"Broken Pieces" is an effective if imperfect Answers Episode that finally puts pieces together and confirms suspicions that have been building across the previous seven shows, setting us up for the final two installments, which will presumably close out the season arc. This episode features a lot of dialogue and explaining, much of it in the TNG tradition of situational analysis, and I appreciated the way it had characters discussing in detail what they now understand, for their and our benefit.
After "Stardust City Rag" appeared at the time to be a potential season-killing episode, Picard has come back with three winners in a row and now heads into the home stretch with the ability to go out with a successful season, provided they can effectively end this thing.
Perhaps the most crucial information in "Broken Pieces" is that the calamitous vision Commodore Oh shared via mind meld with Dr. Jurati was in fact a distant memory from an ancient culture, and not some image of a destined future about to happen. (Well, not yet, at least.) This is useful, because it reframes the battle in the here and now as one of ideological belief, rather than a race against the clock to stop some assured Armageddon.
We see in the opening flashback sequence that Oh (who is actually half Vulcan and half Romulan) and Narissa, along with several others (including Ramdha, whom Narissa calls "auntie" in the present) unlocked this vision on a distant world at the center of an octet of stars (a vision from an event that happened "thousands of centuries ago") and interpreted it as a dire warning requiring action; the vision was so intense that it drove most of the group to immediate suicide. (I was reminded of that reasonably okay movie Bird Box, where an alien presence, when seen, drove people to such madness they would immediately jump out in front of buses, bludgeon themselves, or stab themselves with scissors, or whatever, because what they experienced was so entrancingly disturbing.)
This extreme notion borders on goofiness as a psychosis, but it reveals Narissa and Oh as righteous True Believers (from their perspective) who are fighting a war to stop what they think threatens all life. It provides a shading to the villains that gives them a little more interest. It also reveals the central doomsday allegation as just one particular interpretation by a dark and shadowy group with a narrow view, and is very likely to be proven wrong by the time this is all over (although, stay tuned on that, because even some of our heroes still have their doubts). Oh was already a deep undercover plant in Starfleet when she experienced the vision, and so the Zhat Vash engineered the synth uprising on Mars to turn the Federation against synthetic life.
The best parts of "Broken Pieces" arrive at these conclusions by having characters talk to each other in scenes that are enjoyable precisely because they are informative. Jurati, who at the end of "Nepenthe" injected herself with a chemical cocktail that would disable the internal tracker in her bloodstream but only at great risk of death, wakes up and promptly cops to her part in Oh's plot. Her scene with Picard reveals just how psychologically warped Oh's meld left her (she describes the vision as a hellish "poison" that has left her contemplating suicide ever since), and it helps partially unbury the character for Maddox's murder.
The idea of an octet of stars that were somehow moved into place by an ancient society in order to provide a signpost to an urgent warning makes for an intriguingly and impossibly large-scaled sci-fi concept. And also in terms of sci-fi, we have the continued examination of Soji and her plight as a lost woman who is completely human in every way except for the superhuman ways in which she is not. Jurati is as intrigued about her as she is fearful of what she believes she may represent.
I do still think there's a logical flaw in the middle of one of this series' core ideas, which is the question of the danger around "synths" versus AI in general, which include advanced Federation computers and holograms. Why is this danger about androids so specifically? Does it have to do with their potential for "becoming" human in nearly all aspects, as Soji has? And why is this potentially calamitously dangerous? Because we fear the synths will decide to replace us? Why, how very 21st century of you.
Meanwhile, the episode continues to examine relationships between the members of our motley crew. Raffi gets some good investigative moments as she attempts to reach a reclusive Rios, who has retreated to his quarters because something has shaken him. This episode finally puts in some quality time looking at Rios' troubled backstory, which includes a dark chapter and cover-up involving his former captain, and a mysterious woman named "Jana" who looked just like Soji and who turns out was another of her sisters. And so the plot connects everyone together, and if the universe seems like a small place, I do appreciate that the storyline gives everyone a specific purpose relating to the larger arc.
There's also a lot of time spent with the various holograms that run the ship in Rios' likeness. This is good for some lighter comic material, culminating in a scene featuring a half-dozen Rios holograms who all have different accents and personalities and help Raffi crack the case of the stellar octet. I appreciated the attempt to frame this investigation within some fun, and mixing up the tone somewhat.
For Picard's part, after some bickering between old-timers, he finally convinces Admiral Clancy that he's not tilting at windmills, and she arranges to send Starfleet reinforcements to a rendezvous point at Deep Space 12. I hope this allows the opportunity to open the scope of the show a little bit. Like Discovery, I've found Picard to be so single-minded in its scope of characters and plot that it often feels like we only get to see tiny fragments of this universe.
There's a B-story here as well, where Elnor attempts unsuccessfully to hide on the Borg cube while being hunted by Narissa's forces. He's given aid to repel those forces by a much better-armed Seven of Nine, whom he fortunately called on speed dial thanks to the dearly departed Hugh. Seven and Elnor retreat to the secret queen room aboard the cube, where Seven is able to tap into the collective and potentially take control of the hive, should it become necessary to protect the drones from Narissa.
This is a very convenient ability, especially on a ship that's supposedly so fundamentally disabled. But I'll allow it, because it means we get to see Seven making some interesting choices and risking her own individuality. She fears once she connects herself to the ship and assumes the role of "queen," she may never want to relinquish it. Seven fires up all the drones and this feels like it's building to what will be an awesome Borg action sequence, but then most of the drones get suddenly vented into space by Narissa and the sequence is puzzlingly over before it begins. Really, this whole side of the plot could've used more time to breathe, because at times it feels like an afterthought that could've been its own episode if this series didn't exhibit such monomania.
There's a lot of plot in "Broken Pieces," such that the title itself starts to seem meta. But especially aboard La Sirena, the episode does a good job explaining itself and moving things along at a good clip, even while the pace of the dialogue scenes never feels like it's in a hurry. This is not a groundbreaking outing, and I'm tempering my expectations on the season arc, but we're headed into the endgame now, with Soji much more in the pilot's seat (even literally). This works pretty well and for me is one of the season's better installments.
Some other thoughts:
- Nitpick alert: I thought the Borg cube had been under reclamation for at least 16 years (given the sign seen earlier in the season), but as of 14 years ago, Ramdha hadn't even been assimilated yet, and she's supposedly what disabled the cube in the first place. Something doesn't add up. (Or maybe the people who posted the sign were kidding around.)
- Why make a warning vision so psychologically damaging to the intended recipients that they are compelled to kill themselves before they can heed your advice? (Maybe file this under Alien Things Not Meant for Your Feeble Minds.)
- The moment I saw Oh was working with the Romulans back in "Maps and Legends," I figured her a Romulan pretending to be a Vulcan. I guess I was half right.
- Seven felt more like vintage Seven here than in her appearance in "Stardust City Rag." Maybe that's because here she was dealing with the Borg and a fundamental piece of her character while in "Rag" she was dealing mostly with revenge clichés. I hope Jeri Ryan sticks around for more of this series and into next season.
- Elnor gives Seven a hug when she saves him. Sweet kid.
- Picard sits down in the captain's chair and starts to set a course and then announces, "I don't know how to work this." It's an obvious setup and joke, but still funny. I liked it.
- Apologies for the delay in this review. As you can imagine, it's been a crazy seven days for everyone with the sudden escalation in the coronavirus crisis. I mean, where we were a week ago and where we are now — it's kind of mind boggling. But life goes on, even if it feels like we might be in a bunker mentality for weeks or even months. Be safe out there.