Saturday, August 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Q Who?"

We have arrived at “Q Who?,” one of the most pivotal episodes of the series. A lot of fan think that is so because the episode introduces the Borg. That is true, but it is more important because the story furthers the overall dynamic between Picard and Q that, unbeknownst to us, runs from the pilot to the finale. Oh, and Pulaski is absent from this one. Hallelujah.

I cannot ignore the Borg’s introduction here. I still have that wide eyed wonder about them as a twelve year old long before VOYr came along to destroy their mystique as a force of nature above any petty sense of political conquest. Love them or hate, the Borg were a unique creation. Most any alien species any trek characters normally encounter could very well be represented by humans with a different cultural standard. The borg rose above that. They were novel and terrifying even before we learned what assimilation was all about.

Getting into the story, we can see how this is more about Q and Picard than the Borg. Q kidnaps Picard while the captain is on his way to change uniforms because a nervous new crewman dumped cocoa in it. He winds up on a shuttlecraft with Q, who explains he has been exiled from the Q Continuum. He wants to join the crew because he fears Picard is about to encounter dangers beyond his ability to handle.

Q transports Picard back to the Enterprise. They wind up in Ten Forward where he and Guinan have a strange confrontation in which they make these threaten gestures with their hands like they are fondling invisible boobs. Picard is intrigued by the prospect of studying Q, but thinks he is too impish to have around. Q decides to show him how unwise his refusal is by throwing the ship 7,000 light years--three years travel time to the nearest Starbase--away.

Picard decides as long as they are stranded in an unexplored place, they should look around. They discover a number of planets with gaping craters much like the ones left behind in Federation and Romulan space at the end of the first season. Then they encounter a Borg cube for the first time.

A Borg invades engineering and explores the technology itself with the ttpical obliviousness to all other beings around it. Picard, ever the diplomat, tries to open a dialogue right up until the Borg accesses the computer. He then allows Worf to blow the heck out of it. A second Borg appears to finish the job, oblivious to the corpse of his colleague on the floor. It has already adapted to the pfasers, so Worf does not get the chance to blast this one into oblivion.

The Borg go on the offensive because they have apparently decided the enterprise is technology worthy of taking. They drain the shields and carve out a section of the ship, killing eighteen people. A phaser blast from the Enterprise halts the attack. For whatever inexplicable reason, Picard decides to sit there, sans shields, in front of the cube to have a conference on what to do next. You would think he would want to get a safe distance away while he has the chance. Evidently not.

Q shows up at the staff officers meeting. For the first time, Q acts like I would expect an omnipotent, nonchalantly cruel character to act. In his previous two appearances, he has acted up like Jim Carrey on a sugar high. Here he is subdued, almost diabolical, as he lets it sink in just how much desperate trouble the crew is in. He very easily could have been more over the top, but it would have ruined the tense, claustrophobic feel of the episode.

Speaking of claustrophobic, Picard decides to send an away team over instead of running off like he most certainly should. The away mission is one of the most chilling scenes in TNG. It has lost much impact now, but the first time I saw the narrow corridors with Borg wandering about completely ignoring the away team, the sense of their insignificance was creepy. The scene where they arrive in the usury still holds up today. Back then, there was the implication Borg were born human and received robotic implants. Creepy enough, but now you can look at it as human babies kidnapped by the Borg for assimilation. Yeesh.

They realize the cube is repairing itself and beam back before it can resume attacking the Enterprise. Now Picard decides to move, but it is too late. There is no way they can defeat the Borg, so Picard has to grovel for Q and admit he needs him. Q accepts and sends the ship back to it original location. But now the Borg will be coming. That is a story for the third season finale.

Remember I said this was all more about Q than the Borg? Think about this. We see in future episodes the Q Continuum does not just expel troublemakers to ram free using their powers as they wish. I think Q was lying about being booed ot of the Continuum. His intention here was a test of Picard. Recall in “Hide and Q,” they had an exchange over Hamlet‘a tale told by an idiot” speech in which Picard told q that humanity had advanced beyond petty concerns to its utmost nobility. Think about the results of what Q has done subsequently in “Q Who?” the Borg are going to kidnap Picard, assimilate him, and use him to destroy the Federation. The ordeal is going to lead to psychological problems for Picsrd to the point he becomes as obsessed with the Borg as Ahab was with Moby Dick. Thus, in a way, Q’s actions lead to disproving Picard’s arrogant assumption of his triumph over human pettiness.

Nothing was planned out that far, of course, but the threads are there if you care to weave them together.

I cannot give “Q Who?” five stars because of some lapses in logic. There was no good reason for the Enterprise to remain near the Borg ship while it was disabled, particularly after eighteen crewmen were killed. The new character of Ensign Gomez was introduced, but she did not resonate at any point, so she went the way of the do do bird. She was clumsy doofus here, yet given the all important task of bringing the shields back online. A big task considering Picard has them just sitting there in the interim. Otherwise, this is one of the best of the second season.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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