|Remind me again why I’m wasting my time here.|
OK, at no point was this ever going to be a good idea.
The critique effectively writes itself. Neither Q nor Vash belong on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Vash was a bad idea to begin with and has never appeared in a good story. It’s silly in an incredibly awkward and forced way (granting as I do a lot of the comic dialog is good, so long as you divorce it from literally all of the rest of the context). More seriously and worryingly though, it gets extremely up in the audience’s face about forcing contrast to Star Trek: The Next Generation where contrast doesn’t need to be drawn. “I’m not Picard” says it all, frankly.
And it really does. “Q-Less”, like “Captive Pursuit” before it, is trying way, way too hard to prove to us it’s something that couldn’t be done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is something of a problem for an episode explicitly conceived of as a crossover. When I see work like this, I can’t help but get an almost overwhelming sense of adolescent self-consciousness from it and it gets tiresome. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is at its weakest when its so painfully obviously being all neurotic and anticonformist, and this episode is an absolutely prime example of that. There was no reason to bring characters and plot devices like Q and Vash to Deep Space 9 other than to jump about waving your arms saying “See? See? *This* crew handles this kind of situation *differently* than the Enterprise crew would have! Aren’t we clever?”.
No. No you’re not. Go back and come up with something that actually justifies your own existence instead of being a poser and just trying to define yourself in opposition to something.
Which brings me to the primary criticism to level against “Q-Less”, apart from it being shit. John de Lancie summed it up when he said that Q works best when he’s used to explore philosophical issues and concepts, and this episode doesn’t do any of that. It’s Q in his most obnoxiously grating Great Gazoo mode, petulantly throwing a temper tantrum like a little kid who isn’t getting what he wants and fucking with people just because he can. I know that’s a common reading of who Q is as a character, but I think it’s an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous one because of how it works to sabotage and undermine the power he can wield when he’s not used that way. And it’s especially frustrating here because, and I’m actually going to walk back a little of what I said above, there actually were ways Q could have been used on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine other than brand mascot.
As much as I disliked “Tapestry”, given how close that episode was produced to this one and given how uncannily fitting certain oversignified aspects of it were, a savvy writer could have conceivably further developed that episodes thematic elements in a different context here. OK, if we’re doing It’s a Wonderful Life, why not give Commander Sisko the chance to go back in time and save Jennifer? Or maybe even wipe out the entire Borg collective? Maybe the contrast could have been that Ben refuses the offer, being able to “anticipate” the negative consequences, if not for the universe (it’d be a tough argument to make that the universe wouldn’t be better plus a living Jennifer and minus the Borg, especially given how borderline Panglossian a lot of those “you can’t rewrite history, not one line” plots tend to be) than for himself: Hearkening back to “Emissary”, Ben might think that he’s finally made peace with his past and is ready to move on, and, in spite of how tempting Q’s offer is, all accepting it would do is bring him back to that grief-stricken place he’s ready to leave behind.
Now I’m not saying that would have been an amazing episode-Even I think that pitch has some fairly concerning conceptual issues and it’s too close to not just “Tapestry” but also “The Gift”. But my point is there were ways to use Q that weren’t this. For another idea (and given we’re going to be revisiting and dolling up ancient Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes a week from now anyway), why not go all the way back to “Encounter at Farpoint”? The whole original point of Q, after all, was as a means to get a new Star Trek to legitimize itself. It seems like a no-brainer to use him again in that same fashion, which would even have tied into certain anxieties circulating at the time. Not on the part of the audience, mind: I think after “Emissary” the case for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has already been written and shelved for most average viewers. It seems Star Trek fans and Star Trek writers are having a more difficult time coping, however.
But that’s actually fitting, because from the very beginning Q’s symbolism has tied him to some extent to Star Trek fandom and its latent skepticism. You could have him throw out all the textbook objections: How can you explore space on a space station, where’s your sense of adventure, you’re all boring cowards because you’re administrators, etc. We’ve already debunked them all, sure, but sometimes we need a textual echo. Maybe this could have been Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Chain of Command”, filling this same extradiegetic role in the season for this show that episode did for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A theatrical narrative collapse.
You could have even gone full “Farpoint” and had Judge Q try the Deep Space 9 crew for something approximating “being a grievously savage race”. let’s not forget where we are, after all. This is hallowed space. Q knows about the Prophets and the Celestial Temple to be sure-There’s a small, tight-knit community for literal gods. I doubt he’d be too happy about humans, Bajorans, Ferengi and Cardassians poking around this region of space. Imagine a confrontation between Q, Commander Sisko, Jadzia Dax, Kai Opaka and maybe even Gul Dukat akin to the one between Q, Guinan, Captain Picard and Commander Riker in “Q Who”. Are we really ready to hear the truths that lie within the Celestial Temple?
I’ve spent all this time talking about Q because frankly, Vash is a non-issue. She’s such a weak presence in this story it’s really surprising to learn she was the person it was actually written for. Even down to the frankly unpleasant and straightforwardly misogynist abuse she gets from Q and her stock “I’m a headstrong independent woman!” spiel that inspired it. It sounds for all the world like the work of an oblivious male writer trying to pay lip service to feminism without fully understanding what that means. It’s a perplexing to see something like that given Hannah Louise Shearer actually wrote this story, though maybe Robert Hewitt Wolfe didn’t do a great job adapting it to teleplay.
There’s really not a whole lot more to say about “Q-Less”. Parts of it are funny, but for all the wrong reasons. You could I suppose extrapolate my panning out to a broader critique, that Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine shouldn’t cross over in this way. But I don’t buy that line of thought: The episodes surrounding “Q-Less” are a prime example of why crossing over isn’t just a good idea, it’s inevitable. These shows share a universe very purposefully, and it’s ridiculous to try and pretend they don’t. But there are ways to demonstrate this holistically, and gimmicky showmanship like this isn’t that way.