Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Q And The Grey:" Q Gets Dumbed Down, But Who Cares? Suzie Plakson's Back!

The Good: Decent acting, Fun idea
The Bad: Idea guts character(s), Unsatisfying resolution.
The Basics: In an episode that is more fun than substantive, Q returns begging Janeway to incubate his child to save the Continuum.

Perhaps the principle problem in the Star Trek universe is that, as a franchise, there are few villains in the universe that remain as menacing as they are initially characterized as being. To wit, Q, the seemingly omnipotent entity who first appeared in the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Encounter At Farpoint" (reviewed here!). He first flashes into existence powerful and badass, almost instantly whipping the crew with his limitless power. In the decent episode "Deja Q," (reviewed here!) Q is made mortal, becomes a punchline and it is a role he never recovers from. When Q first appears on Star Trek: Voyager in the second season episode "Death Wish," (reviewed here!) there is something more philosophical about him, though he maintains a strong whimsical quality. The problem is, upon his next appearance in "The Q And The Grey," the Q Continuum is pretty much gutted of any menace. In "Death Wish," the Continuum's powers are likened to advanced technology. In "The Q And The Grey," the concept is almost lowered to the idea of "Anyone can be a Q."

When Voyager witnesses a surprising number of stars going nova in a pretty tight region of space, Q suddenly appears to proposition Janeway. The Q Continuum, it appears, is in the throes of a civil war and Q's solution to the chaos and anarchy of the Continuum is to provide them with a new focus and perspective, in the form of a baby. Q propositions Janeway with the idea of mothering the child in exchange for Q returning Voyager to Federation space. Janeway rejects Q's advances and when a female Q appears, Janeway and Q rush off into the heart of the maelstrom; the war-torn Q Continuum!

The problem with "The Q And The Grey" is that it removes any menace of the Q Continuum and continues to oversimplify the concept of an omnipotent being (or beings). Far from godlike, Q is often silly in this episode and the result is more ridiculous than clever. The writers of the series once more illustrate their ethnocentrism by creating the metaphorical environment of the war-torn Q Continuum as the American Civil War. Seeing Janeway, Paris and others in Civil War outfits is fun, but it's one of the episodes where the costumes tell the story as opposed to the story forcing the costumers to adapt (the Spanish Civil War would have been a much more interesting setting). The only thing that remains consistent here is the concept from "Death Wish" that the Q Continuum is so magnificent that its true nature must be obscured and rationalized for the human mind to understand. Thus, the viewer knows Q and Janeway are not in the American Civil War, but rather this is the closest metaphor their human minds might understand.

The bigger problem is the one with the female Q and Voyager. Their ability to surprise the Continuum is a huge part of what guts the menace of the Q and makes the episode a bit of a disappointment. Of course, it's hard to be disappointed any time Suzie Plakson, K'Ehleyr from Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Reunion" appears. Plakson is memorable as the female Q and it's fun to see her brought back to the Star Trek fold after so long.

Kate Mulgrew gives a decent performance that illustrates that, more than simply being an authoritarian captain, she has a sense of comic timing. This is quite possibly the most amusing we ever see Mulgrew perform as Captain Janeway. She is funny, with a great sense of bewildered body language and she's able to perform with a wide-eyed sense of frustration that most viewers are not likely to have guessed she could do. Mulgrew's performance is actually quite funny and makes the episode worthwhile to watch.

John de Lancie (Q) returns and, sad to say, does nothing we have not seen from him before. De Lancie is Q and he's got the role down pat; this episode does not significantly add anything to the character and there is nothing special about his performance in this episode to say that he's what makes it more or less watchable.

"The Q And The Grey" works for entertainment, but it's not much more than that. Sure, it's interesting to see what happens to a society plagued by omnipotent boredom, but this episode simply proves that the Q are not omnipotent and, in fact, by the resolution to this episode, they are not menacing and not even all that interesting anymore. In short, fans of the franchise who delight over seeing Q again are likely to sober up to how this episode guts one of the initially clever villains in the franchise. "The Q And The Grey" is the nail in the coffin for the Q continuum and repeated viewings make it seem more silly.

It's hard for fans of the Star Trek franchise to sit back and accept their series (or franchise) as silly and that's a big problem for this episode. The concept is not bad, but the execution is. And Star Trek: Voyager is not so edgy as to make this a seriously desperate encounter for the crew. Q's desperation at asking Janeway to bear his child is limited, so the menace does not seem all that big of a deal. Q asks politely, if in a smarmy way. The only manifestation the crew has to worry about with the Continuum's civil war is a bunch of novas in an area of space they are leaving. Presumably, one side of another will win the war, the novas will stop or the universe will be destroyed. The problem here is that the writers are not edgy enough to raise the stakes to real character menace.

Yes, the problem with "The Q And The Grey" is that Q continues to ask politely. This is a nice, PC, PG episode that claims the universe is at state, but plays with characters that play by the nice rules. It's hard to take the extent of Q's stated desperation seriously when he continues to politely ask, harass and cajole Janeway about mating with him. Nothing justifies rape, certainly nothing from a human perspective, but with the stakes being the universe itself, one wonders why Q remains fixated so rigidly on Janeway and/or why his desperation never boils over into . . . well, actual desperation or anger.

As a result, this becomes a fun episode and is worth at least a single viewing for fans of the Star Trek franchise (and it's definitely good Star Trek: Voyager), but it doesn't truly hold up beyond being an entertaining science fiction romp.

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

For other works with Suzie Plakson, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Red Eye
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Reunion”
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “The Emissary”
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “The Schizoid Man”


Check out how this episode stacks up against others by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page where the episodes are ranked best to worst.

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

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