In which I promise you’re still watching Star Trek, bourbon brings out my distractability, and some of the darkness in the Star Trek universe is laid bare and glossed over.
It was pointed out to me that a lot of the dialogue aesthetic of “Encounter at Farpoint” is deliberately evocative of classic Trek, and frankly a lot of the rest of it is as well. Like, for example, the episode names and plots. “The Naked Time” was the fifth episode of TOS and will be the second episode of TNG. I’m looking forward to it also being the pilot of DS9. Now that I have spoiled the plot for you at a high level, let’s get stuck in. ‘Scuse me while I pour myself a drink.
So far so good. We even open with the Enterprise receiving drunken transmissions from a science vessel orbiting a massive gravity well. They manage to catch the last transmission as someone opens an emergency hatch, which Data can recognize by ear, and so they beam over to the smaller ship sans environment suits, sans breathing masks. All I can say is at least nobody breached their biohazard suits after touching alien goo, although I guess not having the suits in the first place doesn’t really make it any better. Everywhere on the ship, people are dead, even including a bunch of people frozen to death, in keeping with tradition. Geordi gets corpse-frost on him catching a crewsicle falling out of a shower.
What bothers me is not that this is the exact same episode, because this way we get to measure the performance of one crew vs the other. What bothers me is that the Enterprise already registered no life signs on the ship. They said it out loud. And yet Picard looks super upset and surprised when Riker confirms.
So, the good news is that the transporters now have a decontamination function. I suppose that’s why they think they don’t need hazmat suits, although if I were beaming over to a ship where someone had blown an airlock I would insist on a pressurized helmet. Or one of those nifty personal shields from the Animated series. Anyway, the transporter presumably can filter out toxins, contaminants, and other nasties that don’t fit human baseline, and when you consider that it disassembles people and reconstructs them including brain activity on the other end, that would have to be down to the ‘size’ of electron probability orbitals. Not a lot could slip through a screen that small. So it’s a bit odd that in the let’s-be-extra-cautious medical screening afterwards, Geordi does manage to behave a little bit odd.
Riker twigs to a clue about people showering in their clothing, and while Crusher is off looking something up, Geordi takes off his commbadge and wanders out of sick bay. Security and medical protocols are kind of hit-or-miss on this ship so far – they send people over to a dangerous environment without suits, then they filter them through the transporter and run a physical, then they don’t lock the doors when there’s a risk of infection, nor do they issue a general-quarters to watch out for Geordi, he’s not wearing his commbadge and might have the space-syphilis. So now he’s hanging out with Wesley Crusher checking out a Half-Life 2 gravity gun. Well, maybe when her kid’s brain rots from Cosmic Stupid syndrome Crusher will be a bit better about containing these sorts of things. One of those ‘object lesson’ sorts of things. In addition to a tractor beam, Wesley has also made a ‘Captain Picard Voice Simulator,” which reminds me of a great moment in a completely different show.
So Geordi starts hitting on Yar and touching her face. Also, none of Crusher’s instruments can detect anything wrong with Geordi despite his obvious fever. Back on the bridge, Riker remembers the “Naked Time” incident, reading the logs and discovering the same ‘water turning into alcohol’ effect. Also this lampshade! Since the cure is also in the records, this will still be a short episode. Plus, since nobody’s sabotaged the engines yet Picard can just order them to leave the immediate gravitational anomalies and all will be well. I mean, the science ship has eight months worth of data to transfer over, but the Enterprise could also just tow it away. Oh no wait, Wes and his captains orders forging device perform a coup d’edat on the engine room. The engineers are remarkably willing to leave control of the engine room in the sole hands of Wesley Crusher. They don’t even grab a tech over from a nearby workstation. No wonder Unnamed Chief Engineer and Tubby Assistant Chief Engineer are not part of the cast you remember.
Among all the crazy drunken behavior, Tasha Yar is neglecting her security duties, so Data goes down to take her to sick bay. There, she sweet-talks him by talking about how she learned to survive rape gangs when she was five. So, that’s a Thing in the 24th century. While this is presumably not within the primary administrative zones of the Federation, it’s interesting to speculate on exactly what might cause a society that can transmute energy into matter (or, at least, matter into any other form of matter) to wind up with a region at that level of abject social failure. I mean, the local government might not request aid. They might even actively resist, and that gives rise to a whole new set of questions, like: does the Federation consider itself to have a moral obligation to stop shit like rape gangs? Does the Prime Directive apply to a population of humans, colonized by Earth, who devolve into horrible atavistic behavior? There is no ‘natural cultural evolution’ to observe, and unlike the colony worlds in Orson Scott Card’s Enderverse, FTL travel exists so you’re not locked into whatever population you happen to be born into. To what extent should we be judging the Federation by the fact that it let Tasha Yar’s home planet happen?
Crusher tries synthesizing the cure from the old Enterprise but it fails, and Riker infects her, and after Wesley got the engines sabotaged, the star starts getting all explodey. Also, Data is drunk and starts doing Shylock’s ‘if you prick us’ speech. Call me old-fashioned, but I do have a soft spot for the shakespeare references. “If you prick me, do I not bleek?” Oh Data. Never change.
It is at this point, as Crusher storms onto the bridge and demands that Picard help her out with the plumbing, that I feel compelled to point out another tradition that is being kept up. Recall in “The Naked Time” Spock’s private moment of utter emotional anguish. And it is powerful even before we had the full depth and weight of Spock’s character in hand. He had enough establishing moments to make it shocking. Similarly, we have had plenty of opportunities to come to grips with the fact that Data simply doesn’t get humanity, though he devoutly wishes to. Seeing Brent Spiner get to indulge in some physical comedy doesn’t have the same gravitas as Spock’s utter breakdown, but it is a great expository tool that comes off as silly, but not overdone. Plus it distracts us from the confusion of why water that behaves like alcohol would affect an android, so there’s that.
Patrick Stewart’s schoolboy wave to crusher is almost as shocking.
The star blows up, and the engines are sill completely dead because soon-to-be-fired deputy engineer is playing with all the circuitry that makes everything work. No human could put them back together. Maybe a drunken Data can. I mean, he can, the question is whether he will. Wes suggests Data make it a game. Sadly, it will take just slightly too long. Too bad Wes doesn’t also have a prototype repulsor beam science project that will deflect the stellar matter headed toward the enterprise. This part is rather clumsy, but I’d give credit for seeding all the puzzle pieces around the episode.This, by the way, is where some of the Wesley-hate comes from – his genius surfaces in clumsy writing moments. It’s not inconceivable that someone would be able to design circuitry in their heads, particularly if they’ve already worked out a prototype. But while drunk is a bit much.