Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What’s the one thing that we know for certain right now about the plot of Star Trek: Picard Season 2? We know that Q interfered with the timeline, “breaking reality” in the process, and causing Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena to have to undertake a dangerous new mission to the past. But what if everything isn’t as it seems – what if Q isn’t the one responsible for the damage to the timeline? Or if he is responsible, what if he has an understandable – and possibly even altruistic – motive? Those are the two parts of the theory that we’re going to consider today!
First up, let’s acknowledge some production-side reasons why this theory may pan out in some form, then we’ll jump into in-universe explanations after. Ever since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017 – and also during the Kelvin films and even, to an extent, in the latter part of Enterprise’s run – the writers of the franchise have been very keen to bring mysterious elements into Star Trek. The whole reason I got into writing up lists of theories was because there’s been just so much to speculate about in practically all of the franchise’s modern incarnations!
In Discovery Season 1, there was the hidden identity of Captain Lorca. In Season 2, the Red Angel’s identity (and Spock’s connection to it) formed a huge part of the narrative. In Season 3, there was the Burn. In Season 4 we have the ongoing mysteries of the Dark Matter Anomaly, Unknown Species 10-C, and more. And in Picard Season 1 we had the mystery of Dahj and Soji, Bruce Maddox going missing, Coppelius, the Zhat Vash’s admonition and crusade, and the super-synths.
In all of these cases, everything was not as it seemed. In the run-up to Picard Season 1, Soji’s very existence was kept secret, with Isa Briones claiming to only play the character of Dahj. The show played its cards close to its chest for practically the entire season, keeping secrets about the nature of the Artifact, the Romulans’ plans, the super-synths, and more. The show has precedent when it comes to telling stories that go to unexpected places – and I see no reason at all to think that Season 2 will be any different in that regard.
The trailers and teasers that we’ve seen so far have been careful not to telegraph too much of the story. I suspect we’ve seen glimpses of scenes from the first two or three episodes at the very most, so the true nature of the story – and Q’s role in it – is still very much in play right now. No trailer or marketing campaign should spoil the finished product, and in some cases trailers can be cut and edited in very specific ways to conceal or outright lie about certain elements of a story. It wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened, not by a long shot!
There was also a remark from Sir Patrick Stewart almost a year ago, when Q’s return to the franchise was first announced. At last year’s First Contact Day digital event, Admiral Picard himself seemed to suggest that, while Q was certainly involved with whatever was going on, he wasn’t necessarily wholly responsible for it. That distinction may be key to this theory!
So let’s leave the real world behind and jump into the Star Trek galaxy. There is, in my view, evidence to suggest that Q wouldn’t do something that so drastically damaged the entire timeline. Ever since his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint, Q has been viewed by Picard as an adversary – but I would argue very strongly that that isn’t how Q sees himself. By pushing and provoking Picard, Q has arguably sought to expand Picard’s understanding of the universe far beyond what he might’ve otherwise been capable of. In Q’s mind, the ends justify the means – so all of the meddling and provocation was worth it to get Picard (and humanity) ready for whatever the Q Continuum has in store next.
It’s even possible to read some of Q’s more belligerent actions – like placing the Enterprise-D in the vicinity of a Borg vessel – with the benefit of this additional context. In my earlier theory titled Q the saviour, this is exactly the point I tried to make. Q deliberately chose to introduce Starfleet to the Borg because he knew that the Borg were already planning to target the Federation, and he hoped that his intervention would show the Federation how dangerous the Borg threat really was.
In light of the mess that the Star Trek franchise has made of Borg-Federation contact, I think that theory absolutely holds water, but check out the full article because I get into it in way more detail!
Whether you buy into my theory in full or not, I think we can agree at the very least that this is how Q sees himself. He doesn’t see himself as an enemy, provoking Picard out of boredom or malice. He sees himself as a friend, and may even feel that Picard is ungrateful for not reciprocating those feelings of friendship.
Q accused humanity of being a “dangerous, savage, child-race,” and it’s on these charges that Picard and all of humankind are on trial, and have been since Encounter at Farpoint. But at every stage, Q has seemed smugly satisfied when the puzzles he lays out for Picard (and others) are solved. He seems to see potential in humanity – perhaps even the potential to one day know as much about the universe as the Q Continuum themselves.
In episodes like All Good Things, Q even claims to have helped Picard solve a particularly difficult puzzle. By learning to see time itself not as totally linear, but in a new and different way, Picard was able to solve the anti-time puzzle. Likewise in Tapestry, Q gave Picard a chance to see what his life might’ve been like had it taken a different path. That definitely sounds familiar to his line in the Season 2 trailers about “the road not taken!”
In Tapestry, though, Q wasn’t some nefarious villain. He was making a point to Picard – in his own tricksterish way – about the course of his life, and how being a risk-taker was an inherent part of his personality. He didn’t abandon Picard to the new timeline that he’d created, instead giving him an opportunity to fix his mistake.
Q has, on occasion, seemed impressed with Picard and his ability to solve the puzzles he created for him. Even when Picard had to grovel to Q in Q Who and admit that the Federation wasn’t ready to encounter the Borg, and that the encounter was frightening, Q seemed satisfied that he’d made his point. In Encounter at Farpoint and in All Good Things in particular, Q even seemed pleased that Picard had been able to think through a complex situation and find a solution. He helped – but in a limited way – and in an almost-parental way seemed kind of proud of Picard.
Those feelings, of course, are not reciprocated, and Q has definitely caused death and destruction. Eighteen members of the Enterprise-D’s crew were lost in that first encounter with the Borg, for example, and Q didn’t restore them to life afterwards. However, on other occasions he did undo harm, and even death, caused to humans – such as by un-freezing Tasha Yar in Encounter at Farpoint.
Q being the out-and-out villain of Picard Season 2 would, I would argue, represent a fundamental shift in his characterisation. It would take Q from being a trickster and an annoyance into something much more sinister, and while it’s certainly possible that he could have a darker side that we aren’t familiar with, it would be a major change that would require a good deal of explanation. Why, after having seemingly sensed potential in Picard and humankind, would Q try to do something so extreme?
Furthermore, from a narrative perspective Q doesn’t make a good villain. His god-like powers basically mean that Picard and his crew could never win, and Q’s amorality and lack of fair play mean that he would always be in a position to dominate and frustrate Picard if he ever came close to defeating him. This is a problem all overpowered characters in fiction can have, and it applies to Q in Star Trek just as much as it does elsewhere. Given what we know of Q and his abilities, it doesn’t even seem plausible that the Federation could find a technobabble explanation for limiting his powers, either.
So there are two questions remaining: did Q meddle with the timeline at all? And if not, who did?
There’s a case to be made that Q did still interfere with the timeline, and that all of this is another one of his puzzles for Picard to solve. That’s certainly one possibility, and it wouldn’t be completely out-of-character for Q to behave in this way. Perhaps he saw Picard getting back on his feet after years in seclusion and decided the time was right for another phase of the “trial.” Maybe we’ll learn that Q has visited Picard during his self-imposed isolation, too.
But there’s also another case we can make: Q didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the event that disrupted the timeline. The extent of his involvement may be shielding Picard and the crew of La Sirena from its effects, allowing them to travel back in time to undo whatever happened. There are many culprits we could point to if Q isn’t to blame: the super-synths from Season 1, the Borg, the Terran Empire, a faction from Discovery’s Temporal War, etc.
Q may thus have an altruistic motive for reappearing in Picard’s life. If some external force or faction is responsible for the damage to the timeline, Q might believe that it’s up to him to “save” Picard and humanity. By returning to his old friend, he might do what we know he’s done on multiple occasions already: give him the tools to understand and fix the problem, but without giving him all of the answers right away.
To me, that is Q’s modus operandi. He sets up a problem – or allows Picard to encounter a problem independently – and provides minimal help. In Encounter at Farpoint, Q could’ve just been up front about the nature of Farpoint Station, but instead he forced Picard to solve the puzzle himself. In Q Who he could’ve simply told Picard about the Borg and their destructive power, but instead he made sure Picard encountered them first-hand. In All Good Things he could’ve explained the nature of the anti-time eruption, but instead he watched as Picard figured it out for himself. On each of these occasions (and more) Q provided minimal help and assistance – but the help and assistance he did provide ultimately proved key to resolving the situation favourably.
If Q wanted to, he could wipe humanity out of existence with a mere thought. If he wanted to kill or seriously harm Picard, he has infinite ways of doing so and unlimited opportunities to do so. He could go back in time and prevent Picard’s birth or turn him into Murf from Star Trek: Prodigy, or a million other ridiculous and sinister things. Sending Picard on a mission back in time, thus giving him a chance to undo whatever damage has been done, is not the way for Q to “win” in any sense of the word.
So it’s safe to say that I believe there’s more going on with Q than meets the eye! His involvement with the event that damages the timeline, and his reasons for getting involved in the first place, may seem suspicious right now – but we’re seeing small glimpses through the eyes of Picard, and thus with Picard’s own biases attached. Considering all of the other things that Q has done, and the many other ways he’s challenged and provoked Picard over the years, my suspicion right now is that there’s something else going on that the trailers and teasers have been careful not to reveal.
To summarise this theory, then: Q either isn’t responsible for damaging the timeline at all, or he’s doing so for the purposes of testing or challenging Picard. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t depict a serious attempt on Q’s part to harm Picard or even permanently disrupt the Federation or the prime timeline; there’s something more going on that we haven’t yet seen – something that will, perhaps, unfold slowly over ten episodes!
I’m genuinely excited to see Q make a return to Star Trek. His appearance in Lower Decks Season 1 was relatively minor, so it will be neat to have him back in a substantial way – whatever form that ultimately takes and whatever his impact on the season’s narrative. He’s a more complex character than some viewers give him credit for, and as I’ve said before I don’t think it’s fair to call Q a “villain” – at least not in any of his appearances thus far. Perhaps Picard Season 2 will change that, showing us a darker and more sinister presentation of the character. But maybe we’ll get a continuation of this complex presentation, and the return of a truly interesting dynamic between Q and Picard.
Stay tuned when Picard Season 2 kicks off in March, because if there’s any development of this theory I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it!
You can also check out my other big Q theory by clicking or tapping here.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will stream on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world beginning on the 3rd of March 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including all characters and 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.