instead, it’s the Romulans – with their “250-year bad mood” – who manage to emerge as the Biggest Bads on board this particular impossible box, as Narek’s complex, nefarious scheme to expose Soji’s true synthetic self finally comes to fruition.
Harry Treadaway is a standout in an episode where his character’s charming, caring mask gradually slips away, revealing the thoroughly ruthless spy who’s been manipulating Soji all along. (There’s a debate to be had over whether it’s Narek or his more overtly antagonistic sister who’s the most dangerous.) Indeed, Narek’s final words to Soji – “You’re not real. You never were. Goodbye, Soji” – are incredibly cold, particularly coming from someone we believed (for a brief moment, at least) might have been a good guy. Even at the end, you’re wondering if his tears are real – though there’s no question that his biggest loyalties were always with the Romulan Star Empire and the Tal Shiar.
And what a journey for Soji, whose entire sense of self comes crumbling down over the space of 54 minutes (this is the longest episode of the season so far, but at no point does it feel bloated). All Narek has to do to set Soji on her downward spiral is point out that every one of her daily calls to her “mother” lasts exactly 70 seconds, cunningly exposing a weakness in the design of her positronic brain. In order to reconcile her souped-up android processing power with the fact she thinks she’s human, she has to dream to keep everything ticking over, with mom – apparently a digital construct – the trigger for sleep.
The subsequent scenes where the supposedly 21-year-old Soji gradually realises that every memento from her life is exactly 37 months old – and that most of her memories are artificial constructs – are heartbreaking. That pain multiplies exponentially when Narek’s Romulan ritual leads her through unseen places in her dreams, and she sees herself as a Pinocchio-esque automaton dismantled on a workbench. Of course, one of the best things about being a super-advanced android is that you can “activate” and escape from the lethal radioactive gas that your ex had hidden away in a macabre Rubik’s Cube.
Given everything Soji goes through, it’s a massive relief when she finally bumps into Picard – and just as important for him. “The Impossible Box” boasts another barnstorming performance from Sir Patrick Stewart – you can see why the producers chose to build another Star Trek show around him – as we learn that nobody truly leaves the Borg Collective. In terms of Picard’s story, this is a direct follow-up to First Contact. The barely contained anger he feels about being forcibly assimilated and the Borg’s ruthless modus operandi comes bubbling back to the surface. He’s also scared at the prospect of being back among the Borg, and there’s a wonderfully chilling moment in his chateau-based holodeck Ready Room, as an on-screen photo of his Borg self is superimposed on his own. Locutus of Borg lives…
At the same time, Picard’s reunion with the liberated former drone and Borg Reclamation Project boss Hugh is properly heartwarming. He’s one of the only people we’ve met in Star Trek: Picard who seems genuinely happy to see Jean-Luc, and he offers his friend his unconditional help. Hugh’s also the perfect guide around the Borg Cube, a dark, haunted house of a spaceship, soundtracked by unsettling Borg chatter, and populated by rehabilitated drones in various states of repair. Hugh also has insider knowledge of both the “Queen Cell” that the Borg Queen used to call home, and the spatial trajector that allows Picard and Soji instantaneous travel across 40,000 light-years. (In a gift of a deep dive for hardcore Trekkies, Hugh reveals that the Borg acquired the technology by assimilating the Sikarians, a Delta Quadrant race who appeared in Voyager episode “Prime Factors”.)
With most of the drama kicking off on the Borg Cube, the crew of La Sirena have to work hard to make an impression in the few moments they get. Raffi is back on the drink and drugs after her failed reconciliation with her son, yet still finds the wherewithal to negotiate her way past an old Starfleet friend to get Picard on board the Borg Reclamation Project – Raffi’s brilliant observation that “Picard’s so Federation his face is still probably on the damn brochures,” is a highlight. The developing mutual attraction between Chris Rios and Agnes Jurati, meanwhile, is an odd one, and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out as she comes to terms with the fact she murdered her boyfriend. We’re also wondering why Rios didn’t activate his many emergency hologram sidekicks to join him in his late-night solo game of football – the chance for a bit of instant five-a-side could be one of the best things about living in the future.
Of course, by now we know that it wouldn’t be an episode of Star Trek: Picard if it didn’t pose as many questions as it answers. What’s the identity of the planet with the constant lightning and the two red moons that Bruce Maddox and his android progeny used to call home? Will Romulan forces on the Borg Cube heed Elnor’s recommendation – “Please, my friends, choose to live” – or will the young Romulan warrior be spending the next episode in the confines of a Tal Shiar interrogation room with Hugh? And what awaits Picard and Soji on the other end of those distant spatial trajector coordinates? We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re about to run into old friends Will Riker and Deanna Troi – it seems a sensible, safe place for Picard to go in a time in need, and besides, we’re running out of time to meet them before the end of the season…
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard appear in the US on Thursdays on CBS All Action, and in the UK on Fridays on Amazon Prime Video.