As always, there be spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
After last week’s “Stardust City Rag,” I hoped for more from the writers, and this week’s episode delivered. In part, Jonathan Del Arco’s Hugh makes the episode for me, but we get solid performances from everyone this time around in addition to a story that holds together better than last week’s, with some caveats. “The Impossible Box” takes us to the Artifact and just as quickly chucks us all off of it, continuing Picard’s typical strange pacing, but while the show’s peculiar pacing detracts from other episodes, in this one, it makes a certain amount of sense.
In the aftermath of Maddox’s death (murder), the crew aboard the Sirena has some down time. Agnes Jurati reeling from her actions in the previous episode engages in a sexual liaison with Captain Rios. Raffi copes with her son’s rejection by viewing it from the bottom of a bottle, but as the ship prepares to enter space that was formerly the Romulan/Federation: Neutral Zone, she reaches out to a contact in Starfleet to secure diplomatic credentials for Admiral Picard. Having secured credentials for safe passage for twenty four hours, Picard beams aboard the Artifact alone where he meets an ecstatic Hugh. Wasting no time, Hugh offers his help in retrieving Soji Asha, but while Picard and Hugh enjoy their reunion, Narek has concluded that it’s time to extract the information from Soji. He leads her to a Romulan meditation center, where he walks her through a recurring nightmare. In her trance-like state, Soji sees the atmosphere of the planet where her “father” grows orchids, and once she tells Narek, Narek locks her in the Zhal Makh chamber with a puzzle box that opens up to disseminate a radioactive cloud. Soji punches a hole through the floor, and Picard and Hugh are able to find her. Hugh escorts them to the Cube’s “queencell” where he activates the spatial trajector incorporated into the cell for the Queen’s use. Elnor, who has beamed over to the Cube despite Picard’s prohibition, volunteers to hold off the oncoming Romulan guards with Hugh while Picard and Soji step through the Trajector to Nepenthe.
The big plot moves in this episode concern Soji discovering that her life is a lie and Narek betraying her. “Narissa Rizzo,” as we’re now calling her, continues to threaten her brother, and we get an interesting scene between the two of them concerning Narek’s tan zhekran, a Romulan puzzle box. Really, all the sequence does is introduce the toy that Narek will use in his attempt to kill Soji and reinforce that Narissa prefers a more direct, bloody path to attaining her goals while Narek prefers finesse. The Zhal Makh meditation path is an interesting concept to be sure, reminiscent of terrestrial meditation labyrinths such as the one in Chartres.
We also get a look at Soji’s “home,” if that is what it is. From the beginning of the season, Narek and Narissa have hinted that there might be more synthetic life forms Soji hidden on a planet somewhere. This episode confirms that finding that planet is both possible and a realistic goal as Soji’s dream sequence provides Narissa with enough information to start searching. Neither Picard nor his team have the first clue that this is the true Zhat Vash endgame, though Conspiracy Theorist Raffi does wonder why the Zhat Vash have allowed Soji to live long enough for Picard et al to reach her. I would say that this would be a big reveal for the season finale, but Picard’s pacing continues to run at breakneck speed. Raffi will probably have an epiphany next episode and direct Picard and Soji to the Android Homeworld.
The episode also does something that every tabletop gamer knows is a bad idea—splits the party. Picard and Soji head to Nepenthe independently of Rios, Raffi, and Jurati. Hugh and Elnor remain on the Cube, and heaven only knows where Seven is. Doing so makes for an interesting move this late in the season. I wonder therefore how many of the dangling plot threads will be tied up by the season finale, especially considering that the series has already been greenlit for a second season.
“The Impossible Box” really shines with character beats. The relationship between Jurati and Rios makes very little sense, but both character acknowledge that Jurati intends for their liaison to serve as a comfort for only a few hours. Alison Pill plays Jurati’s desperation and misery quite well, and Cabrera lets her have the limelight with an understated, calm Rios. He gets his own moment when he tucks the drunken Raffi into her bed, demonstrating a sensitivity and kindness that we haven’t seen before but have been led to suspect by the previous episodes. Michelle Hurd’s gives a face to Raffi’s pain both at Gabriel Hwang’s rejection and at Emmy’s insistence that Raffi never contact her again. There’s a lot to unpack in that moment; I have no doubt that Raffi suspects that she’ll be burning a potentially valuable bridge to benefit the man she believes to be at least partially at fault for her own troubles. However, she calls in the favor anyway, and though Raffi’s response isn’t the focus of the scene, Hurd lets it show on her face.
Unlike last episode, “The Impossible Box” doesn’t forget Space Legolas. Elnor still doesn’t get quite as much screen time as other characters, but when he does, there’s no fluff. Elnor demonstrates that, despite his awkwardness, he’s good at reading people when he identifies both Picard’s and Jurati’s distress. His use of “in-butting” softens the sharpness of his observations, but it’s nice to see that Elnor is no slouch. Furthermore, neither is he one to sit back when his charge is threatened. Elnor disobeys Picard by beaming over to the Cube just in the nick of time to provide enough time for Picard to escape with Soji. What I love about this scene is the moment when Picard looks at him and tells him that he refuses to abandon Elnor again. Elnor acknowledges his joy at Picard’s demonstration, but Elnor knows there’s work to be done. He’s focused on protecting the father figure he’s found anew as a fully trained fighter in the Qowat Milat’s style, so it’s easy to miss the significance of his statement to Picard. What’s even better is that Picard trusts Elnor to survive and ultimately respects his decision.
Isa Briones gets more to do as Soji as well. This episode has Soji discover that nothing, not even herself is older than thirty-seven months. She runs to Narek for help, and Briones plays that naivete to the hilt, which makes Narek’s ultimate betrayal just that much worse. Harry Treadaway gets credit for giving Narek a conscience; his Narek is visibly distressed by Soji’s coming demise, even though he arranged it. Perhaps “Hrai Yan” did fall a bit in love with the android as his sister has been accusing from the beginning. Regardless, he remains outside the Zhal Makh chamber and can only watch helplessly as Soji breaks free.
I’ve saved the best for last, however. The moment that absolutely makes this episode is Hugh’s huge smile when he sees Picard. Del Arco’s Hugh radiated kindness and a strange sort of innocence in his appearance in “I, Borg,” but from what little we’ve seen of Hugh, that innocence is gone, giving the kindness room to expand. Hugh’s smile encapsulates all of that, and his gentle treatment of Picard’s trauma highlights exactly how kind Hugh is. We know Picard holds on to trauma from his experience of Locutus; that happens to be a major plot point for Star Trek: First Contact, and even though Hugh knows Picard’s mission does not concern his Borg history, Hugh actively tries to help him work through that trauma. The sequence in the episode is both short and beautiful enough to leave you wanting more without bogging down the rest of the episode. Like Elnor, though, Hugh opts to remain on the Cube, so I can only hope that we don’t see Narissa torture him to death in the next episode. I would hate to see that kind of light dimmed as Star Trek: Picard has few enough such lights as it is.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- While Picard uses Federation Google to look up the Borg Reclamation Project, we get a good view at a slightly updated LCARS interface, which is a nice nod to TNG. Speaking of nods, there’s a moment when Picard’s face lines up with an image of himself as Locutus, and the camera pans around so that the audience can see Picard’s face overlaid with Locutus and his implants. It’s a choice that could have been cheesy but instead serves as a stark reminder of Picard’s own trauma that will resurface later in the episode.
- I felt a bit like the sex between Jurati and Rios came a bit out of left-field. There have been several moments in which Picard reminds us that it’s “not our grandfather’s Star Trek,” and I think this might have been one of them, though the sequence is both well done and, considering the context, fairly positive. I feel the same way about Elnor’s body count, which markedly increased in this episode.
- I did really appreciate Elnor asking the Romulan guards to choose to live. Bold move, Space Legolas. Bold move, indeed.