In which Q and Data discuss the merits of humanity.
This is one of my favorite episodes, and that’s all the introduction you get.
The Enterprise is in orbit around Brael IV to deal with a descending satellite – it’s just started decaying and soon atmospheric drag will bring it down onto the surface, killing millions in the ensuing geological events. Bummer. It’s too massive and to strong to just blow up, too, because the pieces will just rain down on the planet. And I doubt they have any drilling experts to be able to figure out how to sunder it into precisely enough pieces so that each piece will be small enough to move yet few enough in number that the Enterprise will be able to get all of them. This is problematic, and there’s a 29-hour countdown before the thing lands. This is an extinction-level event for Brael IV.
Science time. The specific Δv they need to apply is stated by Geordi as 4 kps. This would have been drastically smaller had this been a celestial object from outside the system, but this was a moon that just started decaying for no readily apparent reason. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a lovely talk about how to deal with an asteroid you can see coming, even with today’s technology, or at worst tomorrow’s. But this is a bit more unexpected. By the time the Enterprise arrived, time was not on their side. The Enterprise doesn’t have a good chance of towing the asteroid, but they’re trying anyway. Suddenly, Q appears naked and five feet off the ground. Because Science.
As entrances go, it’s one of his more impressive, if not dignified, but it certainly got everyone’s attention. And given that Q is present, the suspicion is that Q is responsible. Well, not so much ‘suspicion’ as accusation. Prior to the break, he seemed positively giddy at the chance to shake up the lives of the crew, but afterwards, complaining about his drab grey-green jumpsuit, he lets is be known that he’s been kicked out of the Continuum by his ‘superiors.’ He’s been stripped of his powers for sowing chaos throughout the universe. That said, Q is the one who chose specifically to be human, because Picard is the closest thing Q has to a friend. Nobody is more shocked than Picard, and Troi can even sense Qs fear.
His banter in this episode is amazing, because at this point he doesn’t have the inbuilt superiority to just know he’s a god. It’s beautiful.
Despite nobody believing Q, they still have to proceed as if Q isn’t going to help. You know what they say – the Contimuum helps those who help themselves. Now, though, there’s a new fresh hell – a bright light including ‘Berthold rays’ that are bathing the entire interior of the ship until some weird energy being scans a sleeping Q.
I have to stop now to catalog yet another sin of Starfleet Security. and introduce you to Joe. This is Joe. Joe is in the Operations division, as you can tell by his gold uniform. Joe is on-shift in the brig. Joe’s job is to make sure prisoners don’t escape, and to subdue them if they do until such time as the force fields can come back on line. While Picard is interrogating a prisoner, Joe has his back turned, but not because he wants to give Picard some privacy. his back is turned because every control surface there forces him to face away from the person he’s guarding. Incandescent rage aside, there are reasons why this might be the case – to afford the prisoner some privacy through the transparent force field without forcing the guard to look away from his controls. But it also means that while the guard is monitoring his duty station, one of those devices the Klingons had in “A Matter of Honor” that breaks force fields will be set up and a disruptor aimed at his head before he can ready himself. Worth the risk? Starfleet seems to think so.
Q is able to bargain his way out of the brig by offering to help. He still claims to have no power, but he has knowledge. Picard assigns Data to mind Q, which is particularly poignant because Data’s greatest wish is to be human, while it was Qs punishment. These two outsiders discuss the pros and cons of being human, and then it’s down to engineering where Q is able to at least steer Geordi off a path that would tear the Enterprise as well as the moon to pieces. His only suggestion is to change the gravitational constant of the universe, so as to alter the mass of the asteroid. The immediate reaction is, of course, that that’s ridiculous, until half a minute later when Geordi realizes that’s precisely what a Warp Field does. After hurting his back and then experiencing hunger for the first time (and with his duty to help discharged for the nonce) Q goes to Ten-Forward.
The last time Q as in Ten-Forward, Guinan behaved as though she were not entirely helpless against a fully-powered Q. Let’s see how this plays out.
Next up is a cloud of energetic plasma made of a dense collection of organized energy patterns, which the Enterprise computer detects as patterened enough to indicate intelligence. Guinan recognizes them as Calimarain, and they immediately cover Q in a field of energetic tachyons that seem distinctly uncomfortable.
It turns out that Q has so many enemies that when he chose a mortal form, he knew someone would come after him, and he knows that humanity and Picard is the only possible refuge he might find that has both the power to protect him and the faintest chance of doing so. Pay attention to this, because it implies that Q might personally be testing and infuriating every species that makes it as far as Humanity was in “Encounter at Farpoint.” Though he still can’t help but refer to compassion as a character flaw, the fact that he chose humanity tells us a lot about the situation he’s in.
The time has come to make the attempt on the moon, and Q has to manually control the warp field. Sadly, this means they have to lower the shields, which means that the Calimarain can get stroppy and they have to raise the shields again. There’s a very narrow margin and we see the Enterprise skim the top of the atmosphere, in a pretty great shot. Meanwhile, we can see Q working very badly in groups. The Calimarain attack, and Data tries to save him and gets fried by static and nearly destroyed for his efforts. This is when Q starts to actually contemplate the meaning of humanity, rather than mere mortality. He stops by Sick Bay for an extremely touching moment, and then steals a shuttle so as to sacrifice himself and save the ship so they can save the planet. He wouldn’t be Q, though, if he could resist a final jab.
Picard orders the shuttle beamed back into the shuttlebay, though the Calimarain interfere with the transporter. Some unknown factor has also prevented them from extending shields or pulling the shuttle back with the tractor beam. Well, I say unknown cause, but it’s really Shawn Spencer’s dad from Psych.
We also get a sense of the attitude of the rest of the Continuum, or at least Qs closest comrade. I’ve said it about the Organians and every other god-like being we’ve ever encountered – they’re basically all jerks by the standards of human morality, but by virtue of committing a selfless act Q has earned his powers back, if only because Q2 didn’t feel like explaining that Q repented and let himself get killed.
With his powers back, Qs gratitude lasts long enough to give Data a gift. Not the gift of unearned humanity that Riker tried to give him. Instead, just a moment of pure laughter. Oh, yeah, and he puts the moon back and doesn’t even carve a picture of genetalia on it.