Star Trek: The history of Picard and Q in 6 episodes

John de Lancie as Q and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek Picard Season 2.
Q (John de Lancie) and Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) in Star Trek: Picard season 2. (Image credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)

Star Trek: Picard is back, and the pesky trickster Q (played by John de Lancie) is already up to his old ways, meddling with time, space and Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) dwindling patience in Star Trek: Picard season 2.

For the uninitiated, Q is part of the Q Continuum, a race of God-like beings who can manipulate almost anything and anyone. Q can transport spacecraft across the galaxy with a click of his fingers, move back and forth through time and summon a wardrobe full of inextricable costumes. In the words of Picard: “He’s devious and amoral and unreliable and irresponsible and definitely not to be trusted.”

If you’re new to Star Trek or haven’t watched The Next Generation in a while, you might want to scrub up on Picard and Q’s decade-spanning, volatile relationship.

In this guide, we’ve selected six episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to help you understand Q and Picard’s history, including the time Q hurled Picard into the Borg’s backyard through to the incident when Q forced Picard to cosplay as Robin Hood.

There are plenty more Q-focused episodes to watch, both in Star Trek: The Next Generation and other series (like Voyager, Deep Space Nine and even Lower Decks), but if you’ve only got an afternoon to catch up, these are the episodes we recommend you watch.

The one where Q holds Picard personally responsible for all of humanity's sins

Encounter at Farpoint, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2)

The best place to start for a complete picture of Q’s antics and Picard’s frustrations is right at the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first episode of the series is a fantastic watch, and it introduces us to both the crew of the USS Enterprise D and Q for the very first time. 

This is also Q's first encounter with humans, and his way of greeting us? Putting Picard and his crew on trial on behalf of all humanity, calling us a “dangerous, savage, child-race.” (I mean, he's not wrong?) 

Picard argues that Q is unfairly judging humanity for its past mistakes, decades and centuries before, not for how far they’ve come since. So, he strikes a deal with Q and proposes they're tested in the present to prove humans have moved on from their violent tendencies. 

What follows is the first of many tests that Q puts Picard through, a mission to Farpoint Station, where the crew must unravel the mysteries of a new space station and why things aren't quite as they seem.

Q eventually deems Picard, the crew and, therefore humanity, to have passed the test. But not before he ominously warns Picard he hasn't seen the last of him.

Best quote: Q to Picard: "Temper, temper mon capitaine, I'm merely trying to assist a pitiful species."

Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 3.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). (Image credit: CBS via Getty Images)

The one where Q teaches Picard the life-affirming value of a good bar fight

Tapestry, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 6, Episode 15)

If you only have time to watch one episode about Q and Picard, make it this one. 

Not only is this an excellent episode for learning more about Q and Picard’s complex dynamic, it’s a must-watch for those who love Picard, as it gives us all a look at the life of a young Jean-Luc fresh out of Starfleet Academy — as well as who he could have become.

At the start of the episode, Picard is fatally wounded. As he’s on death’s door, Q shows up. He tells Picard that he’s dying because of his artificial heart, which he received back in his youth after getting into a bar fight with a Nausicaan.

Q gives him the chance to go back in time, so he doesn’t get into the fight, doesn’t get stabbed and doesn’t get the artificial heart that later threatens to kill him. He does, but things go awry when Picard learns how formative the experience was and helps shape who he becomes later in life. 

The important thing to note about this episode is that as annoying as Q is, he’s not evil. His actions do, eventually, end up enriching Picard’s life. It's just frustrating his methods are so maddening. 

Best quote: Picard to Q: "I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you; the universe is not so badly designed."

The one where Q dumps Picard in the Borg's backyard

Q Who, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 2, Episode 16)

In this episode, Q asks Picard if he can join the Enterprise. He promises that he could play a vital role in helping the Enterprise navigate the galaxy and all of the scary things that lurk in the depths of unexplored space. 

Picard, rightly suspecting Q is probably up to no good, declines. This makes Q upset, and, as a form of punishment, he clicks his fingers and sends the Enterprise 7,000 light-years into an unknown part of the galaxy that’s two years away from the nearest space station.

The crew soon learn they’re not just in unknown space, they’re in Borg space. This is the first time the Borg appear in Trek, and there's an edge-of-your-seat pursuit that almost gets the Enterprise destroyed.

As the Enterprise’s shields are down, and the crew are probably minutes away from assimilation, Picard begs Q for help. “If we all die… you will not be able to gloat!” he says. “You wanted me to say I need you… I NEED YOU.” With another click of Q’s fingers, the Enterprise is back where it was before. 

Best quote: Picard to Q: "I understand what you've done here, Q, but I think the lesson could have been learned without the loss of eighteen members of my crew."

1987 crew portrait for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Pictured are from left, front row, British-American actress Marina Sirtis (as Counselor Deanna Troi), British actor Patrick Stewart (as Captain Jean-Luc Picard), and American actress Gates McFadden (as Doctor Beverly Crusher); from left, back row, American actors Jonathan Frakes (as Commander William T. Riker), Brent Spiner (as Lieutenant Commander Data), Whoopi Goldberg (as Guinan), LeVar Burton (as Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge), and Michael Dorn (as Lieutenant Worf).

The crew of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Image credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

The one where Q hits Picard up on LinkedIn

Deja Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 3, Episode 13) 

If Q drives you as nuts as he does Picard, you’ll like this episode as it involves a satisfying scene in which he's stabbed with a fork — go Guinan! 

Q shows up on the Enterprise again, but this time it’s because the Q Continuum is sick of his antics, so he's been stripped of his powers and sent away to live as a mortal. He chooses to become human and seeks asylum on the Enterprise, and Picard (reluctantly) grants it to him, despite assuming he’s pulling yet another prank. 

While aboard the Enterprise, Q learns more about what it means to be human, striking up an unexpected (sort of) friendship with Data. However, after living just a few days as a human, he’s sick of it and melodramatically whizzes off in a shuttle with a high risk of being killed.

“My life as a human being has been a dismal failure,” he says. “As a human, I would have died of boredom.” At this point, another Q intervenes and restores his powers. 

Best quote: Q to Picard: "… in all the universe, you're the closest thing I have to a friend, Jean-Luc."

The one where Q finally gets Picard into a pair of tights

Qpid, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 4, Episode 20)  

Q wants to thank Picard for allowing him to stay on the Enterprise in Deja Q, so shows up uninvited to repay the favour.

“I’ve just been paid a visit from Q [...] he wants to do something nice for me,” Picard tells Riker in a hilariously scathing tone. “I’ll alert the crew,” Riker says.

It just so happens that he turns up when Picard’s old flame Vash, an archaeologist he met on Risa a year before, is on board the Enterprise for a conference. 

Q decides this would be a great time to teach Picard yet another lesson, so he sends Picard, Vash and a few other members of the crew into a Robin Hood-style scenario. You’ve probably seen a meme of this episode before, like Worf head-to-toe in costume saying: “Sir, I protest. I am not a merry man!” 

Q takes the role of the High Sheriff of Nottingham, naturally, and sets Picard or, sorry, Robin Hood, the task of saving Vash, or Maid Marian. His point was to get Picard to admit that he cares for Vash and to show him that isn’t good for his role on the Enterprise, and could end up getting his crew killed. 

The episode ends with Q offering to take Vash on a journey of exploration through the stars to all of the archaeological ruins in the galaxy. She kisses Jean-Luc, puts on her explorer garb and joins Q.

Best quote: From Q: "I had such high hopes for you, Picard. I thought that you were a bit more… evolved than the rest of your species but now I realise you're just as weak as all the others. Still it pains me, to see the great Jean-Luc Picard brought down… by a woman."

John de Lancie as Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Q (John de Lancie). (Image credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

The one where Q gives Picard the worst Wordle of all time

All Good Things, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 7, Episodes 25 & 26)  

Picard is moving back and forth through time, from when he first arrived on the Enterprise, to the present day, to far into the future when he’s an elderly man. He’s not sure what’s up. Could it be a problem with his brain? Alien infiltration? A space anomaly? No, silly, it’s Q of course! 

Q reveals this is (surprise, surprise) another test, this time devised by the Q Continuum to find out if humanity is capable of expanding its understanding of the universe and evolving its thinking. 

Although Q might have been instrumental in the time paradox Picard finds himself in, to his credit he dose provide him with some clues about how to solve it. This helps Picard figure out what’s going on and means he manages to stop the anomaly that could wipe out human life entirely.

Picard, obviously, succeeds. He then has a final face-off with Q in which he promises that he’ll continue to watch over humanity. “The trial never ends,” he says. 

Best quote: From Q: "The Continuum didn't think you had it in you, Jean-Luc. But I knew you did.”

Becca Caddy

Becca has been writing about consumer tech and popular science for over ten years. She’s covered all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll all experience the overview effect one day, but she’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She's contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture and spending way too much time floating through space in virtual reality.