Q took the fifth season of Next Generation off for some reason but returned with two episodes in the sixth season. And while the first one featuring a woman who was the daughter of a Q and manifesting powers was interesting, it was no where as rich and compelling as this story or other Q-centered episodes.
Interestingly, this one features Q, but I’d not necessarily say it’s Q-centered. In many ways, it feels like an episode of Quantum Leap with Picard in the Sam Beckett role and Q in the role of Al.
The story begins with Picard on the table in sickbay. Crusher is working on his heart, which as we learned in season two was replaced with a mechanical heart due to a bar-fight Picard got into as a Starfleet cadet. Now, years later, he’s dying because of a blast to his chest that has played havoc with it. Picard appears in an all-white area, where Q is waiting for him. Q announces that Picard has died and tells him why. Q then shows the fight with a Nuassican and we see Picard get stabbed. Interestingly, as this happens, Picard laughs…
We’ll learn why later.
Q offers Picard a chance–to go back and change history. To play things safe and possibly survive or avoid the attack in the future that led him here. Picard agrees and is sent back.
The story unfolds and we see Picard attempt to make up for what he sees as the errors of youth. He takes the safe route, avoids the fight, alienates his friends and ends up….well, as a lower ranked officer in the sciences department on the Enterprise. Picard figures out that by not taking chances, he never got on the command track and never became the man he was..the man he likes being. Even if he dies from this wound, he’s lived a fuller life with the mechanical heart than he did by avoiding the fight. Yes, he has some regrets but he also has a lot of things that make for a rich, full life.
At various points in the story, Q appears to debate Picard, goad him on and help influence his decisions. The give and take between Patrick Stewart and John DeLancie is wonderful as always and Stewart is able to bring alive Picard in all of his various life stages. DeLancie also does a great job of shifting from the humorous to the dangerous side of Q at the drop of a hat. The teaser ends with the line, “Welcome to the after-life, Jean-Luc…you’re dead” and is played with such ease, turning to menace. Also, you have to love the directoral choice to play the entire first act against a white background with Q garbed in white and claiming to be a higher power or even a god.
It’s interesting to see writer Ron Moore takes various little elements from the show and put them together–the most notable being the story of the fight and Picard’s mechanical heart that was a throw-away story in season two. And to then take that and give us a character study on the man who would become the captain of the Enterprise..it’s fascinating.
In the end, Q gives Picard another chance to go back and live his life exactly the same way again….he gets in the fight and as he’s stabbed, he laughs, knowing his timeline has been restored. And it’s that little detail that comes back in the final act that seals this one as not just a good episode, but a great one.
Great script, good direction and fine performances make this one of the most entertaining and interesting episodes of Next Generation.