The Naked Now (ST:TNG Rewatch)

Rewatching TNG after almost 20 years. (Yes, the show is older than that; I just stopped making time to watch reruns when I had a dissertation to write and kids to raise and students to teach.)

Full disclosure: after watching about 15 minutes, I fell asleep.

That’s not entirely the fault of the show — over Thanksgiving break I was bedridden with the flu, which is why I found myself with spare time to start rewatching The Next Generation in the first place.

When the series first aired, I was a college sophomore, living in an apartment-style dorm with 5 other guys. Most of us gathered in the common room to watch the series pilot, Encounter at Farpoint. Some of us watched the first regular episode, The Naked Now.

I remember enjoying it, but other than the infamous scene between Data and Yar, I don’t remember much of it, other than wondering whether this was too early in the series for a “what would happen if the characters we’ve gotten to know so well all suddenly lost their inhibitions and started acting crazy” episode, since we didn’t know the characters well enough yet.

After falling asleep while watching it again the other day, I’m giving this one another try.

With this rewatch, I was struck by how many quick two-character scenes there were. While this is not one of the better TNG episodes overall, it was one of the better Season One episodes, and it does a pretty good job letting us get to to know the characters in a setting where, for most of the show, there isn’t an immediate crisis, just a puzzle to be solved.

Knowing how many times Wesley will save the ship with last-minute technological inventions, the Wesley scenes were just painful to watch. I like Wil Wheaton the writer and the person. Wesley was so low-key in the pilot that I enjoyed seeing the actor put so much enthusiasm into his “intoxicated by space water that has something to do with gravity” scenes. He did a decent job handling the technobabble and making it look like he was doing something meaningful on the control panels. But still… sigh. Wesley, Wesley, Wesley.

Doesn’t anyone else work in Sickbay? Gates McFadden did a good job looking sympathetic and stressed, ping-ponging between dealing with her teenage son and dealing with her professional duties, but was there really nobody else in sickbay to stop Geordi from walking away? What does being “confined to sickbay” mean if anyone who wants to leave can just leave?

After Dr. Crusher gets infected, I enjoyed seeing her get gradually scatterbrained; Gates McFadden didn’t get that many comic moments in the series, but she handled them well. Having said that, scene in which she marches into the ready room, unzips her tunic a few inches and demands Jean-Luc give her the comfort of a man? That was horrible. She sold it, and the scene worked for what it was, but I much preferred the tension McFadden and Stewart created when Picard visits sickbay and begins the conversation by casually calling her “Beverly.” When she playfully calls him “Jean-Luc,” and he objects, then realizes that he was the one who started it by calling her Beverly, and Dr. Crusher says she forgot why she got up, you really see some hint of the chemistry that develops over the course of the series.

Something to remember… when this series first aired, in the late 1980s, most of the audience members probably had never conducted a database search. When Riker recalls having read something about people showering with their clothes on, Data predicts that searching all copies of the computer records will take several hours — as if the computer will provide no useful information until it has searched everything. When they finally find the answer, Picard first orders Data to send the information “immediately to medical,” then tells Dr. Crusher that “the answer to all this is feeding into your medical banks now,” reminding me that this dialogue was for the benefit of an audience that doesn’t think in casual terms of copying a file or emailing a URL.

There’s also a reference to requiring several hours to download all the data from the Tsiolkovsky before the logs are available to be searched, as if there’s no way to download just the last few days of log entries.

Dr. Crusher has a small rack of colorful plastic rectangles that she seems to use while she is working, but it’s not clear what she uses them for. I’m mentioning this because in this episode we see tricorders, we establish that the comm badges can be removed easily, and we see gadgets that Wesley hacks together, but we see no recognizable PADDs.

With a large ensemble, we saw many scenes of one person infecting another, which got predictable after a while. Even after they learned the intoxication spreads through perspiration, nobody thinks to put on rubber gloves.

I admit, Data’s interrupted “There was a young lady from Venus” limerick made me laugh, but what sold the scene for me was Data asking Worf, “Did I say something wrong?” and Worf huffing, “I don’t understand their humor either.”

Because this show has so many short two-person scenes, I like to think of this episode as TNG’s versions of the ballroom sketches on the old Muppet Show. (Closeup on chandelier; medium shot of couples dancing; cut to a nondescript couple of muppets; there’s a setup and a cheesy punchline; cut to another couple, repeat.)

This episode isn’t great science fiction, the humor sometimes falls flat, and it’s the first of many cringeworthy Wesley ex machina resolutions. In fairness, though, the TOS “The Naked Time” resolved its tension by having Scotty pulling off a never-before-attempted a cold restart of the warp drive, and in the process accidentally invent a way to go back in time, which never gets used or even mentioned again. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

On rewatching it I enjoyed seeing the seeds of character development, some of which continued throughout the series (such as Jean-Luc/Beverly shipping), and others that were cut out of necessity (Yar/Data), and a glimpse at a relationship that never really went anywhere (such as the unexpected bonding that Data and Worf might both share as outsiders in a human-centric culture).

The pilot had a brief reference to Geordi wanting to see. I wasn’t too thrilled with that theme in this episode — it presents LaForge as an object of pity. It was a bit maudlin to hear the host of Reading Rainbow complain, “I’ve never seen a rainbow.” I wonder if the writers always intended to have Geordi move up into engineering, thus making room for Wesley on the bridge; at any rate, they don’t seem to know what to do with Geordi at this early stage.