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We’d do a “your mom” strapline, but honestly with Christine here it’s a bit weird

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

10 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    October 1, 2014 @ 3:36 am

    I actually remember this story quite well; I'd say it's the earliest TNG episode that I remember clearly from my first experience of watching as a child, aside from Farpoint itself. What I remember (at all, really) is the story of Riker coming to understand the responsibilities and burdens of having these powers.

    Thinking on it now, there's a better way to have done it. Q has a curious dual nature in the show. He acts as the meta-textual judge, which is your preferred interpretation here, and which we saw most clearly in Farpoint (and in All Good Things). Yet this position is also that of an authority: he evaluates whether TNG lives up to a particular standard and judges it accordingly. The watchful eye of an authority can't sustain genuine growth. Any development one makes will ultimately become motivated by fear of the authoritative judge.

    Q also operates as a trickster god for the world of Star Trek. The episode is flawed in that it blurs these facets of his character in a single narrative; they can't really function at the same time because the trickster can never be an authority. A trickster is continually in conflict with authority, as when the Continuum recalls him at the end of Hide and Q. The relationship of Q with authority will wax and wane through rebellion and allegiance throughout the rest of his tenure in the franchise. Certainly not every Q episode is a winner, but there's more to the trickster aspect of the character than simply being Picard's wacky demigod uncle.

    The best Q stories use his nature as a trickster to progress the characters, humanity, the Federation, and Star Trek. Q can provoke and prod change without fear.

    An additional wrinkle is that All Good Things implies that Q visits the Enterprise out of strict temporal order, which retcons the narrative his appearances create with a serious degree of uncertainty.

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  2. Adam Riggio
    October 1, 2014 @ 3:43 am

    A Hide and Q that focussed on his relationship with Picard and Riker, and played Q more explicitly as a subversive character. Riker always has something of a mischievous streak, and suddenly being gifted with Q powers would appeal to that part of him. Picard would develop a kind of advisor/father relationship as Riker deals with the test Q has put to him.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    October 1, 2014 @ 9:15 am

    The authority question as it pertains to gods is one I'm continually grappling with.

    The conception of divinity I've been increasingly utilizing here is not derived from traditional theism. Clearly, if you were to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion, you're left with gods who, well, pass judgment as part of an authoritarian power structure, and that's obviously anathema to my philosophy here.

    But gods need not be thought of that way. This is why, following this blog's transcendent rebirth at the feet of Kei and Yuri, I lean so heavily on the Shaktist conception of the god as iṣṭa-devatā, a divine (utopian) ideal that each individual practitioner takes into herself based on her experience and understanding of the sublime. That and the Alan Moore idea that gods can be shaped by mythopoeic mortal forces of place, time and memory. Therein lies a solid allegory for how Star Trek: The Next Generation works and how we ought respond to utopianism, I think.

    As this pertains to Q, I'm left with the problem that he does, in fact, act like a prosecutor and a judge, and the trickster archetype doesn't quite get me what I'm trying to say. I tried to hedge against that in "Encounter at Farpoint" by equating Q with the audience, thus having the challenge coming from the bottom-up rather than the top-down, which also doubled as an inversion of standard Star Trek operating procedure.

    I'm not sure yet that's as clear and effective a redemptive reading as I'd hoped it would be.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    October 1, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

    In this case, the problem might be that Q never concretely displays himself in those terms. It's a situation where Josh Marsfelder in 2014 is more advanced spiritually than the TNG production team in 1986/7. In the iconography itself, Q appears either as an authoritative god pronouncing judgments, or as a trickster. Both Western models, both existing as a dichotomy: the authoritative god exists to maintain a universally valid morality; the trickster exists to destabilize authority's morality in the name of a higher good. The god of utopia would progress beyond the ultimately wholly negative activity of the trickster, actually expressing the higher good in the context of the current moment and world.

    The utopian god would be what Q is trying to become through his acts of rebellion.

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    October 1, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

    "It's a situation where Josh Marsfelder in 2014 is more advanced spiritually than the TNG production team in 1986/7."

    Yes, but you see this has never stopped me before 🙂

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  6. K. Jones
    October 1, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

    I don't see the two as mutually exclusive. In fact, I can't really think of a higher authority than tricksterism – the eschewing of formal authorities and godhead figures is a pertinent part of original Star Trek ideal and is evidenced everywhere and in every way, as the Enterprise grapples with cosmic despots, Earthborn despots … or corrupt or incompetent admiralty. But that's digressing a fair bit from the point.

    The point is that in a universe of entropy, a rigid thought-structure makes it impossible to become freed from the real to the point where you might reach a Traveler-esque blending of thought, matter and energy. The very nature of the Q being a "Continuum" implies this heavily, as it eschews the very notion of linear progression, whether that be thought-patterns created in linear time, ascension through linear ranks, travel from Point A to Point B on a line, or even the evolution of species prior to that ascension.

    There's no greater judge than ever-changing chaos, because it's the one constant in the universe.

    But I agree that from a storytelling point of view there's a disparate gap between the efficacy of the types of Q stories and I think it's very much a tonal disconnect. The link between trickster iconography and human progression is never connected, and so the episodes exist on two sides of a bipolar exchange, which is "Serious Q" versus "Comical Q".

    De Lancie can obviously do "comedic but menacing" so having the episode itself be somewhat comical is unnecessary and gutting. (See: His one appearance on DS9)

    But that reading belies the episode's actual faults – part of it is that Q as a recurring role is something that needs to be codified in a "Season Arc" and mid-season isn't necessarily the most dramatic place to bring him back. And part of it is that this episode's premise is pretty bad. They did "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely" in Shatner's pilot episode, they did Trickster God likes Napoleonic Human Warfare in Season 1 of TOS. Nothing here feels new, and therefore none of it in any way acts as proof for the necessity of TNG's existence. And there's another problem that nagged at me, too – Riker's defining character trait later on, but that has roots as early as Farpoint, is that he's easygoing, communicative, empathetic – he talks to people like it's second nature, he's excellent at poker table bluffs, negotiation, he's everyone's best friend. His "choices" for what wishes his friends would wish granted are so far off the mark as to be unbelievable for his character to have contemplated.

    The actors are certainly still finding their voices and characters, ten episodes in, but it is pleasant to see them ease into the roles. Crosby and Stewart were excellent … as was that little bit of Worf hype when Data remarked at how far he'd traversed and his future bromance Riker and friend Geordi were astonished.

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  7. Froborr
    October 12, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

    What the Crosby-Stewart here scene proves is that Crosby would have been dynamite as Troi. Yes, her face-acting isn't the greatest, but that actually makes sense for Troi–Crosby would have brought to her a sort of dissonant serenity that made her a little bit more alien, occasionally cracking into emotional scenes like the one here to keep her human.

    (And of course we KNOW Sirtis could have handled playing a warrior with a tormented past thanks to a little show called Gargoyles. I look forward to your inevitable entry on THAT.)

    Once again swapping Crosby and Sirtis is revealed as a serious contender for the worst of Roddenberry's many, many bad calls in his career.

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  8. Daru
    October 22, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    "As this pertains to Q, I'm left with the problem that he does, in fact, act like a prosecutor and a judge, and the trickster archetype doesn't quite get me what I'm trying to say."

    I can see both sides of the comments from you and Adam Josh and really enjoyed your comments too K. Jones.

    I do have a feeling of sympathy (I do admit to bias here as I admire the Trickster archetype deeply!) with the idea of Q as a Trickster, maybe not exactly as a Trickster God, but one who is playing at being a God (and not doing it very well, really) and as we see in Farpoint as a Judge. So he Judges TNG – but gradually we do see over time him moving towards judging his own kind and trying to turn the tables with them. I do admit that this is me placing my own thesis onto the show and really there is a terrible of inconsistency in the Q stories – but in general I still have real affection for even the poor ones, I guess it's the playfulness of him I love, as anything that sticks its tongue out at Star Fleet I enjoy.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    October 23, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

    It's an interesting redemptive reading to be sure, taking advantage of the show's trend towards character development-based stories as it goes along. I think the ultimate problem is, as both you and K point out, there's an irreconcilable tonal disconnect in the way Q is handled from story to story and this makes it ultimately impossible to come up with a unifying theory for how he works and what he's supposed to symbolize on anything other than an extreme case-by-case basis.

    One thing that did quite stick with me in your comment is the idea of playing at a role, and how that can be used to question the power structures one is surrounded by. It is, of course, a somewhat Dirty Pair approach to performativity, but it actually also ties into that solution to the Starfleet problem I hinted I'd been working on in my response to your comment under the Doctor Who post…

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  10. Daru
    October 24, 2014 @ 6:01 am

    Cheers Josh. Yeah there are certainly problems with the consistency in the writing as Q is presented – I would so love (!) a unified approach in his stories so his character could match my ideals. That's what we hope for with such characters that touch the flame of inspiration (or Awen in the Old Welsh) in us.

    i am very intrigued by the response you make about playing can be the tool that assists the questioning of power structures. That idea is pretty much central to all of my work and forms the bedrock to the ideas that inform my practice. I very much look forwards to hearing and discovering how performativity influences the Starfleet problem. Excited… !

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