Friday, 8 January 2016

We've All Been the Scarecrow: The Genius of Death Wish

Voyager's second season has been a much better bag than I recalled but there's one episode which for me still rates in the show's top ten.

It's also been a LONG time since I've doen an episode retro-review and there was no better opportunity than this one.#

Death Wish brought Q to the Delta Quadrant and after his fleeting visit to Deep Space Nine I seriously thought this was going to be car-crash Star Trek from start to finish. Luckily I was utterly wrong and it turned out to be probably my favourite Q episode of the whole franchise.

I could argue that Q Who was just as powerful or that Tapestry kicked ass but looking at either of those stories, Q acts as a vehicle for a bigger story be it the unveiling of the Borg or the impact of Picard's unfortunate meeting with a Nausicaan knife. Death Wish on the other hand is a pure Q story that actually packs a punch and makes a point.

With not just one Q to contend with it could be seen as overkill but this avoids falling into the near-slapstick of Q-Less or the rather lacklustre teacher/pupil relationship that we saw in True-Q. Death Wish has a heart and a soul and perhaps even more so let's dive in - grief it's been a while since I've done one of these....

Freeing an errant Q is never going to be a clever move but Gerritt Graham - last seen as a Hunter in Captive Pursuit over on Deep Space Nine is very understated and airs a surprising amount of humility in comparison to De Launcie's arrogant, omnipotent super-being. De Lancie's Q holds a relationship with Janeway here that harks back to the more playful elements of his sparring with Picard in the earlier The Next Generation seasons. It certainly works better than his meeting with Sisko as that pairing was pretty brash and resembled the immoveable object and the unstoppable force.

While there is a serious point to Death Wish there are the diversions within the episode that make it sparkle with the power of Q from start to finish. The chase from the beginning of the universe, via a Christmas tree or the disappearance of all the male crew couldn't occur in any other Star Trek story and suggest that not all Q are created equal - which in essence is what the episode is all about and there are some that have more than one independent thought. Graham's Q is more understanding and much less manipulative than his long-serving counterpart, maybe representing what Q could have become if they hadn't become so passive.

Death Wish manages to weave not just a very moral Star Trek issue which Gene Roddenberry would have been proud of but also tips in a few nods for dedicated fans and followers of Voyager since Caretaker. There's Q's tease of returning the crew to Earth should Janeway decide in his favour which was one of the glaringly obvious ways they could have made the trip back. Fortunately it's handled in a manner befitting the personality of Q. 

But one of the draws here is the appearance of one Commander William T Riker. Unexpected but blatantly a ratings pull it could have been anyone at all but bringing in a recognisable face was a solid sure-fire winner and means that Frakes turns up in everything except The Original Series. The court scene involving Riker, Sir Isaac Newton and Woodstock electrical worker Maury Ginsberg (played by Maury Ginsberg!) is fitting and a little fun at the same time when we see how Graham's character has influenced their lives. Equally compelling and one of my favourite Voyager scenes is the explanation of the Q Continuum. 

Never seen before or again it's "dumbed down" for Janeway and Tuvok as well as the viewing TV audience to the infamous desert road gas station filled with silent, uninterested Q's who have been there and done that, travelled the road and yes, even been the scarecrow. This scene perhaps more than any other matches the two Q perfectly with great verbal sparring and retorts as Graham remains calm and De Lancie bites.

However what makes this an absolute killer Q episode is Gerritt Graham's second Q. A total counter to De Lancie's outgoing, sometimes offensive, childish, egotistical god-figure, Graham underplays the role and is almost apologetic for his existence as a Q from the start - and he isn't too hot on the old powers either, initially removing all the men from Voyager. Of all the "other" Q's we meet played by actors such as Suzie Plakson and Corbin Bernsen, Gerritt Graham easily steps into second place with his compelling portrayal. 

His demise at the end, while fitting, is still a surprise as even as the minutes ticked by I expected him to be let off the ship at an inhabited planet or flee Voyager in a borrowed shuttle. Having De Lancie's Q involved and finally realising that he's lost his supreme "Q"-ness was a great decision. The problem from that was both The Q and the Grey and the last ever Q episode, Q2 were undeniably rubbish.

Death Wish isn't a mad episode, it isn't grossly dark or Q at his maddest yet there's a story here from Michael Piller's son, Shaun, which is one of the best the show arguably produced in seven years and definitely produced within its first two seasons. I never tire of this one which does carry a weighty conclusion and is one of the more cerebral and tasking episodes that Voyager and maybe any Star Trek produced purely because it deals with a tender subject head on. 

One day I'd love to chat to John De Lancie about this episode. Voyager did Q a lot better justice in one episode than Deep Space Nine managed. It's a shame they wasted further opportunities so frivolously and this would be the last great Q episode in Star Trek history.

Was Death Wish as good as I suggest? Is it one of the best Q episodes from Star Trek?

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