In the tenth episode of the first season of The Next Generation, Q returns with a game in mind, and Riker is to be the sole participant. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Goddamn, what a great and WEIRD episode. I’m actually pleased that The Next Generation has been so willing to go straight for the surreal this early into its run. This is a bizarre story! We’re asked to fill in a lot of blanks along the way, and the writers don’t make it easy for us. I suspect that’s the point, though. Q is such an otherworldly being that it makes sense that we’d have a hard time understanding their motives. On top of that, Q deliberately hides their motivations specifically so they can continue to manipulate Riker into accepting the power of the Q.
I definitely did not expect the Q arc to get an episode so soon after “Encounter at Farpoint,” and what a doozy this one is. Q’s arrival is steeped in mystery and frustration right from the start, and that tone carries over throughout “Hide and Q.” More than before, it’s clear that the manifestation of Q we see in this episode is just part of a greater whole. I wonder, then, what other missions each aspect of Q has been sent on. Are individual agents tasked with monitoring other species? Is humanity at the top of their list? What exactly do they want from humans? I love that this episode makes me think of these aspects of Q’s existence because it gives me a fuller experience. This is all steeped in philosophy and existential dread anyway, and now I want a whole exploration of Q and their history and their future and I CAN’T GET ENOUGH.
So, first things first: John de Lancie is unreal. Watching him play such an enigmatic, hostile, and utterly entertaining character is an endless treat, and I can’t ignore that Q wouldn’t be as intriguing without de Lancie’s performance. He has to be frustrating. He has to be cruel. He has to be sarcastic and witty and biting and vicious and all these things at once because Q is, for the most part, a master manipulator. He tries to goad Captain Picard, but fails to do so, so I wonder if Picard was supposed to be the original aim of this mission. But let’s assume he wasn’t, since that opens up and entirely different conversation. Q shows up at the worst possible moment, which I’m now certain was intentional. How else could Q put these people, specifically Riker, at such a huge disadvantage? By showing up in the midst of a necessary mission and preventing the crew from executing it. Seriously, Q waits until the Enterprise is on its way to rescue victims of a mining disaster before manifesting (as a triple snake bubble???) on the bridge with a proposition.
Well, I don’t know that I’d call this a proposition. It’s more like a kidnapping, followed by a Kafka-esque game of… WELL, I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO DEFINE THAT. As I said before, what Q does here is endlessly frustrating because it’s so ambiguous. What’s the game? Survival. Against what? And why? Why test the crew’s ability to survive an unknowable threat? I didn’t get the sense that Q thought that humans weren’t resilient. And why leave Picard behind? Why put Tasha in some nebulous sort of “penalty box” for something so inconsequential as claiming that the game is unfair when that’s exactly what it is?
Those questions are meant to be asked, though; this isn’t a case of the script being confusing just for the sake of it. None of this makes any sense because it puts Riker and the others into a desperate situation. As Q will say to Picard, this is about learning how these characters will play the game. Specifically, how will Riker react to the parameters of the game that Q has created? That’s the trick, though. Q arranges this irritating, unknowable game, creates a formidable army of hideous creatures with powerful weapons, and then suddenly grants Riker something he’s secretly wanted this whole time: power. That’s the reason for all of this, isn’t it? That’s what drew Q to Riker. Because of the events in “Encounter at Farpoint,” Q realizes that of any member of the Enterprise, Riker is best suited for Q’s little experiment. What will a human do when given the power that the Q possesses?
Initially, Riker saves his crewmates, beaming them back to the Enterprise, but that’s to be expected. I wasn’t surprised by this choice. So, the primary conflict shifts. This isn’t about whether the crew can survive the “game” so much as it’s now about whether or not Riker will give in to the temptation that comes with power. And holy shit, THERE IS SO MUCH MANIPULATION IN THIS EPISODE. I noticed that Q appeared to Riker right after the transfer of power in the same uniform as Riker instead of one that implied he was above him. Are the two now equals? I think Q wanted Riker to believe that. When Riker didn’t – rejecting the power rather than accepting it – Q overreacts. What’s the easiest way to get Riker to use his new powers and acclimate him to them? Well, Q brings the crew back to the planet AND BOTH WORF AND WESLEY ARE KILLED. In that split second, Riker reacts without thought, sending everyone back to the Enterprise and reviving Worf and Wesley.
Y’all, Riker fell for Q’s manipulation, hook, line and sinker. It’s a scary thing to watch, but it’s a lovely demonstration of how Riker’s intent to do good doesn’t magically make his actions good or moral. I love that the big confrontation at the heart of “Hide and Q” is one that’s intellectual rather than a physical brawl. Here, Riker grows more and more accustomed to his powers, and as he does so, he resents that Captain Picard has asked him not to use them. It becomes increasingly difficult for him to resist the temptation, particularly when they arrive at the mining planet and discover a dead child amidst the rubble. How could you avoid bringing someone back to life when their life was cut short so tragically? And in that moment, Riker has already rationalized his absolute power. Knowing that the option is now there, he finds it unjust not to use the powers of Q to help others.
But is he helping the people around them? Even if he truly believes he is, his view is flawed because he lacks perspective. His power shielded him from that, and nothing demonstrates that more perfectly than the climactic scene of “Hide and Q.” Goaded on by Q (who is dressed like a monk, a clear attempt to appear holy and innocent), Riker tries to give the crew their most treasured dream. He turns Wesley into an adult, aging him ten years in the span of a second. And that’s as far as he gets in terms of trying to convince the crew that his power is a good thing. Data courageously refuses to be turned into a human, knowing it would just be an illusion. Geordie, given the gift of sight, asks to be made blind again because he knows the cost is too great. (And what a fantastic reversal of the whole “magic healing” trope that’s so common with disabled characters in fantasy/science fiction. A disabled character rejects their own magical healing!!!) And Worf, lonely and without a Klingon companion, rejects the possibility of having one because he knows that she would be horribly out of place in this world. Hell, he is out of place in his own world, too!
There is no easy path to fulfilling a dream or desire, and that was Riker’s flaw. He assumed that everyone else would want such a solution, unaware of how hollow that would feel. And thus, Q fails. Q fails so terribly that Q is called back to the Continuum almost immediately, and it’s clear the Continuum is PISSED. While this episode ends just as suddenly as the last one, it feels far more appropriate here, particularly since the payoff was so huge. So does this mean Q is gone for a while? Might we not see them for a long time? I don’t know, but I’m so glad we got to see them again. What a great episode!
The video for “Hide and Q” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the MarkDoesStuff.com. All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!