Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"The Q and the Grey"

**

Air date: 11/27/1996
Teleplay by Kenneth Biller
Story by Shawn Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Well, it's time to be going. The old ball-'n-chain really hates it when we're late." — Family man Q

Nutshell: Entertaining in places, but mostly an implausible, unfocused mess.

"The Q and the Grey" is another one of those shows that the promo people live for. Another "high concept" idea that hopes to win its audience over with a plot that can be described on the previews in a single sentence: "Q comes to the Voyager and asks Janeway to mate with him!" It's a hook but it's not a story.

Actually, there is a story mired in Q's inept attempts to serenade Captain Janeway, but it's so unfocused, ponderous, and ambiguously handled that it's hard to get much enjoyment out of it. This is the follow-up of sorts to last season's wonderful "Death Wish," in which a revolutionary Q played by Gerrit Graham voiced his desire to die because his existence had reached the point of irrelevance due to the Q continuum's love of the status quo.

This time, Q comes aboard Voyager and tells Janeway that he has chosen her to be the mother of his child. Janeway is naturally non-receptive, asks him to go away, etc. Q responds with dumb but amiable jokes:

Q: "You're playing hard to get."
Janeway: "As far as you're concerned, Q, I'm impossible to get."
Q: "Goodie! A challenge!"

Janeway keeps Q in his place until he finally, but temporarily, gives up and vanishes.

Naturally, as the case usually is with Q, there's more here than meets the eye. In fact, Q's desire to have a baby with Janeway, he explains, is something he hopes will have repercussions within the Q continuum itself. But to complicate the matter, a jealous female Q (Suzie Plakson, who played Worf's now-deceased half-Klingon lover K'Ehleyr on TNG) appears, and suddenly we have a classic triangle (or so the Plakson-Q thinks) with Janeway unwillingly caught in one corner.

Considering that the story isn't really about this preposterous triangle, it seems rather silly that the show wastes the opening 1 1/2 acts on it. Some of this is mildly amusing (I got a chuckle out of the tattoo gag, for instance), but much of it is just silly and overly proud of its playfulness.

And, after a mere two episodes, I'm sick of Neelix's stupid island holo-program already. The French pool hall had much more class and style if you ask me. (Speaking of Neelix, his exuberantly annoying "Wow!" in response to witnessing a supernova at the beginning of the episode continues to go along with my theory—Neelix is still a painfully irritating character).

Midway through the second act the show finally shows signs of getting better as the story begins to develop into something beyond obvious Q gags. Q takes Janeway to the continuum (courtesy of another one of those human-comprehensible metaphorical renditions like in "Death Wish"). This time, the metaphor is the American Civil War, used to represent a civil war within the Q continuum. The war, Q explains, is the result of Graham-Q's suicide in "Death Wish"—it has caused chaos and dissension between advocates of the status quo and the need for new thought. Our de Lancie-Q is one of the key Qs standing up for freedom of new ideas, but he's on the losing side of a battle which is causing cosmic side effects (like the aforementioned supernovas). Q is convinced that introducing human DNA into the Q gene pool (or whatever) will bring forward a new era of peace (or something).

Okay, fine. So what does all this exposition and discussion about war in the name of ideals really boil down to? Not much, in my opinion. The problem here is that the episode attempts to tell simple little human stories using what are supposed to be omnipotent beings. Is the show saying that the most important thing on an all-powerful being's mind is the discussion of whether the mother should raise a child or the father? And how exactly would the integration of human DNA into Q society magically end the war? The episode thinks a vague, half-explained answer will suffice, but it doesn't. The way the story uses the Q continuum is too questionable; as much as they know about time, history, and the universe, the episode will have us believe the opposing side of the war thinks it can bring the conflict to an end simply by killing Q. Haven't they heard of martyrdom? Do they believe that making Q a martyr will cause his supporters to lie down and give up?

Maybe that's the point the episode is trying to get across—that the omnipotent, all-knowing Q are ultimately just as flawed and ignorant as any backward humanoid. Unfortunately, that's no definition of Q I've ever heard of, and many of the arguments feel like self-contradictions as a result. Besides, do we really want to see the Q reduced to talking about standard Trek-issue arguments of peace and war?

The other big problem with "The Q and the Grey" is that the use of the Civil War metaphor—initially fine—forays into far too tangible, literal terms. The whole point of "Death Wish's" visit to the continuum was to represent a story with somewhat abstract ideas in more tangible, human terms. But here the metaphor becomes a simple plot device that the human characters can fully interact with—and that's totally unacceptable. By the end of the episode, the entire Voyager crew is in the Q continuum, fighting an unfathomable war with omnipotent beings. This is an "action" finale that, frankly, proves absurd. Because the ending is based on action and not dialog or ideas, all that remains to scrutinize are the physical events. These events have no real rhyme or reason; they just happen and assume they make storytelling sense, which they don't. Why can't these omnipotent Q simply snap their fingers and send these pesky humans out of the continuum? Because the writers say so, that's why.

For that matter, the Voyager getting into the continuum in the first place is contrived and misconceived—and based on reams of unnecessary technobabble. Using Plakson-Q's help (who has lost her powers for reasons we needn't concern ourselves with since the story doesn't), the Voyager is able to cross "into" the Q continuum—using methods that seem about as arbitrarily decided on by the writers as the flip of a coin. Plus Plakson gets shoehorned into the thankless role of a smug, superior being who is better than everyone else and makes sure they know it, too.

Another underlying problem is that this episode doesn't really know what it's about. First it's about relationships and love, then procreation and parenthood, then violence and war between immortal superbeings. In a vacuum, some of the isolated dialog has valid human points and works pretty well, but the show doesn't find any true focus over any of it, and so the themes feel like they've been jammed into a murkily explained, incoherent overall package. And the constant shift in tone from "downright goofy comedy" to "attempted cerebral drama" sure doesn't help the flow of the episode.

And, I'm sorry, the banter between Q and Janeway just does not hold its own. There are some good lines, I'm happy to say, and I think Mulgrew and de Lancie both manage to transcend the material, but overall it's based too much on silly sexual innuendoes and recycled jokes. All such scenes do is highlight how much better similar scenes worked between Q and Picard, where truly smart dialog took precedence.

"The Q and the Grey" is a mishmash of less-than-compelling themes and lackluster dialog. All that we're left with at the end is a bunch of questions that are supposed to have wonderfully complex answers, but instead have little wonder and just feel vague for the sake of inexplicable vagueness.

"Death Wish" this is not.

Previous episode: Warlord
Next episode: Macrocosm

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17 comments on this review

Bob - Wed, Oct 31, 2007 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
I like how they portrayed the Union as idealistic men of principle and the Confederacy as mindless minions of orthodoxy when the historical reality was the opposite (Slavery was not cool, and all that, but there were many factors that led to the Southern states attempting to withdraw from the US). That aside, this episode was a lame ratings-booster to stall for time after the writers blew their wad on "Future's End". Oh yeah, all the other Q episodes on Voyager sucked, too. In fact, every time TNG and Voyager met, suckage abounded!
Salmonax - Thu, Nov 1, 2007 - 6:43pm (USA Central)
I dunno, Bob - Lt. Barclay's appearances on Voyager usually seemed to work.
Gretchen - Sat, Nov 3, 2007 - 7:26am (USA Central)
Not that the series gave us anything truly stellar before this, but this is the episode which really turned me off Voyager.
So, if you want to visit the Q, all you have to do is fly into a star?
And, after the crew stops the Q civil war, Q doesn't send them home as thanks? Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay!
Dirk Hartmann - Thu, Apr 10, 2008 - 2:37am (USA Central)
This episode does not deserver two stars. The one and only scene I really enjoyed was the dialogue between the female Q and B'Elanna.
Mike - Wed, Oct 22, 2008 - 9:40am (USA Central)
Yeah, 2 stars is pushing it. Although Jammer's review points this out, the idea that the Q are completely helpless against the invading humans is ridiculous. The Q are acting completely different from all the other Q episodes, which I think is unforgivable -- admittedly, season 4 and 5 would see the Borg change similarly. This COULD have been a good episode but was felled by incoherent ideas and terrible writing (and continuity).
Nic - Tue, Jun 1, 2010 - 8:55am (USA Central)
I always enjoyed this episode. "Death Wish" it is not, of course, but there is one scene which in my opinion bumps it up to a 2.5 star rating, and that's the scene where Janeway is tending to Q's wounds in the camp. The lesson that Q learns here is that human's best qualities are not a result of genetics but of education. They are a result of learning from our mistakes and doing our best not to repeat them, which is something the Q have never had to do. That to me gives this episode more cohesiveness, though I admit the final act is a contrived action-oriented mess that almost makes you forget the good scenes that came before.

Almost.
bigpale - Thu, Feb 17, 2011 - 7:28pm (USA Central)
Another show that is Voyager in a nuttshell: a great idea and a botched execution.

The series major flaw was the lack of agood showrunner. Taylor just couldnt cut it. The episodes -- nearly all of them -- were in need of a page one rewrite. That tells me whoever was running that writing room wasnt doing their job keeping the writers on point and focused.

Not that Braga was any better...
Elliott - Fri, Mar 11, 2011 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
Seasons 2 - 4 had the unfortunate habit of forcing one to sift through some silly crowd-pleasing hokiness to see the meat of an episode. As Nic pointed out, there are some really wonderful dialogue scenes and the ideas presented (though they never flower as they ought to) continue philosophically from "Death Wish"--Quinn was adement that the idea of Q being omnipotent was posturing, that they are indeed as flawed as any other being but simply much more advanced technologically and possessed of seemingly infinite knowledge. This is an idea I sincerely wish had migrated to DS9--I wish the Bajorans would have had to contend with their gods being, well, beings who are flawed. I wish they would have seen something like what the Dominion saw (and ignored) in its gods...but I digress.

This is probably a 2.5er--the last act requires one to turn his brain off and just go with the gags, which is not something I want to do when confronted in earlier acts with deep issues. I seemed to me that the whole civil war scenario was created just so that Janeway could tend Q's wounds in a setting which favoured the dialogue there. The writers then found themselves with a big mess to clean up and few avenues of logical escape, so they just threw logic out the supernova-transdimensional aperture.
Elliott - Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - 12:33am (USA Central)
You know, I just rewatched this episode and it struck me as a lot better than your synopsis recalled to my memory. The plot is goofy, really goofy and as you say Q traditionalists may have a hard time mixing the story's core which is an intimate story with the "COSMIC CONSEQUENCES!!!!" of the civil war, but the acting on Mulgrew's part especially is so under-played that it works. It's something that Brooks could never achieve even when given a very meaty story.

There are two sides to this instalment of the trilogy, one which adresses a serious albeit light-weight issue of where values really come from (a refreshing change from the DS9 idea that Federation values are some sort of meaningless mantra) which works very well, nearly as much so as "Death Wish," and there's the side that's an excuse for fun with the cast and sets, etc. As I said, the mix is a goofy one, but the execution is surprisingly tasteful.

I also really enjoyed the in-joke between Ms. Q and Torres regarding Klingon females (and of course half-klingon females).
Anthony - Tue, Nov 22, 2011 - 11:00pm (USA Central)
I just finished watching this episode and I feel dirty.

Doesn't Q and "Trek" in general deserve better than teenage-level swooning and sexual pastiche?
Arachnea - Mon, Dec 24, 2012 - 6:49am (USA Central)
The perfect show would have been a mixture of DS9 and Voyager:
DS9 was better in plots, storytelling,long arcs and use of great recurrent characters but lacked in allegories and deep-thoughts questions (sorry, I don't if that's the proper way to say it in english, but I guess you understand anyway) and forgot a lot about what Star Trek stood for initially. Voyager mostly was the contrary.

This episode is a perfect example. With a DS9 storytelling and the Voyager's thoughtfulness, it would have been excellent. Nic and Elliott already highlighted the good points, thanks.
navamske - Sun, May 26, 2013 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
Best line in the episode? A toss-up:

"You! Bar Rodent!" (de Lancie-Q to Neelix)
"You! Helm Boy!" (Plakson-Q to Paris)
Kevin - Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
I think it says something that this episode effectively has its own entry in the Evil Overlord family of Stupid Plot Tricks:

"If I Am Ever a Starfleet Captain... If my ship is whisked to the far side of the galaxy, leaving us with a seventy-year journey home, and a super-being offers to take us home instantly in exchange for having his baby, I'll agree and ask what we can get for two babies."
Ric - Thu, Apr 3, 2014 - 3:10am (USA Central)
Ok, this one was mostly silly and goofy. But I have to say that in the first 10 minutes I laughed out loud one or two times. "My cosmic clock is ticking"? Hahaha, oh my! And what about the later "you, helm boy"? Hehe, this was so ridiculous that... it sort of worked to me.

Sure, Mrs. Q is terribly goofy and a teenagerish idea, but blah... The problem is that I found her character to be portrayed a bit too sexist for my taste. Like the joke about the captain being billions of years younger... well it treats 20th century sexist visions as universal.

However, here we see a clear continuity from the last time we saw Q. Actually, it seems like decisions made in the last time are giving results here. Pretty cool. Also, I think if Q's telling the truth about him being the one that "sounded the trumpet", this gives his character a lot of additional depth.

PS: oh yes, seeing the Doc walking across the ship was also a good surprise of continuity. Although I had prefered him stuck af the sick bay, I am happy to see a bit of continuity here. Good call.
SlackerInc - Tue, Apr 15, 2014 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Bob's comment at the top of this thread perpetuates a pernicious myth about the Civil War that needs to be countered with a dose of reality:

www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths-about-why-the-south-seceded/2011/ 01/03/ABHr6jD_story.html
Robert - Mon, Jun 23, 2014 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
Well, I'm going to step offside from most of the opinions and perceptions above and say I like this episode and would give it a good solid 3 stars. I'm not suggesting I'm "right" it's only my opinion.

I just saw the episode, then read all the reviews above, and I will say that there were things in the episode that stretched even my rather large ability to suspend disbelief. As in, from the get go, before I read all the reviews above, I've never been able to really swallow the idea that Kathryn being the mother of a Q hybrid baby could solve a political crisis in the Continuum. The episode says that human DNA will express love and compassion and transmit these values to the Q. Kathryn argues that these are things which are learned, not inherent in the genes. This last point is open to debate; I've heard people argue that genetics accounts for a lot more of what we think of as learned behaviour than we might think.

This leads into one of the criticisms I read above that now makes some sense to me i.e. that the episode tries to cram too many different themes into one show, at least for most people. So if the show was about the nature/nurture debate maybe that would have worked for more people. Same comment for the themes of the perils and pitfalls of war or if the episode was just an old fashioned screw ball comedy. That's too many subjects for 45 minutes for most I suppose, especially when they don't fit well together. Like an egg/ice cream/relish sandwich.

And a think it's a fair criticism that the Q have been taken down a notch after a fashion, and that's something of a loss. They're not really omnipotent, just really really powerful and really really old. They are heretofore reduced to "alien of the week" status. I guess the prior Q outing ("Death Wish") started this (the mighty Q requiring human mediation to resolve a social problem) but I thought that episode had a single powerful theme, which I've also seen well explored in other Science Fiction (I'm thinking of Frank Herbert); that is that "immortality" so called really means living a long long time and is ultimately incredibly boring.

An episode on the trials and tribulations of civil war could have the potential to be compelling. Don't know how you squeeze in the need for Voyager to help stop a Q civil war. Maybe that was the conundrum that lead the writers to come up with the baby idea i.e desperation i.e. we gotta get this show on the road and this is the best we've been able to come up with.

w.r.t. the American Civil War, I read the article recommended by SlackerInc. This article is well written, contains points I've read before from the bit of reading I've done on the American Civil War, and on the face of it sounds "right" to me. But I'm a Canadian and there's no way I'm going to wade into the debate about such a volatile subject as the American Civil war; we have our own "hot button" issues in Canada, such as I've heard passionate opinions expressed about who really won the Battle on the Plains of Abraham. That is where the English defeated the French and occupied Quebec City. As I've been told by English people "we won". But then I've heard of other interpretations. I've been told that Separatist dogma in Quebec is that the battle was a tie, and that is what is now taught in schools in Quebec (I don't know if this is true but it sounds plausible to me). I also read a serious historical article that said that even though the English occupied Quebec City, that isn't the whole story as to how Quebec became part of the British Empire. The explanation offered is that France and Britain were engaged in an 18th century World War which raged in many places,and at that time the big prize in the New World was the Caribbean. So when the conflict was finally being settled at the table the French were more motivated to take what they could get in the Caribbean. Apparently losing Quebec really stuck in the craw of the French, they hated the idea of their French com padres falling under Anglo rule, but the economic benefits they got out of their Caribbean holdings was worth more to them. So Quebec was ceded to the English. The suggestion is that France could very realistically have won Quebec back militarily if France continued the World War, but then they risked losing some of their Caribbean holdings.

Wherever the truth lies there are a couple of big picture points I'm trying to make that this episode of Voyager, and at least one episode of TNG, try to deal with, at least a bit. One is that the passions inflamed by war don't just go quietly into the good night. This is one of the major evils of war. In Canada we still have strong tensions between the ethnically British and the Quebecois. Canadian politics is much more complicated than that but that's one of our big political stressors. In the States it's very clear that the Civil War still inflames passions. I've heard there are people in Asia still upset with Genghis Khan and his visits.

And that is another big picture item; what is the historical truth? And even if diligent and careful and rational and hard working scholars can determine the "truth", there is the problem of what will people believe is true, irrespective of what actually happened. People arguably have tribal instincts that can outweigh an appeal to reason. Well, I'm saying these are topics worthy of Star Trek, and there are many others that revolve around the experience of war.

My understanding (maybe incorrect) is that Gene Roddenberry served in WWII in the Air Force and came out of it with no love of war. But he still believed that evil as war is, it is still sometimes a necessary evil. The tricky part is figuring out in advance when war is a necessary evil.

This is no academic exercise. As I write this there is a very hot debate going on in the States as to what to do militarily in Iraq; the consequences of the decisions being made right now will probably, at least possibly, have far reaching consequences. So back to Star Trek, I think it does a public service when on difficult subjects it makes us think, hopefully helping us to make wiser decisions in times like these.

So why do I like this episode so much? My reasons are pretty prosaic. Even though I'll concede it's a mishmash of incongruous themes, I don't mind that that much. I like all the themes presented, no matter how ineptly.


And if we've lost something with the evolution, or perhaps devolution, of Q, well we've kinda picked up another comedic angle. Even if it is pretty lame.

When it comes right down to it it's two characters that really make it for me. One is the Suzie Plakson Lady Q. I can't get enough of her. I was so sad when they killed her off on TNG, and I wish they'd brought her back some way or other many more times.

I also really "liked" the Confederate Colonel Q, played by Harve Presnell. As in he was polite, witty and a complete SOB. I wouldn't want to be stranded with him on a desert island. But as a character in a TV show I thought Harve did a great job creating a believable, vivid character, with very few lines of dialogue.

And I'll just add that Captain Janeway and Q have their moments, as do B'Elanna, Chakotay, Tom and Harry. I even liked Neelix's bit.

That's all I have to say!
Voyager - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 1:35am (USA Central)
The only saving grace to this one is some well-realized humor and de Lancie's reliable performance. Otherwise, it is a wasted hour that accomplishes all of the wrong things. Mainly the dumbing down of Q, the insulting of the viewers intelligence, and the Voyager standard of rolling a few good ideas together into the shape of something that fairly resembles a turd.

1 star.

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