In which Picard gets a second chance and decides he’d rather be dead than take advantage of it.
There’s a medical emergency, and Sick Bay is preparing to deal with multiple patients at multiple sites. Crusher has given Dr. Selar Ward Three. The Enterprise is strapped with future medicine and ready to handle anything. Like, say, the captain having a massive chest wound that fused his artificial heart. Maybe ‘ready for anything’ wasn’t quite correct – Picard dies on the table and shows up in the kind of blank white space that can only mean one thing – he’s about to meet God.
Picard gets an honest chuckle out of the thought of Q as God, but after a brief construction from first principles realizes that Q can’t possibly be the creator of the universe. Frankly, his argument that the universe isn’t badly designed enough to be built by Q loses some of its merit when you think about quantum mechanics. However, Q provides “proof” in the from of Picard’s dead father.
Frankly, the whole concept of ‘proof’ doesn’t work when you’re dealing with a being that can materialize mariachis out of thin air. Even the chorus of people who have died because of Picard’s choices doesn’t sway him. Q is rather misaligned, but then again this probably would have worked on Sisko. Even after Emissary, Sisko’s only really begun the healing process.
Q deftly turns the conversation to Picard’s artifical heart as the proximate cause of his death. A real heart might have survived. Q shows Picard his youthful fight with three Nausicans which was mentioned in “Samaritan Snare“. Young picard, who is played by someone other than Young Picard from Rascals, beats the crap out of two of them, gets stabbed in the heart, and laughs. Old Picard regrets his young self, from the ego to the old-style uniform. Q gives him a chance to change all that, and puts him back in the academy just in time to get slapped in the face.
His two friends, there to watch the breakup apparently, go off to enjoy a night at the casino. Corey does up his uniform, which doesn’t actually seem to have any on/off-duty significance whatsoever, and then head off. Picard is left to get the rules explained to him by Q, wearing the 2060s-style uniform. Q is giving Picard a chance to live out the old fantasy. “If I knew then what I know now…” and so on. Also, Q can just make Picard live or die at a whim. Picard is concerned about the timeline, and Q assures him that he’s not that important. But he’s willing to offer Picard his word, for whatever that’s worth, that Picard can’t alter history catastrophically by accident. Now he gets to make two days worth of changes to his life and see what his new present looks like.
Q is asking rather a lot of questions for someone who can either bounce around in time at will or read Picard’s mind perfectly. I think it’s just to get Picard to admit out loud that he tried to pull a sitcom-style double date – that is, going out with two women in the same night. Jump cut to Picard’s date with the other woman, who dumps her drink on him. In his twenty years since the Academy, Picard has completely forgotten how to talk to women.
In the 24th century, the seedy dive-bar game of choice is Dom-Jot, which is the Frankenstinian abomination of billiards, pinball, and mini-golf all stitched together. Looks like fun. Picard’s buddy Corey is something of a hustler, who upon winning is immediately approached by a bruiser of a Nausican. Picard is trying to guide his buddy out of the game by appealing to blatantly bigoted tendancies. “Oh, all Nausicans are sore losers.” It’s not that I object to Picard being a little cautious after being stabbed in the heart, but it’s just a tad surprising that his friend doesn’t call him out on it.
The first time around, the Nausican was cheating, Corey figured it out, Picard rigged the table to help Corey get his pride back, and the ensuing fight cost Picard his original heart. This time around, Picard tries to convince Corey that re-cheating won’t solve anything, not even to teach them that cheating doesn’t pay off. In all this, Ensign Corey doesn’t like the new, mature Picard, but Ensign Marta definitely does. At least until Q shows up delivering flowers to kill the mood. Also to inform Picard that Corey’s rigging the table anyway.
Keep in mind, these are people who got admitted to the Academy and graduated. Wesley got his admission deferred because he stopped to help a cadet with their exam. Say what you want about Wes, he is was something of a genius.
The new Responsible Picard is definitely someone Marta likes better than the old Reckless Picard. Unfortunately he for him, he currently has the full attention of someone who can rearrange matter at will. He is resolved to keep this new responsible act going, but when he meets Marta in the bar afterwards, she’s significantly less enthused. In fact, he’s now alienated his two best friends, and has only the fight left to look forward to. It’s an awkward time around the drinking table before the Nausicans show up, call Corey and Picard cowards and Marta a plaything. Picard stops the fight and puts the final nail in his friendships, and Q wakes him up to the present as one of the nameless blueshirt lieutenants wandering aimlessly around the science stations at the back of the Bridge of the Enterprise.
Picard is now Lietentant J.G. in Astrophysics, serving under Captain Thomas Halloway. He’s so confused that Worf is no doubt thinking that this is the start of an episode about a brain-eating parasite that will be eradicated right before someone important dies. Data is probably calculating odds for the pool before the conversation is over, but soon Picard is on his way to Sick Bay.
Of course, Beverly isn’t there. Instead, Q is in sick bay to explain that this is the world as it would be if Picard wasn’t the man he became by being stabbed in the heart. The Cautious Picard never really achieved anything, and goes to ask Riker and Troi about his future aboard the Enterprise. He’s thorough, reliable, and utterly unremarkable. But apparently Picard’s record and his career so far don’t lead anywhere near command track. He doesn’t take the risks necessary to achieve his ambitions. Riker and Troi leave to go to a command-level meeting, and Picard is left to is mediocre life. Just long enough to be sure he hates it.
I hesitate to draw too much from this, because it could as easily be a vision created by Q as a true timeline justly explored. But Halloway seems to have managed to keep the Enterprise intact through all the nonsense Picard went through. Perhaps this is Q proving a point, or perhaps a starship crewed by the best of the best will manage to muddle through regardless. Or perhaps Q wasn’t screwing with Halloway nearly as much as he was screwing with Picard. Kind of makes you wonder, though. Did Halloway encounter the Borg? Did the battle at Wolf 359 happen? I lean towards this all being made up by Q to prove a point.
Picard now asks for the chance to go back and die as the Picard he always was, even knowing it means he died forty minutes ago. When he gets stabbed this time, he laughs again, this time because he knows he’s really him. Also, either Beverly or Q saved his life. Picard has lived yet another alternate lifetime and it teaches him that regret isn’t a thing he should spend time on. If it wasn’t for all their experiences with Q, Riker would probably be getting ready to relieve him of duty pending a psych screening, but at least by this time they all accept that weird stuff happens.