‘Star Trek: Picard’ beams up its best yet in episode 6

Here’s your chance to beam out to avoid spoilers for episode 6 of “Star Trek: Picard.”

So far, the quality of “Picard” has been a little up and down, with some glimpses of genius and one or two examples of lazy writing. However, last week’s episode was a considerable improvement and … well, frankly, holy Heisenberg compensator, this week’s episode, entitled “The Impossible Box,” is truly the best to date, by far. It’s evenly paced, there are some amazing standalone scenes, the writing is creative and shows clear attention to detail, there are some fantastic individual performances, a dramatic and exciting climax and perhaps most importantly, it shows “Star Trek” at its very best. 

We open with what quickly becomes apparent is a dream and this is a younger Soji Asher (played by Ella McKenzie). It’s nighttime and she tentatively walks down a dimly lit corridor, through a door that’s ajar and into a brightly lit room. It’s a laboratory and there’s a lot of brightly colored orchids…and then, suddenly, current-age Soji Asher (Isa Briones) wakes up in bed, where our Romulan Romeo, Narek (Harry Treadaway) comforts her and gently probes her for a little more information about her dream. The pillow talk dialogue between them is actually believable for a change; this could either be an indication that the writing is finally improving or that Narek is getting better at it, or possibly both. 

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Then we’re on La Sirena en route to the Borg cube reclamation site and Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) is telling Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) what happened to Dr. Bruce Maddox (John Ales), or rather her cover story. Elnor (Evan Evagora) joins the conversation to provide just the tiniest amount of exposition – however, it’s now clear that Elnor’s experience in way of the Qowat Milat (absolute candor) has made him very perceptive in observing human behavior, something that we get to see a little more of in this episode.

Picard talks a little about his last visit to a Borg cube — in “The Next Generation” two-part end of season cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds” (S03, E26 and S04, E01) — and we see some flashbacks to those events. Even after his victory in “First Contact,” Picard is still quite visibly emotional at the thought of revisiting a Borg cube, despite Jurati’s suggestion that this cube might be different. “Change? The Borg?! They coolly assimilate entire civilizations, entire systems in a matter of hours. They don’t change! They metastasize,” he says with absolute hatred in his voice.

Storylines start to converge as “Star Trek: Picard” goes from impulse power to warp speed (Image credit: CBS All Access)

And then comes the really interesting part: as Picard leaves, Elnor attempts to comfort Jurati in his own innocent way, “It’s OK,” he says, apologizing on Picard’s behalf. “He can’t see that you’re also haunted by something you wish to forget…” 

She turns and glares at him. Obviously, this is deliberately ambiguous and could mean many things, the recent death of her dearest Dr. Maddox for example, but it also fuels speculation that it’s something sinister…and that makes it more interesting. 

Picard returns to the holosuite château recreation and begins searching for information on the Borg cube, which is really just an excuse to be able to work in a really nice VFX shot as he stares at an image of himself as Locutus of Borg, but who cares, it’s cool. Roll opening credits. 

Staying on La Sirena, we find it streaking through the Beta Quadrant, in the former Neutral Zone. Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) clearly has South American origins; not only does Cabrera himself call Santiago home, but Emmet, his hungover Emergency…er, Helm Control Hologram that we saw in episode 4, even spoke in Chilean Spanish. And now we see Rios practicing what looks like some basic skills with a futsal ball and his shirt off. (Cabrera himself is a huge soccer fan and supports Queens Park Rangers. He even played semi-pro for Hampton & Richmond Borough before committing to acting full time.)

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Jurati appears and in an unexpected moment between these two characters, she opens up a little, shares her feelings and seeks a temporary intimate distraction before throwing herself upon his sweaty, sinewy, bare-chested body. And who wouldn’t?

We cut to the Borg cube Romulan reclamation site where Cersei Lannister Narissa Rizzo (Peyton List) is once again questioning her brother Jaime Lannister Narek (Harry Treadaway) about his progress. She’s playing with a Romulan toy Narek has in his possession — the impossible box of the episodes’ title — complaining that she could never work it out. Narek snatches the toy from her and explains what he has recently learnt. “She dreams. She has a reoccurring dream,” he explains. Naturally, his bored, frustrated sister isn’t impressed, but then there’s actually some pretty good exposition to explain it. 

“Why did he program her to dream? What function does it serve?” Narek asks. “Every piece of synthetic design serves a purpose. Her neural pathways are auto-heuristic, always seeking and forming more efficient connections. Every day that capability must bump against clear evidence that she is not, as she believes, a human being. That cognitive dissonance must go somewhere,” he reasons. 

In short, Soji has a subconscious and when she dreams, she’s reconciling the two views of herself, human and synthetic. 

This Romulan Rubik’s cube should definitely come with a health warning.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Narek theorizes that if he can get Soji to talk about her dreams, he can access her underlying engrams without triggering her self-defense subroutines. He takes the Romulan Rubik’s cube (called a Tan Zhekran), gently twists and turns a few rows and voilà, demonstrating to his sister that patience is a virtue she doesn’t possess, the top opens up to reveal a small toy inside. 

Back inside La Sirena, Rios is wondering how Picard is going to get them into what was the Neutral Zone, let alone onto the Romulan reclamation site of the Borg cube itself. Jurati suggests they pose as scientists, but Picard dismisses this in favor of open honesty. Elnor picks up on the sexual tension between Rios and Jurati and openly calls them out on it, which is rather amusing. 

Picard suggests if he could somehow acquire temporary official diplomatic credentials, he could meet with the artifact project director … who he happens to know — that would be Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) – and all this sets up probably our favorite scene in this episode. 

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Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) more or less gets dragged from her quarters, still drunk, and plopped in her chair on the bridge of La Sirena, bottle in one hand and snakeleaf vape pen in the other. (It’s a traditional Orion “flashpipe” known as a horgl.) Rios voices his doubts and she mumbles under her breath, telling them to back off as everyone else now joins Rios in his unease. Raffi sighs and requests the computer open subspace relay using her cryptonym. She stumbles over her words and the concern on everyone’s faces is plain to see. Within a few seconds, her outgoing call is answered and the face of Capt. Emily Bosch (Barbara Eve Harris) appears on Raffi’s hologram comms interface. 

“Commander Raffaella Musiker … I knew I should’ve screened that call,” Bosch says, setting the tone straight away. 

Everyone on the bridge continues to look on, not saying a word. Raffi exchanges pleasantries with her friend and says that she needs a favor, only it’s not actually for her, it’s for Jean-Luc Picard. Raffi explains that he needs to go to the Borg cube at the Romulan reclamation site and meet with the project director. Upon hearing this, Bosch just laughs. Raffi pleads with her friend as both Jurati and Picard look on, their facial expressions unchanged. Rios on the other hand is showing signs of a wry smile.

Perhaps Narissa should get out more. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

“Ah, hey, sure, I understand,” Raffi says. “But it might be a little awkward when we show up there in about three hours …” She looks over to Rios to check, who half nods in agreement. “Sending my location now,” she says.

“What?! Wait, Raffi, who even authorized you to be out there?” Bosch shrieks. 

“You know Picard,” Raffi says, now well and truly burying herself in the part. “Every part of that guy that’s not ego is rampaging id.” 

Jean-Luc looks up with a half-quizzical, half-offended expression and Rios now can’t hide the fact that he’s thoroughly enjoying this. Bosch tells Raffi to turnaround immediately. “Do not proceed. If you go out there without permission, it’s technically an act of war,” she says.

“I know, I know. And even if you guys deny involvement, the Romulans are never going to buy it, right?” Raffi says. “I mean, Picard’s so Federation that his face is still probably on the damn brochures, which is why … I’m giving you this heads up,” Raffi adds, successfully turning the whole incident around. “Look, we do this proper, diplomatic mission, official letter of credence. I don’t wanna end up on the wrong side of a disruptor canon …”

Raffi’s friend doesn’t reply for a moment. There’s a pause and everyone looks on nervously. 

“24 hours. In and out,” Bosch says finally. “Oh and Raffi, I say this as an old friend, never call me again.”

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She’s done it, despite the lingering doubts of a few on the bridge, Raffi’s pulled it off. There are smiles from Elnor and Jurati, Picard is impressed and stands to applaud in appreciation of her acting abilities. The expression on Rios’ face is like a proud parent, but Raffi sighs and drops her head into her hands. She’s just lost one of the few friends she had for this cause. It’s a truly beautiful moment and as Raffi wobbles to her feet, Rios jumps to his to help her stagger back to her cabin.

More is conveyed through facial expression in this scene than dialogue could have accomplished and hats off to both writer Nick Zayas and especially director Maja Vrvilo for creating such an effective, understated scene. 

Back on the Borg cube Soji tells  Narek that she spoke to her mother about the dream. She also tells him that she fell asleep and Narek reveals that since all incoming and outgoing transmissions are logged, he knows that every call with her mother lasts exactly 70 seconds. Every single one. 

Naturally, the next time she’s alone in her quarters, Soji calls her mother. She feels herself falling asleep and even stabs herself in the hand with a knife-like object in an effort to fight the overwhelming urge…but she has no control and passes out regardless.

After five episodes of everyone blaming Picard for abandoning them, it’s nice to see someone genuinely pleased to see him. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

When she does wake up, she starts going through all her personal possessions, quantum dating them to determine their age – photos and items from her childhood that surely she’s had for most of her life – but everything is 37 months old. 

Meanwhile, Picard prepares himself psychologically to beam over to the Borg cube. Elnor insists on coming as well, but Jean-Luc tells him to stay put. He transports over and unsurprisingly immediately starts freaking out, but out of the shadows comes a friendly figure, it’s Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco). 

After five episodes of everyone Picard meets blaming him for ruining their lives, it’s nice to see someone genuinely pleased to see him. It’s a wonderful scene that’s guaranteed to make your eyes fill with water and your bottom lip quiver just a little bit as the two men hug and delight in their reunion. It’s probably the most uplifting moment in the season so far and just adds to the quality of this episode. 

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Hugh shows Picard the work they’re doing assisting other former Borg in their recovery and helping them adjust to life without the collective. And these two know more about that than almost anyone. It takes a while for Jean-Luc to be comfortable in these surroundings as he struggles to overcome his fear — actually cowering at times — but Hugh guides him through the reclaimed cube. Both Stewart and Del Arco excel in this well-written scene and Picard’s fear is soon replaced by admiration for Hugh’s work, enabling the former Borg to be regarded as victims and not monsters. Perhaps this will have an effect on Picard’s own view of the Borg. It’s truly a multi-layered scene, with Jean-Luc learning as much about himself as he is what’s going on within the artifact. 

As Soji is close to discovering who she really is, Narek decides that now is the time to take her to a very special place on the Borg cube reserved strictly for Romulans only. Here, they can engage in Zhal Makh, a traditional form of meditation that can unlock the mind’s most intimate space and explore dreams. It’s another well-crafted and imaginative element of Romulan culture that we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks. 

Ah, yes, Pinocchio syndrome. Is Soji’s father really Geppetto, a lowly Italian carpenter from Tuscany? (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Narek guides Soji through the ritual while Narissa watches out of sight on a monitor. Soji is now consciously reliving her dream as Narek instructs her to look for more details to help her understand what everything means. She catches sight of her father’s face, but cannot make it out; she sees herself as a wooden doll, lying in pieces on a table and finally she looks up to see “two red moons, dark as blood, and lightning” through a window, thus providing Narissa with enough information to start searching for the synthetics’ homeworld.

At this point Narek decides they have sufficient information and Soji is no longer of value. He tells her that she’s not real and never was and quickly exists the room, locking Soji inside, leaving her with his Tan Zhekran that’s been altered to release a deadly cloud of radiation or gas, or something; either way, it spells trouble for Soji. 

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Needless to say, this life-threating situation is enough to active Soji’s self-defense subroutines and she starts ripping up floorboards in an effort to escape. Narek looks on through a window – and through tears – suggesting he did actually have feelings for Soji, but he’s unable to enter the room as Soji disappears from view. 

At the same time, Picard tries to explain to Hugh why he is actually there. We know that Hugh suspected Soji was special and quickly deduces that she’s probably in danger. They look in her quarters first and then start a scan of the cube in an effort to locate her. Rushing to her location she crashes through the ceiling in front of them. 

Picard has to hastily introduce himself and in an effort to evade the pursuing Romulans, Hugh leads everyone to a secret compartment deep inside the Borg cube. Picard instantly recognizes it as the Queen’s cell. Within this cell is a piece of technology that was first introduced to “Star Trek” canon way back in 1995. 

Like Jon Snow facing the Bolton army, a lone Qowat Milat stands his ground against a horde of Romulan guards. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Hugh explains that a race called the Sikarians were assimilated by the Borg; they were one of the first races encountered in the Delta Quadrant in the “Star Trek: Voyager” episode “Prime Factor” (S01, E10). They possessed a device called a spacial trajector, in essence a transporter, but it has a theoretical range of 40,000 light years and it was reserved for the Borg Queen in case of emergency. 

Picard instructs Rios to meet them on a planet called Nepenthe (in keeping with “Picard” tradition, it’s named after the drug of forgetfulness from Greek mythology). However, the spacial trajector needs a few minutes to power up and the Romulans are hot on their heels. Just as Rios notices Elnor is missing, he appears in the nick of time to carve up three Romulan guards who had caught up with Soji, Picard and Hugh. 

In a brief-but-beautiful moment, Picard tells Elnor that he’s not leaving him behind. Not again.

“It fills me with joy to hear you say that. Now go,” Elnor says, raising his sword and readying himself for battle. Hugh volunteers to stay behind to conceal their destination…and so Picard and Soji step through. 

The screen fades to black and we hear the voices of a number of Romulan guards shouting, “Drop your weapons!” to which Elnor replies, “Please, my friends, choose to live.”

This is a really strong episode, with a smooth, evenly paced story that brings together many of the mysteries of the previous installments. In fact, it’s better than anything we’ve seen so far from “Discovery,” but with just four episodes left, will this story arc be limited to just the first season?

Speaking of “Discovery,” principal photography has just wrapped on Season 3, so does this mean it will premiere soon? Well, hopefully, yes. To compare, in terms of production turnaround time, Season 2 of “Discovery” shot principal photography from April to December 2018 and then premiered on Jan. 17, 2019 — just two months later. Moreover, Season 1 premiered on Sept. 24, 2017, while principal photography was still in progress, finally finishing in October 2017. Might see a new “Discovery” trailer soon?

However, it looks like the “Section 31” spin-off has been delayed until 2021. There’s no official word as to the specific reason, but it’s more than likely a combination of the luke-warm response to the original announcement and Michelle Yeoh’s extremely busy schedule, which includes four “Avatar” sequels – oh yes – and a Marvel movie. Meanwhile, we still have “Short Treks,” “Picard” Season 2, more than likely a fourth season of “Discovery,” “Lower Decks,” the Nickelodeon series, which is thought to be called “The Prodigy,” two additional unnamed live-action shows and a new movie directed by Noah Hawley.

Execute trans-warp drive ✓Is Rios the most handsome devil in the Alpha Quadrant? Yes. Yes, he is. Poor, broken Raffi, gets dragged to the bridge to perform…and she excels.Jonathan Del Arco is masterful in every scene he’s in. More please.Picard’s experience revisiting the Borg cube is a rich, multi-layered scene.The traditional Romulan culture that’s new to us is creative and well crafted.Thrusters at station keeping ✗Health and safety needs to put some railings up on those high Borg catwalks.Elnor’s “in-butting” reference is clearly from a conversation we haven’t seen.Narissa and Narek are still so incestuous, is she jealous of Soji?! Ugh.Soji does really well to not be affected by the deadly gas/radiation stuff.Elnor, with his sword, was left to fight off Romulans with disrupters…

Rating: 8½/10

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The 10-episode “Star Trek: Picard” series will air on the paid subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the U.S., and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space and OTT service Crave. New episodes will air each week, with episode 7, entitled “Nepenthe” debuting on 5 March 2020.

CBS and Amazon Studios have announced that the new show will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries worldwide within 24 hours of its premiere on CBS All Access and Space in the US and Canada, respectively.

CBS All Access subscription is the home of “Star Trek: Picard,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and a host of other original and archival CBS television shows. Subscriptions start at $5.99 a month. You can try CBS All Access for a week free here.

Follow Scott Snowden on Twitter. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Source: space.com

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