The overarching conspiracy cracks open on an episode that sets up the finale.
With “Broken Pieces”, Star Trek: Picard finally puts its cards on the table. There are still a few questions left up in the air: Who built the octonary star system and established The Admonition? What specifically destroyed that ancient society? How precisely did Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) and Zhat Vash turn the Synths on Mars into killbots? But this episode answers most of the show’s major questions, and there’s something satisfying about that, at least in principle.
An opening flashback reveals that Zhat Vash was formed after receiving a vision of A.I.-related doom from a long-dead civilization and that its members include Commodore Oh, Narissa (Peyton List), and Ramdha (the crazy Romulan ex-B who nearly shot Soji in “The End Is the Beginning”). Agnes (Alison Pill) comes clean to her crewmates about her “mind-poisoning” from Oh and her hand in Maddox’s death.
The finer points of Zhat Vash’s Starfleet infiltration, motivation, and ultimate objective spills out through a combination of Raffi’s (Michelle Hurd) theories, Dr. Jurati’s mind meld fragments, and Soji’s (Isa Briones) programming. If that all weren’t enough, the episode culminates in one big cast-wide exposition fest, there to sum up each of these sundry details for anyone half-asleep during the rest of the episode.
On the one hand, it’s gratifying to have answers to these questions. Star Trek: Picard spun out so many threads of its central mystery, but spent far more time cryptically teasing them and tying them into knots than actually weaving them together. After this spate of vague hints, it’s a treat to see the tapestry this clearly. And with so much left ambiguous and opaque until now, finally explicating the full motivations of the good guys, the bad guys, and the robots on the run add clarity and purpose to the show that’s been otherwise smothered within its mystery box.
On the other hand, much of how that clearer picture comes together feels awfully convenient. Raffi stitches together pieces of her conspiracy theory that she’s never mentioned until now. Agnes goes from being ready to commit suicide over her mental anguish and the terrible knowledge she possesses to being willing to spill the beans on everything she knows after a single conversation with Soji. Soji herself unlocks more hidden info triggered by hearing certain names and details that happen to lead our heroes oh so smoothly toward the impending grand confrontation.
It’s almost as if these developments and details didn’t arise organically from the natural beats of the stories themselves, but rather had to be shoehorned in and stacked on top of one another as a matter of T.V. show expediency. Star Trek: Picard played coy with its season-length puzzles for so long that by the time it unveils the solution, the rush of answers feels sudden and contrived.
The same goes for the hurried reveal of Chris Rios’s (Santiago Cabrera) Starfleet backstory. The “Previously On” segment nearly gives up the game, reminding the audience of how Rios grew disillusioned with Starfleet after some terrible incident involving his captain. That, combined with his disturbed reaction to seeing Soji, tells the audience plainly that the two events are connected, to the point that Chris seeing Soji’s face triggers his PTSD.
Star Trek: Picard played coy with its season-length puzzles for so long that by the time it unveils the solution, the rush of answers feels sudden and contrived.
Once again, rather than just clearing that up straight away and making time for the characters to process and address it, “Broken Pieces” turns Rios’s reaction into yet another riddle. Unfortunately, that leads to a laughless attempt at comedy, where Raffi interacts with each of La Sirena’s emergency holograms (and their cheesy accents) in an effort to try to psychoanalyze Chris piecemeal. These interludes are tonally off and don’t convey anything beyond the fact that this conjured a painful memory for Rios, something already obvious.
But painful visits to the past are the order of the day for “Broken Pieces”. The scenes set back on The Artifact are more intense and action-y than those on La Sirena, but both involve our resident badasses channeling their personal histories, no matter how tough those remembrances may be. For Seven (Jeri Ryan), that means plugging into the Borg cube as a mini-queen, in an effort to defend it and her former brethren from the Romulans, despite the scariness of patching back into that network.
It’s the most action-y interlude in an otherwise talky episode, with Romulan disruptor blasts, drones launched into the vacuum of space, and even a seeming homage to Day of the Dead when a horde of Borg loyalists swarm Narissa. (Crazy theory: could she come back as The Destroyer?)
Seven gets a few more badass moments amid some dodgy CGI, and her pairing with Elnor (Evan Evagora) clicks better than one might expect. These sequences include fewer big reveals and more fireworks and setup for the bombastic endgame to come. But it works as a change of pace from the more serene table-setting that takes place elsewhere.
If only the same could be said for Rios’s subplot. Eventually, he recounts his mentally-scarring break-up with Starfleet. Chris’s captain obeyed Federation orders to murder two innocent beings who were seeking first contact. Then, when Chris called him on it, the captain killed himself, leaving Rios to pick up the pieces, sweep the incident under the rug so that Starfleet Command wouldn’t destroy his ship and crewmates.
Eventually, Starfleet drummed Chris out of the service under the guise of post-traumatic dysphoria. Soji’s arrival on La Sirena revives those awful memories since one of those murdered by his captain was another Synth duplicate.
Emotionally, the reveal works. The wind-up to it is interminable, and yet there’s something potent about the way that Rios left Starfleet disgusted by its failure to live up to its own ideals, as channeled through his disillusionment with the man he looked to as a father. “Broken Pieces” deploys that backstory quickly and clumsily, but it leads to an overly-didactic yet effective scene where he and Picard (Patrick Stewart) commiserate over their common ground.
Picard absolves Rios’s father figure of guilt and assuages Rios’s bitterness in one fell swoop, declaring him the noble victim of bad actors. But Jean Luc doesn’t absolve Starfleet, chastising his once-venerated institution for being fearful and foolish enough to step into Zhat Vash’s trap, no matter the bad intent behind it. The moment is ham-handed, with Picard practically announcing the moral of the show to the audience, but there’s still an emotional weight to the connection between these two men who left Starfleet out of pain and principle.
Painful visits to the past are the order of the day.
The plot elements, however, are much shakier. The big answers “Broken Pieces” unveils create one more tiresome small universe problem. It’s not enough that Star Trek: Picard’s characters simply be allied or at odds due to these events; they must already be enmeshed in a tangle of interpersonal connections for some reason.
Dr. Jurati cannot simply be Maddox’s colleague; she must be his lover and his killer. The mentally unbalanced woman who turned on Soji can’t just be a random Romulan ex-B or another Zhat Vash agent; she’s also Narek (Harry Treadaway) and Narissa’s aunt. Rios’s troubled past can’t just be a normal Federation situation gone wrong; it just so happens to involve the same Maddox-built Synths, with the same faces, that have been at the center of the series from the beginning.
Any story involves a certain amount of contrivance. And yet too many shortcuts, too many secret nonsensical linkages, renders the whole thing inert. Beyond those unnecessary family ties, the grand secret of Star Trek: Picard turns out to be yet another evil Commodore, yet another hidden Federation conspiracy, and yet another series of coincidences to where the scheme’s various tendrils all just happened to ensnare the series’s main characters. (Hello again, Star Trek Into Darkness fans!)
There’s something admittedly interesting and salient in Zhat Vash’s fear that the interstellar community will soon cross irrevocably into the Technological Singularity. But the show’s path to reach that reveal is a rocky one.
What’s more, while it’s nice to finally have answers to the season’s big mysteries, when the answers themselves are a bit shaky and hand-waved, the thrill is short-lived. Thankfully though, this season’s story has a clear direction now and, more importantly, built up the emotional bonds between its new crewmembers better than its Machiavellian plot connects them.
Some of that comes from drafting off old bonds. When Picard sits down with Soji and recounts his history with Data, it conjures the warm familiarity of one hundred and seventy-eight episodes and four movies of shared adventures. But it also makes Soji a worthy inheritor of that legacy, the natural result of the aspirations of her “father” that were encouraged by Picard.
With that, she becomes the natural extension of two people who loved one another, even if, as Picard admits, they were limited in their ability to show it. Soji’s response that such care and affection was mutual is heartening and shows how Soji represents something of a second chance, for Picard, for Data, and maybe even for the Federation.
That’s why it’s easier to forgive the contrived plotting, rapid reveals, and hand-holding exposition in this episode. The characters never come out and say that this is a story about the importance of that type of love over the type of fear that animates Zhat Vash and, by extension, Starfleet Command, but it doesn’t have to. Characters like Narissa, her aunt Ramdha, and even Agnes are wounded by the perils and anxieties that consume them.
But people like Picard, Rios, Soji, and eventually Agnes herself are healed by their shared hope for something better. The execution is far from flawless, but Star Trek: Picard does far better when trying to put the “Broken Pieces” of its characters’ souls back together, and exploring what that means, rather than sewing together the jagged edges of its convenient, convoluted mystery plot.