“Q-Less” (season 1, episode 7; originally aired 2/7/1993)
In which we get a dash of Q
Q, John de Lancie’s omnipotent prankster god, first appeared in “Encounter At Farpoint,” the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that episode, he positioned himself as a terrifying, if somewhat impish, judge of human behavior, forcing the freshly introduced Jean-Luc Picard to defend his species’ right to exist, and setting the basic direction for the series as a whole: exploration, with occasional confusion. Q went on to be a semi-regular on the show, appearing in eight episodes total, some of them middling, and some of them good enough to be included in any all-time TNG best list. Q introduced the Borg to the Trek-verse; he also guided the series to a close with “All Good Things… ” Whatever the episode, de Lancie was fun to watch, and he and Patrick Stewart played off each other very well. In his loopy way, Q managed to bridge the gap between the original Trek and the new series. Here was the ultimate god-like being: basically magical, more than a little campy, but capable of shaking up the status quo in potentially interesting ways.
It’s no surprise that Q shows up on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the show’s first season. He’s an iconic figure, he’s easy to transplant, and he offers an easy opportunity to contrast Sisko and the others against the crew of TNG. But while de Lancie is in fine form, the character doesn’t really fit in here. Sure, he didn’t exactly fit in on the Enterprise, but on that craft, his strangeness was the whole point. Against a crew of consistently well-meaning Boy and Girl Scouts, Q’s cynicism and gags deflated the pomposity, and even reminded us why we liked all these people in the first place. They may be do-gooding nerds, but they’re also smart, resourceful, and sincere, and Q never managed to prove otherwise, no matter how hard he tried. DS9 is a different matter. The leads here are likeable and distinct, no question, but they’re also individuals with their own goals, existing in a world where real evil and pain are an established reality. One of the reasons Q worked on TNG is that he seems one of the few beings capable of posing a threat to the expertise and over-achieving brilliance of the Enterprise. On Deep Space Nine, we’re still supposed to be impressed that the replicators work.
That’s probably why Q seems like something of an afterthought in “Q-Less,” despite the fact that the episode was almost certainly conceived in an attempt to bring him onto the show. He spars with Sisko, he insults O’Brien, he makes Bashir sleep for a day or so, but the majority of Q’s interactions are with the episode’s other guest star: Jennifer Hetrick, returning to her role as Vash, Picard’s former love interest, and Q’s ex-traveling companion. It’s an odd pairing. When last we saw Vash (“Qpid”), she agreed to wander the universe with Q, after a lot of silliness with Sherwood Forest and Picard in tights and so forth. But we’ve seen Q a few times since then on TNG, with no Vash in sight, and, unless I’m misremembering, no one ever asked Q where Vash was. Not even Picard, although I suppose he could be a little resentful at being dumped for a lunatic. Suddenly deciding to remember continuity—for a character with no real reason to need continuity—is odd, and it results in a lot of conversations between Q and Vash which have nothing to do with anyone else on the show. These conversations work okay on their own, and they’re not bad if you have some sense of the history between the two characters, but it’s too early in the run to spend this much time on people we’ll never see again.
Having Q and Vash take up as much screentime as they do means the regular ensemble gets something of a short shrift. In case anyone had any doubts, we learn early in the episode that Dr. Bashir is a bit of a player, spending the cold open putting the moves on an attractive Bajoran woman, and almost immediately hitting on Vash when she arrives at the station. Among other character highlights of the episode, we’re reminded that Quark is greedy, and easily manipulated by a woman who knows just how to finger his ears. (I love how that sounds dirty without actually being dirty.) Sisko is grumpy; Dax is calm; Kira is fiesty; O’Brien is the Everyman. Oh, and Odo is grumpy, too, but not the same kind of grumpy as Sisko—I’d say Sisko has a sort of “Oh what fresh hell is this” pissiness, while Odo maintains an irritable satisfaction at having his cynicism reaffirmed time and time again.
All of this is well and good, and entirely consistent with what we’ve seen so far. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with consistency; getting to know an ensemble doesn’t necessarily require great dramatic shifts or personal revelations. However, so far, DS9 has done a decent job building its world, even in episodes where world-building wouldn’t seem immediately obvious. Even “Captive Pursuit” gave us a chance to see more of Chief O’Brien, as well as get a sense for Sisko and Odo’s willingness to bend the rules when the mood suits them. In “Q-Less,” the writers make an effort to distance DS9 from TNG by throwing Q and Sisko into direct confrontation, and showing straight away that Sisko wasn’t going to put up with Q’s crap in the same way Picard did. (Of course, Picard didn’t exactly “put up” with anything. He just didn’t punch Q in the face, because Picard wasn’t a punching kind of guy.) That’s fine, and as obvious as the scene is (Sisko literally says, “I’m not Picard.”), it does what it’s supposed to.
Only, that scene alone isn’t enough to justify the episode, and considering that Q spends most of the hour doing the same tricks he did on the Enterprise—popping up unexpectedly, being sarcastic, making people disappear—it’s not like Sisko’s punch has all that much effect. The station experiences a crisis, but that crisis doesn’t have anything to do with Q, although he is the only one on board who understands what’s going on. The crew deals with the crisis, much as we’ve seen them deal with crises before, and while that’s fun as far as it goes, it’s a little too familiar and rote. This is the sort of action we’ve seen on every Trek, and multiple times as well. Which isn’t to say that DS9 should entirely forego franchise history, or that there’s no place on the show for your standard “Let’s all be very professional and shout out things we read off of computer screens” sequence. It’s just that this in and of itself isn’t enough to really drive an episode. Predictable, if professional and basically effective suspense scenes should be the climax to a story that’s interesting in and of itself. They can’t serve as a reason for the episode to exist.
It’s too bad, then, that the closest thing “Q-Less” has to a focus—Vash and her decision to break ties with Q for good—is so under-developed. Hetrick is decent in the role, but the script never gives us much of a chance to get inside her head, and for a person whose made the monumental decision to turn her back on (and potentially risk the wrath of) an incredibly powerful and fickle alien, she’s not very well drawn. Even knowing her from her time on TNG doesn’t help that much. There, she was a standard femme-fatale type, somewhat light on the fatale, created to provide a temporary foil for Picard. Arguably the most interesting thing about her was that Hetrick was somewhat more age-appropriate for Patrick Stewart than a more traditional casting choice would’ve been.
On DS9, Vash behaves largely as you’d expect, flirting with Bashir, easily manipulating Quark into doing her bidding (another reason to like Quark: He doesn’t act bitter or cheated when Vash gets the best of him, mainly because he clearly gets off on both the ear fondling and working with a capable, attractive opponent), and telling Q to back off whenever he hovers into view. There’s no depth beyond that, though, and no real sense of their relationship, beyond Q’s lovely goodbye speech, with which he explains how Vash allowed him to see the universe in a new way. You get the impression that Q abandoned her in the Gamma Quadrant, but you get no real sense if this changed her, or what her intentions are now. The way the episode is arranged, Vash should be the central point from which everything else pivots, but she’s vacant, occasionally hinting at depths without ever revealing them. It’s her fault that Deep Space Nine is thrown into turmoil; one of the artifacts she brings aboard and attempts to auction off isn’t an artifact at all, but a baby life form. Once Sisko and the others figure out the source of the disturbance, the creature is beamed off of the ship, but there’s no consequence for Vash, and no sense of whether or not she understood what she was selling, or the danger it represented.
“Q-Less” is lively at times, with some entertainingly snarky work from de Lancie, and a few choice quips, but it’s too often a frustratingly perfunctory episode, as though the various components were assembled together in order to fit a generic Trek template. It’s okay, but mostly serves as a reminder of how important it is for DS9 to keep to its own identity.
- It doesn’t help matters that the “stealth alien” plot plays like an abandoned script from early in TNG’s run, and an example of a fascinating concept reduced to a perfunctory MacGuffin.
- I love how O’Brien eagerly introduces himself to Vash, and acts all contemptuous towards Q—and neither of them really remember him.
- Ha ha, Bashir slept through the danger.
- “Seeing the universe through your eyes, I was able to experience… wonder.”
“Dax” (season 1, episode 8; originally aired 2/14/1993)
In which more questions are raised than are answered
After “Q-Less,” which fails to effectively incorporate a franchise guest star into a new context, “Dax” is an attempt to refocus attention back onto the show’s ensemble. There are new characters, sure, but they exist only to frame a story of Dax and the Trill symbiote, and force Sisko to defend his old friend while determining exactly how comfortable he is with his new one. Traditionally, Trek shows have one outsider figure which the series can use to debate various questions about the nature of humanity and is it really all that great to be human and so on. I mentioned in my review of “Emissary” that Odo is positioned to take the place that Data and Spock held before him, but I may have been jumping the gun. Jadzia Dax, in her way, is just as alien and strange as Odo, and while Odo has basically cornered the market on outsider status, Dax is more difficult to wrap our heads around. Odo changes shape and doesn’t know where he comes from, and he has to sleep in a bucket, but he’s a single entity, which means his differences from you and I are more physiological than psychological. Dax, on the other hand, is the melding of two personalities, and it’s hard to understand exactly what that means.
“Dax” spends a good chunk of its running time trying to answer those questions, and I’m not really sure it succeeds. On the one hand, it’s good to finally have some basic ideas about the Trill out in the open. Jadzia worked hard to be a host body for the Dax symbiote, and when the two of them were joined, they created a distinct identity, one in which both sides had some say. Fair enough, but it’s still hard to really grasp this on a dramatic level. That could be because of the inherent complexity of the idea, but I’m starting to have bad feelings about Terry Farrell’s performance. What I initially took for confidence and detachment (appropriate for a character who had survived, at least in some fashion, for a very long time) is starting to seem like simple blankness. She’s not awful, but she’s been cast in a demanding role, and there’s very little sense that she’s capable of projecting the depth that role requires. At the very least, she isn’t able to rise above mediocre scripts, although I’m not sure I can blame her there.
The premise of the episode is that Curzon Dax, Dax’s former host (and Sisko’s “old man”) is accused of murdering a beloved general and committing treason on a planet called Klaestron IV. A group of Klaestronians, led by the dead general’s son (Gregory Itzin, who you might remember as the evilest of all presidents on 24), secretly board the station and attempt to abduct Dax before anyone realizes she’s gone. Their plans go awry, although not for lack of trying on their part, and Sisko demands an extradition hearing to stall for enough time to figure out what the hell is going on. While “Dax” doesn’t really live up to its title, it does do a good job building ties within the rest of the ensemble, and one of the best examples of this is when Sisko and Kira team up to take down Itzin’s crusade. While both still have their differences, they’re more than willing to work together to protect their own, and Kira’s glee in doing so is a pleasure to watch.
The hearing that follows should be familiar to Trek fans, as we’ve been down this road before. Dax’s not-a-trial trial is probably most reminiscent of the semi-classic TNG episode “The Measure Of A Man,” in which Picard defended Data’s right to exist against an over-eager scientist. That episode, airing in the show’s second season, was one of the first clear signs that TNG was going to find its way out of the dregs of its earlier outings. “Dax” is nowhere near as good, because the focus of the episode is nowhere near as interesting as Data. It’s a shame, but in an episode which supposedly gets into the history of one of DS9’s least-explored characters, Dax remains largely on the sidelines. She’s unwilling to explain the situation when Sisko questions her, and she’s largely silent during the hearing, and while this silence is explicable in terms of character, it essentially removes her from the drama. Dax’s biggest problem up until this point is that she hasn’t really done much of anything, beyond call Sisko “Benjamin” and dodge Bashir’s advances. Everyone else on the station has goals and a distinct personality, but Dax remains calm, aloof, and far too easy to forget.
“Dax” does little to change this, and the issue is compounded by the fact that the seemingly impossible philosophical question that drives the episode—what separates Jadzia Dax from Curzon Dax—is ultimately irrelevant to Dax’s fate. In “The Measure Of A Man,” Data’s nature, and his rights as a sentient being, were the crux of the trial, and there was no last minute reversal or reveal to distract from the issue. The episode had a definite point of view, and it worked hard to convince us of that point of view. This sort of inquiry is largely missing from “Dax,” even though the episode seems to have all the surface indications. Sisko, with an assist from Bashir and Kira, spends the hearing trying to prove that Jadzia is a distinct entity from Curzon, and cannot be held accountable for Curzon’s crimes. That’s not a bad issue to raise, except it really doesn’t matter at all. Sisko really only plays up the idea because he’s trying to buy time for Odo’s inquiries, and he wants to prevent the Klaestronians from taking Dax away. Worse still, since Curzon was completely innocent of both the murder and the treason, the relationship between the dead man and the young woman has nothing to do with anything. There are hints of Sisko trying to come to terms with how he views Dax, and there’s a nice conversation at the end between Dax and the general’s widow, but none of this adds up to much.
So we know a bit more about Dax than we did, but not enough to really make the character work. Thankfully, the rest of the ensemble fares somewhat better. As mentioned, having Sisko and Kira team up works very well, and it’s good to see Bashir getting to do something beyond hitting on ladies and acting like a dork. Sisko sends Odo off to do some investigating on Klaestron IV, and the idea of the station’s constable jaunting about solving mysteries is very satisfying. Initially, I was impressed at how well DS9 managed to avoid the pitfalls TNG suffered through in its first season, but while I’m still having far, far more fun than I did when writing about, say, “Justice,” I’m starting to notice some persistent flaws. This is competent television, but it could, and should, be more than that. I look forward to watching new episodes each week because I enjoy spending time with the characters, and because I enjoy the suspense of waiting for a show to finally hit its stride. After watching “Dax,” I realize I have a bit longer to wait. There’s too much easy writing going on here, with neat plots and predictable resolutions. Thankfully, Sisko and the others are ragged enough around the edges that sooner or later, things are bound to get more complicated.
- The hearing judge was played by Anne Haney, who always seemed to get these types of roles. Also, the general’s widow was none other than Fionnula Flanagan. Haney was in the great TNG episode “The Survivors,” and Ms. Falanagan appeared in TNG and Star Trek: Enterprise, although she’s most familiar these days from her work as Eloise Hawking on Lost.
- I really, really love Major Kira. Nana Visitor’s line reading of “But also… annoys us,” was probably my favorite moment in the episode.
- While it’s great that Bashir caught the Dax-kidnapping and was able to warn Sisko, the setup makes him look like a jerk. He offers to escort Dax to her quarters, and she politely declines; he then decides that her politeness allowed him an open window to go against her wishes, and runs after her. That’s not cute, it’s creepy.
Next week: Bashir has some trouble letting go of “The Passenger,” and Quark keeps playing games in “Move Along Home.”