May 13, 2020
Star Trek: Picard “The Impossible Box”
Previously on Grumpy Old Captains: They finally found Maddox and discovered the location of Soji, but Jurati secretly killed him because of something scary Commodore Oh told her Soji was gonna do. Raffi is depressed after an acrimonious encounter with her son. Picard’s personal samurai hasn’t gotten to cut anybody up yet. Narek is still convinced that if he fiddles with Soji’s mind in just the right way, he can make it spit out the location of a mysterious secret colony of androids.
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Like every previous episode, “The Impossible Box” starts with a flashback, only this time it’s extra pointless because this flashback depicts something that didn’t even really happen. A “young” Soji can’t sleep due to a thunderstorm, and she sneaks down the hallway to where her “father” is hard at work doing flower science in his laboratory.
Present-day Soji wakes up with a start before she can see his face, and tells Narek about the dream. Narek suggests that if it’s based on something she remembers, she should talk to her “mom” about it, revealing that he knows she talks to her mom every night.
On the ship, Jurati describes the circumstances of Maddox’s death, and Picard reveals Maddox had told him the other android was on the Borg Artifact. Elnor remarks on Picard’s visible discomfort with the idea of going to the Artifact. Jurati helpfully explains that it would be his first visit to a Borg cube since being assimilated and forced to betray and kill his friends. She suggests maybe the Borg on this cube are different. Picard, having shown an open-mindedness towards his former enemies the Romulans, nonetheless has nothing good to say about the Borg, and goes on a tirade about how Borg never really change their violent ways.
Picard retires to his study and asks the computer to research some topics related to the Artifact. The computer’s image search cycles through pictures of Hugh, whom Picard discovers is leading the Borg reclamation project, and also a picture of a fully assimilated Picard, AKA Locutus of Borg. The camera swings around to artfully superimpose the image of Locutus against Picard’s current face.
The title card shows La Sirena is cruising through the former Romulan Neutral Zone, in the Beta Quadrant. Rios is awake, drinking from a flask and kicking a soccer ball around (four hundred years of history cannot diminish the Latino passion for fútbol). Jurati enters and talks about how in the wake of Maddox’s death, she feels hollow and lonely and afraid. She takes a drink from Rios’s flask. She realizes the scene isn’t going anywhere and abruptly decides she wants to bang Rios. The lovers light up the screen with all the passionate sexual energy that the Star Trek franchise is known for.
On the Artifact, Rizzo has finally arrived, and she’s in Narek’s quarters playing with a Romulan toy that looks like a Rubik’s cube, except it opens up to reveal a prize when you solve it. For the fifty-seventh time, she expresses her impatience and her great desire to kill Soji. Narek tells Rizzo about Soji’s dreams, which Rizzo dismisses as a “bug” in her programming. Narek, however, is convinced that these dreams are evidence that Soji has an unconscious mind, formed by the collision of her personality engrams against the limitations enforced by her programming. He says if he can get her to talk about her dreams, he can access the information buried in her subconscious without activating her self-defense programming. He likens his task to solving the puzzle box: “The key to opening the tan zhekran is taking the time to understand what’s keeping it closed.” Rizzo leaves him to this task after threatening him with another arbitrary deadline.
La Sirena is coming up on the Artifact, which means they’re now in Romulan space and are technically committing an act of war. Picard says if the Romulans on the cube don’t recognize him, the Borg definitely will, which is why their way forward is through the Qowat Milat art of absolute candor. Raffi, in the midst of self-medicating with booze and snake leaf, puts in a quick call to an old Starfleet friend, and with the drug addict’s natural talent for begging a favor, she cows her reluctant friend into granting Picard temporary diplomatic credentials so he can meet with Hugh as a Federation envoy. Afterward, Rios helps her collapse into bed.
On the Artifact, Soji tells Narek she had the dream again. Narek reveals that he knows Soji often falls asleep after talking to her mother, and also that he knows each call to Soji’s mother lasts exactly 70 seconds. Confused, Soji calls her “mother”, begins to fall asleep, and stabs her own hand to keep herself awake. The “Mom” program glitches out and repeats the magic fall-asleep words until Soji finally succumbs. After she wakes up, she gets out a box with all her hard-copy photos and diaries and assorted childhood mementos in it. She waves a tricorder over each one of them, and the tricorder informs her that none of this stuff is more than 37 months old.
Elnor wants to accompany Picard to the Artifact, but Picard’s diplomatic credentials specify that only he may go. He beams over, finds himself alone in a hallway stuffed with regeneration pods, and suffers a series of intrusive PTSD flashbacks from his time with the Borg. Borg hands reach out to grab him and he cries out in alarm, but when he comes to, he sees two heavily-scarred ex-Borg are trying to keep him from fainting. Hugh greets him with a wide grin.
After settling in as best he can, Picard tells Hugh he’s looking for Dr. Soji Asha. Hugh says he knows her—and he also knows of a Romulan spy who’s trying very hard to look like she’s not a special project of his. Meanwhile, Soji is confronting Narek about the revelations she’s just made about her past. Narek suggests someone implanted her with false memories to try to get her to find something on the Artifact. Luckily enough, there’s a Romulan meditation practice that can help her with just this problem.
Picard is being led by Hugh through a medical facility where Romulan technicians are working on ex-Borg. Picard is amazed that it’s possible to de-assimilate on such a large scale. The virulent anti-Borg prejudice he’s had since the beginning of this episode has quite melted away. He realizes they’re really victims, not monsters. Hugh says that they’re “just as helpless and enslaved as before, only now our queen is a Romulan.” He says that the support of an admired public figure like Picard might go a long way toward securing the rights of the ex-Borg, who remain the most hated people in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, we learn that this “Zhal Makh” meditation is a common enough pastime that the Artifact has several rooms set aside for it. Narek brings Soji to such a room, despite a guard’s insistence that Zhal Makh shouldn’t be practiced by “round-ears”. Inside is a path on the floor marked off by Christmas luminarias.
Soji is to remove her boots and let Narek guide her through the path. She enters a hypnotic trance and starts walking through her dream, reporting her sensations. Narek talks her through the point in the dream when she would normally wake up in fear. In the other room, Rizzo watches and listens.
Hugh and Picard show up in Soji’s quarters, which is in disarray. Hugh pulls up a map and she’s nowhere to be found on the cube.
Dream-Soji has entered her father’s laboratory. Narek tells her that her father is going to shout, but she’s not to listen this time, and continue walking in. She looks behind a row of orchids and sees… herself, in the form of a partially disassembled mannequin carved from grainy wood.
Narek tells her to look through the skylight and she sees “two red moons, dark as blood… and lightning. So much lightning.”A satisfied Rizzo asks the computer to identify a planet with the features Soji just described. Soji sobs to Narek, asking him what it all means. Narek says it means her suspicions were correct: she’s not real. He kisses her goodbye and locks her in the chamber, opening the puzzle box to reveal a glowing red pyramid that slowly begins to fill the room with noxious gas.
Soji crawls to the other side of the room to avoid the gas. Her distress causes her android powers to activate, and she bangs on the floor, making a dent. She punches the floor over and over, breaking through the wood to reach the metal panel underneath, wrenching it open as well. The guard alerts Narek and motions to open the door, but Narek stops him because the room is too deadly. They watch helplessly as Soji drops down through the floor.
Hugh picks Soji up on his map, puzzling at the speed she’s moving. “She’s been activated,” says Picard, and they take off to intercept her. She drops from the ceiling in front of Picard. He earns her trust by showing her Dahj’s necklace, and they flee from an incoming wave of Romulan redshirts.
Hugh uses his handprint to open up a hidden wall panel leading to a secret room. Picard’s former connection to the Collective allows him to identify this room as the Queen’s cell. Hugh explains that this cube has been outfitted with an interesting bit of technology they got when they assimilated a species from Voyager’s first season: a transwarp beaming portal, to be used to evacuate the queen in case of emergency, with an effective range of 40,000 light years.
Picard radios La Sirena to set a rendezvous for the planet Nepenthe. Rios copies, and prepares to head out when he realizes Elnor isn’t on board anymore. He’s disobeyed Picard’s instructions and beamed to the Artifact, encountering three soldiers who quickly meet their gory green deaths at his sword.
Picard thanks him and ushers him toward the portal, but Elnor volunteers to stay behind and hold off the guards so they don’t follow him and Soji through the portal. Picard, aghast, releases him from his ninja oath, and he declines to be released. “I will find you again,” Picard promises, and he and Soji step through the portal.
“It’ll take a few minutes to shut everything down and hide this room again,” says Hugh. “Can you hold them off that long?” “I won’t need a few minutes,” says Elnor.
Next week: A cameo that is simply Beyond Belief.