Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Season One Episode Six – “The Impossible Box”
Written by Nick Zayas
Directed by Maja Vrvilo
Season One Episode Seven – “Nepenthe”
Written by Samantha Humphrey and Michael Chabon
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
I’m a little lost as to what the story being told here is at this point. The pacing decisions from early on have felt unbalanced, and “The Impossible Box” is a vital example of this. The audience has known that the Artifact is where Picard eventually will arrive since episode one. The show has meandered on its way to get there with strange layovers like “Absolute Candor.” When we finally reach the reclaimed Borg cube, things suddenly happen at rapid-fire, and we’re still left with little information moving forward as to what exactly this story is.
I’m very unclear on a lot of character’s intentions and think the show is even unsure. Take Agnes Jurati and Captain Rios, for example. Out of nowhere, we suddenly get flirtation vibes, which is the show trying to develop the crew beyond Picard, fine. But why are they attracted to each other? Because there are very few other people around? Part of Agnes’ character is that she has a secret she’s keeping from the rest of the crew. I guess we are supposed to question if the flirtation is just another ruse in her plan to aid the Federation? I think Agnes’ main storyline, her conflicted feelings about Maddox, Soji, and the Federation is far more interesting then trying to cobble together a B-plot romance out of nowhere.
I do appreciate the series exploring Picard’s complicated emotions about the Borg. His reticence to board the Cube felt genuine, and his subsequent conversations with Hugh did a lot of the things I’d always wish The Next Generation would tackle. Picard sees those assimilated as victims and champions Hugh’s desire to develop a community of free Borg, people whose assimilation has been reversed but who are not fully recovered. Yet, Picard still hates the monolith that the Borg has become. I think it’s an interesting choice to show Picard wrestling with where the line between the individual victims the collective victimizer begins and ends.
I feel even more unsure about what exactly Soji’s importance is in this story other than to end up being a cliched “The One” character. She can empathize with the free Borg, but there’s literally no information given to us in the first six episodes as to how she ended up here or how the Romulans seemingly know a lot about her. My great worry is that Soji will be revealed as some new evolution of the Borg Queen, which would groan-inducing. The show hasn’t really given much agency to the Borg yet or gone into detail about their relationship with the Romulans. For moving so slowly, Picard just seems to keep putting new pieces on the board but not doing anything with them.
“Nepenthe” was the one episode thus far that felt the most like a Star Trek show. It had a definite arc to the episode’s plot, very much character-centered, and let us get to know new and old characters better. There’s is definitely some nostalgia berries in the air when Riker and Troi appear on the screen. It had the feeling of visiting with old friends you hadn’t seen in a long time, happy for that they have found a place but sad over the loss that occurred on the way there. Picard, the series wants so desperately to be edgy and dark but fails to reach the quality of writing needed to justify those tonal shifts. This episode deals with heavy subject matter and grief, and that is what brings it back to the feel of the old show.
Riker and Troi live on Nepenthe, a planet known for near-miraculous healing and growth. The Troi-Rikers brought their teenage son Thad here when he developed a fatal medical condition. The reason for the move was two-fold, the planet’s regenerative abilities & Thad’s desire to have a homeworld after being born and raised on starships. That last bit is such a poetically beautiful addition to the story and touches on the sacrifices made by Starfleet members who also have families. A starship cannot be home because eventually, your parent gets transferred, or the ship is decommissioned.
Yes, there is a B-plot happening. Elnor and Hugh deal with the fallout from the last episode as the Romulans go about executing free Borg. Agnes’ real plans are hinted at, and she makes a terrible sacrifice to save her new friends. That’s all the stuff that has to be there to keep the plot moving, but I really wish we could keep spending time on Nepenthe.
Picard’s hubris is a big part of this episode, and we see that he still struggles to show sensitivity when communicating with others under distress. I loved seeing Troi chastize her old captain for not thinking about his words when confronting the deeply troubled Soji. It was also lovely to have a quiet moment between Picard and Riker, sitting on a dock overlooking a pond. The topic of Picard’s health is brought up, and we are reminded that early in the series, we were informed that he was suffering from a degenerative condition of his own. They have already confirmed a season two, which I’m not sure how I feel about. I would prefer a mini-series that gave Picard a true send-off, but it looks like even after these episodes conclude, there will be more.