Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Naked Now”

“The Naked Now”
Written by J. Michael Bingham (D.C. Fontana), story by John D.F. Black (“The Naked Time”) and J. Michael Bingham
Directed by Paul Lynch

Season 1, Episode 3
Original air date: October 5, 1987
Star date: 41209.2

Mission summary

After receiving bizarre messages from the S.S. Tsiolkovsky, a science ship studying a collapsing star, Enterprise races at warp 7 to investigate. They make brief contact with what sounds like the Tsiolkovsky’s phone sex operator just before someone blows an emergency hatch on the ship, killing everyone on board.

Riker leads an away team to find out what caused the erratic behavior. Apparently they’ve just missed an epic frat party which left a huge mess and a bunch of frozen and naked corpses. La Forge rescues a woman from the shower, but with his usual luck in love, she’s both frozen and fully dressed. Touching her still makes him feel funny inside.

The away team returns to Enterprise for a full medical examination to make sure that what happened on Tsiolkovsky stays on Tsiolkovsky, but La Forge is sweating profusely and unusually ill-tempered, so Dr. Crusher decides to confine him to Sickbay. Quarantine apparently means he can leave whenever he wants, so he walks out sans commbadge to hang out with Wesley, who’s playing with his little tractor beam in his quarters.

Riker remembers seeing something like this on an old science fiction show, so he asks Data to search the database for similar circumstances. Yar finally locates La Forge, now in the observation lounge suffering from melancholy, and delivers him to Sickbay. She’s obviously sweating just like patient zero, but no one notices. Crusher and Troi explain to Picard that the medical scanners show nothing wrong with La Forge, even though he’s acting like a sad drunk.

Data’s Google search finally produces the answer: this same plot was used in the original series episode “The Naked Time.” They send this information to Crusher so she can recreate the last-minute cure the crew of the previous Enterprise discovered, and continue to download Tsiolkovsky’s research data while remaining really close to the star that’s likely to explode. Not to worry, they can easily get out of the way in plenty of time! As long as no one takes over the ship and disables the engines…

Wesley takes over the ship and disables the engines, using his homemade tractor beam to repel people from Engineering. While Riker and Chief MacDougal try regain control, the rest of the crew is getting hot and bothered. Yar seduces Data in her quarters and Crusher, frustrated that the formula for the serum doesn’t work, or just frustrated in general, makes a move on Picard.

The star collapses, sending a chunk of its matter right for the stuck Enterprise. Though MacDougal shuts down Wesley’s tractor beam, they have to wait until Data can reinsert a stack of isolinear chips into the computer before the engines can go online. As the clock ticks toward the end credits, Crusher successfully develops a cure based on the original formula and begins administering it throughout the ship, while Wesley buys Data some time by reconfiguring the ship’s tractor beam to push Tsiolkovsky toward the star mass, giving them a nudge in the opposite direction. The engines switch on just in time and Enterprise warps to safety.

Now that everyone is safe and sane again, things could be a little awkward. Yar tells Data that he should act as though the tender moment they shared never happened. Good advice for everyone, really.

PICARD: I put it to you all. I think we shall end up with a fine crew, if we avoid temptation. So, Number One, let’s go to our next job.

Analysis

This is a dreadful episode in general, but it’s even worse as the second regular episode of a new Star Trek series. Not only does it blatantly refer to the predecessor it’s trying to distinguish itself from—which might have delighted some fans—but it manages to take everything that was wonderful about “The Naked Time” and do it wrong. It essentially “borrows” the plot of that episode, almost beat for beat, but leaves behind all of the real, raw emotion and thoughtfulness of the source material in favor of cheap jokes and uncomfortable scenes. This installment of TNG had to be awkward for everyone involved with it. I’m sure a lot of people worried that TNG was simply going to be a pale shadow of the original series, and it would be some time before fans would be proven wrong.

As I considered whether “The Naked Now” contributed anything to the series, I decided its only “value” is to establish that Wesley is some kind of genius—and even that is better done a few episodes later.

WESLEY: If this were a hundred times more powerful than it is. Why not try it with the real thing? Why not reverse fields on this, Ma’am? If we just need an extra minute–
MACDOUGAL: It would take weeks of laying out new circuits.
WESLEY: Why not just see it in your head? Come off the main lead, split off at the force activator, then, then… If I could just think straight about this.

For a moment I thought Riker was going to make the connection and suggest using the tractor beam, and when he didn’t I was somewhat disappointed. It seems to be a bit too much that Wesley invents a reverse tractor beam—something which should already exist–and has the idea to use it to buy them time, and is the only person who can figure out how to make it work when there’s an android, an engineer, and an experienced Starfleet commander standing right next to him. As a kid I might have enjoyed his moment of glory, but as an adult I’m offended. Meanwhile, the awkward geek in me is embarrassed for Wesley, who proudly shows off the recordings he’s made where Captain Picard treats him like a member of the crew. Wish fulfillment, indeed. Sad, lonely child.

I also can’t resist picking apart this tractor beam he’s made. He shows the device moving around a futuristic chair in his quarters, but does that mean it’s also creating some kind of antigravity field? He wouldn’t be able to lift anything otherwise. But that isn’t the worst oversight. Unless I missed it, I don’t see why they can’t beam into Engineering, neatly circumventing his force field. Or maybe, can they go around him? Or transport him out? Why can’t they fire phasers or photon torpedoes at that star mass, or use their tractor beam to push it away, or beam over to Tsiolkovsky and use it to deflect it somehow? The conflict, the ticking clock, are completely contrived, and I would have liked at least some discussion of alternatives, even if they aren’t thinking clearly. (Incidentally, Riker seems to take a really long time to succumb to the infection after being exposed, doesn’t he?)

The relationships and problems are also contrived. “The Naked Time” used this plot to effectively show hidden conflicts and desires within the crew, but “The Naked Now” uses it to… make women throw themselves at men. Nice. Sure, Geordi gets maudlin over his VISOR, because he’s never seen a rainbow–reading or otherwise—but other than that, not one of them has a problem I sympathize with. They don’t act like people. Yar escaped the rape gangs and now all she wants is “love”…from the only non-human aboard? Really? (And seriously, why is that part of his programming?) Judging from her walk to her quarters, I think she would have responded the same way to just about any other guy who walked through those doors. (Except Geordi, of course. Sad, lonely man.) The other big problem is that almost across the board, the acting is terrible, devoid of the subtlety that graced performances in “The Naked Now.” Half the time they don’t seem intoxicated so much as insane.

The only subtle thing in this episode is that the infection seems to have become airborne, because I don’t think they mention that in the dialogue at all. Crusher comments that it may have mutated, but all we get are some weird close-ups of Geordi audibly exhaling, and the fact that it’s spreading much more quickly than it probably would by touch. And there’s another thing—characters go out of their way to find reasons to touch each other, which thankfully is not often the case, and I just don’t understand why the infection doesn’t spread when they touch objects, like Geordi’s commbadge.

Some elements I did enjoy: the presence of a woman Chief Engineer, which I’d forgotten about; the use of a “sonic driver,” which I can only assume is a callout to Doctor Who; and the scene in the teaser of the frozen dead crewmembers, which was graphic and, ahem, chilling.

I first saw this episode years after it aired, out of order, so I’m interested—at what point did fans realize this was a sequel/remake/homage? When you saw the ad for the following week’s episode? During the teaser? Or was it only when you saw the episode title?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: DATA: And there was a rather peculiar limerick being delivered by someone in the shuttlecraft bay. I’m not sure I understand it. “There was a young lady from Venus, whose body was shaped like a–”

Trivia/Other Notes: The original treatment for this episode, written by Roddenberry and titled “Revelations,” had Geordi hitting on Tasha, Data acting like a “perfect little boy” like Pinocchio, Troi complaining about her lack of mental privacy, Riker fearing the lonely life that lies ahead for Starfleet captains, and Picard worrying about the families he is responsible for on the ship. (via The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion by Larry Nemecek)


Previous episode: Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 – “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 4 – “Code of Honor.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.