Star Trek: Picard, after five weeks of slow, plodding progression, dropped into high warp speed.
The overly long story arc between Narek and Soji on the Borg Artifact finally started to move. And, despite so few open chapters left in his life, Picard found closure and purpose in an old trauma.
It was the Star Trek: Picard episode that fans were waiting for. Ever since Patrick Stewart announced his return to the iconic role.
“The Impossible Box,” the sixth episode of Star Trek: Picard, managed to check all the boxes.
On the Borg Artifact, Soji (Isa Briones), the android who thinks she’s human (Blade Runner much?), is dreaming. This sparks the attention of Narek (Harry Treadaway), the Romulan spy tasked with finding all of Soji’s hidden secrets.
As it turns out, the dreams are her subconscious method of her artificial brain telling her she’s artificial.
It’s at this critical juncture that Picard (Patrick Stewart) arrives. The crew is still reeling from the accidental death of Bruce Maddox. They’re unaware, at this point, that he was killed by Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill). But there’s more emotional trauma to follow.
Picard notes that his last trip to a Borg cube was against his will. And resulted in his assimilation.
While Narek probes Soji’s mind, and dreams, Picard – with the help of Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) – comes to terms with the horror of his assimilation. And finds closure in the process. Back on La Sirena, Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera) plays counselor-with-benefits to a distraught Jurati. That’s before offering a hand of friendship to Raffi (Michelle Hurd) who’s hit rock bottom after failing to reunite with her son.
Everything comes to a head, though, when the Romulan overseers are onto Soij.
After a rushed introduction, she and Picard use a super-long-range transporter to escape. Leaving Elnor (Evan Evagora) to cover their escape in the process.
Star Trek: Picard now sees its protagonists – at last – on their journey together. From all indications, the series still has time to tie up the season’s loose ends without becoming a rushed cluster.
Which would be somewhere that no new Trek has boldly gone before.
It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart knows how to play Jean-Luc Picard like the back of his hand. But this was hands-down his best performance so far on Star Trek: Picard.
This episode – barely 50 minutes – was everything that the film Star Trek: First Contact was not. While that film was a roaring action-adventure, it dealt with Picard’s post-assimilation trauma on the most superficial level.
Now, on Star Trek: Picard, he has an opportunity to truly face his bionic demons. Stewart handles it with the same subtlety that was the hallmark of his performance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a wonderful combination of strength and vulnerability that only an actor the caliber of Stewart could pull off.
And Isa Briones is finally coming into her own as Soji. She displays a great deal of depth, perfectly conveying her own identity crisis. Briones is still a little too puppy-dog-eyes for Narek, but that’s the fault of the writing more than anything else.
I’m particularly digging Cabrera’s turn as Rios. True to Picard’s assessment of him as “Starfleet to the core,” Cabrera portrays him as more than the pirate with a heart of gold. And yet he never loses that cool, devil-may-care demeanor that makes him a compelling character.
The jewel of the episode, from an acting perspective, is Jonathan Del Arco. This could have easily been an empty fan-service cameo. Del Arco injects some genuine humanity into Hugh and gives Picard and the audience a familiar touchstone.
Writing And Presentation
When evaluating “The Impossible Box” as a single episode, I have no complaints when it comes to writing and directing.
Writer Nick Zayas brings Picard, a character with a 33-year history, on a fully-completed arc in about 45 minutes. It would have been easy to take the Star Trek: First Contact route and make Picard’s story all about anger and resentment.
But Zayas and the producers of Star Trek: Picard treat it less as a story about defeating demons and more about making peace with them. An extension of Picard’s admission to Seven Of Nine in “Stardust City Rag” that he never really got his humanity back.
However, more than simply acknowledging that, Zayas – through Picard’s interaction with Hugh – reminds the captain that he’s not alone. For years, Trek has written Picard as though his experience with the Borg defined all who were assimilated. “The Impossible Box” shows him – and us – that he’s a survivor. One of many.
In 45 minutes, Zayas takes Picard through a full 12-step program. (“Hi, I’m Jean-Luc, and I’m an assimilation survivor.”)
The script also fleshes out Soji and helps make her protracted development (or lack thereof) seem worth it. This is finally an episode more concerned with answering questions than coming up with a billion new questions.
As for the direction, Maja Vrvilo puts together a remarkably well-paced episode. All of the story elements are perfectly balanced, and for the first time in Star Trek: Picard, I never felt like we were dwelling too long in one scene or location.
Narek and Narissa (Peyton List) still aren’t going anywhere with their weird, pseudo-incestuous chemistry. And frankly, the series is playing things a little too vague with Narek’s motivations. The implication is that he genuinely cares for Soji, but it isn’t overt. I don’t think I’m supposed to question his motives at this point, and I am. And I think that’s a problem both with the character himself and Treadaway’s portrayal. But those are a drop in the bucket compared to everything this episode gets right.
“The Impossible Box” is an episode of Star Trek: Picard that tells a beautiful, self-contained story, while inextricably linking it to the broader arc. Zayas and Vrvilo seem to be taking some notes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Star Trek: Picard has had more than a few issues with pacing. At times, the slow, deliberate pace has been a blessing. Other times, it’s been a curse.
“The Impossible Box” pulled off an impossible task. It maintained the tone and tenor of the show while pushing the story faster and making the characters deeper and more interesting.
If Star Trek: Picard uses this episode as a generate template for the rest of the season, then this is a series that can take the impossible and make it so.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Picard' - The Impossible Box
- Stewart gives us his best performance as Picard in a long time
- A balanced story serves pretty much everybody well
- Isa Briones comes into her own as Soji
- Hugh gets used as more than a fan-service cameo
- Narek is still inconsistent and hard to read