After last week's episode, which featured no scenes aboard the Artefact, this instalment spends almost all its time there, as the two storylines finally meet and Picard's search for Soji reaches its culmination. It's surprising that the series has taken so long to bring the two sets of characters together, with Picard's crew and the Romulan-Borg set-up being kept entirely separate until now. While last week's episode was eventful, little of it actually advanced the plot. This week things really kick into high gear, and while I've enjoyed the more languid pace of this series, it's good to have some forward motion at last.
We've been waiting some time to see Picard return to a Borg cube for the first time since “The Best of Both Worlds,” and this episode does not disappoint. Stewart gives us some of his strongest acting ever in this role – I don't think I've seen him put this much into Picard since the torture scenes in “Chain of Command.” In contrast to his barely suppressed rage when confronting the Borg in First Contact – which was almost a quarter of a century ago – Picard is visibly terrified of the prospect of boarding a cube. There's an absolutely beautiful bit of direction where he reviews the reports of his assimilation, and the image of Locutus overlays Picard's own face. It's a simple yet very powerful image, and pushes home how Picard still bears the internal scars of his assimilation. Once he's actually boards the cube, his terror is overwhelming, and Stewart's performance steps up again, as the XBs surround him and he is momentarily convinced they are moving to attack him.
“They don't change,” says Picard, “they metastasize.” It's an exceptional line, and one that reflects his, and most characters', understandable attitudes to the Collective. Of course, we know that the Borg, or at least individual drones, can change. Seven of Nine's guest role reminds of various rehabilitated drones on Voyager, while Hugh himself makes a far more significant contribution to this episode than in his previous brief appearance. In a heart-warming moment, Picard and Hugh embrace, suggesting they must have had some contact since they last met in “Descent,” where they were respectful of each other but certainly not friends. Hugh has developed significantly as an individual, and has helped other former drones become compassionate beings, even if they don't all show much in the way of individuality. When he speaks to Hugh, though, Picard shows a different attitude: “You're showing what the Borg are underneath. They're victims, not monsters.”
On the other end of the story, the incest twins bring their operation to a close, as Narek finally gets Soji to confront her past. The scene where Soji realises that all her memories are fabricated, and that everything about her dates back only thirty-seven months, is powerful. Isa Briones gives an excellent performance here, and shows that she's very good in the role when she's actually given something interesting to react against. With Narek's help, Soji accesses her only real memories, which have hidden in her dreams, and from this discovers the location of her home planet (although surely there must be more than one planet in the galaxy that could conceivably have a similar sky). He then proceeds to try to gas her to death, which is an especially cruel method of execution considering that he could just blast her. He seems genuinely upset as he walks away, suggesting he has real feelings for Soji, which if anything makes his actions even more disgusting.
He really hasn't thought it through, of course, as all this does is activate Soji, just as Dahj's assassination attempt activated her. We get some great action to lead the episode out, as Picard, Elnor and Hugh battle their way to the Borg Queen's chamber and make an escape through a spatial trajector. Picard saves Soji, for now at least, so his mission has been a success, but he's left Hugh and Elnor, plus everyone on La Sirena, deep in Romulan territory with little hope of escape.
On the whole, Picard doesn't actually come of very well in this episode, for all his bravery. He uses Raffi, who is visibly drunk and distressed, to gain entry to the Artefact, forcing her to utilise and endanger one of her few remaining friendships to ease the channels. His rescue of Soji is perfunctory by necessity, but he does little to put the poor girl at ease after her entire worldview has been upended. One gets the impression of someone for whom the mission is the most important thing, never mind what else gets broken on the way.
(Other) best line: Picard is “so Federation, his face is probably on the damn brochure.”
Sexy Trek: Dr. Jurati and Rios get sexy with each other, and while they both say it's a bad idea, you really can't blame either of them.
Thoughts and observations:
So, the poor old Sikarians from Voyager have been assimilated. The Borg have appropriated spatial trajector technology from them, which handily for the plot allows a quick hop through space, to anywhere up to 40,000 light years away. When Voyager tried to use this technology, they were scuppered by the fact that the planet Sikaris itself was essential to its function, but either the Borg or the Sikarians themselves seem to have overcome this. Quite why the Borg Queen needs an escape route, when she can seemingly survive death, is unclear.
I like the line, “The Romulans are in a 250-year bad mood.” Starfleet first made contact with the Romulans in 2152 on Enterprise, 247 years before this episode.
Hugh is a Federation citizen, which is intriguing.
The hug between Hugh and Picard was apparently not in the script, but was worked out by Stewart and Del Arco. Which is just lovely.