A couple of episodes ago it seemed we were really underway, and then last week’s ‘Nepenthe’ slowed everything down again, for some time with Next Generation alumni Will Riker and Deanna Troi. As enjoyable as that was – and it was a fine episode – it raised questions about the whole tone and structure of Star Trek: Picard. Much like Star Trek: Discovery began as a new show with a new direction, before falling back into nostalgia and the filling in of gaps in the timeline, so this show seems unsure how far to fall back on legacy characters, or how far to follow the mystery box storytelling of its sister show. ‘Broken Pieces’ exposes the problems of the show really failing to tell us anything seven episodes into a mere ten episode run.
This instalment is the third to last of the series, yet so many plot points have yet to be developed – with the fear that they may never be fully addressed, given that we appear to be heading to an action-heavy final brace of instalments. Jean-Luc’s health was teased as an issue – only to be disregarded in the episodes since; Seven of Nine’s motivations haven’t truly been addressed; while Elnor, despite a promising start, spends much of this episode just standing beside her. We’ve also been given so little background on the synth ban and the reasons for it, that the show has backed itself into the corner of having to have the characters sit around explaining all of this backstory to each other.
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So as for the plot, we begin with the future Commodore Oh, taking a group of women to a planet in the system with eight suns. Then they experience a vision, clearly giving a warning for the future if synthetics are allowed to thrive. The vision is so harrowing that most of the women kill themselves immediately, though some – including Narissa – do survive.
Moving back to the present, when Rios encounters Soji, it triggers a stress response that leads him to isolate himself in his quarters. In his stead a range of holograms are left to run the ship. This allows for an acting masterclass from Santiago Cabrera, as he plays every one of these replacements as distinct characters with different accents and demeanours. Meanwhile Picard converses with Admiral Clancy (the holographic ready room based on Picard’s vineyard home remains an inspired design choice) and, after a testy exchange, gains agreement for a squadron to meet up with them at one of the Deep Space stations. At the same time, Jurati’s murder of Maddox is discovered, as we learn this was a direct result of Oh forcing a mind meld on her before she joined the mission.
On the Borg Cube, Seven of Nine forms a temporary Borg collective to fight off Narissa. This is all busy work, as the Romulan’s soon leave for Soji’s planet anyhow. We learn that Rios has met a synth identical to Soji in his past, as many years earlier, as a member of Starfleet, his ship met two synths while on a mission that took them to what Soji thinks of as her home world – the planet in the system with eight suns. Rios had seen his captain execute both synths in cold blood, with Rios leaving Starfleet shortly thereafter. After many discussions of various crew members on the ship, Raffi puts everything together and tells the rest of the crew about the planet. The crew then allow Soji to plot a course for her home, while we know that they will run into a sizeable Romulan fleet where they arrive.
‘Broken Pieces’ feels like a show desperately trying to catch-up with itself. The slow tease of the mystery-based storytelling, along with the slowness of the show to launch Jean-Luc Picard into space and onto the actual mission, has meant that we find ourselves near the end of the season, and knowing a fraction of what we’d know in more traditional types of storytelling. This is an infuriating trait of the re-launched Star Trek in general. Week after week of being told very little, with the promise of more to come is ultimately a turn-off, as it leads to a building up of expectations – the reveal thereafter rarely being that satisfying. In this particular season on television, it has led to a significant imbalance in the show’s pacing.
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We started with a couple of terrific character-based episodes, but took a further couple to get into the full story. After getting underway, we had a whole episode to introduce Elnor as a new and sparky member of the crew – who was immediately dropped from the roster to go to stand next to Jeri Ryan. Having got Picard to have his big reunion with a Borg cube (ignoring the fact Picard dealt with all of that years ago, in previous incarnations of Trek), immediately we have a Next Generation reunion. Hence, by episode eight, we need to have the cast sit around an explain everything to us, and to each other, that we could and should have known weeks ago. Mystery box storytelling is a style that will age like vinegar, and needs to go the way of desaturation and shaky cam.
On the plus side, the character work is very good, as is the acting. The work of Santiago Cabrera alone makes this a memorable episode, even though he is most often alongside the walking cliché of the Raffi character. His work as the full range of holograms is a tour de force, and a comedic scene that could have been a slapstick mess. Star Trek: Picard is a frustrating show: good one week, mediocre the next; character work that ranges from sublime to, well, poor; childish bad language and unnecessary violence, balanced against beautiful cinematography, nice music, excellent visual effects, terrific acting, and the return of, for many, the leading man in Star Trek canon. The season as a whole has been a qualified success, to-date, and we are now set-up for a fine final pair of episodes. ‘Broken Pieces’ is, however, a distillation of everything that new Trek gets wrong in the structuring and pacing of a story.