Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Broken Pieces, as well as for the previous seven episodes of Star Trek: Picard. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and the trailers for Season 3.
Not for the first time this season, I came out of an episode of Star Trek: Picard almost shellshocked. “Wow” was all I could think – Broken Pieces was another stunning episode, one which advanced the story, explained a lot of the background to the series and the motivations of its villains – and finally blew a lot of my theories out of the water!
We’ve hit the point in Star Trek: Picard’s ten-episode first season where the unravelling of the mysteries which had been beautifully set up in past episodes needed to step up a gear. With only two episodes left after Broken Pieces, we couldn’t really head into a two-part finale with too much backstory left unexplained. Now was the moment for Star Trek: Picard to explain how its various elements would come together – and the revelations packed a powerful punch.
In a flashback dated to fourteen years ago, we see Commodore Oh, Rizzo, Ramdha, and some other Romulans on a planet at the centre of eight stars. Oh explains what the planet represents – it was a beacon, a warning left behind by an ancient civilisation to warn others against creating synthetic life. Until this point, I had been working on the assumption that Commodore Oh was a Vulcan, someone working in league with the Zhat Vash rather than a Romulan. But here, we finally saw that theory disintegrate – Oh is a Romulan, and she’s been playing a very long game when it comes to her mission.
The Romulans stand in a circle, at the centre of which is a glowing green ring. The energy had an almost Borg-like tint to it, which could, I suppose, be a hint at some connection, but regardless it was an outstanding visual prop. Dealing with completely alien technology can be difficult – it can be hard to make something that’s simultaneously simple yet unusual in appearance, but this ring was unlike technology we’ve seen in Star Trek before – it seemed to float in place, giving the appearance of being a solid object while in fact being pure energy. As a relic of a long-lost race, it makes sense that it would be something different, and it succeeded here in the way it came across.
As I noted last time, however, the lack of diversity in filming locations has been notable in Star Trek: Picard, and the planet of Aia was another example. Filming outdoors instead of on sound stages has been the preferred option for Star Trek (and for television shows in general, it must be said) for a long time now, but if long-distance travel and multiple on-location shoots are prohibitively expensive, I feel like using indoor spaces with the technology available to filmmakers today can be a viable option. In the case of Star Trek: Picard, the fact that all of the planets visited are clearly California is magnified by the fact that it’s a shorter season than, say, The Next Generation had during its run. That means that, over the course of a handful of episodes, we’ve visited several locations on Earth, the planet of Vashti, the planet of Nepenthe, and now this Aia – seeing all in fairly quick succession hammers home the point that they were all filmed within a few miles of each other, relatively speaking. And yes, we’ve been spoilt by bigger-budget shows like Game of Thrones, which was able to pay for filming locations across Europe, but I’m not really advocating that. Look at an episode like The Siege of AR-558 from the seventh season of Deep Space Nine. The main setting, the planetoid AR-558, was filmed on indoor sound stages, with the episode not being the worse for it – it’s generally regarded as one of Deep Space Nine’s best.
I would hazard a guess that this is not the first time Commodore Oh has led new Zhat Vash recruits through this particular ritual. It seems like it was the initiation into the secretive organisation. Laris, way back in Maps and Legends, described the Zhat Vash as keeping a secret so dark and powerful that it can “break a person’s mind”. And the initiation ritual shows this happening. With the exception of Rizzo, all of the Zhat Vash initiates, including Ramdha, cannot handle the information – or perhaps the manner in which it is conveyed – and lose their minds. Several of them immediately commit suicide, and Ramdha collapses. Rizzo is shaken, but otherwise unaffected.
I hinted at it there, but I would wager that the Zhat Vash initiates weren’t driven insane by the actual facts of the case, but rather by the manner in which it was conveyed. Similar to the mind-meld last week, it was a confusing jumble of thrown-together imagery, seeming to show, among other things, the extermination of whole planets, and which culminated in the face of a synthetic life form, which seemed to merge into Data’s face! While we only saw it for a second, this white synth seems to be the figure the Zhat Vash are so frightened of: Seb-Cheneb, or “the destroyer”.
What I liked about this look, brief though our glimpse of it was this week, was how it managed to be both similar and different to robots we see today. The shiny white look has been common in robotics, even in robotic toys, for a few years at least, and there was something eerily familiar about that which I felt emphasised what has been the theme of Star Trek: Picard’s first season: the potential danger in AI.
We also see the genius in making the Romulans the villains of this new series. If someone else had encountered this star system, with its eight planets and cryptic warnings of synthetic armageddon, they may have chosen to share it with others – to put the word out so that the civilisations of the galaxy could share the knowledge and decide what to do about it. This would be especially the case for civilisations allied or friendly with the Federation, or of course the Federation themselves. However, the Romulans are so secretive, so paranoid, and have been throughout their appearances in Star Trek, that their choice to keep the secret to themselves and work to stop synthetic development using underhand methods fits in perfectly with what we know of them.
In the present day, aboard the Artifact, we get a scene with Rizzo and Ramdha. Ramdha seems to have been an adopted family to Rizzo and Narek – the latter two now confirmed as “actual” brother and sister instead of in a metaphorical sense. This was potentially interesting, but given that Rizzo has left the Artifact now, and that she’s almost certainly going to be dead by the end of the season, the revelation that they were adopted family came too late to be of much interest – this is, after all, their first scene together aside from the flashback. In one of the few moments where I feel Star Trek: Picard could have benefited from a longer season, the relationship between Rizzo and Ramdha was sadly underdeveloped, and when considering the characterisation of the two of them – Ramdha having very little screen time, and Rizzo being fairly one-dimensional – finding out that they’re related didn’t really add anything. If they hadn’t been related – barring any developments in future episodes, at least – nothing in the storyline of either Broken Pieces or Star Trek: Picard as a whole would have been different. It would also have been potentially interesting to see Narek acknowledge his relationship to Ramdha, especially given Soji’s interaction with her being a key moment in his relationship with her.
We then learn that – at least in Rizzo’s opinion – Ramdha is responsible for the damage sustained to the Artifact. When she was assimilated, the information she’d received from the relic on Aia was absorbed by the cube and disseminated among its drones and computer systems. Something about the information, the way it was presented, or Ramdha’s intense reaction to it seems to have caused a kind of Borg allergic reaction, and the cube suffered the “submatrix collapse” that we heard about in prior episodes as a direct result. Again, this comes from Rizzo, who may not be a reliable source, but if she’s right it seems that Ramdha broke the Borg cube by her reaction to learning that secret.
Elnor comes under attack in Hugh’s office. In an edge-of-your-seat fight sequence he manages to hold his own for a time against an overwhelming number of Romulan guards, but eventually has to be rescued by the timely arrival of Seven of Nine – his distress call to the Fenris Rangers last week summoned her to the cube. We’ll come to what happens to the ex-Borg and other residents of the Artifact in a moment, but as a general point, I felt that, with Soji leaving the Artifact and Hugh dead, the Artifact storyline had kind of run its course. The main characters had escaped, and while there were consequences for Hugh (it’s been a week and I’m still sad about that!) it seems like there’s kind of no reason to hang around. Equally, Seven of Nine’s storyline, both in the context of Star Trek: Picard, and I’d argue in Star Trek as a whole, had drawn to a neat conclusion in Stardust City Rag. She got her revenge for Icheb’s murder, concluding her arc in the show, and she finally got to display her human side and to retain her humanity instead of losing it again with each new episode as we’d seen in Star Trek: Voyager. The stories this week on the Artifact, with the killing of most of the ex-Borg and those drones still in stasis, and with the return of Seven of Nine, almost feel like the beginning of a whole new show rather than wrapping up Star Trek: Picard’s loose ends. The story had moved on, away from the Artifact and in the direction of Soji’s new homeworld, and thus aside from the Ramdha/Rizzo storyline and saving Elnor – who we could argue should never have been left there by the writers in the first place – there’s no reason to linger here.
It’s hard to judge because the story hasn’t yet concluded and there may turn out to be great reasons for Seven of Nine’s return and keeping the Artifact in play, but I got the sense that this part of the story – especially in regards to Elnor – was playing out like Littlefinger’s story in the seventh season of Game of Thrones insofar as the writers had got him stuck in a place where they didn’t really know what to do with him or where to take him. Elnor has been Star Trek: Picard’s most underused character in my opinion. He’s been the butt of a few jokes and had a couple of decent choreographed fight sequences, but other than that he’s been practically ignored. Even his great moment of reconciliation with Picard, who tells Elnor in The Impossible Box that he doesn’t want to leave him behind again, lasted all of ten seconds and was immediately glossed over by other elements in the story. Perhaps it’s because Elnor was the character I was most interested in seeing before the show premiered, but I really feel that he’s been massively underutilised by the show thus far, and even his scenes with Seven of Nine this week felt like a footnote or a wholly different story rather than being connected to the main arc of the show.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. After a touching hug between Elnor and Seven of Nine, the credits roll. Usually I don’t have much to say about the opening titles (which, yes, I always seem to end up calling the “credits”) other than the theme is pleasant and has definitely grown on me over the course of the season. But the last two episodes, at least in the versions I saw on Amazon here in the UK, seem to have missed cast members out. I’m not sure if this was deliberate or not, but it’s usually the case that the main cast are credited in the opening titles and it’s surprising to see someone excluded. It may be something unique to a version here, it may be that names were cut to allow others to fill the space, or there may be another reason. Either way I thought it was noteworthy. NB. When I went back to re-watch the episode while writing this review all the main cast appeared in the title sequence. It’s possible I missed it the first time around, or it may have been corrected/updated later – I initially watched the episode almost as soon as it was made available.
Soji and Picard have beamed aboard La Sirena (from the Troi-Riker cabin on Nepenthe that we saw last week) but Rios is immediately troubled by Soji – he seems to recognise her and becomes agitated, staring down Soji and ignoring Picard at first. Picard, taking Riker’s advice from last week, plans to contact Starfleet. Rios, clearly very unnerved by something about Soji, promises to set course for Deep Space 12 (a very subtle nod to the naming of the main station in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) but says after that Picard will be on his own.
In this scene, perhaps buoyed by his time with Riker and Troi and his success in rescuing Soji, we see Picard much more assertive and in command than we have thus far in the series. It’s like he’s regaining more of his lost confidence and sense of self with every episode, and in the context of what I said last time about the show’s examination of depression and mental health, that is a positive message. Far from being the bleak look at Picard’s character that some people seem to have assumed, Star Trek: Picard is really a story of hope, and how someone who’s become depressed can – at least in some circumstances – overcome that and find motivation again. The same basic premise is true of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as he overcomes his depression and self-isolation to find a cause worth believing in. This could – and perhaps should, once Star Trek: Picard has concluded – be a whole essay in itself, because there are many similarities and I feel both stories share the same kind of positive message.
Raffi isn’t happy with Soji’s arrival either, given her paranoid nature and what happened with Dr Jurati last week. She tries to stop Soji coming aboard, lecturing Picard on not checking up on Dr Jurati. When Picard tries to exit the conversation and lead Soji away, Raffi points a phaser at them. The news that Dr Jurati had a tracking device doesn’t sway Picard, but the accusation that she killed Maddox does, and he and Raffi meet with La Sirena’s EMH in sickbay. He explains the situation, even that he was deactivated and that Maddox’s injuries would not have killed him if he’d continued to be properly treated, but this doesn’t change Picard’s mind at first.
What was great about this sequence was that it was Raffi – known conspiracy theorist and drug addict – who’s explaining what happened with Dr Jurati. Raffi’s character had been set up this way over basically the entire season, making Picard’s disbelief realistic. I’ve written before that, from Picard’s point of view, Dr Jurati was the only person on his new crew who was there because she wanted to be; she was the only one besides himself interested in finding and helping Soji. Rios was along for pay, and moments ago announced his intention to ditch Picard at Deep Space 12. Raffi made it very clear to Picard that she was on board purely to get to Freecloud and not for the sake of his mission, so Dr Jurati was Picard’s closest ally among his crew. The truth that she is in fact a “Tal Shiar agent” as Raffi puts it is too much to take in in this moment, and every aspect of that had been beautifully established. Taking away Picard’s only genuine ally is also an interesting story beat, and leaves Picard two possible directions from the point of view of the writers. He can suffer as a result of learning Dr Jurati had betrayed him and fall back into his depression, or he can use what happened to further cement his drive and motivation for Soji’s sake – he is now the only person he can rely on to help her get home and potentially avert genocide.
With growing confirmation that a machine civilisation is present on Soji’s homeworld and not just a handful of individual synths, genocide is precisely what we’re talking about. This is the ultimate purpose of the Zhat Vash conspiracy, and as someone who has studied history, the parallels are disturbing. The obvious historical analogy that springs to mind when examining the Romulans and Zhat Vash is Nazi Germany. We have a small cult (the Zhat Vash) who have a crusade against a species or race of sentient beings, and this small group is controlling the Romulan state and dragging them along. It also forces a reexamination of the Romulans’ treatment of the xBs – they were detaining them in a giant prison camp and, under the guise of “helping” them, performing experiments and harvesting their valuable components. Finally, as we’ll see in a moment, they committed mass murder of the xBs. Rizzo in particular had always had a genocidal streak to her character, but it was hard to tell if that was just a result of being a fairly one-dimensional villain. When considering her plans for the synthetics’ homeworld, however, if we continue our Nazi Germany analogy, this is Commodore Oh and Rizzo’s “final solution”. There are other historical genocides which one could look at for comparison – sadly there have been many throughout history – but let’s not get bogged down in historical analogy right now, as I believe the point has come across.
Admiral Clancy – the no-nonsense commander-in-chief of Starfleet – is back in the next scene, and I really love her character. Even when she was shutting Picard down in Maps and Legends when he was trying to get Starfleet on his side, she has an air of authority – exemplified by Ann Magnuson’s performance – that simply is what we’d expect from someone in such a senior position. While she had been dismissive of Picard’s earlier request, she’s clearly listened to everything he had to say and is now prepared to help. Despite what Picard and Rios had felt up until this point, Starfleet did not abandon its own values – it had been corrupted from within by a single individual. Commodore Oh, now revealed as a spy, had been the driving force behind Starfleet’s own anti-synthetic agenda, but Admiral Clancy is not prepared to see a whole race of sentient life forms wiped out, regardless of the galactic treaty that bans synthetic life. However, in this moment, Picard doesn’t know the truth about Commodore Oh. Could he and Clancy have inadvertently tipped her off? Sending a fleet to Deep Space 12 – the closest station to Soji’s homeworld – will surely raise eyebrows in Starfleet, and Commodore Oh is sufficiently well-connected that she would undoubtedly come to know about it. And as I have mentioned previously, her ability to recruit people into the conspiracy with a simple mind-meld means that there may be hundreds or even thousands of compromised Starfleet officers. By the way, how cool is it that Romulans – who are biologically the same race as Vulcans – can mind-meld now? I loved that, even though it completely threw me off last week!
Admiral Clancy commits to sending a group of ships to rendezvous with Picard at Deep Space 12, from where they will travel to Soji’s homeworld to warn and defend the synths from the impending Romulan attack. After everything we’ve seen over the course of the series about Starfleet seemingly succumbing to conspiracy, corruption, and losing its own values, it was amazing in this moment to see “old school” Starfleet back. Admiral Clancy and others may have forgotten for a time what Starfleet and the Federation represented – seeking out strange new worlds and new civilisations – but in this moment she found her way again. And as the head of Starfleet, from a thematic if not a literal point of view at least, the whole organisation has rediscovered its purpose too. I was reminded of Picard’s speech about Data in The Measure of a Man, which referenced Starfleet’s mandate to seek out new life: “there it sits”, he exclaimed, gesturing to Data. How Starfleet treated synthetic life in that episode – whether to deny Data his rights and create a race of synthetic slaves – is something Star Trek: Picard has examined in much more detail. In the view of Picard and Admiral Clancy, the synths on Soji’s homeworld have rights – the right to exist chief among them.
On the bridge of La Sirena, Raffi is talking to one of Rios’ holograms – but doesn’t realise it at first. He confirms that Rios did recognise Soji – but he thinks that her name is Jana. This would seem to confirm a theory going back several weeks that there are other Soji-type androids in existence: Rios has encountered one already. Taking advantage of the navigational hologram, Raffi asks him about the symbols she noticed the Borg drawing on the Artifact (we saw that last week when she was trying to hack the Artifact to break La Sirena free of its tractor beam). They speculate that it may be a star system containing eight stars – but none are known to exist and it would be incredibly unlikely to be a natural phenomenon. The “octonary”, as it is termed, is believed to have only been documented on some very old Romulan star charts – of course this is the system we saw in the flashback sequence at the beginning of the episode, where the planet Aia is located.
Raffi begins to put the pieces together. The Conclave of Eight – who she believed were responsible for the attack on Mars – refers to the meeting place. And as we know from the earlier scene with Ramdha (or rather, we can reasonably infer) the ex-Borg are drawing that symbol because it was the power of Ramdha’s insanity and singular focus on this one location that caused the Borg cube to become disabled. At the very least, one of the last things the xBs would have seen while assimilated was Ramdha’s experience of the place, and that’s why some of them have been obsessively drawing it. While it wasn’t clear in earlier episodes, Soji was told that all of the “disordered” or insane xBs were Romulan, so it may be that there’s something different about how Romulan minds process the information contained on Aia that leads to insanity. Given that other xBs that we saw seemed to be in a better state, perhaps that means that the vision on Aia is something Picard and his crew will be able to properly experience and process – but more on that in my next theory post!
Rizzo doesn’t take long to piece together that Elnor now has Seven of Nine as an ally. I liked seeing her work it out in that short scene; the fact that she’s switched-on and aware of everything going on reminds us, despite what we just witnessed in the flashbacks and with Ramdha, that Rizzo experienced the vision very differently. Her insanity, such as it is, manifets not in a loss of control, as we saw with some of the others as they went mad and killed themselves, but in a desire for greater control. She barks orders to her subordinates, has a disturbing, almost incestuous relationship with her biological brother Narek, and is single-minded in her devotion to the cause so much that she has become, as we already noted, genocidal. This is Rizzo at her most interesting. Last week, the notion that she was terrified of synthetic life added a second dimension to what had been a one-dimensional villain, and this week we see not only more of the reason for her fear, but we get to see that the vision she experienced “broke her mind” to quote Laris. It just didn’t break in the same way as other Zhat Vash initiates’ did. Any story needs a compelling villain, and while we have had Commodore Oh as a behind-the-scenes, low key villain, and Narek as an insidious will-he-won’t-he spy, the transformation of Rizzo from an “evil for the sake of being evil” 24th Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz to someone with a backstory, an understandable fear-driven motive, and the tiniest element of pity for what she went through, is fantastic for the overall story of the series. It elevates what could have been a fairly bland character and fleshes her out a lot more.
The Elnor and Seven of Nine scenes were, as I have already mentioned, not my favourite part of the episode, so I’ll probably gloss over those, but just to briefly recap they went to the queencell (where Hugh used the spatial trajector to help Picard and Soji escape) and seem to have essentially reactivated many of the Artifact’s Borg systems. The cube begins to regenerate itself – and the CGI shots of the cube undergoing regeneration were stunning. There were elements from Q Who, in The Next Generation’s second season, where the crew of the Enterprise-D first witness a cube regenerating, but obviously the effects are so much better in 2020 than they were in 1989 and we see the regeneration in much more detail. It also makes perfect sense that the Artifact could be so easily reactivated – after all, drones that were 90+ years old were able to be reactivated in the Enterprise episode Regeneration, and the Artifact has not been derelict for anywhere near as long.
The Artifact’s reactivation causes Rizzo to go nuclear – planning the extermination of the xBs and the Borg currently in stasis. There was yet another hint at the Nazi Germany analogy I mentioned earlier as Rizzo suggests gassing the Borg. Along with the other genocidal themes present in her character, the fact that her immediate suggestion was to gas them was tied to this and another shocking statement from this villain.
Picard and Soji share a meal aboard La Sirena, and Soji is clearly wrestling with her newfound status as a synth. We don’t know precisely how much time has passed since she first learned the truth in Nepenthe, but it can’t be more than a few days and it’s obviously a lot to process. She, unlike Raffi and several other characters in the last few episodes, calls Picard by his last name. I feel like this is setting up their relationship for some future development, getting her to a point by the end of the season where she’ll be able to join Raffi, Riker, Troi, and others and call him “Jean-Luc”.
Soji makes a big point about how Picard can’t know what it’s like to not know things about herself and to feel like pieces are missing. Picard agrees, but actually he can know at least part of what that must feel like because of his own experiences with the Borg. He lost his humanity for a time, though not in the same way as Soji has lost hers. When he tells her that her memories feel like “something that happened to someone else”, I go the impression that he was drawing on that experience as Locutus. The Battle of Wolf 359, in which Picard was instrumental in helping the Borg destroy a Federation fleet, was something he remembers but he remembers it through the prism of his assimilation and to him, I’d absolutely argue that those events feel like “something that happened to someone else” – kind of like a waking nightmare. He can empathise with Soji because of that.
As Picard has reacquired his confidence and self-belief since meeting Dahj in Remembrance, we’ve seen more of what you could call “old” Picard coming back. The Picard who talks things out calmly and diplomatically, who uses words carefully to make the best of a situation and who knows just what the right thing to say is, even under difficult circumstances. And in this conversation with Soji we get another example of that, as he tries to reassure her that she does have a past and a legacy.
Their conversation then turns to Data in what was a very emotional scene. Picard talks a little about him, and about how he hopes that Data thought of him. Just as Kestra showed us last week that Riker and Troi had kept their friend’s memory alive throughout the last twenty years, so too has Picard. Data has had a huge influence over this season’s story despite not being present except in dreams, and that has been touching to see. Soji draws the conversation to a close by telling Picard that Data did love him – something he really needed to hear from her.
Speaking with La Sirena’s engineering hologram gives Raffi more clues about the octonary star system, and that it would be a great way for a civilisation to leave behind a warning to others – the unique nature of the star system would be like a beacon, drawing in spacefaring civilisations to see what it was about.
Raffi tries to get a drink in her quarters, simultaneously excited by the notion of unravelling a fourteen-year-old mystery and massively disturbed by its implications. However, she is prohibited from replicating alcohol and La Sirena’s hospitality hologram pops up. We learn that Rios scanned himself when he bought La Sirena, and that’s why the holograms all have his appearance – they also all have some of his memories and personality traits, though he has made some deletions to that information. The hospitality hologram suggests to Raffi that she check in on Rios as he may need company. In Rios’ quarters he goes through his Starfleet belongings – neatly stowed in a footlocker – and pulls out a picture of his former captain. I had speculated that the character may have been a legacy character from a past iteration of Star Trek – a wild guess, more than anything – but this wasn’t the case (though for a brief moment I thought it looked like Chakotay!) Rios also pulls out another picture – a drawing of himself and… a Soji-type android!
The revelation that Rios had encountered a Soji-type android was genuinely not something I was expecting. While his backstory had seemed interesting and I was keen to learn more, by this late stage in the season I was beginning to wonder if it was something that might not be explored until Season 2. However, learning that he’d met another synth just like her was fascinating – and makes me wonder how many more there are on Soji’s homeworld. There could potentially be millions – if each new synth that was created could build more copies of itself there’s no limit to that kind of exponential population growth.
Seven of Nine and Elnor continue their plans to retake the Artifact, planning to use the Borg in stasis as a mini-collective which Seven of Nine will direct from the queencell – giving them orders and directions to replace the hive mind of the Borg collective. I was a little concerned in this scene that we’d see a reversion of Seven’s character progress that I’d been so thrilled about in Stardust City Rag. To briefly recap, for those of you who didn’t read that review, when Voyager was on the air my opinion of Seven of Nine was not especially high. Having gone to all the trouble of replacing Kes at the end of Season 3, it seemed that the writers didn’t really know what to do with their new ex-Borg. There were a disproportionate number of Seven-centic episodes in the latter part of Voyager’s run, and many of them followed a similar formula: Seven learns a lesson about being human, overcoming her Borg nature. But by the next episode she’d forgotten it all and would have to learn another, often similar, lesson. This got kind of stale for me, so seeing her embracing her humanity – and retaining it – in Stardust City Rag was cathartic and just a fantastic thing to see. So when she was getting ready to plug herself back into the Borg – albeit not the main collective – I was concerned that the show was about to repeat Voyager’s mistakes.
This next sequence, in which Raffi tries to puzzle together what happened to Rios, is one of my favourite not just in the episode but in all of Rios and Raffi’s scenes in Star Trek: Picard so far. Using all five of La Sirena’s holograms, each of whom have a slightly different set of information from Rios himself as a result of the “self-scan”, she’s able to figure out what happened to his former captain – and how it connects to the Soji-type android.
Some Star Trek episodes in the past have given actors a chance to run around and play different characters or versions of the character. In the Voyager episode Renaissance Man, for example, The Doctor disguises himself as various members of the crew – played by their original actors. We also have examples from The Original Series like Mirror, Mirror, in which the cast play evil versions of themselves, or The Enemy Within in which William Shatner got to show off two sides to Kirk’s personality when they were manifested as separate beings. The duology of episodes The Naked Time and The Naked Now – from The Original Series and The Next Generation respectively – also let the cast run wild. Santiago Cabera was the only actor I was familiar with heading into Star Trek: Picard, and he was someone I was really excited to see brought into the franchise. He gave a great performance in a series called Salvation a couple of years ago, and when he was announced I felt he would be a great addition to the cast. The explanation of Rios’ backstory, and how his former captain killed two synths on Commodore Oh’s orders, was absolutely fascinating in itself as it ties Rios to the show’s story and, I’d argue, gives him a strong motivation to stay and help and to do whatever he can to prevent further harm coming to Soji’s people.
But in this sequence, what I loved most was Cabera playing all of these roles, using different accents, costumes, and hairstyles to give each hologram a different appearance. Each hologram has its own personality – a blend of parts of Rios’ own with the original underlying technology used in the holograms. The way this scene was acted – and it must have taken a huge amount of effort, editing, and incredibly skilled cinematography to bring five versions of Rios together – was outstanding. As well as being entertaining in parts and of course informative, it was a real joy to watch, and showed off exactly why the show’s creators hired the perfect actor for the part. Just as a final point – making the engineering hologram Scottish was a nice little nod back to The Original Series, and even though it probably wasn’t the best of Cabera’s five different accents, it was nice to see that.
Dr Jurati is finally awake, and the first thing she does is ask Picard if her suicide attempt/poisoning was successful. He replies that it was, and that they were no longer being tracked by Narek. In another example of Picard getting his confidence back, he calmly yet sternly tells her that upon their arrival at Deep Space 12 she will turn herself in. He doesn’t ask her if she’s responsible – despite earlier questioning whether she did it on purpose – he simply and flatly tells her that that is what she will do, giving her no choice in the matter. I saw echoes of another encounter Picard had with the Romulans, in The Next Generation episode Face of the Enemy, where he gives Federation defector DeSeve a similar calm yet stern dressing-down.
Picard asks her the million-dollar question: why did she do it? As the audience, we already know her basic motivation by this point – Commodore Oh showed her a vision, one taken from the relic on Aia, of what would happen if synthetic life were allowed to exist. But knowing that didn’t make watching the tense scene between the two of them any less thrilling, as Dr Jurati struggled against the brainwashing she’d suffered and attempted to justify her actions. We learn a little more about the Zhat Vash’s mission – they feel that humanity’s synthetic research – spearheaded by Maddox – has arrived at a threshold. Their fear is that, if Soji and her people are allowed to exist, the visions contained in the relic will come true – or rather that they will be repeated, as the Zhat Vash believe they are something that happened in the past, several hundred thousand years ago.
By this point, I was getting a nagging feeling that this storyline is beginning to feel familiar. We’ll hear Dr Jurati later in the episode say that the Zhat Vash believe that when a certain level of synthetic life is reached in the galaxy, “something shows up” and wipes out not only the synths but also those who created them. This is the fundamental premise behind a science fiction video game series that I’ve mentioned on the blog several times: Mass Effect. Played out over a trilogy of games from 2007 to 2012, the Mass Effect series follows a human commander as he tries to stop the coming of the Reapers – an extragalactic machine species who periodically show up and harvest all sentient life once they have reached a certain level of technological development. The reason the Reapers do this is because they, despite being synthetic themselves, believe that it is the nature of synthetic life to destroy organic life, and that by harvesting the DNA of technological races before that can happen they will be somehow preserved. Furthermore, an ancient race left behind beacons which showed the hero of the franchise a not dissimilar vision than the relic on Aia showed the Zhat Vash – kicking off the plot. I’m okay with similar themes in science fiction, and the plot of Star Trek: Picard and how it has been delicately written and carefully unravelled has been a significantly different experience than the plot of the Mass Effect games – but the overall motivation of the villains seems to be rather similar, as is the way the knowledge of what happened was communicated down the centuries, and I’m sure I won’t be the first person to notice this.
Rios, in his quarters, has been hiding away and drinking, but he shows Raffi a picture of his old captain, Alonzo Vandermeer, and tells her how close they’d been. Rios thought of him as a father figure, which we had already some hints at when we first met him, but they go into a lot more detail here. Seeing Soji has brought up a lot of bad memories for Rios of Captain Vandermeer’s death, and he’s finding it hard to cope.
The scenes switch back-and-forth between this exchange in Rios’ quarters and a conversation between Soji and Dr Jurati. While both sets of characters are going through very different things, what’s happening is actually comparable. Soji is, simply by her presence, inspiring Dr Juarti to push through her brainwashing and overcome what she had been tasked with doing. Raffi is helping Rios overcome his past too, getting both psychologically damaged characters to a point where, later in the episode, they will be able to “snap out of it” and refocus on their joint mission to aid Soji’s people.
Rios goes into detail about what happened with Captain Vandermeer – and how his actions protected his ship – the USS Ibn Majid – from being destroyed by Starfleet. The reason it was covered up, seemingly by Commodore Oh, was to keep the secret of the synthetic civilisation. Captain Vandermeer killed the two synths – including one who resembled Soji – to save his crew, but couldn’t live with what he’d done and committed suicide shortly thereafter, in front of Rios.
Seeing Soji reawakens in Dr Jurati her love and appreciation for synthetic life – she’s incredibly curious about her, asking her questions about some of her most human-like qualities, such as whether she sleeps. Poor Soji must be getting tired of this after all of the questions Kestra was asking last week! But the Kestra comparison is a good one, because both she and Dr Jurati have a childlike wonder about Soji – Kestra of course is a child, but Dr Jurati is an academic, a researcher who never thought she’d ever see her research in practice, yet right before her eyes sits Soji.
After a scene in which we see Rizzo at her coldest, murdering ex-Borg and the Borg still in stasis by the thousand, we’re back aboard La Sirena. Soji and Raffi have worked their magic on Dr Jurati and Rios, and the crew assemble to discuss what they’ve learned and piece together the timeline, location of Soji’s homeworld, and try to come up with a plan. Each character, sitting around a table, tells the others what they know, in a neat scene that tied together a lot of Star Trek: Picard’s story points going right back to the first episode – and even its Short Treks prologue/prequel. By the time they’ve put all the pieces together – the Zhat Vash infiltration of Starfleet going back to Data’s activation before The Next Generation, the attack on Mars, the USS Ibn Majid making first contact with Soji’s people, the murder of Dahj, and finally arriving at the present day – the only thing left to do is to travel to Soji’s homeworld.
There were a couple of hints that not everyone under Rizzo’s command aboard the Artifact are okay with her rampage. She disarms one of her troops, snatching his gun in a scene that seemed to say “I’m worried you’re going to use that on me”. When she returns the broken weapon later in the episode, the young Romulan stares at it almost in disbelief at what it had been used for. I doubt this will come back into play, given that the Zhat Vash seem fully okay with exterminating the synths, but it was a nod to the fact that not all Romulans are signed up to their ideology. If we were to continue our Nazi Germany analogy, this soldier could be an example of those Germans who were not paid-up members of the Nazi party.
I’m still somewhat confused by the Bruce Maddox storyline from Stardust City Rag, and I keep bringing it up because it threatens to become a plot hole. Maddox specifically told Bjayzl that his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar. We can assume there was Zhat Vash involvement with that, but even if there wasn’t, the question remains where was Maddox undertaking his work? Riker theorised that it was on the planet we have now termed Soji’s homeworld; that he went there when the synth ban came into force and stayed there, working, ever since. But if that’s true, why did he go to Bjayzl, who he knew was dangerous as he owed her money? The synth civilisation, in everyone’s opinion, is expected to be thriving on Soji’s homeworld, but if Maddox’s lab was there and was destroyed, what happened to the other synths? And why did Rizzo and Narek waste their time continuing to mine Soji for that information if their colleagues had already visited and destroyed the lab? If Maddox left the planet to work elsewhere – the simplest explanation, I guess – why did he do that instead of continuing to live among his synthetic creations? Given that it seems as though he had a lot of input in the creation of Soji and Dahj, and the direction of their offworld missions, I doubt the synths forced him out. So why did he leave? And if he didn’t leave, how did the synths survive the attack? This one aspect of the story opens up a lot of questions that I hope have an answer and a satisfactory explanation.
Dr Jurati begins by apologising – not so much for Maddox’s death, though that is part of it – but for letting down her newfound crew and family. I mentioned last time that La Sirena’s crew were finally starting to come together instead of feeling like individuals all doing their own thing, and as they sit down to put everything together we see more of that. Partly the revelation about Dr Jurati shook them up, but in the aftermath they seem to have pulled together. It’s a shame that Elnor missed out on this scene, being stuck in his side-quest with Seven of Nine, because his input, as an outsider who doesn’t know a great deal about the issues being discussed or the history of it all could have been played in such a way as to be helpful for casual viewers or for those who are just getting into Star Trek for the first time.
Soji becomes angry with herself for falling for Narek’s ruse, because it’s clear that she has now exposed the location of her homeworld to the Zhat Vash. It also explains how Narek and Rizzo were content with Soji’s description of her homeworld, despite what seemed on the surface to be a very small amount of information: they already knew what sector of the galaxy they needed to look in after the USS Ibn Majid’s encounter with the synthetic emissaries.
There is an interesting dimension to Soji that is worth exploring. The “emissaries” that Rios met and that Captain Vandermeer killed were reported to Starfleet – and Rios says that Vandermeer must’ve known they were synthetic. In fact the only way the order to kill them makes sense is if Vandermeer knew and reported that to Commodore Oh. One of the things that has been unclear about Soji and Dahj so far is why they were programmed to believe themselves to be human. Only one other android in Star Trek has behaved that way – Juliana, the wife of Data’s creator, in The Next Generation seventh season episode Inheritance. The reason she believed herself to be human is that she was human – a human mind transplanted into an android body. But we’re getting off-topic. Why were Soji and Dahj programmed to be human? It’s a safe bet, based on what we learnt in Broken Pieces, that Maddox realised how dangerous the galaxy was for synths with people like Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash after them. After their initial emissaries were killed, it makes sense that they’d try to keep their true nature hidden.
Soji storms off to the bridge, sets up a forcefield, and changes La Sirena’s course. As Rios points out, she took control of the ship very easily; her abilities and skills far exceed anything a human is capable of. The fear the Zhat Vash and others have is not exactly unfounded – Soji could kill them all without breaking a sweat. However, after a conversation with Picard he allows her to pilot the ship to part of the Borg transwarp network – a shortcut to her homeworld.
Picard, continuing his theme of regaining his confidence, sits in the captain’s chair in what I felt was the episode’s most iconic scene. Reclaiming his position as the captain – if only symbolically – was a big moment for him, considering how far from that role he seemed at the beginning of the series. A character journey from depression and isolation to being in charge is a great story, and one which I loved seeing Picard go through.
Rios is initally angry at Soji’s actions – he feels that flying into the transwarp network without careful preparation would put the ship at risk. Soji could have simply pressed ahead and ignored him, locking him out of his own ship, but instead she draws on her humanity and asks him – politely but firmly – to take her home.
As the Romulans abandon the Artifact, leaving it to Seven, Elnor, and the remaining xBs, Rizzo is cornered and attacked but manages to beam away – her comeuppance will have to wait. With the xBs in control of the Artifact, even though they’re few in number I would not be surprised at all to see Elnor and Seven in contact with Picard and La Sirena in the finale – perhaps the repaired cube warps in to save the day somehow during a climactic battle. Finally, the episode ends with La Sirena jumping into the transwarp network – with what appears to be Narek’s ship close behind!
There was so much to process in Broken Pieces that it’s taken me longer than usual to pull my thoughts together. Seeing the crew work together to fit the various pieces of the puzzle together was great – but I did miss seeing Elnor with Picard and the rest of the crew, because, as someone who suffered as a result of the attack on Mars, he has as much stake in this as anyone else.
It’s great to have a proper timeline assembled as we approach the finale. There are still questions to answer – like what exactly will happen if Picard and his crew are victorious and allow the synths to continue to live. The Zhat Vash seem to believe that synthetic life in and of itself will not be the doom of everyone in the galaxy; contrary to what I said last time, this is not a situation like Discovery’s second season where the Control AI was going to wipe everything out. Instead, what they seem to believe is that someone else, another race or faction, will show up once that threshold is crossed to bring about their destruction. So even if Picard and co. are successful, presumably they will have to deal with the implications of that.
I wonder if some aspect of this synthetic-inspired doom is going to tie into Discovery’s third season, due for release later this year. The trailers for that seemed to depict a kind of post-apocalyptic future: could the Zhat Vash visions and the relic from Aia be related to that? Stay tuned for more on that and others in my next theory post, which I hope to have up before the first part of the finale on Friday.
All that’s left to say is that I thoroughly enjoyed Broken Pieces. Some story elements were better than others – Elnor and Seven of Nine on the Artifact being my least-favourite, I’m afraid. However, I’m hopeful that, as with practically everything else this season, there will be a solid reason why we spent that time with them and that they will have a role to play in the finale in some way.
The first eight episodes of Star Trek: Picard are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.