Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau
Season 6, Episode 14
Production episode 40276-241
Original air date: February 15, 1993
Captain’s Log: An away team that includes Picard, Riker, Worf, and three security guards beams directly to sickbay. Riker says they were ambushed—Picard’s been shot in the chest, and his artificial heart has failed. As Crusher works we fade out to Picard in an all-white region, greeted by a figure in white robes: it’s Q, who declares, “Welcome to the afterlife, Jean-Luc. You’re dead.”
Picard is skeptical that he’s really deceased, since he refuses to believe that the afterlife is run by Q—“the universe is not so badly designed!” So Q produces an image of Picard’s father, Maurice, admonishing him for attending the Academy and saying that after all these years, Picard is still a disappointment. Q then provides Picard with the voices of people who died through Picard’s actions—or inactions—and gives Picard the chance to say something to them, which Picard refuses.
Q pushes Picard to see if he has any regrets, but the only regret Picard will admit to is dying and finding Q on the other side. Q tartly points out that he didn’t kill Picard, his artificial heart did. Q asks what happened to his original heart, and Picard simply says it was a mistake. Pouncing on that, Q asks if that’s a regret he hears. Picard admits that he regrets many things from those days.
With a gesture, Q displays young Ensign Picard’s fight with three Nausicaans, one of whom stabs him in the back. Young Picard looks down at the blade protruding from his chest and (just as he described it to Wes Crusher in “Samaritan Snare”) starts laughing before he collapses. Picard describes his younger self to Q as arrogant, egotistical, undisciplined, unwise—in other words, more like Q. He was young and cocky, and if he could do it all over again, things would be different.
A moment later, Picard is wearing the ensign’s uniform he wore thirty years ago and is being slapped in the face by a woman, while two other ensigns watch. He soon realizes that he’s back at Starbase Earhart with his classmates and best friends Cortin Zweller and Marta Batanides, who are delightfully amused at his getting slapped. They go ahead to nearby Bonestell Recreational Facility while Picard stays behind—ostensibly for yet another date.
After Zweller and Batanides leave, Q appears and assures Picard that it’s not a fantasy, but reality—a reality, anyhow. Picard is twenty-one again, and Q is giving him a chance to fix some of those regrets. Picard expresses concern about alterations to the timeline, but Q assures Picard that nothing he does will have any ripple effects on the rest of the universe—“to be blunt, you’re not that important.” The only thing at stake is Picard’s life, Picard’s peace of mind. What he chooses to do with his second chance is up to him.
Picard, Zweller, and Batanides came to Starbase Earhart after graduation to await their first deep-space assignments. It’s two days before Picard’s fateful encounter with a Nausicaan blade. If Picard manages to avoid the fight and not get stabbed, Q promises to bring Picard to what he thinks of as the present, except with a real heart. And if he doesn’t avoid the fight and does get stabbed, then he dies on Crusher’s table.
Q asks why that woman slapped him, and Picard explains that Corlina was upset because, in addition to taking her out on a date, Picard had also set another date for later that night with another woman named Penny. Q is impressed; “I had no idea you were such a cad.”
Picard heads to Bonestell to meet up with Penny, an older woman who is obviously into younger men in uniform. Picard tries to act like a civilized adult, which is totally not what interests her, and she eventually throws a drink in his face and storms off. Picard goes over to the dom-jot table, where Zweller is kicking ass and taking names. A Nausicaan then challenges Zweller to a game, and Picard recognizes him as the one who will stab him in the back in a couple of days. Picard tries to convince Zweller not to accept, but his classmate’s a bit too arrogant to listen. Picard explains to Q that the Nausicaan is cheating, and that Zweller will find out and rig the table in his favor for the rematch—with Picard’s help. But the Nasuicaans are sore losers, and when Zweller wins the rigged rematch, they start the fight that ends with Picard being impaled.
Sure enough, after the game, the trio return to Starbase Earhart and Zweller proposes that they rig the table to get revenge. Picard tries and fails to talk Zweller out of it—and Batanides backs him up. Zweller isn’t happy about it, and storms out. Batanides is impressed with Picard’s newfound maturity, and starts to make a bit of a pass. Then Q enters with flowers, and Batanides remembers that “Johnny” is a big-ass womanizer and leaves. Q hopes he was interrupting something sordid, but Picard insists they were just friends, and that Picard does not regret that friendship.
Q also says that Zweller is at Bonestell rigging the dom-jot table alone. Picard once again tries to talk Zweller out of it, this time threatening to go to the gambling foreman. Zweller agrees, and again storms out. Later, Picard and Batanides talk about it, and this time they fall into bed together.
The morning after, Picard wakes up with Q next to him. (And a thousand works of slash fiction are born!!!!!) Q throws the “we’re just friends, nothing more” line back at Picard (with John deLancie doing an excellent Sir Patrick Stewart impersonation), and then Picard returns to Bonestell to find Batanides distant, as she fears their friendship has been spoiled, and now it’s going to be much harder for her to say goodbye when they go off on their separate assignments the next day. Q enumerates Picard’s tally thus far: he’s been slapped in the face by one woman, had a drink thrown in his face by another, and alienated his two best friends. Not bad, so far.
That night, the trio’s last hurrah is an awkward occasion. Then the Nausicaans show up asking Zweller for another game. The Nausicaans try to provoke the trio by calling Zweller a coward and making eyes at Batanides, but Picard keeps the inevitable fight from breaking out, even though it sends Zweller ass over teakettle. After the Nausicaans laugh at them and wander off, Zweller makes it clear that their friendship is done, and Batanides also walks away angry.
Q congratulates Picard on avoiding the fight, and the next thing Picard knows he’s on the bridge of the Enterprise—as a junior-grade lieutenant in the sciences division. Worf asks if “Mr. Picard” needs help. Picard is holding a padd which should be delivered to La Forge in engineering. Data inquires if he’s feeling all right, and Picard asks what his position is. Worf, confused, replies that he’s an assistant astrophysics officer; when Picard asks who the captain is, Data and Worf exchange worried looks and Data identifies the captain as Thomas Halloway. When Data offers to escort him to sickbay, Picard declines, saying he can find his own way.
However, Q is waiting for him there (having dressed as God, a starship captain, a bartender, and a flower delivery boy, he now is a doctor, wearing a white lab coat, suit, magnifying glass, and stethoscope). Q explains that he’s done exactly what he promised: returned Picard to the present, where nothing has changed—except Picard. He’s done exactly what he said he wanted to do, to wit, change the man he was as a youth. The result is that he now has a real heart, and he gets to live a long, safe happy life running tests and making analyses and bringing reports to his superiors.
Picard goes to Ten-Forward to speak with Riker and Troi about his career prospects, and their answer is less than encouraging. They don’t see him as anything other than a middling officer. Data interrupts by summoning senior officers to the captain’s ready room, and Picard has to visibly force himself not to stand up. La Forge then crankily contacts Picard wondering where the hell his statistical analysis is.
Heading to engineering, Picard finds himself instead back in the all-white space. He says he can’t live out his life as a person bereft of passion and imagination. Q counters that that’s who Picard wanted to be: someone less arrogant, someone less like Q. That Picard never had a brush with death, never realized how fragile life is. So he drifted through a career, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves, never leading an away team that saved an ambassador’s life, never taking command of the Stargazer when her captain was killed. He played it safe and he never got noticed by anyone.
Q walks away, and Picard admits that Q is right, and says he’d rather die than live out the life he saw. Q smiles, and Picard’s back at Bonestell, the Nausicaan once again calling Picard, Zweller, and Batanides cowards. Only this time, Picard starts the fight, which plays out just as we saw it earlier. When he sees the blade sticking out of his chest, Picard laughs with relief.
He’s still laughing when he wakes up in sickbay, with Crusher assuring him that he’s going to be all right.
Later, after he’s recovered, Picard tells Riker what happened. He has no idea if it was a dream, a trick of Q’s, or what. But Picard realizes that he owes Q a debt. Riker, meanwhile, says he wishes he’d gotten to know that younger Jean-Luc Picard who picked a fight with a Nausicaan—which starts Picard on a story of another encounter he’d had with a surly Nausicaan….
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: A compressed teryon beam to the chest can fuse an artificial heart, which kinda sucks for Picard.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: When Lieutenant Picard goes to see Troi and Riker, and asks them for a frank assessment of his career, it’s a rhapsody in damning with faint praise, using words like, good, thorough, dedicated, reliable, and, after a bit of a struggle, punctual. When the lieutenant makes it clear that he has delusions of command, Troi gently slaps him down, pointing out that his career is an endless stream of lofty goals with no drive to achieve them.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard was apparently quite the ladies’ man as a youth, going through numerous conquests. The more mature Picard re-living that life sees Batanides as more attractive than Penny or Corlina, but after they sleep together, it ruins the friendship.
I Believe I Said That: “You’re dead, this is the afterlife, and I’m God.”
“You are not God!”
“Blasphemy! You’re lucky I don’t cast you out, or smite you, or something.”
Q claiming divinity and Picard not buying it.
Welcome Aboard: This is John deLancie’s third appearance as Q in the 1992/93 season, having appeared just the week before on Deep Space Nine’s “Q-Less,” as well as earlier this season on TNG’s “True Q.” Ned Vaughn and J.C. Brandy do quite well as the Porthos and Aramis to Picard’s Athos (or, if you prefer, the Harpo and Chico to his Groucho). Clint Carmichael is nasty as the Nausicaan, Rae Norman is adequate as Penny, and Marcus Nash gets stabbed well as young Picard.
But the best casting is Clive Church as Picard’s father, Maurice, who is perfect—he looks exactly like what you’d expect someone who was the father of both Sir Patrick Stewart and Jeremy Kemp to look like.
Trivial Matters: This episode picks up from the second season’s “Samaritan Snare,” which established that Picard has an artificial heart, and the episode provides us with the full details of the story of how he got that heart as told by Picard to Wes Crusher in that episode.
Q’s description of the method of Picard’s ascension to command of the Stargazer will be dramatized in Michael Jan Friedman’s novel The Valiant, which served as the springboard for Friedman’s six-book Stargazer series that chronicled Picard’s first year or so in command of that vessel.
Picard will briefly go to an alternate timeline that matches the one in which he stopped the fight and became a junior science officer on the Enterprise-D in your humble rewatcher’s novel Q & A, albeit at a time contemporaneous with that novel’s post-Nemesis timeframe. In the intervening eleven years, that version of Picard was promoted to lieutenant commander and made a bridge science officer on the Enterprise-E by Riker shortly before he took command of Titan. Captain Thomas Halloway is still in charge of the Big E in that timeline. In that novel, Q also brings Picard back to the all-white “afterlife,” and Picard’s laughter when he was stabbed is also critical to the plot.
Speaking of Halloway, he’s fleshed out a bit not just in Q & A but also in the bookend stories “Meet with Triumph and Disaster” and “Trust Yourself When All Men Doubt You” by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann in the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit, and in the TNG novel The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett, all of which establish that Halloway was in line to command the Enterprise-D, but declined the honor, at which point it went to Picard.
The Nausicaans—named after the Hayao Miyazaki movie Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in turn based on a manga of the same name and also derived from a character in The Odyssey by Homer—are seen for the first time in this episode, after being mentioned in “Samaritan Snare.” They’ll go on to appear in “Gambit Part I” and a bunch of times on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.
This episode also establishes the game of dom-jot, a combination of pool and pinball. Quark’s Bar on DS9 has a dom-jot table, and it’s a game at which Jake Sisko excels.
Zweller and Batanides both appear in the 11th issue of the Starfleet Academy comic book by Chris Cooper, John Royle, and Tom Wegryzn and in the Section 31 novel Rogue by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin. Batanides also appears in the Lost Era novel Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick, the DS9 novel Hollow Men by Una McCormack, the Corps of Engineers novella Echoes of Coventry by Richard C. White, the Destiny novel Lost Souls by David Mack, and the TNG novel Losing the Peace by William Leisner.
Although not seen, Dr. Selar is once again mentioned. She went on a Q-related odyssey of her own at the time of this episode, as chronicled by Terri Osborne in the short story “’Q’uandary” in the New Frontier anthology No Limits.
The Bonestell Recreational Facility was named after hugely influential astronomy artist Chesley Bonestell (after whom the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists named their annual awards for artistic achievement, given every year at the World Science Fiction Convention).
Make it So: “Is there a John Luck Pickerd here?” If you’d told me before February 1993 that a Trek riff on It’s a Wonderful Life—one of my absolute least favorite movies ever—would turn out to be one of TNG’s finest hours, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet, here we are.
And make no mistake, this is a brilliant episode. Ronald D. Moore takes what we know of Picard’s youth from the one bright spot in the otherwise dismal “Samaritan Snare” and extrapolates it to a wonderful examination of how rash choices of youth can affect one’s life. Picard is simply awful at acting like a twenty-one-year-old, which makes it hard to show any kind of camaraderie with the other two twenty-one-year-olds he’s hanging out with (well, except for sleeping with Batanides, which turns out to be a mistake). Best of all is that Moore takes the punchline of the story Picard told Wes, that he laughed when he saw the blade sticking out of his chest, and makes it critical to the episode.
The alternate Enterprise scenes are brilliant; seeing the great and noble Jean-Luc Picard as a middle-management functionary is epic. The moment when he humbly tells La Forge that he’s on his way, ending with a very subservient “sir,” your heart breaks at how the mighty have fallen. (Am I the only one who wanted the astrophysicist to whom he was assistant to be played by Gary Cole talking in a monotone? “I’m gonna need you to go ahead and take this statistical analysis to Commander La Forge, ’kay? That would be great. Thanks!”)
But what makes this episode particularly brilliant is that it embraces the element of Q episodes that makes them sing: putting Stewart and deLancie together and letting them go. The lion’s share of this episode is the two of them together and those scenes are what sell it, culminating in Q’s rant on Picard’s career, listing all the great things he did because he had that near-death experience as a youth. One of deLancie’s strengths is delivering lengthy speeches well, and this is his best since the “You can’t outrun them, you can’t destroy them” speech in “Q Who.” And the pair of them play off each other magnificently.
In addition, director Les Landau plays the transitions beautifully, keeping them quick and subtle and unobtrusive instead of the usual flashiness that we get in Q episodes. Points also for the matching choreography of the two iterations of the fight with the Nausicaans.
Just as with “Ship in a Bottle,” this is something that seems like a bad idea on the face of it, but is executed phenomenally well.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Philcon 76 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey this weekend. Check out his schedule here. He’s moderating a panel on TNG at 25, alongside Glenn Hauman, Kim Kindya, and Allyn Gibson, on Saturday at noon. Come check it out!