When will cancel culture come for the Q Continuum?
“The Q and the Grey” is a terrible episode. Not just because it’s part comedy sexual harassment, part half-baked US Civil War metaphor. But the dialogue! It’s so bad that you almost forget how offensive and stupid the actual premise is!
Which, come to think of it, is a neat trick. But you have to feel bad for Suzie Plakson, who is given the worst lines and a thankless role. Her performance here is awful, but given how talented she is in every single other role I’ve seen her in, I feel quite confident blaming the script.
This week’s contender for the Not-As-Much-Of-A-Jerk-As-You-Could-Have-Been Award
Let’s be thankful for small mercies: at no point does Q actually intend to rape Janeway.
Sure, he’s planning to grind her down until she gives in out of sheer exhaustion, which is not remotely in the spirit of enthusiastic consent, but hey, he could have just made her want him.
Let’s take a moment for a collective full-body shudder.
The audience takes its cue from Janeway here, and though she would be well within her rights to be afraid of Q, she treats him as an irritation. So we know that, even though Q demonstrates his ability to take her out of uniform and put her in lingerie, there’s no real threat here.
I’m calling that a partial win — only partial because there’s a strong possibility that none of the people making this episode actually noticed the potential rapeyness of the concept. And even if they did, Trek‘s track record when it comes to dealing with sexual assault against women is almost totally bad.
(This episode comes two years before DS9’s “Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night”, an episode which posits that comfort women — sex slaves — are able to consent to their situation, and should be judged harshly for doing so.)
Q does not stand for “queer”
On the one hand, I do not believe that unintentional subtext counts as representation.
On the other hand, it’s thoroughly depressing that, given the opportunity to recreate Q’s dynamic with Picard, but with a woman, Trek goes for the most overt and cliched depiction of heterosexuality possible. He’s an omnipotent lothario! He ditched a female Q in favour of a younger biped!
Q’s harassment of Picard was interesting — up to a point, and I enjoy Q best in small doses — because the sexual tension could never be acknowledged. With Janeway, it’s not just acknowledged, but relentlessly highlighted, as if Q wandered in from one of the lesser sitcoms of the era.
Which brings me back to last week’s thesis: Star Trek shouldn’t try to be sexy.
(You know what’s sexy in this episode? Tom and Harry telling Q to stop sexually harassing their captain. And not just because Harry’s hair is once again magnificently floppy and Tom isn’t wearing an ugly vest.)
(Of course, this shining moment of allyship takes place in a scene where Tom is literally framed by a bikini-clad extra’s erect nipples.)
I don’t even know what to say about the civil war metaphor
For one thing, I know almost nothing about the US Civil War. Slavery, pre-industrial economies propped up by slavery, something something states rights. I read Gone With The Wind when I was twelve, but only because my parents had confiscated all my Sweet Valley books. I should … learn about it, or something.
Anyway, from the little I understand of the Civil War, and the historiography of the Civil War, “The Q and the Grey” seems to be steeped in a very ’90s “don’t talk about the slavery” interpretation. Like, yes, the Confederacy were all about the status quo, but the status quo was slavery? By putting Janeway in the role of a southern belle, Q is casting her as a slaveowner?
It doesn’t really hold together, and it also has no resonance for me as an Australian. (Seriously, it was quite a few years before I learned that the episode title is a reference to the colours of the opposing sides’ uniforms.)
But Star Trek is, hmmmmm, not great at remembering it has a worldwide audience, and this isn’t even the most egregious example of that.
There is, at least, a J/C moment
Hey, as a teen, I loved this episode for the moment where Chakotay confesses he’s jealous of Q.
But now I’m like, “Okay, your love interest is being subjected to sexual harassment by a third party, and you’re … jealous? Of him? A what now?!”
I think it might be that Chakotay envies Q for being in a position to state his interest in Janeway without professional complications. Or, alternatively, we only have Q’s word that Chakotay is jealous, and what he’s actually feeling is concern for Janeway’s wellbeing.
But I’m really not sure.
What I am sure about is that Q’s tattoo is super fucking racist, and that whole scene would have been improved by Robert Beltran expressing a wider range of emotions than “stoic and concerned” and “stoic and amused/pitying”.
(This might be a directorial choice; we’re not yet in the period where Beltran just decided to stop acting and see if anyone noticed.)
Is there anything good in this episode?
Yes. There is a puppy. And SuzieQ’s hair is as magnificent as her character is poorly written.
And I actually do like Janeway’s take on parenting, even though I hate that, even in the end, Q still intends to outsource all of that work to her.
- Q drinks a cocktail which appears to be served in a hollowed-out butternut pumpkin, garnished with tinsel and a fake bird. This is … troubling.
- Various characters are assigned derogatory nicknames by the Qs, because that’s the height of wit, apparently.
- According to Memory Alpha, everyone involved in the making of this episode considered it a success. I have … questions.
There are people out there who will tell you that Voyager ruined the Borg as villains. Those people are wrong; TNG did that all by itself. But Voyager definitely ruined Q as a character. One problematic Civil War metaphor out of five.