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Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

11 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    September 14, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

    What was Frakes angry about? The script?

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  2. Theonlyspiral
    September 15, 2014 @ 5:27 am

    I agree 99% with this but…setting back feminism by 30 years? 1957? Really? That's more than a little over the line of reasonable hyperbole. It's downright ridiculous.

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  3. K. Jones
    September 15, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

    It's interesting now to look at Crosby's portrayal of Tasha here, the tenderness with Geordi, not just in the context of her originally having supposed to have been Troi but also keeping in mind the parity between Troi and Riker that always existed. I won't say that Marina Sirtis never made the Troi/Riker history work, but that any time you see Crosby interacting with Frakes you get a real sense of how their take on it would have worked wonderfully well. I think they would have had a dynamite onscreen chemistry that might've strengthened both characters in the early run.

    To top it off I'll always see Naked Now as cowardly. Not just cowardly because it's playing it safe and riffing classic Trek – cowardly because if a space virus is giving a writer a chance to explore unbridled inhibitions being cast off, is this really the best they have to offer us in terms of exploration? Tame, tame, tame. You mean there's no kink in the future? (Retroactively we know there must be, as Riker/Troi nearly form a pair of psychic-linked swingers and open relationships are equated with empathy.) There's also serious flaws with effectively equating "drunkenness" with what is ostensibly not – this episode is a Love Potion Trope. DS9 does it far better with "Fascination" because it is honest with itself and its audience about being a silly, sexy, slightly buffoonish Love Potion episode. There's real danger to equating Love Potions, or unbuttoned sexual drives, or even madness and mania, with the effects of alcohol, to say nothing of the inverted chemistry of the situation. (Alcohol is a depressant, drunkenness often is a sex-drive killer, and on and on and on.)

    I'll say, though, I always laugh hard at the flirting between Stewart and McFadden. They play it very savvy. Strangely (especially for the "romantic lead"), I can't actually remember Frakes in this episode at all. It hasn't been long since I've watched it, but the only memory I get from his role might be … stoicism and a high tolerance?

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  4. Prankster
    September 16, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    Frankly, with a few exceptions like Riker, Dax and Bashir, the Starfleet types of the TNG era seem really uncomfortable with their own sexuality (and even those three aren't always portrayed very convincingly as sexual beings). I'm thinking of how, on Voyager, Seven of Nine basically says to Harry Kim "Oh, OK, let's have sex" and he practically leaves a dust cloud as he flees the room, even though there's absolutely no reason for him to do so unless he's dealing with some weird repression issues. (I guess you could argue that Seven, given her history, could be seen as having psychological issues that might make consent problematic, and Harry felt guilty about that, but I'm not sure I buy that. Seven seems fully in control of her faculties and her sexuality at that point, and the Borg aren't children–they even have sex, as far as we can tell–and she initiated it. The scene comes off more as Harry being terrified of women, especially aggressive Valkyrie-esque women.)

    This has always been one of the sticking points of the later Treks for me–there is a weird feeling that along with war, racism, and all the other bad stuff, the Federation seems to have given up the complexities that make people human. Which, hey, is a very Star Trek trope!

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  5. Prankster
    September 16, 2014 @ 6:37 am

    I was never particularly immersed in Trek fandom at the time that the TNG-era shows were airing, and I don't want to generalize a diverse group such as this, but I always got the general impression that Trek fans were mostly disappointed with Yar's character in much the same way you were, Josh. A lot of them disliked her as written, but again, that would be for a number of reasons, many of which boil down to "she wasn't handled well by the writers". I don't think it's really fair to suggest that Trek fans considered her an "acceptable trade" for Data's comedic stuff (which, again in my limited experience, was no one's favourite part of the show…)

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  6. Ross
    September 16, 2014 @ 11:58 am

    It is generally the case that starfleet people in the trek verse, to different extents (greatest in TNG, least in DS9) are pretty square. I tend to think it harkens back to one of the original ideas that Roddenberry foisted on TOS, that Starfleet Officers are a breed apart from the common man (And embracing the ugly notion that "And therefore would not yield to base animal desires like sex" that our culture inherited from the Puritans).

    I like to read the first feature film as the justification for this — the idea that space is such a scary place that just commuting to work monday morning could result in you being hideously tortured to death, so the only chance anyone has is through rigorous discipline and… pretty much being a square.

    "People in the future will be really square" is a common golden-age sci fi trope, thanks to so much of the history of philosophy being dominated by dualists (I suspect it may also have something to do with the fact that academia was often a haven for high-functioning aspies), so it's not really surprising that it finds its place in Trek.

    It's maybe even a bit more pronounced in Babylon 5, but more self-aware; there, the fact that humanity at large has become so square and repressed is frequently implied to be a symptom of a pathology underlying their society.

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  7. Dustin
    September 16, 2014 @ 6:31 pm

    No one but Burton, this early in the series, was playing their character the way we've come to remember. Stewart is barking his lines and being a dick, Spiner is strangely smirky and Dorn basically just snarls. So it's part of many fans' counter-history of the show, to wonder how Crosby might have grown into the role, had she felt more welcome and involved in that first year. Because I never got a strong sense of character from her performance.

    This era of the show is the one I've spent the least amount of time rewatching. It's reputation is pretty dire, and maybe that's a bit unfair, since stories like "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Q Who" lend the show some vital elements of the weird. These episodes are also the only ones I've seen of the HD remasters, and it's looks like a completely different production from the brightly lit and cozy setting that I remember from twenty years of watching on little CRTs. There's a mood and a visual depth here that televised Trek would shed by the time Voyager had the airwaves to itself.

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  8. Spoilers Below
    September 17, 2014 @ 3:29 am

    If one wanted to be incredibly meta-textual about it, after a quite promising episode in which the new Enterprise in judged by the fans that matter, it must then suffer through the debilitating virus of the old show itself, all the racism and sexism and hackneyed garbage, purging itself of the old, to get to where its going and make itself anew. Why wouldn't a virus that bring out all the terrible things in us bring out such awful things as heteronormativity and and the reduction of a spectacular character to a one note joke?

    But that's perhaps a more redemptive reading than the episode deserves. Certainly there's no indication that anyone involved intended for the virus' effects to be taken at anything but face value, and the long term effects were bad indeed. They culminated in one of my favorite characters being killed by a pile of oil (more on Yar and confrontations with "Evil" personified when we get to that episode), and my dad having to explain that she wasn't really dead, it was just that the actress didn't want to be on the show anymore.

    The Naked Time is easily on the most fondly remembered classic episodes, and yet also one of the most mis-remembered. We recall shirtless fencing Sulu swashbuckling down the hallways, and that really difficult to watch (in a good way) scene where Nimoy just acts and Spock tries to keep it together, but tend to forget the comic Irishman and the weird "falling into the sun" plot that actually drive the motion. It's a stock episode with a few good scenes. I can see why they wanted to lead off with fond memories, but its easy to see why it wouldn't work a second time.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    September 17, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    Himself, presumably. He was very embarrassed about what he had to do here, so I'm sure he was less than thrilled with the script.

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  10. Josh Marsfelder
    September 17, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    I'll once again go out of my way to plug the HD restoration project. I'm basing my revisit of TNG on it, and anyone who hasn't seen it yet really, really needs to. It dispels any notion this was a visually sterile series the moment the credits roll. It restores a sense of wonder and grandeur to TNG that my memories of watching it late at night on a big-screen CRT with the lights off attribute to it.

    Funny you should mention Spiner being smirky, as I think early Data is one of the most misread characters in the franchise. We'll talk more about him later.

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  11. Daru
    October 20, 2014 @ 10:52 pm

    Awful episode. Often found this one quite cringeworthy on re-watch.

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