The episode opens mere moments after the end of Episode 8, with Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) working her counselor magic on Jack to try to get him to finally open the red door and reveal the mystery that lies within it. As Will Grove-White croons the eerily perfect tune “I Can’t Stop Crying,” Deanna pushes Jack to analyze their surroundings—particularly the red vines that cover the floor and walls leading to the red door. Jack recalls the Crimson Arboretum that his mother (Gates McFadden) took him to as a young boy, and mulls over the fact that the vines are like the roots beneath the soil which connect everything together. The song, he explains, is one that his mother shared with him: something that was passed from his father (Patrick Stewart) to Beverly, and then to him.
Realizing that Jack isn’t going to open the door on his own, Deanna offers to do it for him and promises him that no matter what is on the other side he won’t be alone. However, once she opens the door and sees what has been hidden there all along, she immediately breaks that promise and flees to find his parents. It’s there, with Picard and Beverly, that Jack’s secret is revealed. The eerie voice inside his head is none other than the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) and it’s the Borg Cube waiting for him on the other side of that ominous red door. The truth is a tough pill to swallow for Beverly and Picard, and they both try to theorize their way out of accepting it. Beverly points out that Jack has never been assimilated, while Picard begins to reckon with the idea that he may have passed on something far worse than the Irumodic Syndrome. This, they realize, is why Vadic (Amanda Plummer) wanted Jack so desperately—he’s a dangerous weapon that can be used against humanity.
Jack is pacing in crew quarters when Picard comes to finally put him out of his misery and tell him what Deanna saw behind the door. Understandably, he is quite frustrated and rather irate about how things have played out, especially with Deanna abandoning him. While Jack has heard a little about his father’s time as Locutus, thanks to Shaw’s (Todd Stashwick) tragic backstory, Picard gives him a brief refresher about his assimilation before revealing that the Irumodic Syndrome they both have was actually a misdiagnosis. Jack doesn’t take the news well that whatever Borg components were within Picard somehow “seeded” within him. Though the illusion with the blossoms and roots works quite nicely with that seeding comparison.
Discovering that he is connected to the Borg rocks the very foundation of who Jack believes himself to be. He quickly jumps to the realization that his long-held belief that the galaxy would be a better place if people talked, listened, and connected is just cybernetic authoritarianism in kinder packaging. And he’s never looked and acted quite so much like his father than when he’s ranting and raving and spiraling over the truth. Picard tries to soften the blow by suggesting that they transfer him to a research facility on Vulcan, but Jack recognizes that they’re trying to institutionalize him in a prison where he can be mind-melded into a lobotomy. Self-preservation, and maybe a little Borg drive, kicks in and Jack realizes he has to hightail it off the Titan before this happens, so he uses his handy abilities to take control of the officers and escape from Picard, and his mother. Jack isn’t just running because he doesn’t want to be experimented on, he escapes because he’s convinced he can take on the Borg queen on his own. The Picard genes are clearly strong with him.
When the red door was first introduced in Episode 3, I jested that the allusion caused me to draw comparisons to the infamous red room in Jane Eyre, and once again “Võx” is forcing my hand again. While the writers behind Picard may not be intentionally making that connection, the throughline of what this visual signifier means within the language of cinema adds new layers to Jack’s plight. In the novel, this literary device is used to explore Jane’s isolation and imprisonment—it directly inhibits her sense of belonging. For Jack, the red door holds a similar value. Once the door is open, his sense of individualism is stripped away from him, and he is pushed toward the Collective. In Jane Eyre, Jane is imprisoned in the red room, but in Picard, opening the red door pushes Jack into a position where his parents look to imprison him, essentially jeopardizing his freedom in the same way that the red room holds the keys to that in the novel. It’s fascinating how, intended or otherwise, there are aspects of literature that work their way into the collective psyche (pun intended) and add new depth to plot devices that shows like Picard employ.
With Jack gone and concealing his whereabouts, Beverly and the rest of The Next Generation crew begin to work on answering how her son inherited the Borg from Picard. Picard may feel guilt about passing that horrible legacy onto his child, but Beverly seems to carry her own guilt, particularly when it comes to not seeing the truth sooner. She watched him so closely, but she never saw what was right in front of her. Geordi (LeVar Burton) calls Picard down to Sick Bay to continue discussing Jack, and he reveals that they have worked out that he is essentially the Borg’s transmitter, which they can use to send directions. They also discuss that this isn’t something new—this has been dormant inside of Jack his entire life. While it does seem like he’s been able to hold it off for nearly twenty years, Worf (Michael Dorn) points out that the entire Changeling conspiracy and the Borg’s plans are directly connected to Frontier Day.
Shaw is reluctant to take the Titan to Frontier Day, especially with the entirety of Starfleet after them, but Picard makes his case that this is what they have to do to save the day. It’s there that Picard reintroduces a very deep cut, by putting Admiral Elizabeth Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) front-and-center as the master of ceremonies, where she unveils brand-new tech that allows Starfleet’s armada to work as one. The new capabilities, which are hailed as the ultimate safeguard, are decidedly Borg-like in design—something that Picard recognizes almost immediately. But the Titan’s arrival at Frontier Day is too little, too late.
On the other side of the galaxy, armed with a phaser and a lot of audacity, Jack has found himself transported to the Borg Cube via a transport conduit. The Borg Queen taunts him further, calling him “my flesh,” “my child,” and more importantly the name she has given him: Võx. Where his father’s name meant “to speak,” Jack is the “voice” of the Borg, just as the crew theorized about his role as a transmitter. Despite a valiant attempt to take out the Borg Queen (which was never going to happen), Jack finds himself assimilated and transformed into the weapon that is posed to turn Starfleet into the Borg. In the midst of the ensuing chaos of Frontier Day, the crew discovers that the Changelings had a larger plan at play when they began infiltrating Starfleet. Aboard each and every vessel, they uploaded a new data point into the transporter code—one that transformed Picard’s Borg-filled DNA into common biology. This is how the Borg planned to take control of every ship: by assimilating every member of the crew that was under 25 and had been through the transporters after the Changelings took over. Picard attempts to warn Admiral Shelby about what is about to happen, but the Borg seize control of not only the Starfleet armada but the Titan too.
Shaw’s worst nightmare comes to life as all the younger members of the crew—including Geordi’s daughters—are assimilated by the Borg. He and the rest of The Next Generation crew manage to escape the bridge and hunker down in the turbo lift long enough to come up with a plan. In the turbo lift, they listen to a message from the Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior who has managed to take back control of the bridge, but before he can complete the message the Borg-controlled armada takes aim at the starship and destroys it, which makes them realize they’re not going to be able to shoot their way out of this situation: especially not with the armada-wide connection. Shaw comes up with a plan to get everyone down to the maintenance level, where they’ll be able to take an escape shuttle off the Titan, since the shuttles aren’t tied into the integration.
On the maintenance level, the crew’s reunion is short-lived as the Borg descend upon them, leading to a pretty epic firefight as they mount their escape. In a great example of “the rule of three,” Shaw is shot by one of the Borg-influenced officers, and this time he isn’t going to be able to get back up. As he lies dying, he is given the opportunity to become the commanding officer who decides who lives and dies, as he urges everyone to escape while they still can. And before he dies, Shaw finally calls Seven (Jeri Ryan) by her name, as he tells her the Titan is now her ship. Of course, there’s irony packed into the moment, considering the Borg have taken over the Titan and Seven is a former part of the Borg Collective. Even with his dying breath, Shaw is still the dipshit from Chicago that warmed over audiences with his surly disposition. While everyone else escapes, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) opts to stay behind with Seven, which will certainly give the rest of the crew an advantage as they presumably take on the Borg in the finale.
There are a lot of really great small moments tucked in between the larger drama of “Võx,” particularly where Data (Brent Spiner) is involved. Whether it’s the consoling hand he places on Picard’s shoulder while he frets over Jack’s inheritance or when he stops Geordi from spiraling over his daughters’ assimilation or—most comically—when Geordi tells him to be more positive, so he snarks “I hope we die quickly.” This new and improved version of the android is the MVP of the episode because he makes the most out of every single moment he has. The final ten minutes of “Võx” delivers an unexpected surprise for fans of The Next Generation. As the crew looks for a way to take on the Borg, Geordi reveals the ace he’s had up his sleeve. While he planned to unveil it under better circumstances, Geordi takes the crew back to the Fleet Museum to reveal a newly restored Enterprise-D, which may just be the last analog starship in existence that hasn’t been integrated with the fleet, and their best chance at defeating the Borg.
Seeing the crew of The Next Generation reunite on the Titan was one thing, but seeing them stand on the carpeted floors of the Enterprise is like a fever dream. You can almost feel the palpable joy bleeding through the screen as they marvel at the restoration and check out their old stomping ground. Picard, ever the poet, starts to make a great pronouncement about standing there with the crew and realizing what he missed, which was the carpet, obviously. As the episode draws to an end, they make a point of discussing how they’re all family—including their kids—and that wherever Picard goes, they’ll go too. With their limited weapons and their run, shoot, or hide prerogative, the crew is finally ready to face their greatest advisory and their last great adventure. Together.
The final season of Star Trek: Picard is streaming now on Paramount+.