In 'Star Trek: Picard' Episode 6, Jean-Luc Reacquaints Himself with Locutus of Borg

The sixth episode of Star Trek: Picard, "The Impossible Box," premiered on CBS All Access Thursday and confronts former Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) with the darkest chapter of his captaincy: his assimilation into the Borg Collective.

While the previous episode, "Stardust City Rag," dealt with Seven of Nine's (Jeri Ryan) post-Borg trauma, forcing her to mercy-kill her Star Trek: Voyager ward Icheb—a repulsive moment roughly equivalent to watching Beverly Crusher strangle Wesley (except that viewers liked Icheb)—the ex-Borg leaves Picard uncertain of his own recovered humanity.

After checking in with the oblivious android Soji (Isa Briones) and Romulan spy Narek (Harry Treadaway) on the Borg Artifact, "The Impossible Box" makes Picard's ongoing anger toward the Borg explicit. When Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) speculates that the Borg aboard the captured cube may have changed, Jean-Luc explodes.

"Changed? The Borg?" he shouts. "They coolly assimilate entire civilizations, entire systems, in a matter of hours. They don't change. They metastasize."

Ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation third season episode "The Best of Both Worlds"—in which Captain Picard becomes Locutus of Borg and devastates Starfleet, killing 11,000 at the Battle of Wolf 359—Jean-Luc's assimilation into the Collective has been a central part of the character's identity, by sign-posting the limits of his value system. While Picard may be a well-read sophisticate who prefers diplomacy, rage overwhelms his rationality when faced with the Borg. He may have come a long way since Star Trek: First Contact, in which he smashes his own ready room in a tantrum, but the latest episode of Picard reveals the wound is still open, nearly 30 years later.

Raffi (Michelle Hurd) talking their way on to the Borg cube in 'Star Trek: Picard' episode "The Impossible Box." CBS All Access

So, going to the Borg cube captured by the Romulans, where Picard hopes to rescue Soji from the anti-synthetic Tal Shiar extremists of the Zhat Vash, doesn't exactly go well for the former starship captain. Aboard the Artifact, he experiences flashes from the Collective and panics when some helpful ex-Borg attempt to give him a hand. It doesn't help that he's occasionally recognized from his time leading the hive mind, with the name Locutus echoing among the ex-Borg.

Ex-Borg leader Hugh (another TNG character, played with soulful resolve by returning actor Jonathan Del Arco), who leads the Borg Reclamation Project aboard the Artifact, helps Picard find perspective, not only touring him through the hospital facilities where Romulan doctors work to de-assimilate Borg—prompting Picard to realize they are victims, just as he was—but also staying by his side as they track down Soji.

The other major story thread in the episode, Soji's spy games, finally find some traction after several episodes stuck waiting on Jean-Luc to arrive. The weirdest part of Soji and Narek's relationship up to this point has been its peculiar lack of subterfuge, with Soji openly speculating that Narek is a Tal Shiar spy and Narek not even bothering to deny it. But "The Impossible Box" finally establishes an informational disparity between the two of them capable of producing some genuine tension, when Soji starts investigating herself, uncovering what Narek already knows.

Narek and Soji's romance reaches a crisis point in "The Impossible Box." CBS All Access

She doesn't like what she finds: not only are daily phone calls with her mother some form of hypnotic control, but all of her photos, mementos and possessions can be dated to a little more than three years ago ("Probable Age: 37 months," we learn). She seems to have no past before that, leaving Narek an opportunity to play savior.

His ruse begins in a Zhal makh chamber, where Narek guides Soji through a Romulan meditation rite, accessing her dreams through a twisting path on the floor with lantern waypoints. His plan is to "access her underlying engrams without triggering her self-defense subroutines" to get at the information he needs: whether there are more synthetics like Soji out there. No hacking is involved, instead, Narek guides Soji through a recurring dream, pushing her into deeper layers of her psyche.

While Picard pushes the Federation in some anti-Utopian and discordantly violent directions, the scene demonstrates how it can also recapture some of The Next Generation's sillier side, including its fondness for bizarre and unsubtle symbolism. In what seems to be a nod to Deanna Troi's transformation into a mint-frosted cake in the Season 7 episode "Phantasms," Soji finds herself as a wooden doll, disassembled and helpless. Less Inception, more The Cell, the dream sequence ends when Narek gets what he wants: a clue pointing toward the world where Soji was created.

When androids dream of electric desserts: Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is a cake in Data's dream in 'The Next Generation' Season 7 episode "Phantasms." CBS Home Entertainment

As anyone who's ever seen a television show could have guessed, Narek betrays Soji, but expresses an adequate amount of grief to suggest he genuinely loves her, establishing the hope that Narek might later redeem himself. Escaping with the help of her android strength, Soji falls through the floor, crashing right in front of Picard. The two escape the Artifact with the help of Hugh, Elnor and some secret Borg Queen technology. The Zhat Vash probably won't be far behind.

We still don't know the identity or purpose of the Conclave of 8, or why a Soong-type android developed by a scientist on Earth would have a homeworld, but Star Trek: Picard is beginning to set-up its endgame in "The Impossible Box." The episode may be short on answers, but the questions are beginning to come into view. What does Soji have to do with the Borg? What is the secret of the Zhat Vash? With its focus on Picard's still-lingering anger toward the Borg, the episode also suggests he may find Soji's true nature presents a challenge to his feelings. Could she be, somehow, a new generation of Borg?

We'll learn more in the next episode of Star Trek: Picard, "Nepenthe," which debuts on CBS All Access on Thursday, March 5.

Some more gripes and likes from Star Trek: Picard episode "The Impossible Box":

  • Elnor (Evan Evagora) is funny! Too bad he has to say the word "in-butting" and gets stuck with a particularly thankless narrative task: offering to sacrifice himself to hold back an enemy, even after Picard and Soji instantaneously teleport free of danger.
  • "For now, keep sharing her bed, endlessly fidgeting with her until she pops open like that stupid box," Narek's Romulan spylord sister (Peyton List) tells him—marking the nadir of her ongoing obsession with her brother's sex life and a low point in a long history of cringe Star Trek lines.
  • In "Stardust City Rag," Picard gleefully disguises himself as an eye-patched French bounty hunter, but the character quickly cracks. "The Impossible Box" doubles down on Picard's charming lack of guile when he decides the best tactic for infiltrating the Artifact is the Way of Absolute Candor preferred by the Qowat Milat. This leads to a fun conversation between a Starfleet bureaucrat and Raffi (Michelle Hurd), who burns yet another bridge maneuvering her former colleague into coughing up diplomatic passes to the Borg cube.
  • While Picard is supportive of Raffi's substance abuse struggles, his focus on the mission and lifetime of accomplishments prove a high barrier to emotional rapport (a minor character deficiency that calls to mind his last scene on TNG, when he finally sits down to play cards with his crew, after spending nearly a decade with them). But pilot Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera) rises to fulfill some of these captaining duties in "The Impossible Box," projecting a wounded empathy with the other people aboard La Sirena.
  • File under "We Always Suspected": Romulans call humans "round ears."