Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.
I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.
On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”
The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.
Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?
That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?
Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?
Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.
Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.
In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First Contact–Regeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.
Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.
The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.
This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.
And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.
In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.
Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.
All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.
So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.
Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.
Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.
What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.
Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.
So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!
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