Picard: Episode 8 – Broken Pieces

Lots and lots of spoilers for the whole series, so if you haven’t been watching but intend to, this is a review best avoided. In short this is a bridging episode that joins the dots of the story so far as the series heads into the two-part finale.

For those following the series, the revelations aren’t big surprises although there are some additional connections that may feel superfluous. This isn’t a particularly strong episode but it has its moments and there is a lot to discuss.

Much of the episode is about getting Jean-Luc’s quest party around a tabel on the La Sirena to have a meeting. Crew meetings, if you recall, are Picard’s super-power and last episode Riker re-instated their TNG-power by holding one over a dinner of pizza. This episode everybody but Elnor (we’ll get back to him) reveal what they know or have worked out.

A surprise piece is Rios. That he is also unwittingly enmeshed in things is a surprise and while his freak-out at seeing Soji was a twist, the backstory is basically filler for the episode. Raffi has to interrogate all his holograms (and OK, I’ll concede now that Rios himself isn’t a hologram) but eventually Rios just has to tell his backstory anyway. Santiago Cabrera has an absolute blast being the multiple Rios’s including an inevitable Scottish engineering hologram but as fun as that is, it’s mainly stuffing.

Which gets us to the plot. In the opening flashback we learn the source of the Zhat Vash’s fanaticism. On a planet in a system with an unfeasible eight suns (and that’s a plot point) is a glowing ring. Touch that ring and you are treated to a horrific psychic vision. We don’t see the details but it is sufficient for initiates (all women?) to respond with deep horror and many kill themselves. The only initiate to remain standing (but still horrified) is Narrisa (aka creepy Romulan sibling) but we also learn that the Romulan anthropologist/folklorist who lost her mind on the ruined Borg cube is her aunt and also Zhat Vash.

The vision has been placed there by a long dead civilisation as a warning. The warning appears to be that when synthetic AI beings reach a specific level of development something bad happens, something very bad. Which introduces the genre theme of the episode: horror.

Aboard La Sirena, Doctor Jurati confesses as much as she is capable of. Raffi has all her existing homework on the Zhat Vash. Rios, it turns out, was an officer on a secret Starfleet contact mission where the Captain murdered two emissaries from an unknown system, one of whom looked exactly like Soji. The orders for the Captain came from Commodore Oh (who we saw in the opening flashback is Zhat Vash). Soji, now activated has access to more memories and confirms what she knows, including what she learned on the Borg cube. Meanwhile, as an aside, we learn that Narrisa’s aunt is responsible for wrecking the Borg cube via a psychic backlash of the horrific vision when the Borg accidentally attempted to assimilate a Zhat Vash ship. Oops.

Rios’s involvment doesn’t make a lot of sense except as an extraordinary coincidence and/or Oh has been sending out lots of Starfleet missions to murder androids. However, I’ll give it a pass. The rest ties together very neatly. The Borg cube and Zhat Vash’s and the synth’s interest in the Borg cube derives from an accident. Oh’s influence on Jurati and Jurati’s extreme distress comes from Oh transmitting the power of the horror vision (and again Alison Pill acts the hell out of Jurati’s guilt and fragility. Raffi already had the pieces and Soji fills in the blanks.

One arguable flaw is why the Romulan’s didn’t just tell everybody else? After all, if horrible things happen when you develop androids, the best idea to stop that is tell people. Except…that’s not what Romulan’s do. Secrets are advantage and the series has hammered home the role of secrets in Romulan culture. If the Klingon’s had first discovered the eight-star system then they would have loudly demanded everybody slaughter their synths on pain of a bat’leth beheading but they didn’t. Instead, the cosmic warning fell into the biggest flaw in Romulan culture.

What we don’t know is what the horrible thing is. Back on La Sirena, the comparison is made with the development of warp-drive. Reach a certain point and voila! Somebody makes contact. For Earth and warp-drive it is a friendly passing Vulcan. For androids it’s something bad, something unspeakably bad. The implication it isn’t androids as such that result in the destruction (i.e. this isn’t a Terminator scenario or the genocide depicted in The Orville) but something who is summoned by the presence of synthetic life. Something cosmic and Lovecraftian, the very sight of which will drive you mad (unless you are already a Romulan psycopath). What we do know is that the Romulans were behind the android catastophe on Mars but we had already guessed that.

Meanwhile, the Borg cube has its own tale of horror and genocide. Narrisa begins to slaughter both XBs and the remaining unconverted Borg units that are still in stasis. Elnor is still being chased by Romulans but is rescued by the timely (and unexplained but we’ll go with it) arrival of Seven of Nine.

Seven and Elnor take over the Borg Queen’s chamber and Seven must face another horrific choice: let the Romulans slaughter the inhabitants of the cube or take over. I found the casual murder of the Borg horrifying and dislikable aspect of the episode even though it was intended to show how evil Narissa is. Yet, this wasn’t even close to the amount of on-screen Borg deaths we’ve seen on Star Trek. The end of the Best of Both Worlds… has a whole Borg cube explode because Picard and Data send the units into a sleep cycle. True, that was a desperate circumstance but the horror felt here reflects how much work Picard has done to show that the Borg units are victims.

The horror of Seven of Nine reconnecting to a Borg consciousness (although a limited one) and her knowing that she might not be able to let go is horribly well done. Again, there’s that Lovecraftian element of summoning up a power too terrible to contemplate while events conspire that we the viewers desperately want Seven to take on the power of the Borg to stop the murder.

Romulans, Starfleet, Picard’s rag tag crew and maybe even a renegade Borg cube are now all heading to the same place in what looks like the Battle of the Five Armies set-up.

Stray observations

  • Medical is English RP, Hospitality is English RP, Engineering is Scottish (as is traditional), Piloting is Spanish and Navigation is Irish. It’s like the traditional coloured shirts of Trek but with accents.
  • Elnor gets some great one liners. I doubt now we are going to get any major character development for him this season but he remains a delight and a good foil for Seven of Nine.
  • Narek wasn’t in this episode but Harry Treadaway has been bugging me as an obviously familiar actor but I haven’t seen the things he’s listed as being in on IMDB. Mystery now solved. He’s the twin brother of LUKE Treadaway (which I guess everybody already knew). Luke was in Attack the Block and a whole pile of other things.
  • Raffi being vindicated is doing a lot for her mental health.
  • I hope nice things happen for Jurati now. Even a secondhand shot of whatever psychic compulsion the Zhat Vash is on is sufficiently exonerating I think.
  • Speaking of which, it’ not stated that Rios’s former captain had the same psychic blast from Oh but I assume that was the case given the murder-suicide.
  • Sadly my Rios is a hologram theory has gone into retirement. With it the idea that the show will get to grips with the difference in how AI is portrayed between hologram people and android people.
  • Star Trek: Discovery had it’s own things going on with AI last season. Of course it’s not impossible that the baddy AI called Control is also the horrific thing in the Zhat Vash vision but there’s no reason to think so. The story is pointing at something that hates synthetics rather than another AI.
  • Also Ariam in Discovery was a cyborg rather than a synthetic although she was pretty far gone down the actually-a-robot route. Presumably cyborg hiveminds are also fine with whatever demonic power hates synthetics, as whatever-it-is hasn’t eaten the Borg.
  • There’s a nice shot of mermaid trinkets in Rios’s cabin. The sirens, of course, also had the power to drive people mad but it was a seductive song rather than a horrific one.

25 thoughts on “Picard: Episode 8 – Broken Pieces

  1. I did like this episode, even if slow moving. The theme and title was apt:
    -the pieces of the stories connected of course but also
    -the holograms
    – the Borg cube thats repairing itself
    – i guess Jurati can be called „broken“ although she mends somewhat
    – so is (to a lesser degree) Raffi, Rios and even Picard and the Federation itself
    – evil sisters disrupter
    -the minds of most romulans when they see the vision

    Im sure I missed more…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m seeing another theme here, which ties into the previous episode.

      Last week I noted that the theme hammered home in ‘Nepenthe’ was “trust and faith in your friends, no being is an island”. This episode continues on it, giving us multiple broken characters finding support in each other.

      If I had to pick a theme for this episode, I’d say it is “You can’t unbreak yourself; you have to have a connection to someone else to help you get better”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Seven’s arrival wasn’t unexplained: she left a beacon with the crew that could be used to call the Fenris Rangers, and Elnor activated it at the end of the previous episode.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s why he gives her that giant hug when she shows up. He’s been hiding and waiting for her, plus as an ExB, she can activate the Queen’s cube that Hugh told him to get working. Seven went back to her Ranger buddies, so presumably she got a spy ship from them and got in when the Romulans were distracted.

        I really liked this episode because by this time everybody has settled into their characters, we got a clearer sense of what exactly the Romulans are up to and Picard was more Picard than he’s been the whole show, with the inspirational speeches. The flashback and scene with her aunt actually made Narissa less cartoonish for me, which was greatly needed. And the Romulans’ actions made more sense. Not only are they secretive but the civilization that was making synthetic life was their enemies, the Federation. If they told the Federation what they had uncovered, it was very unlikely that the Federation would have gone along with it. So they infiltrated instead and tried to get the Federation to stop developing synthetic life on their own. It made less sense that the engineered incident on Mars to achieve that goal was done in a way that would mess up the rescue efforts of Romulans, instead of after the migration, but it’s conceivable there were reasons for the choice/sacrifice that may come up later.

        That Rios happened to be the one washed up pilot who Raffi knew who also had a secret encounter with the synths was a wallop of a coincidence that was the one lower note for the episode. But having Raffi play detective with the fragmented holograms was so much fun that I didn’t really mind it too much.

        It sounds like the level of synth life that might be a problem is when the synths are indistinguishable from organic life forms — which Soji is. Cyborgs are organics with tech and holograms aren’t organic at all, so neither of those would attract attention. The Mudd androids don’t meet that threshold either.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yes, Elnor uses the emergency communicator Seven gave Picard to call in the Fenris Rangers. Though I also think the reason he hugs Seven is because Elnor is still very innocent and young and scared. Besides, he was raised by strong women, warrior nuns even, and Seven is the closest thing to his adoptive mothers he’s found in the universe out there. So he hugs even, because Elnor wants his mommy, but since his mommy can’t be there, Seven as the closest substitute must do.

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  3. Well, it was fun. In a horrific ex-Borg massacring sort of way, but fun. And it pulls everything together neatly…

    Maybe a little too neatly – Rios’s story does feel like a coincidence too far, to me. (Also Seven’s timely arrival on the cube. Yes, we saw Elnor grab the Ranger signal, last episode in fact, but how did she get to the cube? Her ship was destroyed… did she hitch a lift? Maybe that Borg implant on her left hand incorporates an Electronic Thumb?) (And while I’m parenthetically griping about Seven, I’d like to know what her jacket’s made of, if Borg cables can link up through it and into her spine, and then pull away without leaving so much as a mark on the back.)

    Narissa has certainly cemented her status as a complete psycho. “Unspeakably awful psychic vision? Call me when there’s something exciting on AncientArtifactVision, Commodore.” I do hope that her being dogpiled by ex-Borgs isn’t the last we see of her.

    The whole thing about synthetic life forms, though, strikes me as hard to reconcile with the existing background… there is, after all, an entire planet full of androids out there somewhere (five hundred of them called Stella), without – apparently – attracting the attention of Whatever It Is. What counts as a synthetic life form, anyway? Human level AI? Self-aware holograms? (The show has often been weirdly inconsistent about holograms, but it seems clear that sophisticated ones – like the EMH – have at least got the capacity to achieve genuine sentience.) I’m not convinced… but I will be tuning in to see what the “Destroyer” is, if that’s actually revealed at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. // What counts as a synthetic life form, anyway? //

      They’ve given themselves some wiggle room with a ‘threshold” i.e. if your android are all a bit beep-boop-does-not-compute then you’re fine but if they cross the boundary between B4 and Data and WHAM! the elder gods arise and eat you or something.

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      1. So if your androids cannot quite cope with the nuances of grammar in informal speech, you have no problems, but if you’ve taught them to use contractions, you’re doomed?

        Maybe… but what about, say, the original inhabitants of Exo III, for instance? Granted, they’re extinct, but it’s not down to a visit from an external Destroyer – and their androids were good enough for, well, let’s not get into what they were using Andrea for, but she could certainly pass for human. Or there’s two entire civilizations in the Delta Quadrant somewhere (I’ve forgotten their names, I deliberately blanked out most of Voyager) which have been entirely replaced by their own Automated Personnel Units….

        Yes, I know I’m a sad continuity junkie and I ought to get a life.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I think I have some degree of face blindness, and I have found the holograms very confusing – they kind of look like Rios, but not exactly like him – so it was good to have that clarified.

    Mr angharad and I were getting strong Mass Effect vibes from the turns in the storyline in this episode . Mass Effect is a trilogy of video games where the story centres around a vision left by an ancient civilisation warning of their destruction by a super powerful race of machines. It offers a number of reflections on the relative natures of synthetic and organic life, and the supposedly inevitable conflicts between them.

    Having set up this potential future cataclysm, I can see them potentially setting up some horrible choice at the end (save the synthetics or save the universe), and I hope they have found a satisfactory resolution to this that does not involve blithely genociding the androids. One of the faults of TNG was that they too often found pat or easy solutions to difficult problems (usually with some kind of techno babble). The writers of Picard have given me a little more faith in them so far, but their willingness to toss thousands of borg out the airlock (literally) is a bit concerning.

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  5. I enjoyed the episode, but I found myself giving it the Mystery Science Theater treatment in a couple of places. The beings a couple hundred thousand years ago created synthetic life. “They evolved.” Me: “They rebelled. There are many copies, and they have a plan.” Then near the end when Picard is listing the tools for creating the future, it seemed necessary to cap it off with, “…and a fanatical devotion to the Pope!”

    Liked by 3 people

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