a review by the Crow.
Captain‘s log, Stardate 97797.03: This review has taken longer-than-usual to write, thanks to the excruciating apocrypha I ended up going into. Therefore: tonight, I shall not beat around the bush.
SPOILER LEVELS at RED ALERT
The episode begins on the planet of Aia — also known as the “Grief World” — with a flashback to a Zhat Vash initiation ritual. The ritual centres around enduring an “admonition” which tells of an oncoming apocalypse. Visually, it is a more intense version of the thoughts passed by Commodore Deal-With-It to Jurati during their mind-meld, but still reveals little to us apart from scenes of destruction and robots.
As the episode drags on, it is explained to us that once every few thousands of centuries, when synthetic life crosses a certain threshhold, some ancient and terrifying equalising force comes to wipe everything out and reset the galaxy. What this equalising force is has not yet been revealed, but I shall hypothesise later in this post about a few potential angles Picard could explore. Additionally: the reason as to why this sequence of events is triggered is also left unrevealed; if the Zhat Vash themselves even know what it is.
One other thing to mention: while I did play some parts of the second Mass Effect game, I have never been a fan, nor did I ever “get into” the series. However, from what I know of Mass Effect, Picard is toeing very similar lines — if not exactly the same. Essentially, this is a story about the Great Filter (note point 8.2) — a filter which Star Trek is obviously behind.
For some time, I have strongly suspected that the Zhat Vash are not an entirely Romulan outfit — and that Commodore Deal-With-It is not working for them, but is a part of them. It turns out that the truth is more elaborate than that. She is the one who initiates Narissa/Rizzo into the Zhat Vash in this opening scene. Ramdha is there as well, and it is settled soon after that her being assimilated by the borg cube led to its “breaking”. Her status as Narek and Narissa’s aunt and carer is a slight surprise; while the revelation does add a little colour to the situation, it is unnecessary in the larger scope of things.
To return to the topic of the Zhat Vash: I have not been alone in my suspicions. Many, especially the more linguistic-minded amongst us, have also drawn connections which suggest that the Zhat Vash are not an entirely Romulan outfit. My attention was drawn a few days ago to this excellent post on /r/DaystromInstitute: Zhat Vash’s likely Vulcan equivalent – and understanding the Romulan language through equivalent Vulcan terms, in which user /u/RatsAreAdorable essentially settled the matter as far as I was concerned.
It is finally established that the Zhat Vash were behind the attack on Mars (surprise, surprise!); and at long-last, I can allow my questions over F-8’s suicide to rest. It’s possible that the reason F-8 turned the weapon on himself following his sabotage is because he was forced to do what he did. It looks likely that there isn’t much else to the suicide angle which troubled me so.
Some might ask the obvious question: if the dread secret of the Zhat Vash is so terrifying and apocalyptic, why keep it such a secret? Why not spread the word and come to an understanding about synthetic life?
The biggest barrier to this would — of course — be the insanity factor. One way or another, those who had been admonished would be the only people “in the know” about the oncoming destruction, and that would lead to a tense battle between two sides: those admonished, and those being told what to do. While this is an incredibly interesting set-up for a world, it couldn’t have worked in Picard. With a longer show — say, something along the lines of a Next Generation or a Deep Space 9 — a set up such as this would be a great starting point.
With all this said and done, the Zhat Vash’s reasons for triggering the Mars attack still boil down to the Federation banning snythetic life (apart from pirate emergency holograms), which suggest that the threat of synthetic life is more about a certain critical quantity than something an individual amongst them might do. Given what we know about the Asha sisters (and that there are more of them), they would constitute a grave threat in this scenario.
But we shall return to speculation later. Broken Pieces boasts the most “story” in an episode of Picard yet, and it’s time to break down what happened:
Upon seeing Soji, Rios spins into confusion and despair. It turns out he has a history with someone very similar: an exact copy of Soji; another sister. This ties back into his history on board the Ibn Majid, and results in us finding out what happened to his previous “great captain”. It’s a nice bit of backstory, and it’s delivered with the gravitas it deserves, looping in to a tapestry of references and connections which should prick at the ears of most Trek fans.
The best part about this subplot is, however, Raffi’s frantic efforts at trying to put him “back together”. She holds a council with Rios’ self-styled hologram crew and it’s through her efforts that the story is finally laid bare. Everything about these scenes is played to great effect — both comedic and dramatic, and features the most acting we’ve seen yet. Cabrera doesn’t drop the ball with any of his various characters and steals whichever scene he is in. All-in-all: this is one of the best subplots in Picard yet.
(I also propose that his connection to Soji and her “herald” might just be a little deeper than just the murder-suicide subplot.)
On the borg cube, Elnor is almost killed by the Zhat Vash before Seven of Nine — responding to his S.O.S. — comes in guns a-blazin’ and assumes command of the situation. And by “assumes command of the situation”, I mean: hooks herself up to the queen’s chamber and begins awakening the borg. This entire subplot is dealt with the grim undertones it should be, featuring musical callbacks to the terrifying borg-of-old and the sheer mass of the borg.
It is rendered quiet by the Zhat Vash flushing the dormant borg into space, as well as massacring those active on the cube, which drives LAN-Borg Queen Seven into a rage. By the end of the subplot, Seven forgoes the culmination of her adaptation into becoming a new Borg Queen and disconnects herself; but not before readying the borg cube — understaffed as it may be — for future action.
Elnor, also, goes unassimilated. But there is not yet justice for Hugh.
Expect the cube to return and terrorise the Zhat Vash.
Back on La Sirena, Picard reconnects with Starfleet and tells Clancy about all that has happened. In no way is Clancy directly related to the Zhat Vash and their operation, but I suspect this might not have been the best course of action, given Oh’s oversight of Starfleet security. Picard is treated to another dressing-down, but this time in a more progressive manner. Clancy, this time, is on Picard’s side, and Starfleet is ready to deal with the immediate threat of the Zhat Vash. Add to that the fact that Admiral Picard now has a squadron-in-waiting at DS12, and we can hear the distant sounds of approaching fireworks.
However, the dressing-down Picard receives from Raffi is less-nuanced, and he takes it in stride over time. First, he has a touching chat with Soji over a meal, in which the idea of memories are explored. Following his getting to know Soji, he speaks to Jurati. In vague terms, Jurati tells Picard of the threat of synthetic life which the Zhat Vash have “poisoned” her mind with. Soji appears and talks about “the destroyer” — a point I shall pick up on later — Seb-Cheneb; a scene followed by Jurati interviewing Asha. It seems meeting Dr Asha turns Jurati away from the Zhat Vash doctrine and back to being excited at meeting a synthetic life form. Jurati even follows up with a promise she would never take a chance at killing Soji. How much we can trust her “poisoned” mind is hard to tell at this juncture, but I personally would be very careful around Jurati. It is also rather clear that from this point forward, Jurati is a marked woman.
The round-table meeting during which the crew start piecing together the story so far is a necessary step, and does get everyone operating on the same level. It seems that we finally have a crew. Picard’s reset in the previous episode, as well as the catching up around the table (with chips and peppermint ice-cream to boot) have unified our characters into a single functioning unit.
This notion is driven home after Asha attempts to take over La Sirena Data-style before being talked (or rather lullabied) into stepping down. What follows is Picard sitting in the captain’s chair without a second thought, committing to a new plan without checking in with Starfleet first, and assuming command as he rightfully should. Music from The Next Generation swells, Picard clasps his hands and starts swiping at the holographic display.
Everything looks perfect. Jean-Luc Picard: back in the the captain’s chair after so long, and…
he realises he has no idea what he’s doing on Rios’ newfangled ship.
It’s by far one of the funniest moments in recent Trek history. And this time, it makes sense. Picard has just had his entire world click around him, and he needs a little grounding. This is the scene which gives him that little step back — knocks him back from the so-called “typical Picard arrogance”.
Side note: If nothing else, the biggest difference between Picard’s TNG and post-TNG career can be argued to be the point at which he “dropped his shields” around his closest officers. There is a reason All Good Things… ended with Picard joining the poker table. Once that curtain was dropped, he was no longer the captain we had seen up until that point. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but his more relaxed nature in his later years is the very reason we cannot have his old crew join him long term.
Overall, Broken Pieces builds on the good work done before it in The Impossible Box and Nepenthe, and is — as I’m becoming accustomed to typing — the best episode yet. A few glaring editing errors do catch the eye, as does one very annoying camera movement, but all of those issues pale in comparison to how good this episode is on the whole.
Wth that said, allow me a little time to speculate about the future of Picard, as well as argue a few of the finer points which have been presented to us so far.
SPECULATION AND APOCRYPHA
SOJI AND SEB-CHENEB: Soji has been called Seb-Cheneb: the supposed “destroyer”. Note that while she is being called the Destroyer, it is not necessarily her who is supposed to be doing the destroying. Or so we would have to assume, given that the devastation is brought about in response to the rise of artificial life. There is a prophecy (or memories of a flash-forward) featuring twins: one who dies, and one who lives. The one left alive is Seb-Cheneb. The one who will “call” the shackled demons to rise up and bring about Judgement Day.
So why is everyone adamant on calling her the Destroyer? The way it has been made to sound, Soji will somehow be directly responsible for whatever force is lurking to come back and lay waste to the galaxy. This plot point isn’t yet adding up. Keep in mind that while Dahj and Soji may have been created together, there are multiple versions of them (a la Battlestar Galactica). While destroying all of them seems to be the Zhat Vash’s main concern, Soji remains the only one with a name amongst that same group.
This hints quite strongly at an upcoming twist. While we have a general lineage to which Soji and her sisters belong, remember that Lore, B-4, the Borg Queen from First Contact, and even Picard/Locutus (by however little) remain contenders to be involved in the new Soong-type synthetics’ creation.
CONTROL: To address the CONTROL angle, I think it’s safe to say there will be no more than maybe a mention of the program in Picard. However, that doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t there. It remains possible that the future CONTROL had started creating either accelerated the approach of the ancient threat that haunts Picard, or that CONTROL is an inevitable end-product of synthetic life as a whole. There remain other options, but I doubt CONTROL as we saw it in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery will be rearing its virtual head (or any “AI sausage”s (“ew!”).
TKON, OLD ONES, 0, AND APOCRYPHA: The octonary star system which appears in this episode of Picard is argued to be artificial. And we have seen something like this before. The long-extinct Tkon Empire from the early TNG episode The Last Outpost were technically capable of feats such as moving stars, although achieving said feat was the last action they ever took. It is highly likely that their technology might have had something to do with the octonary system which houses Aia, the grief world. An interesting thing to note here is that Riker — at one point in The Last Outpost — says “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy”; and in Broken Pieces, Picard says the following: “…and fear is the great destroyer”. It might be reading a little too much into things, but it doesn’t quite seem accidental.
But little of what I have said is canon. Most of the information you have read comes from a series of books collectively called the Q Continuum series by author Greg Cox. This set of books is one I personally own copies of (currently stashed in cold storage). While I don’t necessarily like them very much, I think its time I used my memory of them to good use (Memory Alpha will cover me where mine own does not).
In the novels, Q strikes up something of a friendship with an extragalactic interloper named 0 (zero). Over the course of the books, 0 turns out to be a menace which threatens both the Q Continuum (the species, not the book series) and the galaxy at large, leading to 0’s exile and the construction of the Galactic barrier to keep 0 out. While I won’t bother you with the details, the books establish that 0 had quite the hand in major events featured in Star Trek: The Original Series episodes as well as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Most of the information isn’t important to our current discussion, but what is important is that 0 was directly responsible for the supernova which destroyed the Tkon Empire.
Additionally, the battle between the Q Continuum and 0’s “party” greatly affected the planet Exo III — where an uprising of synthetic life forms had happened following a spate of paranoia similar (to a certain degree) to what is being shown in Picard. The One — one of 0’s allies — also known as the “god” entity Star Trek V deals with, was directly responsible for dimming the star Exo III orbited, leading to the resident Old Ones coming into conflict with their android successors. A further point to make about the Q Continuum novels having some influence in the events of Picard — if any of this has any shred of truth to it — is this: the Old Ones had perfected a so-called Android duplicator, featured in the original series episode What Are Little Girls Made Of?.
I don’t think that this means 0 is the ancient threat which is somehow opposed to synthetic life, but it is now highly likely that there are answers in apocrypha which might point to whatever is going on in Picard. It would be easy to dismiss the story Picard is trying to tell as a retread of the Mass Effect, Terminator, and/or Battlestar Galactica franchises, but I think that the showrunners are attempting something a little different, here. Unlike Star Trek: Discovery, which leapt out of the overall timeline (keep in mind that Picard knows about the USS Discovery, due to his mind meld with Sarek in The Next Generation), I think what is going on in Picard is an attempt to stitch some of the holes in the franchise up.
Where the Q Continuum novels are admittedly silly as all hell, I can somewhat respect what they attempted to do. I don’t expect Q to show up any time soon, and I don’t expect 0 to show up at all, but perhaps there could be an alternate narrative to fill the spaces the forebears of Picard — the show — left open for interpretation. This could include multiple angles such as the Iconians, the “ancient humanoids” from the TNG episode The Chase (one of my favourite episodes of Star Trek), and maybe even reach out to more exotic species’ such as the Great Link.
It’s also interesting that the word apocrypha appears in the episode. I might be leaning too heavy into things, but I would like the writing in any given TV series to follow the basic rules of writing. And the most important one here is: don’t add in anything that shouldn’t be there (for example: Ramdha being Narissa and Narek’s aunt).
I think that is the point of Picard. Apart from restoring some version of Data (one that lives only to die as a human, perhaps) and continuing the grand tradition that is Star Trek, maybe the idea is to finally unify the Star Trek “universe” in more ways than one. And one of those ways could be by “upgrading” ideas from its own apocrypha. Personally, I was not originally enamoured with the idea of the Romulan star suddenly “going supernova“, or Star Trek: Nemesis in general, as I am not with the neutering of the Borg. Perhaps — just perhaps — Star Trek: Picard is an attempt at cleaning up the mess of a widespread canon by increments. While the “Beta” canon will never be official, and boasts a great deluge of horrible ideas and stories, there is value to be found in the endless forays its authors made to “re-link” Star Trek to itself. I doubt this season will solve all the problems, but I think that’s where the steps are headed.
At the end of the day, Broken Pieces comes highly recommended by us at The Corvid Review. It is a partial love-letter to Trek of old, strikes a fine balance between light-heartedness and grim dramatic moments, and features Jean-Luc Picard continuing to reassume his rightful role as the Picard we know and love. Bolstered by strong showings from Rios and Musiker (who is quickly becoming the crew’s “aunt” — red velvet cake and all) and a resurgence of the Borg strength of old, Broken Pieces continues to build Star Trek: Picard‘s momentum as a series worthy of its name.
This is the beginning of the end for Jean-Luc Picard, and while I was worried that the series might drop the ball because of how poor Star Trek: Discovery‘s planning turned out to be in both seasons, it has risen above my expectations. In many ways, the series is an inversion of what we witnessed in Discovery. Instead of having a character around whom the entire universe revolves — a decision which hurts Michael Burnham more than it props her up, since she knows rather than learns — it’s about someone naturally sliding back into business-as-usual while finding themselves out of their depth; a fact which is helped by the aura of Picard being one of the greatest captains ever. That is why the little comedy bit of him having no idea how “this” works is one of the better moments in recent Star Trek history, as off-the-cuff as it may seem.
(Side note/rant: I’m now far-too-aware of certain idiots on the internet who continue to deride anything “modern” in Star Trek, and accuse it of having an agenda. While it’s all fair and good to argue that a work has missed its own graces for the sake of presenting an argument, the lengths you people (and you know who you are) go to is beyond the likes of me. You are arguing over Star Trek having an agenda? I’m sorry. But that’s what Star Trek has always done. That’s what Star Trek is.)
I don’t know if I’m right about any of this, but I see signs I can’t ignore (sleep deprivation is a charming mate). What will happen will happen, and all we can do is hope that we will be given a story worthy of the build-up we have been presented with so far. We shall now leave you with a few screenshots we took during our viewing of the show before signing off and rating the episode.
To conclude: two things. First, can we have a moment for the ENH’s little smile after he gets a kiss? Second: as a bonus for those of you who have been following us for a while, our review of Star Trek: The Next Generation — S05E25: The Inner Light has recently undergone an upgrade, courtesy of the good work of cygnus-x1.net. I haven’t myself read it in some time, but I can assure you it looks better.
We shall see you next week with a review of the forthcoming episode.
Until then, LLAP
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 8/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 10/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: NA/10
- Star Trek: The Next Generation — S05E25: The Inner Light
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — S05E06: Trials and Tribble-ations
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E01: Remembrance
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E02: Maps and Legends
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E03: The End is the Beginning
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E04: Absolute Candor
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E05: Stardust City Rag
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E06: The Impossible Box
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E07: Nepenthe
- Star Trek: Picard — S01E08: Broken Pieces
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E01: The Vulcan Hello & Battle at the Binary Stars
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E02: Context is For Kings
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E03: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E04: Choose Your Pain
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E05: Lethe
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E06: Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E07: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E08: Into the Forest I Go
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E09: Despite Yourself
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E10: The Wolf Inside
- Star Trek: Discovery — Episodes 11 — 15 Round Up
- Star Trek: Discovery — Short Treks
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E01: Brother
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E02: New Eden
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E03: Point of Light
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E04: An Obol for Charon
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E05: Saints of Imperfection
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E06: The Sound of Thunder
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E07: Light and Shadows
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E08: If Memory Serves
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E09: Project Daedalus
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E10: The Red Angel
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E11: Perpetual Infinity
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E12: Through the Valley of Shadows
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E13: Such Sweet Sorrow Part One
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E14: Such Sweet Sorrow Part Two
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Star Trek: Generations
- Star Trek: First Contact
- Star Trek: Insurrection
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- Star Trek (2009)
- Star Trek Into Darkness
- Star Trek Beyond