Written by Richard Danus
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 13
Production episode 40273-161
Original air date: February 5, 1990
Captain’s log: The Enterprise is in orbit of Bre’el IV, which is in danger from an asteroidal moon that suddenly started to enter a deteriorating orbit. No one is sure why, but that’s a lesser concern to stopping the orbit from deteriorating so it doesn’t crash into the planet. An attempt to use the tractor beam to push it along doesn’t work (La Forge likens it to an ant pushing a tricycle).
Before they can try something else, a naked Q appears on the bridge. He’s been defrocked—the Q-Continuum has kicked him out, stripped him of his powers, and made him whatever mortal species he chose. Since he had “only a fraction of a second to mull,” he went with human and asked to be placed on the Enterprise. In all the universe, he says that Picard is the closest he has to a friend. (The look Picard gives Q in response to that rather dire statement is classic.)
The crew doesn’t believe him, nor that he isn’t responsible for Bre’el’s moon, but he insists that he’s human, and wishes to be treated like one.
So Picard has Worf throw him in the brig.
The evidence that Q isn’t faking it mounts: he falls asleep (an event that traumatizes him), he gets back spasms (giving Crusher an opportunity to apply a painful cure), and Guinan stabs him with a fork.
Q gets himself out of the brig by offering to help with the Bre’el moon. He may not have any powers, but he has the knowledge of millennia “trapped in this puny brain.”
Not that it entirely helps. He’s able to diagnose the cause of the moon’s sudden deteriorating orbit—a celestial body passing at right angles to the plane of the star system—but his cure is to change the gravitational constant of the universe, something he used to be able to do with a snap of his fingers, but which is beyond the capabilites of the Enterprise.
Or is it? La Forge hits on the idea of using a warp field to change the moon’s mass so gravity has less of an effect, and then they can move it.
But before they can enact this plan, the Calamarain show up: energy beings that have a grudge against Q. They attack him; the Enterprise is able to keep them at bay by raising shields.
Picard realizes that Q’s protestations of friendship were a cover for what he really wanted: protection from the other species that Q has pissed off over the millennia. Q says the Calamarain’s problem is that they don’t have a sense of humor, a difficulty with which Riker can personally empathize. Riker then says they should turn Q over to them, at which point Q says that he was wrong, Riker does have a sense of humor, and a dreadful one at that.
But Riker’s serious—protecting Q is a full-time mission, and not the one he signed up for. Picard agrees, but for now, they do actually need his help to save Bre’el IV, so Data takes Q to engineering. Q has a bit of trouble there—working in groups isn’t easy for an omnipotent being—and after La Forge slaps him down, Q angrily asks Data who he thinks he is. “Geordi thinks he is in command here. And he is correct.”
Then the Calamarain attack again, which forces the ship to raise shields and cut short their attempt to change the moon’s orbit. Data tries to help Q, which damages him as well. At this point, they have to keep the shields up or the Calamarain will attack. La Forge is of the considered opinion that he’s not worth it.
Q goes to Picard, realizing that Data may have sacrificed himself to save Q. It’s the first time Q has even considered the possibility of mortality—he’s never given death a first thought, much less a second one. After stopping by sickbay to tell a recovering Data that, for what it’s worth, the android is a better human than Q is, Q steals a shuttle so the Calamarain can take him and be done with it.
Against his better judgment, Picard tries to protect Q, first by transporting the shuttle—which fails—and then by extending the shields—which are frozen.
Turns out another Q has been keeping an eye on things. Seeing that Q is performing a selfless act, Q can’t let Q just sacrifice himself like that. If he performs a selfless act right before the end, there’ll be questions and explanantions in the Continuum for centuries. Q is obviously more concerned with how much of an inconvenience it’ll be to him, but still and all, he gives Q his powers back.
Q then shows up on the bridge with a mariachi band—but Picard isn’t really in the mood to celebrate. However, before leaving, Q leaves two parting gifts. The first is for Data. At first, the android fears he will make Data human, but Q assures him that he would never curse Data by making him human—instead he gives him a fifteen-second belly laugh (which Brent Spiner delivers mangificently). And then he restores the Bre’el moon, and everybody lives happily ever after. Except, maybe, the guys in the mariachi band, who didn’t get to finish their song
Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: In an impressive sop to the law of conservation of matter and energy, Data points out to Riker that blowing up the moon will just mean smaller fragments will crash over a wider area. In addition, the moon won’t just burn up in the atmosphere because the asteroid’s ferrous crystalline core will keep that from happening.
Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi helps confirm that Q has an emotional presence, which Q considers rude.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Besides getting the best line of the episode (see below), Worf gets to haul Q to the brig, yell at him to be quiet, and smile and walk away when Q demands that he let him out of the detention cell.
If I only had a brain : Data is assigned to be Q’s escort, and tells Q that he has achieved in disgrace what Data has always aspired to be. He and Q have many conversations about humanity. Q actually learns quite a bit, albeit grudgingly, and gives Data the gift of laughter at the very end.
Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan takes particular (and understandable) pleasure out of Q’s predicament, not only stabbing him with a fork (“Seems pretty human to me”), but by pointing out the long-term effects of his predicament. When Q snottily says “I beg your pardon” to Data, Guinan’s response is epic: “I’d like that—and you’d better get used to it.” When Q asks what she’s talking about, she says, “Begging. You’re a pitiful excuse for a human, Q, and the only way you’re going to survive is on the charity of others.”
I believe I said that: “What must I do to convince you people?”
Q wondering how to prove that he’s mortal, and Worf coming up with the perfect answer.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Q rewards Riker at the end by giving him two hot chicks on his arms. Riker, inexplicably, refuses them, so Q gives them, instead, to Worf, who is amusingly nonplussed.
Welcome aboard: John deLancie is at his comic best in this episode, but he also completely sells Q’s misery at being mortal. His “HELP ME!” after the Calamarain’s initial attack is chilling in its fear and helplessness, and his sad confession to Picard in the ready room is moving.
Whoopi Goldberg’s unusually cruel turn as Guinan is also fun to watch, as that’s a side of Guinan that only comes out when Q’s around.
But the real story is the uncredited guest turn by Corbin Bernsen—at the time right smack in the middle of his career-making role on L.A. Law—as another Q who can go toe-to-toe with deLancie on the obnoxious scale.
Trivial matters: When last we saw Q in “Q Who,” he’d been kicked out of the Continuum, but still had his powers, and he obviously didn’t do anything then to help his case, since they kicked him completely out. But he feels he owes the crew a debt, which will be repaid when he next appears in “Qpid.”
Well, unless you read the novels, as Peter David has Q appearing again in Q-in-Law, which took place between this episode and “Qpid.” That novel has a historic meeting between Q and Lwaxana Troi. There’s even an audio of it jointly read by Majel Barrett and John deLancie.
Your humble rewatcher’s novel Q & A will show that Q had a masterplan for humanity in general and Picard in particular, and Data’s laughter at the end of this episode is actually part of it.
Make it so: “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeee’s back!” What a great episode. Any episode is elevated by Q’s presence, even when it’s weak (“Encounter at Farpoint,” “Hide and Q“), but like “Q Who,” this is a classic anyhow. It’s a wonderful examination of what happens when you lose everything you ever had, and it’s also a spectacularly funny one to boot.
Only two points get knocked off because the climax doesn’t work. It made sense that Commodore Decker stole a shuttle in “The Doomsday Machine” because, well, he’s a commodore, and could intimidate the guy in charge of the shuttle bay. It made sense that Jake Kurland stole a shuttle in “Coming of Age” because he was a bright kid. But Q was a defrocked omnipotent being with no standing on the ship who shouldn’t even know how to operate the damn thing, much less steal it without anyone noticing until it was gone. I mean, really, office buildings in large cities have better security than this starship.
But aside from that one bit that cuts off the air supply to my disbelief, this is a wonderful episode.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido is inordinately proud of Q & A, and even prouder of the way he worked Data’s belly laugh into the plot. Really, it’s brilliant. You should buy the book. Also go to his web site and buy all his books. They’re brilliant, too. And read his blog, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed, because they’re brilliant, too. Really.