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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S2E16 "Q Who"

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In which the Enterprise reaches levels of "WE'RE DEAD" previously thought impossible.

Original air date: May 8, 1989

Overeager young Ensign Sonya Gomez, a recent Academy graduate just assigned to the Enterprise, is carrying on a rambling conversation with Lt. La Forge in Engineering. When La Forge tells her that she ought to take her mug of hot chocolate away from the delicate machinery, Gomez turns around and spills all over Captain Picard himself, mortifying her.

On his way to change his uniform, Picard exits a turbolift without looking and finds himself aboard a shuttlecraft piloted by Q. Picard angrily reminds Q of his promise after their last encounter to never trouble the Enterprise again, and Q says he always keeps his word: The shuttlecraft is in the middle of nowhere. Picard tries to wait Q out, but Q has all the time in the universe, so Picard relents and agrees to hear his proposal.

Meanwhile, La Forge is in Ten-Forward trying to give Gomez a pep talk to ease her nerves. He notices that Guinan seems disturbed. She admits that she's been having a very dire premonition but can't put her finger on it. La Forge and Gomez return to Engineering to see if anything is amiss.

Q and Picard teleport to Ten-Forward, where Q immediately reacts with shock that Guinan is aboard. The pair have a history, and they square off, but Picard talks them down as Riker and Worf arrive. Q admits that he's been kicked out of the Q collective. He's bored and wants to join the crew of the Enterprise. Picard balks at the idea, but Q warns him that the Federation has no idea what lies in store for them. Picard confidently states that the Federation can handle any issues that may arise without Q.

Q decides to put that boast to the test. With a snap, he propels the ship 7,000 light years away, into an unknown part of space. They're 2.5 years away from the nearest starbase at maximum warp! Guinan recognizes this part of space and warns Picard to get the hell outta there. But Picard decides to go exploring first, and they come across an uninhabited M-class planet with great rends in the surface where the cities once were. It's exactly what happened to the outposts in the Neutral Zone in the Season 1 finale.

Suddenly the Enterprise is confronted with a completely new ship: a giant cube of metal, oddly genericized in its design. There's no bridge, engineering section, living quarters, or even life signs. Guinan identifies the ship as the source of her concern: the Borg. They nearly wiped her people out a few centuries ago, and they'll do it to the Federation if given the chance. Indeed, Borg scouts soon appear in Engineering and examine the Enterprise's technology before beaming away. The Borg ship announces that the Enterprise has no hope of winning a fight.

The Borg ship begins tractoring the Enterprise in. Picard orders a volley with everything they've got, targeting the tractor beam. The Borg slice a chunk out of the Enterprise, killing 18 crew, but its transport beam gets destroyed. In a conference, Q warns Picard that the Borg are an existential threat to the Federation itself, interesting in nothing beyond consuming their technology.

Picard decides to send an away team into the Borg ship. Troi has sensed that they are a collective Hive Mind, and the away team confirms this. Each individual Borg behaves like an automaton when not plugged directly into the ship, ignoring the away team. After discovering a nursery where newborn children are augmented with Borg implants, the team realize that the Borg are rapidly repairing their ship. The away team beams away, and Picard orders a full retreat.

But the Borg follow hot on their heels. Picard orders another salvo, but the battle is entirely lopsided this time, and the Enterprise quickly finds itself at the Borg's mercy. Riker prepares to give the order to fire a photon torpedo at close range, likely annihilating the Enterprise. Q appears just in time to remind Picard of his claim that he could handle any threat.

Picard decides that he Ain't Too Proud to Beg and asks Q for help. Satisfied, Q snaps his fingers and whisks the ship back to where they started. Q congratulates Picard for his humility in learning Q's lesson, but Picard is still defiant about Q's methods and blames him for the 18 deaths in his crew. Later, Guinan warns Picard that the Borg have now become aware of the Federation and will soon be knocking on their door. Picard grimly states that the Federation at least now know what they have to prepare for.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Geordi's relationship with Gomez, whether professional or personal, never developed, and she appeared only briefly in one other episode.
  • Adaptive Ability: A Borg drone is shot dead by Worf. The one that comes to retrieve it has a personal shield to absorb phaser fire. Similarly, the Cube takes quite a lot of damage from the Enterprise's weapons during their first engagement. In the rematch, a volley of torpedoes does absolutely nothing.
  • Admiring the Abomination:
    • Picard admits that the chance to study Q would actually be quite intriguing.
    • Q's descriptions of the Borg. Unlike humanity, he seems to genuinely admire them:
      Q: Interesting, isn't it? Not a he, not a she, not like anything you've ever seen before. An enhanced humanoid.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Picard during his Patrick Stewart Speech at the end.
  • Armed with Canon: Episode writer (and by this point, showrunner) Maurice Hurley had gone under the pseudonym "C.J. Holland" for the previous Q episode, "Hide and Q," after Gene Roddenberry heavily rewrote his original draft for that episode while adding in a ton of Humans Are Special. By contrast, this episode seems dedicated to establishing that 24th century humans are actually nowhere near the pinnacle of civilization that they may have imagined themselves to be, and even introduces the klutzy Sonya Gomez as if to reinforce that point.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When Riker snaps at Q for his actions resulting in the Enterprise being sent halfway across the galaxy and indirectly getting 18 crewmembers killed, all Q can say is just a coldly delivered "Oh, please.", which firmly establishes how much he does not care about what he has done.
  • Badass Fingersnap: This marks the first time Q uses his powers by snapping his fingers.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Q describes Guinan in terms that aren't that different from himself. When he raises his hand to vanish her, she brings up her own hands in a defensive posture, implying that she is in some way capable of thwarting Q.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: As always, Q is a Large Ham prone to wisecracking, but he's also a godlike being with a twisted sense of morality.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Enterprise escapes and is safe, for now. But the Borg know the Federation exists, and they will be coming. 18 crewmen are dead from this incident. And the once confident crew, especially Picard, are shaken to their core.
  • Blatant Lies:
    Q: Sir, do you mock me?
    Picard: Not at all; that's the last thing I would do.
  • Brig Ball Bouncing: A version done by Q as he is waiting for Picard to agree to listen to him in the shuttle craft.
  • Characterisation Click Moment: In the first season, Q was wacky, over-the-top and slightly comical. The scene where he coldly dismisses the deaths of eighteen crewmembers added a whole new dimension to the character. And it was all down to John de Lancie changing what was in the script.
  • Chair Reveal: Q spins around in a chair, revealing that he's sitting there, for his first and last meetings.
  • Cold Ham: Q switches to this from his usual Large Ham persona for most of the episode to a chilling effect.
    Q: Con permiso, Capitan. The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. It's now time to see if you can dance.
  • Companion Cube: Gomez makes a point to be polite to the ship's computer, which La Forge finds silly.
  • Creator Cameo: Writer (and showrunner) Maurice Hurley and director Rob Bowman provide two of the voices that go into the Borg's message to the Enterprise.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: This is the first of several instances where Q's actions could be argued to be benevolent, but his methods make it seem like he's just sadistically toying with the ship. Here he warns Picard of an impending existential threat to the Federation, but in the process of learning the lesson, Picard loses 18 members of his crew and is reduced to begging for mercy.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Sonya Gomez establishes herself as this by running into Picard and spilling her hot chocolate on him. First impressions, indeed.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: This episode establishes that Guinan's people were massacred by the Borg in the distant past.
  • David Versus Goliath: The Enterprise versus a Borg cube. Picard and crew get a few good shots in at first, due to the Borg being unfamiliar with their weaponry... and then the Borg become immune to it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Q, of course, is an endless stream of sarcastic comments and witty remarks as the Enterprise rebuffs his attempts to join them, and then during the struggle with the Borg.
  • Delegation Relay: When the first Borg drone beams into Engineering, Picard orders Worf to deal with it. Worf then orders a Red Shirt to deal with it; said Red Shirt gets knocked on his ass.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Picard continues his policy of being completely irreverent to Q and his power, but in the end, he's forced to beg Q for help.
  • The Dreaded: Q's description of what lies waiting for humanity as they continue out into the galaxy. The Borg are his immediate example.
    Q: Picard, you are about to move into areas of the galaxy containing wonders more incredible than you can possibly imagine— and terrors to freeze your soul. [...] You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you've encountered so far. The Romulans, the Klingons; they're nothing compared to what's waiting.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Unsurprisingly, there's quite a bit concerning the Borg, given that they were still brand new in this episode, and the writing team was sussing out both how to make them threatening and how exactly their "assimilation" worked.
    • The Borg's shield-draining weapon is never used again after this episode, though Borg tractor beams would pick up similar properties.
    • This version of the Borg was conceived as a unique race that breed within their own species and are only interested in consuming outsiders' technology. For this reason, they threaten the Enterprise with "punishment" rather than assimilation, and the away team discovers a "nursery" of baby Borgs. Later episodes would establish that they are more of a technological virus that propagates itself by assimilating civilizations to add to its collective.
    • The Borg continue to "scoop up" technological elements from a planet and just leave them, suggesting that they are entirely space-based as a civilization; while "Best of Both Worlds" would continue this conceit, later works (most prominently starting with First Contact) would instead begin to suggest that the Borg do in fact perform surface assimilation and will assimilate and build up technology on planets.
    • Naturally, at this point the Borg appear to be a complete Hive Mind with absolutely no form of centralized decision-making. The idea of the Borg Queen would be nearly a decade off.
    • Borg use of nanotechnology isn't referenced at all in this episode; at the time the episode was written, nanotech wasn't even widely known about as a concept. Their regeneration and whatnot simply "happens" somehow.
    • The Borg threaten the Enterprise to not resist them, but their famous catchphrase "Resistance is futile" is not used. It shows up in their next appearance.
    • After the away team beam on-board the boarding party, Riker initially assumes that they haven't been attacked because the Borg don't consider them a threat, but Data later clarifies that the Borg are actually focusing on repairing the damage their ship took in the firefight with the Enterprise, implying that they just saw the repairs as the more immediate priority and otherwise would probably have attacked the away team as soon as they beamed in. In their future appearances, the Borg never attack intruders until they actively become a threat.
    • The Borg's Voice of the Legion sounds different in this episode and has a less prominent echo effect.
  • Ensign Newbie: Sonya Gomez, who is just so eager to be out exploring the galaxy aboard the Enterprise.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • When the Borg hail the Enterprise, Picard starts introducing himself, only to be bluntly interrupted by their Voice of the Legion, who tell the heroes "If you defend yourselves, you will be punished."
    • Ensign Gomez's first scene established her as an accident-prone Ensign Newbie with a nervous Motor Mouth.
  • Evil Gloating: Cited by Picard; if the Borg kill them, then Q won't be able to gloat about it afterwards. Q, to his credit, respects Picard for being able to swallow his pride and doesn't do much.
  • Evil Learns of Outside Context: Up until this point, the Borg were situated billions of miles from any Federation starbase. When Q takes the Enterprise into the deepest reaches of space, he alerts the assimilating race to the existence of both Earth and the Federation, and the Borg immediately begin heading for them with a vengeance.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Guinan and Picard's conversation at the end of the episode.
    Guinan: Perhaps when you're ready, it might be possible to establish a relationship with [the Borg]. But for now, for right now, you're just raw material to them. And, since they're aware of your existence...
    Picard: They will be coming.
  • Final Boss Preview: The early encounter with the Borg, which the Enterprise was completely unprepared for.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Q. Con permiso, of course.
  • Gut Feeling: Guinan gets a funny feeling after Picard disappears from the Enterprise, but suggests that It's Probably Nothing. Of course, it's not nothing.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The main plot is instigated when Picard tells Q that they are doing just fine and don't need his help. Q sends them into the path of the Borg, who are really not that far away (and previous episodes have been hinting at odd incidents reported along the Neutral Zone) as a demonstration of how outmatched they really are at what is coming. Picard is reduced to begging Q to save them, and muses at the end of the episode that Q did them a favor in letting them get kicked around as a warning.
    Picard: I understand what you've done here, Q, but I think the lesson could have been learned without the loss of eighteen members of my crew.
    Q: If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross, but it's not for the timid.
  • Hollywood Hacking: The Borg do this on the Enterprise's computer by jamming an electronic arm into a display screen. Apparently, Starfleet computers are designed to be accessible that way.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: The Enterprise jumps to warp when the Borg cube starts regenerating. Defied when the Borg catch up to them and knock them out of warp.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Q describes Guinan as a troublemaker who brings chaos wherever she goes. Picard even lampshades the irony of his claim.
  • I Have Many Names: When Picard refers to Guinan by name, Q reveals that the appellation is new.
  • Idiot Ball: All there in his Captain's Log— "Despite Guinan's warnings, I have decided to explore this sector of space a bit before heading back."
  • Ignored Expert:
    • Picard ignores Guinan's advice to start back immediately and decides to explore the sector first, which causes 18 Enterprise crew members to be killed and the ship to almost be destroyed. They also ignore her advice not to beam an Away Team to the ship. All of this is after directly asking Guinan to monitor the bridge screen because "we might need your input."
    • Arrogant as he is, Q's warnings are also ignored until Picard has to literally beg for his help.
  • Implacable Man: The Borg.
    Q: They will follow this ship until you exhaust your fuel. They will wear down your defenses. Then you will be theirs. [...] You can't outrun them; you can't destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless!
  • Incoming Ham: After kidnapping Picard, Q interrupts him without looking at him, then turns and mugs for the camera.
    Picard: Crewmember, what is going o—
    Q: Welcome, Captain Picard, to Shuttlecraft 6!
  • Informed Ability: We don't see anything in Gomez's actions or behavior that corroborate her being a genius whose final paper in the Academy prompted Geordi to hand-select her for assignment on Starfleet's flag ship. Perhaps if she'd gotten more episodes, we'd have seen it.
    • When Gomez returns to the ST universe in Lower Decks, she's become the Captain of her own ship, the Archimedes; judging by the name, it's a science-focused vessel
  • It Only Works Once: The Enterprise crew is able to dispatch one Borg with their phasers. When another comes on, it quickly adapts a personal force field to repel the phasers, making them useless.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Picard questions if Q's lesson could have been learned without the death of 18 members of his crew. Q responds that the galaxy isn't a safe place, and if Picard can't accept that people will die from the dangersnote , then he should go back home.
  • The Juggernaut: Riker describes the Borg this way while aboard the Borg Cube when he sees how intricate their collective consciousness is.
  • Kick the Dog: Q simply does not care that eighteen crew members of the Enterprise are dead or worse to the Borg's machinations. To him, it's all to teach Picard a lesson in humility and the growing risks of interstellar travel, never mind a firm threat of the Borg that would come again soon enough.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Picard decides in the end to confirm Q's insistence that they need him rather than be cut up like a pork chop by the Borg.
  • Loophole Abuse: Picard reminds Q of their agreement that he would never trouble his ship again. Q joyfully points out that they're nowhere near his ship.
  • Motor Mouth: Sonya Gomez admits to this, especially when she's excited. She eventually gets better about it.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Guinan can feel that something bad is about to happen at the beginning of the episode, though she isn't sure what— however, when Q makes his appearance, she declares "I knew it was you," suggesting that she was actually more suspicious than she let on.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever "dealings" Q and Guinan had 200 years earlier.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: This is why the Borg are absolutely terrifying. When Picard first tries to address the collective, they bluntly interrupt him before forcibly taking a piece of the Enterprise.
  • No-Sell:
    • Once the Borg cube adapts to the Enterprise's weapons, a volley of photon torpedoes doesn't even scratch it.
    • Similarly, the first drone that is shot in Engineering falls to the floor dead. The second one that appears has a defense shield that absorbs phaser fire.
  • No, You: Q describes Guinan as an imp that trouble follows wherever she goes. Picard is not impressed.
    Picard: You're speaking of yourself, Q.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Sonya Gomez's reaction to spilling hot chocolate on Picard.
    • Just before Q snaps his fingers to propel the Enterprise into Borg territory, Guinan flat out panics; she most likely anticipated what Q was about to do.
  • Ominous Cube: Given all the streamlined Shiny-Looking Spaceships in this series, the strictly utilitarian form of the Borg Cube is quite jarring.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Overall, this episode is the one time we see Q get genuinely angry and it's bone chilling. In particular, when Q explains the nature of the Borg to the senior staff, he's quiet, calm, and very direct, which is at odds with his Large Ham trickster persona. It's part of what makes his 'oh, please' line so memorable.
    • Similarly, Q shows genuine fear when he sees Guinan and immediately warns Picard that she is dangerous. Considering that he's a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper, the sudden terror makes it clear that there's a lot more to Guinan than we originally knew.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Borg, perhaps the greatest example of this Trope in the Trek 'Verse, are introduced here. The situation is deliberately set up by Q to prove to Picard just how unprepared the Federation is for something like them.
    Q: You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you've encountered so far. The Romulans. The Klingons. They're nothing compared to what's waiting.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: One of the most brilliant of the series, when Picard tells Q he needs him.
  • Resistance Is Futile: That particular catchphrase won't appear until "The Best of Both Worlds," but in this episode, they tell the Enterprise "If you defend yourselves, you will be punished."
  • Rhyming Title: One of the few rhyming episode titles within the Star Trek franchise, along with "True Q."
  • Riddle for the Ages: Upon meeting Guinan aboard the Enterprise for the first time, Q expresses what appears to be genuine alarm and unease, calling her a 'creature' whose danger Picard does not and cannot understand. When he threatens to remove her from the ship, raising his hands to work his 'magic', Guinan similarly raises her hands in what appears to be a defensive posture, implying that she has some ability to combat or thwart Q's powers. Unfortunately, Picard manages to defuse the situation before it comes to blows, and the viewer is left to wonder whether or not Guinan possesses such powers against the Q or not.
  • Run or Die: When Riker informs Picard that the Borg cube is healing itself at an alarming rate, running like hell looks like the only possible chance the Enterprise crew has to survive the encounter. It is defied when the Borg are shown to be capable of running just a little faster and slowing the Enterprise down.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When the away team reports that the Borg are using their combined efforts to repair the cube, Picard orders them beamed back immediately and orders the Enterprise to get the hell out of there at Warp 8. It's not fast enough.
  • Secret Test of Character: Q ultimately reveals that his warping the Enterprise into Borg space was this. He already knew that the ship, and even the entire Federation, wasn't ready for the Borg and their power—he was more interested to see whether or not Picard would be humble enough to admit he was wrong and explicitly ask for Q's help. Once the captain does so, Q instantly teleports the Enterprise to safety and commends Picard for his choice, saying that most men would have rather died holding onto their pride than own up to such a mistake.
  • Self-Recovery Surprise: It's not a good sign for our heroes when the damaged cube starts repairing itself, and can still chase them down at warp.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To The Great Escape—Q passes the time on the shuttle by throwing a ball against the wall.
    • The title is a shout out to Doctor Who — particularly fitting as this is the episode that introduces the Borg, which are also somewhat influenced by the Cybermen from that show. The title of this episode in French is even « Docteur Q »;».
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: When Riker chews Q out for exposing them to the Borg and costing the lives of 18 shipmates, Q shuts him up with "Oh, please!" At the end of the episode, when Picard asks whether the entire affair and the casualties involved were really necessary, Q responds "If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."
  • Smug Super: Even when trying to get Picard to take him on as a member of the crew, Q can't help but throw shade on the Puny Earthlings. See the quote under Surrounded by Idiots.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Q's real opinion of the Enterprise crew, explicitly stated when he tries to get Picard to let him join. (Which is a strange thing to do during a job interview.)
    Q: This ship is already home for the indigent, the unwanted, the unworthy; why not for a homeless entity? [...] And if necessary, though I can't imagine why, I will renounce my powers, and become as weak and as incompetent as all of you.
  • Tempting Fate: Picard does this one too many times, and he winds up with 18 crewmen dead. You should've listened to Guinan, Jean-Luc.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Slightly averted when Picard orders Worf to neutralize the invader and Worf immediately delegates it to an ensign. However, the ensign is quickly batted away and Worf has to do it anyway.
  • This Is Reality: After 18 crewmen die, Picard asks if this is just another illusion. Q responds, "This is as real as your so-called life gets."
  • The Unreveal: We never find out how Q and Guinan know each other, and why even the omnipotent Q seems wary of her.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The away team is surprised that the Borg ignore their presence aboard the cube, before realizing that they're focused on repairing their ship. Though later episodes would state that it's in the Borg's nature to ignore intruders till they actively threaten them.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After the Borg cube appears, this is Guinan's default expression for the rest of the episode. Not that you can really blame her.
  • Villain Has a Point: Q's reason for all of this is purely egotistical, but he's right about the Federation not being prepared for the danger that awaits.
  • Voice of the Legion: The Borg's method of communicating.
  • We Have Become Complacent: The point that Q was trying to get across by introducing the Enterprise to the Borg, and a statement which Picard ultimately admits is not without merit.
  • We'll See About That: Picard tells Q that his help is not required. Q declares that "We'll just have to see how ready you are," snaps his fingers, and sends the Enterprise to its encounter with the Borg.
  • Wham Episode: The Borg are introduced in full—making this one of the most important episodes of the series and franchise as a whole.
  • Wham Line: After the Borg's first attack kills eighteen crew members, Riker chews Q out for his reckless actions and fully blames him for their deaths. Up until this point, Q was a prankster and fun, if rude, Large Ham, using his powers largely to mess with the Enterprise for amusement. But upon hearing Riker's condemnation, he drops his cheerful persona with a single line: "Oh, please." Those two words reveal that Q doesn't care about individuals, but the larger picture. Q's remaining appearances would continue to straddle that line between Trickster Mentor and genuinely terrifying foe.
  • Wham Shot: While Riker, Data and Worf explore the Borg cube, the camera pans out to reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of Borg drones in their alcoves.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: As the Borg cube is closing in on the Enterprise, Q returns to mock Picard.
    Q: Where's your stubbornness now, Picard, your arrogance? Do you still profess to be prepared for what awaits you?
  • The Worf Effect: A brawny human security officer tries to take down the Borg scout and gets tossed on his ass. Unusually for this trope, Worf himself remains unscathed.
  • "You!" Exclamation: Q's reaction to seeing Guinan on the Enterprise.