The first of the two episodes was "The Naked Now," which is a pretty weird episode, all things considered. In a nutshell, the Enterprise is summoned to aid a ship in distress near a collapsing star, but when the Enterprise arrives, the crew on the other ship is acting all crazy/sexy/sugar/magicky and collectively commits suicide in the oddest way possible. An away team finds little to explain what happened and brings back an infection with them that mimics being drunk, forcing everyone to confront their hidden... desires? I think? If this is the case, then one of the engineering staff has got a secret desire to play with all the driver chips, which makes very little sense. I think the writers initially pitched this as "everyone gets sexy-drunk" but then realized they were backing themselves into Squick Corner by possibly showing a child character as sexual/sexualized, and then frantically back-pedaled, re-purposing the premise as "everyone gets crazy hidden-secret-drunk and acts accordingly!" This is intermittently successful. This means that Yar's secret desire is to sex up... well, almost anyone, and Geordi's secret desire is to have eyes that work, and Picard and Beverly can barely keep their hands off one another... Yeah. It goes pretty much the way you'd expect.
The weird thing about this episode is that I think it would be far more successful later on in a season. The premise is common enough, and if it were applied more precisely, it would work well, but only after the audience has gotten to know the characters better. It would be much more shocking for Yar to sleep with Data if we'd seen the characters build a relationship and this would cause it to fall apart, or if there's been any layer of sexual tension at all, it would mean some sort of narrative payoff. Instead, it feels weirdly arbitrary, as if it was built around the line about Data being "fully functional." (A million fanfics were born! Clap your hands if you believe in--... you get the picture.) The whole seduction scene between Yar and Data is, well, just weirdly awkward. Yar's outfit is the strangest lingerie I've ever seen, and is apparently relying on anti-gravity to stay on, and her hair is crazily styled. (Yebisu commented that she looked like a Krpytonian, and the description is apt.) We also get a tiny bit of disturbing character development about Yar's background and it is awful: "I managed to avoid the rape gangs." (My note at this point was simply: D:<) That detail shouldn't be part of scene that's being played for semi-laughs/semi-awkwardness; it feels voyeuristic and wrong. (I am inordinately glad, though, that this particular series doesn't use flashbacks for its storytelling purposes.)
Speaking of voyeuristic and wrong, Troi has a line to Riker when she gets the virus/infection/whatever that also elevates the episode into bad-sexy: "Wouldn't you rather be alone with me and my mind?" And a million more fanfics were born! Empowered fans may be reminded of Mindf*ck's powers/actions, and the more I think about it, the more I would read an AU fanfic where Troi uses her powers for selfish/slightly evil reasons and becomes a God.
But eventually, everyone comes to their senses and Wesley saves the day! In my notes, I wrote, "Wesley is supposed to be smarter but acts dumber/plot-device-y-er than anyone else." Yeah, that was not how I hoped it would end one way or another.
However, this episode isn't all bad, particularly the scenes between Beverly and Picard. (I should pause and say here that these two are pretty much my first-ever OTP, and this episode is really, really good for this 'ship.) Their drunken attraction to one another is about 50% funny, and my notes during the scene in his ready room were, "Beverly OMG NO NO NO! NOOOOOOO! Don't unzip!" If it hadn't been between McFadden and Stewart, I think this scene would have flopped completely. We also get to see Data act as if he's drunk, and using that drunkenness to put the engine back together, 2001-style. If asked, I'd summarize the episode the way I did in the final line of my notes: "AWKWARD. X_______x"
This is followed by "Code of Honor", an episode which is equally awkward, but in a different way. The Enterprise is supposed to negotiate with a race of aliens in order to get ahold of material needed for a vaccine for a deadly plague that's apparently killing lots of people nearby. The aliens are "exceedingly proud" and obsessed with their code of honor. (I see what you did there with the episode title, writers.) Early on, I wrote down, "This will end well." And, of course, it doesn't.
The two biggest problems with this episode are the pacing (switching between WAY too slow and then far too fast) and the depiction of the aliens themselves. It's clear that the writers wanted to do show the crew of the Enterprise doing some basic anthropology and not violating the Prime Directive, and this is great in theory, but there are more than a few times when a montage would do just as well. It doesn't help that the aliens themselves aren't that alien. They're all dressed like Shaquille O'Neal in "Kazaam," and their society is sexist-lite, in that they allow women to own property, but then treat the women like property anyway. Later on in the episode, Picard is able to use these rules to suit his own motives without violating the Prime Directive, and the whole thing just feels like a set-up to humiliate the head alien dude. Haha, a white dude putting a black guy in his place! Ugh, racist nonsense. :(
There are three very good scenes that occur in the midst of all this nonsense, though:
1) Data attempts to tell a joke, and Geordi has to explain humor to him. This sequence is actually rather touching, because Geordi is, at no point, condescending or cruel to Data and just gamely tries to explain the concept to his friend, who's completely lost.
2) Beverly comes to urge Picard to Hurry Up with the vaccine negotiations because people are dying, and when he starts to make excuses, she confronts him with the reality she would face as a doctor: watching people die horribly from an easily treatable disease. Then she wonders when she'll get "soul calluses" necessary to be dispassionate about something like that, and Picard compliments her by saying that the best doctors don't have those. AWWW, Picard, you're a marshmallow at heart!
3) Picard starts to ramble about the Prime Directive and cuts himself off from rambling. This scene breaks up a lot of tension that's been building, and it feels natural. Again, Patrick Stewart makes this work, and slowly, my feelings for Picard begin to thaw, just a little.
But then there's a combat scene between Yar and the alien dude's wife, Yarina, in a combat setting that looked as if the set decorators were deliberately trying to ruin the camera-people's days, and that's awkward and weird, and then there's the afore-mentioned vaguely racist resolution, and that's that. If the Prime Directive is wrecking up everyone's actions so much, you'd think there'd be Star Fleet-wise talk about changing it up or something, but apparently not. Ah well.
Signs that it's THE FUTURE:
* Someone wears a metallic lame jumpsuit. Definitely the future.
* Their goblet technology is YEARS ahead of us. YEARS, everyone!
Signs that it's NOT THE FUTURE:
* Plague is still around, or at least, in our vision of the future, plague is still a problem on a large scale.
* Bureaucracy ruins everything. People still complain about it, and at some length.
FASHION Side talk: I know that there are other blogs devoted solely to critiquing the fashions of Next Gen, and I won't go too heavily into that, but I do want to know where the costume department got ahold of all that weirdly ridged fabric and why it figures into almost every costume they make. Also, Wesley Crusher's sweaters are just the ugliest damn things I've ever seen. And, finally, Troi's outfit gets worse with each passing episode; the "belt" of the pink ridge stuff is almost like an arrow that says "Vajayay this way!" and I just want to take Troi shopping for something, anything better than that.