March 18, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Episode 8, "Broken Pieces"

This the episode where (seemingly) all the cards have been laid on the table, and the pieces set in motion for the season finale. We could have a few more surprises--additional cameos, for instance--but I believe everything is on board for the endgame.

Our flashback this week begins, as so many have, fourteen years ago, on the planet the Romulans call Aia, the Grief System. We see the dozen or so female leaders of the Zhat Vash there to read the Admonition, the two-hundred-thousand-year-old psychic warning about synthetic life from a dead race. It is being introduced by Commodore Oh, who is later revealed to be a decades-old Romulan plant and half Romulan/half Vulcan, which is why she was able to perform the mind meld on Agnes Jurati. Among the Zhat Vash gathered are our favorite incestuous sibling Narissa and her aunt Ramdha, the Romulan later assimilated by the Borg. The circle of women touches the Admonition, and the images they receive are so horrific--the same flashes of android eyes, nuclear explosions, and fracturing planets shown previously--that two of the women are driven to immediate suicide and one tries to claw her face off. Narissa is nowhere near as affected (I'd already come to the conclusion that she's a sociopath, although she does have a seemingly genuine affection for her aunt, which serves to humanize the character at least a bit), and back on the Borg cube in the present day, she is talking to her catatonic aunt and revealing the afterimages of the Admonition in Ramdha's mind are what shut down the Artifact. She's also figured out where Soji's homeworld is and is going to join the fleet she has summoned to raze it, once she has destroyed all the ex-Borgs on this cube.

There are two separate storylines in the episode, one showing Picard and his motley crew aboard La Sirena in the aftermath of his finding Soji, and the other aboard the Artifact with Elnor and Seven. Of the two, although I was happy to see Seven again, I felt she got the short end of the stick. She comes on board the cube in response to Elnor's triggering of the Fenris Rangers beacon in the previous episode, and saves him from a pile-on of Romulans. Which leads to him running to her and hugging her, a delightful little scene which serves to reinforce how young Elnor is--this is no doubt the first time he's ever been offplanet, much less in the midst of such a mess as Picard has gotten him into. (The first words out of Seven's mouth are, "Where's Hugh?" which only reinforces what a waste Hugh's death was. I would have loved to see him and Seven interacting.) Elnor explains what happened, as much as he has time for, and Seven finds the Queen's chamber and starts the process of the Artifact regenerating. Narissa, meanwhile, is striding down the hallways shooting XB's, and when Seven becomes aware of this she does what she has not wanted to do--link into the cube and become its Queen (albeit a self-contained Queen, as she does not restore the link to the larger Collective). Narissa, acting to stop the thousands of drones which would soon be awakened from stasis, has them all dumped out into space. Seven directs the remaining XB's--which I assume would still have enough Borg tech remaining inside them to be ordered by the Queen, even as Seven still has enough tech to link into the cube--to pile on Narissa, but unfortunately our Space Cersei is able to escape by beaming out to her fleet. Elnor, still all absolute candor-iffic innocence, asks Seven if she is going to assimilate him, and she replies, "Annika still has work to do," as she disconnects.

This seemed a bit shortchanged to me. This was a monumental step on Seven's part, and something she must have been terrified by, having worked so hard for so many years to regain even part of her humanity. Yet she does it. I would have liked at least one scene showing its immediate aftermath (and also to spend a bit more time with Elnor, a terrific character who has really been underused, at least so far). But there is a lot happening in this episode, and the showrunners probably felt they didn't have time for it. Too bad, because it seems very much like a missed opportunity.

On board La Sirena after Picard and Soji arrive, we finally find out more about Captain Rios. He was first officer on board the starship Ibn Majid, nine years ago when they made first contact with two residents of an unknown planet. Their names were Beautiful Flower and Jana, and after they had come aboard and were in the midst of negotiations, his Captain, Alonzo Vandermeer, was abruptly ordered to kill them both by Commodore Oh, in what Rios calls a "black flag" operation (sounds more like blackmail to me, as Oh threatens to destroy the Ibn Majid if Vandermeer does not comply). Oh knew they were synths from Soji's mysterious homeworld (the "how" of that is left unexplained), of course, and apparently so did Vandermeer, which is why he followed the order--Rios says he "thought he could live with it." Rios could not, and when he came down hard on his captain, Vandermeer committed suicide--and Rios covered the whole thing up. Six months later he was out of Starfleet. Naturally Jana was another twin of Soji (these synths are acting more and more like Cylons all the time), so when she beams aboard, Rios about has a heart attack. He agrees to set course for the nearest starbase and retreats to his quarters to get royally drunk.

Raffi catches Picard up on everything that happened while he was on the cube, including her suspicion that Agnes murdered Bruce Maddox. Agnes is still in a coma, but when she wakes up she confesses all. Oh put a psychic block in her mind along with the images of the Admonition during the meld, so she couldn't say anything (apparently accomplishing her task erased that), and she explains that the Admonition's warning amounts to drawing undue attention from....something....when synthetic life crosses a certain threshold, which must be avoided at all costs. (Alison Pill acts the hell out of all these scenes, by the way. When Agnes says, "I think of suicide every day," she makes you believe that it would come as a relief.) Of course, she is put to the test right after this, as she soon meets Soji. The excitement of talking to a synth who eats and drinks, who feels sadness and cries, falls away when in response to Agnes' exclamation, "You are a wonder," Soji replies: "Am I a person?" She says it again and again, not letting Agnes dodge the question. The question is answered, not only for Agnes but for the audience, when she and Soji appear a little later and Agnes announces she will turn herself in when they reach the starbase.

(Although they never quite get there, due to later developments. They also don't rendezvous with the fleet Admiral Clancy sends out to meet them. Athough Picard does get a wonderfully snotty I-told-you-so scene with Clancy, where he is clearly delighting in rubbing her nose in it.)

There's another good performance here from Michelle Hurd, who methodically puts together what happened to Rios by the clever means of talking to all the Rios holos aboard La Sirena. (If you can, turn on closed captioning for these scenes, as the Scottish [of course!] accent the actor affects for the engineering hologram, Ian, is so thick I couldn't understand him. Also, the Hospitality holo is rather pushy and more than a little creepy.) You can easily see why Picard depended so much on her, and I hope she can stay clean going forward.

Finally, there's a wonderful scene between Picard and Soji, where she asks him to tell her about Data. She asks what Data would say about Picard if their positions had been reversed and the Admiral had been the one to die before. Picard responds slowly, saying he was a superior officer and a friend who counseled Data when necessary and if not, "got out of his way," and Soji sums things up thusly: "He [Data] loved you."

After all this everyone gathers round the table and all the revelations are made. When Soji realizes that the Zhat Vash, using the information Narek gleaned from her, mean to destroy her home planet, she storms off. She starts to take over La Sirena, intending to direct it to the nearest Borg transwarp hub in an attempt to get there ahead of the Romulans. This is cut short by Rios' failsafe, a song he sings in Spanish to remove her protective force fields and stop her. But Soji still succeeds, when first Picard urges Rios to try things her way, and then when she simply asks him: "Captain Rios, please take me home. For Jana's sake."

In the face of this, Rios gives in, and La Sirena enters the transwarp hub--and the final shot is of Narek's little ship (and again the question is, "how?" Did Agnes not succeed in removing her tracker after all?) following them in.

This episode was written by Michael Chabon, which I think is why the Elnor/Seven storyline felt rushed, as he was clearly emphasizing all the character-revealing scenes on board La Sirena. I loved those scenes, but I wish Elnor and Seven could have been given a bit more. Although one presumes Seven will be able to detect Picard and Co's passage through the hub, and the reactivated cube will show up for the final battle. I hope so, anyway.

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