16. Q Who?

Arrogance and Complacency

A yellow shirt is saying “please” to a food replicator as Geordi passes, so he teases her. She says, artificial intelligence isn’t a person, but we should still act like people. Geordi keeps talking as he walks around the corner into Engineering. She’s new and nervous and has to follow.

Unanswered questions: why is there a food replicator in the corridor? Why does it take longer to make hot chocolate than Earl Gray, hot? Is that why I always say please to Siri?

She rambles, and Geordi realizes she brought her drink into Engineering. He tells her to take it out. She turns to leave and collides with Captain Picard. Hot choco all over them both. Captain Picard meet Ensign Gomez. Ensign Gomez stop touching the captain.

Geordi takes the blame, but Picard acts all aloof, saying it may be better if I just change. Poor yellow shirt. I’ve got a feeling she’s about to die.

Let’s admire the shot of Picard going to the turbolift. It’s a low angle tracking shot that makes the corridor seem huge and Picard seem disconnected from his environment. Plus it’s unusual, which gives the sense something is about to happen. Add Picard’s self-confident walk, and we have a moment that thematically encapsulates the entire episode. What a shot!

Picard steps off the turbolift and onto a shuttlecraft being piloted by Q, who dries the cocoa with the wave of his hand. Picard says, You agreed to leave my ship alone. Q says, We’re not anywhere near your ship.

First Kick in the Complacency

Geordi escorts Gomez to Ten Forward because she deserves a drink, and he tells her she should relax. She’s made it to Enterprise. Now she can be a little complacent. But she says she can’t let up. We’re supposed to think Geordi is right. Boy are we in for a surprise.

I like her. I hope she makes it.

In Ten Forward, Guinan, who is more in touch with the universe than the rest of the crew, has a funny feeling that’s making her worry. She calls the bridge for the first time ever to ask if anything is out of the ordinary. Riker assures her it’s OK.

Picard is now trying to call the Enterprise, but it’s too far away. Q has a proposal for Picard, but Picard says keeping him prisoner won’t compel him to listen. Q says, Oh it will in time.

Back at Ten Forward, Gunian is still worried. Geordi notices and, in a show of respect for her, runs back to engineering to check on things. Gomez goes with.

Deanna appears on the bridge worried about the captain. Just think all the emotions of the people on the ship has to be background noise to her, but Picard’s presence is such that once he’s gone, she notices.

She asks where he is. Riker says in his quarters. She calls him, but no answer. Riker does a Find Friends search. He’s not on the ship. Worf doesn’t need to be told to check on the shuttlecraft. He finds one missing. Wes panics, but Riker is calm and methodical and starts a search by putting scanners to maximum.

Unanswered question: Why aren’t scanners always on maximum?

Six hours later, they’ve searched the entire sphere of space in which the shuttlecraft could have gone. They can’t find him. Boy that Q can move a ship far if he wants to.

On the shuttle, Picard’s still not talking, and Q’s playing wall ball. Picard finally gets fed up and demands to be taken back. Q asks, if I take you back, will you listen to me? Picard nods consent.

Oops. He just let Q out of the deal that keeps him from the Enterprise.

Now they’re in Ten Forward, and Guinan’s the only one there. She’s not happy to see Q.

Worf is still doing a great job as security chief. He already knows the shuttlecraft is back. He tells Riker, and Riker’s second Find Friends locates Picard.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge some wonderfully subtle acting from Jonathan Frakes. In seconds, his face goes from relief to frustration to determination. Good. Subtle.

Riker hurries to Ten Forward.

Search for Justification

In Ten Forward, Guinan and Q are showing their claws. They know each other. They had a little dispute 200 years ago. Q says trouble follows her wherever she goes. Picard says that’s an apt description of Q.

Riker and Worf come in. Worf steps towards Q like he’s Tasha Yar, but Picard keeps him from getting hurt by calling him off and sending him out to the hall. Q explains his purpose: he wants to join the crew.

Picard listens sincerely. He says, Q is by definition part of the Enterprise charter to seek out new and different lifeforms, but the fact is, as Riker’s summary of the first two encounters with Q and the recent kidnapping of the Picard show, the Enterprise crew can’t trust Q.

Q redirects away from trust to need. He says the crew needs him because they’re not prepared for what lies ahead. Picard counters, how can we be prepared for the unexpected? Then comes his moment of hubris. He says, we’re absolutely ready to encounter it.

Q and Guinan then have a side convo that hints at hidden motives. He says the Federation has no clue what’s out there and it’s moving too fast. It’s as if he wants to show them the Borg just to teach them a lesson, and he’s using their refusal of him as justification for what he’s going to do.

Picard’s second act of hubris comes here. He asks, who are you to determine how fast we can expand, and then confidently says, “Your help is not required.” Plus Riker’s look goes right on past confidence and into arrogance. I mean, the Peter Pan pose from Hide and Q is totally back.

That was the justification he was looking for. Q says, Well just have to see how ready you are. He snaps his finger, and the Enterprise goes spinning off 7,000 light years away.

Unanswered question: Just how good are those inertial dampeners?

Q does his flash and disappear act, and Data tells Picard they’re two years from the nearest starbase if they travel at full speed. Picard and Riker turn to Guinan for advice. With fear in her voice, she says, “If I were you, I’d start back now.”

What they’re not prepared for

Picard knows he should leave, but they’re explorers and there’s this Class M planet and it’s just too good a chance. But that planet has been cleaned up. All machinery scraped away. It looks like what happened near the neutral zone at the end of last season.

Thank you! Finally that question is answered.

They’re being probed by a ship on an intercept course. They put it on the screen and it’s a cube. It’s the Borg! It’s the Borg! The Borg are finally here!

I have to be honest. I was surprised they made their first appearance in season two. So much for my memory.

Riker’s a good, smart first officer, but that’s not in evidence when he orders Worf to keep the shields down so they don’t look hostile. Remember Guinan’s warning?

The Borg cube has no center, no living quarters, no life, no weapons or shields, and it gives no response to hails.

Picard calls down to Guinan and asks her to check it out on a monitor, which is just silly because she’s looking right at it through the window. Anyway, Guinan, it turns out, has an office.

She explains, these aliens are called Borg (sorry for the spoiler before), and they destroyed the cities of her people and scattered them throughout the galaxy. She says they have to protect themselves or it will destroy them.

Then we get this strange shot of Geordi standing in Engineering, strange because we’re seeing too much over his right shoulder. Then it holds. And holds. Until… a humanoid appears, beamed over with some advanced green light technology.

This humanoid is part machine.

Adapting to the Unexpected

There’s that iconic image of Enterprise hanging in front of a massive Borg cube. Wow. Season Two? Really?

The lone Borg is still poking around Engineering, and Picard comes down to check him out because THAT just makes perfect sense. Q appears to check out Picard checking out the Borg checking out the Enterprise. The Borg accesses the controls with green energy from his hand.

A yellow shirt tries to stop him and gets thrown across the room. Worf kills the Borg with a phaser. A new one appears and picks up where the old one left off, but this one has phaser blocking shields. He leaves when he’s good and ready. He takes his friend with him.

Picard calls a meeting in the observation lounge and invites Guinan because her people know the Borg and they need her advice. She’s everything Q wants to be.

She explains, the Borg swarmed her system and left nothing. They don’t attack individually. They come in force. The initial encounter is just to gather information. They see other cultures as technology for them to take. You can’t reason with them.

The Borg call to say, You’re defenses are unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves you will be punished.

Not as concise as “Resistance is futile,” but there’s plenty of time to refine that.

Deanna says they’re one mind operating together, and the crew oddly thinks that makes them stronger. Haven’t they heard of groupthink?

The meeting is brought to an abrupt ending when the Borg lock onto the Enterprise with a tractorbeam.

The beam drains the shields until the ship is helpless, and then the Borg use a laser to cut part of the ship away. Picard says, target the exact source of that beam. It takes three or four shots, but eventually they get it. And they blow a big hole in the cube. Its life support is minimal, and 20% of it is damaged.

But the Enterprise lost 18 people. I sure hope Gomez wasn’t one of them.

Nope. She and Geordi are working on getting the shields up. She’s frightened, but Geordi teaches her to improvise and repress her emotions.

Picard and the senior staff readjourn the meeting, and Guinan explains the Borg are made of organic and artificial life developing over thousands of centuries.

Q appears and says the Borg are not interested in politics, wealth, or power. They only want the ship’s technology.

The shields get back up, and Worf now has a casualty list. Picard says, that can wait until they’re safe.

Riker says, I just had a crazy idea. What if we beamed over there? Guinan is incredulous, but Picard says, assemble a badass away team. Riker orders Worf and Data to follow him to the transporter.

Unexpected Reveals Inadequacy

They beam to the least damaged part of the cube and find heaps and heaps of Borg. They’re all plugged into the wall, and they don’t react at all to the badass team. I suspect some of them are mannequins.

Why didn’t they realize there were so many? Data explains, the Enterprise scanned for individual life signs, but when they’re plugged in like this, they’re part of a whole and no longer separate.

Unanswered question: if they scanned a planet for a tree, would that scan fail because the trees are part of a forest?

What are they doing? Riker explains they’re plugged into the ship working collectively. This gives them the obvious advantage of speed.

One Borg walks right by them.. twice, ignoring them all the while. Worf’s still acting like Tasha Yar because he almost shot one!

Why does he get away with being a Yar when she couldn’t? Because every time he does something stupid, he keeps his mouth shut.

The away team finds a nursery. They realize the Borg are born organic but immediately begin receiving implants. Then they make the most startling discovery. The ship is regenerating itself like it’s Wolverine.

Picard has the away team beamed straight to the bridge, and yells, Let’s get out of here before those things kill Gomez.

They turn and run. The cube chases, regenerating as it goes. Even at full speed, the cube is gaining on them. They fire torpedoes, but there’s no effect.

Q reappears and tells Picard they will wear him down. He demands Picard admit he’s out of his league.

Pride before Destruction

The Enterprise can’t get away. The Borg cube fires a weapon that takes out the shields. Then it knocks out the engines. The Enterprise fires back, but the things that worked before don’t work anymore.

Q is bouncing around, swapping places with the crew, taunting them.

The tractorbeam gets them again. They’re about to use photon torpedoes even though doing so point blank will probably destroy the Enterprise too.

Picard asks Q to end it.

“You wanted to frighten us. We’re frightened. You wanted to show us that we were in adequate. For the moment, I grant you that. You wanted me to say I need you. I need you.”

Q snaps and they’re back where they started, safe and sound.

Gomez survives because he said that. Q praises Picard’s humility. Picard’s pissed at the loss of 18 crew members.

Q doesn’t relent.

“If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous with treasures to sate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.”

Even though Q says cool things, he’s not a good person.

They head to nearest starbase, and Picard meets Guinan for a little reflection time. Guinan says something kind of strange, considering her previous attitude: maybe when you’re ready you can establish a relationship with the Borg. Then she says, but now they know you’re here, they’re probably coming for you.

Picard says, maybe Q did the right thing for the wrong reason. Now they know about the Borg, they can get ready.

Q Said That

This episode is chockablock full of great Q lines. Here are five not mentioned above:

5.  This is as real as your so-called life gets

4.  This ship is already home for the indigent, the unwanted, the unworthy. Why not for a homeless entity?

3.  I’ll even renounce my powers and become as weak and as incompetent as all of you.

2.  The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. It’s now time to see if you can dance.

1. Growl for me. Let me know you still care.

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. You’ve got to earn what you get – the difference between the role Guinan serves on the ship and the role Q wants to serve is that he has earned the right to do it because he has earned their trust.
  2. Don’t be complacent
  3. Don’t get arrogant
  4. Don’t tempt Q

Does it hold up?

Yes.

Story-telling – interesting story, directing and acting is great. Funny that last week I complained about Pen Pals because the memory fix at the end was a quick trick to wrap things up. Here we have the same thing. Just when you’re thinking there’s no way this can be wrapped up quickly, God like powers save them.

The difference is that the makings of the Q Who? ending were a part of the beginning, and morally speaking the quick fix didn’t make things worse.

The manner in which the Borg are revealed and how it’s all a natural part of the story also makes it a great episode.

I always rank the episodes when I love them, but it’s hard to rank this one with Elementary, Dear Data and Measure of a Man.

The other two deal with the nature of what makes a person a person, a topic that’s become near and dear to me.

However, Q Who? is about humility and discovery. In any event, I can easily say these three are my favorites from season Two.

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