******BORG CUBE-SIZED SPOILERS!!******
The latest episode of “Star Trek: Picard” is available to stream on CBS-All Access (AmazonPrime overseas). “Broken Pieces” (written by showrunner Michael Chabon, and directed by Maja Vrvilo) finally answers some of the larger questions of both the characters and the story, giving the soon-ending first season much needed coherence.
The story begins 14 years earlier, on a ‘grief world’ called Aia in a star system with 8 suns (not a naturally occurring phenomenon). We see the formation of a secretive Romulan cult called the “Zhad Vash.” Among its 8 recruits are half-Vulcan/half-Romulan leader Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), Tal Shiar operative Narissa (Peyton List), and future Borg captive, Rhamda (Rebecca Wisocky), whom we also learn is Narissa’s ‘auntie.’ They stand before the “Admonition”, an energy field construct deliberately placed on that world thousands of centuries ago as a warning. The device feeds its warnings directly into its observers’ minds. Oh warns the group that the information may drive some of them mad, and it does. We see near subliminal images of artificial life, including the late Commander Data and “Star Trek: Discovery”’s cybernetically enhanced crew member Airiam (who was killed when a rogue AI took over her body in Season 2) as well as apocalyptic visions of worlds being destroyed (a vision also seen in Discovery). Some of the Romulans starts scratching at their own faces, bleeding green blood, unable to stand the torment. Rhamda drops to her knees, as her niece Narissa coolly comforts her. With this knowledge, the mysterious group vows to do whatever it takes to keep artificial sentience from being seeded in the galaxy. Oh proposes manipulating the android (Synth) shipyard workers on Mars to attack the planet, in order to trigger a ban on all artificial life. As we saw earlier in the series, her idea worked.
Cut to the present, aboard the Borg Cube’s Romulan Reclamation Project. Narissa, who’s brother Narek (Harry Treadaway) has left the cube in pursuit of Soji, is comforting her recovering “Ex-B” (ex-Borg) auntie Rhamda. Rhamda’s apocalyptic vision of artificial intelligence drove her half-mad, along with other Romulans the Borg tried to assimilate at the time they assimilated her, thus, their assimilation didn’t take. Narissa comforts her by saying her insanity “broke the Borg.” She plans to leave the Cube once her brother successfully finds the ‘nest’ from where Soji, and possibly others like her, came.
Picking up from last week’s cliffhanger, we see Elnor (Evan Evagora) valiantly slaying attacking Tal Shiar Romulans, when he is nearly overpowered (why they don’t just shoot the boy is a mystery). The distress signal he sent to the Fenris Rangers worked, and their operative Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) marches in, phaser rifles blazing. She takes out his attackers, saving his life. The next step is deciding what to do now, with more Romulans on their way. Former Borg Seven takes Elnor deeper within the Cube for safety…
Also picking up from last week’s episode, we see Soji (Isa Briones) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) beaming back aboard La Sirena. Upon seeing Soji in person, Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera) recognizes her as someone named ‘Jana’ before experiencing a debilitating wave of post-traumatic stress. As Rios shakily retreats from the command deck, Picard orders him to open a private channel with Starfleet Command. Rios reluctantly obliges, but tells Picard he’s terminating their agreement soon. Rios then relinquishes his responsibilities to his ship’s duty holograms (which all look like Rios, but with different accents). Picard is puzzled by Rios’ reaction, but before he can understand what happened, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) confronts Picard with the truth about Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill). She tells Picard that Agnes tried to kill herself last week when she was exposed as a spy and murderer (her ex-lover Bruce Maddox). Raffi also questions Picard’s trust in Soji, given his previous faith in Agnes. Such a tight-knit group!
In his quarters, a holographic recreation of his vineyard chateau in La Barre, Picard confers with Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson), who, after reviewing Picard’s new evidence, reluctantly agrees that he was right. She also begrudgingly agrees to send a Starfleet squadron (after dropping yet another of one of her patented f-bombs).
Raffi talks to Rios’ navigator hologram. She can’t find Rios, but she asks the navigation hologram about a mysterious set of eight circles. The hologram confirms that it’s a representation of Nu Scorpii, an octanary star system. The system appears to have a planet at its center. Raffi works it out…
On the Cube, Narissa, following Elnor’s trail, finds dead guards and determines they were killed by phaser fire, not swords. Obviously the sword-wielding, phaser-free Elnor has help. Narissa also finds a Fenris symbol (a very convenient piece of litter to lie around, no?) and realizes the identity of Elnor’s ally. Elsewhere on the Cube, Seven hacks into the ship’s guidance matrix. She regenerates the cube for flight. As the Cube powers up, Narissa orders executions of the “ex-Bs” (ex-Borg), fearing that Seven could use them against her Tal Shiar soldiers…
Picard and Soji finally have a quiet moment to talk around La Sirena’s mess table. Picard, desperate to relate to her, tells her in full honesty that he can’t imagine what she’s gone through, having her entire world upended. Reluctantly trusting the man who’s risked everything to find her, Soji begins to ask questions about her ‘father’, Data.
Picard, warmed by the memory of his synthetic friend, offers that Data was brave, and curious. When asked if he loved Data, Picard says yes, in his own way, he loved Data. Asked if Data felt the same, Picard jokes that limited capacity for emotion is something he and his late android shipmate had in common, but Picard believed in him. Standing up to leave, Soji says “He loved you.”
Raffi finds the Scottish-accented engineering hologram (a nice nod to TOS Star Trek’s “Scotty”). The engineering hologram calls her “lassie”, and she warns it never to ever call her that again. She noticed that Rios reacted to Soji, involuntarily. Soji is what triggered Rios’ PTSD reaction. Raffi also realizes that the octet solar system of Nu Scorpii couldn’t be natural; she thinks that the incredible stellar engineering capacity to make such a thing, and to place a planet right in the middle of it, must’ve’ been created as some kind of beacon…or a warning. Going to her quarters for a drink, she is locked out of her replicator’s liquor menu by her own codes in order to help herself sober up (like having someone hide the keys to the liquor cabinet). Summoning the Hospitality holographic program, it also denies denies the alcoholic Raffi a drink. Before Raffi has a chance to shut the hologram off, if suggests that Captain Rios needs a confidant.
Alone, sprawled out on the floor, Rios is going through some personal effects (including a box of cigars) as he plays an old LP on a phonograph. Rios is going through personal effects, including old photos and sketches. First was a photo of he and his late captain, Alonso Vandemeer (who looks disturbingly like US vice president Mike Pence).
Aboard the hijacked Borg Cube, Elnor realizes Seven could gain control of the ship and overpower Narissa by reasserting the Cube’s control over the ex-Bs. Seven is reluctant to enslave her fellow ex-Bs to assist. The ex-Bs were shattered by their experiences of being separated from the Borg collective…once reconnected to the oddly comforting familiarity of the Borg Collective, they might not wish to disconnect. Seven is also clearly concerned about her own ability to resist the Collective once she’s linked… after all, ‘resistance is futile.’
In Picard’s chateau quarters aboard La Sirena, Raffi summons all five of Rios’ maintenance holograms. Each of them are pattered after Rios when he acquired La Sirena, and he simply forgot to change the holographic default setting. Raffi tries to reach Rios thru the holograms, piecing together why the sight of Soji triggered Rios’ PTSD episode. Each of the holograms have fragments of memories that they can’t quite put together, yet they all refer to Soji as “Jana.” Raffi feels she is getting very close to an answer...
Raffi finds Rios sprawled out, looking at his old photos and drawings. She mistakenly refers to his old phonograph as a “Walkman” (a similar joke was used in Doctor Who, when a being from the future referred to a jukebox as an iPod). Rios decides to let her in on what’s haunting him. Years before, Rios’ old starship, the Ibn Majid, was on a first contact mission. They were met by an ambassador, and a young woman named “Jana” who looked exactly like Soji. The captain inexplicably killed the ambassador and Jana. Before he could explain himself, Captain Vandemeer put his phaser to his own head and killed himself as well…splattering his brains all over the deck. The assassination was covered up, and the name of the Ibn Majid was forgotten, and Rios left Starfleet six months later. Rios realizes that the dead ambassador and Jana were both Synths, and that his captain was ordered to kill them in a Black Op, just as Agnes was recruited by Admiral Oh to do the same.
Picard awakens Agnes from her self-induced coma (a result of her suicide attempt). They have neutralized the viridium tracking device she ingested. Picard coolly informs her that they headed for Deep Space 12, the nearest starbase, will she will be turned over to authorities for Maddox’s murder. Picard also has a burning question for the formerly trustworthy young scientist who betrayed him. Why? Agnes tells Picard of her meeting with Commodore Oh at the Daystrom Institute, and of the mind meld. She felt like the meld poisoned her brain. A tearful Agnes asks Picard if he believes in Hell. A curled frown appears on Picard’s face. She nods, saying she used to feel the same way. Then she saw the Commodore’s vision of the cyber Armageddon… a galactic catastrophe that began with the creation of artificial life in our own galaxy thousands of centuries ago. She now believes that if cybernetic intelligence (her life’s work) is allowed to flourish, Hell will come again.
Soji interrupts Picard’s inquiry of Agnes by offering the Romulan legend of “Seb Cheneb”; the Destroyer. “Me.” Her mind clearing, Soji helps Agnes to her feet. Feeling a bit like more like scientist that she is, Agnes begins asking Soji questions about herself. She asks about Soji’s feelings of hunger, and other such human traits. Agnes is astonished that Soji has three beauty marks on her face, as well as a misshapen toe. Soji isn’t a robot; she is a work of artistry. The scientist in Agnes laughs with delight at Soji’s complexity. A wondering Sonji asks, “Am I a person?” Agnes assures Soji that she can trust her. After getting to know her, Agnes refuses to kill the young synthetic woman.
Aboard the Cube, Narissa kills thousands of ex-Bs by ejecting them out into space en masse to prevent Seven from using them as her own soldiers. In desperation, Seven literally hooks herself into the former Borg Queen’s spinal harness interface. In effect, Seven becomes the new Borg Queen. Her eyes go dark green, and her newly layered voice reflects many voices of the Collective. Seven then quickly begins regaining control of the remaining drones just as Narissa blows more of them into space. After seeing 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact” I assumed Borg drones could live in a vacuum, so I’m assuming the dead drones didn’t have time to adapt…?
The recovering Agnes joins Picard, Raffi and Rios at their table. She promises to behave and she offers apologies for her earlier behavior. She and Soji have made a connection. As Soji walks over to Rios’ side of the table, he offers her a peppermint shake and fries. Soji is stunned, and wonders how Rios knew that was a favorite of hers? All at the table put together the pieces of the puzzle that each of them have acquired over the course of the (perfectly named) episode; Raffi begins by stating that 200 to 300,000 years ago, somebody dragged eight suns together, and through an act of gravitational poetry, manned to hang the planet Aia right in the middle. The device known as ‘the Admonition’ was placed there as a warning… a warning (for any who were intelligent enough to understand it) not to follow their own path to self-annihilation with the creation of artificial life.
Raffi also says that Commodore Oh is half-Vulcan (thus, her ability to mind-meld). Oh Infiltrated Starfleet years before, as a Zhad Vash operative, in order to stop the late Dr. Noonian Soong’s work from continuing. Eventually rising to head of Starfleet Security, Oh was behind the Synth attacks on Mars; she must’ve reprogrammed the otherwise harmless Synths to turn on their human masters and attack the planet. Raffi was right all along… the Romulans were behind the Synth attack, which ensured the cybernetics ban.
Rios offers up his piece of the puzzle. Back aboard the Ian Majid, he and Capt. Vandemeer met two emissaries; one called himself “Beautiful Flower.” The other was a young woman named Jana. They came from the planet that Dr.Maddox fled to after the cybernetics ban. Now, thanks to Soji, they’ve found the planet… a stormy planet with two red moons.
Soji angrily knocks over her shake and fries, feeling that she’s once again being used. She exits the table and walks hurriedly over to the navigation console. Erecting a forcefield around her station to prevent anyone from stopping her, Soji sets a course for a nearby Borg transwarp conduit.
Picard tries to enter the three dimensional-holographic interface, but he sheepishly admits that he doesn’t know how to use it (oops…insert grandpa computer jokes here). With the course to the conduit set, Soji calms down, and releases her forcefield. She then formally asks Captain Rios, “Please take me home…for Jana’s sake.”
A few of Seven’s reactivated ex-B drones overthrow Narissa bodyguards. They begin to act like zombies, mindlessly attacking the Tal Shiar operative until we see the faint shimmer of a transporter beneath a pile of Borg attackers. Romulan vessels around the Borg Cube depart, with Narissa most likely beamed aboard one of them. There is a nice moment as we hear the original Star Trek Romulan theme music, as their vessels flee the cube like a swarm of bees. “The Cube is ours,” Queen/Seven announces. Just as her individual self appears to be lost in the Collective, Elnor nervously asks if Seven will return. Queen/Seven announces that “Annika (Seven’s former human name) still has work to do.” She then disengages from the interface…her individuality intact.
As they traverse many light-years in minutes via the transwarp conduit, Picard tells Rios a story of when he was on night watch as an ensign aboard the Reliant, and how he’d often gaze at the stars. Picard had forgotten just how much he loved space. The veteran Starfleet captain also says that knew Rios’ former Captain Vandemeer, and that he was an honorable man…hardly the sort to partake in a murder/suicide Black Op. Rios says that he knew of Picard through a mutual acquaintance named Captain Marta Batanides (see: TNG’s “Tapestry”). Rios and Picard bond. Picard believes that Starfleet and the Federation gave way to fear, and that we have the tools to fight the future, such as curiousity and optimism. La Sirena exits the transwarp conduit around a planet; their destination. Soji looks down at the old broken compass given to her by Riker’s daughter on the planet Nepenthe…it now works!
We see Narek’s Romulan fightership clandestinely following La Sirena, Boba Fett-style…
The Pieces Fit.
With this episode, the puzzle finally coheres into a shape. The metaphor of ‘broken pieces’ however, doesn’t refer to the dangling plot threads, but rather the broken characters of La Sirena finally becoming somewhat whole again. “Broken Pieces” is about these characters reconciling with their pasts… pasts that are so painful that booze, suicide attempts, sex, or anything else are but feel-good bandages instead of a real solution. “Star Trek: Picard” has been a grand puzzle up till now, but this episode marks the first time the puzzle has began to form something resembling an image.
Seven, by allying herself to the cause of Elnor, is forced to reconcile with her violation by the Borg as a child. She does this by temporarily assuming the highest strata of Borg life for herself; she becomes a temporary Borg queen. While it was done for strategy and not therapy, I suspect it gave her a bit of closure, despite the pain and violation. She could choose to become a Borg once again…and she also found, to her own astonishment perhaps, that she could walk away from it as well.
The episode also offers some closure for both Raffi and Rios. As Raffi pieces together the conspiracy behind the Synth attack on Mars, it confirms that she was right. That knowledge alone gives her some absolution. I wonder if she’ll quit the booze & the vaping now that she is almost whole again? Sincerely hoping that the finale sees her reconciling with her son’s family, too. It’s said that helping others often help yourself as well, and this is clearly the case with Raffi as she uses the five ship’s holograms to get to the bottom of Rios’ reaction to “Jana” (we learn that each hologram resembles Rios, because he chose himself as a default template, and simply forgot to change it). Once Raffi gets to the core of Rios’ PTSD, she is able to heal him as well.
Rios’ final piece of his own personal puzzle just happened to be the very piece that Picard and Raffi (and Soji) needed. Coincidence much? Oh yeah, you bet. In fact, that was probably the weakest link in this otherwise terrific episode; that Rios just happened to be the one private service captain to take Picard on his mission, and his trauma with his own dead captain just happened to solve Soji’s puzzle as well. Yeah…it’s a BIG honking coincidence to swallow, but you can either dwell on it, or you accept it in service of the story. For expediency, I chose the latter.
Agnes, who was suicidal in the previous episode over her guilt for both terminating her ex-lover Maddox as well as betraying La Sirena’s crew, awakens and faces her own music. Her mind-meld with Commodore Oh is revealed to Picard, along with its vision of a devastating, galaxy-wide cyber-holocaust. In the prologue, we see near-subliminal images of Data, “Star Trek: Discovery”’s AI human hybrid “Airiam”, and the destruction of multiple planets that was narrowly averted in Discovery’s second season. Agnes killed Bruce to prevent that “hell” from happening, but the guilt was tearing her apart. Her role as a double-agent for the Zhat-Vash couldn’t have been given to a less qualified person. Yes, poor Agnes is brilliant (Alison Pill is amazing), but her relative inexperience with life in the greater galaxy doesn’t let her process the awesome, horrible task she’s given. She vows to turn herself into the authorities, but I’m not sure if that’s going to happen anytime soon…
Speaking of pieces, there’s also the question of Soji, who is now beginning to accept that she is the late Data’s daughter, and even begins to actively question Picard about her late ‘father’, wanting to know all about the ‘brave, curious’ sentient android from which she sprang. We also learn that Soji’s ‘home planet’ of “Capalius” (?) may have many others just like herself, and her dead ‘sisters’ Dhaj and the late “Jana.” The assorted threads of her own story are beginning to cohere as well. Soji’s seizure of the helm/navigation console, with a forcefield erected to prevent interference, was a play right out of her late daddy’s playbook (see: Data’s commandeering of the Enterprise-D in “Brothers”, when he was involuntarily acting on a homing signal from his creator, Dr. Noonian Soong).
Even Picard gets a bit of ‘closure’ as well, during his private conference call to Admiral Potty-mouth–er, Clancy (Ann Magnuson) who drops yet another f-bomb on Picard. Picard gets her to reluctantly admit that he may have been right, as he presents her with irrefutable proof of his “Quixotesque” theory (which panned out). Admiral F-Bomb commits to sending forces in to assist (hey, better late than never, right?). While I’m not against harsh language (I use quite a bit of it myself in the real world), I’m not overly fond of using it just because you’re no longer tied to television rating codes. It’s so arbitrary-sounding every time Clancy drops her favorite word that I literally wince. Here’s hoping Clancy gives Picard a bright, shiny (f-bomb free) apology when this whole thing is over.
Summing It Up.
This was a solid episode that finally answered so many of the looming questions hanging over this season. Yes, “Broken Pieces” was a massive info dump…arguably too much at times. But it was also done with a certain panache, courtesy of both the actors (the two dining table scenes were my favorites) and director Maja Vrvilo, who worked to make it go down a bit more elegantly than it could have. Sometimes writers just have to do the exposition thing, like it or not. The wealth of character developing scenes, as well as the sense of closure and of coherence make “Broken Pieces” very satisfying, even if it’s not quite the feel-good fest that was last week’s “Nepenthe.” “Broken Pieces” is a different story with different goals, and it accomplishes them with near-Borg efficiency.
The puzzle begins to take shape.
Wil Wheaton’s Ready Room, Episode 8.
This week, Wil Wheaton interviews our two favorite ex-Bs, Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco. Enjoy!
Two more episodes to go. Until next week…
Images: CBS All-Access/Trekcore.com