"Death Wish"


The following is a SPOILER Review for the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Death Wish." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.

The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright. I usually watch an episode no more than twice before preparing its review. What the recap lacks in accuracy, I hope to compensate with creativity. The result is as much a retelling as a review.


A comet contains an imprisoned member of the Q Continuum who seeks asylum, mortality, and death. But not without resistence from the Continuum, represented by the Q of Enterprise-D fame.

Jump straight to the Analysis


A comet (like the one in the opening credits of Deep Space 9) has been tracked, or what looks like a comet. But it doesn't act like a comet. The ever-curious bridge crew throw around some ideas, then decide to beam a sample aboard. Torres handles the beamin, only to discover she's transported...a man in a Starfleet Uniform, who passes effortlessly through the containment field and says, "Hello, My name is Q." If you're new to Star Trek, this may not mean a whole lot--but for those who watched even the first or last episodes of The Next Generation, it's the single coolest letter in the English alphabet...and means that anything can happen in the next hour.

Torres, who was too busy flunking out of Starfleet Academy and fighting Cardassians to watch much Next Generation, knows that something strange is going on, but doesn't appreciate the magnitude of the man's introduction. When she calls the bridge and mentions Q, Janeway (who watched a lot of Next Generation) immediately signals a Red Alert. "I'll be right down," she says.

"Oh, don't bother, Captain," Q replies into Torres' combadge as she looks at him in mute amazement (I bet she'd tear Paris' lips off if he tried that). "Let me take you to lunch instead!" With that, he disappears in a flash of light....

...and appears in Neelix' mess hall, just after a disoriented Janeway flashes into view. He shakes her hand amiably as confused crewmen look on and Janeway looks at him with barely-concealed revulsion (I've seen trial lawyers get a more enthusiastic grip.) He seems a bit confused himself, and mentions that it's been a long time since he had to perform the social niceties. He flashes up a beautiful table setting for two, as audible gasps are heard. Janeway tries to introduce herself, but he already knows who they are.

"Welsh rabbit, just like your grandfather used to make," Q says breezily as he commences to mingle. Neelix frowns. "I didn't know the Captain liked rabbits...what's a rabbit?" Neelix, who has doubtless never seen an episode of TNG, is concerned mainly that he may be replaced as the ship's cook.

Q urges Janeway to eat; "it's the least I can do to express my appreciation for freeing me from my captivity." He goes from person to person as Janeway questions him. The Q Continuum had imprisoned him. Janeway wants to know why, but the wide-eyed Q is greeting, meeting or touching everyone in the room, as if reading their souls. Which he may be. "You're all mortals!" He goes to Kes. "You only live to be nine years old!" he breathes. "Oh, how I envy you! The thing I want more than any other is to die!"

Janeway is not amused. She confronts Q and demands answers. "I don't know what you want here, but I know who you are. Every captain in Starfleet has been briefed on your appearances on the Enterprise--" But apparently the briefings didn't include video; this isn't the Q we remember.

"Uh, that's not me. You must mean the other...." but he doesn't finish the thought. "I'd better get on with it before the others find me." He then stands back and begins to recite his final words, "I die not for myself but for you." Which apparently even 300 years weren't enough to prepare. He knows he wants to die, and thinks he knows how to do it. A few last words, a two-fingered wave of the hand, and ...

Where have all the men gone? Q looks slightly contrite. "Whoops, that wasn't right...." Janeway demands their return, Q tries, and fails. "I apologize for the inconvenience," he says, "but I really must be going now."

Janeway doesn't accept this feeble apology; she wants her crewmen back. Q begins to think, and think. "Who has the most experience with humans?"

And quick as a flash, our Q appears, looking unamused. "What have you done now?" he growls.

"Humans aren't supposed to be in this quadrant for another hundred years," Q (from now on, let's call the "real" Q, the one we're used to seeing in Trek episodes, as just "Q", and we'll call the other one QED -- Q Eager to Die.) grumbles. QED protests his innocence, and Janeway states that the's the one responsible. "That's what happens when you put a woman in the captain's seat," Q smirks and Janeway glares phaser beams.

"May I assume you're the Q I've heard so much about?" Janeway states more than asks. Q brightens; "Have you heard about little me?" he gushes.

Q looks around. "Is this a ship of the Valkyries?" he asks, noticing the lack of men on the bridge. QED owns up, and Q guesses that he had tried to commit suice. He mutters (BTW, my writing instructor told me to avoid "said bookisms" such as "mutters," "gushes," etc. I should probably be more careful. I'll try) that it's no wonder he's been locked up for 300 years," snaps his fingers, and Voyager is back to its former ships' complement, male and female.

The men look around, dazed and confused. Q looks at Chakotay's tattoo. "Facial art. Ooh! How very wilderness of you."

Q motions for them to leave. QED protests, and demands asylum. Q is irked. He's about to do something when QED waves his hand, and ...

No Q. No universe. Voyager's stuck at the beginning of the Big Bang, one of QED's old hiding places. Voyager starts to shake apart. "We can't survive the formation of the universe," Torres reports. "Imagine the honor of having your pretty little DNA spread to every corner of the universe," Q leers at her. (Q: The Dan Fielding of the 24th Century. That perverted little omniscient hits on everybody.)

Q orders QED back to his cell, but QED waves his hand, and...

No Q. No Big Bang. But the ship is under attack...by Protons. "He'll never find us here," QED says, a few seconds before Q finds them.

Another wave of the fingers, and Voyager is a Christmas ornament, held by Q.

The battle would continue, QED threatens, but Janeway has had enough. "You and your vaunted Q Continuum. I will not have you endangering my crew!" she fumes.

"Has anyone ever told you you're angry when you're beautiful?" Q teases before appearing inside the ship, and they are returned to their starting place--in the Delta Quadrant where they found QED's Comet.

More Q and QED bickering, until Janeway puts a stop to it. "We'll have a hearing," she says. Q feigns irritation at her usurpation of the decision-making process, before complimenting her hands. Janeway, unamused, says "we'll follow the asylum hearings to the letter."

Q and QED agree, each with their own terms. If the asylum petition is denied, Q says, he demands that QED be placed back in his confinement. If the petition is granted, QED demands that he be given his mortality so he can commit suicide. Each accedes to the other's terms. Q stares down Janeway, and explains the dilemma. Law, justice, mercy, the Prime Directive, and just about everything else the Federation holds dear, in direct and inescapable conflict. Which is preferable? Death, or life (in this case, eternal life) in solitary confinement? Both are unthinkable, and this Voyager episode becomes the 24th century fictional equivalent of "Constitution: That Delicate Balance." "That's a toughie, isn't it?" Q muses. "But that's why you're captain, isn't it, to make the tough choices. I guess we'll soon see if the pants" (he leers at her buttocks) "really fit."

If looks could mace, Q would have taken a facefull from Janeway.

(Aside: most of you probably already know this, but Kate Mulgrew and John deLancie are best friends offscreen, and have been for years. I'm sure they pushed the envelope here because they had the rapport to do so. I honestly can't imagine anyone else getting away with the stuff he does.)

Tuvok is reading up on something when QED flashes into his private space and asks to talk. Tuvok asks if the Continuum's tendency to rudeness is evolutionary, or innate. QED urges Tuvok to not consider the Continuum invulnerable, and mentions a few of the things he considers their weaknesses. Tuvok wonders why QED is telling him this, and he replies that he wants Tuvok for his counsel at the hearing. We learn here that ritual suicide is still in practice among aged and infirm Vulcans, another of his reasons for wanting Tuvok. He agrees.

At the hearing, Janeway asks that the proceedings not turn into a circus.

"Yes, Madame Captain," Q replies.

At the outset, Janeway expresses her reservations about suicide, and asks why he wants to do so. QED gives his reasoning: As an immortal, he said, he's grown tired of his existence. He feels that, and the Continuum insists, that every member be true to the path his life will follow. He believes, and feels strongly, that if his path dictates an end to his life, he should have that option, and what right does the Continuum to interfere?

Q declares that QED was locked up for his own good, to keep from harming himself. He then calls an expert witness--himself. (Flash: now there's twoof him.) "His death would change the very nature of Q. In ways we don't even know about."

QED says that's one reason why he wants to do it--make the Continuum face the unknown for the first time in a long time. He thinks they need it.

Q claims that QED is "mentally unbalanced" because he wants to kill himself. Tuvok asks if there is any other indication of mental instability. Q asks, "what more do you need? He wants to kill himself!" Tuvok asks if QED wasn't considered one of the Continuum's great philosophers; "not anymore he isn't!" he says. Tuvok submits that a desire for death alone is not enough to prove mental instability, and provides the examples of several Federation societies (and "The Son of Mogh" on DS9) that do not consider suicide a crazy act.

Tuvok asks if the Continuum has ever executed its own, and did that not cause unbalances among the Q? "Their crimes caused the unbalances, their executions corrected them," Q insists. He declares that the question boils down to social order or anarchy. If the order dictates someone must die, that's one thing. But a member of the continuum cannot unilaterally decide to die; it would threaten everything they understand. "Can you not see the contradiction?" Tuvok asks. "No." says Q.

Tuvok then asks, after a cue from QED, if Q had been punished for his acts. "My record has been expunged," he says. "I'll take that as a yes." The "witness" is excused, and now there is only one Q.

Q then asks to call other witnesses, those whose lives -- and the subsequent history of mankind -- have been touched by QED. Janeway allows it, and...

Flash, flash, flash. Three new people stand before them: Commander Riker (wearing an old-style Starfleet combadge, but still aware of Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager); an uppity Sir Isaac Newton (not the same actor we saw in "Descent, Part I" as far as I could tell), and a nervous hippie named Maury Ginsburg. Janeway gives a briefing to Riker as to their current position, but tells him and the others that they will return whence they came, unharmed by the trip and with no knowledge of what transpires. (Though why Janeway couldn't have asked Q to let Riker keep the memory of where Voyager is, is anyone's guess.)

"Consider for a moment," Janeway begins to the , "that you've been transported into the 24th century, 75,000 lightyears from earth." Silence and blank stares from the long-haired Ginsburg and the longer-haired Newton. "You're having a very strange dream," she tries again.

Newton recognizes QED. "You're the man who was there the day the apple fell on my head!" QED helped Newton discover gravity, invent calculus, and change the face of human mathematics.

Ginsburg also knows QED. "You're the guy in the jeep!" QED gave him a ride to Woodstock, where he worked as a technician and quickly found an unplugged extension cord that had shut down the entire concert to that point. He also met his wife in the jeep, "a groovy chick with long red beads."

Riker said, "I've never seen QED before in my life." Not surprising, since he'd been in captivity throughout Riker's life. Q flashes up a picture, well known to Riker, of his Civil War ancestor with the who saved his life--

See the pattern?


Q then goes down the line. Without QED's help, Sir Isaac would never have discovered gravity and would have died in a debtor's prison and the suspect of several prostitute murders. Without QED's jeep, Woodstock wouldn't have happened (yeah, right; there was mud and mushrooms and macrame Volkswagons; nobody would have noticed) and Ginsburg wouldn't have met the groovy chick with the long red beads and settled down in Scarsdale with four kids, etc.; and Riker would never have been born for Q to have so much fun insulting. And...without Riker, the Borg would have assimilated the Federation.

"This is the life QED would give up so easily." he sums up.

Tuvok asks that they be allowed to inspect the conditions QED has been holed up in, and would endure for eternity." Janeway agrees, and we are soon in the CometCam, and Janeway can't wait to get out.

Janeway begins her analysis. "We're here to consider your request for asylum, not the Q penal system." She is deeply opposed to suicide, and can only find one law or code of ethics (the Bolian something or other) about the ending of suffering. Clearly, she's willing to give Q the nod, but before she will rule, she gives Tuvok the chance to form a rebuttal.

As Tuvok dines and discusses the case with QED, he tells him that though he will do all he can as QED's advocate, the decision to commit suicide is not one he personally condones. He considers the ending of a life such as QED's to be a waste. "You surprise me, and that's a gift we Q rarely receive," QED says. "Thank you."

"I can't see why you're disgruntled with your life," Tuvok states. "If only I could let you see what my life is like," QED says. This gives Tuvok an idea.

Janeway's looking for the Third Alternative; she finds neither suicide nor eternal imprisonment acceptable options. She and Q discuss possibilities. She asks if he can be reintegrated into the continuum. "Will you rule in our favor?" Q asks. "I'd consider it a point in your favor." "Why would you think I would keep my word?" Q asks. Janeway says that her research shows that Q has been many things (and rattles off a list of unpleasant adjectives, ending with "pest") "But you are not a liar. And you did introduce us to the Borg; thank you for that." Q asks lightly if he's blushing from the praise.

Q tells her the truth. "He's a dangerous man. He started the hundred-year war between the Romulans and Vulcans. He will never be allowed to reintegrate." But he has a juicy carrot up his sleeve. "If you choose according to the wishes of the Continuum, we'll give you something." He points out the window, where the Big Blue Marble, the long-lost Earth, hangs before her gasping face. But just a taste; a puff of breath, and they're back in the Delta Quadrant, leaving Janeway with heightened stakes to consider. A snap of fingers, a flash of light, and they could be home again. The ultimate shortcut. All at the cost of one miserable immortal, imprisoned for eternity.

The hearing resumes. Tuvok requests that they be allowed to visit the Continuum and inspect the living conditions. Q protests, but after a brief discussion with QED they agree on a way to show them that the mortals can understand.

Soon, they're on a paved road in the middle of the desert. Kinda looks like southern Utah.

They veer off the road and walk to a small house, where several people are sitting or standing around. Reading books, smoking pipes, playing croquet or pinball, and a sad-eyed ol' hound dog.

I've stopped in towns like this on my way somewhere. I couldn't wait to get back on the road.

Janeway struggles to understand. "This is a representation of the Continuum? This house? What's the road, then?" QED says that it's the road leading everywhere else in the universe, but all roads lead back here. You look around, and you see it all in a second: the rocking chair, the front steps, the scarecrow, the beat up pinball machine. A book that says "the old," a magazine that says "the new." Croquet balls that look like planets. The dog mostly ignored. A place where one could get bored rather easily.

This QED explains. "I've been on that road, and every place it leads. I've played the games, I've pet the dog, I've read the books, I've even been the scarecrow!" Janeway asks why. "Because I hadn't done it yet." "We've all been the scarecrow!" Q protests.

Janeway says she can't claim to understand what she's seeing, but she doesn't see any signs of suffering. Q jumps on this. "Of course there's no suffering! They're all happy! Happy people! Look at them!" he urges, while urging the other Q to put on their happy faces. None of the "natives" have talked yet, btw. A few smile, some smirk, some don't even acknowledge their existence.

"They don't dare feel sad," QED says. "If only they could! It would be progress." Q makes a philospher crack. "When I was a respected philosopher," QED replies, "I argued that the purity of the continuum was a great thing, the road, the endless possibilities...only they're not so endless after all. At the beginning of the "New Age," he said, there was the exhiliration of discovery, the animated discussions of new things learned. But after a time, all had been learned. All had been shared. "Listen to their dialogs now," he urges. "They haven't spoken for millennia. There's nothing left to say!"

Q doesn't look happy, but QED says, "You of all people should understand! You were once cast out of the Q!" He spoke of Q's need for amusement and his inappropriate behavior, and the disruptions that caused the Q to stand up and take notice, gave them something to talk about, until Q became "a born-again Q." "I miss the irrepressible Q, the one who forced me to think." QED says. We see Q being forced to think.

QED shows an article, the last issue. "My corner of the continuum: I'm ready to die, how about you?" it reads.

(I just noticed the page count; yikes.) QED continues. "Your mission is to explore. Imagine you'd explored everything, that there's nothing left. Would you want to live forever? For us," he says, "the disease is immortality."

They return to Voyager, and Janeway orders a recess. Q and QED share a silent glance at each other, and it's clear that Q was affected by the impassioned arguments his former mentor has made. He learned for the first time that his wild oats days had had an impact on QED's outlook, that he longs to see those days again. (The last several episodes we saw Q in on TNG, he had been a bit more subdued, not quite mature but with appearances that had genuine purpose rather than malicious intent. And though frequently unwelcome, his appearances resulted in a stronger crew, or a stronger captain Picard. He became a quirky but effective teacher since his ouster and readmittance into the Continuum. And why did Q spend so much time bothering the Enterprise crew? Partly, QED had argued, because he was desperate for amusement, which proved QED's point.)

That night, Janeway stays awake in bed, lost in thought with her hair down--until she finds Q in bed with her. She jumps up. Q offers to give her the "third option," reintegration into the Continuum with close supervision until he adapts. He also offers to bring her and the ship back to Earth, and offers to run away with her. He mentions her dogs, and her boyfriend Mark, whom he urges her to toss aside in favor of him. He says he's quite taken with her, and he's making her offers he never gave Jean-Luc.

As a seducer, Q has never been very effective. Though I must admit I think I'd have fallen for it, I'm not a starship captain, and it was pretty condescending and leering and all that stuff that would get him slapped with a lawsuit of galactic proportions in this day and age. Janeway manages to maintain her dignity and answers him in a single word: "leave." No means No.

The next day, the hearing resumes. Janeway struggles to give her response to all that has transpired, her opinions on life, death, incarceration, freedom, and self-determination. It could go either way, and the magnitude of the decision either way will be significant and severe. Janeway finally announces that she will grant asylum. She adds an impassioned plea that, as a new mortal, he give life a chance; that the new sensations and opportunities of life as a human on board her ship may yet please and surprise him.

Q doesn't want to accept it, but QED holds him to his promise. A snap of the fingers, and QED is mortal. He agrees to consider Janeway's urgings.

QED is renamed "Quinn" and assigned quarters. As she and Chakotay discuss possible assignments, Holodoc calls from sickbay; Quinn is dying. He has ingested a rare form of hemlock. (Fitting, since Socrates also died from hemlock, and he was one of those dangerous philosophers of his age killed by the state.)

QED's final words: "this is my gift to the continuum."

The question: how did he get his hands on the hemlock. Q appears and says that he gave it to "Quinn," most likely against the wishes of the continuum. He announces that he has become a student of QED's, and as he had been called "irrepressible" he intends to return to those wild and wooly days of TNG, when he shook the Continuum to its foundations with his antics. QED wished to die because there was nothing new under the sun; Q intends to be creative so there will be new stuff again. So QED bequeathed two gifts to his people.

After a touching farewell, and a promise to return when they least expect it, Q is off.


This is the stuff that Gene Roddenberry was famous for: making mankind question its position in the universe. The first and last appearances of Q on The Next Generation saw mankind placed on trial, its right to explore and its very right to exist called into question. Here, the tables are turned, and we see for the first time the Continuum from the inside out, and its way of life put on trial for once. But mankind gets to judge.

I really enjoy episodes like this. I like seeing the Big Issues discussed. And this is about as big as it gets: life or death. Does omniscience make you a god, or just make you bored? Is immortality alone a good thing? I once had an argument with a roommate about something along these lines, the late-night discussion about Deep Thoughts. My roommate argued that Heaven is knowing it all, all at once, and he wouldn't want it any other way. I argued that Heaven is "eternal progression," with something new around every corner. In other words, he wanted to know it all and be done; I wanted to be where I would always have something new to learn. Each of us would be frustrated in the other's Heaven, would find it Hell.

QED was stuck in my roommate's Heaven, and my Hell. It was heaven at first, until all was known, all discussed, all novelties exhausted. Now where? When the path is known so completely, when all surprises are long since found, where do you go from here? Do you play an Adventure game after you've exhausted its universe? (I remember spending months playing the original Cave Adventure, discussing it with friends who were also playing, agonizing over each new road block, mapping the heck out of it. I'm sure there are grad students who spent less time on their theses. I remember the joy I felt when I finally finished...

And I haven't picked it up since. I still recall it fondly, but why go back? Been there, done that.

I guess I'm saying, this episode is the meat of Trek for me. From the days of the original series, I was amused or impressed by the special effects, the busty underclad space babes, etc. But what moved me were the philosophies. Captain Kirk pontificating about barbarism, freedom, logic, illogic, passion, right and wrong, etc. "Where No Man has Gone Before." "City on the Edge of Forever." "Who Mourns for Adonis?" "Bread and Circuses." The starship captain as philosopher-king. The ideas made Star Trek stand out from Lost in Space.

This episode moved me.

I'll be honest; some of Q's antics made me angry. His leering and comments at Janeway and Torres' expense. He has a predatory nature that was amusing when he was sexually harrassing Picard but when he's messing with my favorite redhead, I feel like strapping on the Space Ghost spank ray and taking a few shots at him. Color me old-fashioned; I didn't like him eyeing the Voyager wimmenfolk all hungry-like. They handled themselves just fine, rebuffing him with dignity or just plain ignoring him, but it bugged me.

As mentioned earlier, Mulgrew (Janeway) and deLancie (Q) are longtime friends. I am certain they had a lot of fun making this episode; it was naughty as well as deep, and they have a strong rapport.

Tuvok was okay, and filled his role capably. But the show belonged to Janeway, and the two Q. Each had their moments of greatness. Riker's time was short, but I noticed he looked at Janeway wolfishly as well. (And what's with the different combadges? From what year was Riker snatched?) Isaac Newton has been uniformly treated in Trek with a somewhat less than affectionate eye; he's always been a bit grumpy. And when the whole apple thing came about, I mentally echoed Stephen Hawking's poker game retort, "not that apple story again!" The hippie was entertaining, but somehow I can't see how the revolution of mathematics and the saving of humanity from the Borg compare to...Woodstock. Granted, I wasn't there. It would have been interesting to hear them make a comment on the 24th-century impact of that concert. Even if it was the renaming of Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship, which was commemorated with the first Enterprise. Anything.

There were a number of throwaway lines that trivia buffs will enjoy. "Mankind wasn't supposed to be here for a hundred years" for example. Perhaps the next Trek series will feature a late-25th century ship and crew that visits the Delta Quadrant on purpose. The episode's end means the rebirth of the quirky Q (not that the "born again Q" was much less quirky) and the possibility of reappearances in future episodes.

I liked this one so much, I taped it on SP instead of EP. It wasn't perfect, but it was a heck of a ride, and it delivered everything I was hoping for. The ending, with hemlock, was fittingly Socratic. This is the sort of episode I watch Trek for.

I'm giving it 9.25 (0 to 10). The appearance of Q was welcome, but it rates my highest score to date because it tackled a Big Issue in classic Trek fashion. I'd love to get the script, and I'd love to see this one turned into a novelization.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Last Updated: May 11, 1996
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