Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Night Terrors

The Next Generation, Season 4
"Night Terrors"
Airdate: March 18, 1991
90 of 176 produced
90 of 176 aired

Introduction

The Enterprise is sent looking for the USS Brattain, a ship missing for three weeks. They find the ship adrift near a pair of binary stars. On board, they find the entire crew dead by their own hands. Some committed suicide, others were beat or shot. There seems to be no explanation for why the crew would turn on each other. Only one crew member survived, a Betazoid science officer, now catatonic. When they try to take the Britain away, its engine mysteriously fail. When the Enterprise tries to leave, the same thing happens. Now the Enterprise is trapped along with the Britain, and slowly, the same mysterious affliction that killed the Britain's crew begins to take hold on the Enterprise.

The aliens have told us they need Giant Butts to escape the rift. Send one over!



Writing

Kevin: This episode is a mixed bag. The idea has an almost Twilight Zone feel to it, and they have certainly mined that before with fantastic results. It has some truly terrifying moments. I continue to be freaked out by the scene of Dr. Crusher in the makeshift morgue. The episode also has a nice grounding in reality, it terms of the threat. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, so the danger felt very real. Also in the plus column, with an assist from the O'Briens, were some great moments of character interaction. The first half of the episode is really atmospheric and I'll get to the problems in a second, but the set-up itself is sound.

Matthew: The body bag scene stands out to me as the single creepiest in Trek. Even just imagining all the extras being put in the bags, and acting in unison, that gives me the willies. It leads to questions of missed opportunities. It was great to see Miles and Keiko - but it would have been better if we had followed Miles on a spy mission, in which he hallucinates her cheating. And so on and so forth. Anyway, I agree generally that the set-up is a sound television sci-fi plot - what happens when we can't trust our senses and our notions about the world around us?

Kevin: Where the epiosde falls apart is, sadly, the Troi B-plot. The dreams scenes were, ironically, boring enough to put me to sleep.The pacing problems it causes derail the episode. Even more frustrating is the fix was sitting right in front of them. Hagan literally just lay there the whole time. Maybe Troi could have explored his mind or his dreams. It would have given the guest character something to do, and cured tne pacing problems.

Matthew: Yep. This was a pretty sorry guest spot, and it's all the writing. I wonder how he felt when he read his part: "lay on medical table, look freaked out." Hell, Ensign Rager got more to do. The mechanism of the aliens' communication was ill-conceived from the get-go. If the inscrutability hinges upon their "other"-ness, then focus on that, for crying out loud. Show us how weird and scary and odd their way of life is. Show us something that could actually cause nightmares among Betazoids.

Kevin: The solution itself is a bit of a let down for me. I would have liked to meet the aliens who caused all this. It would have been a nice, haunting end note to see the aliens react when they found out the damage their distress signal had caused.

Matthew: Agreed. Some other logic questions I have are these - is it lack of REM or just plain sleep deprivation that causes these symptoms? I believe our best science has shown it to be the latter, not the former. Also, not all dreams are REM dreams. Further still, there was no mention of the non-humans aboard. Are Bolians affected? It would have been fun to see Mot at the helm. The conclusion that the aliens want hydrogen as opposed to having it is a pretty big leap. These aliens seem like energy creatures of some sort. Who's to say their concepts make any sort of sense to us whatever? The Tyken's Rift was problematic. Supposedly it absorbs energy. Does this include mechanical energy? We know the Enterprise has maneuvering thrusters. Chemical rockets should, however slowly, get them out of the region. If the rift absorbs even the mechanical energy of chemical rockets, it seems like everyone should be dead, not just having trouble sleeping. How did the probes launch successfully and return data, if the rift drains both electrical and mechanical energy? How does Guinan's energy rifle fire while in this rift?

Acting

Kevin: This is definitely the episode's strongest point. The main cast does a pretty good job of portraying a slow break down into paranoia and madness. Despite the problems with her story line, Sirtis acted it well. The scene on the bridge with Data and the moment she realizes the connection between Hagan's catatonia and her dreams was really well done. Gates McFadden also did an awesome job as per usual. You can really see her fighting the fog in her brain.

Matthew: The best acting moments for me were Riker and Picard's turbolift conversation, because they really seemed real. Hearing these men discuss their vulnerabilities and their concerns about the ship made it feel like a real workplace, and a real relationship. It was really well done. McFadden also stuck out to me for the "groggy" acting. Her timing is just really impeccable.

Kevin: This is by far Guinan's least sage turn, but I kind of like it. The Ten Forward scene remains pretty damn funny.

Matthew: I wish Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao had been given more to do, because hey are yet again really good. Thankfully, we will get some great opportunities to see their relationship through a darker lens through the course of DS9.

Production Values

Kevin: The Brattain was a reuse of the Reliant from WOK, though the model misspells it "Brittain," a fairly serious flub in my book. The binary star system was well done. The twin stars gave an oddly harsh light, especially to the initial tableau, that was effective.

Matthew: It wasn't just that the model was misspelled, there were inconsistencies with naming all over - the worst comes during the teaser, when the shot literally goes from the exterior of the ship, spelled "Brittain," to a console on the interior with a clearly legible "Brattain." Anyway, it was nice to see a fully realized bridge, which looked quite a bit different than any previous to this. It was rather green and angular, but I still bought it. There is a lovely Okudagram of the Miranda class vessel on the back wall of the bridge.

Kevin: Marina Sirtis wants me to let you know that the woman in the harness for the long shots of the dream sequence is not her, and that the stunt double they used has a much bigger butt than she does. That was, sadly, not the biggest problem with these scenes. They were boringly monochromatic and had pretty much nothing interesting to look at. The scripting of these scenes was not the best, and the endless green fog didn't help.

Matthew: Yeah, as dreams go, this one isn't "nightmare" enough for me to really buy the psychic distress we're supposed to be getting from our Betazoids. They should have done something more disturbing - for instance, though I think it is a terrible episode, the child drowning in "Dark Page" would be the kind of image that I could see unhinging Troi. "One moon circles" doesn't cut it. There were some interesting jammies on display. Apparently, Counsellor Troi wears a pink halter top to bed. And Riker... he wears some sort of blue crushed satin fatso blazer. Andrus Hagen's outfit looked like it was borrowed from a Devo video.

Conclusion


Kevin: This is squarely a three. The show has some problems. Serious problems. But somehow, the set up is haunting enough, and the acting good enough to keep me entertained for 43 minutes. Some tightening of the writing bolts could have made this an awesome episode, but as it stands, I would definitely call this average.

Matthew: I have softened on this one. The concept is sound and it led to some nice scenes of failing abilities for the crew. But still, at regular speed, the droning, repetitive music cue just lulls me to sleep. The concept is not developed far enough, and some really interesting opportunities are missed. So I have to give it a 2. It's below average Trek, even though I don't mind watching it at all. So that's a 5 in total.

2 comments:

  1. I am watching Season 4 now and I loved this episode. I thought it was compelling from start to finish, save the cheesy dream sequences. Loved the music and the sense of doom. In a series where there is little conflict between the main characters, I loved the whole "the enemy is us" element of them losing it, and how that manifested in different ways -- fear, belligerence, paranoia, poor judgment.

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