True Q

WARNING: This post contains heavy doses of spoiler information for "True Q", this week's TNG offering. Those not wishing a minor dose of omniscience should probably remain clear. The TNG staff is now officially forgiven for "Qpid". It was nice to see Q back the way he *ought* to be done, but I'll get to that later. First...well, you know what's coming. Yep, another synopsis.

The Enterprise is busy picking up relief supplies for the pollution-stricken planet of Tagra Four, and also picks up Amanda Rogers, an honor student interning on board. She is put to work in all departments, but primarily for Dr. Crusher, with whom she strikes up a fast friendship. However, strange occurrences seem to center on Amanda very quickly; her pet dogs (which she didn't bring on board) mysteriously appear and disappear in her quarters, and a large container nearly falls on Riker before suddenly being deflected (with no visible cause for either). Finally, things fly completely out of control when Amanda single-handedly contains and reverses a warp-core breach explosion.

Questions fly fast and furious at a conference shortly after this incident, but no answers are forthcoming until Q pays a visit. He confesses that he was responsible for the warp-core breach and the falling container, but only to test Amanda's powers -- for, in fact, she is the offspring of two Q, and probably one herself. He announces that he's come to train her and then take her back to the Qontinuum, but in the end agrees to let her make the choice herself in exchange for Picard introducing them. The initial meeting goes very badly, however, as Q informs his superiors. "However, there is the possibility we won't have to terminate the girl."

Amanda, reluctantly, decides to allow Q to train her how to use her power. This training appears to hone her skills, but also strengthens her doubts about how to use it all. In fact, she even finds that in some circumstances they do her no good at all; when Q convinces her to speed up a test she's doing for Beverly, the artificial enhancement renders the results useless.

As the mystery around Amanda's parents deepens (they appear to have been killed by an extremely unusual tornado), Amanda appears to be embracing Q's amoral attitude more and more strongly. She joins him in a game of hide-and-seek while teleporting all around the ship, and briefly abducts Riker in an attempt to be romantic. This last backfires, however, even when she forcibly makes him love her. "I thought it would be romantic...but it's empty."

Picard, meanwhile, speaks to Q of his findings, and asks outright if the "tornado" that killed Amanda's parents was a tool of execution by the Qontinuum. Q does not answer, but suggests that it might have been, and insists that Amanda really has no choice in the matter. If she *is* a Q, he says, she must return with him; and if not, she is to be killed. When Picard asks Q what he's concluded, Q responds offhandedly, "I haven't decided yet."

As the Enterprise arrives at Tagra Four to begin its mission (now including the fixing of a dangerously damaged reactor), Picard decides to inform Amanda of the situation. She calls Q and demands to know what right the Qontinuum has to play judge, jury, and executioner, either for her or her parents. After a brief exchange over morality, he tells her that in fact, she is not to be harmed. She gets a choice: either return with him to the Qontinuum, or refuse to ever use her powers. (Her parents, he points out, chose the latter -- and failed.) She chooses the latter, but after an immediate emergency on the planet forces her hand, she decides to go with him after all. After saying goodbye to both Crusher and Picard, she departs.

Well, that should work out. (It's actually rather shorter than usual; suits me, since it leaves me more room to work with my commentary! :-) ) Now, onwards:

If this episode is the reason Q didn't appear last season, then I'm all for longer absences between his appearances. As I said earlier, it's about time we went back to seeing Q the way he was *meant* to be done; the sardonic, Machiavellian trickster who doesn't much care who gets in the way of his aims. I haven't seen this Q since "Q Who", and I have definitely missed him. ("Deja Q" *was* a lot of fun, no argument; but it somehow just wasn't the same -- and it led to "Qpid", which was awful.)

This Q is the sort of person who, when asked about the warp-core breach, "and what would have happened if she *hadn't* been able to contain the explosion?", simply answers "then I would have known she wasn't a Q!" and give no sign of recognizing that there even *is* another level to the question. He's also someone who will occasionally take a delight in riling others; his question to Amanda early on is one of the best examples. "[in examples of other things she could do] Telekinesis, teleportation, ... spontaneous combustion of someone you don't like [while gazing witheringly at Picard], ... *that* sort of thing."

This is a Q I truly enjoy watching.

But enough about him, since he actually wasn't the focus of the show. The center was clearly Amanda Rogers, and I have to say Olivia d'Abo did a lot better than I expected her to, given her past work. (Not that I particularly *disliked* her on "The Wonder Years", mind you; she was just generally unspectacular much of the time.) Amanda felt real to me, probably because my wife Lisa is similar to her: bright, well-rounded, and possessed of a large number of small animals. :-) Her ambivalence about her powers and new situation was nothing I haven't seen before in countless novels and comics (omnipotence does seem to be the fashion these days), but was done well enough that I didn't particularly mind.

Not that I'm entirely surprised, mind you; the show was written by Rene Echevarria, who's given us good stories centered on guest characters before ("The Offspring" and "I, Borg" being the most-remembered examples). Amanda, like Lal and Hugh, was decidedly sympathetic without being cloying about it, and that's precisely what was needed here.

Amanda also acted like a typical teenager in mooning over Riker the way she did. Some may think it was a little overboard, but I don't think I'd agree; I don't think I was much subtler when I was a teenager, and given my students, teenagers of the '90s aren't much better at it. I don't know if it was the single most necessary plot complication in the world, but it seemed well placed and well played.

The only real problem I had with the plot was that the planet-oriented bits seemed *extremely* preachy this week, far more so than we've had lately. Other than that, things seemed to fit together in a sensible way, Q's double-dealing was built up slowly (if no big surprise), and the ending actually *surprised* me. (I'll get to that last bit in a moment.)

A couple of questions leapt to mind, however, only some of which were answered at the time.

First, I at first thought that two disasters in such a short time was an amazing coincidence. That one was dealt with nicely by attributing them to Q; no problem.

Second, I definitely wonder about that tornado. While it made for a very effective point, it seems odd to me that such a freak event wouldn't have somehow been a talking point when it happened. (Granted, Picard wasn't on Earth at the time, but surely *somebody* in the crew was, and might even remember the incident.) That's nothing particularly troubling, but I'm curious as to what we were intended to think.

My biggest question, though, was how the Qontinuum's policy here tied in to Q's attempted shanghaiing of Riker in "Hide and Q". Surely, if the Qontinuum had the ability to make human/Q hybrids themselves (which clearly they do, given that had only one of Amanda's parents been a Q, that would be the case), they would have done so rather than attempt to lure in an already-hostile crewmember. I imagine the goals must have changed a little bit from year to year, but I'm slightly confused as to how. (Of course, it could be that I'm simply too doped-up on cold medication to figure it out myself. If so, please ignore this paragraph. :-) )

Back to the ending. The biggest reason this surprised me was that in some ways, Amanda's choice reminded me a little bit of "The First Duty", in that Amanda was effectively choosing between father-figures here. I believe that this is the first time that given the option, someone has *rejected* Picard in such a role; and it surprised me. Now, it could definitely be argued that she agreed with him in principle but went with Q in practice, and I'd agree with that argument; but even so, the event surprised me. (Even more surprising was that not only did Picard play father-figure here, but Bev played mother-figure, which is a lot rarer. I think they work well together as parents, personally.)

Lastly, the directing here was, for want of a better word, a lot *crisper* than I've seen lately. Q reporting to his superiors was, well, done very fluidly; I got a real sense of things always moving along. That worked well for me, as did the Q/Picard scene when Picard ferrets out the truth. The close of that scene, with Q looking generally remorseless, and Picard underlit in such a way as to look positively *demonic*, jarred me a lot, which it was meant to. The hide-and-seek game moved along very well and almost breathlessly, and the departure from Amanda's "romantic interlude" seemed nicely wistful. All in all, I'm quite impressed here.

Finally, I'm quite curious to see if we'll see Amanda again. It's certainly hinted that we well might, and if nothing else, the next time we see Q there had better be a mention of her. Given past track records, I realize I shouldn't hope that much for following this up, but allow me to play the optimist. :-)

I don't think I have that much else to say here. I found this one a winner on basically all counts, and I'm glad to see the Q of old back. A few more quotes to demonstrate that Q:

"She'll just have to start behaving like a Q." "If I'm not mistaken, she just did." [*Ouch*. That's a barb that hit home.]

[on the tornado] "If you say so; I wasn't there." [I'm not so sure about that. Did anyone else get the impression that he might have *been* that executioner?]

[on the trial for "the crimes of humanity] "The jury's still out on that one, Picard..."

There, that ought to do it. I'll take my leave of this for now. So, the numbers:

Plot: 9. Get rid of the preachy planet-related points and you're in. Plot Handling/Direction: 10. *Very* sharp. Characterization/Acting: 10. Ditto.

TOTAL: 10. Now this is more like it.

NEXT WEEK: Picard and several others turn into children during a Ferengi attack. We shall see...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "However, there is the possibility that we won't have to terminate the girl." Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.