Star Trek: Voyager – 2×18 – “Deathwish”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Death Wish”
Originally Broadcast February 19th, 1996
Reviewed by Christina Luckings

The Story

Stardate: 49301.2

It is a very strange comet that Voyager has encountered, changing its course with no apparent gravitational fields acting on it. Janeway sends Torres down to Transporter room 2 to beam aboard a sample for analysis. After setting up a class 3 containment field, the controls are activated, but to Torres’ astonishment a man in a Starfleet uniform materialises, walks through the field and introduces himself as Q. On hearing what has happened, Janeway promptly calls a red alert and announces that she is on her way. Q speaks into B’Elanna’s comm. badge inviting her to lunch instead.

In the mess hall, Q provides a table for two, set with candles and silver cutlery, and a serving of welsh Rarebit for every one. He grasps Janeway’s hand and shakes it vigorously, hoping that he is doing it right, while Neelix wonders what a rarebit is and whether this stranger is being interviewed for the job of Ship’s Chef. Then Q thanks the Captain for freeing him from his captivity and goes around the room looking at everyone. He stops at Kes and tells he how he envies her only living for nine years because the one thing he really wants to do is die. Janeway has had enough already, and curtly informs him that all Starfleet Captains know about his appearances on the Enterprise. This surprises him, then he mutters about mistaking him for someone else before continuing his speech and telling all assembled that he has had 300 years to think of his last words. Tell them ‘I die not for myself but for you’ he proclaims, before waving his hand. All the men in the room disappear, and Torres calls over the conn to inform her Captain that it is not a localised event. Janeway demands their return but Q is unable to oblige. He takes her back to the Bridge and is wondering who might have more recent experience with humans when another man appears and begins to tell the first Q off for bringing humans to this region of space 100 years too soon.

[For ease of reference, dear reader, I shall now refer to the first Q by his subsequent name of Quinn, whilst calling the new arrival Q, because he is indeed the same Q from The Next Generation series.]

Noticing that Voyager seems to be a ‘ship of the Valkyries’, Q makes a caustic comment about human women finally doing away with their men, before correctly surmising that something went wrong with Quinn’s suicide attempt. He brings them back safely, and pronounces Chakotay’s tattoo ‘very wilderness.’ Then he says that they must be going, which makes Quinn ask Janeway for asylum and protection from his enemies. Q is then gone, but only because Quinn has taken them all to an old hiding place of his – correctly identified by Tuvok as the moment of the creation of the Universe. Voyager cannot survive the Big Bang, and Q appears to point out that they could be the origins of humanoid life, before Quinn whisks them off somewhere else. They are small enough to be bombarded by individual protons, but Q arrives and they turn into a Christmas tree ornament. There is to be no escape, so they go back to where they started and Janeway announces that she will hold an asylum hearing according to Starfleet procedures. Q agrees on condition that Quinn returns to his captivity if she turns down his request. Quinn accepts, and adds his own condition that if the ruling is in his favour, he be granted mortality so that he can finally kill himself. Janeway is aghast at this, but as Q points out, handling tough decisions is the Captain’s role. Now we’ll see if the pants really fit.

Quinn visits Tuvok in his office to ask him if he will represent him at the hearing. His choice is based on his need for someone understands Federation asylum procedures and the fact that Vulcans approve of suicide under certain circumstances. When Tuvok challenges him about the Q’s complete absence of manners, Quinn is apologetic. He claims that the Q are not really omnipotent, but that somewhere along their evolutionary path they sacrificed not only manners, but mortality, a sense of purpose, a desire for change and a capacity to grow. Despite appearances, his race is really quite vulnerable, Quinn tells him.

Tuvok informs Captain Janeway of Quinn’s request and his acceptance. She warns him that he will not have an easy time convincing her of Quinn’s case. Suicide is almost unheard of on Earth, and she finds the thought of possibly assisting in one abhorrent. However, she promises to try and keep an open mind.

The hearing opens with the Captain warning Q not to turn the proceedings into a circus, and to not call her Madam Captain. Then she asks Quinn to explain why he wants to commit suicide. Quinn tells her that he finds immortality intolerable, and that if he should choose that the path of his life leads to his death, the Continuum have no right to stop him. Q refutes this by calling such a choice a selfish one, and states that Quinn was confined to prevent him from harming himself. He asks to call an expert on the Continuum to the stand to discuss the implications of the suicide of a Q. Janeway agrees, and a second version of Q appears.

The witness Q tells the hearing that Quinn’s suicide would have unknown consequences to the Continuum. Immortality is one of their defining qualities, and by their standards, Quinn is mentally unbalanced. No society, not even the Federation, could condone the suicide of a mentally unbalanced individual. Tuvok refutes this argument by pointing out that Quinn was previously regarded as one of the Continuum’s greatest philosophers, and that as suicide is acceptable practice in many cultures including the Klingon and Bajoran, a wish to commit it cannot be taken as proof of mental instability. Captain Janeway agrees, and both Q’s put their heads in their hands groaning ‘Vulcans’. Tuvok goes on to ask if it is true that the Continuum has executed criminals. Q admits that it is, but says that they only took place after great deliberation by all the Q because the crimes involved has caused massive disruption to their society. To have individuals choosing between life and death would be anarchy. He sees no contradiction in a society that practises capital punishment but outlaws suicide. Tuvok’s final ploy is to get Q to admit that he himself was once accused of mental instability by the Continuum and punished for his actions.

Q then asks to call witnesses from Earth in order to demonstrate the impact Quinn has had on that society during his life. He promises that they will remember nothing of the experience. Captain Janeway agrees, and an annoyed Isaac Newton, a bemused Maury Ginsburg and William Thomas Riker appear in the room. Newton identifies Quinn as the man who jostled the apple tree just before he had his revelation about gravity. Ginsburg recognises him as the man who gave him a lift to Woodstock so he was in the right place to repair the sound system before the concert was due to start. However, Riker denying knowing Quinn, until Q produces an american civil war photograph of Colonel Thaddeus Riker with the man who saved his life. So, continues Q, without Quinn, Newton would have died unknown in a debtors prison, Ginsburg would never have met his future wife at the concert, Riker would never have been born and the Borg would have assimilated the Federation. This is the life Quinn would give up so easily. The three witnesses are returned to their own times and places.

Tuvok’s next step is to have the group experience the conditions of Quinn’s confinement in the comet. It is cramped and claustrophobic, and they do not stay long. However, Captain Janeway points out that she has to rule on an asylum request, not judge another culture’s penal system. She has been researching other culture’s attitudes to suicide in preparation for the hearing, and asks Tuvok if he is familiar with the Bolian principle of the double effect of assisted suicide. It states that ‘an action that has the principal effect of relieving suffering may be ethically justified even though the same action has the secondary effect of possibly causing death’ and if Quinn can show to her that he is suffering in some way that would justify her granting him asylum. They take a recess to think about it.

Quinn talks to Tuvok in the mess hall, and thanks him for his efforts so far. He is glad that someone believes in him, and is surprised when Tuvok tells him that he can see no logic in his position. If he knew what life as a Q were like, maybe he would understand. Their next course of action is decided.

‘Captain’s log, supplemental. I’m determined to find a better alternative to suicide or endless prison, so I’ve summoned the advocate Q to make him a proposal’

Captain Janeway wants Q to promise that Quinn will not be returned to the comet should she rule against him. She knows he has been many things, but he has never been a liar, and his word will be good enough for her. Sadly, he turns her down, then offers her an inducement to rule in the Continuum’s favour instead. She gazes out of the Ready Room window onto the cloud wreathed blue planet called Earth. Then just as suddenly, it is gone.

When the hearing resumes, Tuvok puts forward the proposal to move the proceedings to the Continuum itself, so that Captain Janeway can see the nature of Quinn’s suffering for herself. The two Q get together to agree a format for the visit, then they all find themselves on a long straight road through a desert. This is not really the Continuum, but an allegory of it that human minds might be able to comprehend. Just off the road is a building, with people standing around reading, playing pinball or croquet. There is a dog, and a scarecrow in a Starfleet uniform. The group heads towards it. Quinn explains that the road takes them to the rest of the universe and back here again in an endless circle. The people briefly look up and them and then ignore them again. This is the current state of the Continuum, Quinn tells Janeway and Tuvok. Once there was dialogue about discoveries and issues, but now everything has been said, everything seen, everything experienced. They have all taken turns at being the dog and the scarecrow. When Q was misbehaving himself, they had something to talk about, but now he has surrendered to the status quo. Nevertheless, it was his rebellion which had forced Quinn to think, and he came to the conclusion that it was wrong for the state to force immortality on an individual. So they locked him away in fear that he might be right. Quinn appeals to Janeway’s explorer instinct. Would she want to live if there was nothing left to discover? If she wants to equate his suffering with that of a disease, then for the Q the disease is immortality. They rest their case.

Kathryn Janeway is having a restless night before delivering her decision, and wakes to the horrifying sight of Q in nightgown lying beside her. He has come to tell her that the Continuum have agreed to her condition. Quinn won’t be returned to confinement, he will have someone assigned to him to look after him instead. And having gotten what she wanted, when she rules in their favour he will take her home to Earth, to great celebrations and a life together. Enraged at such presumption, she orders him out.

Next day, Captain Janeway announces her decision. Quinn can have asylum aboard Voyager. True to his word, Q removes his power and makes him mortal. Janeway isn’t finished, and tells Quinn to take time to explore the mysteries and pleasures of mortal life before deciding to give it up. He might find that he likes it.

‘Captain’s log, stardate 49301.2. We have assigned quarters to our new passenger, who has entered his name on our crew manifest as Quinn. I am eager to engage him in interesting ship activities as soon as possible.’

That is proving more difficult than originally envisioned. As Chakotay points out, the wealth of knowledge that Quinn brings with him would make Stellar Cartography and just about every other department redundant. Their deliberations are interrupted by the EMH, who tells them that Quinn is in sickbay, dying. Somehow he has gotten hold of some rare Nogatch hemlock, a poison that cannot be obtained from the replicators, and which was not stored on board. Quinn apologises to Janeway, but tells her that he would only have been pretending to fit in with this life anyway. Then he says his last words to the Continuum – this is my final gift to my people – and dies. Q appears to admit that he assisted Quinn’s suicide, because he called him irrepressible. Then he bids farewell to Janeway, promising her that they will meet again.

Review

This is a powerful episode which deals with a very emotive subject: suicide. During the course of the dialogue the writers touch on many prevailing altitudes towards it, except the one that condemns it as wrong in all circumstances, although we could take Janeway’s inbuilt abhorrence as a version of this view. In the end, they conclude that it is all right to kill oneself for the relief of mental (or physical) suffering. Whether you agree with them is a matter of conscience.

This is the first appearance of Q on Voyager, and it has to be said that his opening lines betray a sad lack a omniscience. He didn’t know that Voyager was in the Delta quadrant, but thought humans would be there in 100 years time. The writers are also playing the dangerous game of humanising a completely alien race for the purpose of telling their story. Seeing a concept of the Continuum was interesting but with Q’s closing promise that they will meet again one cannot help but fear what further developments the creative team might have in mind.

The story is a stand-alone one for Jane way and was actually broadcast four episodes later than it was filmed (after Prototype), presumably for post-production reasons. Tuvok is the only other regular character with any significant role but guest star John deLancie as Q doesn’t feel entirely at home with the script. Perhaps it is because, for once, it is not his character causing trouble and chaos for the main cast. Nonetheless, he brings the same humorous characterisation to the role as in TNG and there are some laughs available within the serious subject matter. Despite or maybe because this is a ‘talking-heads’ show (as most Trek is) with minimal technobabble and maximum character interest, this story is a must-have for the serious Trek fan.

Grade: 8/10

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