Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard, as well as for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
The Impossible Box brought a lot to the table in terms of theory-crafting. With only four episodes left in the first season of Star Trek: Picard, the show still has a lot of mysteries left to unravel.
If you’d like to see my review of the episode, you can find it by clicking or tapping here. There were no confirmed theories this week, unlike last week, but there was one theory that The Impossible Box debunked, so let’s look at that first.
Debunked theory: Narek and Rizzo had no reason to keep Soji alive, because Bruce Maddox’s lab had already been found and destroyed.
I remain hopeful that Narek and Rizzo have a good reason for keeping Soji alive until after she gave them the information they’d been seeking about her planet of origin, because if they don’t it threatens to open a plot hole in Star Trek: Picard. If you read my review, you’ll know that I nitpicked the information Soji gave them, but just to recap: a planet with electrical storms and two red moons is not a lot to go on in an area the size of the explored galaxy and, setting aside reasons of plot convenience, should not be enough to narrow down the location. Ignoring that for now, though, Bruce Maddox told Bjayzl in Stardust City Rag that his lab had been destroyed “by the Tal Shiar.”
We’ll come to the whole Zhat Vash/Tal Shiar issue in a moment – as well as look at the need for a series to be consistent in its primary antagonist – but even if the Tal Shiar destroyed Maddox’s lab with absolutely no involvement from Rizzo, Narek, and the Zhat Vash, they would still have come to know about it. The destruction of the lab happened a minimum of two weeks before Stardust City Rag, and even though The Impossible Box seems to happen pretty much immediately after that, and certainly within a matter of days, there’s still time for that news to have reached Rizzo and Narek by now, even if they didn’t know in earlier episodes.
However, they proceeded with their mission in The Impossible Box, and ony after Narek had got as much information from Soji as he felt he needed did they try to kill her. Hopefully there will be an explanation as to why, if Maddox’s lab had already been destroyed, Narek and Rizzo continued to work on extracting its location from Soji. But I guess it could be kind of funny if they rush back to their headquarters with the information from Soji, only to be told that the lab had already been destroyed and they wasted their time…
So that’s the only debunked theory from this week’s episode. Now let’s look at some new theories, as well as returning theories from previous weeks that The Impossible Box may have advanced further.
Number 1: Elnor or Hugh (or maybe both) are going to be killed.
Star Trek: Picard has already shown us, with Icheb and Bruce Maddox, that killing off legacy characters is not something it’s frightened of. Picard had precisely two friends on the Artifact: Elnor and Hugh. Neither of them hesitated when it came to helping him escape with Soji, despite Hugh not really knowing what was happening. The Borg Reclamation Project itself could be endangered by this, but I’m more concerned for Elnor and Hugh.
With Elnor being a trained assassin you might expect he’d be fine, and of the two I think he’s more likely to survive given his starring role, the fact he had an entire episode dedicated to his recruitment, and that we’ve barely spent any time with him. However, right before he left, Elnor got his moment of reconciliation with Picard, as the latter told him he didn’t want to leave him behind again. In a sense, you could argue that this moment concluded Elnor and Picard’s story arc that had been set up in Absolute Candor, and thus Elnor may be in more danger than we suspect.
Elnor’s strength lies in his assassin training, yet as one man up against potentially thousands of armed guards he may be overwhelmed. And as someone whose weapon of choice is a sword, Elnor could be at risk from high-tech weapons deployed against him. We don’t even know if he owns a disruptor or other type of ranged weapon.
Hugh may be in danger too. He aided in Picard and Soji’s escape, and remained behind to conceal their destination. Narek and Rizzo just spent several episodes carefully extracting location information from Soji – only to immediately turn and try to kill her when she told them what they wanted to know. If Hugh spills the beans his usefulness to Narek and Rizzo will arguably be at an end – he surely won’t be allowed to continue his work with the ex-Borg after what he did for Picard. Could he end up murdered as a result of his actions?
Number 2: The Romulans once experimented with AI and synthetic life – with horrible consequences.
There are a few possibilities for how this theory could pan out, as far as I’m concerned, but only one saw any development this week. Just to recap, the horrible secret that caused Dr Jurati to murder Bruce Maddox is almost certainly the same as the secret the Zhat Vash keep – the one which can “break a person’s mind”. My theory is that the Romulan fear and hatred of synths – which the Zhat Vash exemplify – is caused by their own experimentation with AI and synths in the past going horribly wrong. There are a few ways this could pan out, so let’s look at them in turn.
2 A: The Romulans’ fear and hatred of synths and AIs is related to the Control storyline from the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.
There was a moment in Stardust City Rag last week, when Dr Jurati killed Maddox, that made me feel this was looking at least possible. To very briefly recap, Section 31 built an AI called Control that Starfleet relied heavily on. Control wanted to become fully sentient by stealing data from a millennia-old lifeform that was stored in Discovery’s computer, and assimilated and murdered many Section 31 operatives and Starfleet officers in its quest. My theory is that the Romulans were either in an AI arms race with the Federation at this time, and their AI went rogue as Starfleet’s did, or that Control itself attacked the Romulans.
2 B: There’s an inherent flaw in all synthetic life – or the way organics treat synthetic life – that will always lead to rebellion.
The answer to the question of why the synths attacked Mars could simply be “because all synths eventually turn on organics”. While this would, I feel, not be a very satisfying conclusion from a story perspective, it could conceivably be the Romulans’ firm belief, especially if synths they created many years ago turned on them.
2 C: The Romulans’ AI experiments led to the creation of the Borg.
To recap from last time, I feel that this explanation covers a few different bases. Firstly, it is by far the best explanation I can think of for the secret that can “break a person’s mind”. What could be more mind-breaking than learning your ancestors accidentally created the galaxy’s greatest threat? Preventing another Borg-esque unstoppable machine species would also be a great reason for murder. And finally, from a production point of view it could explain why Discovery dropped what looked to be their own Borg origin story with the Control storyline mentioned above.
The timeline can be made to fit, too. The Romulans left Vulcan and broke away from that race sometime around the 3rd or 4th Century AD in our calendar. By the 14th Century, according to Star Trek: Voyager, the Borg controlled a handful of systems in the Delta Quadrant. So there was time for the Romulans to leave, settle a new homeworld, have their AI go rogue and either be cast out or leave, and for that AI to find a new world to settle in the Delta Quadrant and begin its expansion as the Borg.
Where I felt we saw some hints at this in The Impossible Box were in the de-assimilation scenes. Hugh shows Picard the work that the Borg Reclamation Project has been undertaking, and Picard makes the comment that, of all people, he would never have expected the Romulans to undertake something like de-assimilation, and certainly not on such a large scale. It’s the “especially the Romulans” comment that got me the most – why include that in there? They’re an advanced species, and we know de-assimilation is possible, so why couldn’t they do it? It feels like a hint; a little clue dropped by the writers that will come back into play later.
Could it be the case that the Romulans are experts at de-assimilation because they know more about the Borg than they let on? And if they do know more about the Borg, is that because they created them?
De-assimilating Picard wasn’t easy, but Dr Crusher, Data, and the rest of the Enterprise-D crew were able to accomplish it. Seven of Nine took much longer to reclaim her humanity after being assimilated as a child, but again the actual de-assimilation process was achievable. But clearly no one has ever been able to de-assimilate hundreds of Borg at a time, yet the Romulans not only know how to do so but are willing to put in the time. They’re harvesting the components – allegedly to sell them – but they’re clearly also engaged in a very detailed study of the Artifact and the xBs. Are they checking up on their old creation? And why are the xBs not allowed to leave? Let’s look at that one next.
Number 3: Ex-Borg aren’t allowed to leave the Artifact for a very good reason.
Aside from Hugh, who has special status as director of the Borg Reclamation Project, none of the xBs are allowed to leave the Artifact. This may seem unreasonable, but it isn’t a big surprise considering it’s under Romulan jurisdiction.
If, however, the Romulans and the Borg have a deeper and older connection that we ever suspected, there could be another reason why the Romulans won’t let the xBs go after they have been de-assimilated.
3 A: The xBs are being studied by the Romulans.
This ties into another theory, that the majority of Borg components harvested by the Romulans are in fact going to the Zhat Vash. Even if that’s not the case, however, the xBs could simply be kept on the Artifact so that the Romulans can study them further.
If the Romulans were somehow involved in the creation of the Borg, they may have a vested interest in learning how de-assimilated Borg behave. And even if they weren’t involved, they may be studying them for some other reason.
3 B: The Romulans want to keep the xBs safe.
The galactic trade in Borg components has some nefarious people involved who have no qualms whatsoever about killing xBs in order to harvest their remaining components. We saw Icheb brutally killed for this very reason, so perhaps the Romulans fear that a similar fate could befall the xBs if they let them go.
3 C: The Romulans want to keep their involvement in the Borg’s creation secret.
Assuming for a moment that the Romulans were involved in the creation of the Borg, it makes sense that they would want to prevent further study of the collective and their technology, lest their involvement become known. Thus far in Star Trek, at least as far as we’ve seen on screen, very few de-assimilated Borg and very little Borg technology has found its way to the Federation and other factions. Not only is it difficult, but in engagements with the Borg until this point, the Federation had to destroy the ships they encountered and were not able to keep them intact.
Seven of Nine’s parents, Magnus and Erin Hansen, did study the Borg for over a year and must have collected a lot of information on them at that time, but the Romulans may not be aware of this. They may be trying to keep a very old secret and prevent the galaxy from learning about the Borg’s true origin.
3 D: The Romulans want to control the trade in Borg components.
With so few ex-Borg in the galaxy, the Artifact is the only place to scavenge Borg parts that we know of. Seven of Nine and Picard may be the only two ex-Borg not on board it. Whoever controls the Artifact essentially controls the entire Borg component market, and the Romulans are in full control right now.
Keeping the xBs in one place means that they can continue to be worked on and even experimented on as the Romulans try to harvest more and more of their technology. The more components they can remove, the more money they can make if there’s a big market – and assuming that they aren’t keeping the pieces for themselves.
Number 4: The galactic trade in Borg components has only one buyer – and it’s connected to synthetic research.
Last time I speculated that Bruce Maddox may have used Borg components in his work on synthetics, including those on Mars and Soji and Dahj. If that’s the case, he and his team may have been the main buyer in the Borg components market.
The other possibility is that the Zhat Vash are buying up all the Borg parts they can for study – or, as mentioned above – to conceal some big secret relating to the Romulans’ history with the Borg.
Hugh made little mention of what happens to the scavenged components in The Impossible Box; his focus has been on helping the de-assimilated Borg, not on who buys their removed pieces. However, someone clearly is buying up this technology, and while it could be a free market in which many factions are buying pieces in an effort to learn more about the Borg, there may be one primary buyer who is collecting as many components as possible.
In a sense, the ex-Borg are a side-effect of the Romulans’ scavenging efforts. Their main focus is on studying and selling their components and technology, and the de-assimilated individuals are just a consequence of that work being undertaken. Far from being “hated”, as Hugh said, I feel like the xBs are just forgotten because their de-assimilation was never the main objective. The Romulans realised that the process of removing their components meant they were no longer Borg drones, but they don’t really care what happens to them afterwards – the sole focus is on the technology and, perhaps, how much money can be made.
Number 5: Dr Jurati is sticking around because the next part of her mission is to kill Soji.
Following Bruce Maddox’s death at the hands of Dr Jurati, I felt certain she’d either get caught or have to leave La Sirena. After all, the ship’s EMH knows what she did, so surely the next time it’s activated it will spill the beans. While they were docked at Freecloud, and armed with her new knowledge of how to use the transporter, she could have jumped ship and disappeared after killing Maddox and no one would have known where she’d gone.
Given the incredible risk to herself of staying aboard La Sirena, she must have a plan. It’s possible, given her knowledge of synthetics, that she could reprogram the EMH or erase its memories of the Maddox incident if she had enough time to do so, but even if she does, sooner or later someone will figure out what happened. So why is she sitting in the middle of the danger zone?
The answer could be simple: her mission is incomplete. Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash told her something, probably the “mind-breaking” secret that the Zhat Vash keep, in order to persuade her to join their cause. Maddox being dead is only part of the mission, however, and now that Narek and Rizzo have been unable to kill Soji, Dr Jurati is the conspiracy’s best bet to do so. She may be able to feed information to Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash regarding La Sirena’s destination, but she may be under orders to go along for the ride and take out Soji when she has the opportunity.
If the secret she’s keeping was worth killing her former friend and romantic partner, as well as betraying her life’s work, it is certainly worth killing for again.
Number 6: Picard’s decision to tell everyone that their opponents are the Tal Shiar and not the Zhat Vash will come back to haunt him.
Given that Elnor is now essentially alone, trapped on board the Artifact staring down Romulan guards and Zhat Vash operatives Rizzo and Narek, he’s sure to learn the truth of who is really pursuing Picard. How this revelation will affect him – if indeed it makes any difference – is unclear right now, but of everyone involved I think Elnor is most likely to have been aware of the Zhat Vash and may even have different techniques for battling them.
Regardless of what happens to Elnor, I think Picard’s decision to frame the mission’s antagonists as the Tal Shiar may come back to haunt him. He’s left out a key piece of information, and by not telling his new crew everything, there could be unintended consequences. Why he chose not to explain everything is unclear. He may simply not believe in the Zhat Vash, given their semi-mythical status, or he may feel it was too much ground to cover when explaining the mission parameters to everyone.
From a production point of view, however, I feel like this aspect of the Star Trek: Picard story hasn’t been handled particularly well. A story needs consistency. That applies to factions in the Star Trek galaxy as a whole, but consistency is even more important when dealing with the show’s primary antagonist. Maps and Legends went to great lengths to set up the Zhat Vash as Star Trek: Picard’s “bad guys”, yet their name hasn’t been mentioned once in the last three episodes – everyone from Maddox to Soji to Picard has been referring to them as the Tal Shiar.
While there may be logical in-universe reasons for it given the Zhat Vash’s supposedly secret nature, it makes for a confusing and inconsistent story, especially for casual viewers and newcomers. There is a lot to keep track of in a franchise over fifty years old, and as what is essentially a sequel series to The Next Generation, there was already a lot of baggage for fans who might not have seen any episodes since the 1990s or who are wholly new to Star Trek and watching for the first time. Inconsistency leads to confusion, and nothing puts off viewers like feeling they don’t know who’s who and what’s happening. If the plan was to always use the Tal Shiar, then the whole Zhat Vash angle should never have been included in Maps and Legends, but if the Zhat Vash are supposed to be the show’s main villains then the naming needed to be consistent and the main characters needed to know who they’re up against.
Hopefully we’ll get some explanation of all of this before the end of the series, but I don’t think the confusing status of the Zhat Vash and Tal Shiar is doing Star Trek: Picard any favours right now.
Number 7: The “father” from Soji’s dream isn’t Bruce Maddox.
Maddox claimed credit for Soji and Dahj’s creation in Stardust City Rag. And that made sense; it fitted with what Picard, Dr Jurati, and us as the audience expected. Shortly before he was murdered, Maddox cited three people who were essential to Soji and Dahj’s creation: Dr Soong, who created Data and Lore in The Next Generation; himself obviously; and Dr Jurati. There was no mention of anyone else being involved, and though he may have had an assistant or even a team of assistants, that should be the end of the matter.
Except it isn’t. In Soji’s dream, she couldn’t see the face of her “father” as it had been digitally erased or otherwise concealed from her. From an in-universe point of view I can see why Maddox may have wanted to conceal his face from her, in order perhaps to protect himself, but why show the audience that?
There is shock value in the faceless figure, and that could explain it. Seeing a faceless blob where we expected to see a human was a creepy and unsettling image when it appeared in The Impossible Box. But there could be another explanation – there’s someone else involved with Maddox’s work, and the show wants to keep that person a secret for now.
The figure did resemble Bruce Maddox, and if it ultimately turns out to be him it would make perfect sense and be a valid story point. But it conceivably could be someone else.
Number 8: Narek is going to go rogue.
This one should be debunked given that Narek tried to kill Soji, but there was a hint, even in that sequence, that his loyalty to the Zhat Vash cause is wavering. As he locks Soji in the meditation chamber with the radiation weapon, he’s clearly heartbroken, even starting to cry as he tries to reconcile his feelings for her with the mission he knows he must complete. Rizzo, his superior, warned him multiple times against falling for his “robot girlfriend”, which I think further foreshadows this possibility.
Soji’s survival gives Narek a second chance, and while she will not be so quick to trust him again, he may prove invaluable to Picard’s cause thanks to his knowledge of the conspiracy and Zhat Vash operations.
If I had to speculate, I’d say that Narek’s redemption may begin by saving Elnor and/or Hugh from Rizzo, and escaping with them to La Sirena – before moving on to rendezvous with Picard on Nepenthe.
So those are the theories that The Impossible Box set up or advanced. Now, as always, let’s take a look at the remaining theories that haven’t been debunked, but that saw no movement this week. This helps keep everything in one place.
Number 9: Other Soji-type androids exist – and the Romulans or the Borg have encountered at least one.
This stems from Ramdha claiming to recognise Soji in The End is the Beginning. She has a violent reaction to her, and from that point on Narek and Rizzo believe Soji to be a figure called Seb-Cheneb from Romulan folklore. It’s possible that, through her historical research, Ramdha encountered a Soji-type android, or that the Borg did and communicated that knowledge to her when she was assimilated.
Number 10: Picard’s terminal illness is Irumodic Syndrome.
Dr Benayoun, a former colleague of Picard’s from his time in command of the USS Stargazer, brought him the bad news that a condition in his brain is terminal. While Irumodic Syndrome – the disease Picard had been diagnosed with in The Next Generation’s finale – was not mentioned by name, it was strongly hinted at in this conversation.
Number 11: Soji and Dahj’s necklaces were a deliberate symbol designed to signal to someone or communicate with someone.
The question of why Bruce Maddox would give Soji and Dahj necklaces to wear, which they have clearly been programmed to be very attached to and prominently display above their clothing, when the symbol on the necklaces represents a method of illegal synth-building is a strange one. It may even be the cause of Soji and Dahj being noticed by Starfleet and the Zhat Vash, and thus Dahj’s death. However, it’s possible that Maddox was using this as a method of signalling or communicating with other androids and creators – that would make the risk of displaying a symbol like that much more worthwhile.
Number 12: The Trill doctor from Maps and Legends is going to be assimilated.
The further out we get from Maps and Legends and this character’s sole appearance, the less likely this seems. And with Soji now having left the Artifact, some of the shock value of her seeing her friend assimilated or killed is gone. However, nothing has happened to really disprove this theory, and given the Artifact may be about to see big changes as a result of Hugh and Picard’s actions in The Impossible Box, it can’t be fully ruled out.
Number 13: Section 31 will be involved somehow.
With the new Section 31 series officially in production – now due for release in 2021 – and the shadowy organisation’s heavy involvement in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season just last year, I feel sure that they will crop up somehow before the end of the season.
13 A: Chris Rios’ worked for Section 31 while on the Ibn Majid.
The question of what happened to the USS Ibn Majid, and Rios’ former commanding officer, is an important aspect of his backstory as it made him the somewhat cynical, isolated, and self-reliant person we see in the current series. Given that the Ibn Majid was “erased” from Starfleet’s records, they seem to have been involved in the kind of off-the-books black ops missions that we know Section 31 often ran.
13 B: Section 31 is responsible for the attack on Mars.
Regardless of how the attack on Mars was conducted – my money is on the synths being hacked which we’ll look at in a moment – one possible culprit is Section 31. As a militantly pro-Federation group, they may have seen aiding the Romulans as a mistake, especially given that it caused great tensions between Federation member worlds, and as a faction with essentially no morals, they would have no qualms about killing 90,000 people or more to achieve their preferred outcome.
Number 14: The rogue synths who attacked Mars were hacked.
Earlier episodes of Star Trek: Picard included several flashbacks to this attack, and we have a fair amount of evidence for this theory. It ties neatly in with the idea that Borg technology may have been used in creating synths, too, as that tech may have been a “backdoor” for hackers. We also have: the Commodore Oh conspiracy, Raffi’s conspiracy theories, F8’s eyes in the flashback sequences, the work crew with F8 describing him as “compromised”, the fact that all of the synths went rogue simultaneously, and the very particular way the attack was carried out. It was a deliberate strike against a well-chosen target, and rather than continue the carnage after Mars and the fleet were destroyed, the synths simply killed themselves.
There are three possible culprits as I see it: the Zhat Vash, Section 31, and the Borg.
Number 15: Chris Rios’ former captain is a character we’ve met in a previous iteration of Star Trek.
I mentioned Chris Rios’ service on the USS Ibn Majid above, and one major aspect of that is the death of his former captain. We know the character is male, and that they were a “heroic” figure to Rios, but no more than that at this stage. I suggested it could be Harry Kim – who we knew wanted to be a captain and had been promoted in the alternate reality glimpsed in Voyager’s finale. I also suggested Chakotay, also from Voyager, and Edward Jellico from The Next Generation two-part episode Chain of Command. There are numerous other possibilities, however. It’s possible, with a second season of Star Trek: Picard already in production, that we won’t find out anything about it this season.
Number 16: Starfleet and the Zhat Vash are working together.
Commodore Oh: is she a Romulan agent or a Vulcan co-conspirator? At this stage we simply don’t know. If she is a Vulcan, given her senior position in Starfleet it can be assumed she isn’t the sole officer involved. We already know she has recruited Dr Jurati to the cause, and while Admiral Clancy, the overall head of Starfleet, doesn’t seem to be involved, it’s conceivable that many officers are. Raffi certainly believes this – and was talking about a Starfleet-Romulan conspiracy as far back as the attack on Mars fourteen years ago.
Number 17: Bruce Maddox inadvertently caused the synths to attack Mars.
It’s possible that something Maddox did or didn’t do while the head of the Federation’s synthetic development team meant that the synths were more easily hacked, or that his work on the synths contained a flaw or error that led to them going rogue. Given that he made no mention of this before his death you could argue it seems less likely, but it cannot be ruled out.
So that’s it. Those are all of my extant Star Trek: Picard theories as of the end of The Impossible Box. Seventeen theories are a heck of a lot to be kicking around at this point, but since most of them are likely way off base that’s okay! I can’t wait to find out the real answers as we inch closer to the end of the first season.
Roll on Nepenthe on Friday!
The first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard can be streamed now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.