A shuttlecraft returns from the Gamma Quadrant, carrying an extra passenger: Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), an archaeologist who somehow spent the past two years in the Gamma Quadrant, despite the fact that prior to the wormhole no humans should have been able to have reached it. Vash has brought several artifacts of Gamma Quadrant cultures back with her... and it doesn't take long for her to meet with Quark to arrange an auction.
But Vash has brought back more than mere objects. She has been followed by her unwanted former partner in crime, Q. Vash ended their partnership after being ultimately repelled by Q's self-absorbed nature. Q isn't willing to be left, though. He is determined to get Vash to take him back. And not long after both of them arrive, Deep Space 9 begins to suffer from some mysterious power drains, which if unchecked will threaten the station's very survival!
Commander Sisko: Avery Brooks is back to being a bit wooden in this episode, and the writers are back to scripting Sisko as "generic commander." His best character beat is when he decks Q, much to Q's surprise, following up the punch by telling Q that he's "not Picard." We see again that Sisko does have a temper, and that he isn't averse to resorting to the physical. It also shows, as Q sneers, that he is "easier to provoke" than Picard, a potential weakness if the writers choose to exploit it.
Quark: This is an excellent Quark episode. From the moment Quark sets eyes on Vash, he's beguiled. He senses a kindred spirit, someone who, when asked to "choose between science and profit... (will) choose profit every time." Vash uses her wiles to manipulate Quark into a better deal for the auction for her, but it seems clear that Quark knows he's being manipulated. When she falters at the auction, slipping too much into the mode of an academic delivering a lecture, Quark steps in and shows his skills as an auctioneer. We also get another great Quark/Odo scene, with Quark prodding to find anything with which he can tempt the austere constable.
Dr. Bashir: Played purely for comedy relief in this episode... which is to say, we're back to the babbling, near-idiotic Bashir of the show's earliest episodes. We first see Bashir attempting to chat up a young lady, and having far too much success given that he is being massively boorish and obnoxious about it ("Let me tell you about me, and a bit more about me. But what's much more interesting is... well, me"). By the time Q finally puts him to sleep, I had long past the point of being ready to be rid of him. Memo to writers: Bashir doesn't work when he's used as boorish comedy relief.
Dax: Though very much in a supporting role, Dax has a strong episode. Most of the ideas utilized to trace the power drain come from her. In the end, she's the one who saves the day. Terry Farrell's line readings remain uneven, but she's wonderful with small, nonverbal beats. She has a particularly lovely reaction to Bashir emerging from his Q-induced slumber at the end.
Hot Space Babe of the Week: Jennifer Hetrick is Vash, the crooked space archaeologist. Apparently introduced in a Next Generation episode that I have no memory of, she is a particularly good foil for Quark. Like Quark, she places a strong value on adventure and profit. Though this is a Q episode, the most enjoyable scenes of the episode are the ones that see her playing opposite Quark. Watching the two of them manipulate each other with obvious pleasure is a joy, and I wouldn't object at all to seeing a genuinely Q-less Vash interacting with Quark in the future.
Q: His interactions with Sisko and the Deep Space 9 crew differ from his interactions with Picard and the Enterprise crew. He regards the occupants of the space station as irrelevant. He only barely interacts with them at all, basically making plain how unimpressive he finds both the station and its occupants. He is dismissive toward Sisko, clearly not having the same respect for him that he has gradually developed for Picard, and he dismissed Quark as "disgusting" and O'Brien as "one of the little people."
On the other hand, we do see Q having developed a personal connection with Vash. He chases after her, desperate to re-establish their relationship - ultimately confessing that, with her, he was able to experience a sense of wonder that is absent in his own, individual perceptions. John de Lancie is stronger when playing moments like that than he is when playing the "Q's highlight" reel opposite Sisko, probably because while we've seen Q being annoying and baiting humans before, we really haven't seen him vulnerable in the past.
With spinoffs, there is always the question of whether audiences will accept new characters and a different setting, and Deep Space 9 was the first spinoff since the 1987 Next Generation revival. It had to be seen as a gamble. Hence launching with a 2-hour pilot in which Picard had a significant role, when all other Trek spinoffs have launched with only brief cameos by members of preceding casts. Picard's presence in Emissary would be a hook for Next Generation viewers. And a half dozen episodes later, those viewers are given a second hook - the popular character of Q.
The marketing reasoning is very easy to follow. It was entirely possible that viewers would reject a Trek with a different cast. By this point, Next Generation had become almost as iconic as the original series, and was even being touted as "better than the original" in many circles (a statement which, I confess, still makes me boggle). There might have also been legitimate concern about the reaction of Trek fans to a series with a stationary setting. The Picard and Q appearances were clear ways to try to keep those viewers around long enough to hopefully get them interested. Given the 7 season run that Deep Space 9 enjoyed, the strategy would appear to have paid off.
Marketing analysis aside, Q-Less is an enjoyable episode. Q and Sisko don't work as foils in the same way that Q and Picard do. Then again, Q isn't really used as a foil for Sisko. He is there largely to interact with Vash. What we do get are some decent scenes in which the Deep Space 9 Ops Crew work together to figure out a problem, albeit one whose solution will be very obvious to most viewers. The plot hangs together reasonably well, and is given energy by some good character scenes, particularly those involving Vash and Quark.
There's not a lot more to say about this one. It's obvious on a story level, but it moves along nicely and has a lively quality that makes it good company. Not great Star Trek by any means, but still a solid entertainment.
Rating: 6/10. Right on the border between A "6" and a "7."
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