HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
While DS9’s freshman season is generally fairly solid as far as first seasons go, “Q-Less” is not one of its better efforts, which is unfortunate because John de Lancie’s Q is such a great character. Much of “Q-Less” feels like a retread of previous plot points, and frankly, the other episodes did them better. Still, there’s at least one moment that makes “Q-Less” worth a watch, so there’s something.
The episode opens with a truly painful scene with Dr. Bashir, so we’re skipping to the part where O’Brien pries Dax out of the Ganges only to find Vash in there with her. Understandably curious, everyone wants to know what Vash was doing in the Gamma Quadrant for two years. She explains that a friend dropped her there. She proceeds to the Infirmary where Dr. Bashir gives her a thorough physical, declares her fit, and proceeds to flirt with her. Vash takes a side trip to the station’s Assay Office where she checks in her valuables that she has acquired from the Gamma Quadrant. Most are unremarkable, but there is a strangely glowing stone that is clearly important. As she prepare to leave the Assay Office, Commander Sisko wants a word, so they chat. He ultimately agrees to book her passage back to Earth in order for her to nip into the Daystrom Institute.
O’Brien escorts her to her temporary quarters where Q appears, and they squabble. Vash wants Q out of her life, but Q resists. The door chimes, and she admits Quark who wants to host an auction for her valuables. He wants a higher percentage of the profits than she prefers, so she uses oo-mox to convince him to lower his price. They agree, and Quark leaves. The door chimes again, and it’s Dr. Bashir asking her out to dinner at Quark’s. They agree to meet at the Replimat, and Dr. Bashir leaves to give her a moment to freshen up. At the Replimat, Q, who has disguised himself as a waiter, puts Dr. Bashir to sleep in order to prevent that dinner. O’Brien sees Q and makes a beeline to Sisko because Q is decidedly not a welcome guest on the station. Sisko heads down to Quark’s and confronts Q who challenges him to “fisticuffs.” Sisko sizes him up and punches him.
While the Vash storyline unfolds, the station experiences bizarre power drains, not unlike that which incapacitated the Ganges. The power drains become serious enough that the station is in danger of losing life support. Stymied, O’Brien stays that the Cardassian sensors aren’t sensitive enough to detect the drain’s origin, and Dax suggests flooding the station with small amounts of ionized tritium gas. O’Brien worries about the toxicity, but Sisko orders it done. As he gives the order, Q appears in Ops to mutter about how Picard would already have figured the whole thing out. He does tell Sisko that Vash poses a greater danger to DS9 than Q does.
Quark’s invited guests arrive, and Vash and Quark host the auction, liquidating most of her cache. Meanwhile, the crew in Ops is no closer to determining the source of the power drains. Dax suggests turning up the station’s power in the hopes that the drain’s source will reveal itself. Sisko agrees, and as the power surges, Dax identifies the source. Sisko, Dax, and Kira run full tilt toward the source’s location, which, as it happens, turns out to be the auction hosted by Vash and Quark. Sisko and Co.’s arrival coincides with the bidding for the final item, the glowing stone seen previously in the Assay Office. Dax identifies the stone as the source, so Sisko slaps his combadge on it and orders O’Brien to beam it into space. O’Brien does, and the stone hatches into an alien life form that heads back through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant.
Quark tries to convince Vash to partner with him long term, as a new archaeological site on Tartaras V has been discovered. Vash declines, but Q appears and agrees to let her go before mentioning that Tartaras V will be more interesting than Earth. Q poofs away, and Vash turns to Quark to ask about the quickest route to Tartaras V. The episode closes with Dr. Bashir waking up, finally.
“Q-Less” is not a good episode. Season one tries to paint Dr. Bashir with the same brush that all of TNG did with Geordi La Forge, so we get truly painful, awkward flirting and absolutely zero success. It’s uncomfortable to watch. The plot, such as it is, is pretty thin and really only exists to give us scenes between Vash and everyone on DS9. Q’s presence really, really doesn’t fit the series narrative, so he gets shoehorned into this quasi-jealous lover role. Sure, we know Q to be morally flexible, but as Vash’s ex, he comes across as needlessly cruel. At one point he demonstrates the various diseases from which he saved her by actually manifesting them on her body. The scene is probably supposed to be funny but comes off as abusive. Q’s game with Sisko demonstrates that he may or may not be willing to allow the creature’s birth to destroy the station and killing everyone, just to get back at Vash for daring to leave him. It’s really not a good look for Q who theoretically evolved beyond this nonsense back in “Deja Q,” three years prior. Even if one considers “Q-Less” a comedy episode, Q’s indifference erodes whatever humor might have been present in the story, which would have been the wrong humor for DS9 anyway.
I don’t know why the showrunners decided to do a nostalgia episode. Star Trek takes place largely in the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy. DS9 even offers the Gamma Quadrant as a potential location. What I’m saying here is that space is really big, and if you’re going to bring back a familiar face, you need to have a solid basis for doing so. Many long-running franchises fall prey to the unfortunate tendency to reuse characters and settings. Some of these franchises manage to strike a solid balance between nostalgia Easter-eggs and tedious retread, but a lot of them do not.
I’d argue that “False Profits” serves as an example of a story in which a character’s return makes sense. In “The Price,” Kol and Arridor travel through the Barzan wormhole and mistakenly end up in the Delta Quadrant where Voyager will meet up with them. Despite the astronomical unlikelihood of that encounter, the story works because we know when and how the two Ferengi wound up in the Delta Quadrant. There’s a logical, in-universe reason for them to be there, so the story can play around with the concept of surprise Ferengi without tilting into ridiculousness. Not only that, but the episode’s plot revolves around their presence in that location, as they badly pretend to be Sages.
“Q-Less,” in contrast, doesn’t offer us the same basis for Vash’s presence in the Gamma Quadrant. While TNG established Q as both a force of chaos and a plausible excuse for nearly anything, there really isn’t any other reason for Vash to be in the Gamma Quadrant, so already the premise of the episode feels off because “Qpid” really didn’t need a follow-on episode. However, that’s what “Q-Less” wants to be, despite not actually giving us much of any reason for it beyond bringing back Q and Vash to be charming.
Beyond the set-back for Q’s character arc, the plot in “Q-Less” shares a striking similarity to episodes we’ve already seen. To punish Vash, Q withholds key information from Sisko and Kira. Q knows very well that one of the items Vash and Quark want to sell at auction is an alien egg. Furthermore, he very clearly knows that the egg is causing the power drain that could destroy the station. He just sits back and lets Sisko and Kira discover the solution on their own. Fortunately, they do and beam the egg into space just in time for it to hatch into an unknown spacefaring creature. Some of that should ring bells in long-time Star Trek fans because it borrows heavily from “Encounter at Farpoint,” which is not the zenith of TNG writing. However, at least in “Farpoint,” there’s a point to it all, and “Q-Less” lacks even that. When “Encounter at Farpoint” did it better, you know you’ve got some story problems.
Despite all of that, “Q-Less” does offer some really great character moments to offset the episode’s plethora of weaknesses. Vash has chemistry with literally everyone on the station, but she and Quark are a match made in the Divine Treasury. Of all the characters with whom she interacts, Quark remains the only one who really understands her. They recognize in each other a kindred spirit, and I wish they’d gotten more time together.
There’s also something very satisfying about watching Sisko punch Q. Setting up the comparison between Picard and Sisko doesn’t really make sense at this point in the season because we clearly know that Sisko is a very different commander than is Picard. Q’s right; Picard wouldn’t have punched him. Sisko does because he lacks Picard’s tolerance for Q’s nonsense. Yes, show, we get it. Sisko is his own man. Please stop undercutting the satisfaction we can wrest from Sisko laying Q flat on the ground with unnecessary TNG nods.
Two strikes and a single base
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- This is Vash’s last appearance and Q’s only appearance in DS9, and thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy for that.
- ”Q-Less” also gives us the infamous pre-ganglionic fiber that will be the only reason Dr. Bashir was salutatorian. Later, we’ll find out that Dr. Bashir may have been self-sabotaging to avoid drawing attention to his genetically enhanced nature.
- Planet Hoek IV is named for Ren Hoek, from Ren and Stimpy.
- O’Brien recognizes Q even though he and Q never met; it’s a bit like Khan recognizing Pavel Chekov, despite Chekov having joined the crew after the events of “Space Seed.”
- In new Trek news, we’ve gotten casting announcements for the upcoming Star Trek: Prodigies and some character images. I have to admit, I do like the character designs, which you can find here.