Q has spent his entire life having people underestimate him. It’s one of the secrets of his success.
(There is also his ability to hack the controls of weapons of mass destruction in a matter of seconds, not to mention enough confidence – some might say arrogance, self-awareness being something he values to counteract his inevitable hubris – to do so; but people’s expectations certainly don’t hurt.)
The fact that this endures only makes the current state of MI6 even more concerning to him. His performance during Skyfall was somewhat overshadowed by accidentally helping Silva to hack his own network – hubris, it really was, because Q far prefers that word to irony – not to mention the highly vexing part where his masking of Bond and M’s trail to all but Silva isn’t something permitted to be discussed outside closed doors. Meaning that only a few people know about it.
But then, annoying as it might be, this feels right. It feels comfortable and familiar and Q is a man who likes to fall back on habits.
He should have expected Bond to see through it.
“Tell me,” 007 mutters, in the midst of another briefing and cutting through Q’s pre-emptive mourning for his latest piece of groundbreaking technology, “what was it before hipsters? Chavs?”
“Don’t know what you mean, 007,” Q replies smoothly, not looking up from the pen which he oh-so-graciously loaded with explosives as the surefire path to any Double O's heart. He is most definitely not glaring at said pen, resenting its dull plebeian appeal, sensing Bond’s greater interest in that than a smart phone which actually lives up to the title.
If Q hadn’t read his file several times – once whilst negotiating respective movie rights with Eve – fixations with blowing anything and everything to kingdom come might lead him to make certain assumptions about 007. Assumptions such as ‘childish’, or ‘old-fashioned’, or ‘compensating for something’.
“The glasses,” Bond replies, as if that means anything. Which it does – provided Bond knows what he’s talking about. But Q refuses to leap to conclusions here, refuses to let the flicker of anything through his carefully schooled and practised indifference – usually genuine, although damn him if Bond doesn’t give that a run for its money – because Bond is trained to read people, meaning it’s best to at least use an obscure font. (Or Comic Sans, he muses, and once again considers how miraculous his processing speed is with all the rubbish clogging up his thoughts which he can’t seem to delete.)
He’s not sure if he gives anything away. Bond drawing breath to continue suggests not, since you generally don’t explain something to somebody who already knows the answer, but then, reports indicate that 007 spends so much time listening to incredibly helpful exposition that perhaps he thinks this is how people talk now.
“People ignore hipsters because they’re everywhere. Especially the ones with laptops and phones glued to their ears.” He leans in – Q doubts he means anything by that, Bond just has rather different ideas of personal space and he wonders sometimes (a lot) if Bond even realises that Q is not, in fact, a girl. Whatever respect he might have for Q’s more destructive talents, it’s quite clear that like many of his colleagues he still rather looks down on the ‘cyberworld’ as nothing but the passing fad the nineties deemed it. (That and Q checked and the man not only painstakingly types in any addresses he wants to visit, but also uses Internet Explorer. The horror.)
“Large glasses to hide your eyes. Hideous jumpers to distract from the body.”
If nothing else, MI6 training does teach you not to react to James Bond referring to your body – not to mention the constant source of amusement at the instructor’s clear concern for Q’s ‘virtue’. “I’d thank you not to cast aspersions on my chosen style of dress,” Q tells him, careful to enunciate every RP vowel. (If you believe the talk around MI6 – a dubious source, of course, but in their business even rumours reveal something through their shape – once upon a time Bond had a rather similar accent, from Eton and Oxford and the usual channels. (Q doubts this, if only because it implies that anything about Bond is real.))
“I assume that includes the switchblade attached to your wrist.”
Q meets his eyes for a moment; wonders when Bond would have noticed that. Then that thought connects with Bond’s fondness for casual touching, to the point of endless office jokes which aren’t even funny anymore, and enough facts click into place for Q to let the silence last slightly longer than he had planned.
(He also vaguely misses being able to vanish into his old hoodies, hiding behind suspicion and imagined ASBOs.)
Then he continues on with the presentation, because to say anything else would be conceding far too much. He’s on salvage as it is.
Bond hums to himself and gives the illusion of listening. To be fair, judging by the light in his eyes, he really is listening to the more weapons-related descriptions – but then, Q has never found any reason to be fair when it comes to Bond.
Especially because Bond certainly won’t be fair in return.
“You dress like that because people dismiss you,” he tells Q once their business is concluded, ever the dramatic one. “It’s precisely why I don’t.”
And, inevitably, that is intended as the great exit line.
So naturally Q presses the button prepared for precisely this occasion to lock the door.
“You don’t,” he says, not looking up from his laptop screen and enjoying the camera feed of 007’s expression, “because to you computers are magic. That’s all.” Please let that be all.
Funny, he hasn’t heard a man both growl and laugh at the same time before. What a sheltered life he has been leading.
“You can do whatever you like with your computers. I prefer to focus on your pioneering work in the urban camouflage field.”
It’s delivered as a joke. As such, Q doesn’t know why it makes him let Bond go; not until he realises that he hadn’t been responding to the suggestion of humour, but what Bond had actually meant: respect.
Well. That is novel.
People underestimate Q a great deal indeed. He makes sure of it.
When moments like this happen – moments which ambush him, Bond cheating his thought processes just for a second, through distraction or diversion or abstract and abrupt changes, hints and glimpses through to the spy behind the killer’s eyes – he realises that it’s not just him.