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Star Trek Voyager: Death Wish

"Will you send him to prison for eternity, or will you assist in his suicide plan?"

Voyager accidentally releases a Q (hereafter 'Quinn', to distinguish him from the regular de Lancie model) from captivity. This provokes a tricky moral dilemma when Quinn asks for political asylum, with the intention of committing suicide.

I've never been overly wild about Q. I've always been baffled by Gene Roddenberry's fascination with godlike aliens, which seem to me to be overly implausible, and a lot of their storylines tend to revolve around the same tired theme, their childishness. Having said that, Q has been the basis of some entertaining and fun episodes, and I'd always rather watch something silly than something boring, so he's not all bad.

This, however, is probably the best Q episode in the entire Star Trek franchise, and it works because it takes the character and his nature completely seriously. The script uses the Q and their immortality to ask questions about the meaning of life, the nature of suffering and about mortality, all without ever being preachy. Because the plot revolves around Quinn's asylum hearing (with Tuvok as his defending counsel), these long-ish philosophical conversations don't feel dull or out of place, but fit in perfectly within a plot with genuinely high stakes. Voyager had made several previous attempts to discuss the Big Questions, many of which were more or less disastrous, but in this episode, they really get it right.

One of the reasons the episode works is that, as Quinn emphatically points out, the Q are not actually omnipotent, even if they seem that way to humans. They have limits and restrictions, which means they have something to fight for and something to lose. The Qs' extraordinary powers are also used to increase the conflict for Janeway – because, of course, if Q wanted to, he could send Voyager home in an instant. The moment when he shows her Earth outside the window is really quite powerful. We know as viewers that it won't happen because the series isn't finished yet, but that brief glimpse of what is our real home, taken away again so quickly, really allows us to feel Janeway's pain at having to give it up.

The visualisation of the Q Continuum that Janeway and Tuvok visit is fascinating, eerie and atmospheric (and conveniently easy to film near LA). The endless desert road may be a bit obvious as a representation of unending boredom but it works, and the 1920s/1930s styling on the extras somehow adds to the feeling of listlessness and despair, though it's hard to say exactly why (perhaps because it subconsciously recalls the Great Depression, or just the scenes in and near the garage in The Great Gatsby).

This episode's strength is how seriously it takes the Q Continuum, but that doesn't mean there's no opportunity for humour or entertainment. The sequence in which Quinn takes Voyager to series of ridiculous locations in an attempt to hide from Q is good fun, and there's plenty of witty dialogue (even if some of it is gratingly sexist). There's also a fun sequence in which Q calls up witnesses to testify to how much they owe to Quinn – namely, Isaac Newton, somebody involved with Woodstock, and we get a guest appearance from Jonathan Frakes as Riker. This is the first opportunity Voyager has had to feature characters from other series in the franchise since the pilot. Having had quite a thing for Riker growing up (once I got past Wesley – don't blame me, I was an eight-year-old girl), this pleased me enormously.

The ultimate solution to the moral dilemma, that Quinn should be given a mortal life to live out, is brilliant – it's a shame he was too impatient to kill himself to live it, as he would have been a good addition to the crew. Janeway's acknowledgement of her personal 'aversion' to suicide despite ruling in his favour is nice as well, as she tries to balance several conflicting ideas and interests. The episode's conclusion also advances Q's character when he provides Quinn with poison, which is great to see and somewhat rare, and reminds us that he was at one point supposed to be something of a rebel himself.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - Quinn was the Continuum's greatest philosopher, so of course he commits suicide by taking alien hemlock.

 - Q makes sexist comments about having a woman in the captain's seat and sexually harasses Janeway throughout the entire episode (though to be fair, he jumped into bed with Picard as well). He's an omnipotent being with little sense of time, on a 24th-century ship. But he still thinks derogatory jokes about female captains are funny. He pervs on B'Elanna, too. Sigh.

 - When Quinn accidentally erases all the men from Voyager's crew, it doesn't half show up the fact this crew is not split 50/50, gender-wise. Again, sigh.

 - The make-up department give both Qs the slightly purple-ish lipstick Q sometimes wore in The Next Generation, especially early on. It highlights how alien they are, as well as giving them a slightly more sinister look, which works really well for the episode.

 - Janeway flirting watch: Judging by her expression when she lays eyes on Riker, she feels the same way about him as I do. Thankfully, she firmly shuts down Q, who is being majorly creepy.

 - Gerrit Graham puts in a great guest performance as Quinn, and de Lancie is good value as ever, playing the more sinister side of Q.


B'Elanna: This ship will not survive the formation of the cosmos. From the show that brought you "Get the cheese to sickbay!"

Paris (describing a Christmas tree): We seem to be tethered to some kind of large plant.

Q (to Janeway): Did anyone ever tell you, you're angry when you're beautiful?

Tuvok: I am curious. Have the Q always had an absence of manners, or is it the result of some natural evolutionary process that comes with omnipotence?

Q: Oh, we've all done the scarecrow. Big deal.

Janeway (to Q): One thing you have never been is a liar.
Q: I think you've uncovered my one redeeming virtue. Am I blushing?

Philosophy, humour, great guest performances, a Classical reference, lots of Tuvok – I'll even resist the urge to dock half a point for the sexism. Four out of four sticks of purple lipstick.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. This is one of the top ten episodes of the series. Brilliant and profound.


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