As always, there be spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
”Broken Pieces” continues in the tradition of these latter Star Trek: Picard episode in that while there are some action sequences, most of the episode is quieter. This is the “put it all together” episode that provides our intrepid crew the information they need to plow into the last two episodes of the season, and it does not disappoint. Most of the really significant sequences occur at tables, on couches, in small rooms between pairs of characters as they try to put together the “broken pieces” not only of themselves but also of the sociopolitical and military systems that drove them earlier in their lives.
This is an episode for which I am tempted to tell you to read the summary at Memory Alpha because really, so much happens over the course of the episode, and yet not a lot actually occurs. The episode opens on a seemingly dead world with a group of women wearing black cloaks and standing around a circular rail. One of the women reveals herself to be Commander Oh, and we also recognize both Narissa and Ramdha. Jurati will later explain that the ritual we’re watching is the induction ceremony into the Zhat Vash which involves seeing what the Romulans term the Admonition. Raffi explains that the planet exists as a solitary planet in an octonary star system, which almost certainly does not exist in nature. Therefore, a powerful civilization must have grabbed eight suns and dragged them into position in order to signal that the message they left on the dead world is important. That message, according to Jurati, is a vision of the hell that will occur if synthetic life is allowed to evolve.
Narissa and Ramdha are the only two survivors of that particular ceremony, and we flash to the Cube, where Ramdha remains in a coma for no medically known reason. Narissa identifies her as the aunt that raised both Narissa and Narek and begs her aunt to return to consciousness. With her efforts unsuccessful, Narissa turns and marches off to slaughter the reclaimed xBs. Meanwhile, Seven has broken onto the Cube, and Elnor, elated at seeing her, crushes her in an embrace. They proceed to the Queencell where Seven allows herself to create a miniature Collective, but Narissa orders the remaining Borg drones to be released into space. As the Romulans depart to destroy the synthetics’ homeworld, Seven and Elnor remain and acquire complete control over the Cube.
On the Sirena, Rios finally sees Soji for the first time, and he’s visibly shocked at her appearance, driving him to activate his various helper holograms and to take refuge in his quarters. Raffi, concerned for her friend, badgers the holos to reveal what they know of Rios’s past in Starfleet, and eventually, she confronts him with a name: “Alonzo Vandermeer”. Rios reveals that his beloved Vandermeer discovered two potential ambassadors, who happened to be synthetic life forms, and much like Jurati, he received orders to murder them. Vandermeer followed those orders, but unable to live with his actions, he took his own life in front of a Rios who considered him a father figure. Seeing that occur broke Rios, which the episode represents with the literal fragmentation of his memories into the disparate holographic crew members.
Soji confronts Jurati and makes peace with her, and Jurati agrees to turn herself over to Starfleet justice as soon as they reach Starbase 12, where Admiral Clancy has promised a squadron will be waiting for them. Soji also offers Picard a sort of comfort while she eats eggs as they discuss Data. She assures Picard that Data loved him without qualification whatsoever. Later, she will attempt to hack the ship to force it to take her home, and though Rios uses an override to take back control, they all agree to travel to her homeworld through one of the Borg’s Transwarp conduits. Unbeknownst to them, a familiar Romulan Snakehead follows them into the conduit.
I mentioned above that generally, most of the episode takes place in scenes of one or two people, and I don’t think that to be merely a function of story. Each dyad shares something significant, be it a strange kinship or even serving as a foil for each other.
Seven and Narissa
For Seven and Narissa, the dialogue makes explicit that they are both driven by the need to finish their work. With Seven, she tries to protect as many people as she can by serving with the Fenris Rangers, and for Narissa, she joins the Zhat Vash. They’re both possessed of deep personal strength as evidenced by how they survive trauma, be it assimilation or the Admonition. They’ve both lost someone significant to them; Seven loses Icheb to Bjayzl while Narissa’s aunt Ramdha may or may not recover from her coma. They’ve both used violence to achieve vengeance; Seven murders Bjayzl. Narissa slaughters everything associated with the Borg. They differ, however, in their goals. Seven wants to save as many people as she can, and while Narissa wants to save the universe from the hell she saw in the Admonition, her goals are more closely tied to destruction. Symbolically, she finds herself separated from her brother Narek in their mutual quest to annihilate an entire population, but Seven finds Elnor, who neatly steps into a space previously occupied by Icheb because Seven’s “work” ultimately concerns protecting people not with annihilation but with throwing herself between impending doom and the people she hopes to save, even if doing so requires her to face her greatest fear. The distinction is a fine one, but it is significant.
Raffi and Rios
We have already seen Raffi retreat into isolation, using wine as a coping mechanism, so not only does she recognize Rios’s coping mechanisms as her own but so do we. Where he offered her his friendship after she confesses that Gabriel’s rejection broke her in “Nepenthe,” she must do the same for him and bear witness to the pain he still carries for Vandermeer. Rios’s holograms constitute the titular broken pieces, but building on her fantastic speech about being wreckage in the previous episode, Raffi recognizes that they’re all broken in some way. The scene they share on the floor in his quarters is understated, quiet, and entirely perfect.
Soji gets two separate dyads. She pairs off with a Picard who wants to help her both because he seeks redemption for failing Data and because he desperately needs to feel useful again. Soji finds a bit of peace for herself when she tells Picard that Data loved him, and she finds the rest of that when she sees Jurati. Soji wrestles with the question of whether she is a being or merely a thing, and Jurati’s very real, very plaintive love for everything Soji represents offers her some of that closure. Jurati’s acceptance of Soji allows Soji to accept herself for everything she is. In turn, Soji’s forgiveness grants Jurati a measure of forgiveness as well.
“Broken Pieces” appears at first to be a story about redemption, but I paraphrased this post’s title from T.S. Eliot’s : The Wasteland for a reason. While I do think there is some redemption to be had, the episode thematically feels more about healing to me. Picard reminds us that the future has not been written, that no matter that the ancient culture that created the Admonition, there is no guarantee that the same will occur. Thus, when Starfleet allowed itself to act solely based on fear, it failed its own principles. Picard chooses to put his faith in openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity that drove the Starfleet he, and by extension, we the viewers remember.
Eliot’s The Wasteland constitutes one of the seminal works of Modernism, and he wrote it in the wake of events that shattered old norms and mores, requiring society to reevaluate how it conceived of war, of its responsibilities, and how it reacts to fear. Eliot’s message is that while people must push forward, not everything they were and knew is completely irrelevant. In “What the Thunder Said,” he reiterates words for ancient concepts, and these ideas are the literal fragments he uses to restore his ruins. Certainly, what he rebuilds will not be the same as it was, but taking the ideas and combining them in new ways allows him to form new truths. “Broken Pieces” reflects the same sort of idea. While Starfleet and the Federation have changed radically, the underlying message of hope is still there. Picard chooses to take those shards and use them to repair the damage.
Star Trek’s message never was that society and human institutions, even humanity itself, would get everything right every time but rather that by working together and taking the best aspects of ourselves that we could move forward to be better. I can think of no more important message to which to cling in these current times.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- When Soji asks if Picard has any idea what having memories implanted feels like, I couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling. ”Inner Light” anyone?
- Seven’s fear that she would be unable to force herself to separate from the Collective was beautifully played by Jeri Ryan, and I love that Seven’s devotion to her work gave her the strength to break away. It’s a beautiful sequence that isn’t marred by Elnor’s vaguely frightened question as to whether she planned to assimilate him. Bless Evan Evagora.
- Brief shout out to Admiral Clancy. I know she and Picard don’t get along, but I kind of adore how fierce she is.
- Again, Santiago Cabrera manages to pull off a truly masterful lot of accents and characters. Without the nuances of his performances, the episode could have been a disaster.
- Why yes, my English major is showing. Why do you ask?
- I’m not going to talk about the Trutherism in this episode because if you’ve been reading, you know my feelings on that already. Plus, I think there’s so much rich material in the rest of the episode that I’d prefer to focus on that. Nevertheless, it’s there, and I’m still salty.