Star Trek: The Next Generation: Lonely Among Us
Original Air Date: November 02,, 1987
Written By: D.C. Fontana
Story By: Michael Halperin
Directed by: Cliff Bole
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.
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+