by Anne Golden, MCC Staff.
EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife Anne has contributed to our past ten years’ entries in a variety of ways — photography, ideas, punchlines, caper-partnering, next-day proofreading, encouraging, fact-checking, nitpicking, and so on. She otherwise generally prefers to enjoy the site as a reader rather than as a separately credited blogger. This entry is a special case: she’s MCC’s very first Guest Blogger, though “guest” feels a tad off the mark. Except for light editing and two jokes, these paragraphs are all hers.
Her essay is aimed at fellow Star Trek viewers, whether they love or loathe Patrick Stewart’s further adventures so far, and presumes familiarity with common fan abbreviations for the various shows. And, relevant fun trivia noted previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, Q is one of her Top 3 Favorite Fictional Characters of All Time. Suffice it to say the season finale struck a nerve. This entry is a rumination attempting to make sense of a tale that frequently didn’t make sense and in some ways still doesn’t. It’s a contemplation. It’s a eulogy. It’s a catharsis.
(Courtesy spoiler warning if you haven’t seen season 2 in general or the finale in particular.)
When last we left Star Trek: Picard season 2, our theories were made and we were waiting for them to be confirmed. Or not. As it happens, Elnor’s return, Jurati the Borg Queen and the resolution of Seven/Raffi (Reven? Saffi? Seraffi?) were all on target. Our biggest theory regarding who caused the timeline change and why seems to have missed its mark. We speculated that someone else changed the timeline, possibly Laris, who was upset over being spurned by Picard earlier in the first episode, and it destabilized centuries of history up to and including taking Q’s son (VOY: “The Q and the Grey” and VOY: “Q2”) out of existence. After all, when Picard demanded to know what Q had done and he quipped, “Show them a world of their own making and they ask you what you’ve done,” it seemed he was blaming Picard for the timeline change, as if Picard had said or done something to cause it. Q seemed very angry at Picard and, when he later spoke to Adam Soong, he empathized with a father’s desperation and talked about how everyone is a hostage to what they love. Who else could Q love besides his own son? It made sense to us.
Apparently, Q was only making an overall comment about how human beings poisoned the atmosphere, he was manipulating Soong and the love he’s held hostage to is his love for Picard.
And Q did change the timeline. His reason for doing so is the catalyst of this season.
Q is dying…or the Q equivalent of death. Since The End seems to be taking its time arriving, he decides to give his existence some meaning by doing a favor for the man he has always wanted to be his friend, the long-suffering Jean-Luc Picard. By forcing Picard to confront the truth of his mother’s mental illness and suicide, the lifelong Shakespeare-quoting, wine-making bachelor can overcome what is also a lifelong misunderstanding of his parents’ marriage and his guilt for inadvertently giving his mother the chance she needed to take her own life. This is what has been inhibiting him since childhood from being able to form a lasting relationship.
When Picard accepts that he is not responsible for his mother’s death, he is freed from that burden of guilt. When he elects not to take the steps needed to change the past and save his mother’s life, he accepts what made him into the man he became and applies the lesson he learned in TNG episode “Tapestry” thus passing Q’s final trial. Q tells Picard, “You matter to me,” and that he hadn’t wanted Picard to die alone as Q himself is about to do. In response, Picard tells Q he won’t die alone, embraces him as the friend Q wanted him to be, the music swells, Q looks like he’s about to emote as he’s never emoted before and I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING!
We come to this incredibly moving coda via a bizarre time travel excursion made necessary by Q altering the timeline — pulling Picard and friends off of the USS Stargazer in 2401 before it self-destructed, and depositing them in a 25th century in which Earth dominates the galaxy via a totalitarian regime that wreaks havoc on alien species everywhere. Picard, courtesy of information provided by the Borg Queen, determines the timeline was disrupted in 2024 and decides to do what makes sense and what time changes always require: going back in time to fix the problem.
Along for the ride, we get Raffi, Seven, Rios, Jurati, the Borg Queen, visions of poor dead Elnor, yet another member of the Soong family, and an ancestor of Picard’s — another sufferer of mental illness named Renee, an astronaut whose failure to get on a ship for take-off on a vital mission will make way for the totalitarian timeline when the world turns to the aforementioned Soong instead. There are plenty of distractions along the way and a special appearance by a young bitter Guinan, Barkeep of Rage. She owns a rifle to keep out increasing numbers of looters and a very special genie bottle that can be used to summon a Q. Is there no other El-Aurian that can keep that thing? Is the El-Aurian homeworld more dangerous than riotous crime-ridden 21st century L.A.? On a tangent, is this why Q hates Guinan? Does he keep getting Summoned by every errant human that gets his or her hand on the bottle which Guinan keeps conveniently accessible? Does she not have a wine cellar? Or a safe? A closet with a lock? A large Crown Royal bag with the most impenetrable Boy Scout knot in its string?
Fixing the timeline involves a doppelganger of Laris named Tallinn, who works for the same outfit that employed Gary Seven in the classic Trek episode “Assignment: Earth”. Tallinn sacrifices herself to get Renee Picard into the stars. There’s also the necessity of Agnes Jurati getting up close and personal with the Borg Queen. All of this is accomplished in spite of the rest of the crew dragging things out by making stupid decisions and Q manipulating disgraced AI developer Adam Soong into eliminating the obstacle that is Jean-Luc Picard. After the timeline is restored, Q returns Picard and most of the crew back where he originally grabbed them, giving Picard time to stop the self-destruct sequence and communicate with Jurati the Borg Queen. As a final surprise, Q gives them the gift of a resurrected Elnor. Rios elects to stay in the 21st century with Teresa Ramirez and her son Ricardo. Back in the 25th century, Guinan tells Picard that young Ricardo Ramirez grew up and utilized the organism Renee brought back from the mission to clean the oceans. There are plenty of questions along the way. Some of them are answered. Some of them aren’t.
1. How and Why is Q Dying? That’s up in the air. When pressed on how he could possibly be dying, he admits he only thought he was immortal with no other explanation provided. That’s a pretty big thing to ignore. There’s no reason for him to have believed otherwise since there has been nothing in any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager to indicate that the Q aren’t immortal. (In TNG’s “Q Who”, Q tells Picard, “I’m ageless, Picard, you are not.” When Q has his powers restored in TNG’s “Deja Q”, he crows about how he’s “Immortal again!”. In VOY’s “The Q and the Grey”, he tells Janeway that the Q don’t come into existence: “The Q have ALWAYS existed!”) Although the Q can kill each other (VOY: “The Q and the Grey”), the concept of a Q dying was so unthinkable to the Continuum that it imprisoned a member for wanting to kill himself (VOY: “Death Wish”). In this case, Q seems to be experiencing a natural process which would appear to be unprecedented. What is happening to him? Why does he not seem curious as to why it’s happening? His whole attitude appears to be, “Well, I thought I was immortal but that doesn’t seem to be true so I’m going to ride this wave wherever it takes me without trying to figure out why”. There is something to be said for anticipating something new in what was previously an endless existence but that doesn’t mean that a completely out-of-the-blue, imminent approach of the end of his life should be dismissed that easily.
There is no dialogue to indicate he goes to the Continuum for advice when he feels his life starting to ebb. (“So…guys, I kinda thought we were immortal, but I’m feeling a little weird lately and wonder if you know what is up?”) There is also no dialogue to indicate that this sudden mortality is affecting anyone other than him. Why would Q die alone if he has a son? Those who keep order in the galaxy, as we’ve been told the Continuum does (VOY: “Q2”), should be interfering when something changes time so significantly. And yet they do nothing as Q alters 400 years of both Earth and galactic history. If they are all gone, that would explain why he is alone and why no one else responds to Guinan’s Summoning. However, there is zero explanation regarding this. If this had affected the entire Continuum, certainly Q would have told Guinan, “I thought we were immortal, then the Q started dying off and I knew my time was coming, too.” All we got from him was that he sensed the end was at hand, anticipated it and then became frustrated when it didn’t happen.
What is the Continuum doing while this is going on? In Star Trek: Discovery a 32nd-century character in the year 3190 says there’s been no contact with the Continuum in 600 years, which would mean the Continuum is still out there and in contact with the Federation at least through 2590. “Picard” takes place in 2401. If the showrunners care what happens in other current Trek, the Continuum exists for at least another couple hundred years. Does it just not care that Q is making such a huge change for personal reasons or is it too preoccupied with something else?
Speculate away and maybe we’ll get some answers in season 3. Or in a show we aren’t watching. Or not.
2. Why Change the Timeline? So Q changes centuries of history, apparently, only to help Picard get over his commitment issues? In the past, Q’s meddling with time has been proportionate to the situation. In the most famous example, TNG episode “Tapestry”, he allowed Picard the chance to relive the fight that caused him to need the artificial heart that would later kill him in order to give Picard a chance to change his future. In TNG: “All Good Things”, a subspace anomaly was directed by the Continuum to see if Picard could recognize a paradox in order to test his ability to think outside the box. In TNG: “Hide and Q”, it was even revealed that Q had suspended time while Riker was undergoing the temptation to use powers Q had given him. No one’s life was ended or significantly altered because of the time meddling in any of these episodes.
In this outing, people do die and lives are irrevocably changed because Picard and crew went back in time to correct the problem, something that seems to have been necessary for them to do. At least one drunk and several special ops troops procured by Soong and the Borg Queen are dead. Kore Soong — freed by the cure and the information Q gives her — has been recruited by the Travelers. Agent Wells of the FBI has lost his job. And let’s not forget that Agnes Jurati is now the Borg Queen.
It was pretty clear early on that Picard’s emotional block when it came to relationships was the likely reason for this time change. Part of the reason that we theorized it wasn’t Q who changed it was because this seemed like such a terribly drastic move if the motive was to resolve such a personal need for Picard. Too drastic even for Q, we thought.
But it had to be drastic. Because Q is running out of time. If Guinan had gone to Picard and told him she had a way to help him overcome his problem, he would have done it. He trusts Guinan. But no matter how sincerely Q might have explained it, how honest he might have been about his motives and his situation, Picard does not trust him. Q needed Picard’s cooperation. He could’ve forced Picard into a scenario to fix his problem but it would have been pointless if Picard just sat back and did nothing in response.
So did Q create an issue of “galactic import” that Picard would feel duty bound to try to resolve so that Picard could also, along the way, resolve his personal issue? Q made Picard think the whole purpose was to fix the big problem so Picard wouldn’t realize he was being tricked into fixing the smaller one. Remember how Q walked through the Chateau, pointing out just how terrible Picard is in this timeline and what horrible things have happened? He was goading Picard into action because he didn’t have the time for finesse.
Even then, Picard initially refuses to play what he deems to be Q’s game until he learns more. Clearly being honest with Picard from the beginning and offering to help him wasn’t going to work.
In the finale, Q tells Picard that not everything is of galactic import. “Isn’t one life enough?” asks Q when Picard questions him. We saw Picard be given a copy of Spock’s book The Many and the One in the season premiere. Spock had learned that same lesson. He sacrificed his one life to serve the needs of the many only for his companions to make sacrifices to save his one life. Picard has spent his life taking risks to save the many while ignoring his own solitary life. In this case, Q is sacrificing his final days and the last of his powers for the benefit of that one solitary life. To Q, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. This is a very Trek theme.
3. What’s Happening With Q’s Powers? Let’s look at Q’s plan and how it was implemented:
He goes back in time to the 21st century, changes the timeline so that Renee Picard does not go on her historic flight, which alters the next 400 years of galactic history, resulting in a totalitarian Earth running roughshod over the rest of the galaxy. (How First Contact went under these circumstances is not explored.) Doing this requires a bit more effort than he expects. When Q attempts to use his powers to change Renee’s mind about the mission, they don’t work. This forces a presumably powerless Q to install himself as Renee’s therapist in order to talk her out of it. How he does that is not explained. Getting therapist credentials to treat an astronaut headed for a high-profile mission is just not that easy. Picard, believing he should go back in time to fix things, shows up three days before the mission, forcing Q to:
- Contact Adam Soong and provide him with a concoction that will temporarily heal Soong’s AI daughter, Kore, so that he can convince Soong to stop Picard from interfering
- Get into an FBI interrogation building where he tells Guinan what’s happening to him and gives her some clues to help Picard that he knows the old Admiral won’t accept from him. (As an aside, he also tells Guinan that he never told Picard to go back in time. Which is true. But was Picard supposed to do something else to fix the timeline? It doesn’t really seem like there was another option.
- Insert himself into Soong’s recordings to reach out to Kore and arrange for a permanent cure for her to be concocted and delivered.
- Somehow get to Chateau Picard in France from the United States.
This master plan was to be accomplished without money, credentials, transportation or access to the necessary labs and systems. I can believe that Q has the knowledge to put together complex formulas (in TNG “Deja Q”, he still had his knowledge even though he didn’t have his powers), but without his abilities, he can’t get anywhere in this century.
Does he provide himself with those necessary things before he realizes he can’t use his powers? If so, why would he? He still has his powers when he meets with Picard in episode one after changing the timeline because he has the ability to change his appearance before walking Picard through the Chateau. He seems genuinely surprised when he can’t just snap the willpower out of Renee. In all fairness, in that scene, he is wearing a NASA-type jacket. Does that mean he has already used his powers to get himself into the mission program giving him the credentials and the access? Why would he go to that trouble if he thinks he can just snap his fingers and change time (besides the fact that Q often likes to dress the part to blend in with his surroundings)? Besides, NASA credentials can’t get you access to everything. If his powers work correctly until that point, he would still need to procure FBI credentials and the necessary access to Soong’s computer and to whatever lab he uses to produce the cure. At the end he has just enough power to send three people back to the future and restore Elnor. Are his powers just spotty or is he able to use them to accomplish all of these things as they are slowly drained from him? Does he have to resort to conserving them so he can survive long enough to return everyone to the future? No teleporting unless absolutely necessary? Is the power to change his clothes or get into a restricted lab less draining than teleporting which isn’t as draining as changing centuries of time with the snap of a finger? Is that it?
Or is everyone in charge of security at these facilities a total doormat? Like the mission organizer Soong browbeats into letting him break the astronauts’ quarantine by pulling the equivalent of “Do you know who I am?”
And, of course, it doesn’t explain why Q looked like the older version of himself while he was in the past when he only changed his appearance after altering the timeline to make a joke at Picard’s expense.
More importantly, why the 21st century? Q sics Adam Soong on Picard, culminating in Jean-Luc being hit by a car, losing consciousness, dreaming about his parents, and thus giving Tallinn the reason to enter his mind so she can see all of this. Since Picard arrives before the timeline changes, why continue to throw obstacles in his path when Q can just conserve his power by sitting around until Picard successfully gets Renee on the ship? In neither “Tapestry” nor “All Good Things” did Q put obstacles in Picard’s way while the captain tried to solve the problem. Is it just that it is essential for Tallinn to be able to enter Picard’s comatose state in order to help him and this was the time period in which she did all her work on Earth? Is it because she looks like Laris and Picard might trust her? Is it Renee? Does Picard have to interact with another mentally-ill member of the family to put him in the right mindset for understanding what that can do to an otherwise bright, intelligent person? Does Adam Soong’s future have to be reckoned with in conjunction with Renee? Is it a combination of all three, Tallinn, Renee and Soong, that are necessary to resolve this? It’s never explained what about this specific point in time is required to help Picard.
Isn’t there an easier and more proportionate way to give Picard the closure he needs without jumping through all these hoops that, frankly, do not seem relevant to the specific problem? Nothing about the issues of 21st century Earth seems to have anything to do with whether or not Picard can allow himself to love another person. It’s as if we are just expected to assume that it was necessary to involve these other players, who only existed in this time period, to help Jean-Luc. Without an explanation, though, it looks very much as if the showrunners just wanted to send everyone back to the 21st century so the characters could engage in easy hot-button social commentary.
4. Was Adam Soong’s Life Altered? Do we have any idea what Adam Soong’s actual contributions were before this adventure? We know what he is doing now, but how do we know if he did that before the changes made here? Do we assume his life wasn’t altered despite the fact that other lives were? Without Q and the Borg Queen’s interference, he might still have his uncured daughter, all his research and what little stability he had left.
Or are all of these altered lives part of a paradox in which everything always happened that way?
5. What Use Are the Travelers? We are now told that the Travelers are guardians of time and space. Nice job they’re doing with that, considering Wesley Crusher shows up to recruit Kore at the same time and place where his former captain, mentor, and parents’ friend is trapped because of a massive timeline change caused by a weakened Q who is either the last of his kind for some unknown reason or is being allowed carte blanche by the Continuum to do it. Doesn’t Wesley have more important things to do at this exact moment? He has to know Q is involved; in case of surprise amnesia on his part, Kore even utters the name as he approaches her. He’s a Traveler, not a Watcher or even a Supervisor. Isn’t he authorized to intervene, especially since the galactic timeline that spawned this version of Wesley is at risk (to say nothing of his mother)? Is he outside of time like the Q and just doesn’t care because the change doesn’t affect him? Keep in mind that Tallinn works for the Travelers but isn’t allowed to intervene. What use is that when her charge’s future is in danger? Are the Travelers aware of what Q is doing? Did they decide to let Picard fix it and then jump in to help only Kore?
6. What is the Connection Between Tallinn and Laris? Why use the same actress if there is no connection to the friend Picard rebuffed in his present and the one who watched over his ancestor in the past? No dialogue establishes a relationship between the two except that they are both Romulans and they have the same face. Was that all that was necessary? Do all Romulan women look like Orla Brady now?
7. What About the Original Timeline? According to Trek history, the Bell Riots are supposed to begin in September of 2024 which, according to Benjamin Sisko in the DS9 episode “Past Tense”, create a watershed moment in which the United States is finally able to move past some of its problems. This was always a funny line because history also tells us that World War III begins in 2026 and lasts until 2053 (the last date was provided in Star Trek: First Contact). Zefram Cochrane flies his warp-capable ship that ends up initiating First Contact in 2063 from a missile complex in Montana that very much appears to include ragged remains of humanity, indicating that the United States is not spared the conflict. Furthermore, in TNG’s pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Q says that the post-apocalyptic court to which he subjects the crew is from 2079 (16 years after First Contact!) when all of the “United Earth nonsense” had been abolished. None of this sounds like any kind of improvement that would make the Bell Riots more than a footnote. At the end of this episode we are given a history of the lives of Rios and his new family with no indication that they or humanity were affected by a terrible decades-long war. Did something happen that changed the dates or duration of these events or even First Contact when we weren’t looking? Otherwise, we can see no reason why Renee Picard’s mission is so vital to preserving this timeline. She brings back an organism that young Ricardo Ramirez grows up to utilize in cleaning the Earth’s oceans. Of all of the problems plaguing 21st century Earth, helping the environment is what stops a totalitarian regime from developing?
8. Why Let Rios Stay Behind? Allowing Rios to remain in the 21st century is risky. In this season, the crew plays fast and loose with behavior that could alter the course of history when it isn’t necessary for them to do so. They are already trying to fix a significantly-altered future, yet have no problem calling attention to themselves, allowing sensitive equipment to be misplaced, revealing their real identities to people and, finally, one of them deciding to remain in the past. Besides information about the future that could fall into the wrong hands, Rios may have vaccinations or bacteria that don’t exist yet floating around in his bloodstream, ready to spark questions should blood ever need to be drawn. To say nothing of what little Ricardo may accidentally say. We have no reason to believe that he’s an awesome secret-keeper.
9. How Has the Timeline Affected Guinan? Does she now remember meeting Picard in turn-of-the-twentieth century San Francisco from TNG’s “Time’s Arrow”? Presumably Q’s timeline change prevented Picard’s adventures from happening, which meant they didn’t meet in “Time’s Arrow”. Fixing the timeline should have also restored their original meeting. Guinan remembers Picard setting her attitude straight, but there’s no mention of that being their second meeting. Do Guinan’s sensitivities allow her to remember both? Could she not have shed light on what is happening in the Continuum? Odd that there was no discussion between Guinan and Picard about the Q, especially given that Q has a complicated history with both of them. And we now know that young Guinan knew that the Q were not immortal centuries before the events in TNG, up to and including when she and Q encountered each other in “Q Who” and “Deja Q”, and never said anything to him or anyone else.
10. Has Mental Illness Been Cured or Not? In the original series Trek episode “Whom Gods Destroy”, a treatment to cure all forms of mental illness was introduced in the 23rd century. However, Picard’s mother Yvette is clearly mentally ill in the 24th century and the dialogue explains that she refused treatment. Since it’s hard to believe that her parents wouldn’t have treated her as a child, did her illness not manifest itself until she was an adult? Are mentally ill people who are a danger to themselves and others really permitted to refuse treatment in the 24th century? Since she cannot be forced to be treated, Maurice Picard is stuck with trying to protect his wife from herself by locking her in a room when she has an episode. If Maurice is going to keep his wife’s illness from their son and resort to such desperate means to keep her safe, why does he leave a skeleton key where a clueless little boy could grab it?
Just some thoughts on a strong ending to an otherwise strange season.
Admittedly, I’ve been an emotional wreck since the finale. I’m unable to think about those last two scenes between Picard and Q without being overcome. The performances were just so well done as they brought a 35-year relationship between the characters full circle. Though death in Star Trek tends not to mean much, this sense of finality for John de Lancie’s Q has hit me more than most character ends. Maybe I have a greater emotional investment in the character than I thought or maybe his end involves so much in the way of theological parallels that I’m having trouble separating the fictional from the spiritual.
You matter to God. You matter so much that He sacrificed a part of Himself to become human and live a mortal life so that you can have a relationship with Him. He will not force this relationship on you. You choose whether or not to take that journey. It’s not always an easy one but your life can be transformed if you do. Time is running out, though. Don’t sit back and do nothing. Let Him help you.
Thank you, Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie, for your masterful portrayals that made us keep coming back for more. See you out there.