|In space, no-one can hear you scream.|
Bob Justman once said he felt the original “Naked Time” should have been the premier episode of Star Trek. Given Justman was on staff as a producer, perhaps that’s why “The Naked Now” went out as the second, but first regular, episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This does not make that decision any less catastrophic.
It is not, I stress, simply that “The Naked Now” is a shitty remake. It unquestionably is a shitty remake, the shittiest, in fact, but there were underlying problems with the structure it inherits that the original still had in droves and this one merely doubles down on them. The absolute best you reading you could pull out of “The Naked Time” is that it was probably a bad idea to drive a starship while space drunk (although it’s hilarious when it happens) and the worst is that confronting your emotions is distracting to the point of self-destructive and everyone should man up and bottle those emotions away somewhere because they interfere with duty. Let me address this as bluntly and succinctly as possible: I have witnessed firsthand what happens when people try to deny their feelings and hide their emotions from others because they’re ashamed of them. That can be utterly devastating to a person’s mind and mental health. Furthermore, this is Star Trek: The Next Generation. The entire point of the show is to demonstrate how humans can deal with their emotions in an idealistically healthy and fulfilling way. There is essentially no brief more contrary to the series’ foundational thesis statement than this.
There’s also the matter of leading off the series with an episode that is unabashedly a remake of an original Star Trek episode, complete with Picard and Data looking up Kirk’s logs from the first episode to come up with a solution to their own problem. Gene Roddenberry wanted no overlap between the two Star Trek shows *whatsoever*, feeling, rightly, I might add, that Star Trek: The Next Generation needed to prove itself and stand on its own. Obviously, he was voted down in this case by his Star Trek fan producers who wanted to throw in continuity references to the Original Series whenever possible in lieu of actually telling a story. Perhaps the idea was that skeptical OG Trekkers would appreciate the nods to the old show, in much the same way the main viewscreen has running lights deliberately reminiscent of the ones on the set from the Original Series. But that’s the fundamental mistake: The existence of “The Naked Now” is proof positive Paramount is misjudging and misunderstanding who its target demographic is, which isn’t obsessive Star Trek nerds, but mainstream audiences for whom The Next Generation is their very first Star Trek who are being introduced to the franchise’s concepts and ideals for the first time. And anyway, serious Trekkers would just look at something like this and use it as further evidence the new show is a pale imitation of the “real” Star Trek. Under absolutely no condition does this episode look like a good idea.
It’s worth looking once more at the episode “The Naked Now” replaced, which apparently was the infamous “Blood and Fire”. Written by Dave Gerrold during preproduction, it was rejected by “certain unnamed studio executives” who allegedly reacted badly to its positive portrayal of homosexual characters, but (if the version Gerrold adapted for James Cawley’s Star Trek Phase II is any indication) probably also because it was a ghastly piece of shit. What normally happened on Star Trek: The Next Generation is that production was so rushed and so down-to-the-wire every week, any given mediocre-to-poor episode can be, if not forgiven, at least explained, with the likely reality that the alternative was even worse. So, is “Blood and Fire” demonstrably worse than “The Naked Now”? Well, whatever its other vices (and there are many), “Blood and Fire” *did* feature two sympathetic gay male characters, despite being uncomfortably reminiscent of some white bread sitcom bringing in a token black character to reach the “urban” demographic. As for “The Naked Now”…Well…
In the book Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek, John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins lament Tasha Yar’s sex scene with Data in this episode, arguing that the show took the two most androgynous and genderfluid characters on the Enterprise and “straightened them out” by forcing them into a heterosexual relationship. And, well, yeah, that’s pretty much what happens. I recently came across a very interesting alternate reading of the scene in Troi’s quarters on Tumblr as of this writing that posits Tasha as a nonbinary person struggling with femininity. The poster supposes that Tasha always wanted to wear dresses and act feminine, but didn’t think she was “allowed to” because of her gender identity, but Troi showed her it was OK to like those things no matter how she identified. It’s a sweet idea and I wish I could accept it as a redemptive reading…But that doesn’t fit the character Tasha Yar was originally written as at all.
That’s not how Vasquez would have acted: She was a very assertive character completely comfortable with the way she presented herself. To give Tasha this kind of scene is the show saying that it’s in some sense “wrong” for her to act nontraditionally feminine and that she has some sort of hangup about it. Combine this with the fact the “Naked Time” brief supposedly exists to gives the audience a look at the main characters’ innermost thoughts and desires, and, far from promoting a nonbinary or genderfluid reading of Tasha as a character, it seems disturbingly like the show is painting those very things as character flaws for Tasha to overcome. Then there’s the sex scene itself, in addition to the numerous earlier scenes of Tasha flirting with other (exclusively male) crewmembers. This is possibly one of my least favourite moments in the entire series as it not only briefly turns Data into a glorified sexbot, it is literally the only thing apart from her death that Trekkers like to remember about Tasha Yar. In other words, this wonderfully groundbreaking and subversive character has finally been reduced down to “that redshirt broad Data slept with that one time”. *One episode in* and Star Trek: The Next Generation has both assassinated its most promising character and set feminism back thirty years in one fell swoop.
(Data fans were really happy though. Not only does he get laid, but Brent Spiner is this episode’s highlight by far, getting every opportunity to show off the pratfalls and comic timing he’s so good at. I’m sure Trekkers found that a more than acceptable trade for ruining Tasha Yar before the show even got started.)
Tasha Yar, or rather Denise Crosby, does get one good moment in this episode though, and, predictably, it goes consistently overlooked. It’s the scene in the observation lounge where Tasha goes looking for Geordi, who’s just been infected by the plot device. Crosby and LeVar Burton share a genuinely touching moment here where Geordi begs Tasha for a vague and unspecified sort of “help”, while she comforts him. It’s out of character for both of them (for one thing Geordi is upset that he can’t see like other humans, when just last episode he was telling Doctor Crusher he wouldn’t give up his enhanced vision for anything), but the way LeVar delivers the lines it feels like Geordi is looking up to Tasha because he sees some inner strength in her he admires. It’s a wonderful little bit that someone far more talented than the people who let “The Naked Now” go out could have done something with, and it does more to define Tasha Yar as a character than anything Denise Crosby actually gets to do on the show, or for that matter ever will. Crosby, for her part, frustratingly fails to pick up on this, or rather fails to pick up on it in the way *Tasha* would have. She plays her reaction very gentle, nurturing and reassuring…Which is precisely the sort of thing I would expect to see from *Troi*. This episode gives us the final, conclusive proof that Gene Roddenberry should never have switched Denise Crosby and Marina Siritis’ roles.
Speaking of Marina Sirtis, she’s every bit as hammy here as she gets accused of being in “Encounter at Farpoint”, in particular the absolutely and unintentionally hilarious scene where Troi professes to Riker “Wouldn’t you rather be alone with me? With me in your mind?”. It’s bad. She’s just completely checked out of everything, and I don’t blame her given the material she had to work with. Jonathan Frakes was apparently seething with rage the entire week and says he was “totally ashamed” by what he did (though I will say I appreciate Riker using what is clearly a sonic screwdriver to open a sealed door on the Tsiolkovsky). Poor Gates McFadden, in the segment that won her the role of Doctor Crusher by being a “funny” bit, just ends up forced to awkwardly shuffle through the most spectacularly unsexy and unromantic ship tease imaginable with (the much, much older!) Patrick Stewart. And then there’s Wil Wheaton, whose Wesley Crusher ends up having to fill the role Kevin Thomas Riley played in the original “Naked Time” and about whom I’d rather say as little as possible. Suffice to say Wesley is by this point well on his way towards earning the infamous reputation he’ll accrue as of the end of the series.
So, is “The Naked Now” markedly better then “Blood and Fire”, or at least less awful? Purely in terms of gender roles, absolutely not. As bad as “Blood and Fire” was, it wasn’t *deliberately* retrograde, homophobic, transphobic or triumphantly heteronormative, and “The Naked Now” is all of those things. It may have been the “safer” choice for the second episode purely due to what a spectacular mess “Blood and Fire” was, but “safer” usually equates to “reactionary” and “hegemonic”, and this is no exception. It’s a betrayal of almost everything Star Trek: The Next Generation stands for right out of the gate, an insult to the intelligence of everyone who watched it and a complete waste of the time and talent of everyone who worked on it, not just Denise Crosby. But really, both episodes are indicative of the frustrating reality that, right now, Star Trek: The Next Generation doesn’t seem to be passing Q’s test. In a world where “Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!” exists, both “Blood and Fire” and “The Naked Now” are completely unacceptable.
My memories of this episode are of darkness, coldness and isolation. I remember most vividly the blacked out, silent and frozen Tsiolkovsky: It was eery to see the bright, warm and inviting world that had just been created for the Enterprise (as both ships seem to share a design lineage) turned upside down like that. One the one hand it feels like the mood the episode establishes in the first act could have been used to help create a kind of Star Trek: The Next Generation version of the imposing claustrophobia and loneliness that defined the first Alien. But, given what “The Naked Now” represents everywhere else, it seems much more fitting to read it as a visual metaphor for the show’s betrayal, rejection and inversion of its own ethical principles and promises. In the entire history of my experience with television, I can’t think of a worse or more ill-advised second episode than this.