Too Much Fun wrote:
Picard died in this episode. There was no way around that. There wasn't some sci-fi contrivance that simply made us and/or the other characters think he might be dead, only to explain that he never really was at the end (something that was done in other episodes). He was physically dead, with a nasty, nasty burn on his chest, beyond hope of resuscitation by human tools of medicine and technology. If not for Q, there would be no plausible way to restore him from death in that episode.
Actually there's a very easy way around that. The claim that Picard died in "Tapestry" came exclusively from Q himself. It was never independently corroborated. At the end, when Picard awoke on the table, Beverly told him simply, "You've been injured." Yes, he had a burn on his chest, but people have recovered from far worse burns. Yes, he was in cardiac arrest and his respiratory system was shutting down, but 24th-century medicine has saved people from worse than that (remember, in "The Neutral Zone," Beverly brought back three people who were actually dead
, and did so in a matter of minutes).
So the only reason to accept that Picard actually
died in that episode is if you implicitly trust Q's word. And if you think you can do that, then I have a beach resort on Exo III to sell you.
On the other hand, you're right that Q wasn't simply a villain. He liked to play games with lesser beings, often sadistically, but he was capable of a degree of fondness for them as well. As Data said in "All Good Things...," he tended to treat Picard like a favorite pet.
If you look at Q's arc throughout TNG, it looks as though the Continuum assigned him to test humanity and assess their capacity for advancement, but he turned out to be poorly chosen for the assignment because of his capricious, often sadistic way of behaving toward inferior beings. He was punished for it by exile from the Collective, and maybe learned some grudging respect toward humanity while he was living among them. After that, he mostly seemed to toy with Picard or go on assignments like dealing with Amanda Rogers, but ultimately it turned out that the test had never ended.
So I'd say his assigned goals were neither benevolent nor malevolent; his job was to assess humanity's readiness, and how he would treat them depended on how they performed. And if he lost his objectivity and took a personal stake in the lives of some of his lab rats, whether positively or negatively, that reflected his own tendency toward self-gratification. He wasn't a good guy or a bad guy; he was an immature, capricious god who'd been assigned as humanity's parole officer, in a sense. Which is something that could go either way for the humans under his influence.