Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer, as well as for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.
Following Q’s appearance in the second Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer, I’ve seen some discussion online about Q’s age and appearance. I don’t think this is necessarily a huge topic worth dedicating a lot of time to, but it’s also one that’s potentially interesting, and it gives us an excuse to talk about Picard Season 2, the Q Continuum, and jump into a bit of Star Trek lore, so I thought I’d chime in.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is being produced in 2021. John de Lancie first appeared as Q right at the beginning of Season 1 of The Next Generation in the episode Encounter at Farpoint, which was filmed in mid-1987. Over the span of 34 years… he’s got older. Mystery solved!
Obviously there’s more to say than that. From an in-universe point of view, Q “shouldn’t” age – or to put it more accurately, Q doesn’t need to age. The Q as a species are noncorporeal and immortal, meaning that Q doesn’t age in any manner that humans can comprehend. The Q do, however, experience the flow of time, as we learned in the Voyager Season 2 episode Death Wish. That story centred around a member of the Q Continuum who was bored of living having effectively experienced everything in existence. But we’re off-topic.
Though the Q Continuum have a different understanding of time, they do experience the passage of time and thus can, in some way, age, or at least accumulate new memories and gain more knowledge. Part of the reason Q liked to tangle with humans like Picard and Janeway was because he wanted something to do, and presumably hadn’t been able to have those experiences already. Thus the Q don’t exist outside of time or in a non-linear way like the Bajoran Prophets.
All of this isn’t really relevant, though. What matters for this discussion is that Q can assume any form he chooses. He could presumably turn himself into Picard’s doppelganger, a big fat housecat, or a cloud of hot pink gas – he isn’t limited to a single form. He appears “older” in Picard Season 2 because he has chosen to appear older, either to mock Picard, empathise with him, or perhaps even to experience what it’s like to be an older humanoid if that’s an experience he hasn’t yet had.
So case closed, right? From an in-universe point of view, yes. There’s no plot hole nor problem with Q’s story simply because of John de Lancie’s appearance, and anyone trying to make that claim needs a refresher course in how the Q Continuum works! But that isn’t necessarily the end of the affair. There is one point to consider from the production side, and I find it to be an interesting one as it’s something we’re going to see more of in future as technology continues to improve. I’m talking about digital de-ageing and CGI.
The 2019 Netflix film The Irishman won praise (and numerous awards) for the way it made use of digital de-ageing techniques on Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro, transforming them into younger versions of their characters. The use of this technology is not limited to cinema, as it was recently used in Season 2 of The Mandalorian – and no, I won’t spoil it and tell you why if you haven’t seen it yet! This technology, along with other photorealistic CGI technologies that are continually being improved, has the potential to really transform film and television productions, and it’s already possible to see a brand-new film featuring the likeness of a long-dead actor brought back with CGI – like happened with Peter Cushing’s character of Grand Moff Tarkin in the film Rogue One. It’s only a matter of time before the leading role in a new film is a CGI recreation of someone who’s passed away.
It isn’t beyond the realm of technical possibility to de-age John de Lancie for Picard Season 2. It would be an expensive investment, certainly, and one which ViacomCBS may not want to make or may not have the budget for, but technically it would have been possible. And I think this is why we’re seeing this conversation. Fans look to shows like The Mandalorian, which while not a direct competitor certainly exists in a similar space to Picard, and wonder why Star Wars gets to use fancy new technologies while Star Trek doesn’t!
Star Trek has, in the past, pioneered some interesting technologies and filmmaking techniques. The Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Trials and Tribble-ations brought to television the complicated technique of inserting actors into existing footage – something which had been seen in Forrest Gump only a couple of years earlier. I even noted in my look at Discovery’s Season 1 premiere the way the CGI artists seemed to have incorporated elements from the film Interstellar – which premiered a couple of years earlier – in their portrayal of the binary star system. So Star Trek has a track record at taking cutting-edge filmmaking techniques and bringing them to the franchise.
Perhaps digital de-ageing is still too new and thus too expensive to incorporate into the Star Trek franchise right now, and that’s absolutely fair enough. I don’t want Picard Season 2 to blow its whole special effects budget on a few scenes with Q, not if doing so comes at the expense of other set-pieces later in the story. The Irishman had a budget of over $150 million. Rogue One had a budget of around $200 million – and the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin still wasn’t quite perfect! The Mandalorian was reportedly working with a budget of around $15 million per episode, or $120 million for the second season’s eight episodes. In short, digital de-ageing is expensive and can inflate the budget of any production.
While The Irishman won a lot of praise, and so did The Mandalorian Season 2, in both cases critical opinion wasn’t unanimous on the de-ageing technology, with some arguing that it was a waste of money. Under those circumstances, I can understand why ViacomCBS wouldn’t want to go down the route of blowing literally millions of dollars on this technique for a secondary character. The return on investment simply may not be present.
How many people aren’t going to watch Picard Season 2 because of the way Q looks? I reckon close to zero. And how many additional viewers would the season pick up if it used the de-ageing technology and that became a talking point? That’s also got to be close to zero! People who are excited for Picard Season 2 are going to watch regardless, and those who don’t want to watch, or who dislike modern Star Trek, were always going to stay away. In that sense, these kinds of technologies are expensive luxuries for any production.
Some of the people who’ve been discussing this online are firmly in the anti-Trek camp, and they were never going to watch Picard Season 2 anyway. It’s sad, but some anti-Trek folks will pick up on any small detail and use it to justify their continuous criticism of the franchise. And that’s up to them, I guess. For my two cents, though, I don’t think there was much to be gained by spending a ton of money on de-ageing Q. It would’ve been interesting to see, and it could’ve become a minor talking point for the second season of the show. But other than that, there was a lot of expense for not much reward, and while it may work in other productions with higher budgets, I’d rather ViacomCBS spent their money cautiously so that we can continue to enjoy more Star Trek, rather than less Star Trek laced with expensive trappings.
There’s no in-universe reason why Q shouldn’t appear differently more than twenty years after he was last seen. He can change his appearance at will, and whether it was to make a joke of Picard having gotten older or to, in Q’s twisted way, express empathy with his old friend, the way he looks even makes sense. It could even be a minor story point in the episode in which he first appears. I don’t have a problem with it at all, and I suspect that some of those claiming it’s a “big deal” would have found other things to criticise and other reasons to dislike Picard Season 2 and modern Star Trek. As far as I’m concerned it’s case closed!
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally in 2022. Season 1 is available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.