Episode 3-“The Naked Time,” freaking the fuck out and figuring out why everyone should love Spock

 I love television that strands its characters in a small location and makes them deal with an immediate problem. Both “Ice” and “Road Runners” from “The X-Files” immediately leap to mind, although it was a show that played with variants on this formula constantly. “4 Days Out” stands as one of the most relentlessly tense and bleak episodes of “Breaking Bad.” “The Gang Gets Held Hostage” is one of my favorite episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” This sort of storytelling forces the characters into instant decisions and rapidly leads to paranoia, insanity, and often death. And sometimes, somebody has to go to Charlie’s angry room.

This is mostly why “The Naked Time” works. The entirety of the crew of the Enterprise is infected by some breed of “space madness” that the galaxy’s dumbest hazmat worker picked up when he and Spock investigated the death of some researchers on a frozen planet that was prepped for disintegration. The threat is immediate: if the rapidly going insane crew does not deal with their irrational actions, the Enterprise will be destroyed. There’s no salt vampire, no gods, no psychic kids. Its fix the ship or everyone dies.

It really works. For the most part. We’re shoved into the danger with the crew and it starts off kind of odd. Sulu and Riley both begin behaving irrationally, with Sulu becoming a swashbuckler and the just introduced Riley delving into his fiercely Irish heritage. Sulu causes some immediate problems, but it is Riley who really puts the crew in danger when he seizes control of the communication systems and shuts down the engine, leaving Scotty trying to restart the ship and the bridge in clear and present danger.

The episode is slow, but there’s a fair amount of tension. McCoy is trying to figure out what is affecting the crew and Kirk is growing increasingly frustrated with having to hear another warbling rendition of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” and he snaps on Uhura in a moment that feels genuine and well played.

But breakdown is inevitable, Kirk succumbs to the madness and begins babbling about his repressed feelings for Rand, and Uhura mostly just kind of disappears, but Spock becomes the center, facing attention from a nurse who claims to love him, the half-Vulcan loses control and retreats to a private room to try to get control of himself. It’s an odd moment, particularly for a character that has been nothing but cold as he wrestles with his long suppressed feelings, forcing himself to recite his mission as well as try to count. Ultimately, Spock is the last hope for getting the ship out of is potentially fatal orbit, so he has to get it together and mix cold matter and anti-matter to get the ship out of there.

And once again the crew is safe, having somehow jetted back three days in time. I had a problem with this, mostly because I had to sit around wondering if there was another Enterprise that was coming closer to observing the disintegration of the planet, but I think the episode wants us to just sort of embrace the whole time jump without thinking to hard about it.

Ultimately, “The Naked Time” is probably the best episode yet, but there are inevitably a couple of problems. The main thing about the episode is the sense of surprise. We don’t really know the characters that well and suddenly we are supposed to just deal with the fact that the quiet guy who takes Kirk’s orders wants to be a Three Musketeers-esque sword fighter. It just seems really odd. I know most of Sulu’s scenes once he is infected are played somewhat for laughs, but I can’t really buy into his leap with nothing but his earlier conversation with Riley about fencing to hold onto. Likewise, Riley, who I don’t think we had even gotten a name from up to this point, thinking he was an Irish commander, makes for good drama, but not a whole lot of actual sense. If this episode had come later in the series, this device could have been really effective but as it stands, it’s just really jarring.

The same could be said of Spock’s breakdown. We really know very little about Spock. We know he’s a half Vulcan and that his mother is human. We know his people are very logical and shun emotion. We know that Vulcan has no moon. I think that covers it. Spock is an enigma we are supposed to love, and vastly we do, but it is hard to understand his motivations and turmoil when we don’t know how they work or why. He mentions a conflict between what he wants to think and how he actually thinks, and he talks about struggling with his two halves, but we don’t have much of a reason as to why he has chosen to condition himself into an emotionless character. We can’t have the full payoff of his emotional transformation without knowing why such a shift is important to begin with.

That being said, the glimpses into Spock’s mind do a great job setting up the character. When he talks to Scotty in engineering, we see the mentality of jobs needing done, regardless of risk or extraneous factors, but we can actually see the conflict he refers to when he mentions to Kirk “When I feel friendship for you, I feel ashamed.” Although this rapidly turns into a slap-fight of vaudeville proportions, Spock’s moment is great. Through sheer force of will, that pointy-eared bastard powers through and manages to save the ship.

In standard fashion, the ridiculous parts are ridiculous, and the great parts are really great, and “The Naked Time” is another fantastic episode in a bottle that manages to show that the crew alone can carry an entire episode of “Star Trek.”

Random Notes

I think this was the first appearance of what I assume to be the Vulcan neck pinch. Well done, Spock. Well done.

Kirk on the endless song: “Please, not again.”

I’m glad that the Enterprise also has a set of 3-D checkers on board for the less strategically minded members of the crew.

Those hazmat suits that feature a mask that doesn’t connect to the chest portion seem like they would be really handy at fighting off pathogens and contaminants in a dangerous or unknown environment. Also, the red and gold pattern is really easy on the eyes.

I originally noted the sense of grimness to this episode with Spock finding actual bodies at the research station instead of just reporting on death. It’s amazing how much showing violence instead of just telling about implied violence does to increase the sense of dread and the presence of a threat on a show like this.

Next Up: “The Enemy Within” which I assume will have nothing to do with a character overcoming contrasting sides of their personality. No, that definitely won’t factor in.

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