Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Death Wish"

***1/2

Air date: 2/19/1996
Teleplay by Michael Piller
Story by Shawn Piller
Directed by James L. Conway

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"This ship will not survive the formation of the cosmos." — Torres

Nutshell: A few silly scenes leading up to the core of the story, but once it gets where it's going it's one of the best and probing stories yet told on Voyager.

When the crew comes across a comet exhibiting strange properties, they inadvertently release an imprisoned Q who had been sentenced to eternal incarceration by the Q Continuum for attempting to kill himself. Once released, this Q (Gerrit Graham) returns to his suicidal attempts and, much to the ire of Captain Janeway, accidentally vanishes half of Voyager's crew in the process. The Q we're all familiar with from TNG (John de Lancie) appears to undo Graham-Q's blunder and send him back to his incarceration. But Graham-Q requests asylum from Janeway; de Lancie-Q concedes to a hearing over whether or not Graham-Q can be granted his wish of killing himself—something which had before been denied because it could be harmful to the balance of the Q Continuum.

"Death Wish" has a few plot holes here and there, as well as the obligatory Stupid Q Tricks; but it's easy to look past them based on the sheer strength of the story being told here. The show takes a while to get going, but once it does, it's compelling, absorbing, and thoughtful—another cerebrally enticing teleplay by Michael Piller (based on a story written by his own son).

Let's start with the Stupid Q Tricks. Once de Lancie-Q returns Voyager's vanished crew members, he's ready to promptly send Graham-Q back to his incarceration. But Graham-Q attempts to hide by whisking himself and Voyager away from de Lancie-Q, first sending the ship back to the time of the creation of the universe, then shrinking it to the size of a subatomic particle, and finally, as one hilarious in-joke, hiding the Voyager on a Christmas tree as an ornament (it fun to see the franchise poke fun at itself). De Lancie-Q, however, is not fooled. He knows all the hiding places, and once this series of gratuitous Q gags has been delivered, the story wisely presses on. (Q gags can be fun—like the ornament joke—but I've seen so many of them that they rarely impress me any more.)

The rest of the show takes a courtroom format, where Tuvok defends Graham-Q's request to Janeway, who takes the role of judge in the matter. De Lancie-Q is the prosecutor trying to convince Janeway to deny Graham-Q the asylum he seeks, based on grounds that he is insane and in no position to request it.

But Graham-Q is not insane. There's a reason he wants to die, and it's in this reason where the episode addresses a wonderfully engaging human question. On occasion, Star Trek can get trite when all-too-delicately taking the human question route. But "Death Wish" rings true all the way, thanks to the genial and poignant performance of Gerrit Graham as a jaded Q who has no reason left to exist.

The episode peaks in its fourth act, where Graham-Q attempts to prove his suffering life is pointless by taking Janeway to the Q Continuum, presented in the human-comprehensible form of a house in the middle of a desert with a road running by it. The road, he explains, represents the universe. But it's simply a circular road that just ends up back at the house. He's traveled the road many, many times; there is nothing left for him to explore. And Graham-Q also explains how the Continuum used to be a place for ongoing polemic, humor, and discussion from all over the universe. Not anymore. No one in the Continuum even bothers to talk anymore, because all the discussions have been discussed and all the unknown possibilities explored.

Since Graham-Q has nothing new to accomplish, his life has become pointless, futile, and a torturous bore. The beauty of his argument is how much sense it makes, and that it incites us think more deeply than probably any Voyager episode has to date. Piller deserves much credit for the intelligent writing. The rest deserves to go to Gerrit Graham's passionate, compelling presence. It's a close running between him and Joel Grey (from "Resistance") for the series' best guest star.

The other thing this argument succeeds in doing is giving us a fascinating look at the Q Continuum. Despite how powerful and omnipotent the Q have always seemed throughout TNG, Graham-Q assures that they are not without weakness. They have become a dry and dispassionate people, and by dying, Graham-Q will not only escape that fate, but inject a new variable of unknown into the Continuum. The desert scene works as a strikingly well realized metaphor.

Ironically, even de Lancie-Q is taken by Graham-Q's argument. He used to be a rebel himself (though he admits that he is now a "born-again Q" who re-surrendered himself to the Continuum once they punished him), and as the show nears the end, he begins to understand what it is that Graham-Q hopes to gain. There are all sorts of reassuringly undertones here—most notably a sense that "the adventure of discovery must continue." The fact that de Lancie-Q ultimately grants Graham-Q his wish for suicide is both intriguing and somewhat bittersweet as we see such a wonderful character die his necessary death.

Amidst this wonderful core, "Death Wish" also has some surface elements that don't bear quite as much scrutiny. One is the appearance of William Riker, Isaac Newton, and Maury Ginsberg, whom de Lancie-Q brings to Voyager as evidence that historic moments pivoted around a Q's influence. The suggestions that Graham-Q caused the apple to fall from Newton's tree, and that the Q also played a role in saving Woodstock has a sort of goofy "Forrest Gump" nature that—although kind of fun—isn't nearly as entertaining as the serious core of the show. As for Riker's appearance—it's more or less gratuitous if you stop and think about it. It was hardly necessary, and not much of a factor in the plot.

As for the "banter" scenes between de Lancie-Q and Janeway, they're adequate, but not exactly standout. The idea of Q being attracted to her seems forced, and the verbal jousts here can't match those between Q and Picard (or even Q and Sisko in "Q-Less"). Q's bribe of sending the Voyager home if Janeway rules in his favor is another retread of the Big Ethical Decision she had to make in "Caretaker." Fortunately, the writers play down and ultimately ignore the issue—a wise move since exploring it would simply have resulted in a foregone conclusion.

There's also the question of how Graham-Q could have witnessed de Lancie-Q's mischievous streak—which was presumably during TNG's days (i.e., "Q Who," "Deja Q")—if he has been isolated in a comet for 300 years.

The final verdict? "Death Wish" takes a while to figure out where it's going, but once it does, it's an excellent show, aside from a few uninspired elements it uses to get there.

Previous episode: Dreadnought
Next episode: Lifesigns

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33 comments on this review

marcusg - Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - 4:20am (USA Central)
Great ep. But what about a reference to Amanda Rogers? Her character in True Q (TNG S06E06) would seem a logical fit here. Surely Janeway would have heard of her. But given that the Q can't die (supposedly), why not reference her in some other way?
Jasper - Tue, Jan 13, 2009 - 1:25pm (USA Central)
There's also the question of how Graham-Q could have witnessed de Lancie-Q's mischievous streak--which was presumably during TNG's days (i.e., "Q Who," "Deja Q")--if he has been isolated in a comet for 300 years.

Simple enough: Q time is not linked to our time. Consider the ease with which Q has transported Voyager to the big bang. Would it not imply that if he had been traveling locked away in a comet for hundreds of years he could also have been elsewhere in the universe at the same 'time' if he went to that 'time' earlier in his life?
navamske - Fri, Aug 14, 2009 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
marcusg

"But what about a reference to Amanda Rogers?"

It's true that there was no specific reference to Amanda Rogers, but what happened in her family was alluded to. Tuvok asked de Lancie-Q if it wasn't true that the Continuum itself has executed some of its members, and de Lancie-Q answers yes. This could have been an allusion to the death of Amanda Rogers's parents -- in "True Q," didn't Q acknowledge that the Continuum had sent the tornado that killed the Rogerses, because they had dared to procreate like humanoids?
Derek - Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - 5:50am (USA Central)
Double de Lancies with the "Ugh, VULcans" line is one of Voyager's best moments. :-D
Jay - Fri, Jan 28, 2011 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
@ navamske

And a year later, on an episode of this series, DeLancie-Q procreates like a humanoid.
Ken - Tue, Feb 8, 2011 - 1:59pm (USA Central)
This is certainly a good episode. It was funny and poignant at the same time. It had lots of great lines, guest stars, etc. And for the first time, I wasn't so annoyed by a Q episode. I haven't been a fan of the Q honestly.

My only really beef with the episode is that one again the Voyager spots some useless crap on their sensors and they stop and check it out. The premise is just awful. They do this in what... 40% of the episodes? Don't they want to get home?!

But in this case, I can forgive it because the episode is actually wonderful.
Destructor - Tue, Mar 22, 2011 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
Ken, you make that complaint a lot, but it was established in the pilot that it's part of their mission goals to continue exploring the Delta Quadrant. It wouldn't be much of a show if they were just constantly commuting, would it? They're *explorers*. Seek out new life and new civilizations, etc? It'd be wildly out of character for Janeway *not* to explore the DQ while she was there. In fact I think even in this very episode Q asks her: "Would you not want to die if you could no longer explore?"

Anyway, I didn't like this episode when I first saw it (the Riker cameo- totally gratuitous!), but seeing it a second time I was really affected by it as a metaphor for euthanasia- for when you become so old you can no longer 'explore'. I found Janeway's appeal at the end: " I like this life, Q. You might too. Think hard before you give it up."

Very affecting, and great performance by Mulgrew.
Ken - Tue, Mar 22, 2011 - 7:52pm (USA Central)
Destructor, I agree that the show wouldn't have all that much interesting stuff going on if they didn't check out every nook and cranny in the galaxy... but maybe that's a signal that the premise for this show was flawed from the outset, no? I really do think so.

In TNG, they also had to explore, but it never seemed to use the same repetitive premises and setups like Voyager does. There's a lot more variety in its execution.
Jasper - Wed, Mar 23, 2011 - 5:35am (USA Central)
Destructor, I find it interesting that you are talking about what would be out of character for Janeway. As a matter of fact, Kate Mulgrew herself has complained that her character was written so inconsistently she no longer knew how to act it. And yeah, you need to screw up pretty badly before the actors start complaining...
Phil - Sun, Jul 10, 2011 - 6:31am (USA Central)
This is extremely geeky and nitpicky but one thing that bugged me fifteen years ago when the episode first aired and still bugs me on the DVD today is this: why is Riker wearing his TNG era uniform complete with TNG era comm badge? At first I thought maybe Q had plucked him from a slightly earlier timeline but Riker knows Janeway is Voyager's captain which means he's a post "Generations" Riker. At the very least he should have had the new comm badge but I guess the producers wanted him to look as much like he did on the show as possible. After all it was a sweeps month and Voyager was a network show and including Riker in this ep was clearly a ratings grab.
Matthias - Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - 8:28am (USA Central)
Phil: maybe Q plucked him out of bed and slapped him into the uniform he was most familiar with. /inconsistency apologist

I can't say I'm terribly happy to see the familiar Q return as a straight-laced, upstanding member of the Q continuum just to hash out the tired old euthanasia discussion again. You'd think the utopian earth society would be less uptight about it too. Two stars from me, one for Riker, one for Riker's facial hair.
Dennis Murphy - Sun, Aug 28, 2011 - 11:27am (USA Central)
It is certainly possible that the new Q was imprisoned in the comet 300 years ago and he could still have been free. Time has no meaning to the Q, having Janeway at the Big Bang didn't really pose a serious paradox even though it was quite a few billion years before her birth. Its a plot device convenience, but its not necessarily a plot hole.
V - Sat, Jan 14, 2012 - 12:41am (USA Central)
Graham-Q Knew about a lot of things that happened during the 300 years because he is Q. The same reason he knew Kes, Tuvok, etc. The Q have a way of gathering information even ones they've "missed" in an instant because they are not limited, they are not linear :).
Jasper - Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - 10:14am (USA Central)
@Phil: Perhaps it was merely a recreation of Riker by Q, rather than the actual thing? That would allow him to make mistakes in looks.
[Chris] - Mon, Jul 16, 2012 - 12:50pm (USA Central)
This episode was shown on Sky today - it's a great episode and a reflection of just how much potential Voyager had. It has a great premise, a good group of characters (Kim and Neelix notwithstanding) and it did produce some classic episodes of Trek. And yet it was also one of the most infuriating shows when it came to continuity, character development, taking risks with stories and the use of the dreaded reset button.

The episode provided some interesting questions, and a unique perspective on the Q continuum. I also liked Tuvok in the role of Q2's advocate.
Paul - Sun, Dec 2, 2012 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
Re: Riker's comm badge ...

This bothered me, too. But is it possible that Riker was from some point around "All Good Things ..." -- after Janeway was named captain of Voyager but before "Caretaker"?

Point being, Riker could have known who Janeway was and that she was a captain without being Riker from a point when the new comm badges were issued.
Yanks - Tue, Feb 19, 2013 - 1:29pm (USA Central)
Nothing on Janeway's decision?
Chuck AzEee! - Tue, Mar 19, 2013 - 6:53am (USA Central)
Excellent episode, arguably the best Q related episode in the entire Star Trek canon. One that I would consider a 4 star classic.
Phil - Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 5:58am (USA Central)
@Paul

I suppose that might work... according to the stardates mentioned onscreen "Caretaker" (stardate 48315) takes place before "Generations" (stardate 48632). In "Generations" both styles of uniforms were being worn on the Enterprise so perhaps just prior to "Caretaker" when Janeway received her commission to command Voyager they were still using the old comm badges in parts of the fleet.

Still none of it explains why Q would bring in a Riker from a year earlier.
Sintek - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Anyone else feeling better about their life for never noticing the difference in plastic props on costumes nor commenting at length about said difference?
Yakko - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 12:09am (USA Central)
No Sintek. Your life is not richer and your human experience is not deeper because you never noticed the difference in the costume. You're just less observant. Now if you noticed the difference but just didn't give a shit THAT would suggest you might have healthier priorities. However you ARE posting a comment in a "Star Trek" message thread - and a "Voyager" one at that. Unless you're randomly trolling boards then you must be as big a geek as anyone here. Still I'll be the bigger geek and point out that the commbadge props were made of wood and not plastic.
Sintek - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 3:51am (USA Central)
I apologize if I hit a nerve. I was in a very bad place when I wrote that comment 5 hours ago.
CadetNorris - Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - 3:55am (USA Central)
There was a missed opportunity in this episode, unless I'm wrong...

When Q (DeLancie) appeared on the Enterprise for the first time, one of the first things he does is deep freeze one Lt. Torres, whose skin tone and hair color match B'ellana's.

It's not a big jump to think that this man (who was also a Goldshirt) is B'ellana's father. A line, or better yet a scene referencing this would have been very welcome, especially in light of the gimmicky first act we got.
T'Paul - Fri, Sep 6, 2013 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
Interesting, CadetNorris!

Good performance from Russ here...
Caine - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 10:05am (USA Central)
Q has been imprisoned in a comet for 300 years, Voyager comes along and beams him out. Tadaaa! Anyone ...?


Wow, CadetNorris, your powers of perception are OVER 9.000! Insanely well spotted!
Gooz - Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
Act Two
Janeway: I'll agree to hold a hearing...[dramatic pause]... [trademark Janeway chin lift and head bob]...in the alpha quadrant.

Acts Three and Four
Proceeds as originally written with typical court room scenes and tropes like "that's highly unusual" and "I'll allow that" thrown in to keep things moving along.

The End
inline79 - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
In this episode I learned that you can be immortal, omnipotent, all-powerful and still NOT know what a woman wants. Phew, it's not just me - even Q!

Matt - Fri, Nov 15, 2013 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised that no one has brought up the fact that the poison that Q is both given and self-administers is a form of hemlock ... hemlock being, of course, the poison that Socrates was given to drink as a form of execution for, among other things, "corrupting" the youth of his society.
Corey - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 8:48am (USA Central)
Episodes like this are why Voyager's S1 and S2 are better than TNG's S1 and S2.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Mar 3, 2014 - 4:47am (USA Central)
4 stars easily for me. Any quibbles are minor and this episode manages to be breezey yet deal with a serious subject simultaneously.

This is one of Voyager's best episodes.
Trekker - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 5:54pm (USA Central)
Usually, I think Jammer overrates episodes, but for this one, I think he underrated it.

I like the story and performances, plus Star Trek is dealing with an upcoming issue in our society. Assisted Suicide will not go away with the aging baby boomer population. However, as a society, we force our own values of "life" over individual rights all the time.

The social commentary here is deep and philosophical like a mid-TNG episode or a great TOS episode, which works well.

It is a great episode that deserves more than 3.5 stars out of 4.

I'd give it 9.5/10, because it acknowledges a future issue in society and does what Star Trek set out to do as an innovative TV show.
Elliott - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 8:27pm (USA Central)
@Trekker: not that I really disagree with you, but how would Jammer give this episode a higher than 3.5 star -yet-lower than 4-star rating? 3 and 3 quarter stars?
SlackerInc - Tue, Apr 1, 2014 - 9:07pm (USA Central)
I agree with several of the posters above. I think this was head and shoulders above even the other "good" episodes of this show. Deeply philosophical yet still breezy and amusing: not easy to pull off that combo! 4 stars out of 4, or 5 out of 5 (9.5 out of 10 does sound about right).

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