Captain Picard and Q’s Complex 35 Year Relationship in STAR TREK

The Star Trek franchise has many great love stories. Riker and Troi. Worf and Dax. Tom Paris and B’Elanna. Captain Kirk and… well, everyone. But perhaps the greatest love story, albeit a platonic and kind of twisted one, is the relationship between Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the bratty, all-powerful entity called Q (John de Lancie).

Spoiler Alert

It all began 35 years ago on the very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And it lasted until the season two finale of Star Trek: Picard. It took three decades for Q to finally admit he really cares about his dear “Mon Capitaine.” So how did this relationship evolve from adversarial to affectionate? It’s a long, winding road. But we’re here to break down the emotional complexities between Picard and Q.

First Contact
Picard meets Q for the first time in the Next Generation pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint.
Paramount Television

Picard first encountered Q in his first mission aboard the Enterprise, in the TNG pilot “ Encounter at Farpoint.” Presenting himself as a member of the omnipotent Q Continuum, he forced Picard to stand trial for the crimes of humanity. When he passed the test (by solving a planetary riddle), Q stormed off. Upon this first encounter, Q seemed to have nothing but contempt for humanity and Picard. But like a schoolyard bully pulling pigtails on the playground, this was all clearly a front. Because he actually had a soft spot for our good Captain.

A Petulant God and His Favorite Pet
Q visits Picard in his Ready Room on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Paramount Television

On Q’s next appearance on the Enterprise, “ Hide and Q,” he seemed more preoccupied with Riker. He gave Number One the powers of the Q, and not Picard. But all of Q’s interesting exchanges in the episode were with Jean-Luc. And it’s when we see he might have a glimmer of respect for his foe. It’s almost like he used Riker just to get to Picard.

Perhaps his cruelest act came in season two, in the episode “ Q Who.” A petulant Q, after Picard insulted him, tossed the Enterprise far into uncharted space. There, the unprepared crew had to face off against the technologically superior race called the Borg, and several crew members lost their lives.

Q shows Picard the Borg for the very first time, in season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Paramount Television

At the end of that episode, Picard had to put aside his ego for the sake of saving his crew. He literally told Q, “I need you,” in the hopes that he could save his ship. This act of humility stunned Q, who for the first time, showed real respect for Picard. Most humans can’t get past their own egos, and Picard did. This might have been a turning point in their relationship. (At least for Q.) Picard would not soon forget the loss of lives caused by Q’s petulance. But one can’t help but think Q just wanted to hear Jean-Luc say he needed him.

Lessons in Love
Q appears in Picard's bed in the fifth season TNG episode Tapestry.
Paramount Television

But perhaps Q’s warm feelings for Jean-Luc really emerged in his next appearance, season three’s “ Deja Q.” In this episode, the Continuum stripped Q of his powers as punishment. Becoming human, he sought asylum on the Enterprise. Despite every reason to be cruel towards him after years of abuse, Picard actually tried to help him through his change—when he’s not totally exasperated with him, that is. When Q’s time on the Enterprise led him to redemption in the eyes of his fellow Q, it was a turning point for how he dealt with Picard.

Feeling he owed Picard a debt, in season four’s “ Qpid,” he attempted to repay the Captain. Of course, he did so in the most annoying way possible. Let’s just say it involved an ex-girlfriend of Picard’s and the Enterprise crew cosplaying as Robin Hood characters. (Best not to ask.) This entire attempt at saying “thank you” to Picard still had Q being a huge pain in the butt. But it marked the first time the omnipotent entity showed any outward gratitude towards Jean-Luc. And also anything that passed for outward affection.

Q Lends a Helping Hand
Q appears to Picard as God, in the TNG episode Tapestry.
Paramount Television

But perhaps the biggest show of love, if you can call it that, came in season five’s “ Tapestry.” When Picard lied near-death after an accident, Q took him on a journey through time to his wayward youth. He proved to Picard that if Picard hadn’t been the brash young man he was, and now detests, he wouldn’t have been the capable leader he is now. Q did this seemingly just because he cared about Picard. Q truly acted like a friend. His lesson, harsh as it turned out to be, was actually a valuable one.

Perhaps’s Q greatest gift to Picard came in the series finale, “ All Good Things.” Although it seemed at first that he was torturing Picard by moving him back and forth through time, he was actually helping him figure out a cosmic anomaly—one which could have destroyed the galaxy. There was no ulterior motive for his trying to help Jean-Luc, except that he simply cared about his well-being. As actor John de Lancie once said, “Picard is Q’s ‘main squeeze.’” It was never more clear than in that final episode of TNG. He promised he’d see Picard “out there.” But despite four TNG feature films, it took over 28 years for that to happen.

Hugging It Out
Jean-Luc and Q meet in season two of Star Trek: Picard.

When Q showed up in Picard season two’s premiere episode, we hadn’t seen him this angry and outright violent since almost his first appearance. He literally smacks the 90-year-old Jean-Luc across the face! At first, he moved Jean-Luc and his friends back in time, in what felt like a repeat of “All Good Things.”

But Q, who it turns out is dying (we don’t know how or why yet), really just wanted Picard to learn one last lesson in his old age, so he could find peace—and perhaps, find love. When Picard asked Q why he did this, he simply says “because I care about you.” When the two adversaries part ways, Jean-Luc actually gave Q a hug. Maybe, in the end, that’s all he ever needed: a good hug from his “Mon Capitaine.”

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