Star Trek: The Next Generation – Q Who [2.16]

Q turns up asking to be allowed to join the Enterprise crew, to serve as guide for the unknown dangers that lie ahead.  When Picard refuses, Q determines to prove that the Enterprise is not ready for what is out there, and facilitates an encounter with the Borg, a powerful, unreasonable, hive-mind life form determined to steal their ship’s technology.  When Picard realizes he is not able to beat or escape from this threat, he admits that Q is right and asks for help.  Q returns the Enterprise home, but Picard knows the Borg will now be coming for them.

Written by Maurice Hurley . Directed by Rob Bowman

Previous Episode: Pen PalsNext Episode: Samaritan Snare

Without a doubt, Q Who is one of the most important episodes of Next Generation ever, as far as the development of the series is concerned.  First of all, it was in this episode that it is fully established that Q is going to continue to return as a character – up until this point it would have been pretty easy to consider him “written off” at the end of his appearances, but not anymore.  Q is as effective as he will ever be in the series (this said without having recently seen any of the forthcoming episodes), and he’s very well performed by John de Lancie.  It’s interesting to note that he doesn’t come across as a “trickster” as much as he did in season one – as far as we can tell, he’s actually telling the absolute truth in everything he says.

Of course, the even bigger development is the debut of the Borg – one of the truly most inventive life forms / enemies that the series has ever created.  The Borg are very effective in this premier appearance, coming across as soul-less and reason-less, and truly intimidating.  Watching Picard and the crew come to the dawning realization that there is really nothing they can do against this enemy makes for very effective drama.

The Borg are much more effective than their prototypes from Conspiracy, and we can all be grateful for the writer’s strike that seems to have prevented those gross bug aliens from becoming the “big bad” of the series.  Still, there are a number of Borg elements that became common later on that are not yet present here.  Perhaps the biggest one is that the Borg don’t show the slightest interest in “assimilating” anyone.  There is no reference to this aspect to them at all.  Instead, their focus is entirely on the technology they can gain from the Enterprise (at least, if we are to believe Q’s description of them).

Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate that the Borg exist as anything but this one cube.  If I’m not mistaken, that’s also true of their follow-up appearance as well.  I remember being disappointed when it turned out there were fleets of them – I thought they would have no particular reason to build multiple ships, and imagined their cube just getting bigger and bigger as they assimilated more.  Of course, there’s no Borg Queen either – that was a development from the feature film Star Trek First Contact, for better or worse.

The ending, with the promise of the Borg’s return, is a promise we know was happily fulfilled in another season or so.  However, as memorable as the Borg are, the highlight of this story for me is the climax with Picard acknowledging to Q their utter helplessness, and essentially throwing himself on Q’s mercy.  Patrick Stewart is excellent, and the move is  justified from a storytelling perspective.  It avoids feeling like the cop-out or deus ex machina it could have thanks to the way it’s clearly set up as a dramatic arc.  This moment is an important development for Picard’s character, and for the Federation and the whole series, really.

Shout-Outs to the Past
There are direct references to Q’s previous visits in Encounter at Farpoint  and Hide and Q.

There is also a quick reference to the destruction of the Romulan and Federation outposts from The Neutral Zone.

Setting up the Future
Ensign Sonya Gomez will reappear once in the show, in Samaritan Snare.

Eventually Q will join the crew of the ship, in his next appearance, Deja Q.

And of course, the big on is that the Borg will indeed return, in The Best of Both Worlds at the end of Season Three.

We’ll see some of Guinan’s backstory, including some of her escape from the Borg, in Star Trek Generations.

Guest Cast
• Lycia Naff, who plays Ensign Sonya Gomez in this and one other episode of the series, was in Total Recall as that woman.

• Rob Bowman and Maurice Hurley, the episode’s director and writer, apparently appear as Borg voices

• Very funny moment when Ensign Gomez pours a hot drink all over Picard.

• Q brings Picard into Shuttlecraft 6, the same one from Time Squared – betraying the original intent to link the two episodes

• Was Ensign Gomez originally being set up as a possible romance with Geordi?  It certainly seems possible.

• This episode contains the first indication that there is something truly unusual about Guinan – and the first time her role isn’t just to offer sage advice to someone.  There’s a lot about her, though, that is never fully developed, including the fact that Q seems to know he and even fear her.

• There are a couple of odd, unexplained character moments in the story.  Geordi seems to respond to Guinan’s odd behavior, as if he knows something is wrong.  And Troi is shown urgently trying to reach Picard, but we never learn why.

• Perhaps the computer should be programmed to alert the Bridge if someone abruptly disappears from the ship?  Especially if it’s the Captain?  Or perhaps it already is, but Q just kept it from working.

• It doesn’t help make it plausible that the Enterprise has engaged in a six hour search when they use the same shot of Riker, Data, and Wesley both just before and just after the search.

• Q has lots of great dialog.  When he sees Worf, he says, “And Microbrain!  Growl for me, let me know you still care.”  About the Enterprise and his desire to join the crew, he says,  “This ship is already home for the indigent, the unwanted, the unworthy.  Why not for a homeless entity?”  At the end, he says to Picard, “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you should go back home and crawl under your bed.  It’s not safe out here.  It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross.  But it’s not for the timid.”

• Q also calls Riker “redoubtable”.  After seeing this, I realized that I had no idea what “redoubtable” means, so I looked it up.  Apparently, it means “formidable”, as in an opponent.

• Picard gets in a few good ones as well.  He says to Q, “You, by definition, are part of our charter.  Our mission is to seek out new and different life forms, and you certainly qualify as one of the most unique I’ve ever encountered.  To learn about you is, frankly, provocative, but you’re next of kin to chaos.”  And a moment later, when he rejects him, he gives a very compelling reason:  “Simply speaking, we don’t trust you.”  He’s got another good one when he describes the Federation’s confidence about what they are doing:  “Not smugness, not arrogance.  We’re resolute, we’re determined, and your help is not required.”

• When the trial from Encounter at Farpoint is referenced, Q states the Enterprise were exonerated.  Later, we will find out this isn’t strictly true.

• Why on earth doesn’t Guinan just tell Picard what they are dealing with?  Maybe then Picard wouldn’t have just kept exploring.  I guess if Q is involved, though, there was probably no way to avoid an encounter with the Borg.

• Apparently, the Borg were responsible for the destruction of the Neutral Zone outposts at the close of Season 1.  That fit into the original idea of making the “Conspiracy” aliens the Borg, essentially.  But it doesn’t make sense here.  If the Borg have already gotten to the Neutral Zone, than what’s the big deal about Q forcing an “early encounter” here?

• What does Yellow Alert actually refer to?  They order Yellow Alert but keep the shields down.  What does it mean to go to Yellow Alert if you don’t even put up the shields?

• The image of Guinan looking at the Borg cube through the window is forboding in light of what we know about them.

• That cube is big.

• Picard orders Worf to deal with the Borg.  Worf orders an Ensign to do it.  The Ensign gets pounded.  That poor guy, lowest in the chain of command.

• It’s eerie when the first Borg enters engineering, but even more so when the second one turns up so quickly, with effective shields against the phaser.

• The scene where the Enterprise fights back against the initial Borg tractor beam is excellent – very well directed, quickly moving (although odd they don’t fire with all their force right away – I guess just not used to dealing with anything that powerful.)

• Picard engages in conference rather than leaving – big mistake!  Though maybe it turns out the Borg could have started pursuing them right away if they’d tried to leave.

• Great description of the Borg from Q – “The Borg is the ultimate user.  They’re unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced.  They’re not interested in political conquest, wealth or power as you know it.  They’re simply interested in your ship – it’s technology.  They’ve identified it as something they can consume.”

• Fitting that Worf and Geordi don’t participate in the conference – as it makes sense that they’d be far too busy to be part of it.

• I just realized that Dr. Pulaski doesn’t appear in this episode.

• If the ship just thinks what it wants, as Riker says, than why do the Borg drones need to walk around pressing buttons?

• Impressive and scary shot of the Borg ship, when it pulls back to reveal just how many of them there are.

• I forgot about the Borg babies!  Very creepy, disturbing and sad.

• This episode, as much as any other, highlights the oddity of the fact that Away Team don’t have any sort of visual interface with the ship.  Riker must constantly describe everything to Picard.

• I like it how Picard responds to quickly to get the ship out of there once he realizes it is regenerating.

• Cool how Q appears on the Bridge at the end of the episode.

• Its implausible that Picard would have time to make a log entry in the middle of being pursued by the Borg ship, but oh well.

• The ending contains an effective teaser for the future.  “They will be coming.”  Perhaps what we most needed was a kick in our complacency, to prepare us for what lies ahead.”

Dialogue High Point
There’s a lot of good lines, but my favorite is the climactic moment with Picard basically owning up to Q that he is right (whilst still maintaining his dignity).

You wanted to frighten us?  We’re frightened.  You wanted to show us that we’re inadequate?  For the moment, I grant that.  You wanted me to say I need you?  I need you!

Previous Episode: Pen PalsNext Episode: Samaritan Snare

One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Q Who [2.16]

  1. Awesome episode, even if some elements of the Borg change later. The most interesting thing about Q, though, is when you realize that everything he does is designed to help humanity. The Borg were going to find humanity eventually, but by sending the Enterprise against them, it gave humanity a chance to prepare. The same could actually be true of his Farpoint appearance. He urges Picard to do the wrong thing, which prompts Picard to do the right thing.

    Q’s a trickster. He just happens to be a trickster on humanity’s side.

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