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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hide & Q (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

I have a confession to make. I quite like the first half of Hide & Q. Don’t get me wrong, the ending of the episode ruins any goodwill that sequence built up, and the opening section of the story isn’t exactly amazing – it’s just crafted more competently than any episode since Where No One Has Gone Before. I think part of the reason I enjoyed that first half of Hide & Q so much more than most of the recent episodes is because it accomplishes something that Star Trek: The Next Generation has been trying to do since The Naked Now, and with much more success. It manages to channel the original Star Trek.

Okay, the first half wouldn’t make an exceptional episode of the original Star Trek. It wouldn’t even make a great episode of the original Star Trek. It would, however, make a somewhat passable episode of the original Star Trek. Which is, sadly, more than enough to put it quite ahead of most of the other episodes in this first season so far.

Caught in the net…

To be fair, Hide & Q is very clearly padded. It seems to almost be two different stories mashed together in order to eat up the full forty minutes of screentime. The two are reasonably well integrated, in the same way that Q and Farpoint were integrated in Encounter at Farpoint, but Hide & Q feels like a game of two halves – with neither half strong enough to support its own full episode. The result is a story that changes gears right in the middle. It starts out as a typical “god like being plays game with mortals” plot and shifts into a “crew member becomes god” plot.

The latter is certainly the more ambitious of the two plots. It has the greatest potential rewards. After all, The Squire of Gothos is pretty much the definitive example of the “god playing with his human toys” plot, something that has never been matched over the franchise’s impressive and expansive history. The first half could never be better than that, and it doesn’t even seem to try. However, the second half has a premise that is bold and fascinating and has as much potential as the character bestowed with limitless power. Unfortunately, potential doesn’t always correlate to direct results, as we’ll come to in a moment.

An orderly Q?

Still, the first half of the story sort of works quite well, in its own way. What’s really striking about the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is how earnestly the series was attempting to emulate its direct predecessor. The second season would see the show trying to find its own voice, and producing the first legitimately great episodes of the series, but the first season was dedicated to trying to replicate familiar sixties formulas inside the framework of an eighties television show. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that it didn’t work that well, but I guess it is one of those things you have to try.

Hide & Q does offer a spin on a familiar Star Trek plot. A god-like entity kidnaps the crew and forces them to play a game for their survival, presumably for the creature’s own amusement. In my review of Encounter at Farpoint, I discussed how Q was still that familiar god-like entity, but that he was also something just a little more unique than Charlie X or Trelane. Hide & Q has the character at his most similar to those original god-like entities. He even spends most of the episode parading around in a military uniform that recalls Trelane and the episode ends with his “parents” stepping in to rebuke him.

It’s only a paper moon…

However, while the episode teases Q as merely the latest iteration of the “spoilt brat as omnipotent super-being” archetype that the original Star Trek loved so dearly, it also sets up the distinctions. The Next Generation would really allow Q to come into his own in Q Who?, a show that allowed the character to move beyond the familiar gambits of god-like beings on Star Trek and become something a bit unique. That show would also allow the show to evolve into something as well, and to cast off some of the very troubling characterisation of these early episodes. But we’ll hopefully come to that in time.

Perhaps the most charitable thing that one can say about the portrayal of Q in Hide & Q is that it sets up a number of aspects that will pay off (with interest) in Q Who? Picard and Q still have a fun dynamic, and one that almost inverts the traditional relationship Kirk had with his god-like beings. While Kirk was frequently treated like a child (and responded by throwing some seriously aggressive temper-tantrums), Picard asserts his own maturity in sharp contrast to Q’s more juvenile antics.

The show isn’t quite firing on all phasers yet…

(While I am normally reluctant to give Star Trek: Voyager too much credit, I do like that the show gave Q a character arc. Following the end of his relationship with Picard, the show has Q essentially grow up. He assumes a position of importance within the Q Continuum, settles down with his wife and raises a child. The individual episodes vary wildly in quality, but I do like that it’s a logical development from his portrayal as a spoilt child in The Next Generation.)

When Q returns to the Enterprise, Picard isn’t terrified or even that bothered by the prospect of another trial. He’s just frustrated that Q is interfering with a humanitarian mission. “Not now, dammit Q,” he laments, as if he’s ruing having to deal with a spoilt child. Picard continues to act with considerable dignity towards Q throughout the episode. Despite his obvious distaste for the alien, he remains relation and tries to negotiate a resolution that will please everybody.

More irony than you can Shake (a) speare at…

“You said you had the realisation of impossible dreams to offer us,” Picard acknowledges, tactfully and respectfully. “When this rescue is completed, I am prepared to listen carefully to whatever proposal you wish to make and subject to it being acceptable.” It’s hard to imagine Kirk being so level-headed. When Picard does finally lower himself to gambling with Q, one senses that he’s trying to meet the creature on his own level – to engage Q on his own terms – rather than being petty.

Of course, Picard also comes off as just a little arrogant when he’s dealing an alien who could wipe out the entire human race without thinking too hard. Like a lot of these first-season episodes, Picard is far too eager to get up on his high horse. The Last Outpost and Lonely Among Us were both stories about how awesome humans are, and what stupid aliens could learn from them if they stopped being stupid aliens. Picard’s attitude here isn’t quite that strong, but he’s still got quite a chip on his shoulder.

O brave new world, That has such people in't!

O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

At one point, the height of hubris, Picard decides to quote Hamlet at Q. He admits to quoting the lines out of context, and making them seem far more sincere than Shakespeare ever intended. “I know Hamlet,” he advises Q. “And what he might said with irony, I say with conviction. What a piece of work is man. How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty. In form, in moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a god. “

It’s great to hear Patrick Stewart quoting Shakespeare, but it takes some ego to compare yourself to a god, and some massive blinders to quote that section of the speech without regard to the qualification that follows. It is perfectly in character with the first season of the show, and I’ll concede that I sided a little bit with Q’s response. “Surely you don’t really see your species like that, do you?” he asks, De Lancie playing the line ambiguous enough that you suspect he’s serious.

A Data with destiny…

I doubt the scene was intended this way from the start, but it seems to foreshadow Q Who? quite a lot. There’s a wonderful irony to the idea that Picard’s refusal to admit the irony in Shakespeare’s line is what led Q to put the Enterprise in her place. Having watched the later episode, you can almost see the idea forming in Q’s mind – the notion that this arrogance is dangerous. Q is mischievous, but he is already fond of Picard – perhaps because of the Captain’s stoic response to Q’s power.

Even here, Q can tell that the arrogance on display here is dangerous. Both to the characters and to the show itself, with the chip on the Federation’s shoulder weighing down the whole show. Q Who? works so well because it pretty much demolishes the awkward complacency that dogged a lot of these early adventures, and replaced it with a sense that the universe still a vast and impossible place. In some ways, Hide & Q seems to briefly foreshadow that.

Talk about green screen work…

To be entirely fair, Hide & Q tries to balance that arrogance with a greater sense of wonder. While it’s not quite as optimistic and forward-looking as Where No One Has Gone Before, a story that suggested the universe was so vast that it will always be able to offer us the chance to further develop, Q makes it clear that he is fascinated with mankind because of their potential to develop. Not for what they are, but for what they could be.

“It’s the human future which intrigues us,” Q assures the Captain, “and should concern you most. You see, of all species, yours cannot abide stagnation. Change is at the heart of what you are. But change into what? That’s the question.” To be entirely fair, there’s still a hint of the “humans are super-special!” subtext that runs throughout The Next Generation, but it’s not as bold as some of the other examples in this first year. Humans aren’t the best-est race in the universe, but they have the capacity to continue learning and evolving.

Q’s pretty camp…

That is, the climax argues, why Riker must reject Q’s offer. Or, at least, that’s what the episode wants us to think. In order for Riker to deserve the power, it must be truly earned. As Wesley remarks when he rejects the opportunity to be aged to the prime of his life, “I just want to get there on my own.” Q protests, “But it’s easier, boy.”

The episode makes it perfectly clear that we’re supposed to agree with Wesley. In order for it to be worth anything, we must earn our development. Shortcuts. It is the best philosophical argument the climax has, but I’m not convinced. Civilisations on Earth have shared technology without each needing to develop in isolation. Why is Q offering Riker an evolutionary jump-start any different than missionaries sharing antibiotics?

Gone in a flash…

The climax of the episode sees Riker learning that he’s not ready to be all-powerful. However, it feels like a bit of a cop-out. The episode doesn’t really develop that plotline. By the time Riker has Q’s gift, the show is half-over. He makes a promise to Picard, and then sees a dead girl and immediately wants to break that promise. It’s not the most elegant of character arcs – it’s hard to think of a more conventional and predictable direction the show could have dragged it.

We then get the final sequence on the Bridge where Riker turns into an obnoxious jerk and offers everybody everything that they have ever wanted. And they all turn him down, teaching him his lesson in humility, and the importance of surviving on your own terms. It would all be incredibly heart-warming, if it wasn’t a blatant cop-out. To be entirely reasonable, Riker was never going to keep the powers in question. That is perfectly fine, as it would break the show if the First Officer was a god. The problem is that the show takes all manner of cheap short-cuts in order to reach that predetermined ending.

Klingon down!

The show asks us to sympathise with Riker by producing a dead girl on a colony that has been heavily damaged by an explosion of a methane-like gas. Seeing that and having the power to change it, what god-like being would use their power to magic the little girl back to life? We know Riker can do it, because he just did it with Worf and Wesley. It’s more than a bit convenient that the first body they pull from the wreckage happens to be the most emotionally exploitive, but it works well enough as a (very blunt) plot beat. It allows us to understand how difficult Riker’s choice must be.

The show never manages to get past that, and to convince us why Riker using his power in that instance would be a bad idea. The finale teaches us that Riker using his powers to give people gifts that they don’t want is a bad thing, but I find it highly unlike that little girl would rather be dead. Riker acts like a jerk to make it easier to dislike his gifts, but the show fails to demonstrate how resurrecting a dead child is the wrong thing to do. While Q might not be the most trustworthy character around, I doubt he gave Riker a Pet Cemetery skill set.

The episode doesn’t quite rock…

Indeed, the episode pretty much forgets about the miners once Riker has had his change of heart. There’s no indication that Riker did use his power to resurrect the girl or the colony, so it seems a bit of a cheap straw-man tactic to centre the debate around turning Wesley into a beefcake hunk, or getting Worf an imaginary debate. It’s a needless death that sparked the discussion, so it feels a little manipulative to suddenly change the topic. The question of whether Riker should use his power to save lives is fundamentally different than whether he should use it to indulge his creepy recurring fascination with Worf’s sex life (second week in a row!), and the show clumsily tries to suggest the issues are one-and-the-same.

At this point in its run, The Next Generation lacks the nerve to really tackle those sorts of issues head-on. After all, it’s tough to argue that a little girl should be dead when there’s no reason for her to be. With that in mind, it’s easy enough to see how it bungles the second-half of the story. I generally like Jonathan Frakes well enough, but he can’t really do that much with the material at hand. Frakes has a great chemistry with the rest of the cast, but I think he took a while to grow as an actor to the point where he could sustain his own episode.

When life gives you lemons…

Hide & Q is hardly the best character-centric show an actor could ask for, and Frakes seems a bit lost for a lot of its runtime. When the episode tries to convince us that Riker has gone too far, Frakes adopts this terribly obvious pose that evokes John De Lancie. It’s not even subtle. His back is arched, his arms are folded, his chin is out. It’s a clumsy decision, and it exists just in case we couldn’t tell that Riker had already gone to the dark side.

And still, despite these flaws, I still quite like the first half of the episode. It’s hard to articulate, but I think it’s the most successful of the homages to the original Star Trek contained within this first season. The blend of something historical and alien, the obviously fake world filmed on a square sound stage, the generic villains that are so bland they seem to be officially referred to as “vicious animal things”, and the god-like entity swanning around like some old-fashioned military war hero.

Captain on deck…

I argued above that this episode focuses on Q very much in the mold of the god-like beings from the original Star Trek, right down to the intervention of his parents at the last minute. There’s even some half-baked nonsense about how all this silly dress-up will offer some commentary on the human condition. “Wasn’t it your own Hartley who said, nothing reveals humanity so well as the games it plays?” he asks. “Almost right. Actually, you reveal yourselves best in how you play.” Of course, the battle reveals absolutely nothing of note, but the imagery is still striking enough to keep it interesting.

I like the design of the monsters, the surreal image of the Napoleonic uniforms (even when Picard’s not there, Q is still fixated on him) and even that nice shot where Data is revealed to really be Q. We get a nice moment of Worf declining Q’s beverage and some nice team stuff on the planet surface, with Worf prowling and Geordi scouting. All of this makes about as much sense as an episode of the third season of the original Star Trek, but it manages to avoid being actively offensive or insulting.

All set…

I know that the third season of Star Trek was hardly the high watermark of the show, given the quality of the first two seasons of the original series, but at least it wasn’t as consistently infuriating and offensive as some of these early episodes. While that year did feature some classic shows (The Enterprise Incident or The Tholian Web), it also featured a couple of merely passable entries (like Spectre of the Gun or The Savage Curtain, for example) that were still pulpy entertainment on their own terms.

The Next Generation has so far failed to really meet even that minimum criteria, and the first half of Hide & Q sees it come close enough with enough surreal imagery and camp nonsense that it’s much more entertaining that Code of Honour or Justice. All of this is somewhat undermined by the fact that Q is very clearly going to give Riker the power anyway, and the “game” seems to exist merely to eat up time in the first half of the episode. Still, you take what you can where you can, I suppose, I make no apology for my own hard-to-justify fondness for the sequence.

Still a First-class Officer?

Still a First-class Officer?

Yar is still a bit useless, though. It is a little disappointing when your Chief of Security is the first member of the away team returned home, and Yar doesn’t seem particularly stable. She seems unable to bite her tongue or to demonstrate the restraint and discipline one expects of somebody in that position. Worf, with his obsession with honour and pride, has far more reason to lose his cool, but it seems to keep happening to Yar. It also happened in Encounter at Farpoint, so it’s not as if she has no idea of where the line lies with Q.

The last time she lashed out at him, he froze her. This time he sends her to the penalty box. Do you get the sense that perhaps Q is teasing her inevitable exit from the series? Again, like the conversation about Hamlet, it’s unlikely that this irony was intentional at the time. It only reveals itself when you return to the series, aware of the shape of things still to come. Again, I can’t really credit anybody involved with the series for that touch, so it feels more like an interesting footnote than a clever bit of foreshadowing.

New Q?

New Q?

Either way, Yar is still useless. Not only does she get herself booted out of the game where you’d imagine a Tactical Officer might come in handy, she then cries about. Man, that character is all over the map. Given the original Star Trek had some… problems with gender, you’d imagine a female Chief of Security would offer the opportunity to offer something that broke out of those patterns – a strong and competent character who isn’t solely defined by her gender. Unfortunately, Yar is continually portrayed as almost emotionally unstable. I wish I could mount a convincing argument that the portrayal was not influenced by her gender.

Rather than keeping herself composed, she lashes out on the Bridge, crying and sobbing. “It is frustrating to be controlled like this!” she yells. You can tell this freaks Picard right the hell out, because he responds in an uncharacteristically sweet manner, “Don’t worry. There’s a new ship’s standing order on the Bridge. When one is in the penalty box, tears are permitted.” Then Yar sort of hits on him, I think. Which is really weird. And I have no idea what to make of it. I am trying to imagine this scene with Worf, and it is freakin’ hilarious. I really feel sorry for Crosby. She’s not the strongest actress, but the part was just a mess.

Exploiting the death of an innocent like that? It's pretty childish...

Exploiting the death of an innocent like that? It’s pretty childish…

(It’s also interesting that Troi was missing from this episode. I thought I remembered the episode, but I’d forgotten she was absent. Apparently the script was only finished three days prior to filming and featured Troi, suggesting that the character was absent because Sirtis was not available. Apparently most of her lines were given to Yar – make of that what you will, and decide for yourself if it suggests the writing team thought the female cast members were interchangeable. Still, I suppose the fact I didn’t remember her absence is a pretty damning commentary on her character back in the earliest days of the show.)

Reading back over it, it seems like I hated Hide & Q. I didn’t, really. I didn’t love it. I’m not sure – taken as a whole – I even actively liked it. The ending was terrible, and the first half had nothing to do with the second. However, I did quite like the strange battle sequences, if only because it’s the closest I think the show has come to channelling the original Star Trek in a way that works. The conversation between Riker and Q is definitely particular to The Next Generation, but the entire sequence could easily be reimagined with Kirk and Spock. It’s not enough to make the episode worthwhile, but it’s enough to stop me from damning it completely.

Looks like Picard is about to throw the book at him...

Looks like Picard is about to throw the book at him…

I thought (and I still think) that the attempt to revisit all the plot devices and archetypes of the original Star Trek represented a significant miscalculation on the part of the producers. Times change, and you can’t hope to catch the same bolt of lightning in the same bottle twice. However, my own uncertainty about the virtues of that approach aside, the first half of Hide & Q manages to channel the old show better than anything else around it. It’s certainly a step, but it seems like a step in the wrong direction. It’s a mess, it’s a little pointless, and a bit frustrating, but that’s enough to help it stand out from (if not necessarily ahead of) the pack.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

2 Responses

  1. Q episodes are automatically good, because Stewart and de Lancie just play off each other so well. The scene of them arguing in Picard’s Ready Room was the highlight of the episode. Everything else about the episode was weak, or even downright bad. But those two elevated it.

    • Fair point. They work well together.

      That said, I do love the whole Savage Curtain thing, even if the second half is clumsy and terribly handled.

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