WARNING: This article contains considerable spoiler information about "Tapestry", TNG's latest offering. Those not interested in reading said spoilers had better get off now. Wow. Best damned Q storyline I've seen in four years. Yes, that takes us all the way back to "Q Who", when once again Q used simple techniques to send Picard one hell of a message. Guess what, folks -- he did it again, and most interestingly to boot. More later, after this lengthy synopsis:

Sickbay is in chaos, as a critically injured Jean-Luc Picard is beamed aboard. After being shot at close range with an energy weapon, Picard's artificial heart has malfunctioned, and he is dying on the surgical table. His vital signs begin to fade even further...

...and Picard looks around himself into a gulf of impenetrable whiteness. He sees nothing for a few moments, and then sees an angelic figure approaching him, shrouded in light. He takes this "angel's" hand, and the angel becomes more recognizable:

"Welcome to the afterlife, Jean-Luc," says Q. "You're *dead*."

Picard scoffs at the notion that he is dead, and even more so at Q's claim of being God. "I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by _you_ -- the universe is not so badly designed!" Q, persistent, brings other evidence to bear, and Picard sees and hears his late father scold him for coming to a bad end with Starfleet: "Dead ... *before* your time." Maurice Picard fades, but Q then calls up the voices of Picard's "victims" -- the many people who have died over the years through Picard acting or failing to act.

He offers Picard a chance to express regrets for a "sordid" past, but Picard says that if he really is dead, "My only regret is dying and finding you here!" Q, acting hurt, points out that he was not the cause of Picard's death -- Picard's artificial heart was. When asked how he lost his real heart, however, Picard only mutters that it was a mistake from his youth.

Q quickly pounces on this regret and displays the event to Picard, who sees his young and cocky self get stabbed through the heart by an angry Nausicaan. Agreeing with Q that the fight wasn't smart, he claims to have been a different man then. "Arrogant, undisciplined, with far too much ego and far too little wisdom. I was much more like *you*." Picard continues on, regretting that he hadn't learned responsibility until after being stabbed through the back, and notes that if he'd been more responsible then he'd have a real heart and wouldn't have died when he did.

"So if you had to do it all over again?" "Things would be different."

Suddenly, Picard is slapped by a young woman, and finds himself back in a very old uniform surrounded by two of his old Academy friends, Corey and Marta, looking as young as they did after graduation. He turns down their invitation to join them for a bite to eat, saying he'll catch up with them later. They leave, remarking that "Johnny"'s just marking time until another date.

"Captain" Q arrives, telling Picard that he's got his second chance -- he is now back at the ripe young age of 21, fresh out of the Academy, and ready to change a few things about his past. Picard initially objects, saying that changing history could have horrible results, but Q scoffs at that. "Nothing you do here will cause the Federation to collapse or galaxies to explode. To be blunt, you're not that important." When even that fails to get Picard moving, Q gives him his word that the only changes occurring as a result of this will be to Picard.

Q tells Picard that he has two days until the encounter with the Nausicaans that robbed him of his heart. If he can change enough by then to avoid getting stabbed, then he'll be back in the "present" with a real heart. "Then I won't die?" "Of course you'll _die_ -- it'll just be at a later time." If he doesn't avoid getting stabbed, the two of them get to spend eternity together. This, if nothing else, goads Picard to action -- but at the moment, the "action" expected by history is that he keep his date with a young woman named Penny...

Penny, however, is not impressed by this quieter, less hormonal, more "contemplative" Picard, and when Picard turns down some rather blatant romantic offers, she throws a drink on him for insulting her and leaves. After a quick exchange with Q, Picard turns his attentions to his friends' activities. Corey is having fun playing a billiards-like game called "damjat", and winning handily. He defeats his current opponent, and leaves the table to relax -- but then, a Nausicaan walks in and challenges him to a game.

Picard tries to convince Corey that the game is a big mistake, but Corey dismisses it as paranoia and plays. While he plays, Picard tells Q of what is to come if nothing changes. Corey will lose, and realize later that the Nausicaan cheated. He will want revenge, and enlist Jean-Luc's help in rigging the table later to turn the situation around. It will provoke the Nausicaan and indirectly start the fight.

Sure enough, very quickly the Nausicaan wins, gloating all the while. That evening, Corey comes to the correct conclusion that the Nausicaan used a magnetic device to alter the path of the balls, and suggests rigging the table to make it backfire. Picard, however, insists that that will solve nothing, and possibly just make things worse. Corey is stunned by Picard's refusal ("When did you start backing away from a good fight?"), and stalks out when Marta agrees that forgetting about it may be the best choice. Marta says she's impressed with Picard's new responsibility, that she believes comes from the new Ensign's bars they both wear. When Picard remarks that the rank will take some getting used to, she voices regret that they can't get used to it together, adding after a brief pause "...the three of us, I mean."

Suddenly, Q comes in carrying flowers for a "John Luck Pickerd", and Marta, assuming they're from one of Picard's recent "conquests", makes a hasty exit. After a quick observation that Picard's relationship with Marta might *also* be changed this time around, Q tells Picard that Corey is at this very moment rigging the table.

In very short order, Picard finds Corey and startles him. Corey is initially glad to see him there, but that turns into shock when he sees that Picard is there not to help, but to talk Corey out of this course of action. Picard refuses to go so far as to fight Corey about it, but he says he'll tell the gambling foreman about the table. Corey bristles, and bids a cold farewell to "Ensign Picard."

Later, Picard complains about Corey's reaction to Marta, who reassures him that he'll get over it. The conversation again turns to how different Picard seems, and how attractive she finds it. Picard admits that he's thought many times about the two of them getting involved. "Why didn't you ever say anything?" "At this moment ... I really have no idea why not." They fall together...

The next morning, Picard wakes up naked in bed -- with Q lying next to him. "Morning, darling." After Q riles him about his now-abandoned "just friends" claim about Marta, Picard meets Marta for breakfast. Unfortunately, he soon finds that she feels they've ruined their friendship with their rash acts, and that she very much regrets what has occurred. After promising to see him one last time at the trio's final get-together in the evening, she leaves.

Q smirks. "Well, let's see -- so far you've managed to get slapped by one woman, a drink thrown in your face by another, and alienate your two best friends. You're doing pretty well so far -- the only thing left to avoid is getting stabbed through the heart!"

That evening, a very tense dinner is made still more tense when the Nausicaans enter and challenge Corey to damjat once again. Picard claims they're not interested, and physically prevents Corey from attacking them even after the Nausicaans insult Starfleet and make lewd remarks about Marta. The Nausicaans laugh and leave, but Corey has other ideas. He tells Picard, "I don't know who you are any more, but you're not my friend." Marta leaves with Corey after a brief "Goodbye, Johnny."

Q, however, congratulates Picard -- he's survived. Picard finds himself back on the Enterprise, hale and hearty -- but dressed in a blue uniform, and holding the rank of Lieutenant j.g. in astrophysics. Picard finds that the captain of the ship is now one Thomas Halliway, and heads to sickbay.

When he arrives, he finds Q waiting for him. "Vell, vell, vell -- vot seems to be ze trouble, Loytenant Picard?" He assures Picard that, true to Q's word, nothing *has* changed except for him. He is now the product of his "new" youth -- safe and sound, making tests and analyzing data, "and delivering reports to your superiors."

Picard hastens to Ten-Forward and speaks with Riker and Troi about his past and future career. Both say he's a very good, very ... _competent_ ... officer, but add that he's never been willing to take the chances necessary to reach his always-lofty goals. Riker, however, says he'll see what he can do to move Picard into engineering or security, and that "we'll see" about command. Riker and Troi are called away to a bridge officers' meeting, leaving Picard to stew over his fate until Geordi summons him, wanting the very report he's been carrying for quite some time.

In the turbolift, Picard complains bitterly about his fate to the presumably-listening Q. When the lift opens, however, it opens back onto the white "afterlife", with the angelically garbed Q waiting and wondering why Picard can complain about having gotten a second chance.

"I can't live out my days as that person! That man is bereft of passion ... and imagination! That is not who I am!"

Q, however, points out that it's the product of the youth Picard _wanted_ to have. This Picard is less arrogant, less undisciplined -- "The one who was less like *me*." This Picard never had a brush with death to add focus to his life, and always drifted from one job to the next -- never standing out, and always playing it safe. Picard admits that the changes he wanted to make were a mistake.

"Are you asking me for something, Jean-Luc?" "Give me the chance to put things back the way they were before." "Before, you died in sickbay. Is that what you want?"

Picard doesn't hesitate. "I would rather die as the man I was than live the life I just saw."

Q moves toward Picard --

-- who finds himself back in the bar in the middle of the confrontation with the Nausicaans. This time, however, when he's called a coward, Picard fights, and fights hard. Corey and Marta are removed from the fight quickly, but Picard manages to knock out two of the three Nausicaans. The third, however, grabs him and impales him through the back. Picard falls to his knees, sees the blade, and laughs...

...and is still laughing when he wakes in sickbay, alive.

Some time later, Picard and Riker discuss Picard's experiences. Neither is quite sure whether they were real or a near-death hallucination, but Picard notes that if it *was* real, he owes Q his gratitude for showing him just how essential those "unsavory" parts of his life were in forming the complete man he now is.

Whew. After that, I'm not sure I have the strength to actually write some *commentary* ... but I'll do my best.

I said earlier this season that "True Q" did a lot to put Q "back on form" as "the sardonic, Machiavellian trickster who doesn't much care who gets in the way of his aims." That side of Q was, indeed, a crucial part of him that had been neglected since "Q Who". However, what was left *out* of "True Q" that hadn't become fully apparent to me until now was that Q also serves as a powerful goad for Picard's actions and his very thoughts at times. I think it's very arguable that Q intended primarily to provoke Picard in "Q Who" and bits of "Deja Q", and that must have been the (unfulfilled, in my view) plan behind "Qpid". "Tapestry" could be considered as taking the Q-as-goad theme to its logical conclusion.

And goad he did. Q managed here to make Picard lose the most composure I think I've ever seen the character lose. (Death does seem to have that effect on people...) While Picard put up a reasonably good front of not caring about Q or about his new situation, it was very clearly just that -- a front. The Picard we saw responding to his father's condemnation was not a man in control of the situation, and the Lieutenant (pardon me, "Loytenant" :-) ) Picard we saw near the close of the show was a man rapidly becoming as defeated and nondescript as the man we were told he had already become. This Picard was forced by circumstances to be more on-edge and reserveless than he's ever been, and it worked like a charm.

The message sent by the show (basically "don't reject the skeletons in your closet, they're a big part of you") was a simple one, but by the same token one that probably rang true for nearly everyone watching. I certainly found myself thinking back to a few incidents from my "misspent youth" that I've occasionally thought would be better off changed or deleted, and I'll wager most of you reading this did as well.

The particular incident chosen (and the bits of it we saw) was nicely selected, and fit very well with the stories of it we've already heard. The laughter, in particular, was probably the best recurring image we've seen since the breaking of the glass in "Cause and Effect", and occurred for many different reasons. When we were first told of it ages ago, Picard said he laughed out of shock; here, it's because he was a cocky young man; and in the end, it's because he knows he's saved his past/future. The final laugh had almost as much power to it as Stewart's laugh as Scrooge towards the very end of his one-man "A Christmas Carol", and that's no small feat.

Ned Vaughn and J.C. Brandy (Corey and Marta, respectively) were extremely well cast as Picard's old friends. Corey seemed a perfect partner to the cocky youth Picard was *supposed* to be, and Marta was just responsible enough to keep either one from getting killed. Both did a good job of looking and acting like recent Academy graduates (whatever they're supposed to look like :-) ), and of relating very well to their best friend suddenly turning into a stranger. Corey's pair of lines about "you sound like my mother" and "you ARE my mother!" to Picard rang extremely true to me, for example.

Speaking of casting, bravo to whoever found Clive Church to play Maurice Picard. It seems that Picard's brother Robert not only takes after his father spiritually, but also carries the strong physical resemblance. Maurice *looked* like I'd always pictured him -- how'd they do that? :-)

Picard's affair with Marta was interesting, not only in its consequences but in its origins. I think it's arguable that Picard may not have intended such a change to his past at all, but that the frustration he had with being unable to get Corey to act responsibly came to a head and made him decide that at least he'd change _this_ and see what happened. I'm not suggesting in any way that this was a conscious decision, but I think it's a strong possibility. (The aftermath of their one night together rang very true as well.)

But throughout it all, we had Q -- not only as an amused observer and a goad, but as a *guide*. Picard wouldn't have *known* how to change anything without Q's help in certain spots (warning him about Corey rigging the table is the strongest example), and might have made even more of a mess of everything than he did. While Q clearly had the time of his life here (at least verbally; some of his comments had me rolling), he also did appear to have some genuine concern here for Picard (despite the threat to spend eternity with him :-) ). It was intriguing, whatever else it was.

I don't really know exactly what there is to say about the show. It was fairly simple, extremely well acted, and devastatingly effective -- like "The Inner Light", it was human drama at its best. If we remove "Aquiel" (please!), TNG has been really getting its wind back in 1993 ("Chain of Command", "Ship in a Bottle", "Face of the Enemy", and now "Tapestry") -- I'm overjoyed to see it.

Some short takes:

-- I wish we'd gotten to see the *rest* of the original situation Picard found himself in. Back in "Samaritan Snare", Picard described the fight like this: "So, I walked up to [the Nausicaan], and I told him what I thought of him, his chums, his planet, and I may have mentioned something about his rather...questionable...parentage..." I'd pay good money to see that. :-)

-- The 21-year-old Picard we saw here fits in appearance with the 12-year-old one we saw in "Rascals". But when did he lose his hair?

-- There's a timing problem in here somewhere. Picard's 21 here, and he says it was thirty years ago. That's no problem, except that by referring to his class as the class of '27 [2327, presumably], the years don't work. *Forty* years would be a lot closer to the mark, and 61 seems a somewhat reasonable age for Picard. I wonder if the line was blown.

-- "To be blunt, you're *not that important*." What an ego-buster. :-)

-- Corey looked an awful lot like Nicholas Locarno to me. I wonder if there's anything interesting we can glean from that...

-- I had a nasty suspicion that the result of Picard not getting stabbed would be that Corey *would* -- but Q was, surprisingly enough, true to his word.

That's about it. "Tapestry" was a terrific piece of work, and I give it my strongest recommendation.

The numbers: all 10s. Save the reading space. :-)

NEXT WEEK: Data and Worf attempt to locate the address to which they should send Father's Day cards. This looks utterly bizarre.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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