Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Q Who

Q! The first Borg episode! Guinan doing Kung Fu! All this and more in James' latest Star Trek TNG season 2 look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

2.15 Q Who

Geordi welcomes aboard Ensign Sonya Gomez, a recent academy graduate who quickly shows that no-one’s checking for people skills on Starfleet application by irritating Geordi then spilling her drink over Picard. Ah, it’s all japes on board the Enterprise. That is, until Q shows up completely out of nowhere! He’s transported Picard to a shuttlecraft far away from the ship so that he can get a solo audience, utilising a technicality.

In Ten Forward, Whoopi Goldberg has a strange feeling, so she calls the bridge. Even though Riker doesn’t know Picard is off the ship, he’s apparently been promoted to Captain Obvious as he reminds her she doesn’t normally call the bridge. She simply asks if anything unusual is happening, and rather than saying “Probably, something unusual always happens to us at this time of the week” the crew just shrug and let her dismiss her own fears offhand.

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In the shuttlecraft, Picard and Q argue over whether Q deserves an audience, and Picard tries to be stubborn but unsurprisingly the omnipotent guy holds all the cards. Back on the Enterprise someone (Troi, of all people!) finally has the good sense to wonder what happened to the guy who’s supposed to be running all of this and asks where Picard is. They finally realise that he, and one of the shuttlecrafts, are gone!

The Enterprise searches ineffectually for its Captain, but eventually Picard just allows Q an audience and they find themselves transported to the ship. Picard and Q reappear in Ten Forward, prompting Guinan to rise from behind the bar in one of the most hilarious entrances Star Trek has ever seen. She and Q argue, each accusing the other of being incredibly dangerous. Guinan assumes what appears to be a Tiger-style Kung Fu pose but before she can go all Cobra Kai on him, Q gets to the point and asks if he can join the crew of the Enterprise.

In his mind, the Enterprise isn’t ready for what they’ll encounter in deep space, and he wants to offer help. Unsurprisingly, his offer is rejected because no-one can trust him. In a fit of butthurt at being fired, he flings the Enterprise into deep (well… deeper) space to teach them a lesson.

In deep space, the Enterprise only goes and encounters a flipping Borg cube, doesn’t it? That’s right, it’s the first Borg episode!

The Borg transport a drone to the Enterprise and it immediately attempts to hack their Gibson. Picard tries to negotiate with it, but gets nowhere. Eventually they give up trying to talk man-to-computer-man and try the ancient language of death-rays, but even that doesn’t stop the intrusion as a second drone follows, now immune. It completes its task and then returns to the Borg ship. Picard is so rattled he calls… A MEETING.

Today’s guest-speaker is Guinan, who explains calmly and clearly that the Borg genocided her people and cannot be stopped or negotiated with. Picard, ever the great listener, opts to ignore her completely, even though the Borg phone the Enterprise halfway through the meeting to explain their plans to grind the ship into dust beneath their collective robot fist. They chop a hole in the Enterprise, killing eighteen people we’ve never met. A few phaser blasts eventually disable their weapon, and the Borg ship appears to go dormant, so Picard gets back to what’s important: finishing the meeting.

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Against the strong objections of Guinan, who is the only person here who has any clue about anything, Picard decides to send an away team to the Borg cube. As usual, Riker assembles a “minimal” away team of himself, a unique-to-Starfleet Android and the security/tactical chief. They wander around the cube unopposed, probably because the Borg doesn’t consider them a threat. Their nosing around eventually makes them realise that the Borg are simply diverting all resources to fixing their ship, at which point Picard pulls them right out and makes Wesley put the pedal to the metal.

With the Borg ship chasing them down, the Enterprise’s situation becomes increasingly dire. Their shields are crippled, their weapons are useless, and the Borg are gaining. Picard finally begs Q for help, successfully appealing to his ego. They’re transported back home, but the japery of the episode’s opening scenes is dissipated, turned to impending doom. Picard tries to put a positive spin on things, saying that Q may have shaken them out of their complacency. If only he knew what was coming, right guys?

TNG WTF: Nothing will prepare the seasoned TNG viewer for the sight of Borg Babies in this episode. Clearly they just hadn’t decided on the whole idea of assimilation yet, but it is a very odd scene (one which Voyager, in its infinite self-referential Borg-obsessed tedium would later attempt to explain.)

TNG LOL: A great demonstration of the chain of command: Picard is unable to negotiate with the Borg drone, and so decides to try force. He turns to Worf and gives him the go-ahead to attack. Worf, rather than attacking, turns to his subordinate and gives him the go order to attack. The subordinate lunges at the Borg and is promptly thrown across the room. The lesson? Never do something for yourself when one of your underlings is nearby.

Also, Guinan’s Kung Fu hands moment is another moment that’ll surprise seasoned TNG viewers. There are strong hints here that they had a big story planned for the character which never went materialised. Q is incredibly upset to see her and accuses her of being more than she seems, while her weird hand gestures imply that she has the ability to counter or resist Q’s powers – maybe even rival them. But it never comes up again and the best she can do is having a better perception of reality than most people in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

Who’s That Face: IT’S WHOOPI GOLDBERG! Star of Jumpin’ Jack Flash! Oh, and Gomez is played by Lycia Naff, who apparently played the three-breasted mutant in the original Total Recall. That, I was not expecting.

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Time Until Meeting: 24:09. Guinan sits in! And then there’s a second at 28:25, when Picard orders everyone back into the meeting room by saying “Conference!”.

Captain’s Log: Looked at objectively, this episode is really quite poor. The first half looks like it’s going to be a story about Q, but in the latter half of the episode he’s mostly just hanging around in the background hurling insults. The second half is about them encountering a deadly foe, learning very little and then having an unresolved fight. And there’s a lot of stuff with Ensign Gomez in both parts of the episode which goes absolutely nowhere.

And yet… it’s the Borg. And Q! Two great villains that villain great together. Q is always great to see on screen, and the Borg are as creepy as Trek villains ever got (except for Balok, although that creepiness may have been an accident caused by poor special effects). There’s not really much of a story here, just a prologue to future, more interesting stories, and yet the Borg are so instantly fantastic that you’ll forgive the episode’s meandering structure just because they’re wandering around a Borg ship and telling us what they’ve learnt about this startling new foe.

I guess what I’m saying is that despite its faults as a piece of television, this is an episode that TNG viewers are guaranteed to love. And let’s face it – they got enough mileage out of the Borg that it’s worth doing a long introduction. It’s just a shame it takes so much time for them to come back now!

Watch or Skip? Watch. Remind yourself of when the Borg were still interesting.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Pen Pals, here.

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