Are you watching Star Trek: Picard? Season 2, which premiered March 3, has breathed new life into this show, and the headlines are all about the return of two of Trek’s all-time favorite guest stars: John de Lancie as omnipotent nuisance Q and Whoopi Goldberg as sage bartender Guinan. We don’t know yet if the two will be in any scenes together, but we remain (true to the franchise) optimistic.
Need a quick catch-up on these two pivotal characters? Here’s a guide to key episodes that might help clarify why they’re still part of Jean-Luc Picard’s story decades after the season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, along with a few bonus episodes that add a little flavor.
Where to watch: Like Picard, all the Star Trek series are available on Paramount+
“All Good Things”
Star Trek: The Next Generation series finale
“Do you recall what I said to you when last we parted ways? The trial never ends…” —Q, Star Trek: Picard Episode 201
We’re going to start at the end. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation series finale, Q put Picard to the test (again) by presenting him with a problem that could only be solved by expanding his mind and thinking about it in a way that defied linear parameters. “For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered,” Q told him. “That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknowable possibilities of existence.”
It’s already clear that this season of Picard will be exploring why Jean-Luc has chosen to remain alone as well as why he went into space in the first place, but there’s a whole lot more than that going on: to quote the Borg Queen in Episode 2, “Time has been broken.” By that point we’re already in some kind of alternate timeline and we know we’re headed into the past for what might be the rest of the season. We don’t know why yet, but we do know one thing: Q is putting Picard to the test… again.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, Episode 16
This episode has the trifecta: Q, Guinan, and the Borg, all wrapped up in a bow. Q shows up, takes offense at Picard’s hubris (which would offend a Starfleet Admiral decades later), and with a snap, sends the Enterprise into Borg space. He says it’s to prove that the Federation isn’t as ready for the future as they think. When Picard turns to Guinan for knowledge, she reveals that her people (El-Aurians) were scattered and nearly obliterated by the Borg, where we also get the surprising news that Q is just a little afraid of her. Guinan’s famous “jazz hands” move has Q on his toes and the rest of us curious; 33 years later, we’re still wondering what went on between these two and hoping this season of Picard will finally fill us in… and it has to be significant, for a season featuring the Borg Queen, that Q introduced the Federation to the Borg in the first place.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6, Episode 15
The events of “Tapestry” are important because they tell us what this season of Picard is not: a chance for Jean-Luc to alter his own personal history. In “Tapestry,” Picard expresses regret for his rash actions as a cadet that led to him being stabbed in the heart by an angry Nausicaan, and Q takes this and runs with it, showing him what his life would have been had he avoided the confrontation. In the end, Picard sees how all of his experiences have turned him into the man he is and asks Q to undo his tampering and restore the timeline.
But Q has made it clear that things have changed. “This is not a lesson. It’s a penance.,” he tells Picard. Based on even the little bit we’ve seen so far, this is not about Picard’s future, but the galaxy’s; Q and Picard are blaming each other for the disruption to the timeline, but either way, the stakes are a lot higher than the career of one Starfleet officer. Lesson learned.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3, Episode 15
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” saw the Federation’s history change in an instant, after an encounter with a temporal rift. Suddenly they were a ship at war in a failing fleet, in conflict with the Klingons. The key to this episode is that Guinan was the only one able to perceive that the timeline had changed, and on nothing but the strength of her relationship with Picard, she was able to convince him what had happened and what action he had to take.
History’s likely to repeat here, which is why Q name-dropped the episode title in the season premiere. If anyone knows how to navigate metaverses, timelines, and alternate futures, it’s Guinan, so get thee to Ten Forward (or in the case of Picard, 10 Forward Avenue), have a drink, and soak up the insight. You’re going to need it.
Star Trek: Voyager Season 2, Episode 18
Q’s appearances weren’t restricted to Next Generation episodes; he also found his way onto Deep Space Nine, Lower Decks, and a couple of episodes of Voyager, where he treated Janeway with the respect he never gave to Jean-Luc Picard. In fact, he’s always interested in Janeway’s advice. In “Death Wish,” she’s given the hefty task of deciding if another member of the Q species should be allowed to die, which violates the rules of the Q Continuum. There’s a sense of urgency to Q’s actions on Picard, and many fans are speculating that de Lancie’s Q may in fact be dying, so this episode will give a refresher on what death might mean for the omnipotent.
And here are a few others you might want to check out:
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 26 and Season 6, Episode 1
Interested in the history of Picard and Guinan? This takes us all the way to their first meeting back in 1893… yes OF COURSE it involves time travel! (Also, Mark Twain!)
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3, Episode 13
The only other episode with both Guinan and Q in it, “Deja Q” is mostly an amusing look at what happens when Q is expelled from the Continuum and loses his powers, but also gives us insight into Q’s love of humanity (he did choose human form for his expulsion, after all) and the animosity between him and Guinan. (He calls her a “dangerous creature” after she stabs him with a fork. It’s a fun one.)
“Encounter at Farpoint”
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
We started with the last, so why not end with the first? The original Q episode was also the very first episode (technically a two-parter) of Next Generation. It’s always helpful to begin at the beginning and watch what unfolded the FIRST time Q put humanity on trial with Captain Picard as our spokesman.
The behind-the-scenes team on Star Trek: Picard have made it clear that they’re big fans of the entire franchise. You can see it on screen as well as in their interviews and social media posts. They’ve been paying attention as much as we have over the years, so these refreshers might come in handy—plus they’re a lot of fun.