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Death Wish

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Death Wish

WARNING: Unless you have a death wish, or more to the point have seen VOY's "Death Wish", you would be advised to skip the spoilers for it lurking below.

In brief: Not bad, particularly in its last third -- but not nearly what it could have been, either.

Written by: Shawn Piller (story); Michael Piller (teleplay) Directed by: James L. Conway Brief summary: When Voyager's crew accidentally frees a renegade Q and the "regular" Q comes to collect him, the renegade demands asylum from the Continuum, forcing Janeway to hold a hearing where she must decide between sentencing him to eternal confinement or granting him asylum -- an asylum that would lead directly to his imminent suicide.

I had very mixed emotions going into "Death Wish". On the one hand, "Voyager" as a series desperately needs some revitalization, and John de Lancie almost always has enough flair to inject a little extra energy wherever he shows up. On the other hand ... Q has always been a perfect foil for Picard, and DS9's "Q-Less" years back went a long way towards confirming my feeling that moving Q away from TNG was inviting disaster. As a result, I had no idea whether "Death Wish" was going to be a fantastic shot in the arm, or an unmitigated disaster.

Now that I've seen it ... it's neither. "Death Wish" had some interesting musings on life in the Q-Continuum (or "Qontinuum", as I've occasionally written it in the past), a killer performance by Gerrit Graham, and a lot of workable, very watchable moments. Deep down, though, I can't help thinking that what much of "Death Wish" truly was -- was a stunt. That's the gut reaction.

I guess the scene that most gives me that feeling was during the hearing, when "our" Q calls his witnesses on the effect that the other Q has had on Earth. Even leaving out the implication that the Q have had some sort of special interest in humans for a very long time (which doesn't really seem to fit with the majority of what Q's said in the past), I thought the choice of witnesses left a little something to be desired. Using Riker, while the one most obviously open to charges of stunt casting, doesn't seem any worse than the other two -- but the dual claim that without the Q, Newton wouldn't have developed his theories of gravity and that Woodstock would never have happened strikes me as goofiness at its finest. My reaction to it certainly wasn't the "that's it, they've totally lost it" reaction that I had to, say, "Threshold"; it was more along the lines of "oh, please ... let's try something else, okay?". (I rather liked Q's line about how without the other Q, Maury Ginsberg would never "have become a successful orthodontist and settled in Scarsdale with 4 kids", though, given that I went to a dentist in Scarsdale for almost twenty years. :-) )

"Death Wish", for me, seemed to start somewhat slowly and get more interesting later. The chase through time, size, and Christmas ornaments (now *that* was a cute little in-joke, given the rash of Trek-related Christmas ornaments being sold for small shares of the national debt these days) was okay, but no big deal, and our Q's continued references to the fact that Janeway was a woman really struck me as unnecessary. It made *Janeway* feel like as much stunt casting as Riker's use was, and that's not, in my view, appropriate; if I'd thought that's all the choice of a female captain was, I wouldn't have supported it when it was first proposed.

Once the hearing got going, however, I got more interested -- which perhaps isn't surprising, given the way I've gone for Trek courtroom dramas such as TNG's "The Measure of a Man" and "The Drumhead" in the past. While there were some sour side trips along the way, the issue of the Qontinuum's *stagnation* in the face of near-omnipotence is a good one. It was raised once before, way back in TNG's first- season "Hide and Q" -- but without the personal touch that the renegade Q lent it here. It also wasn't intertwined with the "absolute power corrupts absolutely" idea this time; instead, we got the simple, effective point that once you've done and said everything, "there's nothing left to say." As such, the scenes in the Qontinuum were among the most compelling of the show for me, despite the fact that they were fairly talky. Talky, perhaps -- but more than any other part of the show, they *said* something, and they were also the best argument I heard in favor of granting the renegade Q asylum.

That heart of the episode was strong; it was all the side trips along the way that weakened it. I've already mentioned the "three witnesses" bits; the dialogue there was great fun (particularly Q's point about losing "at least a dozen *really good* opportunities" to insult Riker over the years), but the scene itself left me a little cold. There were also a few preach-with-a-sledgehammer moments, Tuvok's challenge to Q being a case in point. While the question "and you find nothing contradictory about a society that outlaws suicide but promotes capital punishment?" is one I've wondered about, it doesn't work when it's asked that bluntly, and it was so clearly delivered as a line about current U.S. attitudes that it shocks the viewer out of the 24th century back to the 20th -- not a good idea.

Much of the Janeway/Q interaction left me cold, mostly (I suspect) because it was so heavily weighted towards Q being amused/intrigued by Janeway being female. My own reaction there is "so what?" The fact that Janeway basically had no part of it made it more palatable, but it still didn't wow me. As for the "bribe" of sending Voyager home if Janeway ruled in the Qontinuum's favor ... I'm of mixed emotions. On the one hand, it destroyed any suspense about what Janeway's verdict actually *would* be, since the series isn't about to end; but on the other hand, for the Qontinuum to *not* have offered that particular bribe would seem like a missed opportunity, so I sort of feel like the episode was trapped in a no-win scenario. (For myself, though, I have to agree with Janeway, but based on reactions of my students I'm very much in the minority. The 12-15-year-old set does not seem, as a rule, to think that turning down the chance to go home was a justified move.)

The other story angle was the renegade Q's effect on the one we know and love. For the most part, I liked the way this worked out -- Q did become much more of a spokesman for the Qontinuum in his last few TNG appearances than he was early on, and it's worthwhile to have the renegade point that out. I have some timing quibbles (for instance, if the renegade's been in captivity for the last few decades, he couldn't be talking about Q's *recent* rebellions as inspiration, but that seems to be the implication), but the idea works.

On the acting side, this was pretty much all Gerrit Graham's and John de Lancie's show. The only regular cast members to get any significant screen time were Kate Mulgrew and Tim Russ; Russ did fine, but plays an understated character and thus doesn't eat up the screen very much, and Mulgrew was severely handicapped by the "look, a GIRL!" style of many of the Q/Janeway scenes. De Lancie, on the other hand, was his usual charming self, even getting a bit more subdued when chastened -- and Graham was terrific. I'm not sure I can point to any one scene or moment where Graham impressed me most, but his Q was just the right mixture of passion, ineptness, soft-spokenness, and charm; I liked him.

So, on the whole, I have to say that I liked the ideas behind "Death Wish" more than I did the way it actually turned out. It's certainly worth watching, and the scenes in the Qontinuum are worth watching more than once -- but I also wonder what might have been without all the side trips into dead ends.

So, a few short takes:

-- Speaking of the Qontinuum-based scenes, I rather liked the " never closes" sign. There were several visuals meant to show how "cosmic" the Q are, but that one had particular appeal.

-- John de Lancie's lips seemed astonishingly dark for much of the episode, particularly during the Qontinuum scenes. Makeup problems?

-- The renegade Q made several references to the "new era" which caused all the problems, and implied that it began millennia ago. I wonder if there was some specific event which brought it about; and what the Q were like before that.

-- As a quibble: I strongly doubt that Newton would have died forgotten had he not formulated his theories of gravitation. He did an awful lot of other things as well -- developing optics and calculus, to name two of the more prominent.

That should about cover it. So, to sum up:

Writing: The core of the show worked quite well; much of the wrapping didn't. Both Q were well-written when interacting with each other; the Q/Janeway stuff irked me. Directing: Works for me. Acting: De Lancie and Graham were major pluses, and Russ was fairly good. OVERALL: Hmm. Another 7, I think; a trend.

NEXT WEEK: Doctor, savior -- and lover?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu "Have the Q always had an absence of manners, or is it the result of some natural evolutionary process that comes with omnipotence?" -- Tuvok Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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