Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "The Naked Now" (October 5, 1987)

Stardate: 41209.2

The U.S.S. Enterprise-D under command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) approaches the S.S. Tsiolkovsky, a Starfleet science vessel monitoring a collapsing red giant star.

After an “accident” which seems to kill the entire crew, an away team led by Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) investigates the situation.

What the away team soon finds on the Tsiolkovsky is strange and unsettling. One crew member seems to have intentionally exposed the bridge to the vacuum of space.

Meanwhile, Lt. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) enters a crew person’s quarters where the temperature has dropped to freezing, and someone died taking a shower with their clothes on.

The away-team returns to the Enterprise and is decontaminated by the transporter, but Geordi begins to show signs of a high fever, and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) worries that the Tsiolkovsky “infection” is spreading.

When Geordi escapes from sickbay, he passes the strange disease – by touch -- to Security Chief Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), who soon grows lusty.

Commander Riker recalls reading about another incident of someone showering fully clothed, and asks Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) research it. The android finds such an historical example from the Constitution class U.S.S. Enterprise commanded by Captain James T. Kirk, nearly a century earlier. That Enterprise was also investigating a cosmic body (a planet, not a star), undergoing radical gravity shifts.

A ready-made cure is sent to Dr. Crusher via the computer, from the old Enterprise, but it doesn’t work this time.

Tasha infects Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and then Data, by engaging in sexual contact with him. The android reports being “fully functional.”

Soon, young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is contaminated by Geordi, and he takes over Engineering using a voice-synthesizer that imitates Captain Picard’s voice. There Wesley erects a force-field around the section and refuses to let others enter. 

Disaster looms, however, as a chunk of the collapsing star approaches the Enterprise, and Engineering is useless…

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (1987-1994) first season gets off to an extremely shaky start with this first episode after the pilot, an homage to The Original Series (1966-1969) hour, “The Naked Time.” In both episodes, intrepid crew members suffer from an infection that makes them act intoxicated, or drunk, and in the process reveal hidden aspects of their personalities.

In “The Naked Time,” audiences witnesses Mr. Spock’s guilt and shame about not being able to tell his human mother that he loves her. We see Mr. Sulu’s true nature as a mad swashbuckler, unveiled. We even witnessed Captain Kirk’s almost pathological obsession with commanding the Enterprise, and the way that this obsession isolated him from a normal emotional life. And we also learn Nurse Chapel is secretly in love with Mr. Spock.


In The Next Generation we discover that the three leading females in the series -- Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, and Tasha Yar -- all have sex on their brains. 

Crusher’s inhibitions fall and she unbuttons her uniform seductively, telling Captain Picard that she has been denied the “comfort” of a husband for too long. Tasha seeks sexual intercourse from Data. And Counselor Troi interferes with Riker’s attempts to reclaim engineering, babbling that she wants to be “alone” with him, in his mind.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with women characters expressing sexual interest or desire. So let’s get that out of the way.

Women are sexual beings, as men are, and should be able to express that in life and in drama.  However, it is rather alarming that for “The Naked Now” the choice is made to have all the women -- when released from their inhibitions -- express a desire, primarily, for sex.  It’s insulting that there is apparently nothing deeper to explore in these characters, beyond their desire to get it on with the male command crew. It's as if a desire for sex is the end-all and be-all of these three career Starfleet women.

Riker, when drunk, becomes a boring workaholic (“I can’t afford to get this!”). Geordi longs for human sight, even though it is inferior to what his VISOR can provide him. When he is “infected,” he doesn’t long for sex, he longs for a deeper emotional connection to Tasha.

But the women? 

It’s all the desire for sex with the male characters, whether Picard, Riker, or Data. I just must believe that 24th century women, officers aboard the flagship of the Federation, would be more interesting than that. Why are the women all defined by their sexual desire for the male characters? Why can’t one of them be driven by ambition, like Riker, to command a ship?

The final line of the episode is a travesty, too.

Captain Picard notes that the Enterprise shall have a fine crew, if it can “avoid temptation.”  This is certainly a dig against the women officers, who -- when drunk – wanted to have sex with the men, keeping them from accomplishing their necessary life-saving tasks, essentially. The men weren’t grappling with temptation, after all.

That line is wrong for so many reasons. 

First, it is demeaning to the female characters, since they were the ones who acted according to secret physical desires. 

Secondly, it makes no real sense to “avoid” temptation, given that the Enterprise is a ship of families. If there is such physical desire, and it is mutual, why not indulge in romantic relationships? Why not get married and have families?

At the same time The Next Generation attempts to move forward into a world where families can be space explorers, it seems to be mired in the 1960’s parochial notion that one can’t be both an officer and a family man (or woman). This idea reaches its nadir with an upcoming episode, “Haven,” wherein Counselor Troi must choose between being a Starfleet officer and getting married.

Why not simply have both a career and a family, especially in Star Trek’s enlightened future?  This is a notable and embarrassing example of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) not being any more evolved than its predecessor had been, twenty years earlier. It is easier to excuse the original series, being a product of the sixties. By the 1980’s, everyone knew this kind of thinking was backwards.

Thirdly, it is terrible that Captain Picard has to utter this line, coming across as an arrogant prude. Why would he say this at all, knowingly embarrassing his female bridge officers? And secondly, why is he such a shut-down prig? Between his dislike of children and families, his near-constant surrendering of the Enterprise (“Encounter at Farpoint,” and “The Last Outpost”), his hectoring of the crew here, Picard isn’t yet coming across as a very capable or likable captain.

Of course, that changes over time.

Also, it is a terrible shame that “The Naked Now” arrives so early in the series continuity when it is abundantly clear that the (rewritten) script has no idea what character traits Captain Picard may be burying, or hiding from his crew.

He becomes a goofy, skipping lapdog to Dr. Crusher, but no real inner character is revealed. Perhaps, Picard could have revealed how he lives in fear of the day that he knows is inevitably coming; when a child aboard the Enterprise dies because of a choice he made. 

Or perhaps he could have revealed the guilt and shame he feels, every time he looks at Dr. Crusher, because he is attracted to her, but he is also responsible for the death of her husband (clearing the way for a romantic relationship).

But “The Naked Now” lacks that level of depth. 

It lacks it in regards to Wesley Crusher too.

Being drunk for Wesley means acting goofy, and also complaining about adults. No real emotions or deep truths about him are broached. He’s a typical kid. What might he feel, realistically? Resentment towards Captain Picard for the decision that killed his father.

Perhaps, the Enterprise could have been Jack Crusher’s ship? How does Wesley feel living near Picard?  Why give characters this tragic, difficult background if there is no intent to exploit it in the drama?

The way that “The Naked Now” treats Wesley Crusher is actually really terrible, and absolutely did Wil Wheaton no favors with fans. Wesley’s behavior in the episode, and the way it reflects on the command staff, by extension, does no character any favors.

Basically, the untrained genius kid saves the ship with his inventions, while intoxicated.

The entire command crew, with the resources of the Federation flagship to command, look inept by comparison.  Wesley’s brilliance, even under these circumstances makes fans hate him (The Will Robinson Adric Syndrome). But the fact that a wet-behind-the-ears teenager can save the ship, while Riker, Worf (not…even…intoxicated!), Geordi, Picard, Troi, and Crusher can’t do so is a tough one to parse. It doesn’t say much about the quality of Starfleet training in the 24th century.

Also -- let’s get real -- there are over a thousand crew members on the ship. They can’t all be sick.  No one else can help out in a pinch?

This episode also presents the audience with the first in a series of rotating chief engineers. Brooke Bundy plays Lt. Commander Sarah McDougal, an engineer who is outperformed and out-smarted by an untrained civilian teenager. I remember Brooke Bundy fondly from a guest role in Land of the Lost in the 1970’s, and she does just fine in this episode, but McDougal’s potential as a character is destroyed by the way this episode treats the character. The chief engineer of the Enterprise should be the greatest engineer in the fleet. Not an unimaginative officer who can be so easily outmaneuvered. The low point for the character occurs when McDougal notes that something is impossible and Wesley asks her why she can’t just see the answer in her head.

Wesley should just become captain, chief engineer, and CMO, apparently, of this starship Enterprise, if we are to go by the competence of the command staff in “The Naked Now.”

In terms of Star Trek continuity, I am of two minds regarding “The Naked Now.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of hearing the name "James T. Kirk," as part of an official historical record. On the other hand, the audience just got a great Original Series homage in “Encounter at Farpoint,” with a lovely guest appearance by De Forest Kelley, and this is something that shouldn’t be a pattern, as the new characters need development so badly.

The new crew has enough problems, in this episode without reminding viewers of how Captain Kirk handled a similar experience.  “The Naked Now” is, in the final analysis, a deeply inferior copy of a classic, and a poor selection for an early episode.

Still, on it's own, the scene between Tasha and Data is quite wonderful. 

If we don't look at as part of the pattern -- three women pining sexually for the male officers -- and just as a unique character moment between the android and the Security Chief, the scene is amusing, and returns to take on additional resonance in stories such as "Skin of Evil," "Measure of a Man," and "Legacy."  

And indeed, this is one realm where The Next Generation truly excels. Instead of abandoning aspects of the series that don't work well (like the Ferengi, or Q), it returns to the characters and ideas, deepens them, and in the process, redeems them.  The relationship between Data and Tasha, as viewed from a later juncture, in some way, ends up redeeming "The Naked Now."

Next week, from bad to worse: “Code of Honor.”


  1. ... especially as people got married on the Enterprise in TOS.

  2. Hi John,

    I saw this episode when it first aired, and even when a preview for it was shown at the end of "Encounter At Farpoint," all I could say was "What were they thinking?" It seemed that the sole purpose of "The Naked Now" (get it? It's NOW, but we're all still naked, yuk yuk yuk) was to give an Easter egg to fans of the original series, but it reeked of desperation. It was unoriginal pandering, everything that was wrong with television at the time. However, I will never disagree with you that the scene between Data and Tasha Yar was amusing. Data was something of a Spock knock-off, but as played by Brent Spiner, he was a character we wanted more of.

    A recent re-watch of this show only confirms the worst. I recall a fan-made vhs parody video floating around in which Wesley Crusher is killed in a variety of ways after claiming "I can fix anything." That sound clip appeared to have been taken from one of the episodes from the series. As you review these TNG shows, I'd love to know if Wesley actually says this line! It would solve a many years-old mystery, and I'd owe you some Romulan Ale if you could solve it.

    But you're right...this and many of the other episodes did Wesley no favors, but Wil Wheaton crushed it in "Family," one of my favorite episodes of the entire TNG series. I'm glad Wil Wheaton has risen above the haters and become a voice for all those facing personal challenges in their lives. I'd like to imagine that Wesley Crusher did the same in his future.


    1. And, Steve, Wil Wheaton is one of the most honest appraisers of TNG, I find.

      Your points are good ones -- as are John's, as always. "The Naked Now" is one episode I rewatched three years ago. It's bad. The reason "The Naked Time" is so good, and moving, is because that series' characters were almost fully formed -- right from the start!


    2. Thanks Simon! I enjoy your comments as well.