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.