Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dumbing Down Of The Q-Continuum Begins With "Death Wish"

The Good: Moments of clever conception, Interesting story idea, Good acting
The Bad: Weakens the concept of the Q, Feels like a rating's ploy
The Basics: When a new Q pops up, the old Q makes an appearance on Star Trek: Voyager that sparks a good debate, even as it weakens the Q Continuum.

It's too bad that when Jonathan Frakes appeared on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode "Defiant" (reviewed here!) that he was not playing Commander William Riker (instead of his doppleganger Thomas Riker). If he he had, he would have been the only actor to appear in all four modern Star Trek incarnations playing the same character. As it is, with his appearance on Star Trek: Voyager's "Death Wish," Frakes merely opened the door to further directing prospects for himself on the Star Trek spin-off. More than that, the appearance of Jonathan Frakes is more of a cameo - and a confused one at that - than anything else.

The U.S.S. Voyager is continuing its lackadaisical journey home when it encounters a comet. Inside the comet, the crew finds a life form that identifies itself as a Q, a member of the Q-Continuum. Freeing the new Q from his captivity draws the attention of the Q that once tormented the U.S.S. Enterprise and DS9 and Voyager becomes involved in a game of cat and mouse across the galaxy and through time until the futility of the chase becomes apparent and the new Q requests asylum from Janeway. Janeway feels compelled to grant the new Q an asylum hearing and the hearing reveals a strong dilemma for Janeway; she can grant the new Q asylum, which he will likely use to commit suicide or send him back to the Q-Continuum where he is likely to be imprisoned or bored for all eternity.

"Death Wish" is one of those episodes that rates higher with me when I've not seen it for a little while. There are two reasons for this: 1. The concept is strong while the execution is a bit more muddied, and 2. The week after the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager, I attended a Star Trek convention where Kate Mulgrew was approached by a fan and told her how her performance, begging the Q to reconsider the value of life, turned her away from her own thoughts of suicide. Seeing that type of effect on someone is actually pretty powerful and seeing how taken aback Kate Mulgrew was by the raw honesty of the fan was also impressive.

But the truth is, outside the life or death, suicide vs. valuing life, freedom vs. control elements of this story, it is a real downer for fans of the Star Trek franchise. "Death Wish" weakens the omnipotent Q beings far more than they already had been. The new Q likens the omnipotent nature of the Q to the appearance of godhood that technologically advanced species have over less evolved ones. He implies that the Q simply use advanced technology or abilities that are easily within the ability for humans to understand. This, unfortunately, leads to such further weakenings of the Q-Continuum and their nature as I, Q (reviewed here!) a novel penned by actor John de Lancie and Peter David which further guts the menace of the Q.

When John de Lancie first appeared on screen as Q in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series premiere "Encounter At Farpoint" (reviewed here!), he created a distinctive and menacing being who was all-knowing, all-powerful and felt he had the ability to stand in judgment of all humanity. It was an intriguing character and his instant popularity led the producers to bring him back in "Hide & Q" (reviewed here!), which is how Jonathan Frakes is brought into "Death Wish." With each outing on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q began to lose some of his menace and his lone appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had him relegated to comic relief in the most terrible and pathetic way.

With "Death Wish," the Q become an "alien of the week" that is less impressive and more petty than anyone would have imagined when they first popped onto the bridge of the Enterprise. It's a shame, but it foreshadows well the way the Borg would come to be dumbed down by the producers in later seasons.

That is not to say the episode is a total wash, far from it. One of the most intriguing elements of "Death Wish" must be the trip Janeway, Tuvok and the two Qs take into the actual Q-Continuum. Star Trek: Voyager seldom becomes so creative as to explore a realm where the only way to experience it is in metaphor. The scenes in "Death Wish" within the continuum are brilliant and creatively conceived.

As well, this is a generally well-acted and well developed episode on the character front. The new Q, who goes by Quinn late in the episode, has a compelling character journey. He is an interesting foil to the mischievous and cunning demigod who has plagued the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. In "Death Wish," the diversity within the Q is realized when Quinn reveals the effects he has had on human history and his basic . . . humanity is explored as a superpower of its own.

Moreover, despite clunky and stupid lines about women being starship captains (Janeway is not the first), John de Lancie is given a wonderful, well-conceived role as Q. Q returns and he seems more in control and less comedic than in some of the prior episodes from other shows in the franchise and it's refreshing to see him in a serious role once again, though there are the token ridiculous moments. One of the ones that is not ridiculous is when Q shows Janeway what he can do for her and it's a shame that that was not explored more. I recall feeling before this episode aired that the producers were making a mistake and that Star Trek: Voyager would have done better to have a recurring appearance by the newly godlike Wesley Crusher as opposed to bringing in Q, but "Death Wish" set some of my trepidations aside.

The new Q is played by Gerrit Graham and he offers a wonderfully different performance from John de Lancie, carrying himself with a more casual quality. While de Lancie seems constantly in control, Graham appears broken, beaten down and the way the two men play off one another is brilliant casting and acting.

But it is Kate Mulgrew who ends up stealing the episode. Mulgrew embodies all of the best qualities of a StarFleet captain when she delivers one of her monologues near the end of the episode on the value of life and the importance of actually living. Mulgrew makes Janeway's decision seem tortured and real and the resolution is satisfying and one of her better performances.

In all, this episode is likely to be enjoyed more by those coming to the episode fresh, without ideas or preconceptions from other Star Trek series'. It's remarkably accessible and a great episode for anyone who wants a great debate on the value of liberty versus control, anyone willing to debate quality of life vs. freedom. The episode is not full of easy answers and that makes it compelling.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!

For other works with Gerrit Graham, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “Captive Pursuit”
The Little Mermaid


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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