The Naked Now
Oh boy. This is the first cab off the rank after Encounter at Farpoint? I suppose in some ways it vaguely makes sense. It’s an episode with little to no serious sci-fi’ey content, focusing almost entirely on the characters. So if you want to spend more time just developing your characters, getting them drunk and showing their deepest desires is, uh… well… now I feel I’m just making excuses for it.
My biggest two issues with this episode are, in no particular order:
Firstly, it’s kinda sexist and crap. When the women get drunk, they suddenly want to bang anything that moves. The men largely try to keep it together (or become megalomaniacs like Wesley). Nice message, fellas. Top job.
Secondly, the idea of re-hashing a TOS episode is a bad one, I feel, this early in the piece. It’s not just a re-hash, either – it’s a direct sequel, with Kirk and his Enterprise being referenced directly. I think this kinda diminishes the show a bit. It lends a “No, look, we’re Star Trek, too!” feel to the whole thing, and just shows a lack of confidence in themselves.
On the upside, I guess, there’s a few bits of comedy in the episode, and you shut your brain off and try not to over-analyse (or, really, analyse) the thing at all it’s not really dull or anything.
This episode also begins the running theme of rotating chief engineers every other episode, too. Until Geordie got the biggest sideways + up promotion in Starfleet history, for some reason they decided the chief engineer of the starship shouldn’t be a major character in any way on TNG, so they just got random one-or-two-line wonders in as required for the plot.
Here, we meet Chief Engineer “blink-and-you’ll-miss-her” MacDougal. She even has a Scottish name so we know she’s real engineer material!
The season would show several chief engineers, and at one point Riker mentions that a project would be overseen by “one of our Chief Engineers”, implying that there’s a whole mess of the buggers floating around.
I guess Roddenberry’s socialist utopia reached its zenith in the engine room or something?
What amazes me, though, isn’t the inconsistencies (show me a long-running show that isn’t littered with them), but rather that they thought a chief engineer shouldn’t be a main character.
When your ship and its capabilities are so darned important to almost every episode, having a regular character to explain all the technobabble and provide reasons the warp core didn’t blow up this week seems rather important. Oh, well – they fix that problem soon enough.
Code of Honor
Oh your gods. There’s a theory I read once that the third episode of a new series is the most important. It’s at about this point that viewers often tune out if they aren’t interested in the show. I suspect that wasn’t so much of a thing when you weren’t using a running plot and when people were often just catching episodes – sometimes out of order – whenever they felt like it.
That said, I always find it interesting to judge a show on its third episode, and ignoring for the moment that Encounter at Farpoint carried two production codes and was often aired as two episodes, Code of Honor effectively amounts to the all-important third episode.
And there’s no nice way to say this: Code of Honor is a disgustingly racist, sexist episode with almost nothing to redeem it. It’s not even well-written or original.
In it we see an “alien” culture which is not only based on some shoddy Gilbert & Sullivan-era version of a “generic African tribal culture as imagined by a sheltered white person”, but we’re also treated to watching Yar, a “strong” female character who it’s established grew up avoiding “rape gangs” on her home planet fight another woman for the pleasure of men like it’s a 1960s James Bond film.
Like that isn’t bad enough, there’s a bit where Yar is pressed into admitting, after she’s been a captive on this planet for at least 18 hours that yes, she indeed finds this tribal leader attractive. “But that’s not the point!” she protests.
Yar is given more embarrassing things to do.
Anyway, to step away from the awfulness for a moment… somehow… I found it rather interesting that a big deal was made of the enterprise’s scanners being used to monitor what’s happening on the planet below. It took crews many hours to get the scanners aligned and sending useful data. I rather like this – no magical “computer, scan the planet and give us all important plot device” – you got the sense that the enterprise is a complex machine that needs to be operated carefully.
The episode also shows us the Holodeck for only the second time, and at this point it still seems much more limited than the fantastical device of later seasons. Unless I mis-read something, the implication as Yar creates a combat simulation program is that the holodeck could really only handle simulating up to about ten figures at once. Combined with the very limited environment shown in Encounter at Farpoint, the holodeck sure seems to quickly advance a great deal in the coming seasons.
I strongly believe that limitations of ‘technology’ in a sci-fi show often produce the most interesting stories and events, and part of me wonders what TNG might have been like if the Holodeck had remained this limited device which produces simple facsimiles of vague places (such as the creek-with-forest from Farpoint) instead of being a thing capable of perfectly simulating, say, a specific cafe in France from decades past.
Much like the initial (and quickly dropped) conceit that the transporter was unsafe for human use in Enterprise (anyone else remember that rather creepy sequence where a person is first beamed, and appears with leaves literally fused to his skin? Blech!), having a limited holodeck might have been really interesting thing for later TNG.