Star Trek: The Next Generation: Deja Q   Rewatch 
October 30, 2020 5:21 AM - Season 3, Episode 13 - Subscribe

When a political refugee seeks asylum aboard the Enterprise, Picard wants to refuse his request, and not just because he shows up stark naked.

What kind of twisted pleasure does it give me to bring Memory Alpha into your lives?:

• Michael Piller recalled, "Our first take on it was that Q lost his powers, came on board and we developed a whole story about how we were about to come into a war with the Klingons. It turns out that Q didn't really lose his powers after all, he was just playing with us and pulling our strings just so that he could make himself a hero, become an officer and prove his value. It wasn't a bad story, but ultimately we sat down with Gene and Rick, and Gene said, 'If you're going to do a story – Godlike and brought to Earth – then do it. Do a story about what it's like to lose everything that you are and having to discover your own humanity.' He kind of threw cold water on us and suggested we do it straight forward and that's what we did. We made it a comedy, we made it fun, but I think it has some extraordinary things to say about humanity."

• Melinda Snodgrass remarked, "I always think of Q as Loki. He's chaos. Maury Hurley always thought Q was here to teach us a lesson, to guide and instruct us. I can understand that to some extent, but I really see him as a mischief maker. He really just wants to foul Picard's head."

• John de Lancie considered the bridge scenes of this episode among his hardest to film. His simulated trumpet playing took several takes, and with no way found to fake the scene in which he appears suspended in the nude, he had to do it au naturel. Visual effects supervisor Dan Curry remembered, "The script said 'Q appears nude.' We planned to have John de Lancie lay on a wooden board that couldn't be seen due to Patrick Stewart's position in the shot. As we were prepping the shot, John showed up on the set with his bathrobe on. When we were ready to go, he dropped his bathrobe and he was stark naked. That caused… ummmm… a bit of a stir."

• Michael Piller remarked, "Wonderful show and a very difficult one to get on its feet, but once it got there, we were very proud of it."

• In comparison to the rest of the third season, this episode received an unusually high Nielsen rating, the only installment, apart from "Yesterday's Enterprise", to score more than 12.0.

• This episode is the source of the most common variant of the popular Picard facepalm meme.

"Return that moon to its orbit!"
"I have no powers! Q, the ordinary!"
"Q, the liar! Q, the misanthrope!"
"Q, the miserable! Q, the desperate! What must I do to convince you people?"
"Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?"
- Picard, Q and Worf

"Who does he think he is giving me orders?!"
"Geordi thinks he is in command here. And he is correct."
- Q and Data

"As I learn more and more what it is to be Human, I am more and more convinced that I would never make a good one. I don't have what it takes… without my powers I'm frightened of everything. I'm a coward… and I'm miserable. And I can't go on this way."
- Q

Poster's Log:
This might be the best Q episode—this or "Tapestry," but the latter might not even count as a "Q episode" because IIRC he's not in it all that much. "Deja Q," though, is continually fun and interesting, it's a chance for some yummy schadenfreude moments from our usually-stiff senior staff, and it's a great showcase for some more nuanced acting from de Lancie. And absolutely killer dialogue, both in the comic and serious moments. My main gripe is, and this could just be personal taste, Corbin Bernsen seemed miscast—but at least he was clearly having fun.

I also like this episode retroactively because the Q character does seem to have been influenced by these events to become overall more complex and less obnoxious in each of his subsequent appearances, except for the DS9 and LOW ones.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Q’s line “I’m not good in groups. It’s difficult to work in a group when you’re omnipotent” has been my personal motto for decades now.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:10 AM on October 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I remember watching this one on first run as a kid, and being impressed by Q's fear and confusion at hunger, because of course a demigod would be clueless about the mundane details of human experience. Probably my first "hey, nice work writers!" moment.
posted by threecheesetrees at 7:09 AM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like this one in part because it finally completes something that had been missing from Q's appearances: his comeuppance/downfall. Most of your weakly godlike beings in TOS had eventually come to grief, either by having some exploitable vulnerability (Gary Mitchell, Apollo) or by being reined in by their parents/guardians (Charles Evans, Trelane). Exceptions were generally made for beings that were either testing the crew or actively doing good, such as the Organians, without seeming to get a lot of pleasure out of being superior. And that was the problem with Q: whatever good he might have been doing for humanity in general, theoretically, I really, really wanted someone or something to wipe that smug grin off his face. Boom, here's the payoff! Even the normally serene and preternaturally wise Guinan just straight-up stabbed him. And, as good as John De Lancie was at being a smug bastard, his dismay and general non-plussedness is also on point.

I will say that I liked Corbin Bernsen as the other Q simply because he was also smug, but in a much more superficially amiable way than De Lancie's supremely arch demeanor. (As an aside, Bernsen's best-known project, LA Law, is one of those series that was very popular at the time but has kind of faded from general public awareness; it's also the series that Diana Muldaur landed in after her sole TNG season.) Also, this ep gave Data a chance to be the (relatively) informed one for once, as he acts as Q's guide to humans from the perspective of someone who isn't, but has observed them a lot. (Which brings up a question: does Data just sort of hang around on all the shifts, since he doesn't need to sleep or rest AFAIK? Or is he required to take time off?)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on October 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

does Data just sort of hang around on all the shifts, since he doesn't need to sleep or rest AFAIK? Or is he required to take time off?

We see him pursuing hobbies such as painting, holodeck, and music, so I'm guessing he does take time off from work. Late in the series he even learns to sleep and dream.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:03 AM on October 30, 2020

I'll start out by saying that this one is one of my favorite episodes of any series of ST.

But one thing has always bothered me.

Q arrives on the ship in human form. He goes around the ship learning about things like hunger and back pain and facing his lack of powers and his own mortality. And then in the end, he is prepared to give himself up to the Calamarain; then afterwards he restores the moon to a stable orbit himself, saving the day. He takes off and Picard wonders if Q has retained some residue of humanity.

What exactly in this episode did Q undergo that is uniquely human? Other biological entities need food and water. They have back pain and aren't omnipotent. Logic dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so the sacrifice at the end isn't unique to one species. Does being biologically human with a human brain confer some special sense of being other species lack?

Or is this more, "If only you could hear yourselves? 'Human rights.'"
posted by Fukiyama at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Or is this more, "If only you could hear yourselves? 'Human rights.'"

This is something about the Roddenberry era of TNG; we're told repeatedly that there's something unique and precious about the human condition, and that humans are basically perfect. I don't think that it's entirely a coincidence that the line you quote is from the TOS movie that not only capped off the original cast participation in Trek but was also filmed near the end of Roddenberry's life, and which he allegedly objected to when he saw the rough cut (although someone, can't remember who, said that he was probably not really aware of what he was watching at that point).
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:22 AM on October 30, 2020

A good number of cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere('94): Loss of Orbital Stability; Q2; Restore Errant Moon. Q2 is one of the 'troika' cards, preventing your events and interrupts from being countered by the other two. A staple! REM is a mission which can be solved by a single crewmember we'll be seeing soon.

Q Continuum('96): Calamarain; Immortal Again; Mortal Q; Tijuana Crass; The Naked Truth. They went pretty hard on simulating the events of this particular episode in card form. As a personnel Q is simultaneously brilliant and not very helpful, cuz you're never gonna need an x10 Physicist, and he substracts leadership, he has terrible stats, but he also negates Q-related effects. Oh, and with Naked Truth you can play him on your opponent to shut down their Q-Continuum side deck and let them try to figure out a use for the guy.

Promo card('95): Data Laughing. Usable in odd corner cases, avilable as a mail-in promo from the official guidebook and later the introductory box set.

Official Tournament Sealed Deck('98): Explore Interstellar Matter. Nothing too exciting.

The Trouble with Tribbles('00): Q Gets the Point. A nice filter for Treachery, kinda the prototype for the 2E starter dilemmas like Antedean Assassins.

Holodeck Adventures('01): Q's Fantasy Women. Why they continued to make these 'gender related' cards after creating a whole Borg affiliation which is immune to it, I'll never know. Second Edition did away with them entirely.

Call to Arms('03): So Many Enemies. Another Treachery filter, really good against Romulans/Cardassians.

Reflections 2.0('04): Helpless. Extremely average.

Some of these COTE posts are kinda long with 1E and 2E combined, but there's interesting stuff across both games. I've tried to figure out how to keep the format concise while still noting ALL the related cards and their chronology. The next post will be pretty short but Yesterday's Enterprise is gonna be huge.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree there's nothing "uniquely human" about what Q goes through in the episode, because Star Trek is pretty bad at delineating what separates humanity from other species. It seems like other than cultural differences there's very few experiences in the Star Trek world that are uniquely human, and the fact that 90% of aliens in Star Trek are "Human with some nose bumps" doesn't help matters at all. Star Trek often throws around "Humanity" and "The human condition" but I don't think it's actually talking about homo sapiens specifically, but rather the inherent nature of all sapient mortal life.

The original series made more of a deal of showing the dichotomy between Kirk and Spock as representing emotional human values versus logical inhuman values, but it was even worse about depicting supposedly alien people as looking and acting exactly like humans. It wasn't until DS9 and later shows that writers really started to dig into what makes humans unique among the people of the galaxy.

So yeah, I don't think Q learned anything specific about being human, so much as he learned about being mortal. I don't think Picard was so much concerned that Q retained some level of humanity (though the term applies since technically Q was a human) but rather retained some perspective of what it's like to live in the universe as a mortal individual.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:33 AM on October 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

My faaavorite! This is in my top five, maybe even top three, and I was sort of dreading it and looking forward to it because I was waiting for everyone to piss on it. But so far, so good. I just love all the different elements coming together--the attempts to help save the planet, the Calamarain, Q losing his powers and the disbelief of the crew and Q getting his comeuppance, then sacrificing himself, which of course doesn't last long.

So many great moments: "What do I have to do to convince you I'm human?" Worf: "Die." Picard barking at Q over every little thing: "Q the misanthrope! Q the liar!" Picard's utterly disdainful and dismissive response to Q complaining about losing consciousness: "You fell asleep." Q's encounters with Guinan and how she doesn't wane on her rage at him. The Calamarain were awesome aliens and one of my favorites (sparkly!). Q telling Riker he wasn't so stolid before the beard. The Mariachi band, because that's exactly what he'd think of to do. And Data's insane laughter. They're all just so good.

I've known many actors and they all say that laughing genuinely is the hardest thing to do--making yourself cry is easy-peasy, but laughing and coming across as believable and not deranged is the challenge, and Spiner really nails that burst of laughter. I love the way Riker looks at him when he does it.

I once stabbed a guy in the hand with a fork, a few years before this aired, so I always felt a real kinship with Guinan over that. (Dude totally deserved it, just like Q.)

I even like the alien planet of the week, those people are grateful even when things aren't going their way and they're facing annihilation--I'm often happy to fast forward through stuff like that, but even they were cool in their own way.

It doesn't surprise me that DeLancie showed up starkers on the set--he'd been a regular on Days of Our Lives before this, playing a sort of comic relief type character named Eugene, which was a rarity on soaps at the time. He was often willing to do just really lunatic-type things and they started writing increasingly weird stuff for him into the scripts. You could tell he was having a ball in this episode--I actually rarely wanted to see Q, there's something about omnipotence and cruelty that just repels me, and his previous stories were not ones I cared if I ever watched again. But this one, and Tapestry, changed my mind just enough. I could watch this one a thousand times.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:34 AM on October 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I assume they just couldn't get Patrick Stewart to agree to say the word "humanoidity"
posted by ckape at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I love that exchange with Worf so much. It came up in memes recently in the form of "What must I do to convince you people [that I have COVID]?" "Die."
posted by supercres at 3:17 PM on October 30, 2020

The mariachi band GIF is also a favorite.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:13 PM on October 30, 2020

Just the way he flashes his eyes at Picard sideways will never not be funny.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:27 PM on October 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I hated this episode when I first saw it as a kid, but I love it now. Two bits in particular stand out for me on this rewatch. The first is how much I enjoy the second member of the continuum appearing and almost instantly revealing himself to also be a petty jerk, demolishing the conceit that there's such a thing as adult supervision in the universe. The second is when Q magics in two women to paw Riker, teleports them over to Worf, and then finally disappears them when Picard continues to object. In the shot where the women are all over Worf, Geordi is right there in the background, and maybe I'm just reading too much into this, but when they disappear, Geordi just looks so disappointed.
posted by phooky at 7:32 PM on October 31, 2020

Surprising how re-watchable this is, considering it leans a lot on pretty broad comedy. But DeLancie was always good, even when the Q episodes weren't, and his chemistry with Spiner is quite enjoyable.
posted by skewed at 10:46 AM on November 1, 2020

I think there are ways to make Q an interesting character, which TNG never did, and interesting stories to tell using Q, which TNG very rarely did. The only reason Q works at all is DeLancie's incredible skill, and I'll always respect him for that.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:56 PM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

DeLancie is so good. Many great exchanges in this episode.

“I have never seen anyone eat ten chocolate sundaes”
“I’m in a really bad mood.”

posted by rodlymight at 6:59 PM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Like phooky, I didn't like this one as a young teen viewer of the show when it first aired. I did like puckish characters some times, particularly Pee Wee Herman, but I think having such a character in my science fiction was peanut butter in my chocolate, or something.

In any case, I had probably skipped this one as a youngster, as I didn't remember any of it! I quite liked it on rewatch, especially Worf's deadpan "Die." line.
posted by Slothrop at 5:14 AM on November 2, 2020

Guinan headwear watch: Red teardrop
posted by Kyol at 7:24 PM on January 14, 2021

They had a good science advisor on this episode, I think - good use of technical terms that I feel like aren't often heard on TV shows ("delta-v", "apogee", a few others). It felt very science-y.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:57 AM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

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