This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains minor spoilers for “Veritas.”
The voice-cameo of Jon de Lancie as Q in Episode 8 of Lower Decks is easily the series’ biggest callback to Star Trek: The Next Generation yet. In fact, the way Q appears in this episode is very reminiscent of how we think of him in TNG, down to his iconic judge’s robes, and his taunts about “testing humanity.” But, on some level, it feels like Q has actually regressed a bit. He’s still hilarious, but wasn’t he slightly more responsible the last time we saw him in canon? Chronologically, the last time we saw Q was in Voyager Season 7 and, at that time, he’d just become a father, and was willing to help out Captain Janeway and the gang. So what’s up with Q? Did he go back to being a jerk? Or is he actually more fun now than ever?
In the year 2378, just two years before the events of Lower Decks, we saw Q in the Voyager episode “Q2.” In this episode, Q has a son (the titular “Q2” or “Junior”) and basically goes to Voyager to teach his kid about what humans are like. This doesn’t go well, but the overwhelming point of the episode is that Q does feel some level or responsibility about his son and, even though he’s flippant and annoyed, the episode ends with the idea that Q is trying to set a good example for his son. Q Junior’s brand of chaos was irresponsible, whereas Q viewed his version of screwing with humans as a series of tests.
Prior to all of that, in 2373, Voyager was briefly sucked into the Q Civil War, in which “our” Q was in favor of keeping the galaxy the way it was, rather than having everything descend into chaos. The crew of Voyager were basically bystanders in this, but again, these storylines demonstrated that on a very basic level, was interested in keeping the galaxy stable, not tearing it apart.
Is this different than how he was in TNG? Well, probably not. Q has always been interested in keeping the galaxy and the universe “safe” and together, it’s just his attitude toward humans has softened. Though he appears in his judges robes in Lower Decks, it feels unlikely that Q is “really” putting humanity on trial again. In “All Good Things..” he told Picard that the trial of humanity never ends, but in this episode of Lower Decks, it seems like he’s more interested in messing with the Cerritos than anything. In other words, Q’s games don’t always have to have a point.
It’s also possible that this Q is from the future, at least relative to the Lower Deckers. He says he’s bored with Picard making wine all the time. In 2380, Picard isn’t making wine yet! It feels like Q is referencing Jean-Luc in the 2385-2399 range, in the series Picard. Of course, Q exists outside of all time and space, so some of this doesn’t matter to him, but if he’s seen the bleaker future for Jean-Luc and the Federation in 2399 (which of course he has, he’s Q) then it stands to reason he’s back in 2380 to hang out in a more playful time. In other words, Q, like Trekkies everywhere, is probably nostalgic for this time in the 24th century. Who can blame him?
Lower Decks has two episodes left in Season 1. Those air on CBS All Access on Thursdays.