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Retro Review: True Q

Posted by Michelle - 12/02/10 at 07:02 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 06 (s06e06)

Original US airdate: 10/26/1992

A promising intern learns that she has exceptional powers because her parents were members of the Q Continuum.

Plot Summary: Amanda Rogers arrives aboard the Enterprise after being selected out of many applicants to become an intern. She will be working primarily with Dr. Crusher, though her background in biology and eco-regeneration make her an ideal choice at the moment when the ship is trying to save the ecosystem of Tagra IV, which is so polluted that the planet depends on aging filters to keep its environment safe for its population. Rogers does not mention to her new crewmates that she has latent mental powers, which lately have been granting all her wishes; the crew learns the truth, though, when she stops a warp core explosion while Data and LaForge stare. Soon after, Q appears to tell the crew that Rogers, who was orphaned as a child, is actually the child of two Q who had taken human form to study on Earth. He says that he caused the warp core breach to test her powers, and now he must bring her to the Q Continuum to spare her further corruption by humans. Picard insists that Rogers has the right to choose whether she wants to live among humans or the Continuum, but agrees to allow Q to visit with her. Q helps Rogers to visualize her biological parents. She asks Crusher whether Crusher would bring back her dead husband given the opportunity. Crusher says she can’t really relate to the girl’s extraordinary abilities, but she is displeased when Rogers uses her powers for a shortcut in an experiment whose entire point was to measure different metabolic rates in vaccine samples. Rogers discovers that she can stand on the hull of the Enterprise and whisk Riker away for a romantic encounter, though when she tries to force him to love her, she discovers that it feels as artificial for herself as for him. Meanwhile Picard learns that the tornado in which Rogers’ parents died seems to have been artificial, and Q admits that the Continuum executed them – which they will do to the girl as well if she is not a full Q, which is what he is there to decide. Picard makes a furious speech about morality that Q brushes aside. He says that he has already decided Rogers will live, but she must choose whether to accompany him to the Q Continuum or renounce her powers completely. Rogers chooses to remain among humans, but when the atmosphere of Tagra IV begins to deteriorate, she cleans the deadly atmosphere of all its pollutants. Acknowledging that she can’t help using her powers, she agrees to go with Q to the Continuum once she has said goodbye to the parents who raised her.

Analysis: I think any review of “True Q” must begin by praising Olivia d’Abo, the actress who plays Amanda Rogers. This is because, by all rights, Amanda should be intolerable, yet she comes across instead as charming, sweet, and easy to like. Amanda is what what would be known in fan fiction circles as a Mary Sue – a fantasy-projection who is so perfect, no one can possibly take her seriously. The hallmarks of a Mary Sue are that she serves on the ship (or in the village, in the army, etc., depending on the fictional universe), yet secretly is as out of place there as she always felt in her hometown (school, previous job, etc.); she is immediately loved by everyone who meets her, who can’t help responding to her hidden charms and cleverness; she has the near-magical ability to attract whichever love interest she chooses; and she has some great talent that ends up saving lives. Usually characters who are too good to be true seem at best unbelievable and at worst intolerable – a lot of the hatred directed at Wesley Crusher is because he’s the male equivalent, a Gary Stu, wise beyond his years and saving the ship to grateful praise – so it would be reasonable for anyone to despise Amanda as a matter of principle. After all, how many of us can relate to someone who’s top of her class in three subject areas, can make puppies appear just by wishing for them, and happens to be beautiful and bubbly as well? That d’Abo keeps her grounded, even awkward at times, is a credit to her as well as director Marvin Rush.

Whether or not one enjoys “True Q” probably depends on whether one appreciates d’Abo’s performance and John de Lancie’s always reliable wit, because there’s not a lot here, otherwise – a vague allegory about not polluting, a few seconds of gratuitous ship-in-danger and later planet-in-danger. There’s no drama in the big threats because we know the warp core isn’t going to breach and kill everyone, and it’s pretty unlikely that an entire planet’s population is going to die in the final minutes of an episode, particularly since there are Enterprise crewmembers down there assisting. Plus we’re shown so little about the Tagrans that we don’t have a lot invested in their culture beyond not wanting everyone to die. This story is all about the mysterious Q Continuum and how its members interact with humans – specifically, the Enterprise crew, who are sometimes nearly as super-human as Mary Sues (like Crusher, who wants to heal the sick more than she wants anything for herself). We learn that the Q can be as ruthless to their own as our beloved Q has been to inferior species like us; he may have been suspended once, but he never indicated that execution was a possibility. The fact that a pair of Q conceived a child and got attached to it as humans is spoken of with revulsion by Q (score one for us); the fact that they proved as inadequate as humans as they had been as Q and were therefore executed is spoken of without revulsion by Q (score another one for us). This isn’t one of the wacky, fun Q episodes like playing cupid or giving Riker super-powers; this is serious business, where a girl’s life and the fate of a planet hang in the balance.

Amanda may have super-powers, but she’s been raised as a human, and her values nearly the same as those in Starfleet. When Q tells her that she can do anything, the only thing she really wants is to see her parents. She hasn’t worked her way up to thinking, or admitting, that she might like to bring them back in a way that would allow her to interact with them, though later when she talks to Crusher, she’s apparently considering it. Most of her wishes are relatively harmless; the puppies don’t chew the carpet before she sends them back, her experiment with the vaccines doesn’t ruin any one-of-a-kind samples. She doesn’t even kiss Riker properly before she realizes that it’s wrong to force his affections. In fact, despite being attractive and smart, she seems pretty lonely and typically adolescent even before discovering she’s a Q; she has no peers on the ship, she talks to Crusher about wishing she’d known her real parents, she can’t figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. To his credit, Q doesn’t take advantage of these weaknesses, though he doesn’t particularly try to feed her strengths, either. It’s not clear whether he really intends to sentence her to death if he believes that’s what the Continuum would want, though I can’t help wondering if he had something to do with her winning the internship aboard the Enterprise precisely so Picard will be around when the Voice of the Continuum gets on Q’s case. There’s no doubt that Picard will argue for Amanda’s autonomy even knowing what he knows about the capabilities of the Q.

I like that Amanda bonds with Beverly over scientific experiments, though it’s odd that Troi is so distant and so ineffectual talking to a girl whom I would think might really need a counselor. I suppose that if Harry Potter didn’t grow up stark raving bonkers, then Amanda ought to be fine. I’m a little surprised, too, that Amanda doesn’t ask the other crewmembers about their previous encounters with Q, since she knows they’ve met before and it’s obvious that Picard has misgivings both about the Q in general and about this Q in particular. I love when she sends him flying across the room – Q being Q, of course that makes him respect her rather than making him angry. And of course he pretends to want her to best him so that he can say she’s passing his tests, though there’s never any sense that he wants her destroyed. As always, Q seems determined to impress Picard, even as he’s insulting him and his species. Did he have to plead with the Continuum to be sent as their “expert in humanity” to evaluate Amanda, or did he only become interested when he realized that Amanda was headed toward his favorite starship?

Rewatching this series, I’m less and less comfortable with the writers’ certainty that human values and human morality are so exceptional, but it’s kind of like Winston Churchill’s quote about democracy being the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. I’d rather be human than Q…though it would be nice to be able to make puppies appear out of thin air and have Riker flirt with me.

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