[7.3/10] “The Naked Now” is the third episode of The Next Generation, and yet, it’s the sort of episode that works much better if you, for instance, plop it somewhere in the middle of the season, or even the series. The power, and dare I say, fun of the episode stems from seeing the normally professional, determined, even stoic crew of the Enterprise devolve into goofy intoxicated fools. But if you barely know who these characters are yet, as anyone just starting the show would, then the contrast between the usual demeanor and the drunken revelry doesn’t quite register the same way.
You need the whimsy of that revelry to work because it’s really the only thing “The Naked NOw” has going for it. Sure, there’s the threat of the alien virus that makes people act without their full faculties, but even if you don’t know how this is going to play out from watching the precursor episode from The Original Series, Riker and Data discover the cure fifteen minutes into the episode, and so there’s little dramatic tension to the hour. You’re either enjoying the break from seriousness and how the crew gets downright silly, or you’re just waiting for Dr. Crusher to figure out how to regoogle the energymotron or what have you in time to develop the antidote.
It’s worth noting that “The Naked Now” is, to my knowledge, the only episode of The Next Generation that is a direct sequel (or something close to that) to an episode of The Original Series. There’s not much gained from that connection. Sure, it’s kind of neat that Riker remembers his history well enough to piece what’s happening together, or that we get to witness someone showering in their clothes rather than just hearing about it second hand, but it doesn’t add much to the proceedings beyond being a sop to the diehard fans.
Still, it’s understandable why the writers chose to recycle this plot in the new series. The drunk-making virus allows you to have your main cast break or reveal character to amusing effect, and the collapsing star nearby creates an easy (if not terribly convincing) threat that (at least nominally) creates extra stakes and urgency in finding a cure.
It’s the latter part that weakens the episode. “The Naked Now” features the first, but sadly not the last instance where the day is improbably saved by Wesley the wunderkind. I can at least appreciate the legwork shown by the writers by introducing Wes’s makeshift personal tractor beam/repulsor beam in the first act, thereby setting him up to do the same with the ship’s version of the same in the last act. But it’s clear from the getgo that TNG finds “Wesley Crusher, boy genius” far more compelling a figure than its audience does.
Nevertheless, even if the destination is obvious and the way the show chooses to get there is worth an eye-roll or two, the ride is a fun one. It’s all too rare that Star Trek goes for straight up comedy, but what we get here is great.
Count me among those who loves the vaudevillian flair of intoxicated Data. It’s really a shame that Brent Spiner didn’t get more opportunities to play the outsized, clownish foil he inhabits here. (Lore offers some bit of salve to that regret though.) The look on his face when Tasha beckons him to the bedroom, the “If you prick me, do I not leak?” line delivery, the pratfall he takes afterward, are all just comic gold. While it’s used for comedy rather than pathos, “The Naked Now” wrings all it can from the contrast of the usually humorless Data having his head scrambled.
While it’s a little exploitative, Tasha’s encounter with Data is a pretty unique and interesting tack here too. Let’s be frank, I doubt her part of the episode was intended as anything but titillation, and the male gaze-y shot of her walking down the hallway, or the barely-there dress she wears that confirmed for me that costume designer William Theiss was back on the payroll long before I saw his name in the opening credits, are pretty embarrassing and shameless by modern standards. That doesn’t even take into account the uncomfortable at best way in which Tasha invokes her childhood escapes from “rape gangs” before seeking physical affection from Data.
Maybe I’m just giving the interaction more weight given what the show does with it down the line. But I do think that, beneath all the problematic elements of how Tasha is used here (which presages Michelle Pfeifer’s turn as Catwoman in Batman Returns), the core of the story is worthwhile. It’s the story of a damaged person in a weakened state seeking comfort and a complete naif, incapable of malice and not fully understanding what’s happening, acceding to her wishes. It may not be what the show intended, but there’s complex emotional and social material to unpack there for days.
Less dramatic (and borderline distasteful) but more endearing are the interactions between Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher. I’ll cop to being a Picard/Crusher shipper, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find some glee in the two of them barely able to contain themselves around one another.
But that’s also where the comedy lies here. Watching these two committed professionals do everything they can to maintain their composure, while inevitably giving in, just a little bit, to their unprofessional urges, is amusing as all get out. Everything from Picard’s feeble wave, or Crusher saying she has a “personal matter” to discuss with him, only to correct him that it’s “an urgent” matter, finds the humor in this pair of centered people losing their emotional balance.
That’s the sort of thing that makes “The Naked Now” enjoyable. It’s not the most tightly-written or momentum-filled episode there ever was. It makes little sense that Riker seems mostly unaffected by the infection; the belabored romantic tension between him and Troi is again overblown; and Data replacing the isolinear chips as a game feels contrived. But if you can enjoy Wesley Crusher channeling Ensign Riley and announcing mandatory extra dessert over the PA, or Data not understanding dirty limericks, or Worf growling that he doesn’t get Earth humor either, than the third episode of the series can still be plenty of fun.
Tasha asks for a "team" and receives… a single security crew member. A team of one?
Also, I guess this was just before the "invention" of the site-to-site transport. Except, wait, Riker used a site-to-site in the pilot episode, and we saw at least one site-to-site transport in TOS ("A Piece of the Action"). So why did no one just beam into that little Engineering control room and give Wesley a hypospray of sedative to the neck thirty seconds after he took over?
The timing of this episode was no accident. It's the second ever outing of a rebooted Star Trek series that very clearly wants to draw fans of the original. Rewatching the series now, having known these characters for well over a decade, I can get the intended effect—which is letting the normally pretty formal crew be goofy. But unfortunately, I think this episode sacrificed most of its impact back in 1987 by coming so early on, before the audience even knows the names of all the main crew members (including Chief Engineer MacDougal, who is later replaced by Geordi, but not before a series of other chief engineers parades by during the remainder of season one).
One of the other benefits (or perhaps not) of watching this thirty years on is the different perspective of widespread changes in social attitudes over the last three decades. Now, perhaps, Tasha's seduction (call it what it is) of Data comes off completely different. Today, I might even call it "rape-y", as the question of whether Data can actually give consent for sexual activity remains open in my mind. (I do lean toward, "No, he can't." If you want more in-depth discussion of this issue, there was a great /r/DaystromInstitute thread about it on Reddit some months back: https://redd.it/76alvm/)
It was a fun story, albeit with "stakes" on par with the the absolute laziest Trek has ever seen. (Really, we know the resolution after fifteen minutes; it just takes another half hour of screen time to get there.) Ultimately, I found its placement in the season most disappointing indeed. This story would have been much better if placed at or after the midpoint of season one, simply because the audience would have a proper sense of "normal" for the main cast. Going with a "goof-off" episode right out of the gate was not a good choice.
The famous infamous "The Naked Now" episode.
This had one of the greatest moments of the first season. Yes that one. But the problem here, and it has become apparent the more often I watch this, is not the story itself , but the awful acting performances. It's all just a little too much.
This is a remake of an episode from the original series; like many remakes, it's inferior to the original. While this one has its moments, some disturbing content--especially implied sexual relations between Data and a human woman--messed this up for me. The language was actually rather clean...until the last scene or two; then they fouled it up.
Content Concerns:Sex: Implied sex between a male-type android and a human woman; Data is stopped short before making a crude joke. 2/5Nudity: A woman is seen wearing an outfit that displays her midriff, her back, and a bit of the lower part of her chest. 3/5Language: Four or so d-words; one or two h-words; two or three misuses of God's name. 2/5Violence: Sci-fi action violence throughout. 3/5Drugs: It is said that the reactions that the crew has are like being intoxicated. 4/5Frightening/Intense Scenes: Plenty of emotional intensity; the ship nearly gets destroyed; Geordi is seen without his visor. 3/5