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Star Trek: Voyager – Q2 (Review)

Q2 is an episode very much in keeping with the ethos of Star Trek: Voyager, particularly at this point in its run.

It isn’t just the strange nostalgia that permeates the episode, opening with an extended oral presentation from Icheb on the heroic exploits of James Tiberius Kirk from the original Star Trek and extending through to the unnecessary return of a beloved recurring guest character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nor is it the awkwardness with which Q2 affects a half-hearted compromise in its final act, with the series paying lip service to the fact that its omnipotent (and mostly friendly) guest star could get the crew home with a click of his fingers, while refusing to do that because it would break the series.

“Q2 ratings are way up!”

The essential Voyager-ness at the heart of Q2 is much more profound than all of that. It has to do with how the series treats is returning guest star. Q has been a part of the Star Trek universe dating back to Encounter at Farpoint. John de Lancie has been a recurring guest star on the franchise for thirteen-and-a-half years. Although de Lancie has aged relatively well, and although suspension of belief easily allows for it, even Q himself seems much older between his first and last appearances in the television franchise.

However, Q2 takes a character who was introduced as an immortal and all-powerful trickster god in The Next Generation, and transform him into a stressed middle-aged parent by the end of Voyager. This is a very Voyager approach to characterisation and development. It is how the series has approach many of its characters. In Caretaker, Chakotay was a rebel, Paris as a rogue, and Neelix was a free-wheeling trader; within the show’s first season, all of those rough edges have been filed off. The decision to do that with a character who is effectively a trickster god speaks a lot to the central philosophy of Voyager.

Not kidding around.

The plot of Q2 is fairly rote, propped up by shameless nostalgia. The episode seems quite aware of this, opening with a (quite literally) droning monologue from Icheb extolling the virtues of James Tiberius Kirk. “Though it was a blatant violation of the Prime Directive, Kirk saved the Pelosians from extinction, just as he had the Baezians and the Chenari many years earlier,” Icheb states. “Finally, in the year 2270, Kirk completed his historic five year mission and one of the greatest chapters in Starfleet history came to a close.” Even within the teaser, the petulant Junior acknowledges that Kirk has “pizzazz.”

This is not the first time that Voyager has paused to venerate the iconic lead from the original Star Trek. Janeways spoke romantically about Kirk’s frontier (and his freedom) to Kim in Flashback. Tuvok alluded to Requiem for Methuselah in Concerning Flight. Indeed, Friendship One tries to very awkwardly compare Kirk and Janeway. “You’ve made first contact with more species than any captain since James Kirk,” Hendricks boasts of his former pupil during a mission briefing, which feels like Voyager trying to pat itself on the back.

Whole new meaning to “godson.”

After all, a large part of the original intent of Voyager had been to enable the Star Trek franchise to reconnect with the spirit and ideals of the original sixties television series. This was apparent from any number of early narrative choices; the particularly heavy “space western” stylings of Caretaker, the sixties fashions of Time and Again, the spectre of the Second World War in Phage, the haunting atomic horror in Jetrel, the nostalgic anti-communist paranoia of Cathexis, the wacky sixties pseudo-science of Faces. However, it was also reflected in the show’s basic setting and episodic structure; the emphasis on a new vast frontier.

It feels appropriate that this nostalgia should come back into focus as Voyager approaches the finish line, both as a means of trying the frame the show’s own legacy before the opportunity slips from its grasp and also as an expression of its deep-seated anxieties about the future. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise was less than half-a-year away from launch at this point. A lot of attention was focused on the show that would make a big deal of being about “Kirk’s childhood hero.” As a result, the opening sequence of Q2 feels like an effort by Voyager to assert its own claim to that legacy.

“That’s my Q!”

Similarly, bringing the character of Q back feels like a similarly cynical ploy. Q last appeared in The Q and the Grey during the third season, which was an ill-judged misfire that seemed to scorch the earth around the character; it began as a creepy stalkerish romantic comedy before evolving into an extended (and arbitrary) piece of Civil War cosplay. More than that, it existed in a broader context of Voyager awkwardly and desperately asserting its connection to The Next Generation; the return of the Ferengi from The Price in False Profits, the appearance of the Borg in Blood Fever, the Cardassian warhead in Dreadnought.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Q2 is that it is better than The Q and the Grey. It isn’t a completely ill-judged mess. It is lifeless and generic, familiar and heavy-handed. As with a lot of Voyager episodes, particularly at this point in the run, Q2 is largely derivative. It seems like a number of ideas from earlier franchise installments stitched together to form a single forty-five minute episode of television, but without anything new or interesting to say about the ideas that it is borrowing.

They grow up so fast.

Discussing the episode with Cinefantastique, showrunner Kenneth Biller explained that Q2 was a story that he had been trying to tell for a very long time:

I had pitched a story where this child comes back as a rambunctious adolescent that is very dangerous and the Continuum can’t control, which actually has a lot of contemporary relevance. Although the episode is light and very funny, it has serious undertones, which have to do with youth violence. Who is responsible for the behaviour of adolescents? There are movements in places around the country to hold parents accountable for crimes that their children commit. There is a lot of comedy in the episode, but it has serious subtext and serious theme, which has to do with what makes children act out, and what makes them feel that they need to do that.

This isn’t a bad idea, particularly in context. After all, there was a palpable anxiety about the behaviour of children at the turn of the millennium.

Just bubbling over.

Parents have always worried about their children. This is part of the responsibility of being a parent. There is a long and rich tradition of moral panics; kids smoking marijuana, kids listening to rock and roll, kids listening to rock music, kids converting to satanism, kids playing video games. There is nothing new about this. However, there were a number of very public causes of concern about children and teenagers during the nineties. The early part of the decade witnessed intense media fascination with gang violence involving young men, particularly in California in general and Los Angeles in particular.

The Star Trek franchise had been informed by this anxiety. There were shades of it in Suddenly Human and The Abandoned, stories about young men fighting violent impulses inside themselves – whether cultural or biological. Voyager was particularly engaged with this anxiety, informing the characterisation of the Kazon. This was a theme in which Biller himself had demonstrated an interest. Michael Piller had instructed Kenneth Biller to develop the Kazon in the early second season, and Biller had done that Initiations by focusing on a young Kazon tasked with ritual violence to assert his place in his sect.

“Kids these eons…”

The emphasis had shifted somewhat by the tail end of the decade. Anxieties about out-of-control children took a more sinister form with the brutal mass murder committed at Columbine High School in April 1999. The shooting spree led to the deaths of fifteen people, including the two perpetrators. To be clear, these sorts of incidents did not begin with Columbine, but that mass shooting made an indelible impact. It sparked a new wave of moral panics around things like video games, and generated considerable attention. It brought a lot of tensions and fears about the younger generation to the surface.

Q2 avoids leaning too heavily into these sorts of fears, despite the fact that Junior is basically an omnipotent spoiled brat. Junior can start wars between neighbouring species for his amusement and hurl the crew into the path of the Borg Collective, but none of this is presented as particularly horrific. Voyager has done horror before, in episodes like Macrocosm or Darkling, and it is very clear that Q2 is leaning towards goofy comedy. Even the joke about removing Neelix’s mouth is played as a broad joke, rather than capturing any of the nightmare fuel of the similar tantrum in Charlie X.

“He said he was just giving the fans what they wanted.”

This may be the best approach to take. To give Voyager the credit that it deserves, the series was capable of dealing with heavy and heady subject matter. Notably, some of the series’ best episodes – Remember, Living Witness and Memorial – were explicitly about the legacy of the Holocaust. It is entirely possible that Voyager could do a story about dangerous and out-of-control teens that captured the anxiety rippling through modern culture. However, the series’ spectacular difficulty in dealing with those themes with the Kazon in episodes like Manoeuvres or Alliances, it might have been a good idea to keep it light.

As such, Q2 goes broad. Junior is a spoiled kid with intense privilege, who has simply never been disciplined and never had anybody tell him “no.” It is a comfortably upper class depiction of out-of-control youth; Q2 suggests that the biggest problem with Junior is that he doesn’t respect his elders, that he lacks a work ethic, that he believes the world exists to keep him amused, and that he has no impulse-control. Q2 feels very much like it was written by a parent with first-hand experience dealing with that level of petulance, the passive-aggression and unruliness. Junior isn’t a threat to anyone, he is just annoying.

Father from home.

Even when Junior sparks an interstellar war, the stakes of Q2 are kept remarkably low-key. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it avoids actively steering Q2 into uncomfortable waters. In presenting its central character as tantrum-throwing trust-fund kid being sent to boarding school, Q2 avoids any of the queasy racial politics that affected the series’ other “children-at-risk” metaphors. However, the result of this approach is that Q2 feels rather abstract and disengaged. While Kenneth Biller claims that Q2 is “about” children with behavioural difficulties, it only seems to be about children with incredible privilege.

This sense of looseness is reinforced by the decision to cast Q2 with Keegan de Lancie. Keegan is the son of John de Lancie, meaning that the father-son duo on-screen is played by a real-life father-son duo. Notably, Keegan had demonstrated an interest in becoming an actor like his father, amassing a short but notable filmography by the age of eighteen that included appearances on The Drew Carey Show and Ally McBeal. Notably, his appearance in Q2 would be his last on-screen credit.

This is actually the State Department’s entrance exam.

According to his father, Keegan went on to enjoy a career outside of acting that has given him a great deal of satisfaction:

I think that he’s eminently qualified to do what he’s doing. He’s in the state department – he’s an Arab expert, a Middle East expert. You know, there’s all of that. I think it’s an important job, I think it actually helps people in a very concrete sort of way, as opposed to helping people in an escapist sort of way. And I think his talents are much better used in that area. You know, the acting world is not a particularly happy experience for the vast majority of actors. The irony is that most actors knew at the age of 14 that they wanted to be actors, and they get to do it not nearly as much as they’d like to – while people who don’t have any clue as to what they want to do at the age of 25 are doing whatever they’re doing every day. I’m delighted that both of my sons are in other fields, I think that they will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their lives.

It is a very sweet story, and an interesting footnote in the history of Voyager. (Indeed, Voyager had a surprisingly large impact on American politics.)

Food for thought.

To be fair to Keegan de Lancie, he is not especially bad in Q2. Casting young actors is difficult, and it is very hard to find a child or teenage performer who is capable of delivering the kind of performance that Star Trek needs. Voyager was relatively lucky with the casting of Scarlett Pomers as Naomi Wildman. There have been a couple of episodes that have showcased how difficult it is to find these actors and get them on the show; notably Collective. Keegan de Lancie does little to establish himself as a notable or breakout performer, but he largely works.

However, the presence of the father-son duo in Q2 reinforces the episode’s lighter sensibility. As much as Kenneth Biller might argue that Q2 is intended as a statement on anxieties about children at the turn of the millennium, the episode’s decision to play John and Keegan de Lancie off one another – and to emphasise their connections in pre-broadcast publicity – suggests that Q2 is simply an opportunity to bring back an old friend for hijinks, one last time before the curtain drops. Of course he can bring his son along.

“Yes we Nausicaan!”

This is reflected in the manner in which Q2 feels like a rehash and reheat of other better stories. The opening half of the episode owes a lot to the structure of Death Wish, which with an energetic focus on Q’s powers before settling into the story that they want to tell. The first half of Q2 is an excuse for a loose chain of jokes built around Junior’s “unlimited control of space, matter and time”, with an emphasis on his immaturity. He turns Engineering into a rave. He turns Astrometrics into a home theatre system. He seal’s Neelix’s mouth shut.

It’s a rat-tat-tat structure that is designed to delay the need to actually tell a story using these characters. Death Wish had Q and Quinn engaged in a game across the entirety of time and space as they chased after one another, before settling into an allegory for euthanasia. The Q and the Grey adopted a similar structure, its first half built around a variety of jokes about Q’s attempted seduction of Janeway, before settling into an awkward retread of QPid. It is an approach that obviously and cynically feels like stalling, as if Q2 wants to eat up as much screentime as possible before playing its hand.

Getting a sense of Déjà Q.

It does not help matters that Q2 settles into a fairly banal and generic story. After acting out once too often, Q decides to strip Junior of his powers and banish him to the mortal plane. “You have one week to change your ways,” Q taunts his son. “We’ve temporarily relieved you of your powers, to ensure that you’re on your best behaviour with the captain.” As such, the actual plot of Q2 is a loose retread of Déjà Q, which feels appropriate given that Déjà Q was one of the defining Q-centric stories on The Next Generation.

The character arcs of Q2 and Déjà Q are basically identical. An omnipotent alien is forced to become human and stranded on a ship populated by characters that they have previously antagonised; once there, they befriend a naive (but well-intentioned) artificial (or cybernetic) life form who is hurt as a result of their own self-centred antics. Inevitably, this teaches the banished alien the value of self-sacrifice and decency, which leads to the restoration of their power. Q2 even features a subplot involving a stolen shuttle craft. (Although it remains very strange that Janeway allows Junior to keep wearing his uniform.)

Icheb’s not dead.

Indeed, in keeping with the broader trend of the seventh season of Voyager, it should be noted that Déjà Q is very much an archetypal Star Trek story. It is the story of an alien that learns the value of being human, the broad humanist fable that the franchise loves so much. Characters like Data and Seven of Nine fold this arc into their core character. Q2 acknowledges as much in a conversation between Janeway and Q. “It’s taken years for Seven to become an individual,” Janeway protests. “You’re asking me to change your son in one week?” Of course, Seven was a regular. Junior is a guest star. A week will be enough time.

There is something very lazy about this. As with other seventh season episodes like Drive or The Void, there is a sense in which the primary preoccupation of the seventh season of Voyager is to run through a big checklist of Star Trek clichés and thematic beats. The seventh season of Voyager spends a lot of time playing lip service to the broad ideals of Star Trek, and the decision to structure Q2 as a humanist fairy tale about an alien who becomes a better person when transformed into a lowly human is part of that. However, there’s no depth or nuance. There is no sophistication.

Flying finish.

More than that, there are dozens of other stories that Voyager could easily be telling to meaningfully develop these core Star Trek themes. The late nineties were a very turbulent time, and there were a host of important issues at play, on which Voyager could meaningfully focus the franchise’s humanism and idealism. Gay rights were a hot-button issue during the nineties, but the Star Trek franchise was (mostly) shamefully silent on the matter when the movement desperately needed popular support. As such, it seems incredibly cynical for Voyager to try to appeal to classic Star Trek values in such a superficial way.

This isn’t a hypothetical. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had repeatedly and radically expanded the scope of the franchise to tell provocative and challenging narratives about big ideas; the trauma of recovery in It’s Only a Paper Moon, the fear and violence that accompanies homophobia in Chimera, the challenges in maintaining an idealistic society amid a highly political world in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges. All of these were big and provocative ideas, so retreating to the shallow humanism of a half-assed Déjà Q retread feels like cynical cowardice.

Boo, Q!

That said, it is hard to be too critical of Q2. Lightness seems built into the episode. Indeed, there’s something endearing in the episode’s rather tight focus and very straightforward world view. As mentioned, the episode largely steers clear of any cultural or social commentary about those deep-seated anxieties about out-of-control children, which may be for the best given that Voyager could be quite reactionary in how it approached such issues; consider its handling of rape accusations in Retrospect, or of immigration in Displaced, or of refugees in Day of Honour.

Q2 never argues that there are cultural reasons for Junior’s anti-social tendency. There is no larger context for his behaviour. Instead, Q2 contends that Junior’s issues come from his strained relationship with his father. Q hasn’t been paying enough attention to Junior, and so Junior is acting out as a way of expressing his frustration. Notably, Q’s first impulse when Junior is forced to take “a little vacation from the Continuum” is to offload him to Janeway and disappear. The obvious implication is that Q would rather spend time with the Continuum than with Junior.

He’s assaying an essay.

Although time is obviously a relative construct for the Q, even when Q takes Janeway’s advice that he should be “spending time with [Junior]”, the episode makes it very clear that Q never really tries. Q and Junior are gone together for a single scene within the episode, and “less than ten minutes” from Janeway’s perspective. While Q protests that “in Q time [they] spent years together”, it’s worth noting that the Q are functionally immortal. Years do not mean the same thing to an immortal omnipotent being as they would to a human. Notably, Junior looks exactly the same age when he reappears.

Even from the perspective of the Q Continuum, the pair are gone so briefly that Q can drop right back into the same conversation with Janeway. “You’re a genius,” he tells Janeway after she suggests spending time together, disappearing with a click of his fingers. Reappearing in her bathtub after his failed attempt to connect with Junior, he jumps right back into that same conversation, “I take it back. You’re not a genius.” Q may argue that he spent years of quality time with his son, but the truth is that their time together was an ellipsis. Naturally, Q takes the next opportunity offload Junior on to Janeway, again.

Room with a Q.

Even Janeway hones in on the issues between Q and Junior. Preparing an essay on the history of the Q Continuum, Junior presents his findings to Janeway and his father. Q cannot even feign interest in his son’s work. “Oh, it’s very nice,” Q remarks. “I especially liked the part about the Continuum.” Janeway responds, “The entire essay was about the Continuum.” She advises Q, “He worked so hard on that paper, the least you could have done was tell him you were proud of him.” Q explains, in a matter-of-fact manner, “But I’m not.”

This is a very old-fashioned approach to the concept of problem children – the stubborn insistence that there is rarely a problem with a child that can’t be blamed on the parent. Junior’s temper tantrums are simply a result of Q’s lack of interest. Indeed, Q’s big arc in the episode is learning that he needs to stand up and advocate for Junior, siding with Junior against the Continuum and even risking his membership of the Continuum to protect his child. It is a very simplistic resolution to the arc, suggesting that all a parent needs to do is love their child.

Getting rave reviews.

Of course, there are some minor complications with this. Most notably, the suggestion that Junior is desperately yearning for parental affection makes his mother’s absence particularly glaring. The episode offers a brief explanation for her complete absence, with Q explaining, “She’s been so humiliated by his antics she’s disowned him. She’s blamed me for everything.” This is rather awkward, as it tends to give Q himself something of a pass for his complete lack of interest in his son’s development. Q might be emotionally absent from his son’s life, but at least he’s (more) physically present than the boy’s mother.

One of the more interesting aspects of Junior is the way in which the character can be read as an incredibly cynical metaphor for Voyager itself. There is a sense of knowing self-parody in the opening stretch of the episode, as Junior indulges all of his juvenile whims. Junior is incredibly frustrated with the standard tropes of Star Trek storytelling, complaining to Janeway, “Scan, scan, scan. That’s all you people ever do. I’ve been through every deck on this ship, and do you know what I’ve seen? Bipeds pushing buttons. Bipeds replacing relays. Bipeds running diagnostics. When are you going to do something interesting?”

Plagiarising by their rules.

Naturally, Junior’s idea of “something interesting” is juvenile and crass. It’s also revealing – and perhaps damning – that his idea of “something interesting” feels like a heightened spoof of Voyager‘s approach to storytelling. On a simple and superficial level, Junior’s attention span is ridiculously short, leading him to very quickly burn through ideas and lose interest in whatever is happening. So Junior cycles through ideas without any real attention or focus, recalling the manner in which Voyager episodes like Alter Ego or Worst Case Scenario or Demon just collapse into sequences of “something” happening, without any singular thread.

More than that, Junior’s idea of “something interesting” reflects the worst impulses of this era of Star Trek. He sneaks into the Cargo Bay and strips Seven of Nine naked, leering at her from the corner of the room like a horny teenage boy. Is this treatment of Seven of Nine any less crass than how Voyager has treated the character, putting her in a skintight catsuit at the end of The Gift and frequently reducing her to a sex object for cheap thrills (and cynical promos) for episodes like Revulsion or Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy? Later on, his powers removed, he even goads her, “Can I see you naked again?”

Naked pandering.

Similarly, Junior turns Engineering into a rave, with beautiful (and scantily clad) women dancing on lighting pads. “One dance, B’Elanna, that’s all I ask,” he insists. “One dance.” The sequence, oddly enough, prefigures the butterfly dancers on Rigel X in Broken Bow, the Enterprise pilot. It isn’t quite as crass as the decontamination scenes, a bizarre recurring element of Enterprise effectively summarised by Boom Baumgartner:

If you’ve never seen Enterprise, you’re probably wondering why they are having a super serious conversation about rank while rubbing gel all over each other in a suspiciously erotic fashion. Aside from exciting teenage trek nerds, it’s because they are going through decontamination, which apparently involves skimpy clothing and lots of sexual tension. And this needs to happen every time they go off planet.

But whatever. It’s hot…

.. and utterly pointless.

So, here’s the deal with decon: it must always involve at least one female, and one male dressed in underwear (though it seems that bras are optional in T’Pol’s case) rubbing each other all over with gel in a very dimly lit room. You know… pretty much most of our fantasies.

It should be noted that Enterprise eventually reached the point of self-parody in A Night in Sickbay, including a sexy massage of Archer’s pet dog. However, this only served to emphasise the juvenile pandering brand of sexualisation on display in episodes like Sleeping Dogs or Bounty. Junior would approve. To a certain extent, as a young man who looks to be in his late teens (Keegan de Lancie was sixteen during filming), Junior is the key demographic for UPN.

Knowing your core audience.

It is no surprise that Junior insists that the crew pander to him in the way that Voyager has transparently pandered to that demographic. As with Tsunkatse, there is a sense of self-awareness to this, as if the writing staff are keenly aware of this potential reading of the episode; a fickle and immature young man who holds the fate of the crew in his hands. Producers like Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have both strenuously denied that decisions like crossing over with WWE or putting Seven of Nine in that ridiculous cat suit were the result of network directives to pander to that audience, but it still haunts the series.

Even outside of his very juvenile idea of sexuality, it is revealing that Junior turns astrometrics into his own private home cinema system, where he can watch kick-ass space battles on a gigantic screen in a comfortable chair. (“Ah! Excellent manoeuvre!”) Again, there’s a sense of some internal commentary here. One of Brannon Braga’s big innovations on Voyager was to consciously push televisual Star Trek towards a blockbuster aesthetic, with epic high-stakes two-parters like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, or The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

“Are you sure this is technically an Imax screen?”

To be fair to Braga, a lot of these blockbuster episodes rank among the best episodes of Voyager ever produced, and remain the series’ most lasting contribution to the Star Trek franchise as a whole. While spectacle was a large part of why these stories worked, they were also often well-constructed and occasionally even featured solid characterisation and thematic development. At the same time, there were a lot of Voyager episodes that seemed cynically constructed to feature space battles and action sequences simply to engage that hypothetical young male audience; MacrocosmThirty Days, Dragon’s Teeth.

Q2 leans into this reading when Junior decides to pit the ship against the Borg Collective for his own amusement. The use of the Borg in Q2 is perhaps the nadir of their appearances in the larger Star Trek canon. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Borg have played a minor role in an episode of Voyager; the final-act menace in Drone, appearing at the climax of Child’s Play to collect Icheb as a sacrificial offering. There are ways to use small dashes of the Borg to provide a sense of flavour and even escalate their threat; their ominous introduction in The Neutral Zone, the threat of their arrival in Evolution.

The next phaser.

However, Q2 reduces the Borg Collective to a bunch of generic antagonists and then to the butt of a joke. Bored, Junior decides to pit the ship and crew against three Borg Cubes. This should be a source of panic. After all, a single Borg Cube was able to cut to the heart of the Federation in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. Even in Star Trek: First Contact and Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, the Borg were presented as a credible threat. Instead, when Janeway arrives on the bridge to find three Borg Cubes chasing Voyager, they are a mild annoyance.

Janeway doesn’t seem particularly stressed or worried about the threat to her ship and crew. “We’ve defeated the Borg before,” she states. “We’ll do it again.” The sequence follows the standard beats of a Borg episode as established in Q Who? The Borg pursue the ship, overwhelm the defenses, and beam on board. The rhythms are so familiar as to be tired. The actions feel almost like schtick rather than threat. Tuvok pulls out a phaser and shoots one of the drones, while another brandishes a little buzzsaw at Chakotay. This should be terrifying, but it isn’t. It is just sad. This is routine. This is formula. This is expected.

There’s a joke about a wooden performance in here, but it’s just too mean.

Again, Junior feels like the worst and most juvenile impulses of Voyager given form, whether intentionally or otherwise. Voyager is a show that could never resist the allure of the Borg as an antagonist, understanding that they are perhaps the most iconic antagonists of the larger Berman era. Writer Christie Golden acknowledged that Voyager had made it hard to take the Borg seriously as a threat when she tried to later use them in the novel Homecoming:

I think the Borg did risk losing their “teeth” because of overexposure. In the earlier Next Gen episodes and in First Contact, they were really scary in large part because they were so mysterious. Anything that loses its mystery loses part of its fear, and I don’t see how we could have had any Borg episodes without some of the mystery wearing off. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t really frightening. I went back to earlier Next Gen episodes and First Contact to rediscover their danger and fear. I even address in the book that fact that Janeway and crew are so used to the Borg they have forgotten how genuinely terrifying they can be. I have put a fresh twist on the Borg in this book and I hope have made them again a chilling threat, because I wanted to recapture the horror of what they represent.

There is a sense in which Junior’s use of the Borg in Q2 can be seen as a blatant self-parody of the way in which Voyager itself treated the cybernetic menace, bringing them in to spark some excitement whenever interest was flagging. Sometimes (Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II) this worked well, and sometimes (Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II) it did not.

They certainly rose to the occasion.

When Q does show up to stop this grotesque sideshow, the sequence is played as something akin to a childish prank, as if Q caught his son with the hand in the cookie jar rather than potentially unleashing a dangerous threat. Q was very poetic about the threat that the Borg posed in Q Who?, but in Q2 he is just a frustrated father yelling at his son for messing with his record collection. “If the Continuum’s told you once, they’ve told you a thousand times. Don’t provoke the Borg!” There’s no sense of fear in Q’s voice – why would there be? he is omnipotent – just exhaustion.

As with a lot of Q2, there is a question of both how knowing this self-parody is and whether that self-awareness matters in any real sense. It might be good for Voyager to acknowledge the crass objectification of Jeri Ryan or the cynical negation of any threat posed by the Borg, but it would be better for Voyager to actually do anything about either of these two problems. After all, Human Error had suggested the possibility of allowing the character of Seven of Nine to evolve, only to retreat from it almost immediately. As such, the willingness of the show to mock its own treatment of Ryan can seem extremely cynical.

The studio really took a bath on this one.

Still, there is something evocative in the idea of Junior as a stand-in for Voyager, particularly in the context of his relationship with Q. Junior is a child who has been abandoned by his parent, and left to amuse himself without any real guidance or oversight. Voyager might have felt the same way. The show was launched as the flagship of UPN, but very quickly found itself abandoned and overlooked. After a fight over Star Trek: Generations, creator Michael Piller left half way through the first season to make Legend, then came back in the second season before being ousted again in a writing staff coup.

Another creator, Jeri Taylor, stepped down at the end of the fourth season. The day-to-day running of the show fell to the very young (and under-qualified) writer Brannon Braga. Meanwhile, ratings were falling. The conversation was shifting. Following a big publicity bump around the thirtieth anniversary of the franchise, the media narrative of the Star Trek franchise became one of decline. UPN’s interests were shifting away from Star Trek and towards other audiences with the success of WWE, leaving Voyager feeling like an unwelcome stepchild at its own network.

You gotta be kidding.

In this context, the episode title in not simply a pun on the fact that the story features a second Q. After all, both True Q and Death Wish were effectively Q double-handers. It is also an allusion to the frequent abbreviation of “Second Quarter”, particularly as it applies to the tradition of measuring television ratings. Notably, Q2 aired in early April 2001, which also makes it the first episode of the season broadcast during the “Second Quarter.” It almost feels as if Junior is aware of the fact that he is in a television show, even if he has miscalculated and deployed all the trappings of a Sweeps episode a few weeks early.

Even ignoring the broader challenges facing the Star Trek franchise as a whole, producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had both effectively abandoned Voyager to focus on the development of Enterprise. The final season of Voyager was being run by Kenneth Biller, who had only joined the franchise in the first season of Voyager and who had even parted ways in the early sixth season following the hiring of Ronald D. Moore. Voyager was winding down and coming to an end, but it felt like a lot of the attention and oxygen was going to the launch of Enterprise rather than the end of Voyager.

Dangling the opportunity.

After all, there had been almost eight months between the end of The Next Generation with All Good Things… and the launch of Voyager with Caretaker. More than that, the cast and crew of The Next Generation were being elevated to cinematic standard bearers for the franchise with Generations, which would be released between those two landmarks. In contrast, there was a sense that the final season of Voyager was being slowly shuffled off stage to make room for its younger and hipper replacement. There would be only four months between Endgame and Broken Bow. There would be no movie franchise.

More than that, a lot of the news cycle had been given over to publicity around the new arrival in the franchise. Rumours were flying about the future of the franchise, confirming that Voyager was already the franchise’s past. Casting sheets for the new series had already reached the internet, a source of speculation for figures like Richard Arnold. A little over a week before the broadcast of Q2, it was reported that Voyager sets were being torn down and that sets for the as-yet-unnamed Enterprise were being constructed.

A hot take.

There is something revealing in Junior’s temper tantrums in Q2, a desperate child longing for affection from his father. So much of Q2 is about how Q has lost interest in his son, with Janeway arguing aggressively and confidently for his potential. “Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, your son has made progress here,” Janeway argues. “He has the potential to be a better Q than you will ever be.” Q responds, simply, “Potential isn’t going to be enough for the Continuum.” There is a sense in which Q2 speaks to the anxieties of Voyager as a Star Trek series; feeling abandoned, waiting to be judged, its potential unfulfilled.

Interestingly, Q’s arc ends here. John de Lancie has suggested (and it seems highly likely) that this will be the last on-screen appearance of the omnipotent trickster. Q is an important character in the Star Trek mythos. He was present at the beginning and the end of The Next Generation, and responsible for framing the series’ allegorical humanism as the heart of the series. (“The trial never ends,” he boasted, positioning The Next Generation as an extended and continued argument for the defense.) He would also serve as an ambassador to both Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

“Not that I don’t appreciate it, but this will only take a few years off our journey. Why not send us all the way?”
“Don’t you read the trades? You’ll be home in a month or so.”

With that in mind, it is very strange that the character’s journey should end with him settled down and domesticated. In the early years of The Next Generation, Q was a rebel and a fiend; he interfered with humanity’s affairs in Hide and Q, he was kicked out of the Q Continuum in Q Who?, he was sent to do the dirty work of the Continuum in True Q. He was often framed as more immature and more irascible than Jean-Luc Picard, the human with whom he forged a close connection, but with whom he also developed a great deal of empathy and compassion as demonstrated by episodes like Tapestry.

Q2 ends with the character developing into (semi-)responsible father. It’s tempting to paint this as growth and development, but that isn’t quite fair. After all, even dating back to Encounter at Farpoint, the character was responsible for the entire cosmos; he framed the trial of humanity as a matter affecting their neighbours and the wider universe, akin to pruning an out-of-control plant in a garden. In that context, it seems almost a step down for Q to take responsibility for a single life.

Eternal patience.

However, this is very much in keeping with Voyager. More than The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, Voyager is a series that places a premium on the idea of conformity and homogeneity. The Maquis were all in Starfleet uniforms by the end of Caretaker. Episodes like Learning Curve and Good Shepherd made it clear that there was no alternative on the ship for those who did not want to conform. Even within Q2, Icheb is continuing his training to join Starfleet. In a broader sense, characters like Tom Paris journeyed over the seven seasons from being non-conformist rebels to being good family men.

Voyager has no place for rogues and rebels. Notably, Neelix is the only member of the primary cast who doesn’t get to complete the journey home, leaving the ship in Homestead to be with his own people because Voyager could not understand how he could possibly live among humans. Episodes like Human Error charted a course back towards humanity for Seven of Nine that was very conventional and very old-fashioned. Chakotay was introduced in Caretaker as the leader of a rag-tag bunch of terrorists, but has become the most bland and generic member of the ensemble.

We was robed.

It feels both appropriate and inevitable that even the omnipotent Q cannot escape the gravity of Voyager‘s deep-seated conservatism. There is no small irony in this. In Death Wish, the character’s first appearance on Voyager, Quinn lamented the loss of Q’s edge over time. “For a moment there, you really had our attention,” Quinn recalls. “You gave us something to talk about. But then you surrendered to the will of the Continuum like a good little Q, and may I say that you’ve become a fine, upstanding member of the Continuum. But I miss the irrepressible Q, the one who forced me to think.”

Death Wish had ended with Q embracing his anti-conformist side, accepting that he was a rogue and a trickster. In the episode’s closing moments, Q helps Quinn to commit suicide. “By demanding to end his life, he taught me a little something about my own,” Q tells Janeway. “He was right when he said the Continuum scared me back in line. I didn’t have his courage or his convictions. He called me irrepressible. This was a man who was truly irrepressible. I only hope I make a worthy student.” The sequence seems almost tragic in hindsight. By the time of Q2, Q has settled down, sold out, cashed in.

Droning on.

To certain extent, this further contextualises Voyager as a piece of nineties pop culture; although the show continued into the twenty-first century, it concluded four months before the destruction of the World Trade Centre. Despite advances in gay rights and shifting ideas about interpersonal relationships, the nineties were a conservative decade by certain measures: the Republican Revolution of 1994; public support for the death penalty peaked in the early nineties; Bill Clinton was impeached for having an affair; the AIDS crisis arguably led to a much more puritanical attitude about sex and sexuality.

Voyager has reflected this. It is no surprise that Voyager‘s cultural touchstone has often been the staid and conservative fifties; not just in the black-and-white science-fiction fantasies of Bride of Chaotica! or the 3D cinema in Repression or even the Cadillac on Venus in Lifesigns, but even in the actual plotting of episodes like the Potemkin Village nightmare of In the Flesh or the atomic horror of The Omega Directive or the imagined perfect sitcom suburban family life in Real Life. This is to say nothing of the show’s own more reactionary tendencies.

Uniformity.

These provide a nice bookend to the nostalgia that permeates Q2, and the relationship that exists between Voyager and the original Star Trek. To a certain extent, Voyager appears in conversation with the franchise’s history in much the same way that the more conservative elements of nineties culture were engaged with the liberal legacy of the sixties. As Nicolaus Mills argues, there was a broader conversation taking place about the past:

There is a new culture war on the 1960s. It peaked on television with the first network showing of Forrest Gump. There, every clich about ’60s radicalism was on display. A Washington antiwar rally was presented as a gathering of obscenity-shouting hippies. The civil rights movement was reduced to anti-white sloganeering. The sexual revolution was portrayed as little more than a mix of dope and great parties. Only the mentally challenged Forrest Gump, loyal to his black Army buddy in Vietnam and unconditionally in love with his grade-school sweetheart, is able to make it through the decade with his values intact.

Gump’s take on the ’60s isn’t that different from the one we’ve gotten recently from an outpouring of books. Uniting these books and their authors is the same shared perspective – that the 1960s were a decade of excess that we would have been better off without. In David Horowitz’s Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, the decade is epitomized by murderous Black Panthers and the role Ramparts magazine, which Horowitz edited, played in heroizing them.

It’s notable that things like the Impeachment of Bill Clinton during the second half of the decade were often framed in terms of this debate with the legacy of sixties liberalism; that the Lewinsky Affair was the end product of sixties liberalism, chickens coming home to roost. As such, it seems appropriate that Q2 opens with a discussion of the heroism of James Kirk and close with Q settling down as a responsible father.

Bolianed over.

After all, Q is the strongest tether that Voyager has back to the launch of The Next Generation, if not even further. Encounter at Farpoint was co-written by Gene Roddenberry, giving the character a strong connection back to the roots of the franchise. Even beyond that, Q is an archetype that can be traced back to classic episodes like The Squire of Gothos. de Lancie himself acknowledges as much. Fans and authors have argued that Trelane was a member of the Q Continuum – de Lancie even recalls a fan theory that Q was “the son of Trelane.” The successor of the dandy and the dilettante evolves into a respectable adult.

Oddly enough, this feels like a fitting note for Voyager to hit as it rounds out its final season, an acknowledgement that the nineties catch up with everybody, even those with “unlimited control of space, matter and time.”

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