Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.
The powerful, unpredictable Q conjures a Napoleonic scenario from Picard’s mind and takes the rest of the bridge crew there, leaving Picard on the Enterprise. Memorable not for the fuzzy-faced toy soldiers that get way too much screen time, but for a Shakespeare quote battle between Q and Picard, and Riker’s misplaced magnanimity when given the powers of Q.
We’re barely a minute into an episode about an emergency mission to save hundreds of injured colonists when Q appears, prompting Picard to rant about Q’s meddling ways, for the benefit of viewers who haven’t seen Encounter at Farpoint. (Don’t super-evolved godlike entities have anything better to do than be fascinated by us puny humans?) In this scene, Picard comes off as crabby and ranty, probably a director’s choice setting Riker up as the more attractive target for Q.
On the cheesy planet soundstage, Riker says he isn’t familiar with the historical trappings, which defeats Q’s stated purpose for conjuring up the “familiar” environment from Picard’s mind and then not actually testing Picard in that environment. LaForge has to deliver a line expressing wide-VISORed shock over this planet’s “twin moons,” and Worf shows considerable prejudice by calling a group of humanoids “vicious animal things” after simply seeing their fuzzy faces.
I get that they’re commenting on how Q’s scenario differs from the Napoleonic source material, but they don’t sound very accustomed to strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations. Instead, they sound like actors in a science-fiction show that’s shooting a lot of footage on a forced-perspective set with a handful of masked extras dressed in stock historical costumes.
I got really tired of the planet scenes.
Back on the Enterprise, Yar gets so upset her voice breaks, which at first I thought would be a subtle, humanizing moment. Unfortunately this was the 1980s, a decade that didn’t do subtle, so the writers give Yar and Picard some dialogue about the crying, and then what looks like a friendly shoulder pat prompts Yar to say she wishes Picard weren’t a captain, and the scene couldn’t end fast enough.
After a cringeworthy first few acts the episode picks up a little when Riker, having been granted the power of a Q, tries to carry out his routine duties.
When we finally get to the promised rescue of the hundreds of injured colonists, we see a small party beaming into a windowless room, we watch Data force a door into a second windowless room (why didn’t they just beam right into that first room, and avoid damaging the door?) with about a dozen survivors (why didn’t they just beam them to sickbay?). I’m sure the scanners are detecting a PCF (plot contrivance field) that prevents the more sensible actions.
The final act, featuring Riker trying to magick his friends into happiness, turns out to be a worthwhile payoff. When an apologetic Riker tells Picard he feels foolish, I practically cheered when Picard snapped, “Quite right, so you should.” The dynamic between the two really clicked.
Not a strong episode, but one that offers glimpses of good things to come. The Shakespeare quote battle rose above simply referencing literature to establish a character as smart. DeLancie’s Q is now less menacing and more playful, which makes him less a one-sided villain and more enjoyable.