The original Star Trek had its fair share of malevolent, god-like beings. There were Greek gods, there were the Thasians, the Guardian of Forever, and, of course, Trelane. And Star Trek: The Next Generation had nigh, omnipotent beings aplenty, too.
But there was only ever one truly great trickster god in the Star Trek universe. There was only one omnipotent being who repeatedly showed up to ruin everyone's day with their immortal smugness. If there is a god on Star Trek people think of nigh monotheistically, it is the man, the myth, the letter of the alphabet: Q.
Q is the entity that started Star Trek: The Next Generation's journey, he is the one who ended it, and he is Picard's truest nemesis. Also, I'm pretty sure Picard and Q are dating? Sometimes, y'all... sometimes I think Picard gets around even more than Riker.
But, no matter! This isn't a Picard list! It's a Q list! No, not Q-Less, that's a DS9 episode. And we're only talking about TNG Q today. Sorry! Impregnating Katie Janeway and the Q Civil War will have to wait for another day. Snap your fingers, kids: it's time to start the show.
Say Hello, Q
Most of the time, I don't think of the first appearance of a character on TNG as being truly quintessential. Since Q is not a series regular, though, and because he sets up so much of the entire show's narrative, it was important for the show to immediately define him in ways that provided a lot of specificity but also a lot of mystery.
Q comes in many forms: he's a judge, he's a monk, he's a snake(?), and one time he's naked (more on that later). The first time we meet Q, though, he appears as a host of human archetypes: a conquering, Columbus-like explorer, a 20th century army general fighting the commies, and finally as a futuristic soldier who is controlled with drugs. All this so Q can expose humanity for being "a dangerous, savage, child race." We have a repeated behavior. No, not for eating our pb and j with the crust cut off, although it would've been nice of him to point out that grand invention. No, he's talking about murder, which, in fairness, humanity does do a lot of.
What defines Q, though? Even before he puts on the judge's robes, he is humanity's judge, a malevolent god who intends to punish humanity for its crimes against the universe.
For all the goofy Q episodes that were to come, it was because of this moment that you, the viewer, always knew that where Q was, danger would inevitably follow. And what you couldn't know -- the extent of his powers -- is the reason you always take his threats seriously.
Q, I Need You!
If not for Q, would the Federation have ever encountered the Borg? Yeah. Eventually. But it is Q who sets Picard on the path to encounter those evil zombie cyborgs from hell a lot earlier than would've happened otherwise. And all because Q wanted to be one of the gang.
This is one of those weird character-defining aspects of Q: his isolation. He doesn't even feel connected to his own people, the Q Continuum. But he tries to engage humanity first by judging them, then by giving Riker Q powers, and after that Q turns up saying he wants to be a member of the Enterprise crew.
But he can't be like humans (well, except that one, which... wait for it) and because Q never belongs he lashes out. You know the story: Q says Picard needs him, Picard denies it, and so Q proves himself right by hurling the Enterprise into the Delta Quadrant where the encounter the Borg and get their asses kicked. A bunch of crew members die, the ship gets jacked, and worst of all, Picard has to beg Q for help! But I think the most defining part of this little dance between Q and Picard comes at the end, when Picard tries to understand Q's goals, but says "the lesson could've been learned without the loss of 18 members of my crew." And that is when Q gives my favorite line of his:
"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 satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it's not for the timid."
At the conclusion of that speech, he vanishes and, to this day, I still get chills. Q cares. Kind of. He wants to give Picard a warning, a head's up, if you will. But Q doesn't care that people died to make his point.
And then there's the fact that Q is also playing to Picard's greatest weakness: Picard cannot ignore the siren's call of exploration. Picard wants to know everything. Given Picard's future fate with the Borg and Q's omnipotence, it's a curious question as to whether or not Q already knows the Locutus-shaped nightmare to come.
Q's Gift of Laughter
And then there is the turning point, the moment we start to see the "fun" side of Q, the episode where he gets his comeuppance: "Deja Q." Q is bad at being part of a group. He's so bad, in fact that the rest of the Q take away his powers before leaving him stranded, naked, on the Enterprise. The naked part might have been Q's choice, though. In fairness, it is safe to assume that every time Q is near Picard, he's hitting on Picard.
There's so much to like about Q's stint as a powerless human: Guinan stabbing him with a fork, his being attacked by some of the species whose lives he ruined for fun, and also the outfit Picard puts him in which is undoubtedly one of the greatest crimes against fashion since parachute pants. But the most defining moment, the one that shows Q's growth best, is not when he plans to sacrifice himself to the Calamarian (who will kill everyone to get revenge on Q), it's when he gets his powers back and actually uses them for good.
Q is not good at giving people what they want. He gives people cigars and women. He toots horns and dances. When he gives Riker the powers of Q, Riker is bad at it, too. Remember when Riker turned Wesley into a rippling, hot man? Gosh, I bet Wil Wheaton remembers.
Anyway, Q, who only learned anything about being human from Data, the ultimate student of humanity, finally gets gift-giving right. As Q departs the Enterprise, powers restored, he says he's giving Data "a little going-away present," at which point, for about ten or twelve seconds, Data busts out laughing at everyone on the bridge. Maybe he realized how silly the uniforms are? Or he remembered how, in Season 1, Riker didn't have the beard yet and Troi would do her hair up in a way that made it look like she had a bejeweled hair penis on top of her head? There are lots of reasons for Data to laugh at these people, and I think Q granted him a moment to laugh at ALL OF THEM FOR EVERYTHING.
Q's Strange Bedfellow
Q talks about his omnipotence liberally. Oh, I'm so smart! Oh, I'm so powerful! Oh, look at me, I definitely chose this receding hairline JUST BECAUSE I CAN. But there's only one time he goes full monotheistic, Judeo-Christian, capital "G" God, and that is in "Tapestry" when Picard dies.
And I suppose there's a lot I could say about Q in this episode and his interactions with Picard. I could say that this is Q setting Picard up to remember why he became a captain in the first place. I could talk about how Q sees Picard's past self, a man who would laugh at being stabbed through the heart, and understands that Picard needs to acknowledge that past self is essential to Picard's own future.
After all the talk of alien dangers and humanity's own hubris,"Tapestry" is largely Q reminding Picard that playing it safe is how cowards go on to accomplish nothing. It's a huge about-face for Q and Picard. It shows Q's more nuanced understanding of humanity and it also shows that Q has a vested interest in helping Picard be the best he can be.
None of these is a quintessential moment for me. I'm not that deep. Sorry. No, for me the quintessential moment is 100% when Picard wakes up expecting to find a beautiful, naked woman next to him, but finds Q instead. "Morning, darling." Wait, was Q the beautiful woman?! Have Picard and Q had sex? I mean... I am confident they have. Certainly, Q wants to real bad at this point if they haven't. My god, that omnipotent being is thirsty!
Data once said that Q regards Picard fondly, as an owner does a pet. Well, boy, howdy, if that's the case, then it's definitely one of those sexy slave/master situations people look for on the FetLife. Golly! Look, folks: the moments that give birth to countless slashy fics are quintessential, too. And Q and Picard are just the slashiest from this moment onward.
Q's Trials and Tribulations
Q kicks off TNG with a mystery and he closes it pretty much the same way. I have said this before and I will say it again: "All Good Things..." is arguably the best TV series finale of all time. It wraps up every loose thread, it gives you things you didn't even realize you needed until they happen, and it bookends where TNG started perfectly. Q puts humanity on trial in "Encounter at Farpoint" and you find out the verdict was never delivered until the finale.
And, in general, it's wild to see what a journey Q took. Because you really could not trust him at all in the beginning, unless what you trusted was that he'd get you tortured/killed. Then you were probably right. But "All Good Things" cements Q's journey from antagonist to ally... sort of. I mean, Q still sets Picard up to end humanity (and the universe, basically). But Q also is the reason Picard is able to work out how to solve the whole anti-time distortion space thingie. Official science term.
And then we get one of my favorite moments in all of Star Trek, which is Q scolding Picard for being kind of a dumb ass. Because Picard, having saved humanity once again, says, "I sincerely hope this is the last time I find myself here" when they're both in the Q court room. And then Q lays it out: that humanity should be exploring more than stars and mapping nebula, that there are infinite possibilities to our existence, and that the trial never ends. It's a clarion call to remember that the universe, that life itself, is infinitely larger than any one of us; the answers we seek will seldom be where we expect them to be, the journey we take stretches across far more than our own limited, human lifespans, and yet that the nature of creation itself, while seemingly unknowable, is still always within our grasp. We need only reach out our hands and grasp it.
For a character that started out as violent chaos personified, Q somehow managed to show Picard, and us by proxy, the best that humanity can offer. Not too shabby. It's almost like there's a reason why Star Trek: The Next Generation is considered one of the best and most hopeful science fiction series of all time.
I hope you enjoyed our little Trek through these TNG stars. These character pieces may be over, but remember: the trial never ends. We'll be (re)watching (TNG over and over and over and over again). And, if you're very lucky, I may drop in to write more about TNG from time to time.
See you... out there.