Of all the amazing alien races explored throughout the years in Star Trek TV shows and movies, the most omniscient and frustrating figures are those known as the Q. More specifically, audiences have been baffled, intrigued, and annoyed by Q himself, a member of the Q continuum, played by John de Lancie.
The character has appeared in TNG, Voyager, DS9, and Picard, as well as in animated form in mixed-reviewed Lower Decks. His appearances are often marked by weird and wacky adventures in mind-bending microcosms where he toys with each show's respective captain; however, he is not necessarily bad. Some fans think he played a vital role in actually saving the Federation and life in the Alpha quadrant, but how true is this?
The moment in question starts right at the beginning of TNG where Picard and the crew of the iconic Enterprise D are on their way to Farpoint station. This station is aptly named as it marks the point of the Federation's farthest exploration efforts, and it is right on the edge of known space. Here, they encounter Q for the first time, who toys with them and engages in some enjoyable yet frustrating back and forth with Picard, something the two characters become known for over the years.
They talk about humanity, both technically being correct: Q berates the captain about humanity's barbaric history, and Picard advocates for the new Federation style of humanity, the utopian version Gene Roddenberry desired and far away from their barbaric past. (This was all before the conditional love of the Federation was properly explored after Roddenberry’s influence of the show was lessened.) Swayed by Picard’s words, Q declares he will test them (resulting in an episode worth of shenanigans that end in Starfleet's favor) but that the “test never ends” and that he will continue to watch and decide whether humanity is worth saving.
One such test occurs during the episode “Q Who,” in which Q sends the Enterprise D almost three years at maximum warp away, right into the path of a Borg ship. Things don’t go well for the crew, resulting in 18 deaths, and almost the complete destruction of the Enterprise. They were completely helpless in this situation, as nothing they could do could even scratch the Borg and their shields were useless. Luckily, they were whisked away by Q before completely wiped out. (It’s worth noting that this was still before Voyager almost ruined the Borg, so they were a considerable threat.) This is where the divide takes place between fans. Audiences are split on whether Q's actions in introducing the threat of the Borg before they invaded Federation space heralds him as friend or foe.
On one hand, by showing Picard and the crew the massive threat of the Borg, he gave them ample time to prepare before they spread to Federation space. It’s made very clear in the episode that Picard has full confidence in the power of Starfleet, and believes that they are advanced enough to quell any opposing force. This point in time marks the Federation’s height of complacency, with Q himself pointing out that the Federation had forgotten that there were still massive threats out there in the vast universe just waiting to be discovered. Q’s intervention scared the Federation, forced them to take action and prepare properly, and allowed them to survive when the Borg finally did invade the alpha quadrant.
However, many believe that Q’s actions provoked the Borg in the first place. It's true that they were venturing closer to Federation space, but the sudden appearance of a Starfleet spaceship right in front of the Borg cube would have massively piqued the interest of a race of beings obsessed with the pursuit of new technology and information. They had already encountered humans before this point, added them to the collective, and then thought nothing of it, uninterested in invading their space as they saw nothing special in them. So to appear mysteriously using some unknown and seemingly impossible technology to traverse a ridiculous amount of space in the blink of an eye would have made them think twice about the assimilation of humanity. While it’s true the Enterprise was being completely annihilated by the Borg, they still managed to escape and survive. And since the Borg did not know about Q, for them, it might have appeared as an untamed tease, baiting them into the alpha quadrant.
At the end of the day, whether Q’s actions helped or hindered the Federation are almost second to what his true intentions were. If he helped, it’s unlikely that he did it on purpose. The real motivations behind his actions were always to toy with Picard, showing him and his beloved federation how small they were compared to the real big players in the Galaxy, something Picard admits himself. He was humbled, put in his place by Q, but it also made him realize he needed to toughen up to survive. To quote Q “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home, and crawl under your bed.” The 18 deaths and near destruction at the hands of the Borg were just that bloody nose that gave Picard the much-needed perspective he needed.