Star Trek: The Next Generation: Q Who   Rewatch 
August 24, 2020 5:14 AM - Season 2, Episode 16 - Subscribe

Diplomacy is futile when the Enterprise encounters the Borg for the first time—and all because Picard wouldn't give Q a field commission.

Memory Alpha is not for the timid:

• Initially conceived by writer Maurice Hurley as a race of insectoids, Hurley had originally planned the season one episode "The Neutral Zone" to be the first part in a trilogy that would introduce an entirely new threat to the Federation, introducing a plot point that Federation and Romulan starbases along the Romulan Neutral Zone had been mysteriously wiped out. This was intended to lead into a series of episodes that would have introduced the Borg as a main villain in the wake of the Ferengi's failure to meet with audience expectations of a major Starfleet antagonist. Unfortunately, the Writer's Guild strike of 1988 prevented this from coming to fruition. Hurley finally got to proceed with his planned sequel with "Q Who", although only one passing reference was made of the strange destruction of outposts referred to in "The Neutral Zone"

• This is the only Q episode that Maurice Hurley wrote. Melinda M. Snodgrass commented, "Maurice Hurley always thought Q was here to teach us a lesson, to guide and instruct us."

• In the revised final draft of the script, in the scene in the observation lounge where Riker confronts Q about how he exposed the Enterprise to the Borg which lead to the deaths of eighteen crewmembers, his temper flares and he moves to assault Q, who warns Riker to stop or he would kill him. In the final aired version, Q merely dismisses Riker's comments with an "Oh, please."

• Makeup designer Michael Westmore remarked that the Borg were given a zombie-like pallor "so that viewers would know they were seeing a creature that couldn't be reasoned or negotiated with… the life has been leached out of them."

• Westmore revealed the Borg actors were glued into their suits, and had to be unglued if they needed to use the bathroom.

• Precisely because of their powerful nature, the Borg would appear in only five further episodes through the run of The Next Generation. Their infrequent appearance was due to the writers' difficulties in finding ways to defeat the Borg, as well as due to cost.

• While it is not explicitly stated in this episode, the overall ambition of the Borg seems to be the acquisition of technology, not the assimilation of other species as in later episodes. While "The Best of Both Worlds", the next episode to feature the Borg, dealt with this changed premise by stating in dialogue that their objectives had changed, subsequent Borg episodes would ignore it entirely.

• Michael and Denise Okuda in their Star Trek Chronology noted that, following production of the latter episode, it was "half jokingly speculated" by Gene Roddenberry that the machine planet encountered by Voyager 6, leading to its transformation into V'ger, "might have been the Borg homeworld."

• It is later revealed that due to the events shown in Star Trek: First Contact, ENT: "Regeneration", and VOY: "Infinite Regress," the Borg already knew of Earth's existence and were on their way. This means Q's actions were an early warning for the Federation. Later, in VOY: "Death Wish", Q would say if it wasn't for this early warning, the Federation would have been assimilated.

• This episode featured the first of two appearances of Sonya Gomez, who was initially intended to be a recurring character, but dropped after "Samaritan Snare". Gomez actress Lycia Naff said that her character was originally intended to become a motivation for Geordi to have surgery that would free him of his VISOR. Gomez later became the lead character in the non-canon Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers series of novels.

• Director Rob Bowman later recalled, "That was a very abstract, almost avant-garde episode with Q and what he was trying to prove with the Enterprise, telling Picard to be aware because there are some bad-asses out there that you're not prepared for no matter what you think. This is just a lesson to you to keep your eyes and ears open because there are things out there that you don't understand, and here's an example. For television, it's big stuff, but in order to make big stuff, there's a lot of investment by everybody involved, and it all came together wonderfully."

• This episode won two Emmy Awards. Only four other episodes of Trek have won this many.

"Ah, the redoubtable Commander Riker! And Microbrain! Growl for me; let me know you still care!"
- Q, to Riker and Worf in Ten Forward

"We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves, you will be punished."
- The Borg's only message to the Enterprise

"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."
- Q

Poster's Log:
This is another season 2 episode whose pacing and structure are just strange enough that they make me wonder if the writers were toying with our expectations, but in this case, I'm more certain it was deliberate. Contrast the whimsical opening Gomez scene with the final scene: dang!

Obviously, no other Big Scary Threat introduced by the first two seasons of TNG had staying power anywhere near that of the Borg, and on this rewatch I found myself wondering to what extent that's owed to the excellent acting in this one. Lots of Guinan, of course, which is never a bad thing—but consider perfect line reads like Geordi's "We have an intruder", Q's "I wouldn't let them", or Picard's "You wanted to frighten us; we're frightened." Although they clearly spent the money to hit the home run that they hoped for here—I remember being duly awed by the cube's interior when this first aired—they just as importantly took care to make us feel, not just see or be lectured at about, the Borg's danger.

Season 2 had already shown growth w/r/t giving us episodes that were quite different from TOS and from anything else that was on TV in the '80s: "Elementary, Dear Data"; "Measure of a Man"; "Royale"; "Pen Pals"; and now this, which feels like a genuine turning point for TNG in at least a few different ways. To paraphrase a review I saw someplace (possibly Den of Geek), this one is not only viscerally exciting but intellectually engaging, which might be a first so far for TNG? but certainly not the last time.

All that said, "Q Who" isn't, I think, the reason why even your Trek-hating brother-in-law probably knows what the Borg are. The credit for that goes to "Best of Both Worlds," the more exciting (and much less narratively-strange) follow-up episode, or of course First Contact.

Voyager veterans may wonder whether Q sent them to the Delta Quadrant in this episode. It's never stated outright in canon, but according to Memory Alpha, System J-25 (TNG spoilers at that link) was established as being in the Beta Quadrant by a noncanon source. This fits with the Romulan-Borg connection suggested by "The Neutral Zone" and established in Star Trek Picard; the Romulan Empire is considered to be at least partly in the Beta Quadrant, if not air-tightly-canonically then in so many noncanon sources as to make it pretty much de facto.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Greatest Gen" episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The geography of the Borg both being Way Out There and able to travel really fast, and also apparently attacking some planets in between the Federation and the Romulans but then wandering off never really made sense. I think the Headcanon Rule of Thumb is to ignore season 1 when necessary.

Also, Guinan: Don't just slowly dose out information over the course of the episode! You know it's the Borg! Tell Picard everything now!

Still a great episode, though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:50 AM on August 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Borg were great villains because they weren't interested in being evil or scary, and that seemed different for Trek and for the era. (as I write this, I realize the Terminator came out about four years before this, and that was probably pretty influential, but I wasn't allowed to see the Terminator when it came out, so whatever) In contrast to the enemies/rivals we'd seen thus far (Romulans, Ferengi, bug creatures from Conspiracy, Klingons), which tend to be super aggro, and really concerned that you feel afraid and inferior to them, the Borg didn't need you to be afraid, they didn't really care about you at all. They won't feel better or worse after they destroy you, which made them seem much more dreadful than the Romulans, who seemed like they mostly just want to be recognized as the biggest bad-ass in high school. The part where the Borg didn't even care that Riker's away team had beamed over to their ship was really chilling.

The scenes where the Enterprise blows the heck out of the cube and then just sits there thinking what to do are really strange, and it's just nuts for them to do that, but it does ratchet up the tension quite a bit.

That last line from Q: "It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid." is really great, one of the best crafted lines of the series, I think.
posted by skewed at 6:57 AM on August 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

I liked the head-fakiness of the episode; Gomez's cocoa accident could have been something that Boimler did in Lower Decks, but then, you know, stuff happens. One of the highlights of the episode for me was the revelation that Guinan has... something... that can keep even a Q at bay. We never (AFAIK) really find out what that is, nor do we get anything like a sense of the scope of her powers--in a future episode, she'll be able to sense when history has changed, although she doesn't seem to know that that's what's happened, just that something is wrong somehow. And that suits me just fine, as it's good to keep the mystery IMO, and I don't want the E-D to end up with its own quasi-Q to act as a deus ex starship. Q, in the meantime, seems to have a more serious intent and resolve to force humanity out of its complacency; even though he's a bit of a bully in "Encounter at Farpoint", he still unfreezes Tasha, but here, those eighteen crewmembers in the cored-out sample of the saucer section remain dead (or worse than, even if assimilation isn't mentioned yet). A bit less impish/tricksterish, a bit more detached and indifferent to the fates of individuals (even if he still tends to focus on Picard), and more menacing for that--although that just makes Guinan's defiance more impressive. (If it's not obvious, I'm liking Guinan even more on this rewatch.)

And the Borg, of course, speaking of indifferent, until they're not and then become utterly implacable. The Borg Baby nursery (obviously not those Borg Babies) implies that the drones are home-grown, as it were; presumably that wouldn't involve actual Borg sex (sorry) but in-vitro fertilization and growing them in artificial wombs, a la Brave New World (or the neo-drone in VOY's "Drone"). I got the feeling that the writers/showrunners hadn't yet really thought of assimilation, although when they did it would complete the space-zombie picture and add the most terrifying aspect of the Borg.

Agreed about the overall quality of the writing and acting. In between this and TBoBW, we're going to get at least one more mention of the Borg--later this season, in "Peak Performance"--when the crew of the E-D does war games, trying to prep for their inevitable rematch. I wonder if the crews of the ships at Wolf 359 did something similar...
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:10 AM on August 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Westmore revealed the Borg actors were glued into their suits, and had to be unglued if they needed to use the bathroom.

Does this explain the drone gait?
posted by pykrete jungle at 7:19 AM on August 24, 2020

Oh man, this episode! I came into TNG late in its run in 1993. My mother used to watch the afternoon syndicated reruns on Channel 6 when I was a kid, but I didn't really start to take notice of them until I was 13 (the first time I tried to watch, probably around age 11, happened to be "Conspiracy"; thanks to the incredible exploding Dexter Remmick for putting me off the show for a while). Q episodes quickly became my favorite. My first taste of the Borg was the first time I sat down to watch a new, first-run episode which just happened to be season 6's "Descent, Part I". Of course I'd get a season finale cliffhanger my first time out! Thanks to early Internet chatter and a copy of the TNG Companion, I found out that there was a single episode involving both Q and the Borg. My god, how had that one slipped by me?!

I started to review the TV listings each week to see if this Q/Borg episode was scheduled for the afternoon reruns, and it wasn't until the end of the summer until it finally came around in the rotation again. It was appointment television. Airing at 4pm, I had to rush right home after school. Any after school activities were canceled that day. Special snacks were prepared. It was quite the hour, let me tell you, and there was no way they'd ever top this Borg encounter. The Companion said the Borg would return in Season 3, but how would they ever top this one? Couldn't be done, not in this world or any other.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:32 AM on August 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:

In Premiere you got the Borg Ship dilemma. It's one of those ridiculously over-powered Rare cards from Premiere which distorted the game for years to come. The 24 Weapons meant it could outright destroy almost any ship without enhancement in the game. Of course, if you blow up the Borg Ship yourself you're 45% of the way to winning! The risk of having your ships utterly wiped out was a major reason why Space Mission Decks were not that common early in the game's run.

A few more cards from the Q Continuum set. There's Sonya Gomez. with a bone-dry joke in the flavor text box. The special skill interacting with Anti Matter Pods is cute, but was probably relevant in like .01% of games.

Here we introduce the rewatch to Q-cards, the major theme/selling point of Q Continuum. When a Q-Flash was encountered your crew would experience a number of nuisance effects. The first of these, You Will In Time, provided a disincentive to the then popular 'redshirting' strategy, i.e., 'send your least useful crew members to face dilemmas one at a time so your ability to solve the mission is never in danger'. Second Edition completely re-worked mission attempts to circumvent the usefulness of redshirting.

Note the open ended game text on You Will In Time: The opponent makes 'a' request. Any request. Doesn't have to be a legal play. Doesn't have to be IN the card game for that matter!

Where's Guinan? is an in-jokey reference to players asking developers why she wasn't in the game yet. As the game text here alludes, Guinan in the card game has the ability to nullify(prevent and overcome) intrusion by the Q and things from Alternate Universes. In Q Continuum, we only encounter Guinan's past self, i.e., Madam Guinan. An early prototype Guinan card appeared on early advertisements for the game, but no version was published for three more years. STCCG is a game of anticipation. We'll get to other reasons why the Guinan card is unusual later.

As with Q-Cards, the battle oriented Blaze of Glory set included a new card type as a selling point: Tactics. Tactic cards like Borg Cutting Beam provided a small edge in ship combat and occasionally other utility effects.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:06 PM on August 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It was a treat to rewatch this episode, for a lot of reasons. It reminded me of how scary I thought the Borg were, even in this episode before they become the implacable assimilation machines--that scene where they can't even be bothered to pay attention to the invaders on their ship was chilling to me, I recall. Q became so much more impish/tricksterish, to use Halloween Jack's phrase, and they really seemed to tamp down that malevolence later, as though they wanted us to forget that he essentially killed 18 people just out of amusement and cruelty, like a cat torturing a baby bird. Sure, he says he wants to show them how dangerous it is, but Picard knows better than that.

Deja Q is in my top three episodes and I love it, but contrasting it with the rewatch of this one, I am a little bummed that they filed the edges off his malevolence, at least a little. But it sets up that intense level of loathing Picard has for him, that never wanes no matter how much Q tries to smooth it over, quite abley. (This one also really showcases John DeLancie's sense of how to bring a comedic element to his lines and his outstanding ability with sarcasm, which he'd been honing as one of my favorite characters on Days of Our Lives, in a rare soap-world comedy relief character named Eugene. He really knows how to deliver a line, especially spinning it with scorn and derision but at the same time an almost light-hearted joie de vivre. Love that guy.)

My one big issue with this one, as always, is the wretched treatment of female characters. Oh look, it's a female crew member who can't stop talking and is irritating even the famously nice guy who's her supervisor. Women, amirite?! Ugh, god. And the first-year-screenwriting-class setup with the cup of cocoa that we know she's going to spill at some point in some important way. I hated it then and I hate it even more now. What a great character she could have been if the showrunners were less misogynistic bastards. At times I wonder if Whoopi, by being who she was at the time and what a significant "get" she was, just flat-out told them she didn't play and if they tried that crap on her she'd walk. Because I'm really enjoying Guinan more in these rewatches, and appreciating the lack of crap around her character.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:08 PM on August 24, 2020 [9 favorites]

It sets up that intense level of loathing Picard has for him, that never wanes no matter how much Q tries to smooth it over, quite abley.

I still say that before Star Trek: Picard ends, we need at least a scene with Q if not one final story. I need closure on that relationship! You just know that Q was watching during the whole Romulan evacuation fiasco. I have it in my headcanon that Q showed up at Picard's vineyard when it was over to ask him if he can still defend humanity after how the Federation turned away from the Romulans. There's a hell of a back-and-forth dialogue between them in there somewhere that thematically ties back to Q's judgmental observations and Picard's wonderful speeches from "Encounter At Farpoint", "All Good Things", and "Q Who". I really want to hear it.
posted by Servo5678 at 12:29 PM on August 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

Like a lot of other beings in TNG, the Borg were best in their first iteration. The later assimilation detail is scary, but I don't think they needed improving upon. Their complete indifference to other beings except for interest in their technology worked for me. It gave them an otherworldly feel while assimilation brings things to a mano a mano scale that lessens the Borg menace just a bit.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Q was Star Trek's equivalent of the Great Gazoo. Terrible idea and fundamentally damaging to plot logic and continuity. It's science fiction with a safety net when a character in the background can always be trotted out to announce "it was all a dream!"

Besides, the actor was 100% Grade A ham.
posted by zadcat at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sonya Gomez : TNG :: George Primmin : DS9
posted by StarkRoads at 6:14 PM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The problem with the Borg just being interested in technology acquisition, is there's no point in them being an existential threat.

Consider: that sample they took of the Enterprise would give them pretty much everything they needed to know about Federation tech. At most of they would need a computer core, which would give them comprehensive knowledge of Federation technology and science. Likewise for biological diversity, they wouldn't even need to collect people, cell samples and medical scans would be all they need. Presumably the Borg have even better Replicator tech than the Federation, so along with the cloning pods there's really no justification for continually steal materials and people.

But that doesn't make for a reoccurring enemy, so they made the Borg into alien techno--zombies, lurching around turning everyone around them into more zombies. And as a result, the Borg became the worst thing possible-stupid. The concept erosion began with their second appearance.

Unlike the Cybermen, which they're an obvious steal from, the Borg become less and less of a credible threat as the series continued. Where late Cybermen were "We found a node of Cybermen so we had to burn the entire planet", the Borg floundered: "We need a sexy Queen. And we need time travel, but oh yeah, we bungled that up as well."

What I would have liked is smart, social Borg. One that could fight the Federation in ways that a techno babbled phaser couldn't deal with. Say, Borg that takes the Federation to court for violating the Prime Directive: "Absorbing biological and technological distinctiveness is the normal development of our society. Your interference is illegal". Borg that would come into human space and openly recruit : "You will never die. You will never be alone. And we will show you SUCH wonders." How would Picard react when chunks of the Federation choose to be subsumed into the Collective? How about when people they care about choose to be Borged?

That could have truly made forcomplicated storytelling about ethics and choices. Instead we got boring space zombies. What a waste.
posted by happyroach at 7:28 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I do like how later the Borg are into assimilating “biological and technological distinctiveness” (and they even speak of culture) because it’s a dark mirror of the Federation, uniting the different species of the galaxy into a society greater than the sum of its parts etc… but that’s later on.

Here the Borg are just terrifying. I’m the past they’ve sometimes shown humanoids are not top of the galactic food chain with godlike beings, your Q’s, Squires of Gothos, shadowy space stations over the Planet of the Jogging WASPS etc, but I think this is the first time they’ve come up against tangible unfriendlies that completely outclass them technologically.

If the thing with the starbases is canon, then Q has done the Federation a great favour by revealing an enemy that’s already on their doorstep, even at the cost of 18 lives. If we forget about that the way the show seems to, it’s a little more complicated.
posted by rodlymight at 8:25 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Also, how much of The Matrix was inspired by the brief scenes inside the Borg ship?
posted by rodlymight at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Precisely because of their powerful nature, the Borg would appear in only five further episodes through the run of The Next Generation. Their infrequent appearance was due to the writers' difficulties in finding ways to defeat the Borg, as well as due to cost.

And years later, Voyager came along and became the Borg show. Those cubes must have dropped in value like an SGI Indigo system.
posted by juiceCake at 9:30 PM on August 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

The idea that the Borg did probing raid on outlying colonies, scooping them up so they could examine/assimilate them, pulling back while they digested the intelligence and planned, and (coming up next season) then launched a decapitating strike against the Federation (arguably the greatest power in this region of space), is both a sound strategy and also completely at odds with every characterization we get of the Borg.
posted by ckape at 10:22 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

My memory of watching this when it first aired is that, as a young teen, I didn't like Q. I imagine I wanted science fiction-y jargon, 'seriousness,' and maybe a bit of swashbuckling action.

I don't have a strong memory of the Borg, although I do think that they probably melded a bit with the Terminator and other zeitgeist-y concepts of all-pervasive technology. Because I have worn hearing aids since I was very young, I probably didn't have quite the intended reaction with regards to the 'cyborg' qualities of the characters, but I vaguely remember that their implacable quality was menacing and that they were a real threat to the Enterprise.

On this rewatch, I am slowly discovering that I like Q. I am also rewatching parts of Voyager in-between these episodes (I really regret that I didn't do that rewatch with y'all). The first time I liked a Q-centric episode was Voyager's 'Death Wish.' Partly, I like the other Q in that episode and enjoyed the philosophical challenge he posed, which was a bit similar to what we discussed in the rewatch of 'The Schizoid Man:' that is, what it really would be like to live forever.

So, upon rewatching 'Q Who,' I tried to keep an open mind and found that I liked Q this time. De Lancie's performance is very skilled! It's a shame that he hasn't really profited much from his involvement with the franchise, as he's likely the most memorable guest star.

One thing I also found interesting: the use of some more creative shots than usual. When Picard is heading back to his quarters after getting hot cocoa'd, the camera follows behind him from a low angle in an interesting way to build tension. Later, when Riker, Data, and Worf prepare to beam over to the cube, they shoot them from behind in the transporter, which I can't remember seeing before.

A strong episode! Better than I remembered!
posted by Slothrop at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Those cubes must have dropped in value like an SGI Indigo system.

Gave you a Favorite simply for name-checking the sexiest computer I ever had in my office. It was a surefire drink winner whenever any geek asked me what I worked on.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

WRT non-Borg cybernetics in the series/franchise, we'll find out pretty shortly that Picard has an artificial heart, with occasional other implanted tech (Nog's leg) hither and yon; Disco has been more generous with it, with Airiam, Detmer's eye implant, etc. (Lower Decks of course has Rutherford and his big head implant, played for laughs in the first episode because it's meant for a Vulcan and so it's almost like a separate mind or a symbiont or something...?) Airiam of course has a lot of problems when her implants get infected.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:19 PM on August 25, 2020

How about when people they care about choose to be Borged?

“Don’t believe Admiral Fauci. Getting assimilated is no worse than the seasonal flu!”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:45 PM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Gave you a Favorite simply for name-checking the sexiest computer I ever had in my office. It was a surefire drink winner whenever any geek asked me what I worked on.

Was trying to remember what we ran Jaleo on back in the late 90s early 2000s and I think it was a green Octane.
posted by juiceCake at 2:04 PM on August 30, 2020

Guinan headware watch: Purple teardrop
posted by Kyol at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Gomez feels a lot like Tilly to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:11 PM on September 13, 2021

The anachronism of the away team going over and struggling to explain what they are seeing really hit me while watching this. Even in the 80s we had camcorders, it was so odd to hear Picard demand "Describe it to me" when Riker et al entered the nursery, especially when Riker then did a very poor job of actually describing anything. Why would you send an away team to investigate an alien ship without any kind of visual real time recording device?
posted by Athanassiel at 4:40 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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