Star Trek: Picard keeps finding ways to turn its old stories into exciting new ones. Last week, Picard found out that Soji’s on the reclaimed Borg cube, so now he has to go there. I’m sure than won’t bring back any bad memories, and this should be a quick and easy mission. Yeah, they’re not even there and the prospect of going to a Borg cube is already freaking out Picard. Dr. Jurati breaks down his Locutus background for anyone who is somehow watching this but hasn’t seen “Best of Both Worlds” or Star Trek: First Contact. We’re only in the opening moments of the episode and it’s already borrowing Picard’s character arc wholesale from that movie, but why not? It led to one of Patrick Stewart’s best performances as Picard last time. Why not try to capture that again here?
For her part, Jurati’s not doing so well after killing Maddox. After lying about the circumstances of his death, Elnor sees that there’s something she’d like to forget. She’s not very happy about that in-butting, as he puts it. Later that night, she finds she can’t sleep. There’s a lot weighing on her mind, and she decides she needs to sleep with Captain Rios to push all that away for a few hours. Maybe it works, but afterwards, there’s a tension between them that makes Elnor uncomfortable. This episode is largely serious and action-focused, but these funny, human bits are peppered throughout. It’s a good move, it makes the dangerous situations that happen later feel much more harrowing.
This episode takes a while to get going, but that’s okay this time. Unlike the first few episodes of the series, this isn’t slow. It’s deliberate. It’s methodical. It lets its characters be in the moment before rocketing them off towards the next plot point. These moments are important to Star Trek too. We’ve seen two away missions since Picard left Earth, but the characters hadn’t had this much time to just bounce off each other until now. If the first three episodes had been more of this instead of Picard introducing himself people over and over, they’d have been much more enjoyable.
The ship approaches Romulan space, and the crew chooses now to get their stories straight. Jurati suggests posing as scientists, but Picard says that any Borg on the ship would recognize him instantly. Instead, they need Federation credentials. Like any Picard mission, this needs to be a diplomatic envoy. We get another funny scene where Raffi calls an old friend in the Federation and tries to sweet talk her into giving Picard a letter stating that he has business aboard the Artifact. The friend says no until Raffi reveals they’re already out in Space about to do it anyway. It’s an ask forgiveness, not permission type of deal. Raffi’s friend is forced to grant the letter, as not doing so would risk open war with the Romulans. Picard and his crew are dicks in this show, and I kind of love it.
Despite the slowed-down, character-focused opening, once Picard gets to the Borg cube this episode doesn’t let up. Suddenly, this turned into one of those impossible-to-blink, heart-pounding, shortness-of-breath kind of episodes. It starts when Picard has to go inside the cube alone. As soon as he gets there, he starts having a panic attack. What he said to Seven of Nine last week is true. He feels he never fully got his humanity back, and when some former Borg try to stop him from falling, he has flashbacks to his assimilation. It’s only when he sees a familiar face, Hugh from “I, Borg”, that he calms down. We knew going into this show that it’d be filled with TNG cameos, but who would have guessed they’d be done so well. These aren’t meaningless tributes, these are full plot-motivated appearances.
Hugh takes Picard through the Borg reclamation project, and we see why he was so eager to meet with Picard. The Borg are regaining their identities, but when they come out, they still aren’t free. They’re under Romulan rule. He wants Picard to convince the Federation to support the Borg reclamation project and push for their freedom. So Star Trek: Picard hasn’t forgotten to give us at least a glimpse of the larger politics surrounding the main crew’s missions. Picard appears receptive to the idea, but there are more pressing matters at hand. Picard has to find Soji soon, and Hugh understands. He too is suspicious of the Romulan spy that’s been asking questions about her.
While all this is going on, Soji is slowly discovering what she is. Narek uses a recurring nightmare she’s been having to plant a seed of doubt in her mind. He mentions to her that her daily calls to her mother last exactly 30 seconds each. She says that’s impossible, but when she tries to ask her mother about it, she finds herself suddenly going to sleep. When she wakes up, she scans every one of her childhood photos and possessions, and finds something strange. They’re all only three years old. She’s understandably freaked out, and unfortunately, the only person she has to turn to is Narek. And as much as Narek does love her (and Harry Treadaway’s performance, particularly in this episode, makes me believe he does), he has a mission to complete.
As Picard and Hugh finds Soji’s things torn and thrown about her room, Narek leads her to the Romulan meditation chamber. It’s generally reserved for Romulans only, but Narek pulls rank on the guard to let them both through. The show cuts between Picard searching for Soji and Narek walking her through her nightmare in the meditation room. It’s a brilliantly-directed sequence, that slowly builds dread as we realize what’s happening. In Soji’s dream, she walks into her father’s laboratory, and realizes she can never see his face. Narek directs her to look at her father’s research. When she does, she sees herself, but as a doll, in pieces on the table. Finally, he tells her to look up. She sees two red moons and an electrical storm. Just as Raffi realizes back on the ship that the Romulans must be keeping her alive for a reason (in a fun Final Frontier callback no less), Narek gets what he wants. The Romulans now know the location of her home planet. With that, Narek tells her she isn’t real, and locks her in the meditation room with a radiation emitter.
Soji’s defenses activate, and she starts ripping up the floor of the meditation room, and the Borg Cube itself. She rips through metal to avoid the radiation. As she escapes, she shows back up on the map of the Artifact, allowing Picard and Hugh to find her. She’s wary about trusting Picard, but right now it’s a choice between this strange old bald dude and a bunch of Romulan soldiers trying to kill her. Hugh leads them to the Borg Queen’s chamber, hidden deep within the cube even from the Romulans. Inside, there’s an emergency escape device. It’ll send them basically anywhere they want to go within a certain radius. Picard contacts his crew and sets a rendezvous point. So Picard found Soji and is about to be separated from his crew. You’d think that’s where the episode would end, but it has one last surprise for us.
As Romulan guards close in on the Queen’s chambers, we see that Elnor sneaked off the ship. He drops down on top of the Romulan guards, slicing them to pieces before they can react. Picard tries to get Elnor to come with them, but Elnor repeats his vow to protect Picard. He stays behind to cover their escape, and make sure that any Romulan who sees the Queen’s chamber doesn’t make it back out to tell the rest. The episode ends with soldiers approaching Elnor, and Elnor imploring them to choose to live. That’s a pretty badass way to end an episode. Star Trek doesn’t always go for those moments, which is why they stand out so much when they happen. I worried at the beginning of this episode that getting back to the overall season arc would cause this episode to drag. Those fears were quickly put to bed. Star Trek: Picard delivered its most exciting episode yet, and it didn’t sacrifice character moments to do it. If this is the kind of writing the show’s bringing to the table now, I can’t wait to see the rest.
Meanwhile, did you hear the rumors about this Captain Pike show?
Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on CBS All Access.
Previously on Star Trek: Picard: