Saturday, February 29, 2020

Picard, Season 1: The Impossible Box, Season 1
"The Impossible Box"
Airdate: February 27, 2020
6 of 10 produced
6 of 10 aired


Picard finally reaches the Borg Cube, while, with impeccable timing, Soji learns that her life is a lie.

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Kevin: This episode was largely fine. Nothing happened that I hated or made me really angry, and I'm thrilled we will get no more scenes of Soji and Narek mumble cuddling. Ideally, we won't get any more Romulans in the Attic either. (I will stop with the Flowers in the Attic references when they stop handing them to me.) I feel like this resolution should have come at the end of episode three. A two hour pilot that sets up Picard's new status quo and getting the band together, and a single episode trip to go get Soji. If nothing else, her life, ostensibly has been in imminent danger since the first twenty minutes of the show, and we moseyed in 60% of the way through the story and she was just barely beginning to not be fine. Also, the resolution thus far has really rendered the Borg somewhat useless as a story arc. The idea of a reclaimed cube and people other than title characters getting saved from the Borg is a neat idea, but what did it add? Why did Maddox send her to the cube? Isn't that just extraordinarily dangerous? And the stuff with Romulan mythology? All of it really feels like window dressing to get Seven and Hugh back on the show. Not a terrible goal, to be fair, but all the scenes there dragged, and since we're apparently done there now, I really wonder why they were there.

Matthew: Yet again, all of your reasonable questions, which a well-written and constructed show would have already answered, are either: 1. never going to be addressed; or 2. are being arbitrarily withheld for the BIG REVEAL. At this point, my theory for the BIG REVEAL is that the Romulans created the Borg thousands of years ago, which is the cause of their (heretofore unknown) congenital hatred towards synthetic life, and Soji will become the new Borg Queen. Aaaaanyway, I do agree that this episode was an improvement over the last. It was merely dumb, as opposed to being both dumb and grotesquely offensive and manipulative. I wholeheartedly agree that the pacing of this seasons is completely bizarre. The scene of her discovering her android nature was pretty good. Why did it have to happen so late into the show, after interminable scenes of her.... whatever it is with Narek?

Kevin: This episode is terms of being an hour of entertainment was fine. Picard got where he was going, and he did some stuff, and now is off to do something else. That all works fine. I do think such a table setting episode should have come sooner, but that's apparently just me. The only real problem I see in the episode is the soft conflict between the general tone of the show and the character work. Elnor is actually a pretty good addition to the Spock/Data/Odo pantheon for people who "humorously do not get humanity." The problem is a wide-eyed kid who doesn't get human idioms would be right at home in classic TNG, but this show has eyes being gouged out. Even if the series were more episodic, the clash would be easier to swallow. TNG certainly had light and dark episodes, so did DS9 for that matter. But making it all one integrated story makes Jurati or Elnor's enjoyable awkwardness clash with rather than contribute to the story. I'm also going to take this opportunity to reiterate how much they should not have bifurcated Isa Briones into Dahj and Soji. Imagine the character that was shockingly successfully painted in episode one encountering Narek here. When she was scanning all her stuff and finding even her childhood toy was only 37 months old (Sidenote: what does replication do to carbon dating? Moving on...), but then trusts Narek, I was almost yelling at my television the way you do at a horror movie. "Literally every facet of my life and important relationship is a carefully manufactured fraud...except my fuckboy Romulan boyfriend who took an interest in me for no apparent reason the literal instant he got here." And it wouldn't have taken a huge rewrite to make it work better. Right after she makes her realization, she flips and locks Narek in the room, revealing she's realized he was goading her to this point. It ends the episode in the same place but makes Soji a much more interesting character who DOES things rather than just waits for the next thing to happen to here, and I think the character they painted in Dahj would have done that easily.

Matthew: That whole "meditation room" scene drove me up the wall. It's SO stupid. Does the room have hypnagogic effects on people? Pity that wasn't mentioned in dialogue. Why else would Soji be experiencing hallucinations while inside it? And how does "a planet with electrical storms and two moons" definitely give them the location of the secret... android base? Why does Narek's childhood toy come equipped with a "fatal radiation dispenser" setting? (Would have been pretty hard cheese if sis had accidentally stumbled onto THAT!) Or was it a second replica toy that he had fabricated solely for this purpose? This show is so, sooo dumb.The 37 month scene would have been an effective one in a larger episode about a synthetic person discovering that their memories are lies (e.g. "Inheritance"). But it's over, already. It's time to move on from ideas and emotions and identifying with anyone and instead learn "clever" plot information about the Borg Cube or the synthetic colony or whatever the #$%&.

Kevin: The characterization of Picard himself is starting to grate a little. I get he is supposed to be past his prime and a little out of touch, but it's starting to come unmoored from the TNG character. Rafi burns a friendship because he needed paperwork, and he applauds her performance rather than acknowledge that. TNG Picard would have done the quiet hand on the shoulder with an audible only to her 'thank you.' He also seems pretty unconcerned about her drinking, which if all we had was the first episode, would be fine, but with last week's acknowledgment of her addiction, he should be more concerned. I get you can shade Picard as a man so used to getting his way by force of will that he cracks a little when he gets push back, and that, in a quieter, less violent show, might be a really interesting avenue to explore, but here, it just seems like they don't see the increasing fissure between the two portrayals. I mean, it just seems like twenty years and some isolationist Federation politics are not enough to explain the gap between the Picard who gave Worf like nine leaves of absence to go Klingon somewhere and the person here, who is practically knowingly using an addict to get what he wants on a whim. They have four episodes to tie it together, but I'm not exactly optimistic about that.

Matthew: Also, Raffi said of Picard that "Every part of that guy that's not ego is rampaging id." Um, what? Have any of these characters met Picard? Have these writers watched TNG? That's about as far from a description of Jean-Luc Picard as I can possibly imagine. He was literally created to be the anti-Kirk, who a person might have (inaccurately) described this way. Did the writer just look up some words  in a psych textbook and feel proud to use them in a sentence? Picard also seems to have quickly reached a place of acceptance with regard to Elnor's penchant for murdering. Kevin, it's not going to happen. This isn't going to be wrapped up, the inconsistencies won't be explained. No time! We only have four episodes to go, and we need to see the Borg Cube and its New Queen threaten ALL LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE! Every week, a bunch of (or a small amount) of "plot" happens. But the episodes aren't about anything. Kurtzman et al. seem to feel that name checking four or five "big ideas" in the pilot episode suffices for exploring any of them in depth. Now, the show is just a bunch of stuff that happens.


Kevin: I don't think Briones or Treadaway did badly with the material, but I don't think they elevated it either. I just don't think they have enough chemistry to really sell their relationship. Narek has 'fallen' for Soji because those are the rules of spy movies, not because of anything on the page or between the actors.

Matthew: I will give props to Isa Briones for capably grounding us in the emotional life of a synethic human who has discovered that her life is a lie. I agree that she has not sold me on the relationship between her character and Narek's, but I find it hard to fault her for that. Similarly, Harry Treadaway did a reasonably good job of being less dumb than he has been in prior episodes. Although his dialogue with the sister character was wretchedly dumb, he almost had me convinced that he didn't think it was.

Kevin: Stewart is his usual capable self. I liked the scenes with Hugh for themselves, though I do think there is a bit of a disconnect describing the Borg as a cancer in one scene and then victims in the next. I think the connection can me made, it just wasn't in the script. Cabrera and Pill are another couple with no chemistry, honestly even to sell the "let's just have distraction sex" they were going for, but both certainly have a naturalistic quality that would better serve a show less enamored with Lost. Michelle Hurd delivered another performance that I really enjoyed. She gave her wheedling of her friend just the right edge of an addict used to manipulating people and then crawling back into her spiral that really worked. I also think Evagora has the chops to, again, in a different show, really shine as the comic relief outsider. "In-butting" is not an easy joke to sell, but I think he really did it. I think he really hit the ball right down the fairway on finding a character who is shy but guileless in a way that is quite endearing. In all, they actually put together a good crew. I'd love to see them tackle an ethical issue instead of blowing stuff up.

Matthew:  Alison Pill is very interesting to watch. Her face and eyes are very active, and her fair skin really betrays emotion. It's a shame she has been given so little of interest to do. You know a scene I would have enjoyed watching her in? The one where the fake commodore convinces her to MURDER HER LOVER. Anyway, I enjoyed her subsurface conflict here. I totally agree that her apparent hookup (blissfully off screen) with Rios did not feel natural at all.

Production Values

Kevin: By and large, I was pretty happy. The Borg effects, especially for Picard, seem to be a bit of harmonization between the pale TNG Borg and the zombie First Contact/Voyager Borg. The cube interior felt like an update of the TNG version rather than the smoke filled Voyager one. I do think this was the place for a long shot of the cube fading to the vanishing point, but that's a small complaint. Does the the Queen having a transporter that goes 40,000 light years seem silly? Sure, but that ship sailed from a different harbor long, long ago. I liked Hugh's make-up, too.

Matthew: I was annoyed the the constant flashing lights, the idiotic architecture that seemed designed solely to imperil an octogenarian, and the "look at our effects budget!" morphing wall. 

Kevin: The Romulan meditation room looked like a yoga studio filled with Ikea lamps, which is I'm sure is what it was. The magic red dust radiation made me roll my eyes, but more for plot than design reasons, as it was all designed just to get her to hulk out. Beyond that, this was practically a bottle show. The Sirena, and the cube, excuse me Artifact, were really the only sets.

Matthew: You know what I don't like? The bedding. The notion that an entirely different species uses duvets and dust ruffles just really irks me.


Kevin: I've ragged on a lot of the episode, but I think this is still a 3. The problems are with the show not the episode, and to the extent the episode's goal was to get Picard and Soji together, it did that in a reasonably entertaining way, and I'm just glad the bulk of the cube story is over.

Matthew: This is an improvement over last episode's disastrous departure from good storytelling, good taste, and good judgment. But the show is still powerfully dumb, and engages in the laziest forms of serial storytelling cheats. Characters stop conversations before an organic terminus, random things are introduced only to provide platforms for SHOCKS and TWISTS, the characterization of established characters is inconsistent both with past stories as well as internally... and we still got a goodly amount of murder thrown in to boot.This latest episode had a basic watchability that the prior episode lacked - if you turned off your brain and just "enjoyed the ride." But I don't want to turn my brain off to watch Star Trek. I can't go above a 2 here, for a total of 5. We'll see if having scenes with Riker and Troi can stir up enough nostalgia for a 3 next episode.  

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