OVERALL RATING: C+ (with lots of credit for its ambition). ACTING: De Lancie, A. Frakes and Stewart, B+. WRITING: effort at originality, B, execution, D+. DIRECTION: B (given the bizarre script)
THE SHOW: Star Trek writers are still struggling in their effort to make Commander Will Riker the star of their show, that is, the chief ego whose struggles represent "All Mankind"--"the Great White Hope," "our hero--the central, white, male, Euro-American viewpoint from which all events will be seen. Jonathan Frakes does all right in the role, in this particular episode, but Patrick Stewart is a more compelling presence, not to mention a more experienced and talented actor, which will soon enough be recognized. Captain Picard, as dominant white male protagonist, will overwhelm Riker.
Sitting on the left shoulder of today's "dominant white male protagonist" is a devilish little imp called "Q" who represents TEMPTATION. In this case, temptation to become all-powerful. Temptation to act like a demi-god. Temptation to use one's powers to change and manipulate others' lives. Temptation to become a traitor to the human race.
These are the temptations presented to Commander Riker. "Q" invites Riker to join the Continuum, that is, to become a "Q" himself, and he temporarily grants Riker the power to completely change his friends' lives--to give Geordi La Forge sight, to give Worf a Klingon mate, to make Data into a human being and to make Wesley Crusher into an adult. "Q"'s ploy to seduce a human being by giving him god-like powers is prefaced by a good deal of surrealistic foreplay, involving "Q" wafting Enterprise officers to bizarre locations, where, for instance, ugly, pig-like Napoleonic soldiers attack and kill Worf and Wesley. Riker cannot resist the temptation to restore them to life.
Picard extracts a promise from Riker that, if he is to remain on the Enterprise, he will not exercise his "Q" powers. Riker then refuses to save the life of a little girl who has been critically injured in a mining colony accident. It is supposed to be an affecting scene in which Data shows the dead child to Riker and Riker refuses to heal her--and it is affecting, in a way. The problem is that the dead little girl is merely a prop, a plot point, in the contest between "Q" and humanity. Her death doesn't really come across as important. It doesn't really interest the writers. They are more interested in men making life and death decisions on the basis of abstract law and principles. To almost any woman, and to feeling males, there would be no question about saving the little girl, if possible. Abstract principles and laws and "honorable" promises be damned.
It's obvious to Data what Riker should do, and Data isn't even human, and supposedly has no feelings (although he does, indeed, communicate feeling, through the talent of actor Brent Spiner). The proper thing for Riker to do is to use his power to save the girl and take the consequences like a man--face Picard with his broken promise, leave the Enterprise, join the Continuum, rot forever in Hell if necessary. I am reminded of Puritan battles with Evil in which women were put to death by drowning or by fire to test their commerce with the Devil. If they died like ordinary humans, they were judged to have been virtuous Christians. Human males, into abstract principles and damnable laws of their own making, calmly and righteously watched thousands of women drown or fry, to prove their own damnable virtue in the eyes of their own damnable, self-created Deity.
This is the subliminal message of "Hide & Q"--that it is okay to snuff out a life for an abstract principle. The episode is entertaining, and well-acted but it never addresses the reality of that child's death. It goes off the deep end and sacrifices a life to make heady, abstract philosophical points, embedded in witty dialogue.
The three best scenes are these: 1) In the Captain's ready room wherein Picard and "Q" engage in a "battle of quotations" regarding humanity's worth, with "Q" quoting "Macbeth" to the effect that human life is a "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," and Picard quoting "Hamlet," to the effect that humanity is more "like an angel" ("...how like a god"). 2) The scene in which Data refuses Riker's gift of becoming a human being--to Picard's enormous satisfaction (he has clearly won the battle of wits with "Q"). And 3) Same scene, the presentation to Worf of a crawling, hissing, snarling and very dangerous female Klingon mate.
The Klingon mate sets the tone of the episode--humor. Life, death, sex, war, love, eternal fate--are all treated as humorous. The humor is multifaceted--ludicrous, mocking, piquant, ironical, learned, stupid, high, low and everything in between. The trouble is that Riker is a rather humorless character. These shades of the comical play better on Picard. Riker takes his dilemma as a rather dull-witted, either/or proposition; whereas, Picard--by virtue of actor Stewart's body language and facial expression--responds in a much more entertaining fashion to all that is being presented.
The script is very ambitious for a TV show and, while it falls prey to the pitfalls of pretentiousness and artsy-fartsy absurdity, misunderstands the literary convention of dream imagery (as arbitrary and capricious) and misuses famous quotations, it does manage to stick to its story premise and comes back round, in the end, to a fairly satisfactory conclusion.
Writers who get into such heavy-duty material ought to mind the accuracy of their quotations, as well as the context from which the quotes are extracted. For instance, the writers have Captain Picard quoting Lord Acton to "Q." Picard says, "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." What Lord Acton actually said was, "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." This important qualification leaves room for choice, among the powerful. To omit the qualification not only leaves the powerful without a choice, it betrays the superficiality of Star Trek writers and their second-hand ideas.
Later, in refusing Riker/"Q"'s gift of becoming a human being, Data quotes the character Polonius from "Hamlet": "To thine own self be true." The trouble is that Polonius is a complete hypocrite and has just told his son to become a lying, cheating opportunist like himself. Shakespeare intended the line to be ironical and is mocking Polonius with it. Since Data is not capable of irony--at least, this early in the series--and delivers the line quite sincerely, one can assume that the writers don't understand Shakespeare and possibly aren't even aware of the origin of the quote.
John de Lancie plays the role of the witty, mischievous "Q" very well and delivers one of the funniest lines in Star Trek in this episode. Riker tells "Q" that the Enterprise is on its way to help people who are "suffering and dying" (the colonists in the mine explosion). With just the right tone of snide, bemused indifference, "Q" retorts, "Oh, your species is always suffering and dying!"
"Q" is what the ancient Greeks called a "deus ex machina"--the machine that was used to lower the gods into human situations, on stage, to arbitrarily resolve plot difficulties. It means the introduction of an artificial element, exterior to the story, which provides a resolution to problems which could not otherwise be achieved by humans or human writers. The "deus ex machina" is now generally meant to imply a cheap plot device.
In this case, the human tragedy of the mining colony explosion--that is, the unsolveable problem of human suffering and death--is merely whisked away by "Q." He takes the Enterprise and its crew elsewhere, to play games the rules of which, "Q" freely admits, are "completely unfair." The purposes of human games--to test strength or intelligence--are irrelevant to "Q." Or so "Q" says. In fact, "Q"'s game with Riker ultimately comes down to a test of Riker's virtue. Will he be seduced by the lure of superhuman powers? He is seduced--he tries his powers out on his friends. It is they who refuse the temptation.
In his Star Trek TNG Companion, Larry Nemecek notes that The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare in the Captain's ready room is opened to "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Act III, scene ii. How Nemecek determined this, I don't know (some special zoom-in technology?). In any case, Act III, scene ii is the scene in which the king of the woodland fairies, Oberon ("How now, mad spirit?"), hears the report that Titania has fallen in love with an ass, and discovers Puck's mischief of putting the love potient into the wrong Athenian's eyes (which causes horrible/hilarious lovers' mix-ups as the scene unfolds). One might guess that "Q" is modeled after Puck. They engage in similar sorts of mischief and for a similar reason--to amuse themselves.
The numerous references to Shakespeare in this episode and throughout the series invite comparisons and court ridicule. Although some of the later TNG scripts, particularly in Season 5, display brilliance within the inherent limits of episodic television, Roddenberry, who co-wrote this episode, bears more resemblance to Shakespeare's character Bottom (of the silly "Pyramus and Thisbe" production in "A Midsummer Night's Dream") than he does to Shakespeare. His learning is superficial. His story sense and his dramatic sense are almost non-existent. He is full of himself. He is an ass.
It may be silly and futile to analyze Star Trek scripts this seriously. Even if the scripts themselves pretend to be serious literature, doesn't everybody know that they aren't? It's only commercial television, after all. Surely viewers just want to be entertained and don't care about (or aren't' even aware of) the second-hand ideas and out-of-context quotations. The trouble is that many viewers are not fully aware of the commercial purposes of these shows, do take them seriously and will come away from them with the idea, for instance, that, if you achieve power, you will have no choice but to become corrupt.
Absurd at it is, I will take them for what they pretend to be and continue to analyze them accordingly. It's my way of having fun.
TERGIVERSATION METER READING: -4. "Hide & Q" represents pretend humanism--that is, apparent engagement with the human predicament but with a false face of learning, and not very good learning at that. It is extremely dishonest. It presumes that white male power games are the chief concern of all humanity.
Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).
FOOTNOTE: C.J. Holland is a psuedonym for Roddenberry croney Maurice Hurley. According to Larry Nemecek in The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Hurley was perturbed by Roddenberry's re-writes of this script, and wouldn't put his name to it.
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