This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard, episode 6, “The Impossible Box.”
In the previous episode of Star Trek: Picard, we were given a respite from the utter slog that is the Soji plotline. However, with “The Impossible Box,” that anchor is strapped right back on the show. This episode is all about Soji and Narek — the worst parts of the show!
There are reasons why these characters are so uninteresting. Starting with Soji, without noting the fact that she is synthetic, what defines her? She’s in love with Narek. There are tiny hints towards curiosity and intelligence, but that is paper-thin. Despite being a synthetic so advanced she can supposedly pass as a human with ease, she comes off as a robot with half a character trait tacked on.
She isn’t even framed as wish fulfillment for the predominantly straight male audience, as I have come to expect with blank slate female characters like Soji. The Star Trek: Picard creative team earnestly wants to show off how compelling this character is, but it is baffling every time because she is nothing! There is no character. By the time Soji is in mortal danger for the third act of “The Impossible Box,” I couldn’t help but laugh. Why would I care if this character lives or dies?
Narek is somehow worse. Soji at least has one or two vague character traits, but Narek has nothing other than duplicity, which feels like a cop-out to save the writers from bothering to develop him in any way. He has loyalty to the Zhat Vash, I suppose? He dislikes synthetics, but we’re not sure if that’s a true hatred or more of an obligation of his post.
On top of the lack of character development, Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway have no on-screen chemistry whatsoever. It’s painful to watch these otherwise talented performers trudge through flirting and romance scenes. This is the energy of a brother and sister playing romantic partners in a high school theater show.
That’s bad enough, but then the Picard writers decide to use three shockingly on-the-nose visual metaphors to say that Soji is learning about the mysteries in her subconscious. The first is a Rubik’s Cube-looking object that Narek carries around. He flips it and waxes philosophical about how puzzles can help us think. This is the first time this cube has shown up, and they act like it has just been a part of him this whole time.
Then in order to help unravel these thoughts, Soji and Narek go into a Romulan meditation room, set up like a maze. As Soji walks through the curves, she begins to unlock more of her mind. Do you get it? I think it’s a symbol!
Then we come to the dream world, yet another strained metaphor, where a young Soji walks down the hall to find her father working on something. Now, you’re going to want to get ready for this because this is an intensely subtle bit of symbolism. The project her father is working on is — a doll. But wait, the doll is Soji! Get it, because she is like a lifeless doll!
It is so on the nose that it might as well start sniffing, and if that weren’t patronizing enough, they actually have the gall to explain it again in the dialogue! It is insulting how little the writers must think of their audience.
That terrible plot isn’t the entirety of “The Impossible Box” though, and luckily the secondary plot is pretty solid.
The last episode touched on Picard’s history with the Borg and the time he was assimilated. It was arguably the most intriguing idea Star Trek: Picard had been able to muster, and this episode continues that thread by confronting Jean-Luc Picard with the Artifact, the reclaimed Borg cube where the Soji/Narek plot has been playing out. Upon entry, Picard is immediately bombarded with flashbacks, reliving the pain that he felt, the inhumanity that still haunts him. It’s powerful imagery and helps catch new viewers up as to where Picard has been and why he fears the Borg.
Continuing with Picard’s deep reverence to life, we see the humanity of the Borg and the Romulans in stark focus. As he looks around, he doesn’t see enemies; he sees Romulans, humans, and ex-Borg working together to help each other heal. This moment, however brief, shows the exact Picard that tried to save Romulan civilians from mass extinction despite their being enemies. This is the Picard that sees the best in all life and embodies the very fabric of what StarFleet should be. It is beauty sandwiched in-between moments of chaos, and it shines like a beacon of hope, the kind of light that keeps me coming back to Star Trek: Picard despite the lackluster quality.
Then they had to ruin all of that goodwill by messing up Agnes and Raffi in baffling ways. Last episode, it was revealed that Agnes’ relationship with Bruce Maddox wasn’t just that of a mentor and a student. They were romantically involved, which just went to make her character less interesting. I let it slide, however, until Agnes immediately throws herself at Rios with dialogue that rivals Attack of the Clones in terms of awkwardness. It felt sleazy in a way that was clearly unintentional and reduced Agnes down to a sexual object.
Raffi is now a drunk that vapes in the cabin. That would have been fine if she had more character underneath the drunken haze, but it feels like they just dropped every interesting thing about her in order to create a stumbling alcoholic. It is disappointing because there is clearly so much to Raffi, from her disillusionment with StarFleet to her self-destructive tendencies and her loyalty to Picard even after all these years. It hurts me to no end that we are not even finished with the first season and all of these characters have reached full flanderization. The only consistent character is Picard.
Here’s hoping that next week’s episode doesn’t hurt like this.