Here's your chance to beam out to avoid spoilers for episode 8 of "Star Trek: Picard."
One of many things that let the second season of "Star Trek: Discovery" down was a convoluted crescendo leading to a weak and lazily written finale; where special effects were used to hastily plaster over plot holes and poor story writing. And so far, that had been no indication that the same mistakes had been made on "Star Trek: Picard" despite some episodes being noticeably weaker than others.
But this week's installment, entitled "Broken Pieces" is full to say the least. Overflowing would be a better description and not really in a good way. It feels like two episodes have been crammed into one – even more so than episode 5. It also feels like a writing requirement was that every plot element had to connect somehow and as a result, you get an equal amount of good ideas and also ones that aren't so good.
As is customary, we begin with a flashback to 14 years ago. Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) is providing the voiceover. (Turns out she's half-Romulan, half-Vulcan; the writer's no doubt came up with that to keep us guessing about her background for six episodes.)
"Our foremothers came to this system," she says as we see a cluster of eight stars. "Looking for an answer to the riddle of the eight formed stars. What they found was a storehouse of preserved memories that showed them the grim fate of the civilization that perished here long ago."
We fly through the atmosphere and zoom into a planet identified as Aia, The Grief World. It quickly becomes recognizable as the location from Dr. Agnes Jurati's (Alison Pill) and Oh's mind meld that we saw last week.
"We still do not know the name of the mighty race who left behind this object, this admonition, warning us of the whore and the annihilation that came from the skies."
A group of 10 women in black, hooded outfits — loosely resembling the Bene Gesserit from "Dune" — stand in a desert, around what a appears to be a glowing, circular handrail about waist high off the ground. Three of these women we know already, Oh we've mentioned, but there's also Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky) and Narissa Rizzo (Peyton List).
"When our foremothers first endured the admonition, we, the Zhat Vash, were born. For hundreds of years since, we have worked in shadow, to prevent a second coming of the Destroyers," Oh instructs the others as she walks around the gathered group of 10.
"It is this dreaded work that you must now carry on. What you about to experience will drive some of you mad, but those of you who endure, will be stronger. Witness the devastation that must be prevented. Endure the admonition if you can."
They all step simultaneously step forward and remove their hoods. They look at each other nervously then grip the handrail of energy. Instantly they start screaming, their heads are filled with flashes of images, just like Jurati's mind meld with Oh last week. Some of the images are already familiar to us, like exploding planets and entire cities seemingly vaporized, but others are new. While some of these are unrecognizable, there is a distinct image of a humanoid fetus, an android that looks a lot like Airiam from "Discovery" that morphs into the unmistakable face of Data (or another Soong-type android), maybe a trans-warp conduit opening and what appears to be a dead fox-like creature, lying on leaves and grass.
Wincing and grimacing in pain and agony, all 10 of the motherhood are thrown backwards from the energy handrail and without hesitation one reaches for her sidearm and put the disrupter to her temple, pulling the trigger. One smashes her own head with a nearby rock while another just tears the skin off her face.
All except Narissa, though still sobbing, she clearly hasn't been driven insane.
"We have to stop them," she says to Oh, who reassures her that they will. "How?" Narissa asks.
"On the world the humans call Mars," replies Oh.
Narissa then returns and cradles Ramdha, who has managed not to kill herself, and calls her "auntie." In fact, together with Oh, they are the only three survivors of the ordeal.
So, there's quite a lot to unpack from just this first scene, but the precredit sequence is not over yet. We flash forward to the present day and see Narissa sitting by the bedside of Auntie Ramdha on the Borg cube. We learn that she took in Narissa and Narek (Harry Treadaway) after their parents died and to all intents and purposes Ramdha "broke the Borg cube" with the sheer force of her despair. "The collective picked the wrong Tal Shiar ship to assimilate that day," Narissa purrs.
"Narek's located the synth's nest," she whispers. "I've dispatched ships. And I'll be joining them as soon as I've shut down this house of horrors."
We cut to Elnor, who's still in hiding, hoping that his emergency distress call by way of the mysteriously-placed Fenris Ranger tag has been picked up. He hears a door open — he's been detected. Sword drawn, he steps out to face his attackers, but is quickly overpowered, despite a valiant fight. However, they then fall to blaster fire and then Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) appears and Elnor just hugs her. It's actually quite a beautiful moment as she consoles him. Roll opening credits – incidentally, the theme of "Picard" is the tune that Batai plays on the flute in the background in "The Next Generation" episode "The Inner Light" (S05, E25).
Back aboard La Sirena, Rios (Santiago Cabrera) gets to meet Soji (Isa Briones) for the very first time and he's clearly not happy about something. As a matter of fact, nor is Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and she takes Picard (Patrick Stewart) to see the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) who explains how the now-comatose Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) murdered Dr. Maddox by switching off his life support.
Plus they've discovered she had a viridium substance in her body that enabled Narek to track her. Even Picard can't explain these events.
He puts a sub-space call to Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy (Anne Magnuson) – who still needs to wash her mouth out – and she agrees to send ships to rendezvous with La Sirena at Deep Space 12.
Rios meanwhile has locked himself in his quarters and activated all the hologramatic crewmembers to take of flying the ship. Raffi starts to question the Emergency Navigation Hologram (ENH) or Enoch as he's calling himself and he identifies Soji and refers to her as Jana, which is a bit of a clumsy way to set up events coming later in the episode. Raffi moves on far too quickly for the sake of setting up more exposition regarding an eight-star solar system, or octonary.
The ENH explains that they are extremely rare, but that there are some mentions of such a system in ancient Romulan star atlases, but they're considered apocryphal and don't appear in any modern charts. Raffi speculates that the conclave of eight — a phrase she's come across before in her conspiracy theories about the Mars attacks — might not be a group that planned the attack, but instead refers to the place where they met, which is quite a leap in deductive reasoning.
Back on the Borg cube, the bodies of the Romulan guards shot by Seven have been discovered, while Seven herself and Elnor have made their way to an isolated control room where Seven begins to power up the cube, activating its automatic regeneration.
Ever since he got back on the La Sirena, doubts have entered Picard's mind about Soji, and quite rightly so. They rushed off the Borg cube to Nepenthe and only there did he begin to try and understand her, but she had to understand herself before she could offer him anything to work with. His whole reasoning so far has been based on feeling for a deceased colleague and the fact that a total stranger, Dahj, came to him for help. He's exceptionally lucky to have the counter-opinions of both Raffi and Rios ... although as we will soon discover, Rios is in fact linked to this whole debacle in a totally unnecessary way.
Picard persists with trying to counsel Soji and he's met with minimal success. We've yet to have full clarification on the whole, Soji-contains-Data's-DNA issue and we're praying that doesn't end up producing a cringe-worthy conclusion to the story.
Raffi continues to work her way around La Sirena, talking to each of the holograms in turn. She speaks to the Emergency Engineering Hologram (EEH) — or Ian — who naturally has a Scottish accent! Santiago Cabrera does superb accents for each of his holograms, the EMH being English, the ENH is Irish and Emmet — the Emergency Tactical Hologram — is South American. We've said before, it's utterly bonkers and we love it. Cabrera himself actually has a London accent.
The EEH confirms to Raffi that Rios does indeed know Soji, but he hasn't got a clue how. Then she asks what the statistical chances of an octonary system occurring naturally were, to which Ian replies, "Close to nil, I'd say." And in another impressive leap in deductive reasoning, Raffi concludes that it therefore must have been built.
"You'd have to capture eight suns, move them across lightyears of space and set them in motion," she says. "Why would you want to do that … Maybe you had something really important to say and you wanted to make sure people were paying attention, like, if you wanted to leave them a warning." Seriously, with deductive skills like this, Raffi makes Sherlock Holmes look like Chief Wiggum.
We cut to Rios, in his quarters, four sheets to the wind. It's nice to get a little insight to his character and hauls out his Federation footlocker and starts going through some personal items. He comes across an old, tattered cigar box that contains his Starfleet insignia and coms badge, some pips, a security wheel from a monster maroon Starfleet uniform circa 2280 and a photo of him with his former captain. Plus a hand-drawn sketch of a bearded man in a Starfleet uniform with a girl that looks just like Soji.
Back on the Brog cube, Seven and Elnor come up with a plan to wake the thousands of Borg still in stasis, create a micro collective and use them against the Romulan troops.
On La Sirena meanwhile, Raffi has gathered all the holograms in the Picard château holosuite that seems to be permanently running. They all seem to remember this Jana person and that something happened while Rios was executive officer of the heavy cruiser USS ibn Majid under the command of Cpt. Alonzo Vandermeer and Rios may or may not have had some sort of break down.
Down below in sickbay, Jurati comes out of her coma and the first thing she sees is the face of a seriously pissed off Picard. He tells her that they are en route to Deep Space 12 and upon arrival she will turn surrender to the authorities and answer for the murder of Bruce Maddox. She tries to explain about the mind meld, but apparently Oh put in a psychic block to prevent Jurati from talking about it. Hmmm. She describes it as hell and says the experience was so traumatic, she says, that she now contemplates suicide every day.
Jurati explains that it happened thousands of centuries ago. She tells that they are at a threshold and unless they act quickly and destroy even the possibility of synthetic life, hell will come again. At which point Soji appears and offers a little more information. The threshold Jurati spoke of is the coming of Seb-Cheneb, the Destroyer. "Me," she says.
Staying on La Sirena, Raffi sits with Rios in his quarters. He's still sitting on the floor, barefoot, cigar in hand, listening to old, slow tunes on vinyl – the man has style. Raffi reaches for the photo of Rios and Vandermeer and gently raises the subject of his former captain.
"I used to pretend he was father," Rios murmurs. "Called him 'pops' in my head, a couple of times it almost slipped out. Kinda surprised when he turned out to be a cold-blooded murderer…" That catches Raffi by surprise.
"We were way the hell out in Vayt sector, we picked up a diplomatic mission out of nowhere, tiny ship, unknown design, two passengers," Rios explains. "We scanned them and they checked out. We sent the info to Starfleet and notified them of a first contact. And we beamed them onboard.
The ambassador [who called himself] Beautiful Flower, and his young protégé [Jana]. We shake hands, we sit down, have a bite to eat. A few hours later, Alonzo Vandermeer kills them both in cold blood, takes them out with two quick pops from a phaser. It was a black flag directive, straight from Starfleet security. He told me they said, if he disobeyed, then the ibn Majid would be destroyed, with all hands."
Struggling to say the words, Rios adds, "That's when he put the phaser in his mouth and pulled the trigger. We beamed the bodies into space and deleted it from the transporter log ... Six months later I was out of Starfleet. They called it post traumatic dysphoria."
He tells Raffi that when Soji beamed aboard, it was the same girl.
Jurati meanwhile has put aside her fear and hatred clearly and now has the first chance to speak to Soji, fulfilling her lifelong dream of being able to speak to an advanced artificial lifeform, a "flesh and blood android" as she calls it in episode 1. She's fascinated with every conceivable detail, even down to the three beauty marks Soji has on her right cheek. "You are a wonder," Jurati gushes. "A technological masterpiece and a work of art."
On the Borg cube, Narissa is systematically killing every XB and clearly finding the whole experience therapeutic. For someone apparently so committed to saving life in the long term, she has a funny way of showing it. In the isolated control room, Seven and Elnor watch in horror as more and more Borg lifesigns disappear from their scanners. She connects herself to the cube, to form the micro collective as every drone in stasis wakes across the whole cube, at which point Narissa jettisons them all into space. Thousand of drones are blown into the cold blackness of space as Seven screams and, probably for the very first time in "Star Trek" history, you feel sympathy for the Borg.
On La Sirena, everyone has come together at the mess table. Jurati has made her peace and apologizes and similarly Rios has benefited from sharing his story with his friend, Raffi, who begins to explain her deductions. She tells of the eight suns and how the admonition is a warning hundreds of thousands of years old that says, "Don't do what we did. We created synthetic lifeforms and they evolved." (Did they have a plan though?)
Rios compares it to the breakthrough of warp drive: you cross that line and someone shows up — in that instance, it was the Vulcans. So who the blazes is going to show if they continue to this threshold of synthetic life?
Raffi provides a handy recap of everything that's happened so far; Commodore Oh being of the Zhat Vash and spending years burrowing her way into a key position at Starfleet and engineering the Mars attacks to prompt the ban. The two emissaries that the ibn Majid encountered where from the world that Bruce Maddox fled to. And the Zhat Vash have been looking for that world ever since.
Soji freaks out because she has given them the location of that world, so she runs to the bridge, activates a force shield, deactivates Emmet, powers up La Sirena and plots a course to that world via a Borg transwarp conduit. Rios takes back control of his bridge and everyone agrees to play nice. They set coordinates and go to warp speed. Meanwhile Narissa is informed they have the coordinates of the synth homeworld, so off they go too, we assume followed by Seven, piloting the Borg cube. The race is on.
This episode feels very much like the build up to a season finale; the second season of "Discovery" suffered from the same (although it wasn't anywhere near as good). It's loaded with exposition and a lot of narrative is crammed in, making an uneven story flow. That said, there were also some great moments (the holos together) and very effective cinematography in places (the conversation with Ian by the engines) and beautiful dialogue (the Rios and Picard conversation at the end).
It also leaves us with lost of questions. Why did the admonition vision show a Soong-type android considering the warning is hundreds of thousands of years old? Does the vision show the past or the future? Has the warning been misunderstood in some way? Who, or what, is going to arrive if the synthetic life threshold is crossed and who determines if that threshold is crossed?
And why did Rios have to be connected to the synthetic story? Out of all the starships, all the captains, in all of Starfleet, the one that Raffi has connections to and the one that Picard hires, also happened to be the same one that encountered the synthetic life forms in the Vayt sector? Rios could've had a backstory all of his own. It's the same as how even Deanna Troi and Will Riker had to have their lives affected by the synth ban somehow. Why? Was there an underlying message in there on the dependence of artificial life in the future?
It's everything-must-be-connected overkill, also known as Small World Syndrome. In essence, Alex Kurtzman has done a George Lucas. Again. An earlier example being, why did Michael Burnham have to be Spock's brother in "Discovery?" And while we don't actually hate this – hate is a strong word and is reserved for things like "Star Trek: Into Darkness" – our dislike sails as close to hate as it possibly can without actually being hate.
Heisenberg compensator ✓
- The Emergency Engineering Hologram is Scottish, because of course he is.
- In fact, the holograms totally steal the show this week. Bravo gentlemen.
- The word hubris has certainly benefited from this new "Star Trek" show.
- Um, are we about to have a "Star Trek/Battlestar Galactica" crossover..?!
- Vandermeer is more than likely named after sci-fi author Jeff VanderMeer.
Heisenberg meth maker ✗
- Beginning to feel like Elnor is here just to fight and Clancy is here just to swear.
- Why did Rios have to connected to the synth element of the story?
- Narissa's psychotic behavior is beginning to look more clichéd every episode.
- What's the significance of the dead "fox" in the vision..?
- The content of this episode could easily have filled two.
The 10-episode "Star Trek: Picard" series will air on the paid subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the U.S., and in Canada on Bell Media's Space and OTT service Crave. New episodes will air each week, with episode 8, entitled "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1" debuting on 19 March 2020.
CBS and Amazon Studios have announced that the new show will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries worldwide within 24 hours of its premiere on CBS All Access and Space in the US and Canada, respectively.
CBS All Access subscription is the home of "Star Trek: Picard," "Star Trek: Discovery" and a host of other original and archival CBS television shows. Subscriptions start at $5.99 a month. You can try CBS All Access for a week free here.
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