Monday, January 23, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Schisms

The Next Generation, Season 6
Airdate: October 19, 1992
130 of 176 produced
130 of 176 aired


Commander Riker is having trouble sleeping. It seems like a simple enough problem, but starts to take a truly unsettling turn. Without even having fallen asleep, a whole night has passed. Other crew members begin to exhibit strange symptoms as well, feeling confined for reasons they can't articulate. Worf nearly panics when the barber brings his scissors close to his face. Even more unsettling, even Data is affected, apparently losing an hour of memory. What is happening to the crew and how can they stop it?

Dammit, when I told my Personal Relaxation Light to "suck me into oblivion," this is not what I meant!


Kevin: This, by the writers' own admission, was an attempt at an alien abduction story, and I think the build up largely succeeds. Riker's discomfort at his insomnia was well done. The growing unease of the crew, like Worf's barber-freak-out were really well done, and like previous attempts at "Twilight Zone" style horror, are pretty effective. Other deeply disturbing notes that really helped make the episode were Crusher telling Riker his arm had been severed and reattached. That completely screwed with my brain as a kid. I looked at my arms for days looking for evidence of that. And poor Hagler's death is in the top ten of horrifying deaths in the franchise. For me, the fact that he was clearly conscious was what really made it upsetting.

Matthew: I agree, the build-up of psychological suspense was good. I will say, the teaser was a bit odd, ending with Riker falling asleep. Not exactly a whiz-bang cliffhanger! Of course, we did get Data's immortal "Ode to Spot," so it's not all bad. But overall, the basic mystery was interesting to me. The idea of someone having insomnia, and having it affect their work performance, was novel for the franchise, and can easily be identified with by anyone who has had trouble sleeping. I loved the quick cut to Geordi coming back in the morning to wake up Riker after apparently no time has passed - it was a clever and disorienting time shift for the viewer. I do wish there had been a few more graphic representations of the various abductees' distress - the image of Riker's arm was cool, as was the bluish skin of Hagler. But more of the same would have been good for me.

Kevin: I particularly enjoyed how Troi was treated and what Troi got to do in this episode. We here at Treknobabble love it when Troi gets to behave as a qualified mental health professional, and really nails it here. She treats the affected crew with empathy and concern, pushing just firmly enough to make progress, but without freaking anyone out. The scene in the holodeck is by far the best of the episode. The slow progression of the table to creepy examination chair was awesomely handled, and I really bought everyone's struggle to piece together the fragments of their memory. It really contributed to the feel of the episode as truly unsettling.

Matthew: I agree as far as the emotional tenor of the scene being very effective. But the way the holodeck seemed to sense what people's vague requests were aiming at was a bit of a stretch in my opinion. How did they get from "table" to "psychotic dentist chair" in 3 steps? On the other hand, I did like the scissors that just appeared on the end of the swing arm.

Kevin: The episode kind of deflates for me once we actually get to the aliens. The setup was awesome, but the payoff was a little crappy. The aliens themselves weren't really that alien, and the explanation for who they were and how they got here is nothing but empty technobabble. They are a [insert fake element]-based life form from a [insert Star Trek word] alternate universe. Also, for me, it read a little too literally as an alien abduction story. Star Trek has evoked other genres of storytelling in the past and usually either commits to a straight forward restaging with such gusto (e.g. film noir in "The Big Goodbye") or manages some interesting twists on the story (submarine warfare in "Balance of Terror" or Twilight Zone episode in "Remember Me") that it transcends mere replication. It doesn't do so here.

Matthew: I agree that the aliens were quite mundane, and this very fact was why they were not brought back as recurring villains by the editorial staff. I think mainly though it was their motives that were unclear to the point of boring the audience. They want to learn how to acclimate themselves to our space-time region. Why? For what purpose? How are their biologies different? I think the notion of not being given explicit insight into the motives of the aliens is interesting in theory. But unless you provide enough ancillary detail to suggest something fascinating, it becomes difficult to care. "2001: A Space Odyssey" springs to mind here. The details in the final set of scenes, Dave Bowman eating dinner, seeing himself age, hearing voices in the background, are all the sorts of mysterious things that get the viewer's imagination going. Whatever ineffable quality Kubrick injected into his story was largely missing here. I think I may have been most annoyed by the fact that the aliens, after abducting dozens of people in their jammies, were undone by nabbing a guy in full uniform with tricorder, phaser, and transponder. These aliens are kind of stupid, and that's not menacing - severed arms and liquid polymer blood bedamned.


Kevin: The main cast all got some nice scenes portraying or reacting to the creepiness of the situation. The holodeck scene was uniformly awesome. I kept expecting the women in the jumper to have a panic attack. It really a testament to their experience and skill that are the performances were so understated. No one shouted once.

Matthew: Dorn really looked uncomfortable in the barber's chair, more than just his usual Klingon uncomfortable. Frakes did a great job of portraying lack of sleep - he was helped by the disheveled look, of course, but he brought his own special flair to the scenes. And Marina Sirtis, despite one of her worst hairdos all series (which is saying something), was great, perfectly playing the role her character should have been given for the rest of the series - competent, qualified, intelligent, compassionate.

Kevin: On the lighter side of the episode, Data's little poetry reading was pretty well done all around. Polite awkward comedy gold, right there. Spiner did a great job of reading the poetry which was amazingly awful and seeking earnest commentary. All around, both a nice "slice of life" for the ship and a good understated outing in Data's quest for humanity.

Matthew: It always bugs me that Spiner reads the first line of the poem as two lines. It is not "Felis Catus. Is your taxonomic nomenclature, an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature?" It's not a question. It is a declarative statement: "Felis Catus is your taxonomic nomenclature, an endothermic quadruped carnivorous by nature." It doesn't make sense with the rhyme scheme the way Spiner read it. Is it a little thing? Maybe. Maybe not. Data is a master of multiple techniques. Why would be bungle it on his ode? Anyway, I agree on the emotional content. It was fun seeing Data pump Geordi for feedback, and to see Burton squirm. Well acted by both.

Production Values

Kevin: While overall, this was a bottle show, that's not a bad thing. The use of the established sets was great, again, particularly on the holodeck. The portal effect was okay, but not great. My only complaint is the aliens and the lab. The lab was generically "alien" and the aliens themselves too familiar. Shouldn't a creature from subspace be as far from humanoid as possible? It doesn't derail the episode, but it does hold it back, in my opinion.

Matthew: I actually kind of liked the lab. I don't think the problem with it was one of appearance, but one of overall theme ans use in the writing. It actually looked pretty rich. It wasn't lit particularly well, it seemed very mundane in that respect. Either make it blinding or make it dark. In between doesn't cut it. I just have to add, whoever was in charge of styling Sirtis' wig in this episode needed to be fired. It was like a... 'Fro-ney tail. See, I had to invent a word to describe it. That's usually a bad sign.


Kevin: This episode has a really neat set up, and a pretty weak payoff, much like Night Terrors. The creepiness factor was successfully done, but the resolution is a little too formulaic. Still, I'm always entertained by it, and the holodeck scene alone is enough to keep it from ever being a "bad episode." This is a 3 from me.

Matthew: I agree on the 3. This is mediocre, in the true sense of that word. Moderately entertaining, moderately exciting, moderately interesting. I don't get pumped up over the prospect of watching it, but neither do I dread when it comes around in a TNG watch-through. It's yet another Brannon Braga experiment that is long on atmosphere but comes up a bit short on specifics. Some nice performances keep this in 3 territory, making a total of 6.



  1. Any episode that provides me with Ode to Spot is a good episode.

    Of course, it also provides me with people remembering the sights and sounds around them that occurred while they were under heavy sedation, but hey. Ode to Spot!

    As an aside, whatever you guys have done to upgrade your site (I'm assuming?), the podcasts are getting hard to listen to. They quit every few minutes, and I have to re-find the time index and re-sync with the episode. Even when it does run, it seems to run not quite in real time with the episode playing like it did before the look of the interface changed. In some places, it loses time, in others, it gains it over the episode's time index. Just letting you know.

  2. I would just download them. Right click-save as. That's the only way I listen to them.