Friday, March 11, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Q Who

Airdate: April 24, 1989
41 of 176 produced
41 of 176 aired


Upon Picard's rejection of Q's request to join the ship's crew as an adviser, a fit of pique leads Q to fling the Enterprise into deep, unexplored space. While there, the ship encounters a new menace, the Borg. This race behaves along lines inscrutable to a human society, leading Picard and crew to struggle both at understanding and escaping the Borg's relentless, acquisitive drive. Will they escape intact?

Hamster pose!


Matthew: Is this the episode in which TNG "grows the beard?" I don't think so personally ("Contagion" or even "Conspiracy" seem like better candidates). This is just the episode that crystallizes all of the progress we've seen in Season Two (and the latter half of Season One) in a credible new villain. They may have blown it with the Ferengi, and they may have let the insects from "Conspiracy" go by the wayside (sigh...), but they hit paydirt with the Borg. My point is that this episode is not the quantum leap from so-so to great. It's the payoff of a slow but steady building of characters, tones, settings, and writing quality.

Kevin: I think a strength of this episode is the unequivocal demonstration that you can have a whiz-bang action episode that not only retains, but is anchored in a discussion of broader issues and ideas. After 20 years in the franchise reveling in the joys of exploring space, the idea that we might not actually be ready for what we have found is sobering and chilling. This is how you do big scale adventure without sacrificing plot and character development.

Matthew: I enjoyed the teaser with Sonya Gomez and Q. I've always felt that a "heavy" episode can benefit from some lighter moments - and the physical comedy of Ensign Gomez dousing Picard with hot chocolate never fails to elicit a chuckle. Of course, it raises questions such as: Why is there a "food dispenser" in engineering? Why did the writers so unceremoniously drop such a charming actress and potential romantic storyline for Geordi? She really would have been a great non-Wesley "green" character for the viewers to identify with. Plus, Lycia Naff was also featured in Total Recall...

The teaser gets sort of extended into the next scene, with some funny but slightly more tense lines exchanged between Picard and Q in a remote shuttle. Um, why don't ship's sensors automatically note a missing crewman or shuttle again? Anyway, there is a lot of good dialogue in general here, well before the Borg plot even gets started. The scene in Ten Forward is loaded with wit, menace, detail, it's just really rich stuff.

Kevin: Agreed on Sonya Gomez. I liked her character. Maybe the actress was charming enough to keep the character who annoys everyone else from annoying the viewer. I particularly liked her having a bit of a meltdown during the crisis, but still eventually handling it. It's easy to be heroic when every character trait you have lends itself to heroism. It actually speaks to the character's depth that she can overcome a very human weakness. As for the shuttle scene, when has dialogue between Picard and Q not gone well? 

Matthew: The Borg intro is handled well, too, in sort of a slow burn fashion. They don't attack immediately. We get a nice continuity reference to the missing outposts in "Neutral Zone," complete with the Borg's earlier "scooping" modus operandi. I do have some questions about Guinan's experience with the Borg. Even absent the later problems introduced by Generations, the fact that any El-Aurian knew of the Borg makes you wonder why they didn't tell Starfleet anything about them or that region of space - I guess they're listiners, not talkers. Either way, her admonition to "turn back now" is effective and creepy, so at least there is a dramatic reason for this unusual reticence.

Kevin: I've said it before, but I tend to be a little bit forgiving on these matters. Disparate staffs over seasons and franchises can't realistically be expected to have every detail hammered down as if they intended it that way the whole time. If nothing else, the gaffe is not distracting in the episode, or even in Generations, at least until the movie is over.

Matthew: I think this is the best portrayal of the Borg in TNG. They are shown as a sort of monolithic, completely collectivist force. Once the writers began watering the Borg down with characters, they became progressively less frightening, and less interesting. We get "borg babies" (should have been a sitcom spinoff!), which would later be mildly retconned into "maturation chambers" for assimilated humanoids (a story mechanic unused here). Q's description of them as "the ultimate user" is apt and scary. I'm torn on whether a little more would have been good, a sentence or two about their origin. Guinan says that their tandem with technology has been evolving for centuries. From what motive? How? When? I'm sort of dying for an explanation - even though I'm scared that it would fall short. It's a great sci-fi idea, and it is left vague here. A mention of the Bynars would have been nice, too. Guinan says "when they decide to come they're going to come in force - they don't do anything piecemeal..." By which I take it she is excepting every other Borg show in Trek history, in which they never attack in force.

Kevin: The post-Nemesis books posit an explanation (the Destiny trilogy, if anyone is interested) and it's about 80% satisfying. I think you hit the nail on the head describing their introduction as a slow burn. The scene in Engineering is particularly effective. Picard reserves the use of force long past the point where he would have been justified in doing so, and he's doing over the warnings of someone he trusts. It really displays that his commitment to his ideals is not lip service. Even after utilizing force, he clearly regrets that he had to.

Matthew: The chase scene is wonderfully tense and scary. The fact that they can't get away, and can't defend themselves, and require a deus ex machina to survive, is great. I will say there are a lot of conference room scenes, but I don't find them to destroy pacing too much. I'd want to talk about it, too.

Kevin: Given the number of times the Enterprise has been saved by a deus ex machina, it's fascinating to watch them have to admit it. The Enterprise gets out of so many scrapes where other ships don't, it puts the Enterprise on a pedestal. Having them so easily defeated is truly horrifying.

Matthew: With regard to the Q angle, Picard admits at the end that "I need you!" But then Q leaves - it sounded, given the context of the episode, like Picard was inviting him to stay. I suppose it would have fundamentally altered the show, but a line of explanation for Q's change of heart might have been nice. The coda scene with Guinan and Picard is nice, very similar to "Conspiracy's" foreboding outro.

Kevin: I never took Q's offer seriously. He knew Picard would refuse and set the episode in motion. Q just wanted the admission, and that's what he got. The coda scene actually made me realize something. Over the few episodes she has been in to this point, Guinan's role is that of serene adviser. Making it her character that has encountered the Borg really ratcheted up the tension since her display of nerves is so unnerving. Picard's last scene with her like this in Ten Forward after hours (The Measure of a Man) actually catalyzed the solution to that episode's central problem. Now she only confirm Picard's worst nightmare. It's haunting.


Matthew: John de Lancie. What else needs to be said? Well, it wouldn't be much of a blog if things were left unsaid. So here goes. His Q is as funny as ever, but also retaining that sense of menace that makes him more than just a "Mr. Mxyzptlk" sort of clown. Bouncing the ball in the shuttle? Genius. His little ripostes with the crew are endearing and funny. But when he delivers lines like "treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross," it's like a shot of good-acting-endorphins to the brain. Another consistently good performance.

Kevin: Like William Campbell before him demonstrated, you have to play omnipotence on a tightrope. Too little is boring; too much is annoying. It's a credit (and another reason Star Trek's lack of acting Emmys is a shame) that de Lancie hits it literally every time. The other part of his appeal is his ability to have chemistry with everyone. There's no interaction that falls flat or play poorly.

Matthew: The ensemble cast is great. They deliver their dialogue crisply, and seem genuinely scared and unsettled when it comes to the Borg. Colm Meany gets more screen time in his more customary "transporter chief" role. Lycia Naff was great, and I wish she had survived beyond the next episode. This is the second (but not the last) of several peripheral female characters that get stupidly dropped. Can you name the first?

Kevin: Does it rhyme with Schm-elar? Anyway, I agree. I think I could actually hear everyone's mouth going dry with discussing the Enterprise being carved up.

Production Values

Matthew: This show is a cavalcade of well done models, props, and effects shots. The Borg makeup is good, and they effectively used only a few costumes to make it seem like more Borg. There is a neat shield effect when the Cube assaults the Enterprise. The cross section model of the Enterprise being "sliced up like a roast" was SO COOL.

Kevin: For anyone with the DVDs, the season 2 special features detail the warehouse of Star Trek props, and they show the shooting model for that. The little details of chairs and pictures on the wall is really effective. It's certainly one of the best shots in the series to date.

Matthew: The Borg ship model was yet another stroke of design genius. So far, we've seen Romulan, Ferengi, and Klingon designs that reflect the ethos of their owners. Now this! Whatever kit-bashing they did, it ended up looking super-detailed in he filmed work. The "reverse melting" effect to indicate "healing" was nifty, too. The interior Borg cube set was great, too. The matte work might not have been seamless, but it was good enough to give us a feel for the gangplank they were on being but a tiny cog in a gigantic, soul-crushing monstrosity.

Kevin: Like the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan designs, there is a one-to-one connection between cultural ethos and ship design. Uniform and the ultimate expression of function over form. Just seeing the two ships next to each other, they look out of place. It effectively reinforced the differences between the two cultures. The idea of the interior of a construct to be so large it has its own vanishing point on a non-existent horizon still boggles me, and even after twenty years, I think the effect still looks good.

Matthew: I also want to point out that there was a lot of great music in this episode. It really set the scene, without overselling things.


Matthew: Well, it would be a hard argument to say this episode is average. It's got a great sci-fi idea nugget (that is perhaps left a tiny bit undeveloped), wonderful performances, and stellar production values. I don't think the minor punt on the Borg idea holds this to a 4, though. This is clearly upper decile material. I feel I can't but give this a 5. 

Kevin: This is a 5 for me to, to the shock of everyone, I know, for a total of 10. A fundamental element of the Star Trek story (that humanity's destiny is to grow and explore) is slammed into a seemingly unsolvable problem. Couple that with top-notch acting and some killer special effects, and I think it's safe to say this can expect a spot in a TNG Top 10 list for the rest of time.


  1. So matthew I think I have an answer as to your question about why the Borg show the interior of their ship on the view screen. I think in all seriousness they are like the Bond Villain who stupidly shows the hero his evil underground layer because he believes he can't be defeated. Except in the Borg's case it probably doesn't even occur to them that this could ever be helpful. They are so firm in their superiority that they just don't care.

  2. I think you may be the only person who listens to our podcasts :)

  3. I LOVE that photo of Guinan... CLEARLY a Gaga fan! ;)

  4. Before I die, I need to see Lady Gaga interpret the Borg as part of a live show. Maybe they could find a way to lower her head and shoulders into a cybernetic body onstage.

    "We want your love and we want your biological and technological distinctiveness added to our own. You and we could have a bad romance. Oh-oh-oh-oh"

  5. BORGie Babies Theme Song

    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We make bad dreams come true.
    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We'll do the same to you!

    When the world looks kinda weird
    And you wish you weren't here,
    Just lose your eye, and get implants
    Then you'll be everywhere!

    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We make bad dreams come true.
    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We'll do the same to you!

    We like perfection.
    It is our fate.
    We love injections,

    We have no color
    We have no hair
    No individuals
    We we we we we we

    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We make bad dreams come true.
    BORG-ie Baaaabies,
    We'll do the same to you!

    "Are we all compling?"
    "Yes, Queen."

    (okay.. you have to see it next to the original lyrics for the full effect.. LOL)