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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Lonely Among Us

by Wil Wheaton, posted Nov 14th 2006 12:31PM
energy cloudTitle: Lonely Among Us
Original Air Date: November 02,, 1987
Written By: D.C. Fontana
Story By: Michael Halperin
Directed by: Cliff Bole
Episode: S01E07
Stardate: 41249.3

Synopsis: Two alien races, the Antican and the Selay, wish to be admitted to the Federation, so they can get the discount card and the cool bumper sticker that comes with the welcome packet. But before they can join the club, they have to learn to play nice with each other, because in the enlightened future of Star Trek, only people who get along with each other can be in the United Federation of Planets. In order to work out their differences, delegates from each planet hitch a ride on the Enterprise to the Parliament planet, which is in the nearby Funkadelic system.

On the way, Data's sensors pick up a giant energy cloud, which really shouldn't be there, because the Enterprise is traveling at warp speed. Picard decides to slow down and take a quick look.

Meanwhile, Geordi and Worf are doing some maintenance on the ship's sensor systems. I'm sure nothing unusual will happen when the ship's sensors scan the energy cloud, right? Oh! Wrong. The ship scans the cloud, and big blue bolts of energy zap right out of the the wall and into Worf, knocking him to the ground almost as easily as every other adversary Worf will encounter for the rest of the series.

In sickbay, Dr. Crusher checks out Worf and gets zapped by the same blue energy that originally zapped him, just before Troi comes into sickbay. Dr. Crusher begins acting really weird, but apparently not weird enough for the damn empath to notice, because Troi talks briefly with Worf before she walks right back out of the scene like nothing ever happened. (Okay, look, writers, is it really that hard to give our characters some meaningful motivation to enter and exit scenes? It's only the 7th episode of the series here, and we're sort of on probation with the audience.)

Up on the bridge, Picard decides that they've spent enough time staring at the energy cloud, and it's time to tear the roof off the sucker, give up the funk, and get the delegates to their destination. Down in the Crusher quarters, Wesley -- in his favorite pumpkin-colored sweater with sassy forearm-length sleeves -- is working on some homework, when his mom walks in, acting like she just got off the shuttlecraft from the Burning Man Nebula. Wesley tells her that he's studying Dr. Channing's theory on dilithium crystals, but before he can finish his technobabble, she leaves and heads up to the bridge.

Picard spots her wandering around in a purple haze and demands a status report on Lt. Worf. She tells him he had a "temporary mental aberration," but Picard wants more details, so she'll need to use the science station to do some medical cross-checks. Once there, Data totally busts her for actually checking out helm control instead, and she responds by zapping that blue energy back into the console. With the energy out of her, she comes down pretty hard, and heads back to her office where she can get some quiet time with a glass of orange juice and tune into Starfleet's subspace chillout radio.

Right after she leaves, the science consoles fail. Before someone can say something like, "Hey, isn't it a little strange that the science station that failed was just being used by the doctor who was acting weird?" reports come in from all over the ship that their systems are also failing, so Picard calls a meeting in the observation lounge. He asks for some theories or answers, but they all seem more interested in covering their asses than actually pointing out that these electrical failures within these electrical systems may somehow be related to the mysterious cloud filled with electrical energy that the Enterprise just passed through. Data, who was standing right next to Doctor Crusher and busted her for checking out helm control, doesn't think it's important to bring up this possibly significant fact for the group to discuss. It's not his fault, though; he was probably thinking about where he left his hilarious Chinese fingercuffs from two episodes ago.

Up on the bridge, Worf reports that warp power is fading. The Enterprise drops to impulse speed as the subspace radio goes offline, too. Picard leaps into action . . . and calls another meeting, this time in his ready room with Data and Riker. Apparently unaware of Occam's Razor, they think there may be a saboteur on board, possibly among the Anitcans or the Selay. In a futile effort to make us forget how lame the Ferengi are, they even suggest that maybe the Ferengi hired one of the delegates to screw up the Enterprise. Uh, yeah. Nice try, guys, but we're not buying it.

Finally, Data points out that maybe all these energy problems have something to do with the energy cloud! Oh. Wait. No he doesn't. He tries to figure out what a private eye is, instead. Picard mentions Sherlock Holmes and the scene ends with a close-up on Data's face. Oh, it's pretty clear that some hilarity is about to ensue.

Back in engineering, fashion icon Wesley Crusher saves the day. Oh, there's more to the scene, but that's all I ever heard from the damn Trekkies about this episode back then, so that's all you're going to hear from me now, suckers.

Wesley gets booted from engineering by Mr. Singh, and he mopes back to stately Cusher Manor, where he tells Dr. Crusher, "Mom, I've learned a lot more than they understand." (This line on its own is totally lame, but it's just become my favorite of all seven episodes thus far, because I managed to deliver it with the same vocal inflection, facial expression, and dramatic gravitas as Pee Wee Herman when he said, "I'm a loner, Dottie; a rebel.")

Down in engineering, Mr. Singh is implementing Wesley's solution (and planning to take credit, no doubt) when he gets blasted with a bunch of that blue energy. He falls to the floor, just in time for Worf (who happens to be conveniently wandering around the engine room) to find him and tell the bridge that they're going to need another new chief engineer for next week's show. The bridge tells him not to worry, that was already in the plans.

In sickbay, Worf joins Dr. Crusher and Troi to discuss the memory blackouts that both Worf and Dr. Crusher had earlier in the day. Troi hypnotizes them to restore their memories about, uh, losing their memories, and discovers that they both felt the presence of someone else who was with them, and they wanted that someone out of their mind. Then Troi tells Dr. Crusher that no matter how hard she tries, she can't find the itch on her nose, and makes Worf crow like a rooster whenever he hears the word "jackpot." (Counsellor Troi's Hypnohijinks are available for parties and bar-mitzvahs.)

Meanwhile, up in the observation lounge, there is yet another meeting, as Tasha, Riker and Data discuss the results of their investigation. This scene is actually kind of important, because we see the first glimpses of Data's eventual fascination with Sherlock Holmes, as he chomps on a pipe and says "indubitably" a lot. He deduces that it's unlikely the delegates would harm the Enterprise, because they're too busy trying to kill each other.

Picard then has another meeting in his ready room (Man, with all these meetings, this is almost as exciting as Calculon's All My Circuits: the movie!) where Troi tells him about the hypnosis, and comments that she sensed duality in Dr. Crusher earlier. Picard (and the audience) ask why the hell she didn't bother to mention it before, and Troi tells him that she senses duality in all humans, so Betazeds learn to tune it out. She doesn't mention anything about regularly turning out Wesley Crusher and his "little captain" which is good because that could have caused me a lot of embarrassment.

Back on the bridge, everything falls apart again, and in the ensuing brouhaha, Picard touches the CONN, gets zapped with blue energy, and orders the Enterprise's course reversed. Picard says they need to go back and have another look at . . . wait for it . . . the energy cloud.

Everyone thinks he has been infected by the rocking pneumonia and zapping blue energy flu epidemic that's sweeping the nation, but they can't decide the best way to handle Captain Crazypants. Dr. Crusher wants him to take some tests in sickbay, but Picard has an after school special-style freakout and tells them that he's doing fine, they have a problem, it was just a little pot, and it's not like he makes himself throw up all the time, it's just like once a month or whatever. Gosh!

Back on the bridge, Picard tells everyone that he is going to elope into the energy cloud with his new life partner, the nameless energy pattern entity that has been running around the ship. The crew is totally not cool with this forbidden love, and Dr. Crusher tries to remove him from duty, but Picard tells them, "You just don't want me to be happy! Well, the nameless energy pattern entity and I are totally in love, because it understands me! It thinks I'm smart and pretty, and we're going to become a combined energy pattern of both our life forms, in Massachusetts or Hawaii or Canada or somewhere! We're going to roam the universe together, and you'll be sorry!"

Then, in a scene straight out of Return of the Jedi, he grabs the CONN and OPS consoles, and blasts the entire bridge crew with crazy bolts of blue lightning that totally immobilizes them . . . but strangely leaves their ability to talk intact. Picard heads down to the transporter room and beams himself and his energy entity lover into space.

More than an hour passes, and Riker decides that they can't find the captain, and even though they may not understand or agree with his choice, they should respect it and head off to Parliament to paint the white house black. But before they can leave (and Riker can start measuring the captain's quarters for new drapes), Troi tells him that she's sensing the captain, and only the captain. It turns out that, once they were off the Enterprise, the relationship didn't work out, and now Picard is ready to come back home. So Riker drives the ship into the energy cloud and hopes that Picard can sneak into the ship's circuitry the way his (now ex) nameless energy entity lover did. But will it work? Durr, we all know it will. Picard makes a clever letter "P" on the CONN panel to let them know he's back on the ship, and Data races down to the Transporter room with Riker and Troi, where he beams Picard's energy through a stored physical pattern of Picard in the transporter's memory to return the Captain to his corruptible, mortal state, where he can once again be threatened by hitchhiking ghosts.

Before they can break out the Romulan Ale and celebrate, Tasha bursts into the transporter room and tells them that one of the Antican delegates ate one of the Selay delegates. Picard decides that this is the perfect time to head up to his quarters and take a nap, so he leaves Riker in charge to deal with the problem, as the episode just . . . sort of . . . ends.

Quotable Dialogue:

We still don't know where they went.

On the contrary, my dear colleague. On their return, they drew medical supplies appropriate to the treatment of minor wounds and abrasions on these life-forms.

Which leaves us with only one conclusion.

Exactly! That they were too engaged in their own affairs to have disabled the ship and murdered the engineer. Given the choice, they would rather kill each other than any of us. It's elementary, my dear Riker. [Awkward pause.] Sir.

Obligatory Technobabble: "Dr. Channing thinks it's possible to force Dilithium into even more useful crystals if, as shown here, matter and antimatter could be aligned even more efficiently . . . " Wesley Crusher, explaining Dr. Channing's theory on dilithium crystals.

Behind the Scenes Memory: I don't recall much about working on this particular episode, but I can clearly and painfully recall something that happened right around the time we filmed it: D.C. Fontana, who wrote this episode and is presumably responsible for all the lame dialogue I had to deliver in it, was part of a panel at a convention in 1987 called "Solving the Wesley Problem." The whole thing was focused on attacking me and my character, and lamenting the fact that there was a damn kid on the Enterprise. Patrick Stewart called me from the show and encouraged me to come to the convention and speak on my own behalf, which I did with some success. That panel and the audience's comments really hurt me when I was a 15 year-old kid, but while I watched this episode as a 34 year-old man, I had this crazy idea: Maybe instead of sitting on this panel and trashing me, D.C Fontana could have written intelligent dialogue for me and helped solve the "Wesley problem" herself. I don't know, maybe she tried to do that and didn't get a lot of support from the rest of the producers and writing staff, but even I know of Dr. Channing's theory of not writing cliched dialogue for kids in science fiction, and then blaming the actor who is forced to deliver it.

The Bottom Line: Well, the important thing is, you tried. After slowly working our way up to respectability with Where No One Has Gone Before, we dive back into the depths of The Naked Now. This episode feels like it was written long before the actors were cast, and it's clear that, though we were all beginning to get comfortable with our characters and each other, we had to force ourselves into some very stiff dialogue, in a script that strains the suspension of disbelief at just about every turn, and pretty much fails in every attempt at masonry.

At one point, Geordi tells Wesley that how the engines came back online isn't important; it's only the result that matters, and that seems to be the fundamental philosophy that drives this script. Much of the dialogue, pacing, and blocking in this episode feels arbitrary to me. Characters enter and exit scenes without any good reason, and instead of action, we have meeting after meeting after meeting, and it makes the whole thing feel confused and directionless. In fact, I had to watch this episode twice just so I could follow the whole thing. It also drove me crazy that nobody bothered to ask, even once, if maybe all these problems were somehow related to the energy cloud. The audience figures it out before the second commercial break, and as a result, every scene where we're supposed to be solving the mystery is just annoying, and it makes the characters look stupid. As I wrote above, we were still on probation at this time, and this script and director did nothing to help us plead our case, and I'm sure this episode cost us viewers.

However, though the set up is incredibly forced (are we to believe that Data can retain a kajillion bits of information about a kajillion different things, but he doesn't know what a private eye is?), the legacy of this episode is the whole Sherlock Holmes thing. Brent Spiner makes the most of it, and turns what could be disastrous dialogue and ham-fisted attempts to inject humor into the episode into something that is almost charming in retrospect, and was mildly amusing at the time. It also laid the foundation for some episodes that became fan favorites, when Data and Geordi slipped into the roles of Holmes and Watson, and solved cases on the holodeck.

Final Grade: D+

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I had mercifully completely forgotten this episode, despite my best friend and I watching every first season episode a millions times in reruns that first year, because we were such complete Trekheads that we were willing to put up with crap episodes just because it had the word "Trek" in the title.

I feel bad about the Wesley Crusher situation, even though I detested the character at the time. I had been 5 years old when original Trek came on the air in 1966, and had been a diehard fan ever since, even cutting my hair like Mr. Spock's when I was 12 years old, which is a pretty ballsy move for a 12-year-old girl in 1973 attending a Catholic grade school.

I remember thinking, "If they're going to have a male Mary Sue character for 12-year-old boys in the TNG audience, why not a female Mary Sue, so girl geeks have someone to identify with, too -- even though the adolescent Mary Sue characters make older fans want to murder poor Wil Wheaton."

I was at a Trek convention in Philadelphia in 1989, and Michael Dorn was on the stage. The subject of Wesley came up, and a spontaneous chant arose from the audience of "Kill The Boy! Kill The Boy! KILL THE BOY!!" Michael Dorn waved his hands in the air and tried to get us murderous villagers to put down our torches and pitchforks, saying what a great guy and good actor poor Wil Wheaton was, and it wasn't Wil's fault that his character was written as such a know-it-all pain in the ass.

I'm so glad Wil Wheaton has done these reviews, and is so good-natured about those people who fantasized for years about shoving him out an airlock in his underwear. It can't have been easy, being forced to play such an annoying character for so many years, all ending with that ghastly Native American/Cardassian episode, where he got his Indian name, "Dances with Head up his Ass."

Thanks, Wil, and sorry that my best friend and I booed and threw popcorn at the TV whenever you appeared on screen. (BTW -- I LOVE your obnoxious alter-ego Wil Wheaton on "The Big Bang Theory" -- utterly brilliant.)

December 27 2011 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It broke my heart to read about the panel on Wesley. I was never a fan of the original. I started watching TNG because my dad was watching and I had no choice. But I fell in love with Wesley. I was so disappointed when he wasn't in an episode. I kept watching even after my dad stopped. I became a true fan. I also watched DS9 and Voyager and it all started with Wesley.

February 15 2011 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"and it's time to tear the roof off the sucker, give up the funk,"

See, as a Clone of Dr. Funkenstein, I'mma hafta fine ya for this P-Funk reference. Especially since you know good and damn well that shakin' an ass was illegal in the 24th century!

January 15 2007 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fred McCoy

Just a SMALL question for Wil,

Ever tried to talk to DC about the "Wesley Problem"?

Just curious...

January 10 2007 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sean C.

Hey Wil, at least you weren't Jonathan Brandis...

December 24 2006 at 10:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wil, I personally enjoyed reading your review of two episodes this morning. As big Star Trek fan, all series, I grew up watching the original series, and kept watching the original series til TNG came along and it took over, rarely did I miss an episode. Keep this up, it is fun getting the insight of what happens on the set during. Who was your favorite person to do scenes with?

December 21 2006 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom S.

My original memory of seeing this show is that its defining moment was the final scene.

Every fan had been comparing Picard to Kirk and it was second nature by then to speak of Ryker being an up-and-coming Kirk. This ending proved the point and brought home for me how wonderful Picard was developing. The distinction between Kirk and Picard could not have been clearer.

In an episode of the Original Series, (I forget the title, but it was the one where we meet Spock's Father and Mother) Kirk and the whole crew are preoccupied during the entire episode with the inter-species rivalries of diplomats.

But here at the end of LONELY AMONG US, we get a different command decision. The bood-feud between the two species which everyone else is obsessive over is not the hands-on concern of the Captain of the Enterprise. When Tasha comes in at the end and is worrying about a possible murder, Picard hands this paltry detail to Number One and leaves.

Now that's delegating.

December 06 2006 at 5:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob Williams

Great article man.. You got so much crap about playing that char.. But the dialog was so bad that nobody could have dealt with that..

I mean.. My god man..

Keep up the good work!

November 15 2006 at 11:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wil, I always felt that the Wesley character was something that Gene held close to his heart, but that most of the other producers and writers didn't agree with and halfheartedly accepted. Unfortunately, in a lot of the episodes, it shows. Interestingly, the last few Wesley scripts did a really good job with the character. (Final Mission, The First Duty, Journey's End)

November 15 2006 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Wil, great to "see" you again. BTW, I saw you on CSI - you were great.

Your reviews are wonderful! Definitely takes me back. I agree that season one was really bad - but we were all so hungry for Star Trek back then we would have tolerated just about anything. I remember buying season one on DVD - I couldn't believe how really horrible the episodes were. Was that Roddenberry's fault - did the show get better with Berman? Was that the reason?

I agree with the comment above. I thought the Wesley character was well acted but written really badly at first. Once Wesley grew as a character he was much easier to take.

Can't wait for your review of the "Wesley sentenced to death on the sex planet" episode. That's the one with your famous line, "We're from Starfleet... we don't lie."

Also anxiously awaiting your take of the replacement of Dr. Crusher with Dr. Pulaski thing. That was a huge mistake. I was really glad when Gates McFadden came back.

November 15 2006 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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