Star Trek: The Next Generation “Q Who”
Q returns for “Q Who”, which is in the middle of The Next Generation‘s second season. This season, overall, proved superior to the show’s first season, despite clunkers such as “Unnatural Selection”, “Up the Long Ladder”, and the second season finale “Shades of Gray”. In addition, the season had a delayed start, like other TV shows of the time, due to the Writer’s Guild strike. As a result, there were only 22 episodes, rather than the usual 26.
Some also took exception to the fact that Crusher was replaced in this season with Dr. Katherine Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur, who previously appeared in the original series episodes “Return to Tomorrow” and “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” But as TNG was still relatively new with its second season, such a cast change didn’t disrupt the dynamic of the show the way Terry Farrell’s absence disrupted Deep Space Nine‘s final season. Yes, Pulaski was a bitch who didn’t do anything Bones didn’t do better, but the whole season shouldn’t be condemned for that. It all worked out as Crusher returned the following season, and besides, I just can’t imagine TNG continuing its run with one of its regulars getting “Special Appearance” billing. And in this case, it’s also moot, as Pulaski doesn’t show up in this episode.
The fourth installment of…
…begins in Engineering, where new recruit Ensign Sonya Gomez (Lycia Naff) politely asks the replicator for hot chocolate. This amuses La Forge, which leads to her stating how excited she is at getting a post on the Enterprise straight out of the Academy. In other words, Gomez is Harry Kim, but hotter and with a personality. La Forge then suggests that she enjoy her hot chocolate outside of Engineering. Our wondering of why food replicators are in Engineering at all is reinforced when Gomez politely excuses herself… only to have her beverage spill on Picard.
She’s beside herself with embarrassment, so La Forge apologizes on her behalf. Picard, while obviously not enjoying a beverage that isn’t his Earl Grey, simply tells her to calm down as he goes off to change.
The captain goes into a turbolift, but upon exiting, realizes that he’s now in a shuttlecraft. Specifically, one piloted by Q.
Although he cleans up Picard’s messy uniform, the captain angrily reminds Q of their agreement to leave his ship the hell alone. Q states he’s doing so, pointing out that the Enterprise is nowhere in sight.
After the title sequence, La Forge and Gomez head to Ten Forward to chill out. While there, Guinan begins to experience unusual premonitions. She contacts the bridge, but Riker says that there’s nothing wrong.
On the shuttlecraft, Q tells Picard that the ship won’t find him this far out, despite the captain’s best efforts. Q says he wants to discuss something with Picard, who says that stranding him out in the middle of nowhere like this won’t make that likely. Q says it will, while looking like he’s about to kiss Picard’s ear in the process, which I assume is another reason Picard is pissed right now.
Troi comes to the bridge asking where Picard is. The computer states he’s not onboard and Worf reports a shuttle missing. After Wesley needlessly overreacts, Riker tells Data to begin a sweep from their present position.
Eventually, Picard tells Q he’ll hear him out, and they’re suddenly in Ten Forward. As Riker and Worf head that way, having been alerted that the shuttle and Picard have returned, we find that Guinan and Q already know each other, and not in the “old friends” way, as their hostile reactions to each other demonstrate.
After Riker and Worf arrive, Q states that he wants to be part of the crew. He says that, after the events of “Hide and Q”, he basically became persona non grata with the Q Continuum. He wandered for a while and then realized that, given their past history, he could join Picard’s crew, offering insight into the road ahead. He even offers to give up his powers.
While Riker, Worf, and Guinan are annoyed, Picard admits he finds Q one of the most unique lifeforms he’s encountered, but eloquently states that Q is “kin to chaos.” The captain turns Q down, saying that they don’t need an extra hand because their reason for being in space is to encounter that which is unique and unexpected. Picard is too classy to just say that Q is an asshole.
Q unexpectedly responds with a snap of his fingers, sending the ship hurling through space. When it stops, Data says that they’re at least three years from the nearest starbase. Q says that the stage is set for Picard to prove his stance and vanishes. Picard asks Guinan what to expect in this area of space, and she tells him they should just get the hell out now.
But Picard’s explorer streak just can’t resist a little look-see first. As they travel, they come across planets with cities that have been basically ripped out of the ground. Data even likens the pattern of destruction to those missing Federation and Romulan bases in the first season finale “The Neutral Zone”.
That’s when the crew comes across a large cube-shaped ship heading for them. Data is unable to detect any lifeforms, or any structure similar to other ships. Picard contacts Guinan, who goes to her quarters to get a look at the ship on her viewscreen. She tells them that the ship is from a race of beings called the Borg, who decimated her people a century earlier.
We see one of the crew of this ship suddenly beam into Engineering. La Forge calls security, which arrives with Picard and Worf. Q pops up to point out to them how different this lifeform is from others they’ve encountered. Picard attempts to communicate with the Borg, but is ignored. When the Borg attempts to interface with one of the computers, Picard tells Worf to stop it. Worf, in turn, sends one of his gold shirts, who quickly gets tossed to the ground for his trouble. As the lights start to flicker, Worf uses his phaser, which manages to damage the Borg and send it to the ground. But another Borg pops up and has a force field to protect it from Worf’s phaser. After playing with the computer some more, the Borg picks a couple of doohickeys out of the corpse of the other Borg before they both vanish.
In the observation lounge, Guinan tells everyone that there’s no reasoning with the Borg, and that they beamed into Engineering to get info on the ship. Troi says that she doesn’t sense a single leader, but rather that the minds of all the Borg on the ship are acting as one. The Borg ship hails them, saying that they’re no match for them. Q then pops up on the viewscreen to gloat about Picard turning him down.
The Borg then put a tractor beam on the Enterprise. As the ship attempts to break free, a second beam cuts into the saucer, taking a little chunk out of the ship and carrying it into the cube. But the ship manages to destroy the tractor beam and damage the cube. But the mood is soured, when Worf reports that the chunk of ship getting ripped out killed 18 crewmembers. Gomez laments this loss before La Forge tells her to stay focused on the job at hand.
Back in the observation lounge, the crew is discussing what to do next when Q pops up in a chair in the back of the room. He says that the Borg are unique, and all they want is the Enterprise and its technology. Riker mentions the 18 killed crewmembers, which only prompts Q to roll his eyes. He assures Picard that this isn’t one of his usual encounters before leaving. Riker suggests that since both ships are licking their wounds, now would be the time to go to the Borg cube to learn more about them. Picard agrees, although Guinan objects.
Riker, Worf, and Data beam over and see Borg everywhere, even though Chief O’Brien (by the way, this is the episode where we first learn his name) said there were no lifeforms in the area before transporting them. The Borg in the vicinity take no notice of them. The trio get a good look at the ship as well as the nursery, where the Borg are born as organic life before getting artificial implants.
They soon realize that all the Borg on the ship are combining their efforts to repair the ship. Picard has O’Brien transport the away team to the bridge, and tells Wesley to get the ship away from the Borg. But the Borg quickly follow them, even as the cube is regenerating. The Enterprise’s photon torpedoes have no effect.
Q pops up again to gloat about how right he was. The warp drive is being pushed to its limit and soon, thanks to another fancy Borg weapon, the shields are gone. Picard readies the photon torpedoes again before Q says he’ll be taking his leave. But Picard convinces him to save everyone by basically saying “pretty please” like Q wanted him to. This convinces Q to snap his fingers again and the Enterprise is quickly back home.
Taking Riker’s spot, Q commends Picard for swallowing his pride. But Picard is still bummed about the 18 crewmembers killed, which prompts Q to give a great line before departing.
Q: If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to 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.
The episode ends with Picard and Guinan chatting about what occurred. She says that contact with the Borg was premature, but that they’ll be coming for them now that they know about the Federation.
While “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q” had their good points, “Q Who” would be the first episode featuring the Q character to be hailed as a classic. One reason being that the Borg, while compared to the Cybermen on Doctor Who by some, are truly unlike anything we’ve encountered in Star Trek previously. And the tension of the story keeps building once Q sends the ship far away. In other words, with this episode, TNG accomplished what Voyager failed to do during its entire run: make the audience truly feel as if they were in an unknown area of space.
Sadly, we would see Gomez only once more (in “Samaritan Snare”) although she would pop up in some Star Trek novels. The Guinan/Q relationship is also a welcome new dynamic. Both Q and the crew themselves, by this point, were starting to become a bit more complex. Riker understandably complains that the 18 crewmembers wouldn’t have died had Q not sent the ship to that area. At the same time though, our heroes were kind of asking for it when they flat out tell Q they can handle anything that’s thrown at them.
As with Q, it wouldn’t be long until we saw the Borg again. “Q Who” certainly represents a major turning point in the series.