A Surfeit of Ex-Borgs: Jean-Luc Picard beams into the “Impossible Box”

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My episode-by-episode reviews of Star Trek: Picard continue with the sixth episode, “The Impossible Box,” in which Jean-Luc returns to a Borg cube, is reunited with Hugh from The Next Generation and finally meets Soji. This was an extremely enjoyable episode. Not just enjoyable, it is very, very good. Episode six has it all: lots of wonderful character moments, both Jean-Luc’s and Soji’s plots advance significantly, the Borg concept is made to be frightening again while still showing the ex-Borgs as victims, there is intrigue and danger and consequences and action. Oh, and Elnor is becoming my new favorite as in this episode he gets to be extremely sweet and naive while still also being a relentless killing machine.

What more could you ask for?

Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.

Seriously, don’t scroll further!

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You’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!

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Turn back now!

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Okay, if you’re still reading, it’s your own fault!

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Spoiler-filled Review:

Rios, Rafi, Elnor, and Dr. Jurati tensely monitor Jean-Luc while he’s on the Borg cube.

This week’s episode is going to be difficult to cover because there is just so much happening! No one can complain about pacing this time! “The Impossible Box” begins with what at first appears to be another flashback. It’s a dark and stormy night, and a young girl who is clearly Soji as a child, comes out of her room carrying a plushy and calling for her father. Unlike the beginning of every previous episode, no text appears on the screen to tell us what planet this scene is on or how many years ago it occurs. The child slips into a lab, where a man we assume is her father is working on something, but the view is blocked by a bunch of orchids. As the child quietly steps around the obstruction, a man’s voice harshly calls out, “Soji!”

And then Soji wakes up in her bed. It was a dream, not a flashback. And her startled reaction to it wakes up Narek (aka Hot Romulan™) who thinks the dream is a nightmare. They have a conversation in bed that is layered with meaning. From Soji’s point of view he is being caring and supportive. Both say things that imply their feelings are deepening. The viewers know that Narek has another agenda, which makes everything he says in this scene have two meanings.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Captain Rios is playing a game by himself with a soccer ball. Dr. Jurati appears, and we learn that it is the middle of the night. The viewers know that Jurati can’t sleep because she murdered Dr Maddox, who former lover, at the end of last episode. She deflects by getting Rios to talk about how he can love being out in the lifeless void of deep space. And then they kiss, exchange some words about mistakes and regrets, before heading off to someone’s bunk hand-in-hand. When the first kiss happened, even though I was watching the episode alone, I said out loud, “We all saw that coming!”

Later, Dr. Jurati explains to Jean-Luc that Maddox was barely still alive when they rescued him, and how there was nothing they could have done to stop his death. Which I think Jean-Luc accepts a bit too easily. And why hasn’t anyone check the Emergency Medical Hologram’s logs, yet? Elnor joins the conversation, and when Jean-Luc leaves, makes the observation that Jean-Luc isn’t aware that Dr. Jurati is haunted by regret, too. Jurati is not happy that Elnor noticed this, and tells him it was rude to make the comment.

But there are looming problems. The ship is en route to Romulan territory without permission. Dr Jurati suggests they pretend to be a group of scientists come to study the Borg tech. Jean-Luc says that lie would be seen through immediately, and says the should instead honestly say the Retired Admiral Picard wants to consult with the Executive Director. But to do that they will need the get Jean-Luc some sort of diplomatic credential. Or rather, Raffi will.

Raffi comes to the bridge literally taking swigs from a bottle of booze and not looking at all ready to work some magic. But, she takes a hit from her vape pen, puts in an encrypted all to an old friend, and when the friend answers, immediately puts on a facade of being sober and cheerful. She explains to the old friend (a Star Fleet officer only identified as Emmy), that the ship she is on is nearly into Romulan space, that Jean-Luc has some bee in his bonnet and can not be persuaded to turn around. Emmy points out that they show up in Romulan space uninvited it will be interpreted as an act of war. Raffi agrees, explains that Jean-Luc will not listen to her. So the officer agrees to somehow make it appear that Jean-Luc has been sent for diplomatic reasons to meet with the Executive Director of the Borg Reclamation Project… but she also tells Raffi to never, ever call her or ask for help again.

Raffi cuts the communication and tries to flee the bridge, stumbling as she goes. Captain Rios catches her and takes her to her quarters. They get a really nice moment that shows us a lot about their past friendship.

On the Borg cube, Narek has a conversation with his sister in which he explains his theory that Soji’s dreams aren’t a bug in her programming, but are there on purpose. There has to be a process in her programming that would keep her from figuring out that she isn’t really human, something that makes her ignore any evidence she finds to the contrary. In this scenes we learn about a type of puzzle box that Romulan children are given as gifts. When you solve it, it opens to reveal a prize. But it doesn’t open immediately. The trick, then, is to shift its moving parts into place, and then to know when to stop moving things and wait for it to open. They tell us a Romulan name for it. I don’t think they ever explicitly say that the transliteration of the name is “impossible box” but it seems to be implied.

Narek proceeds to give Soji a few more nudges to make her realize that she isn’t who she thinks she is. He raises the possibility that someone has altered her memories. He also informs her that ever single time she calls her mother back on Earth, the call lasts exactly 70 seconds. She had earlier admitted that she almost always falls asleep before finishing a call.

Soji does some investigating of her own, using some kind of scanner on her photographs and the childhood toy she still has, and so forth. All the the scans indicate that pretty much every thing she owns is barely 3 years old. Which causes a bit of a break down.

Jean-Luc and company arrive at the Borg cube, but are not given permission to land. Jean-Luc, and only Jean-Luc, is to beam into a specific part of the cube. The others don’t want him to go alone, but obviously he does.

The next scenes were nicely tense and scary, as Jean-Luc finds himself having flashbacks (not the literary kind, but rather the traumatic/PSTD type) of the time he was captured by the Borg, operated on, and so forth. It’s a nice nightmarish scene, and reminds us just what a scary concept Borg assimilation is. Hugh arrives in time to snap him out of it, and is clearly happy to see Jean-Luc. While Jean-Luc is explaining why he came, Hugh, leads Jean-Luc through one of the medical facilities where the ex-Borgs are being treated for both their physical and medical trauma. This reinforces the notion of the Borg as serious threat, while also doing a great job of humananizing the individual drones.

Hugh and Jean-Luc try to find Soji, but Narek has taken her to place where she can try a Romulan meditation technique to try to unlock her hidden past.

This means that Narek and Soji are in a room that has a pattern on the flow and cool glowing lanterns. She walks the path while he talks her through the meditation. She recalls the nightmare from earlier, and gets several details she has never seen before: her father is literally faceless, the project he is working on appears to be a life-sized doll that looks like her, and through the sky light they can see two red moons and constant flashing lightning. This seems to be enough to identify the world where Soji was assembled. Narek then sets down his puzzle box, exits the room, and has the guard lock her inside. The puzzle opens and some sort of red cloud is released.

Hugh and Jean-Luc are trying to find Soji, hampered by the fact that Soji’s ID badge, which should be tracked by internal sensors at all times, seems to be off the grid.

Jean-Luc’s motley crew, meanwhile, have been anxiously waiting for news from Jean-Luc and are worried that he isn’t responding.

Facing death, Soji’s super-fighter skills activate, and she literally tears her way through the deck to escape the death trap. She is busy running when Hugh and Jean-Luc find her. Jean-Luc convinces her he’s there to help, and Hugh leads them out of the populated areas of the cube, to a secret chamber reserved for the Borg Queen. There’s a kind of transporter that can send people a large number of lightyears away (apparently this technology was held by one of the alien species in Voyager who have since been assimilated by the Borg.

Jean-Luc had called La Sirena to tell them to leave without him and also where they can rendezvous. Before Jean-Luc and Soji can quite make a get-away, they are confronted by armed Romulan guards. But Elnor appears at this point (having beamed down against Jean-Luc’s explicit instructions) and kills the three guards in a matter of seconds.

Once the transporter thing is ready, Hugh and Elnor insist they will stay behind to delay any pursuit. The last words we hear in the episode, after Jean-Luc and Soji have stepped through the portal and Hugh has hidden the chamber, Elnor telling the guards who are ordering him to drop his weapon, “Please, friends, choose to live.”

Other things:

  • It was genuinely nice to have an episode where no one is giving Jean-Luc a lecture about how he failed them, or what an arrogant bastard he is.
  • That said, Raffi’s comment that the only parts of Jean-Luc that are Ego are raging Id was spot on. Verified when Jean-Luc’s reaction to Raffi burning a bridge before their eyes to get him what he wants was to applaud her performance.
  • Similarly, it was good to see how happy Hugh was to see Jean-Luc after many years. It was also nice to see someone from Jean-Luc’s past who wants to help right away.
  • I’m glad the incest/sexual abuse aspects of Narek and his Eviler Sister’s relationship were toned down.
  • I was delighted by Hugh’s description of Narek as, “the dashing young Romulan spy who was very carefully pretending not to be asking questions about” Soji.
  • I can’t decide whether Narek was simply giving in to the Romulan tendency of being drama queens with the way he tried to kill Soji, or if he knew that a non-instantaneous death threat would activate her and that she’s figure out how to escape.
  • I love how sweetly naive Elnor is, while still being so deadly.
  • I remain saddened that Laris and Zhaban have not appeared on-screen since epiosde three.

Things have really heated up. This episode was so good in so many ways.


Some reviews from other people:

Picard: The Impossible Box.

Star Trek Picard tackles “The Impossible Box”.

Things pick up as Star Trek: Picard visits a familiar nightmare.

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My reviews of previous episodes:

“Remembrance” paints picture of a future full of regrets to be righted.

“Maps and Legends” takes Picard into the world of espionage, or, an original Trekkie is still loving the new series.

“The End is the Beginning” takes Star Trek: Picard into space at last.

“Absolute Candor” delivers sword fights and a space battle for Star Trek: Picard.

“Stardust City Rag” Begins Quite Bloody and Ends With a Bang, or Picard Goes On a Caper.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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