|“Yep. Looks like a soundstage to me, Commander.”|
A lot of times on television shows, particularly very expensive and VFX heavy science fiction shows such as this one, certain concessions must be made to financing. Sometimes you’re forced to shoot an entire episode on pre-existing sets or re-use old special effects shots in order to make the cut that week on time and on budget. Star Trek of the Long 1980s tends to be pretty good at this: Just recently, Star Trek: The Next Generation used a bottle show brief as an opportunity to turn “Lonely Among Us” into a minor classic, and six years later Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, facing a similar mandate, will take “Duet” and turn it into an unmitigated classic.
And then there’s “Hide and Q”.
I won’t say “Hide and Q” only exists to re-use the effect for Q’s force field from “Encounter at Farpoint”, but I will say it’s odd how a character who carries such weight and gravity suddenly reappears only ten episodes after his debut in a story that seems to be little more than a pointless (and far inferior) retread of his previous appearance. Because it’s really difficult to make the case that this isn’t what “Hide and Q” is: Q shows up, captures the Enterprise and puts the crew through a series of tests in order to determine whether or not humans are worthy of being a spacefaring civilization. The reason given for why Q is back is apparently because his people, while no longer worried humanity is a threat to itself and others, might now progress to such a level that their power might come to rival that of their own, and would like to test to see if humans are responsible enough to wield such abilities. But this amounts to little more than a diegetic explanation of the symbolic power Q already had: Q was already a manner of god and the issue at stake was *always* whether Star Trek: The Next Generation was deserving of that title and honour. That’s what it means to be a utopian ideal: You become a role model and idol others try to take into themselves.
Furthermore, this not only adds nothing to Q’s symbolic power, it actually does measurable harm to his efficacy as a character. Although Q was always going to be a reoccurring foil for the crew, from this point onwards, there are going to be two kinds of stories that feature him: The first kind are stories like “Encounter at Farpoint” that actually recognise the potential metatextual challenge Q can offer the series that force Star Trek to prove it’s capable of living up to the ideals it claims to embody, and furthermore, that those ideals are ones worth holding on to. The second, and regrettably far more common, type of story is the one where Q becomes, in the words of John de Lancie himself, Captain Picard’s (or Sisko’s, or Janeway’s, but that’s another couple of books) “wacky sitcom uncle” who happens to be omnipotent. And while “Hide and Q” isn’t quite in that camp just yet (we’ll have to wait until the third season for the transition to officially take place), it does cheapen Q as a character and opens the door for that to happen down the road.
The damning scene is at the end, where Q is forcibly called back by his people for his petulant interference in humanity’s affairs. It leaves just an awful taste in the mouth: If there was ever any hope Q would become something other than a second-rate pallet swap of Trelane from “The Squire of Gothos”, it’s gone now. The best redemptive reading I could come up with is that this is the moment where Star Trek: The Next Generation proves its own worthiness as a utopian ideal by mantling its own god in the manner we would do to it, as mirrored in Riker’s brief obtaining of Q powers. The idea perhaps being that if Star Trek: The Next Generation is to be a god, it will be an egalitarian god of the people that will have no such need for displays of authoritarian power structures or the fetishization of the Western test drive.
There is, at least, one truly good scene in the ready room that could support this where Q chides Picard for “not knowing [his] own library”, asking if he truly believes Hamlet’s speech describes the kind of beings humans are, to which Picard says he hopes humans might someday become that way. And while that one scene does reaffirm the show’s commitment to self-improvement, the problem at hand remains that Star Trek: The Next Generation still doesn’t have the right to that kind of power or presumptuousness yet. There have been good episodes so far, yes, but most of them have had their share of rocky and questionable aspects and the residual stench of “The Naked Now”, “Code of Honor” and “Justice” still lingers. It’s going to take a lot more to make us forget about all of that. This trial is far, far from over: Star Trek: The Next Generation hasn’t been given a not guilty verdict, it’s been placed on probation.
Pretty much everything else that goes wrong with “Hide and Q” can be chalked up to production tribulations, namely the fact Marina Sirtis wasn’t available this week. In fact, possibly the only good thing “Hide and Q” provides is definitive proof of how crucial Sirtis really was to this show: As much fuss as has been made about Deanna Troi’s supposed vestigial role in the first season, the moment she’s not there things go completely to hell. There’s a handwavy explanation for why Troi’s not around painfully obviously tacked onto the teaser, her absence drives a noticeable wrench into the proceedings and just throws everyone’s dynamic totally out of whack. Troi initially had a lot of lines in the original script, and Marina’s unavailability necessitated they either get cut or shifted onto other characters, so we get a few people once again acting blatantly out of character. The person this affects the most severely is, naturally, Tasha Yar, who gets the brunt of Troi’s scenes and lines.
I’m not sure how much of Tasha’s part here was supposed to be hers and how much was Deanna’s, but I’m going to speculate the more-than-a-little uncomfortable scene where she emotionally lashes out at Q, gets sent to the penalty box and then bursts into tears to get comforted by Captain Picard was probably intended for Troi. This was ’round about the time the writers decided Tasha was too hard to write for and it was better to have her do nothing at all than risk derailing the show by trying to cater to her, so I’d be reasonably willing to bet the first draft had her down on the planet playing kick-the-can with Worf and the pig dudes. And anyway, the scene just makes more sense with Troi: I mean it doesn’t work a whole lot better, but you could at least see how someone could think a person who spends all her time dealing with other people’s emotions might have problems working through her own.
The fact that the writer seemed to think Deanna and Tasha were interchangeable touches on a few other truths, however. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s a sign that Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s staff writers really don’t know what the hell they’re doing and ten weeks in have no better handle on their characters than they did in pre-production, a supposition that is duly backed up by the fact the entire production team walks out by the end of the season. But secondly, it’s another indication of where Denise Crosby’s talents really lay. Because she and Patrick Stewart really do make that scene work-I mean, Crosby’s absolutely no longer playing the part she was given, she hasn’t been since “The Naked Now”, but that kind of tender, flustered emotion is right up her alley. And Stewart plays off of her quite well, making the scene as sweet to see acted out as it is cringe-inducing on paper.
Tasha also gets one other decent scene, once again with Geordi. LeVar Burton is one of the few people this week who gets to play someone we recognise, and it’s hard not to smile when Q!Riker gives him his sight back long enough to see the bridge and his friends and to tell Tasha “you’re even more beautiful than I had imagined”. That scene was written for Tasha, and I shall carry on believing that no matter what any of you tell me. It’s a *lovely* extension of the romance that’s been blossoming between their characters over the past nine weeks, a line that it actually makes sense for Geordi to say and is entirely in keeping with the character established in “Encounter at Farpoint”. Maddeningly, Denise once again throws the scene, completely failing to react to LeVar or even visibly emote: Given everyone else in this cast is so intensely and delightfully visual, it’s so frustrating to see her continually drop the ball like this.
And that’s about as much as I have to say about “Hide and Q”. Like the scene with Geordi and Tasha, it’s aggravating to see Star Trek: The Next Generation stumble forward, consistently handicapping itself as much as it is actually coming into its own.