Star Trek: Picard is heading into the endgame of its first season, but it feels as if it’s only really just started spinning up the biggest wheels of its arc. That’s good for us because it means major momentum on the show’s most intriguing storylines. It’s bad for the heroes of Star Trek: Picard because it’s happening just as they’re all examining their own traumas.
“The Impossible Box,” on a character level, feels like an appropriate moment of respite for our characters after the emotional drains “Stardust City Rag” put on them. At least, for two members of the La Sirena’s crew: Agnes Jurati, who now has to attempt to conceal from her crewmates her role in Bruce Maddox’s death, and Raffi Musiker, who has to reckon with the emotional aftermath of being so completely rejected by her son back on Freecloud.
Jurati’s response to the horror she faced having to kill her former paramour and mentor—for reasons still cryptically left unknown—is to retreat almost entirely. Outside of the opening scenes, she’s barely in the episode, but when she is there she is suddenly distant and drawn—well, when she isn’t getting into bed with Rios, that is. But she’s especially distant from Picard, as if the thought of him reaching out to her in an attempt to comfort her over Maddox’s death would undo her facade entirely.
Raffi, meanwhile, has a much more open—and openly messy—response to her family dramatics. After spending weeks presenting that she’d tried to move on from the addictions and vices she had turned to after Starfleet chewed her up and spat her out, the Raffi we now see has instead wholly re-embraced them. No longer hiding them away, she’s once again partaking in excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol, and revelling in the fact; when needed on La Sirena’s bridge, she stumbles her way to her seat, vape in one hand, bottle of booze in the other.
She even makes the belligerence part of her pitch, when she’s asked to call in an old favour to help with the latest leg of Picard’s rescue operation, playing the art of the washed-out weirdo not as an act, but as a tragic acceptance of it who she might as well really be.
And yet, in spite of the emotional angst aboard La Sirena, the show must go on. The ship is on a direct path to the decommissioned Borg Cube, now that they know Soji is there, and one last bridge burned by Raffi to get the favour of giving Picard diplomatic access to the facility without triggering Romulan suspicion.
It’s finally time for Picard to come face to face with Soji Asher, and attempt to redeem himself for the death of her sister under his watch. Without time to soothe the traumas of his fellow crewmates, it’s a journey he has to make alone. Except that going aboard the cube alone means it’s time for Picard himself to face a few traumatic demons, too.
Instead of continuing his malaise about the moral rot of Starfleet, Jean-Luc gets a new-old trauma to reckon with: his time as Locutus of Borg, flashes of which stab away at his mind’s eye as he beams aboard and is immediately horrified by the reality he finds himself in. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable Picard has presented its titular hero so far: when he was needled by the newscaster in the show’s opening episode, he answered that moment of vulnerability immediately with impassioned indignance.
Here, he can’t do the same—he can’t afford the fury of Captain Ahab going to hunt his whale, as he did in that famous moment from Star Trek: First Contact. This is Jean-Luc as a tired, old, and very afraid man, buckling under the traumas of being faced with his time in the collective, only rocked out of his haunted stupor by Hugh reaching out to remind him that not all memories of the Borg are bad ones.
Picard’s reunion with the Borg he once helped individualize is a two-fold boon. It’s not just that Hugh’s clear unease of having to work with the Romulans means he’s more than willing to help Picard find and extract Soji from Narek’s dirtbag clutches. But the ex-Borg also can clearly see that Picard’s traumas from his time as Locutus have, whether he wants to believe it or not, instilled not just a great fear of the Borg within him, but a prejudice built out of his own distaste for having been drawn into the collective in the first place.
Subtly but persistently, as Hugh and Picard go through the facade of their diplomatic tour of the “artefact,” the former constantly goes out of his way to highlight to the latter the good work being done away from the Romulans’ purview of rehabilitating and aiding people who, like Picard, have undergone a cataclysmic trauma. To show to him that, while they were once Borg, underneath that nightmare they always were, and are now, just people.
Unlike Picard, however, they didn’t have the privilege or importance to warrant a crew of Starfleet’s finest to rescue them from the Borg or to ensure they underwent the most advance surgeries to remove the physical scars of their assimilation as quickly as possible. While Picard has the freedom to have his prejudice and hide that under his real and understandable trauma, these people didn’t, and need the help and understanding of people like Hugh far more than they need the impassioned hatred of the Borg that still lingers deep in Picard’s heart.
It leads to an important moment of realisation for the ex-Admiral: These people were made into monsters by the Borg, but they themselves are not monsters. And maybe he doesn’t have to hate the part of him that is still Borg deep down, that the collective took from the great and mighty Jean-Luc Picard. Maybe he can just accept that it’s a part of who he is, as Hugh has—as Seven had last week—and as the artifacts remnants have had to.
Meanwhile, in and around the edges of Hugh’s Borg Tour/Therapy Session, a ticking time bomb finally goes off at the worst possible time. The other traumatic revelation of the episode which bubbles up throughout “The Impossible Box” is that Soji, constantly being pushed towards the precipice by Narek’s emotional manipulation, is finally catapulted over the deep end altogether, watching her fake life slowly unravel before her eyes.
After sowing the seeds of doubt in her, Narek almost gleefully watches as she goes through the memories of her life and finds out just how fake they really are—not as old as they should be, perfectly imperfect, or in the case of her mother entirely, just downright fake altogether.
All this culminates in Soji activating her synth abilties and shit hitting the Borg-Cube-Fan. The activation itself is prompted by the more tangible trauma of Narek trapping her in what is meant to be a Romulan meditative room but is, conveniently for him, a place to trap and douse her with deadly radiation. It’s convenient for Picard and Hugh at least, because the suddenly super-strong Soji literally crashes her way through a ceiling to land right in front of them, making their escape a little simpler. It’s inconvenient because, considering the abject state La Sirena’s crew is in right now emotionally, a cool extraction mission turning suddenly hot leads to things barrelling out of control real fast.
Cornered by the Tal Shiar and out of options—and with La Sirena unable to extract them—Hugh leads Picard and the almost delirious Soji to a secret alcove within the cube, housing a spacial trajector, a sort of teleporting gateway that allowed the Borg Queen to translocate away from a cube in case of emergency. Now, it becomes Picard and Soji’s only chance to escape, but it means temporarily ditching La Sirena, and, on the cube itself surrounded by hostile Romulans leaving Hugh and...Elnor behind? Because if things weren’t complicated enough, our loveably innocent Qowat Milat decides to ignore all warnings and beam aboard the cube, seemingly choosing to sacrifice himself to hold off Picard’s pursuers. Buddy, there is enough going on without throwing in a heroic sacrifice or two!
And so, as Picard and Soji beam away to Nepenthe—a world named for the drug of forgetfulness of Greek mythology—it seems our wider crew are in a state of disarray they would indeed prefer to forget right now. At least with some of their traumas out in the open, and with Soji (somewhat) secured, they can all begin to find a path to move on from them. If they make it away from the Borg Cube in one piece, that is.
One would think, considering the Cube is now run by Hugh’s Research Institute, they’d consider putting some safety railings around these clearly very high up and very dangerous gangways, in case of existential-trauma-induced falls. Maybe it’s not in their budget.
There’s a lot going on this episode as is, so I get that we don’t spend a lot of time with Agnes here but...how did Rios’ EMH not show up and be like “Hey, so what was up with whatever you did to the now-dead person in my Sickbay” at any point?
A weirdly present yet rarely addressed aspect of Picard is this underlying realisation that our beloved hero can be a bit of a jerk, whether it’s because of his own privilege or the fact that maybe, just maybe, Jean-Luc Picard has given into a little bit of his own hype. That felt no more apparent than this episode where he leads a round of applause on La Sirena’s bridge for Raffi’s “performance” as the drunk washout convincing an old Starfleet friend to get him diplomatic immunity, when it’s very clear that she’s under great duress and also extremely dangerously inebriated, which only Rios picks up on, leading to their heart-to-heart in her quarters. Hopefully, at some point the show will address that elephant in the room, because it felt...very not cool?
I still do not get why Narissa and Narek’s vibe is so...distressingly incestuous. Her watching him and Soji go through the (also weirdly-fucky, even for the Romulans) meditation process felt bizarrely uncomfortable.