Star Trek: Picard 1.08 – “Broken Pieces”

We’re going the full Mass Effect here, guys.

One of the curious things about 2020 is that “I don’t care for how Michael Chabon writes Seven of Nine” is a perfectly reasonable opinion to hold. Imagine! A renowned novelist and a character from a science fiction franchise which was, just a few years ago, all but moribund. Together!

Anyway, I don’t care for how Michael Chabon writes Seven of Nine.

On Voyager, “Seven needs to assume control of a Borg cube and effectively become a Borg queen” would be a full two-hour event, hyped all over UPN and full of scenes where she resists her fate before conceding, reluctantly, that this is her duty, and ending with some sort of quiet interchange with Janeway about … oh, I don’t know, facing your fear and coming out stronger. There would be shoulder touching. Sixteen J/7 shippers would have heart attacks. It would be great.

Here, it’s a B-plot. Seven is reluctant. She does it. She gives up her new power. She’s fine.

It’s too easy. There’s no sense of the Borg as a threat — we don’t see the re-assimilated drones embracing their new hive mind. Nor do we get to appreciate the full scale of the atrocity as thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of Borg drones are spaced.

Like Hugh’s death last week, this should have been bigger. It feels like this whole subplot was simply an exercise in getting pieces into place — removing Narissa from the Artifact, giving Seven control — and providing some action scenes to break up what’s otherwise a quiet, talky episode.

And that, for my money, was a mistake. I was enthralled by the long dialogue scenes, and irritated when we returned to the Artifact. I almost wish this subplot had been an episode in its own right, going into more detail about the state of the xBs in the wake of Hugh’s death, and their response to being reassimilated, and Seven’s state of mind throughout the whole thing.

Anyway, the Zhat Vash are cosplay goals

Many secrets have been revealed, many questions answered (including some that weren’t even asked!), and fresh questions have been raised.

I’m into it. Except for all the bits where maybe the answers don’t quite hang together, but who knows, maybe this is a Trek which will stick the landing.

Maybe.

So now we know:
  • The Conclave of Eight is not a vast conspiracy, but an artificial eight-star system which holds one single planet. I’m guessing Chabon hasn’t read The Three-Body Problem.
  • Nevertheless, I kind of want an octonary tattoo?
  • That planet contains the Prothean Beacon from Mass Effect, which gives anyone who comes into contact with it a vision of the destruction of organic life by synthetics.
  • Unlike the Prothean Beacon, it has a minor side effect where most people who witness the Admonition immediately kill themselves. Memo to ancient civilisation: please consider user experience when designing these things.
  • The Zhat Vash are mostly female, wear fabulous capes, and counted “disordered” xB Ramdha among their number. The assimilation of Ramdha, and the Admonition, is what triggered the collapse of that cube.
  • Ramdha is also Narissa and Narek’s aunt, and we finally get some shreds of character development for Narissa.
  • Commodore Oh is in fact half-Romulan, half-Vulcan — though if I had to guess, I’d say she was raised by her Vulcan parent, given her demeanour and ability to withstand the Admonition.
  • She and the Zhat Vash were responsible for the synth uprising on Mars, which to me seems like the first step in turning the Admonishment into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but hey, no one asked me.
  • The Zhat Vash should definitely hit me up for advice, I love them and their capes.
  • Oh originally joined Starfleet in response to the discovery of Data, which is a nifty concept I’ve decided not to think too hard about.
  • She is very much a villain, but I love her.
We also know:
  • Cris Rios is still a tedious sad man, and an insufferable hipster besides — you live in SPACE why do you have A RECORD PLAYER — but at least the reason for his sadness is mildly interesting.
  • And also related to the synth plot, and the existence (former) of yet another Soji-type android, because the universe is powered by coincidence.
  • The complete set of Rios holograms encompasses a range of faintly embarrassing national stereotypes and we need to stop pretending that Santiago Cabrera is good at accents.
  • Emmet the Tactical Hologram has fucked every single other holo and has no regrets.
  • Okay, that wasn’t made completely clear in the script, but, I mean, look at him.
  • All the holos are delightful and perfect, except for their Irish and Scottish accents, which are embarrassing but I choose to blame Rios.
  • Raffi is also delightful and perfect, and I relish every single scene in which she exists.
Some timeline stuff:
  • 14 years ago (2385): the synths attack Mars; research into artificial life is banned.
  • Some time between then and now: Bruce Maddox takes a loan from Bjayzl.
  • 9 years ago (2390): the USS ibn Magied encounters two Maddox-Soong type synths, a man and a woman, whom they believe to be emissaries from a culture unknown to the Federation. Under orders from Commodore Oh, the captain murders them, then kills himself; Rios conceals the crime and leaves Starfleet six months later.
  • About three weeks before the present day:
    • the Tal Shiar (presumably under the orders of the Zhat Vash) attack Bruce Maddox, destroy his lab and send him running to Bjayzl
    • Narissa and the Zhat Vash attack Dahj, activating her and sending her to Picard for help; a day or so later, they kill her
    • Picard seeks out Agnes
    • Narek begins working on Soji
    • Oh shares the Admonition with Agnes, who embeds herself in his crew
So here are my fresh questions:
  • Seriously, out of the whole galaxy, Rios just happened to meet one of Soji’s twins?
  • Maddox’s lab was evidently not on Soji’s homeworld, or else the Romulans would know where it is. Why and when did he leave? When did he take the loan from Bjayzl?
  • When did he program Soji and Dahj with their missions, and how long did they exist — maybe in a dormant state — before that?
  • Yes, I’m picturing him sneaking out with two suitcases full of android, I’m sorry.
  • At which point are Bioware’s IP lawyers going to send CBS a rude letter?

I only have a handful of complaints about all this!

The coincidence I’ve already lamented. Although, as Anika pointed out on our podcast (hey, hey, hey, have I plugged our podcast enough?), it was basically this, or introduce a new character at this late stage — and I do think the coincidence is preferable. I just wonder if it couldn’t be done more smoothly.

The other thing is that, when it came to the picnic table briefing on La Sirena, it felt like suddenly a lot of people had a lot of knowledge? We started out with a story where it felt like — paralleling Rios’s holograms — everyone had a piece of the puzzle. But that changed somewhere, and I keep wondering, for example, how Raffi knew Oh was half-Romulan.

These aren’t episode-ruining problems! They’re just little snags which ensnared my brain — and I think we all know by now that I overthink my Trek.

But I love a set-up episode

“Broken Pieces” felt like the calm before the storm. Everyone is where the narrative needs them to be: Elnor and Seven (and Ramdha, I don’t think the story is done with her) on the Borg cube; La Sirena entering the transwarp conduit. Agnes has come clean and is prepared to face the legal consequences for her murder; she has also come face to face with a sentient android.

Raffi is trying, again, to stay sober, and this time it might stick; Rios has learned the truth behind the events that upended his life. Soji is coming to terms with her new identity, and Picard has finally started acting like the leader and diplomat he was. We’re all freshly stabilised and looking forward to a new future — just in time for Narissa and Narek to rain Romulan hell down on Soji’s homeworld.

I also love it when the Federation fails

I wanted Oh to be Vulcan because otherwise I feared we’d end up with a Captain America: Civil War type of story — yes, our institutions are deeply flawed, but only because they were infiltrated by outsiders.

Against all expectations, Picard has managed to have its cake and eat it too. Oh is Romulan-Vulcan, yes, and she engineered the synth attack in service of the Zhat Vash. But, as Picard says, just because the Romulans set the trap, it wasn’t inevitable that the Federation should fall into it. They could have fought harder. Captain Vandermeer could have done more to resist his orders. They had choices.

As Sisko famously remarks in DS9, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise. All Oh and her compatriots did was crack that paradise, just a little. The Federation made the mistake.

Character notes

  • Elnor felt a little thin this week; he’s a perfect angel, of course, but I’m not entirely sure his scenes with Seven were as good as they needed to be.
  • I’m annoyed that it took us this long to get a single shred of character development for Narissa, but I also really like the idea of her as the orphan girl with a heart of stone, maybe broken by the Admonition as much as her aunt.
  • The scene between Agnes and Soji was marvellous and fascinating, as much for what wasn’t said (Agnes doesn’t actually answer Soji’s question about her personhood) as what was.
  • But Soji’s line about having a mole on her chest made me ship it, sorry (not sorry).
  • Raffi has demonstrated that she’s incredibly intelligent and competent even when high or drunk, but it turns out she’s even smarter when she’s sober. She reminds me of Sherlock Holmes, and his need for drugs just to give himself a rest from his own mind.
  • …that has been obvious all along, hasn’t it? But not the Raffi-as-Holmes bit, right? RIGHT?

Predictions for the finale

I really ought to stop trying to predict stuff for this series; I’ve been consistently wrong from the start. (Remember when I was quite certain that Dahj wasn’t really dead?)

But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Seven and Elnor are gonna take their stolen liberated Borg cube and go cruising off to save Team La Sirena — unless they leave the cube and instead take the sphere we glimpsed in one shot.

I also feel pretty safe guessing that Starfleet’s armada is going to turn up to save the day, probably in the finale itself — and I’m cautiously putting my money on an appearance by the Enterprise-E and Captain Worf. I also don’t think we’ve seen the last of Brent Spiner, either as Data or, sans make-up, one of Soji’s brother-androids.

I’m not holding out hope for Admiral Clancy’s survival (she’s probably gonna die at the hands of Commodore Oh), or the return of Laris and Zhaban. Or Elnor getting his cat.

But I have a terrible track record with this show! So my main hopes are that the finale is not too awfully paced, and that no one dies in a really stupid or preventable way.

(Cameos for which I do not dare hope: Beverly Crusher, Kathryn Janeway, Tuvok. I could make it happen! But I think those are in the realm of fan fiction.)

Other observations

  • This post has been short and a bit scattershot, for which I apologise, but in my defence, I plead Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Kinda hope we get to see Seven’s face when she realises this Borg cube has a bar.
  • Despite all my criticisms of the Borg subplot, Elnor’s reaction to meeting Seven is exactly¬† how I felt when she turned up.
  • I know this show is just not good at costumes, but man, Soji’s outfits are ugly.

In conclusion

What is quality? What are numbers? Must an episode be good? Is it not enough that Soji tells Picard that Data loved him, and that Picard’s face remains still but his hands move just a fraction? Almost 2000 words have passed and I’ve barely thought about Covid-19!

Fine, three artificial star systems out of five, and I’m still thinking about that tattoo.

 

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