We’re halfway through the first season of Star Trek: Picard, and so far the twists and turns haven’t disappointed. However, the last couple of episodes have focused on a hunt for Bruce Maddox, rather than the central mystery of the show. Now that the crew of La Sirena has found him (and lost him again), it’s time to get back on track — they’re headed for the artifact to find Soji.
It turns out that Dr. Jurati has indeed been able to cover up Bruce’s murder, though it’s clear that she’s not unaffected by her actions. The rest of the crew interprets her distress as a reaction to seeing her friend, lover, and mentor die, rather than her own complicity in (and responsibility for) his death.
In terms of character, the central theme of “The Impossible Box” is Jean-Luc once again being forced to confront what the Borg did to him — but this time, it’s up close and personal. Jean-Luc reminds us in his conversation with Dr. Jurati that he hasn’t visited a Borg cube since his assimilation, and it’s clear he isn’t keen to return to one.
Aboard the Borg cube, Narek realizes how he can manipulate Soji into understanding the nature of who and what she is without activating her: her dreams (or more accurately, her nightmares). Data also used to dream; he had no need for sleep, but he often engaged in the practice in order to experience his dreaming program (for a unique, funny, and bizarre look at Data’s dreams, check out The Next Generation episode “Phantasms.”) Narek is definitely still working Soji, but it’s also clear he cares for her. The situation is becoming more and more complicated, to be sure.
As part of his insidious plan, Narek mentions both that he knows Soji talks to her mother every day and that these calls last for 70 seconds each — exactly. This is enough for Soji to begin questioning these calls, and what happens during them, because they seem to be designed to put her to sleep about one minute into them. As an aside, if you’re working with Romulans, having your communications monitored is probably something you’re used to, but it’s difficult to adjust mentally to that level of surveillance over your everyday, personal life.
After a close encounter between Agnes and Captain Ríos (I love this pairing, they have incredible chemistry — but it will make the eventual reveal of Agnes’s betrayal all the more difficult), Picard announces he’s found a way aboard the Borg cube: absolute candor. He believes that Hugh, the director of the Borg reclamation project, will meet with him — all he needs is to be given Federation diplomatic credentials, and the Romulans will have to allow him on board. The crew turns to Raffi, who cashes in a huge personal favor, to make it happen, and Picard beams over alone (despite Elnor’s strong protest).
Aboard the cube, Soji is understandably panicking after she once again fell asleep during a call with her mother — she now knows that something is not right. She begins scanning all of her old belongings, the ones from her childhood, and discovers that everything she owns is 37 months old. Her entire life has been manufactured.
Once Jean-Luc beams over, he’s assaulted with memories, visions, and the trauma he experienced at the hands of the Borg all those years ago. His PTSD is on display in full force, and the visuals are incredibly effective here. Two former Borg grab his arms and Picard panics further, but it turns out they’re just trying to keep him from falling, as Hugh calls out to him.
This reunion is something that The Next Generation fans have been waiting for since Jonathan Del Arco’s return was announced. In “I, Borg,” when the Enterprise rescues Hugh from the Borg Collective, the scene between Hugh and Jean-Luc is one of the most powerful and memorable of the entire series. Their meeting again, after all these years, is beautifully and joyfully done. The sheer happiness on Hugh’s face, and the joyful laugh that Jean-Luc gives him in return, is incredible to see.
The way Hugh constantly reassures Jean-Luc about being back on a cube is incredible as well. He offers sympathy and support without ever being condescending or expecting too much. He very well understands what Picard is going through, and he’s there as a steady guiding hand to help.
But Hugh also has his own agenda, and he isn’t shy about displaying it — while Hugh is a Federation citizen, with all the privileges that come with it, the reclaimed Borg aren’t. Hugh wants to give them the rights they deserve. Jean-Luc’s advocacy would help with that, and I hope he takes Hugh’s request to heart. These ex-Borg deserve the same chance that Jean-Luc and Hugh got. As Picard tours the ship and sees Hugh’s work, what the reclamation project is doing for these former Borg, his revulsion turns to wonder and awe.
While Hugh and Picard search for Soji, she’s gone to Narek with her disturbing discovery. He suggests a traditional Romulan meditation practice to try and find her some answers — the question is, as Raffi poses, what do the Tal Shiar want with a synth? The answer is the location of her homeworld — which Narek manages to retrieve by encouraging Soji to probe her nightmare.
Narek gives Soji his true name, signaling to her that he loves her. But his mission comes first: Once he has the information he needs, he reveals to Soji her true nature: that she’s “not real” and proceeds to lock her in a room and try and kill her. She activates and manages to escape, and Jean-Luc and Hugh catch up with her.
Soji has no reason to trust Picard, and she’s certainly unsure of him, but it’s likely the same programming that prompted Dahj to find Picard when she was in trouble is kicking in here. They need to escape, fast, and Hugh helps out by revealing a new piece of technology in the Queen’s cell: a transporter that has a range of up to 40,000 light years, taken from a race called the Sikarians. (Incidentally, Voyager encountered this Delta Quadrant species in the episode “Prime Factors.”)
Before they can depart, though, Elnor arrives and insists on covering their escape along with Hugh. It’s a touching moment between Elnor and Jean-Luc, as they come to an understanding about both their past and current relationship. I’m very hopeful that we’ll see both Hugh and Elnor again soon, as our time with both was all too short.
Picard chooses a safe place, seemingly off the top of his head, to rendezvous with La Sirena. Something tells me Will Riker and Deanna Troi will be waiting on the other side of that transporter. We’ll find out next week!
Swapna Krishna (she/her) writes about tech, science, and sci-fi. She’s a contributing editor at SYFY FANGRRLS and has been published at Engadget, Gizmodo, Mental Floss, the Los Angeles Times, and more. You can find her on Twitter @skrishna.
Star Trek: Picard streams on Paramount+ in the United States, in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave, and on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories.