This article is part of our ongoing Picard Explained series, featuring the insights of our resident Starfleet officer Brad Gullickson. In this entry, we recap the Star Trek: Picard episode “The Impossible Box.”
After spending nearly half its run time assembling its cast of misfit space pirates, the sixth episode of Star Trek: Picard jumps to a destination I would have thought reserved for the big season finale: the Artifact, a.k.a. The Romulan Reclamation Site, a.k.a. The Borg Cube, or at least, a Borg Cube. Having not stepped on one since he was kidnapped, assimilated, and steered as their figurehead Locutus, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) returns to face his fear, and more importantly, his hatred.
As he has inched his way toward the source of his nightmares, so too has Artifact resident Soji (Isa Briones) crawled to the realization that she is not the simple biological organism she sees in the mirror. Her questions as to why she goes narcoleptic whenever she calls home to quiz her mother on her father erupts when she starts carbon dating the stuffed animals of her childhood. Every trinket in her room is no older than 37 months. She is who we’ve known she was since the first episode: a synthetic lifeform evolved from the blueprints of Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) with the aid of Dr. Bruce Maddox (John Ales).
Those wishing Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) would return immediately following her bloody disintegration of Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan), or an apocalyptic confrontation between Picard and the murderous Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) will have to hold their horses. The good doctor managed to pass her assassination of Maddox off as mere cardiac arrest, and Seven of Nine is staying clear of the former Starfleet Admiral, who ignites pangs of guilt with every glance. We’re at the Borg Cube, so these other threads must be what’s withheld for the season finale, or the second season. Besides, we now need to get invested with the boots Jurati’s knocking with Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera). That ship warps at factor ten!
Entitled “The Impossible Box,” the sixth episode is concerned mostly with re-drudging the darkest corners of Picard’s trauma. We thought he settled those issues back on the big screen in Star Trek: First Contact, when he and the rest of U.S.S. Enterprise went to war with the Borg Queen in the 21st Century. During that film’s climax, with the help of a primitive engineer (Alfre Woodard), Picard faced the rage caked around his heart. He saw his anger take over and how his crew suffered for it. He was able to pull himself free of the toxic emotion, but don’t think a traumatic event like assimilation can be cured with one trip to the psychiatrist’s couch or the destruction of one pitiful Borg Queen. The anger remains, as does the pain it’s masking.
Some carefully laid plot keeps Picard’s crew on their ship, while he is allowed by both the Federation and the Romulans to venture onto the Artifact. Elnor (Evan Evagora) objects, Dr. Jurati celebrates, and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. We’re still getting used to a lot of these characters. We have our favorites; we’re not so sure about a few others. What matters is that we’re alone with our Captain as he places foot to Cube. Without the supporting cast to distract or encourage his chin up and proud, Picard is allowed to release his feeble humanity aboard the Borg vessel.
Picard is practically shaking once he beams over. From the shadows, Ex-Borgs (XBs) skulk, and Picard keeps his head down and his eyes closed. He stumbles and drifts to the edge of a mechanical chasm, and before he falls, a pair of mutilated arms pull him back from death. He’s terrified, shouting – screaming – until a familiar voice calls out. Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), the Borg named by Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), welcomes the man who massaged his individuality out of the Collective and embraces Picard with a grand hug.
Hugh is a life preserver. Picard holds on to him desperately. While they never spent much time together after his couple of guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hugh represents one of the many victories Picard had during his time on the Enterprise when he was out amongst the stars making a difference. Hugh is proof that singularity can trump group-think. He’s the perfect guide to shine a light on Picard’s nightmare.
Picard witnesses the tender care Hugh delivers to his fellow XBs, and a little bit of that anger and hatred starts to slip. His eyes no longer dart. They make contact with the XBs, and Picard sees them for the first time. The zombies in the shadows are not monsters, they’re victims, like himself.
Picard threw a lifetime of service away when Starfleet rejected his plan to rescue Romulans from the impending supernova. The higher-ups judged the lives of their enemies undeserving of relief, or better yet, undeserving of the risk to Federation lives. Picard spat disgust at such blatant racism. Life is life.
The only good Borg is a dead Borg. Picard would never allow another individual to go through what he went through. He confronted his anger in Star Trek: First Contact, but he did not eradicate it from his person. He still happily laid waste to the creatures who invaded his ship and the Queen that pulled their strings. Once captured, the flesh beneath the machine was deemed rotten and not worth his energy or morality.
“The Impossible Box” concludes with Hugh and Elnor holding back the Romulans as Picard and Soji escape through a fancy-schmancy Cube teleporter. They’re heading to the planet Nepenthe, never before mentioned in the canon of Star Trek. There they will get to the secret buried in Soji’s programming, the location of a possible Borg homeworld.
In battle with the Romulans, Picard is going to catch a nasty reflection. Their doomsayer prophecy predicting Soji and her synthetic kind as the ultimate evil to sentient existence matches Picard’s repulsion for the Borg. In the Romulans, Picard will see his fear, his hate, and his wickedness. As Captain Kirk did before him when he saw the “humanity” in the Klingons (see Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Picard will rise as an advocate for the Borg.
This is the way of Star Trek. The enemy is never a people. Klingons were the great bad. Meet Worf. The Romulans were the great bad. Meet Admiral Jarok. The Borg were the great bad. Meet Hugh. Meet Seven on Nine. Recognize the life behind the borders. Seek connectivity.