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Retro Review: Tapestry

Posted by Michelle - 23/04/10 at 06:04 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 15 (s06e15)

Original US airdate: 02/15/1993

When Picard’s artificial heart fails after a surprise attack, Q gives him a chance to relive his youth and change his fate.

Plot Summary: After Lenarians attack a diplomatic party from the Enterprise, Picard’s vital signs fail while Crusher fights to save him. Picard finds himself in a white emptiness where Q informs him that he is dead because of the weakness of the artificial heart he received after provoking a fight with a Nausicaan in his youth. When Picard says he regrets that rash choice, Q transforms Picard into a 21-year-old ensign, offering him the opportunity to make different choices and change his future without affecting any major events in the galactic timeline. Picard finds himself with his Academy friends Corey and Marta, with whom he is celebrating their recent graduation. Corey likes to gamble, but the Nausicaans are cheating, and Corey begins to plot revenge while Picard tries to persuade him to let it go. Marta is impressed with this newfound maturity in Picard, who had been something of a womanizer; she spends the night with him, but in the morning, she fears that they have ruined their friendship. Meanwhile Corey goes from irritated at Picard’s reluctance to engage the Nausicaans to irate when Picard says that he’d rather report Corey for cheating than help him turn the tables on the Nausicaans. When the Nausicaans arrive looking for a fight, Picard shoves Corey down to stop him from putting in motion the events that will lead to Picard’s stabbing. The fight is averted, but Corey and Marta both claim they hardly recognize Picard any more. Q congratulates Picard on avoiding the stabbing and saving his future, then returns Picard to the Enterprise…where Picard is a lieutenant in astrophysics. This, Q tells him, is the man he has become, who gets to live the rest of his life in safety, running tests and carrying reports to superiors. When Picard speaks to Riker and Troi about his wish to switch to a command track, both agree that while Picard is a reliable, hard-working crewmember, he doesn’t take enough chances to stand out as a senior officer. Picard tells Q that he would rather die as the man he was than live this dreary, uninspired life. Q allows Picard to relive the fight with the Nausicaans, where he is once again stabbed, after which he wakes up in Sickbay, where Crusher has succeeded in reviving him. Later, Picard tells Riker that he is grateful to Q for showing him why he shouldn’t regret the threads in the tapestry that is his life, even the ones he wishes he hadn’t put there in the first place.

Analysis: “Tapestry” is my favorite Q episode – it has all the warmth and humor of “Qpid” with none of the over-the-top silliness, and it’s not as dark as “Q Who,” plus it has clear antecedents in A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, both classics with themes well worth borrowing. I tried to write down all the memorable lines and moments in the episode as I watched it again and found that I couldn’t type quickly enough. It’s a very clean, uncluttered story — we don’t get interruptions about what’s going on in sickbay where Picard has no life signs while his consciousness is reliving his past with Q, meaning we can believe either that Picard is really dead for this stretch of time and Q has intervened or that this all takes place in Picard’s mind, a fantasy of second chances with Q cast in the role of higher power since Picard has previously declared his skepticism about the existence of any sort of gods. It’s deus ex machina without the deus, like all time travel on Star Trek, only in this case none of it may be happening in the first place. It’s all an excuse to give us a glimpse of a younger, more impulsive Picard, and to explain that it wasn’t such a bad thing that he had such a past. It’s hard to believe that this single incident had such an enormous effect on the man Picard became – I would think he could as easily have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the attack as become a timid man from failing to experience it – and it’s really impossible to believe that the entire universe was unchanged without Picard’s relationships with the Borg as Locutus, the Klingons as the Arbiter of Succession, the Romulans after he sent Tasha Yar to the Enterprise-C, and all that, despite Q telling Picard not to think he’s important. I don’t buy that any of it is real, but as with “The Inner Light,” whether it’s physically happening to Picard or is all in his head is pretty irrelevant.

It’s particularly nice of Q to keep Picard looking to himself – and to us – the way he sees himself now, at nearly 60, rather than as the man in his early 20s whom Picard initially visualized with Q from the era when he fought the Nausicaan. And it’s nice that Picard and his friends are wearing the clothes of the earlier era, since I love seeing Patrick Stewart in a Classic Trek movie uniform. His friends still see him as the young man he was; I’m not sure whether to be amused or appalled that while he apparently found older women attractive in his youth, he now does such a terrible job convincing one of his interest that she throws a drink in his face. Picard seems to have fewer regrets about his promiscuity than about his taste in women from those days, and he doesn’t seem to regret his choice in friends even though we see few virtues in Corey besides the reckless courage of youth. One keeps looking for qualities in the younger Picard to reveal where the mature Picard came from, but they’re really not developed yet, and the adult Picard doesn’t fit well in the skin of his younger self. The man reliving his youth doesn’t have the subtlety and cleverness to divert Corey who’s bent on revenge, nor the sensitivity to recognize the conflicts underlying Marta’s attraction to him. Q isn’t helpful, of course, when he helps Picard make all the wrong decisions – kind of amusing that an omniscient alien seems to be stuck in the late adolescence that Picard eventually outgrew.

We’ve heard bits of the unfolding story before, when Picard told Wesley Crusher in “Samaritan Snare” about getting stabbed through the heart and then needing the artificial heart replaced because of his tendency to neglect it. Picard also told Wesley how foolish he now considers the behavior that got him into the fight with the Nausicaans, which then seemed like a cautionary tale for the younger man, but here we see that most of the details he told Wesley were true rather than exaggerated. Q blames Picard’s “death” on Crusher’s ineptitude at repairing the heart that Pulaski was able to replace in a previous episode, which sounds as questionable as Q’s claim that Picard’s life doesn’t matter in the long run – during the year Pulaski was aboard the Enterprise, Crusher was the head of Starfleet’s entire medical division, and one would think the Enterprise must keep a spare artificial heart handy in case the captain should have just such a crisis. Of course, Q is probably jealous of Crusher; he’s jealous of every woman who interests Picard very much, having already lured Vash out of the way, and even in the past, he interrupts a potential romantic moment by delivering flowers to “John Luck Pickard.” He doesn’t succeed in keeping Picard away from Marta – perhaps he already knows that it will end badly in this timeline, thus eradicating any longings Picard might have felt to rewrite his past with her – but he does replace her in Picard’s bed the next morning. I suspect Q wants to be Picard more than he wants Picard, but his exaggerated revulsion at human mating expressed in “True Q” is entirely absent here.

We know all along that Picard is going to wake up in sickbay with a working heart and a stronger sense of himself, which makes it a fun ride, particularly when we get to see the drab scientist into whom Q turns Picard when he avoids the fight. Again, I just can’t believe that Picard would turn into such a person based on one incident, even such a traumatic one – I could see him choosing a path that doesn’t involve the stresses of command, becoming an archaeologist or even an Earth-based botanist near Chateau Picard, but I can’t see him remaining a junior lieutenant on a starship under the thumbs of scientists and security officers alike. As Picard accuses, the man he becomes with a human heart lacks passion and imagination, two things that define the mature Picard, not only as a commander but in terms of his hobbies (he was a runner at the Academy, he read Shakespeare, he listened to classical music, he was interested in detective stories…those weren’t a result of the fight with the Nausicaan, they predated it). The man who becomes Lieutenant Picard would never laugh when stabbed in the chest by a Nausicaan. What a pleasure to see him wake as himself, still smiling, appreciative of Q, and able to keep laughing at himself as he begins to tell Riker some more stories of his dissolute youth.

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