TNG: S2E16: “Q-Who?”

In which ensign Gomez feels up the captain, questions are raised about Guinan, and hypotheses are presented about Q.

"Let's continue this later. In my quarters."

“Let’s continue this later. In my quarters.”

Some adorable ensign says please when asking a replicator for some hot chocolate, and Geordi is amused. It’s a nice touch in an episode where I think we all know what’s coming. Ensign Gomez is making a concerted effort to combat the casual vitalism in the Federation when dealing with intelligent circuitry, but also she doesn’t know when to stop talking to the chief engineer. And then feeling up Picard after spilling hot chocolate on him. He’s very even-keeled about it, which leads me to suspect that those uniforms are pretty baller at heat insulation. People have needed skin grafts for things like that.

Picard goes to change his uniform and steps off the turbolift onto a shuttlecraft piloted by Q in a starfleet uniform. Recall that Q promised never to bother the Enterprise again? Well, they’re not on the Enterprise. While Geordi takes ensign Selena Gomez out to ten-forward for a drink, Guinan gets an ooky feeling that something is about to go dreadfully wrong. Enough so to call the bridge. Kind of like your local pub calling the White House situation room. Nobody’s noticed Picard is missing, though, and far enough away that neither the locator beacon nor subspace communications are helping. In fact, everyone is a little on edge until Troi needs to talk to the captain and they discover he’s missing. Now, I know I can kind of be a bit psycho about this kind of thing, but shouldn’t the ship flag an alert if, say, someone’s communicator drops out of communication with the ship’s mainframe without any accompanying ‘logged method of egress’?

Then again, Q did it. I’d just like one line of dialogue. “Why didn’t the computer flag his exit?” Actually, nevermind. Wesley covers it. I was not expecting that, and I feel vindicated. The Enterprise goes searching in a spherical pattern to cover the distance that a non-warp craft (shuttles currently not having warp engines and ignoring the fact that they do in “The Menagerie” in order to catch up with Kirk’s Enterprise) and widen the search area as a matter of course. Meanwhile, Picard has been listening to Q gloat for six hours, but finally agrees to return Picard to the ship if Picard will listen. They bounce up to Ten-Forward and Guinan goes into attack mode against the closest thing to Loki that exists in Star Trek. Now, this is interesting, because it’s where we learn a good portion of what we’re ever going to about Guinan.

To me, this face does not say "I am afraid of being rendered into nothigness by a burst of ordered energy." It says "I will mess you up, hombre."

To me, this face does not say “I am afraid of being rendered into nothigness by a burst of ordered energy.” It says “I will mess you up, hombre.”

  • Guinan and Q know each other.
  • They are not friends.
  • Q offers to get rid of her for Picard, citing that she is dangerous.
  • Guinan appears to be able to put up some resistance to Q-powers. The extent of that resistance is not known.
  • Two centuries prior to this event, the two of them had ‘dealings.’
  • Q believes she is a trouble magnet. Let me reiterate that. Q believes she is a trouble magnet.

Q’s reputation is probably detracting from any actual warning he might be trying to give about Guinan. It appears, though, that Q wants to join the crew of the Enterprise, but the question is, of course, how anyone is going to give him orders. The Continuum apparently kicked him out and it took the ageless and immortal Q all of a year to get bored. He’s even offering to renounce his powers, and Picard still refuses. I mean, granted he’d be useful but he’s not exactly officer material. Plus, imagine trying to put him through the psych trial in “Coming of Age.” His argument is that they might not trust him, but they do need him. Q has a brief discussion about the nature of humanity with Guinan that makes me want to watch Babylon 5 again, but in the end, when Picard turns him down, Q decides on a practical demonstration. With the snap of a finger, he flings the Enterprise 7000 light years, putting it two years from the nearest starbase.

Math break: If they’re 2.59 years from the nearest starbase and, as previously discussed in “Where No One Has Gone Before” maximum warp is 9000c, then that puts then 23,342 light years from the nearest starbase. In fact, by these measurements, maximum warp is 2702.7 light years per year, or about 4 light-years per day. That’s presuming, of course, that they were a relatively inconsequential distance from the nearest starbase before – a week or two out, maybe, and certainly less than a month. Still, that’s a pretty wide variance. Then again, I can judge pretty easily when I can do unit conversions via google. It might have been a little harder to do the homework in 1989.

Since Guinan’s people have been in this region of space, Picard asks her for advice, and she says, bascically, run. Picard ignores her and starts exploring, and they find a planet that looks like it should be industrial, but has no machines, just roads. Just like all the planets in “The Neutral Zone.” Just then, a ship probes them, and we get our first look at the face of evil.

Because Apple patented putting curves on the corners, you see.

Because Apple patented putting curves on the corners, you see.

So, in “Heart of Glory” I noticed that all the major powers of the Alpha and Beta quadrants have ships that look nice. These guys, who let’s call ‘the Borg’ for now, no reason, why would you ask, have gone for brutalism distilled to its essence. It’s not even the most efficient shape in terms of volume-to-surface-area, but it is the most efficient for a roughtly humanoid species to navigate inside of. Picard orders the shields to stay down, to avoid appearing antagonistic. The whole ship is apparently generalized, with no areas devoted to any specific duties. No life signs, no living quarters. Guinan recognizes it as the species that caused her species’ diaspora. And although the shields are up, one of the Borg beams directly into main engineering.

As far as scale goes, the Enterprise-D is capable of carrying up to 10,000 people for a week or so, if you put sleeping bags in every lab and corridor. It has comfortable lodgings for up to 6,000.  The cube is 3km to a side.

As far as scale goes, the Enterprise-D is capable of carrying up to 10,000 people for a week or so, if you put sleeping bags in every lab and corridor. It has comfortable lodgings for up to 6,000.
The cube is 3km to a side.

The intruder is corpse-pale with a mechanical drill arm and a cybernetic eye, and completely ignores Picard. And Worf’s phaser. When lethal force is applied, it sparks out, and then another one appears with a different configuration and a personal shield, finishes whatever the first one was doing, and leaves.

Well what do you know. There ARE toilets in the future.

Well what do you know. There ARE toilets in the future.

Guinan states that in the past, the Borg ‘swarmed’ through their system in order to destroy them. The Borg ignore the individual level, but it is at this time the cube hails the Enterprise. They claim, in the voice of Legion, that the Enterprise cannot successfully resist them and will be punished if it attempts to do so. And Troi says they’re not dealing with one person, but the collective minds of all of them. Somehow this is going to make them less likely to make mistakes. The Borg grabs them with an energy-draining tractor beam, takes out the shields, and takes a core sample of the saucer section. The hull is actually remarkably thin for a spaceship. In desperation, the Enterprise fires a few high-powered shots and blow a few craters in the cube, enough to terminate the attack.

Rather than take this opportunity to run, Picard calls a conference while Geordi and Gomez try to reroute around the damaged portions of the shields. Guinan starts to fill in some of the blanks when Q shows up. Since Guinan’s information is hearsay and Q is… well… Q, none of it is very reliable. Riker decides to to take an away team over. One thing I want to point out, though, is that everyone calls the Borg a ‘them’ except Q. Q calls the Borg an it, and since we’re dealing with a collective intelligence, that’s what I’m going to try to do as well. Here is my reasoning: when I interact with a person, there is, on some level, a collection of neurons doing the processing between them, that person is a collective intelligence based on the networking of those neurons. Yet we don’t refer to people as collective intelligences, beacuse they behave as though they were a single entity doing the processing. Likewise, the Borg are… excuse me, is an intelligence composed of neurons that just happen to be mounted on two-meter-tall cybernetic mobile frames. One of them is no more ‘a Borg’ than a neuron is a human. And unlike Landru from “Return of the Archons” there isn’t a central intelligence controlling the drones. They are simply a mesh network with emergent consciousness. This interpretation may change over time, so be prepared for that.

Anyway, Riker, Data, and Worf beam over, because sending your command staff over to a quasi-hostile alien ship is a great idea, and find that the borg hang out in alcoves where they’re networked together, and the individual drones appear to ignore them as they go about their business. The ship is huge and only made of these alcoves as far as we can see, until we get to a creche. Borg babies appear to be born biological and implated with Baby’s First Cyberware shortly after. This likely helps with adoption. Once it’s determined that the drones are focused on repairs, Picard beams them back and tries to leave,a nd is given chase. The metamaterials the Borg cube is made of appear capable of repairing themselves.

During the chase, the Enterprise fires torpedoes backwards, which has no effect, and Q shows up to gloat. We have not, as yet, examined why Q wants to be on the crew. He said he was bored, but I think we all know that it would take half a duty cycle of cleaning out maintenance tubes or re-calibrating the sensors before he’d up and vanish. And Q surely knows it to, so why all this focus on making Picard accept him? Why the elaborate demonstration? Why the constant push to force Picard to accept that they need him?

There are a few readings, but I have two favorites. The first is that Q has been straightforward in his agenda up until now. In his appearances, he’s stated that humanity is expanding too fast and becoming a threat to the galactic status quo. He could mean it. He and the Q continuum might have the agenda of avoiding any major upheavals through strategic use of their powers. Seems like a losing battle in the long run, though. Hold this thought.

Picard concedes to Q that the Enterprise is not prepared for the Borg, since they can’t outrun or outfight it. Q sends the Enterprise back with something like grudging respect for Picard’s willingness to admit his inadequacy. Later, over a game of 3d chess, Guinan says that they might eventually be able to establish a relationship with the Borg, but right now the Enterprise, and indeed the Federation is just raw materials. That the contact happened before it should have, but that now the Federation knows some of the scary things that are out beyond known space, and can get prepared. A ‘kick in the complacency,’ he says.

One way to try to eff the ineffable is to look at what happens and ask who benefits, rather than trying to suss the whole plan wholecloth. Q sets into motion a series of events which leads to the Federation knowing that the Borg is out there. The Borg have already made incursions into Federation space, when it started eating all the colonies along the Neutral Zone border, so the Borg was coming regardless. Until now, they were a mystery. Who benefits? The Federation. Do we have any reason to suspect that this entire incident didn’t go precisely according to Q’s design? Since he vanishes with a monologue and a wink, we can be fairly confident he didn’t actually want to join the crew. He just needed an excuse to catapult the Enterprise into the path of a Borg ship. Well… wanted an excuse, so he could continue playing the mildly malevolent trickster god while at the same time preventing the Federation from being caught with its pants down by the Borg. This is the second reading of these events, and my favorite.

One thought on “TNG: S2E16: “Q-Who?”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S7E11: “Parallels”

Did we miss something awesome?