“You hit me! Picard never hit me.”
“I’m not Picard.”
— Q and Commander Sisko
Just in case you have no idea who the Star Trek universe’s Q is, I’ll explain. First, though, how’d you end up here? Are you lost? Wait here and I’ll go and get a police officer to take you home, and, for the last time, stop mixing your medication with scotch. Anyway, Q is a godlike alien being who walks the line between mischievous and malevolent and takes special delight in bothering Captain Picard. As played by John de Lancie, Q is one of the more popular and recognizable elements of the twenty-year period of Trek that comprises TNG, DS9, and Voyager. Me, I’ve never cared for Q. Nothing against de Lancie or the writing, I just prefer my godlike aliens to be more strange and less preteen-who-really-could-use-his-Ritalin. It might be because I look at Q as the physical representation of the Trek brass (a.k.a. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga). Wherever their attention is, like the Eye of Sauron, Q will soon appear, bringing his special brand of malicious whimsy.
If you Google “why Sisko is the best captain,” the second hit is a list of seventy indisputable facts. They’re also pretty big spoilers, so, you know, wait on those if you haven’t watched the series. Number 25 is “Q came to DS9 once and was scared away. He won’t leave Janeway or Picard alone.” Q decided to mess with Sisko and was smart enough to realize a simple truth: you can mess with Sisko one time. That’s your free one. You get a warning, and, as long as you go on your way, you can live in peace. Come back, and Sisko’s going to play a little game called “let’s see how many quantum torpedoes I can fit in your large intestine.” Sisko’s warning to Q came in the form of a pair of punches, which promptly knocked Q on his omnipotent ass. Realizing that a man who can punch out a god might be someone around which to tread lightly, Q rather sensibly fled the Alpha Quadrant entirely to go bug Janeway.
Why was he there in the first place? It has to do with Q’s girlfriend Vash, who dumped Picard in order to wander the galaxy with the childish trickster god. (This is where I point out, as a good Niner, this is something that would never happen with Sisko.) Dax returns from the Gamma Quadrant in a crippled runabout carrying Vash, who had been abandoned for two years. This begs a pair of questions, both of which O’Brien is uniquely suited to pose. The first is what the hell is up with the runabout? There’s nothing wrong with it, other than being completely drained of all power. The second mystery is what’s up with Vash? O’Brien has a little bit of the story there, but not enough.
Vash, for those who don’t recall, is an archaeologist of the Belloq school, meaning she’s all about graverobbing and selling the proceeds to the highest bidder, and presumably wandering around with a giant gang of (sadly unseen) Hovitos. That’s what she wants to do here, unloading a giant duffel bag filled with artifacts from the Gamma Quadrant. The crown jewel is a massive amber crystal, once again re-affirming DS9’s bizarre infatuation with that color. I don’t get it, from the Cardassian transporter effect, to Odo’s gelatinous form, it’s all amber, all the time. Anyway, she hooks up with Quark to run an auction while the station begins to suffer a series of brownouts and mystery hull breaches.
Of course, this is a Q episode. He’s on the station, because he wants to get Vash back. She dumped him, and, in a bit of spite, he abandoned her in the Gamma Quadrant. Now, he’s “sorry” and wants to do whatever it takes to get her back, as long as “whatever it takes” isn’t really that much. The Q/Vash relationship only becomes interesting when viewed for what it really is: an emotionally abusive one. Vash wised up and dumped her all-powerful, arrogant twit of a man, and, of course, his ego can’t take it. That’s the subtext here, that Q doesn’t really miss Vash, he can’t take the wound of being dumped by an inferior human. It’s never said outright, but I always got the impression if Vash took him back, he would instantly dump her to balance the karmic scales.
The technical failures worsen, and the station itself starts getting yanked toward the wormhole. Sisko understandably assumes Q to be behind all of it. He protests his innocence, and Dax points out that the problems are heralded by the same stuff that crippled that runabout. There’s some Treknobabble here, and I’ll be honest, I just tuned it out. I’ve never been a fan, and a big reason I hold DS9 above all other Trek is their reluctance to resort to it. They use it to track the source of the blah blah to the other blah blah and it’s the crystal, okay? We knew it was the crystal as soon as we saw it. They beam it out into space, and it hatches into a space manta ray, which immediately heads for the wormhole.
While there’s some fun character work here, especially with reinforcing Dr. Bashir as a vainglorious wanna-be Casanova, a large chunk of the episode rests on the shoulders of the guest starts. It’s billed as a Q episode, but it’s almost more of a Vash one. There’s nothing really wrong with the character, but I’ve never gotten her appeal. She captured the heart of Captain Picard, who is awesome, and Q, who is essentially a god. So, you’d think she would be some unstoppable combination of Christina Hendricks, Sarah Vowell, and Catwoman. Maybe it’s the writing, or maybe it’s Jennifer Hetrick’s subdued performance, but she never really plays as this alluring siren who beguiles everyone she sees. She even catches the eye of both of DS9’s resident would-be lotharios, and they interact with Dax and Kira — both women who actually are unbelievably incredible — every day. Sorry, show, not buying Vash.
The most telling part of the episode comes in the very end. Bashir, whose date with Vash was spoiled when Q made him sleepy (No, seriously.), returns after the action that nearly destroyed the station. He blinks at Dax, wearing her best sphinx-smirk, and says “Did I miss something?” That’s the last line of the episode, and a more appropriate one I could not imagine.
Next up: We wonder why the show couldn’t be about Curzon Dax.