Saturday, December 08, 2007

"True Q" and the Continuity of the Contiuum (TNG)

I think I always considered “True Q” one of the least consequential Q episodes of TNG. Q is most interesting when he is directly facing off with Picard—whether it is something as sweeping and menacing as introducing the Borg (“Q Who?”), or something as quiet and personal as letting Picard revisit his youth (“Tapestry”).

Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. It has some great moments: Amanda throwing the omnipotent Q across the room, Crusher being turned into an Irish setter, a game of hide-and-seek that ends with Amanda and Q standing on the hull of the Enterprise, and plenty of snide remarks from Q. But it still seemed sort of like Q-lite.

For one thing, the whole situation is based on the incredible coincidence that this girl just happened to be sent to the Enterprise at the same time that Q just happened to be sent by the Continuum to determine her fate. It’s as if the story couldn’t have been told if Q showed up on earth and we had only marginal involvement from the main characters.

Watching it years later I have formed a somewhat different opinion. I think the issues raised in the episode are more significant than it seems at first glance. This is a story that both creates and challenges continuity, but in the process may provide significant insight into the Q continuum.

Hiding “Hide and Q”

To start with, there’s a nice opportunity to create some continuity that was completely missed. At one point Crusher tells Amanda she “can’t imagine” what she’s going through. And who could?

Well, actually Riker could.

He was granted all the powers of Q back in the first season episode “Hide and Q.” Amazingly no one on whole ship even mentions it, not even Troi. In “The Bond” she wanted Wesley to talk to Jeremy Aster, because they shared the experience of losing parents in the line of duty. But she doesn’t coach Riker to do something similar here.

This oversight is most glaring when Amanda whisks Riker away into her romantic fantasy, and he tries to explain to her the implications of using her powers this way—that none of it is real. Even at that moment, with the issue forced upon him, he doesn’t mention his own experience with that kind of power. Here she is talking to the one human who has actually been a Q, and we don’t get single line of dialogue to even imply that he ever had such an experience.

Being Human

In his Nitpickers Guide, Phil Farrand points out another seeming inconsistency:
Q gives Amanda only two choices at the end of the episode: Return to the Continuum, or refrain from user her powers. Isn’t there another choice? Earlier in this episode, Amanda claimed that she just wanted to become a normal human again. Isn’t that the third choice? In “Déjà Q,” the Continuum turned Q into a human, stripped him of his powers, and dumped him on the Enterprise. Why couldn’t they do the same to Amanda, if that’s what she really wants?
To be fair there is also a fourth option—she could have been imprisoned like Quinn in the Voyager episode “Death Wish.” In any event, clearly they could have done the same for Amanda, so the answer must be that they did not want to do this for Amanda. But why not? Why did they strong-arm her into joining the Continuum? I would suggest it has something to do with Picard’s response to Q’s claims of the Continuum’s “superior morality”:
Your arrogant pretense at being the moral guardians of the universe strikes me as being hollow, Q. I see no evidence that you are guided by a superior moral code or any code whatsoever. You may be nearly omnipotent, and I don't deny that your parlor tricks are impressive. But morality - I don't see it. I don't acknowledge it, Q. I would put human morality against the Q's any day.

And perhaps that's the reason that we fascinate you so. Because our puny behavior shows you a glimpse of the one thing that eludes your omnipotence - a moral center. And if so, I can think of no crueler irony than that you should destroy this young woman, whose only crime is that she's too human.
Q responds with the wonderfully dismissive comment, "Jean Luc, sometimes I think the only reason I come here is to listen to these wonderful speeches of yours."

But maybe Picard was on to something. Maybe his assessment of the Continuum was closer to the truth than Q was willing to acknowledge. In fact, in “The Q and the Grey” (VOY) Q as much as admits that human morality is what is missing from the Continuum. He wants Janeway to have his child, some kind of human-Q hybrid, a Messiah.

Could it be that Amanda was the Continuum’s first attempt at something like this? They didn’t offer her the option of becoming fully human because they wanted someone human to become Q and bring human compassion and kindness into the Continuum.

Oh Where, Oh Where has Amanda Gone?

Whether or not that’s exactly what they had in mind, the question remains: What happened to Amanda? Her story is alluded to in “Death Wish” and “The Q and the Grey,” but any direct mention of Amanda is notably absent.

In “Death Wish” Quinn submits the Continuum’s use of capitol punishment as evidence that the death of a Q—even if self-inflicted—will not create a destructive disturbance in the Continuum. Although it’s certainly possible that Amanda’s parents aren’t the only Q to have been executed, as the audience we naturally take it as reference to them. So there’s this subtle nod to the events described in “True Q,” but when Janeway and Tuvok are taken to the Continuum, there’s no sign of Amanda.

Now it’s true, we cannot insist that we saw every Q in what was really just a representation or the Continuum anyways. Still, it is reasonable to think Amanda would be interested in these visitors from Starfleet. Well, maybe she was “walking the road” at the time. She may have a more active interest in the universe than the older, apathetic Q that we saw.

Or perhaps like Quinn, she had angered some elements within the Continuum. Could it be that her desire to see her parents led her to try to bring them back to life against the wishes of the Continuum and so she had been banished, imprisoned, or even executed? (Hey, worrying about his mother got Anakin too.)

Then we move ahead to “The Q and the Grey.” As mentioned above, Q wanted to have a son. Ultimately he has one with the help of a lady-Q. One minor continuity problem is that Q spoke of Amanda’s parents with disgust for conceiving a child in ‘vulgar human fashion,’ but here he turns around and does basically the same thing.

Well could it be he was just saying that as part of his whole routine of trivializing puny human behavior? Or perhaps Q was just parroting the official position of the Continuum even thought he didn’t truly agree with them? On the other hand, can’t a Q change his mind sometimes?

In any event, we know Amanda’s parents had a child while in human form, which seems like a unique event in the history of the Continuum, and we know that Q (and Q) had a child while in Q-form, a similarly landmark event. So the question becomes, did Amanda inspire Q’s plan to introduce humanity into the Continuum? Did his respect for Quinn the irrepressible translate into respect for Amanda’s parents the irrepressible and a desire to accomplish something similar?

Obviously her presence alone had not brought peace to the Continuum, or Q wouldn’t have felt the need to have a son himself. But did he see some potential in whatever impact she did have on the Continuum? ‘She would have accomplished so much good if only . . . fill in the blank.’

Perhaps when the civil war broke out, she took sides with Q, but was killed in the fighting early on, and that’s when Q set out to recreate the kind of influence her humanity was having (or could have had) on the Continuum.

It would have been nice to have some of these loose ends tied up, but combining Picard’s comments from “True Q” with Q’s plan in “The Q and the Grey” I think we can draw some reasonable conclusions. This in turn casts an interesting light on all of Q’s visits. Sure, they want to teach us—about our limitations (see the Borg), about ourselves (see Picard gets stabbed by a Naussican), and about the universe (see an anti-time paradox)—but underneath all the pomp and pretense and humanity-on-trial business may well be some genuine respect and a real desire to learn something from us in the process.

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