Star Trek: Picard
As good as this first season of Star Trek: Picard has been, it wouldn’t have been that huge of a surprise if the series eventually lost the plot in the most literal sense. It’s packed a lot into a few episodes, and the need to juggle Picard, the Artifact, Elnor, Soji, Rios, Seven of Nine and the Fenris Raiders, Raffi, Deanna and Will’s pizza planet, and the Zhat Vash could have made for an overstuffed show with underserved characters. But despite being named after its protagonist, Picard’s been pretty generous with giving time to its supporting cast and fleshing out their backstories while still making them serve the primary plot. That continues with “Broken Pieces,” which reveals that even a character with no apparent connection to the android intrigue has a past that’s been defined by it. And, in spite of its title, the episode starts to bring all the disparate strands of the season together as it makes a dash toward what looks likely to be an intense finale set on Soji’s homeworld.
Getting there requires more exposition than usual, starting with a 14-years-ago prologue that explains the origin of Zhat Vash, the even-more-secret-than-the-Tal Shiar Romulan organization dedicated to keeping synthetic life forms from coming into existence. Why? Because, to paraphrase a quote from Battlestar Galactica (which that show borrowed from Peter Pan), all of this has happened before and (left unchecked) it will happen again.
What exactly happened? A long-ago civilization passed a threshold in innovating synthetic life that invited the coming of destroyers. (The series doesn’t use the term “the singularity,” but that’s the concept it’s playing with.) Sharing the memory of that event while gathering on Aia, The Grief World — surely not the best branding for a planet wanting to attract tourists — is a rite of passage for the Zhat Vash. Many don’t survive with their sanity intact, leading some to kill themselves on the spot. Others are left rattled, like Narissa’s “Auntie,” who we learn is the xB who freaked out upon interacting with Soji aboard the Artifact. And even those who do survive, like Narissa, find themselves changed by the experience.
That’s true even of those who learn the information secondhand, like Agnes. It turns out she wasn’t being granted a vision of the future by the Vulcan Commodore Oh, but a vision of a past that might repeat (and Commodore Oh is half Romulan, half Vulcan). That sort of explains why she killed Maddox, but it doesn’t really let her off the hook for the murder, either. Neither do her fellow La Sirena crew members after she awakens from her coma (especially Picard, whose withering “I’m very disappointed in you” look almost feels like punishment enough). That Agnes tells Soji she could never kill her also confirms that she undeniably chose to kill Maddox and that her plan to turn herself in for murder as soon as the ship reaches Deep Space Twelve seems fully justified. Why Picard lets Agnes wander around and have unsupervised visits with Soji, however, remains much tougher to explain, but Soji’s probing of Agnes, and whether Agnes views her as a person (regardless of Agnes’ delight at learning that Soji drinks and sleeps just like a human) gets at the heart of the philosophical matters raised by Soji’s existence. (And let’s give a tip of the hat to Isa Briones as she skillfully steers the character through some tricky terrain.)
After a preceding episode that focused heavily on Picard’s past and future, the good Captain’s largely on the sidelines this episode. His most memorable moment finds him interacting with Soji, who wants to know about Data in general and Picard’s feelings about him in particular. Did Data love him, she asks? “Data’s capacity for expressing and processing was limited,” Picard replies. “I suppose we had that in common.” Soji, on the other hand, isn’t quite so hesitant to find love in their relationship. Elsewhere, Picard reaches out to Starfleet and talks Admiral Clancy into providing assistance (and does a delightful handclap of satisfaction when she says yes). But it’s others who drive the action in this installment, some on La Sirena, some far away.
On the Artifact, Elnor finds himself teaming up with Seven of Nine, who’s answered his call for Fenris Raider assistance. Seven’s on her own, and while that doesn’t seem like it ought to be enough to stand up to Narissa and the other Romulans, she proves to be a formidable foe. Doing so, however, requires her to take steps she doesn’t want to take, namely creating a kind of mini-collective from the remaining Borg and enslaving them to do her bidding. “They won’t want to be released,” she explains to Elnor. “I… might not want to release them.” Her under-the-gun decision to do it anyway gives the episode some of its most chilling moments, as Seven goes full Borg and the Borg under her command get sucked out into space by the pitiless Romulans. Except, that is, those who remain behind to kick Romulan ass. Seven doesn’t stay in Borg mode any longer than she has to, but her last words before pulling the plug almost suggest that this isn’t really her choice: “Annika still has work to do.”
As with Agnes’ storyline, it’s another instance of the Michael Chabon-written, Maja Vrvilo-directed episode toying with notions of fate and free will. The biggest question along those lines belongs to Soji. Does she have any choice but to become (or somehow usher in) a destroyer of worlds? The powers that be — specifically the Zhat Vash and the Starfleet elements under their control — certainly don’t think so. Will she be able to decide what she wants to be or is she as helpless as a Borg on a string?
Raffi spends much of the episode playing detective — fully sober, thanks to asking the Emergency Hospitality Hologram to keep alcohol off limits — and investigating Rios’ past after he’s shaken by the sight of Soji. It turns out he’s seen her before. Sort of. But to figure that out, Raffi first has to interrogate all five of La Sirena’s emergency holograms. (This includes “Ian,” an engineering hologram with a Scottish accent, of course.) In the midst of some grim images — robot holocaust! Borg drones sucked into the cold vacuum of space! — and weighty themes, Raffi’s detective work and Santiago Cabrera’s performance(s) as the holograms who look like Rios (and maybe play host to different aspects of his personality) help leaven the drama.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lead to its own sort of grimness as we learn the story of Janna, Soji’s lookalike predecessor. Rios knew her, but not for long before his beloved former captain, Alonzo Vandemeer, murdered her and her male companion, Beautiful Flower (whom we see only in Rios’ sketch). They seem to have somehow made their way from Soji’s home planet and, though they appeared friendly enough, Vandemeer’s “black flag directive” required him to kill them. Then, stricken with guilt and Rios’ disappointment, Vandemeer killed himself. No wonder Rios doesn’t want to get attached to captains anymore.
Where did they come from? And how did they slip away? As the episode ends, we seem to be on the verge of finding out as Picard and the crew head to Soji’s homeworld (with Narek, whom they seemed to have lost, on their tail).
• This was a good episode for Narissa (and Peyton List). She’d seemed a bit like a stock villain before (and the incest-y stuff with Narek felt a little like shock for shock’s sake), but “Broken Pieces” both reveals her motivations and makes them understandable, depicting her as a character driven by a real sense of desperation. It’s no small thing to be the conveyer of a cosmic admonition with apocalyptic consequences.
• Looks like we’re going to see an octenary, an artificially created system of eight stars, which should allow the effects team to show off a bit.
• Good to see Seven of Nine again, who’s downright scary when switching into Borg mode.
• “I think about suicide every day. That’s how I comfort myself.” That definitely sounds like the mindset of a woman who would murder her mentor and former lover. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of how Agnes redeems herself and sticks around the ship. (If she does, of course.)
• Another nice touch: the way the holograms zone out and develop robot eyes as they attempt to access older information.
• Camus’ The Stranger joins The Tragic Sense of Life on Rios’ bookshelf (alongside a bunch of other books whose spines are hard to read, at least on the screener site provided to critics).
• Also in Rios’ cabin: some vinyl records. That’s in character (and a fine choice), but you have to be really dedicated to analog media to tote records into space. That’s probably why he only has a handful.
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