Episode summary at Memory Alpha.
Themes and Discussion
The major themes in this episode are temptation, lack of control, self-inhibition, and intimacy. Something that is becoming more clear is the crew is still a bit regimented. They don’t know how to be easy with each other, trust each other, or have a little fun. This is probably more emblematic of the newness of the show and the ship, but there’s something here that speaks to a particular ethos that seems endemic in Starfleet. Starfleet is not a fun organization; in fact, in several episodes throughout the series and the movies, we are shown that Starfleet is a humorless and often clueless bureaucracy that is not always to be trusted or followed.
Even though Starfleet is an exploration outfit, it is still a lot like the military. And, like the military, fraternization does not appear to be encouraged. The crew is already, then, in the awkward position of having families on board, but having the officers living mostly celibately. But the officers form their own family among themselves. It’s almost as if they do it despite Starfleet’s inherent coldness.
Looking at the apparent stiffness of Starfleet and the contrast between that and the very public displays of affection and lack of inhibition in this episode makes me think about the Victorians. Stay with me. Victorian cultural norms were a bit prudish about sex, sexuality, and lack of inhibition. However, read Victorian literature and you’ll see lots of bottled up sexual frustration and pushing against those norms. This TNG episode is functioning on a similar level. We see that the crew does have needs and desires that are not necessarily being met. This isn’t only sexual. Consider Wesley Crusher’s need to be accepted and his desire to be a part of the crew. Or Geordi’s desire to see with real eyes. All of these are brought to the surface by the intoxicant.
I find it interesting that it is the women who are acting overtly sexually aggressive in the episode. That could be seen as a reversal of traditional gender roles (only brought to the fore by intoxication). Or it could be a variation on the misguided idea that women are all sluts. In any case, I find it problematic that only the women become sexualized here and not the men. One would think that Riker would be out prowling the halls with Tasha (and maybe he would have if the full intoxication had been allowed to set in). In large part, these advances by the ship’s main women characters (Yar, Troi, and Crusher) are not welcomed by most of the male characters. In later episodes, we also see a discomfort with female sexuality: almost any episode featuring Lwaxana Troi shows this, but several others. We’ll revisit this as we come to those episodes.
In this episode, we get a better view of the tricorders used in TNG; however, they are reasonably useless in this episode as they do not pick up any unusual readings of the intoxicating substance. We also get a better view of sickbay.
We also see Wesley’s science project: a small-scale tractor beam. When he is showing this off to La Forge, he also shows off a voice simulator he has created. It simulates Picard’s voice giving orders. Wesley has created this so that he can pretend that he is on the Bridge. So, this is Wesley’s version of fan fiction. He ends up playing out the fantasy of taking over the ship by using that voice simulator to get key members of the Engineering staff to leave. He then uses his tractor beam as a repulsor and effectively locks everyone out of an important area of Engineering. And then he gets to save the ship once he’s sobered up by using the same technique he used to reverse his small tractor beam, and he shows up the Chief Engineer. Wesley saving the ship and outsmarting the adults is going to happen a few more times in the series before the writers adjust his character to be a little less “Gary Stu” (the male analog to the “Mary Sue” fan fiction trope.)
Information seeking behavior
A search query of the ship’s computer gets some prominence in this episode and is worth looking at. Riker approaches Data on the Bridge and asks him for help finding computer information about “someone taking a shower in their clothes.” Riker states that he remembered reading something that contained this information. Data starts with this very vague information and searches for some time. Later, we come back to Riker and Data and Data asks if Riker has any other information, but Riker initially tells him that he does not. Data’s use of the word “historical” reminds Riker that he had been reading a history of ships named Enterprise. Data focuses the search on “Enterprise history, aberrant behavior, medical cross reference.” These criteria allow them to find the information about the incidents in TOS’ “The Naked Time” and a lead for an antidote.
As a librarian, I had to chuckle at this search request. This is the kind of request I would get on a fairly regular basis at work. Folks always seem to think that such a request is quick and easy, when, in fact, they often take a long time. I am pleased that Riker and Data seem to know that such a vague query would take a long time. However, I wish Data would have conducted a better reference interview on Riker during the initial request; he would have saved time if he had pressed Riker initially about where such a thing was read. Data may have been able to narrow the search field down to Enterprise history within the first minutes of the search rather than spending valuable time looking for a needle in a haystack.
Use of weapons/force by Starfleet/Federation
No uses of force in the episode.
Troi calls Riker “Bill” in Engineering. She is the only one who calls him this, and it is used as a sign of their past intimacy, but the nickname only shows up in the first season. The rest of the series, she calls him “Will” like everyone else.