This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard, episode 8, “Broken Pieces.”
I really hated Cris Rios at first. He seemed like just another antiquated hard-boiled anti-hero with a tragic past. But as the episodes went on and we were allowed a few quiet moments with Rios and his holograms, I began to develop an appreciation for him. And with “Broken Pieces,” I have fully converted and now love Rios as a believable character and as a piece of Star Trek: Picard.
When Soji is beamed aboard, Rios looks like he’s seen a ghost and immediately locks himself in his room. The rest of our characters are concerned, but Raffi takes the lead in trying to find out exactly why Rios is so distraught. He won’t talk to her, so how does she learn what happened? Well, the ship has five holograms that all look a whole lot like the captain, and they are ready to help.
As it turns out, the holograms are all based on parts of Rios and connected to him on a deep level. They are broken pieces of his psyche, and this subplot is very much about trying to put them all back together. Raffi tracks each down individually and has a short conversation. Each gives a little more to her, and we get to understand who these holograms are without having to experience them in a high-octane environment. This is so that when they all come together in a great scene at the end of the second act with all five holograms chatting with Raffi in the same room, we are not completely confused.
Here we get moments that function in multiple ways. When talking to Enoch, the navigation hologram, we understand a full picture of this character while learning about how a symbol drawn by the Romulans is an eight-star system, the primary mystery of the “A plot.” When talking to Ian, the engineering hologram with a thick, Scottish brogue and clear nod to Scottie, we learn how a star system like that would have to be built. We’ve already spent time with the emergency medical hologram, but he helps bring us into the loop with Agnes and how exactly she was brought in as a double agent for the Tal Shiar. Even Emmet, the hologram that reeked of a Speedy Gonzales parody, is toned down here and genuinely feels human. These are the holograms that I hated so much, and now I’m feeling a sense of connection.
We also get Rios’ “gritty” backstory, where, on the orders of StarFleet, his old captain killed two innocent visitors making first contact before killing himself. On its face, this would be pretty boring. It’s the tired “my father figure betrayed me” plot, but Star Trek: Picard’s fascination with how StarFleet failed all of these characters makes it resonate in a way that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Even though the person that gave the order was a Romulan spy, it doesn’t matter. She was StarFleet.
This thematic through line is especially apt given the fact that Star Trek: Picard is a continuation of The Next Generation. One of the ideas that makes TNG so great is that it makes the Federation fallible. They make mistakes, and sometimes the people on the ground level have to step in and do the right thing. As much as I wish that they did more at times, I am beginning to see that the theme is much wider than just one character. This crew is a group of scrappy people that StarFleet chewed up and spit out. That’s what brings them together.
The A plot is clearly setting up points to pay off in the finale, but there is still a lot here. We open “Broken Pieces” on an Admonition, where Romulans trying to join the Zhat Vash must look into a vision of the past, a time when the singularity struck and synthetics created ruin. It drives most of the viewers mad, almost all of them violently killing themselves. The few that remain are ready to fight against synthetics and try to stop it from happening again. They created the situation on Mars to stop it and will do anything to prevent synthetics from evolving.
This is where the Romulans’ connection to historical fascists became even more clear. In 1939, the Nazis staged a false flag attack on a radio tower in order to justify invading Poland. This was the Gleiwitz incident, and it reads almost identically to what the Zhat Vash did on Mars, only more extreme. They had concluded that synthetics would destroy everything, and the fact that synthetics were actually helping significantly would not get in the way of that. It’s a fascist mindset, one that can poison the minds of those taken under that spell. The Romulans have their ends, and they don’t care about the means, even if it means fabricating their justifications. Regardless, it is really great to see Star Trek: Picard lean into the coding that was already there with the Romulans.
Meanwhile, the third plot in “Broken Pieces” is pretty disappointing. Elnor must fight off a Tal Shiar army, and the action is as poorly crafted as we’ve come to expect from Star Trek: Picard. Elnor slices a few guys to death and punches a couple others, and it feels as uninteresting as all the other times we’ve seen this exact fight in other shows and film. It gets slightly more interesting when Seven of Nine returns, off a distress call from Hugh. She figures out that temporarily instating herself as a Borg Queen is the best way to protect Elnor and herself.
We find ourselves with another set of missed opportunities and ideas that Star Trek: Picard refuses to explore. There are a couple lines about how Seven of Nine wonders if she should re-assimilate the ex-Borg, and she wonders aloud whether she will be able to release them after it is done. This brings up questions core to what Star Trek represents. Are the needs of the many greater than the needs of the few? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? What does it mean to be human? Both Elnor and Seven of Nine pose these questions, but they are only posed, as opposed to explored meaningfully. It is easy for Seven of Nine to release her power, and the concerns of the re-assimilated Borg are not mentioned again. Imagine if she decided to stay in power as the Borg Queen, or if she couldn’t resist. In the current episode, there is no drama because there is no struggle. The show is cowardly in this regard.
Still, the plot on the Artifact is a very small piece of an overall incredible episode. It took a little while, but I am hopeful after “Broken Pieces” that the two-part finale will stick the landing.
But then again, hope is dangerous with this show.