In which he wept, for there were no more worlds to explore.
Now Voyager is investigating comets. Surely this is an excellent use of their time. Although, to be fair, if an object in space had an erratic trajectory with no local stellar objects, I’d be curious too. I don’t like Janeway’s attempt at explanation, though. It seems logical that if there were forces you were aware existed that were strong enough to act on a comet, your sensors should be able to detect them. It reeks of throwing words at a problem until it feels explained. Voyager does this a lot, and it’s always painful. However, this is why they’re investigating and trying to take a core sample via phasers and transporters. It’s a very interesting core sample they’ve produced, too.
The new arrival walks right through their containment field and introduces himself as Q. Somebody better be on the ball and save that transporter pattern. While I imagine a Q could make itself appear to the scanners as human, there may be the briefest moment when the targeting sensors saw something else and that would be valuable data to try to save. This may be the first time a Q has ever been transported. Time to bring Janeway in. Her first response is a good one – she triggers Red Alert, and he responds by taking her to the mess hall for lunch.
He’s very genial and completely oblivious to the distress caused by, to be fair, the reputation of an entirely different Q. He’s happy to be let out of captivity within the comet, after all. This Q is taking in the ship and all its people, expressing wonder at their mortality and envy at Kes’ 9-year lifespan. It’s unclear how he’s acquiring this knowledge, whether he’s pulling it form their minds, or reading her DNA, or perhaps observing her from a vantage point that includes duration and can see her lifespan streched out like a humanoid carrot across four dimensions. Either way, Q states that he wants to die.
Janeway is clearly confusing him for the Q we’re familiar with. The confusion is natural. This Q starts giving a parting speech, which he’s been thinking about for the three hundred years of his captivity, but he’s a little scattered, and his suicide attempt removes all the males from the ship, except for Q. Since he can’t bring them back, he calls for help. Help arrives promptly.
Our regular Q drops a line stating that humans aren’t supposed to get to the Delta quadrant for another hundred years, which is an exceptionally dense statement to unpack. The Q are clearly observers with a vantage point outside of traditional spacetime, but that view doesn’t account for beings of the Caretaker’s species. Does it included the Douwd, the Organians, or the other sundry and assorted godlike–energy–beings encountered by Starfleet over the years? Probably not. Also, Q’s casual sexism is hard not to laugh out loud at, given that it’s exactly the kind of thing Q would have used to hang around Picard’s neck at the trial.
Regular-Q brings back all the men and tries to round up suicidal-Q. Suicidal-Q requests political asylum, and pulls the entire ship into hiding a few seconds before the Big Bang. Voyager has just witnessed the universe prior to the Planck time, and the fact that the most extreme reaction to this is Torres quoting their chances for survival makes it an absolutely glorious underreaction.
Oh, also, regular-Q once hid before the Big Bang from the Continuum. That’s a story begging to be fleshed out in later episodes.
Next, suicidal-Q takes Voyager to what appears to be a subatomic domain where they’re being attacked by protons. Next stop is an ornament on a Christmas tree. Which definitely means they’re back in Federation space, or at least space accessibly by the Federation. Great, series solved. Go get Picard to sort these two out and you’re all set. Or not, as regular-Q puts them back. After all this, Janeway offers to hold an asylum hearing – eternal incarceration in the comet, or allowing the other Q to suicide.
Tuvok needs to work on his burns, but new-Q is in a forgiving mood, and assures Tuvok that the Q are no more gods than Voyager is – they just seem that way due to their superior technology or generic ‘advancement’ the way a Starship might to, say, a pre-industrial culture. New-Q is not quite ready to give away Continuum secrets. Waxing philosophical about the loss of mortality isn’t the same thing as a tactical vulnerability. Tuvok is being asked to represent New-Q because Vulcan society doesn’t taboo ritual suicide for the elderly and the infirm, and therefore Tuvok is probably in the best position to understand Q’s reasoning.
The hearing begins, with regular-Q acting as his own council. I have high hopes for this – trial episodes in Star Trek are traditionally good, or at least entertaining. New-Q’s position is that immortality is unbearable. Life in the Continuum is one of endless duty and responsibility, and he lacks permission to choose and end to it. Familiar-Q calls an expert witness on the Continuum – himself.
After the expected horn-tooting, Q testifies that the disruption to the fundamental nature of the Q continuum would be so disruptive as to be literally unimaginable. This to beings who can exist outside of time and the universe. Suicidal-Q insists that’s the whole point – his death will force the Continuum to deal with the unknown for the first time since they… ascended. On one level, the discussion is one of individual rights, but on another it’s whether the society that individual exists within will be materially affected.
Q’s next argument is that since Q don’t commit suicide and are by definition immortal (which has its own logical issues), his desire to commit suicide is mentally imbalanaced, and he’s therefore not competent to make the decision to commit suicide. Someone’s been reading Catch-22. Especially since suicidal-Q used to be considered an eminent philosopher. Also, since the Continuum occasionally executes its members, the death of a Q cannot in itself be termed an interruption. Tuvok’s doing fairly well. Then he gets to attack the character of the witness, which isn’t that hard a target.
Q next asks to call some witnesses from Earth, with the stipulation that they won’t affect the timeline or remember where they’ve been. It’s an interesting bunch he’s pulled, too. Riker is… not happy about it, but he does know who Janeway and Voyager is. The others are Maury Ginsberg (as himself) and Isaac Newton. She doesn’t really try very hard to explain the situation, and instead tells them they’re dreaming. New-Q helped out Maury when his car broke down, and assisted in saving Woodstock. He also dropped the entirely-apocryphal apple on Newton’s head. And saved one of Riker’s ancestors and in doing so saved the Federation from the Borg. That Q triggered aggro on.
Of course, all of this examination of Q’s good deeds kind of falls down given that he’s been in captivity and not allowed to do any more beneficial meddling with the timeline. Q insists this is a coercive imprisonment, like a Contempt charge, but after a certain point (probably prior to 300 years) it kind of looses its effectiveness.
Janeway has been reading up on ethical justifications for suicide across species and cultures. Her research leads her to a principle that suicide is justified only if used to relieve suffering. Of course, a common theme of all of these justifications is that they were written by brief mortals, but eh, it’s her court. That said, Janeway can’t see evidence of suffering, and asks for such evidence to be produced.
Even Tuvok isn’t actually convinced of Q’s position, and the two of them decide that the only thing to do is show off life in the Continuum to explain why it is suffering worthy of suicide. Janeway is trying to find a third option, and asks Q to offer Q reintegration into the Continuum, but this falls flat. Q offers a counterproposal – sending Voyager home. It’s a hard offer to refuse.
The two Q agree on a metaphor to show off the Continuum – a long, lonely desert road, and an ancient and degraded gas station off the beaten path. Beings read books in silence, play pinball and croquet, and not much else. Suicide-Q tells us he’s done everything there is to do. As a philosopher, Q once argued that the purity of Q life was perfect, but listening to him talk about it puts one in mind of the pivot in Descartes’ Meditations where, having found a fundamental point, he is then compelled by the prevailing culture on pain of banishment or death to insert an awkward point that makes no sense in context.
Back in the day, when the Q first ascended, they were discovering things all the time, but by now everything has been heard and learned and said and there’s nothing new anymore. I imagine our regular mischevious Q provided a bit of a distraction for a while during whatever incident had him hiding before the Big Bang and getting his powers stripped, but even that’s over with now. Our Q is now fully on board, he’s drunk the Flavor-Ade, and he’s not interesting anymore. Life in the Continuum is, itself, a wasting disease.
Janeway’s going to sleep on the decision, and let thoughts of returning to Earth dance in her head. Q jumps into bed with her, but I’d urge you to remember that he did this to Picard, too. He’s an equal-opportunity annoyance. He’s also convinced the Continuum not to put the other Q back into the comet if Janeway decides in favor of the Continuum, but it’s probably a little late now. Oh, he’s also back to bribing Janeway with taking Voyager home, and propositioning her. So there’s that.
Back aboard the Janeway Moralization Train, but at least here it fits the context. Explaining the reasoning from the bench is way better than doing it just to mess with your prisoners before releasing them. Janeway rules if favor of Q.
That is, in favor of granting asylum to the suicidal Q. Per his word, Q makes Q mortal. Janeway now tries to make the offer to him to explore life as a mortal, and not commit suicide immediately. He is now Quinn, and they struggle to try to find a place for him on the ship. They mention that he brings so much knowledge that they can shut down the Stellar Cartography department as if that’s a bad thing. I mean, it probably wouldn’t be fulfilling for Quinn but at least try to give him a day of data entry, or working with Torres on warp field dynamics. Or just go to sick bay, where Quinn is dying of hemlock poisoning. Rather fitting, particularly since the Doctor doesn’t keep any in sick bay and the replicators don’t produce deadly poisons.
Q got the poison for Quinn, and seems to have taken a little inspiration from him. They promise that we’ll someday get to see how this shakes out, and I’m excited for the prospect.