Friday, 19 February 2021

Voyager: Death Wish @ 25

Q had been a raging success on The Next Generation, appearing in eight stories and six of its seven seasons.

Not bad for something intended to pad out the pilot of TNG.

The same couldn't be said of his lone appearance on DS9 accompanied by Vash where the one endearing memory is THAT punch and the response.

DS9 didn't lend itself to Q's mischief and nor did the tone of the show as it headed out into much darker, dysfunctional territory. Voyager on the other hand lent itself perfectly to Q. The counter of the female captain to the arrogant omnipotent being plus the chance to include a potential recurring character on the journey must have been tempting.

Yet of all the Q episodes across the franchise, Death Wish (which is 25 years old this month) is the one with the most serious message and tone through all of his appearances to date. Opening with the release of Q2 and the chase through the universe, Death Wish opens with the suggestion of some of the usual Q shenanigans. However nothing could be further from the truth.

One of Star Trek's most serious challenges to real world conundrums, Death Wish examines the very nature of life, immortality and death within 46 minutes. Q2's quality of life within his eternal confinement is, as we see, cramped and inhumane even for a Q. Can he accept that? A mortal life or ultimately suicide?

Utilising a courtroom story which flips the Humanity on Trial of Encounter at Farpoint to Q on Trial, the episode might be remembered more clearly for the appearance of Isaac Newton, Maury Ginsberg (playing Maury Ginsberg) and Jonathan Frakes returning to the role of a pre-Generations Will Riker. Riker's appearance certainly has implications to the future of the franchise and not so Frakes could notch another series up on his list but for the mention of "Ol' Ironboots", Thaddeus Riker - a name that he would later use for his son.

The relationship Q has with Janeway is also a significant move from the way in which he dealt with Picard. There was a matching of intellects at times and a level of respect that isn't present in Death Wish. Q sees Janeway as more of a new amusement and is to a degree infatuated with her, only gaining that respect once a verdict is reached in the hearing and Q has come to terms with his own change of style.

The sparring between Q and Janeway does get a little more spicy over the course of the three Voyager episodes in which he appears but the choice to continue the civil war and then child stories in The Q and the Grey and Q2 cause more harm than good when it comes to the franchise. Fortunately the lighter-hearted Lower Decks would provide Q with some of his dignity and character traits once again.

Death Wish is the most serious and hard-hitting of all Q's appearances in the Star Trek franchise and De Lancie is perhaps at his best when not being quite the precocious brat he was in earlier TNG episodes. There's a more mature head at points here, darkened only by the realisation that Q has himself become euthanised by the Continuum to the point where he is now tasked with controlling someone who has stepped out of the state's prescribed behaviours. Q2's uniqueness and outspoken individualistic views are a "danger to the Continuum" - a place in which everything has been done and said, even being the scarecrow.

In comparison to the Continuum of The Q and the Grey, the gas station metaphor seems fairly sane and perfectly sets the tone for the nature of the Q. Even in the way the visitors are ignored seethes with distain and arrogance that has marked the omnipotent beings since their first appearance in Star Trek. The Q have become lazy, bored and so isolated in millennia that to have one of their own think is, well, unthinkable since there's nothing more to do... except die.

For Q ultimately to be the one to assist Q2 (Quinn's) suicide is not even a remote possibility given the adversarial nature of their interactions through most of the episode but by the conclusion it definitely isn't. That one moment at the gas station where Q2 reveals how Q was his inspiration for breaking the rules and living immortality on the edge finally chinks at the armour of De Lancie's character. The real Q is in there but he needed to be reminded. 

Death Wish was something of an anomaly for Voyager. An episode with a strong moral message on a series that would become more and more high concept as it stepped into its third and fourth seasons before embracing the Borg and the darker aspects of the Delta Quadrant. Q's return was on a higher level to the misstep that was Q Less although as with Vash, Riker provided a little reminder and link back to Q's time on the Enterprise. The tonal shift suits the characters and De Lancie in particular is at the top of his Q game. By the end the shift in his opinions is distinct and believable with real hope that the omnipotent being has turned a corner. However both The Q and the Grey and Q2 would redress the balance and not in a beneficial manner...

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