Star Trek Picard: The Impossible Box

Picard has finally tracked Soji down to the Artifact, but visiting a Borg Cube means confronting all the unpleasant memories of his time as Locutus. Meanwhile, Soji starts to realise that details of her personal life don’t add up, leading her to turn to Narek for guidance.

Before we get into specifics of how the plot is developing, let’s take some time to talk about one of themes that was touched upon in the last episode, and really brought to the fore here. That theme being, of course, what is life like after “de-assimilation”? Having been forced into a collective consciousness against your will, how do you reclaim your individuality?

Obviously, this is a question that has been explored before – most notably with Seven of Nine on Voyager. But where Voyager’s brightly-lit corridors gave a sense of positivity and even inevitability to the process of rediscovering one’s humanity, Picard delves into the darker recesses of “life after Borg”.

Alongside the ranks of the largely nameless “xB” trapped on the Artifact, we have three named characters to consider – Jean Luc Picard, Seven of Nine, and Hugh. Each brings us a different ‘Borg experience’. For Picard, his time in the Borg was brief, and happened when he was already a fully formed adult, potentially making it easier for him to recover. But he still has to live with the fact that he was specifically targeted, taken against his will, and violated in mind and body. And that because of his assimilation, valuable intelligence needed to attack Starfleet and kill thousands of people was handed over to the Borg. We already got a sense of it from Star Trek: First Contact, but we see again in this episode that the scars from that experience run deep, and that Picard is still deeply troubled by his time as Locutus.

We don’t know anything about Hugh’s life pre-assimilation, but we do know that both and he and Seven were assimilated as children. Instead of rediscovering their adult selves post-assimilation, they had to forge new identities. How do you form and decide on what constitutes ‘self’, after decades of being in a collective consciousness with millions of other voices? How do you learn to cope with the loneliness of being the only voice in your head? What happens when your emergent sense of morality starts to come into conflict with the acts you committed as part of the Collective? What about all the people who hate you for having once been part of the Borg? Many of these issues have already been touched upon in Star Trek, but there’s still plenty to think about here.

Alongside this, we also get some advancement of the story. Narek is still attempting non-violent means to get inside Soji’s head, and not just because it leads to onscreen sexy times (I assume). After he guides her to noticing that something is amiss about the calls to her mother, she scans all of her photos and personal possessions, only to find that they are all around three years old. With Narek’s guidance and some convenient Romulan meditation ritual, she is able to uncover the memory of seeing a dismantled ‘doll’ of herself on her father’s workbench. At this point, Narek tries to kill her, but she is able to flee into the Borg Cube, meet up with Picard, and escape through a convenient plot device ripped from an early Voyager episode. But with the Romulans still on their tail and Jurati still on board La Sirena, we viewers know that the peril is far from over.

Questions and Observations

  • This one is really from the last episode, but how was Jurati – a mere passenger on La Sirena, able to override the EMH? The only thing I can think of is that, given fears about AI, the only reason holograms are allowed anywhere near the Federation is because they are all programmed such that any human can forcible deactivate them.
  • That being said, why has no one reactivated the EMH and found out what Jurati did? She seems to have gotten away with it remarkably easy so far.
  • I saw speculation online that perhaps Rios himself is also a hologram. This would be a fun twist, although I remain unconvinced the writers would go down this route. And how would that be consistent with him having a piece of shrapnel embedded in his body when we first met him?
  • After teasing the possibility of Rios/Jurati chemistry in previous episodes, this episode seems to be going full speed ahead with getting them together. How will that pan out when Rios finds out that Jurati killed Maddox?
  • The Sikarian spatial trajector used to escape the Borg Cube is the same technology seen in the Voyager season one episode Prime Factors. This implies that either the Sikarians travelled far enough from their home to encounter the Borg, or that the Borg have aggressively expanded much farther across the Delta Quadrant over the last twenty years.
  • Why couldn’t Elnor escape with the others? It felt like he only stayed behind to show off his sword skills.
  • Raffi seems to be heading back into alcoholism, but is still able to use her contacts to help the plot along where necessary.
  • Hugh suggests that Picard could use his influence advocate for the rights of the ‘xBs’ back on Earth. But how much influence does Picard even have left after the whole Romulan/Mars incidents?
  • There’s a lot of annoyance among fans at the introduction of a Borg Queen, and indeed sometimes in Voyager she felt like a comical villain rather than a threatening one. Rather than thinking of her as the ‘big bad’ behind the Borg, I like to frame it with her line from First Contact: “You imply a disparity where there is none. I am the Collective”. As said in that film, it’s not that she controls or directs the Borg drones, but rather that she is a different way of manifesting the will of the Collective – sometimes it’s more convenient to do so as an embodied individual rather than as a group. Hence why it never matters if an individual Borg Queen is destroyed, because it will always be possible to create another one that’s functionally identical.

Summary – The Impossible Box: Welcome home, Locutus.

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