Star Trek: Picard 1.06 – “The Impossible Box”

Just when I come to terms with the mediocrity of this series, it goes and throws out a good episode!

However, I’m feeling a bit unwell this week, so this post is a bit more cursory than usual.

I’m so glad the plot finally advanced that, really, I enjoyed nearly every single aspect of this episode — and the things I didn’t enjoy seem to be either nitpicks or problems carried over from previous episodes.

Nitpicks

Look, this is very, very small, but it kept jumping out at me: there are several moments where people’s reactions (to dialogue, scenes, etc) feel a beat too slow. I noticed it in the early scene between Picard, Agnes and Elnor, and again when Hugh walks into Soji’s room and sees the chaos.

I think part of the reason these moments jarred is that in other respects, this episode is so beautifully directed. But they did throw me off.

Speaking of jarring moments

Picard applauding Raffi after she sets another piece of her personal life on fire for him was … tone deaf, to say the least.

But I don’t hate him for it, because — setting aside the self-absorption which has been his besetting sin for this whole series — he is clearly a hair away (apologies to Sir Patrick) from having a post-traumatic breakdown, and is performing stability as much as Raffi was performing sobriety.

This is not to say I didn’t cringe.

Carry-over problems

I just don’t believe in the het romances on this series.

That is, I don’t believe in the new relationships, and I think it’s partially because they’re built on a sort of shorthand. The last few episodes have given us moments between Agnes and Rios, and Narek and Soji, which felt … a bit rote.

This has particularly been a problem with Agnes/Rios, where their connection is, essentially, “here are two people of different genders having a moderately positive interaction”. It’s obligatory and heteronormative in a way that’s very Star Trek, and very bland.

Curiously, their actual hook-up is more interesting: Agnes is keeping secrets, but she’s quite open about not being romantically interested in Rios. At least, not in this moment. And it’s nice that, after all these years, the franchise has finally figured out that women can have casual sex! Well done, everyone! But I’m still pretty eyerolly at the heteronormativity overall.

Soji/Narek have almost the opposite problem: Narek is keeping secrets, but it turns out he was sincere about being romantically interested in Soji.

Here’s my beef: they’ve known each other for two weeks. And I don’t believe in love at first sight; I prefer emotional connections that build over time. And no amount of romcom-esque, camera-spinny sock skating will persuade me that Narek’s entire worldview has changed in this time.

(Unless his worldview was always shaky, and his interactions with Soji widened an existing crack? Maybe! But who knows? This is the sort of character detail we could have picked up from his interactions with Narissa, instead of just repeating the same beats over and over again.)

I do like that Soji never quite trusts him — until that final moment when she does, and he betrays her. I’m into that! I love Soji pursuing a relationship on her own terms.

But their relationship as a whole is built on weak foundations. You can’t construct a relationship this complex using shorthand alone.

(One detail I liked a lot, and which feels very true to Romulans in general and Narek in particular: had he pulled out a disruptor and shot her, Soji would be safely dead. But no, he had to hide a radiation weapon inside a puzzle, giving her time to activate and escape. That is so passive-aggressive and I kind of love it.)

Anyway, here’s what I did like: everything else

Romulan … stuff!

That tidbit about Romulans having three names? (External, family, private.) AMAZING. I have an idea it comes from Diane Duane’s Rihannsu novels of the ’80s, which were long decoupled from canon — but I have to read them to find out!

(Important questions: what are Laris and Zhaban’s various names, and do Elnor and the Qowat Milat have only one?)

(I commend for your attention Aristofranes’ take on the first question.)

Then we have the Romulan meditation room, for pointy ears only. Which looks, I have to point out, super Vulcan. Whatever telepathy has been lost over the millennia, the gene for DRAMA has been retained. (See, for example, their Rubik’s cubes.)

(A thought which occurred to me the other day: Vulcans, allies, are extremely private. Romulans, enemies, are secretive. Two sides of the same coin. I mean, yes, there’s also the war and the ensuing centuries of espionage, and the fact that the Romulans had or have a totalitarian state, while the Vulcans are part of what we politely assume is a democracy. But. You know.)

Hugh, Picard and the Borg business

First. Look. I don’t wanna blame Deanna Troi, but someone dropped the ball when it came to treating Picard’s long-term mental health after his assimilation. We know he’s a bad patient, and she basically had to strong-arm him into the little therapy he had, but someone must allowed him to return to duty, and I think, in the long run, that was a mistake.

Having said that, it’s probably easy to overestimate the cathartic value of snapping a Borg Queen’s spine, and Picard’s fear of the Borg is a valuable chink in his armour. And he’s had a lot of other trauma to pointedly not deal with over the years, so it makes sense that this one came screaming back to life as soon as he hit a trigger.

I was quite delighted by his reunion with Hugh, because I had this idea that Hugh would be mad at him. I’m not sure where, precisely, that came from, save that Hugh was a tiny bit miffed with the Enterprise crew in “Descent” — they weren’t to know that Hugh’s newly-individualised cube would become cultists in the sway of Data’s evil brother1, but one nevertheless may hold a grudge.

It was a relief to see find someone in the galaxy who isn’t mad at Picard, and who has taken their experience with the Enterprise and used it to do a considerable amount of good. As I said on Antimatter Pod, Hugh is almost a social worker for xBs, and that’s as valuable as Seven of Nine’s flashier space sheriff routine. (And equally logical as an extension of their experiences.)

I did wonder, though — Picard tells Hugh that Soji is in danger, and yet Hugh decides to take him on a tour of the reclamation facility? Compared with past shenanigans, this is barely a blip on the bad pacing radar, but it made me wonder.

I’ve decided to explain it away as Hugh recognising Picard’s value as an ally to the project, and making the pragmatic decision to prioritise that over Soji’s well-being, at least in the short term. Plus, they weren’t to know she was in actual danger at that moment. Hugh is a social worker, but he’s also a bit of a politician — just look at his hair if you don’t believe me.

My perfect Australian Romulan ninja son

Elnor turns out to have a surprising amount of emotional insight for a guy who was raised in the cult of no subtext. What he lacks is any restraint whatsoever when it comes to saying the quiet parts loud.

But this works! Everyone on La Sirena is playing a role, and Elnor is the one with the power to see through them. And he barely even knows it yet!

If they harm one perfect hair on his thick head, I will be furious. Anika makes a strong point that there’s no plot or character reason to kill him off, but that didn’t stop them from blowing up Admiral Cornwell. Fortunately he’s main cast, so he’s probably safe. At least until the season finale.

Raffi (and Rios)

The problem with Raffi is that I love her story, and how hard she struggles, and her acute awareness of her own problems coupled with her inability to break out of the cycle of self-loathing — but I’m also conscious that this is still a story where a black woman’s suffering is considerably greater than any of the other characters, and also that there’s a problem where Star Trek‘s very first main cast Bad Mother is African-American.

(Raffi is still a better parent than Worf, though.)

This is all a bit awkward for me, but here’s something I loved without reservation: Rios supporting Raffi. I said back when he was introduced that, like the title character of The Mandalorian, he’d become more interesting when I saw him caring about others.

And that’s what we have here — he may sleep with Agnes and giving her a few hours of comfort, but he’s offering Raffi a mixture of comfort, tough love and black coffee that’s very compelling.

(Michelle Hurd compared their relationship to Han and Chewbacca, and I’m sorry, but that’s not going to stop me from shipping them a bit.)

Other observations

  • For the first time since they came together, Team La Sirena has been forced to split up. That cannot possibly end well. Please, these people need an adult. Hugh can’t look after all of them.
  • I choose to believe that the captain from whom Raffi begged a favour is an ex-girlfriend.
  • Look, if the show is going to dance around queerness, I’m gonna have to make my own fun.
  • Do the xBs need more privacy for their medical treatments? Why do I even ask? Not even Starfleet officers get private rooms in sickbay!
  • Agnes and her motivations remain a mystery, but I’m okay with that. My affection for her character rises and falls in direct inverse proportion to how much we see or hear about Maddox.
  • Soji has been activated. At last.

In conclusion

Some very welcome developments, and I’m sorry I wasn’t feeling up to the task of doing justice to it! Four Romulan puzzle boxes out of five.

  1. “Descent” really was a terrible two-parter, wasn’t it? I can’t stand Lore, yet I almost hope he makes an appearance in Picard, just so he gets a better send off.

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