Star Trek The Next Generation: Déjà Q

"I stand before you defrocked. Condemned to be a member of this lowest of species. A normal, imperfect, lumpen human being."

A moon has shifted out of orbit around the inhabited Bre'el IV, potentially destroying a planet. While refugees presumably run amok on the ground during the evacuation procedures, the Enterprise crew is distracted by... Q, appearing naked and in recumbent posture. And, they soon find out, completely powerless.

This hilarious episode could seem like a one off, but I prefer to see it as a direct sequel to season two's "Measure of a Man". In that episode, Data had his humanity questioned, then, to some extent, verified. Here, Q is reduced by his Continuum from something like a god, to human form and mortality - but unlike Data, he rejects humanity. The earlier part of the episode is a comedic riff on many of the failures of mortal life, on sleep, even on having to bathe and being imprisoned. De Lancie treats the entire crew as if it's his straight man in a comedy show on Chicago's South Side, and it works: he gets in his zings off stoic Worf and bearded Riker. The scene with Geordi asserting his superiority over the newest "member" of the crew-and Q's flabbergasted expression afterwards-even made me think of Hamlet: "For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely?" Hamlet's answer is fear: the dread of something after death. And despite Data introducing Q to Troi's emotion-altering ice-cream sundaes, it seems at first as if that's the only proper answer to being human: fear.

See, Q lost his immortality, but neither his history, nor his immorality. When Guinan stabs him with a fork to assert Q's ability to experience pain, it's a precursor to an attack, seconds later, from an angry and seemingly energy-based race intent on extracting revenge from the human Q. I can't be the only viewer to have visions of hundreds such angry races seeking revenge, and a glimmer of pleasure at seeing poor Q battered and flung around. Again and again, however, Data, in-between lessons on humanity and respect, does his best to rescue Q. It gets to the point where he nearly fries his circuits. Why? It wasn't in his orders. Despite his mechanical nature, though, Data shows one of the most human qualities: mercy, and its imperative sister, self-sacrifice. I also like to think he's a machine and his mercy is based somewhat in fact, but that's a quibble for another discussion.

Data saving Q from mysterious alien energies.
It's that quality, self-sacrifice, that seems to strike Q most strongly. Does Q know Q needs to show mercy and generosity to return to the Q Continuum? I don't think so: I think, for a minute, he was truly inspired by Data, the logic of saving himself to make saving Bre'el IV possible was convincing, and that business at the end with the cigar and Picard? Grandstanding. Hamlet again: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." However it works out, his fellow Q forgive him, our Q forgives the vengeful aliens, saves the day, the moon, the ship... and gives Data a ghost of his fondest dream: a burst of uncontrollable, human laughter.

The Q episodes always have a patina of unreality to them - how can they not, with Mariachi bands and alien versions of Girls Gone Wild? Often, however, I feel they provide either a heavy or a light way to revisit Hamlet's dictum: that "the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Even if this one feels a little like a Problem of the Week type, it's saved by De Lancie, and by the string of attempts from this series to examine and re-examine humanity.

Bits and Pieces

Guinan. I just like to see the maintenance of character here. The last time these two met, she showed him clawed hands. Here, she stabs him with a fork.

The perigee is the closest point to something in orbit. Wouldn't the Enterprise have wanted to push the moon further away at its apogee?

Lumpen? In Marxist terminology, the lumpen proletariat is uninterested in evolution, just in going along to get along.

Quotables

Q: It was a mistake. I never should have picked human. I knew it the minute I said it. To think of the future in this shell. Forced to cover myself with fabric because of some outdated human morality. To say nothing of being too hot or too cold, growing feeble with age, losing my hair, catching a disease, being ticklish, sneezing, having an itch, a pimple, bad breath. Having to bathe.
Worf: Too bad.

Data: I have observed that the selection of food is often influenced by the mood of the person ordering.
Q: I'm in a dreadful mood. Get me something appropriate.
Data: When Counselor Troi is unhappy, she usually eats something chocolate.
Q: Chocolate?
Data: A chocolate sundae, for example. Although I do not speak from personal experience, I have seen it have a profound psychological impact.
Q: I'll have ten chocolate sundaes.

Overall

Four out of four uneaten chocolate sundaes.

3 comments:

Juliette said...

One of my favourite Q episodes, partly because he's more interesting without his powers, mainly because it's hilarious.

lazybasterd said...

It's established in this episode that even though he's powerless, Q still has all of vast knowledge of the cosmos... How does he not know what a chocolate sundaes is?!

JRS said...

I wondered about that-was he telling the truth or was it just more posturing to keep himself alive? He did know some things about gravity but now he's human: would the knowledge last?