Star Trek The Next Generation: Schisms

"Whoever it was that sent that thing was more than simply curious..."

We’ve all had one of those days. You get up late, you can’t really get started, and everything is hard. This is one of those days for Riker...
he's been having trouble sleeping, a trouble so minor that Crusher prescribes a warm milk toddy. I guess in a civilization with no wants or needs, small things like difficulty sleeping are really no major concern. Riker has a stressful job, a thousand things could be at fault.

Yet this isn’t normal, something's very wrong. And when other crew members start showing similar symptoms, everyone realizes that they have gone through a shared experience. This entire build up has been designed to make the audience uncomfortable, with the director using unusual angles and wide lenses to invoke a sense of discordance with the usually stable world of the Enterprise.

Focusing on Riker is also a good choice. We rarely get episodes focusing on him, but he is always so solid and dependable. He’s the kind of guy you trust because he is by his very nature trustworthy. Riker simply doesn’t act this way. Clearly something is happening to him.

That moves us into the best part of the episode, the holodeck scene, where the victims piece together their memories. Each contributes in a substantial way, having a different focus for their own personal nightmare. As it comes together, we get a very clear picture of what they went through. It was an abduction, experimentation by an unknown entity.

To make matters worse, the crew have no solution for the issue. They have a meeting with Picard to go over their findings and find something that might work, but they cannot retrieve anyone who has been taken from their abductors, or even stop them from taking more of the crew. Things escalate when one of the crew members comes back fatally injured. Then through investigation we understand how invasive these aliens are, as Beverly reveals that Riker’s arm was surgically severed and reattached.

In the end, Riker has to face the nightmare and deliberately allow himself to be taken into the pocket dimension the aliens have set up to experiment on the crew. The bug-eyed aliens are cloaked and frightening in appearance and mannerisms. Riker wakes up restrained and terrified, and it takes him far longer to act than normal. Eventually he gets his wits about him, escapes and rescues the last remaining abductee. They close the portal, and manage to save the day. But something escapes into their part of the universe, leaving the episode with a question mark.

From start to finish this episode uses horror tropes to tell a familiar story. It plays on almost instinctual fears, that of unwilling capture and restraint. It’s an interesting subversion of the classic alien abduction story, on a spaceship that deals with aliens on a daily basis. The fear isn’t based on the other or even the unknown, it is based on the why’s and what’s. Why would these aliens do this, and what was their ultimate purpose for doing so? Because it was more than simple curiosity.

Bits:

Location: Globular Cluster Amargosa Diaspora.

In the holodeck scene, Riker’s focus was on what was restraining him, Geordi focused on the technology, Worf on the weaponry. All very much in character.

Deanna’s reactions during the holodeck scene were wonderfully played. She was doing her job, trying to stay neutral and ask constructive questions and her face mostly calm, but there was a clear underlying tension and horror about what was unfolding in front of her. Gold acting stars to Marina Sirtis.

Although Data was also abducted, he wasn't a part of the memory reconstruction because he was likely turned off during the hour and a half long abduction.

Ensign Rager was the final abductee. She was a recurring character in four episodes in seasons four and six.

Mr. Mot makes an appearance in this episode. The Bolian barber (try saying that five times fast) has had at least two names and has been played by two different actors.

Kaminer is one of the rare cases of a civilian resident of the Enterprise becoming a part of the narrative of the story.

In lieu of quotes I give you:

“Ode to Spot”

Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature;
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

One of the few examples of horror in Star Trek, this episode succeeds in building tension and atmosphere, but doesn’t hit it out of the park in execution.

2 out of 4 Vague dreams or nightmares

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

This is a memorable episode, even though it wasn't exactly great. That thing about Riker's arm was so incredibly creepy that I never forgot it. I really, really liked the holodeck scene too, because it made so much sense, and it absolutely ratcheted up the tension as it progressed.

Plus, "Ode to Spot." An android wrote a poem about his cat, and it was so perfect because it was exactly like a poem an android would write about his cat. Delightfully mechanical.

Thanks for an excellet review, JD.

drnanamom said...

The poem is my favourite part of this episode although I enjoyed it and thought it was suitably creepy for an alien abduction.

drnanamom said...

PS thanks for the great review JD