Plot Synopsis: On their way to help suffering colonists Q intercepts the Enterprise. His purpose: to give Commander Riker power beyond imagining.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here lets us know the Enterprise is racing through the stars to aid over 500 injured colonists, but they don’t get far before Q shows up and says too bad, we’ve got business! Plot A here is Q’s temptation of Riker, and there really isn’t a plot B. Q pitches some woo about how impressed they were by humanity after Farpoint, then suddenly transports most of the crew to a nameless planet and pits them in a deadly game. This is a little clichéd but will end up being interesting. We move back to the ship for a nice little scene between Picard and Tasha, and after that the crux of the episode is revealed: a bet between Q and Picard. If Q wins and successfully tempts Riker, Picard loses his Starfleet command (ummm, ok?) but if Picard wins Q stays out of humanity’s way forever. Q tempts Riker with words, then with scenarios where he has to use his power until by the end of the episode he starts becoming corrupted by it. The corruption of Riker happens a bit quick for my taste, but the episode resolves itself in a creative and satisfying fashion.
Favorite Scenes: Q has several good zingers in this episode, all enjoyable. Virtually all of the scenes with John DeLancie and Patrick Stewart are good, and it also serves to set up the dynamic that Picard can beat Q eventually, which will happen in several subsequent episodes. The scene where Riker tries to “help” his crew mates toward the end is also enjoyable, but the best scene takes place on the fake planet between Riker and Q. The temptation scene is so good that the audience dares to believe some of it. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with Tasha later on when she said the Q only think of humans as “lowly animals” even though she is right, and it was because of the sincerity of DeLancie’s performance earlier. Everything he said was a lie, but it sounds so good you want to believe it.
Use of Cast/Characters: Marina Sirtis isn’t in this episode. DeLancie is again just a blast as Q, having tons of fun and riling everyone else up, which is probably what the first season needed more of. One of his jokes (micro-brain) is good enough that it’s reused in his next episode. His performance is excellent, and the dynamic between he and Picard works so well it’s a staple of every future Q episode. You get to see some of Picard’s wisdom in this episode, and the viewer can understand how Riker’s loyalty would increase following it. This is technically Riker’s episode and he gets lots of screen time here, and he learns a few things as well. Geordi gets some time at the end and we see more of his feelings toward Tasha, poor guy. Speaking of Tasha, there’s an interesting little tidbit here about her feelings toward Picard, but it will seem creepy after some more comments in a future episode. Worf does get some screen time, but it’s mostly to receive the first in what will be a long line of butt-whoopin’s on TNG. Data does some things, but isn’t really any more used than Worf here. Ditto for Wesley, though photos of him being impaled would be printed and circulated for years afterward by fans who hated his character. Dr. Crusher is barely in this episode.
Blu Ray Version: The planet they visit looks pretty. Also, due to the much higher clarity, when Q creates drinks for the crew on the faux-planet, you can now see they are different colors. Also, in this entire sequence Data is wearing the wrong rank pips. They’re even more visible here.
Nitpicks: The title of this episode makes no sense. Why does Worf have to be written as such an idiot here? They’ve got him charging in all by himself, way out in front of everyone else just so he can be killed. Wes is even dumber in that same scene. Wheaton said he tried to object, but in those days they wouldn’t even listen to him about where to stand on the set, let alone the character’s behavior. Frakes has a bad habit throughout most of the first season, which is tucking is hands up under his pits in a cross-armed gesture which I suppose is meant to make him seem authoritative or “in command,” instead he comes across as an arrogant douche bag. I’m gonna call it the Riker Maneuver and here’s what it looks like. It’s on full display here, though I suppose not out of place with his character’s growing arrogance in this episode. Still, keep an eye out for it in episodes preceding and following this one.
“Flim-flam man?” Couldn’t the writers have come up with something a little less hokey, or that someone under 40 would get? And finally the entire battle where Worf and Wes get whupped. There were only seven of them attacking! Yeah they had guns but they never actually used them on anyone, all of the fighting was hand-to-hand or bayonet-to-back. I give ’em even odds. Wil Wheaton reminds us they didn’t have a huge budget in season one, however this is complete crap as even when the show began they had a budget of $1.3 million per episode, and that would increase to $1.5 million by the end of the season.
Overall Impression: The Q episodes have a reputation for being really good, and while this is just a shadow of some of the amazing ones in the future it is better than most of season one. There is still a feel of the original series here, from the funky orb/snake in the beginning to the feel of the planet, but that’s OK because here you don’t mind it that much. Showing someone getting impaled on a bloody weapon is also something you just would not see in 1987 television, which shows how far they were trying to push. Themes of the corrupting influence of power are part of this episode, and not in a subtle way. Still, it’s there, and an obvious subtext is better than none. If I’m grading season one on a curve, I rate this episode 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This was the 9th episode aired, but the 10th one made. This was the first attempt at a Starfleet admiral’s uniform, and they must not have liked it because you never see it again. According to Wil Wheaton, in the beginning of this episode when Jonathan Frakes leaves a turbolift to go on the bridge the FX guys didn’t open the doors on one of the takes so he walked full-speed right into them. There was a loud crash and a muffled Frakes saying “oh $#!+” which must’ve been funny to watch indeed.
Missable/Unmissable? You could miss it, but this is one of the non-crappy episodes of season one so my recommendation is to watch it, it does have some good stuff. The next episode is a definite step down.