Monday, March 19, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Frame of Mind

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Frame of Mind"
Airdate: May 3, 1993
146 of 176 produced
146 of 176 aired


Commander Riker is performing the lead in Doctor Crusher's latest production aboard the Enterprise. Called "Frame of Mind," it's a pyschological thriller about an inmate in an insane asylum. As the play is nearing its opening, Riker is assigned to a dangerous rescue mission. While preparing for both the play and mission, aspects of the one seem to sneak into the other. Initially, he dismisses it as stress, but suddenly he finds himself in the apparently real asylum of the play, while his life aboard the Enterprise is deemed a fictional delusion. Nothing makes sense, and Riker begins to question his own sanity. What's real? What's not? Can he tell the difference any more?

Caught in a Trek-themed fantasy world. We can relate, Frakesy.


Kevin: This is one of those episodes that I came to appreciate more with age than I did on first viewing. I think it was more the fact that I didn't respond as much to the Riker character. On subsequent viewing, there's a lot here. This is another example of season 6 trying another episode that qualifies as a "change of pace." Like we discussed in "Starship Mine," the change of pace episode is more likely to succeed if the characters remain intact in a new situation. On that front, I think the episode succeeds. This is miles ahead of the lukewarm "Future Imperfect" in terms of watching Riker grapple with an existential crisis. I think Riker was a good choice for the episode. We've already done it with Crusher in "Remember Me" and Picard in "The Inner Light." Riker has an everyman feel that makes upsetting his apple cart more interesting.

Matthew: It's easy to lose sight of how good a TV writer Brannon Braga is. But folks, the man behind the "Enterprise" finale, and a key creator for the now-cancelled Fox series "Terra Nova," is, or at least was, just that. A darn good writer. I agree that this is a great change of pace that works for all the reasons we mentioned in "Starship Mine." It's great to take a character as confident and warm as Riker and to put him through the wringer, and to make it a mysterious, creepy wringer at that. What really marks this as a successful story is the way in which we, the audience, who have watched 6 seasons of Riker on TNG, still are given that little nagging twinge of doubt as to whether he is in fact "crazy." I liked the little red herring of the "officer" from the Yorktown, and I liked how Riker described his experiences in the hospital as the ones which were clear and distinct, as opposed to his dreams of the Enterprise. These touches really added to the feeling of being unmoored and unhinged while watching. The sudden scene shifts were also effective at this.

Kevin: This episode is also more successful than other attempts at "creepy" episodes like Night Terrors. The repeated imagery of the injury to his temple and the seamless insertion of characters from each storyline into the other really helped keep the episode off kilter. I think the episode also finds a great deal of its success from anchoring the story in familiar, established characters and canon. We have Beverly's dramatic hobbies and Data's attempts at acting. I loved the scene of Beverly talking to Riker after his first nightmare about the asylum bleeding into reality and after comforting him asked him how the imaginary opening night was. Like Remember Me, it's nice that the writers make sure that established character notes are maintained even in fictional worlds.

Matthew: The repeating image of Riker being cut on the temple was wonderfully dream-like, and was repeated just the right number of times. The "creepy element" runs the danger of being repeated to the point of annoyance, as it was in episodes like "Masks," "Emergence," and "Genesis." I think the framing device of Dr. Crusher's play is superb, as well. It tells us about her character (in fact, McFadden is now a theater director in LA), the shipboard culture, and both Riker and Data as persons expanding their talents. The reflection therapy device was also an interesting idea that gave the rest of the cast a greater chance to shine in slightly off-beat versions of their roles.

Kevin: My only real problem with the episode is the ending. The idea that the fantasy was just a defense mechanism for the mental probing is a little too pat. If you are going to do a Twilight Zone style episode, you should do a Twilight Zone ending. I think they could have had a little more fun with Riker still questioning, at least a little, what is real. Maybe they could have set it up that even acting in the play was an invention. Pushing the line as far back into his "real" life as possible would have made the lingering question more interesting.

Matthew: I agree on adding one last note of uncertainty when he is demolishing the set. I did not find the ultimate explanation to be lacking, though. The "defense mechanism" idea was a bit hokey, but I have no problem at all believing that someone under the influence of psychotropic drugs might have the sort of disjointed recollection that Riker did.


Kevin: This is easily Frakes' finest performance to date. I think it's a result of the seasoning of both the actor and the character and it reads really well. Riker is, explicitly, the most comfortable he has ever been, and Frakes has been playing him far less shouty for years. A first season Riker may have shouted the whole episode, but seeing jovial, relaxed Riker through into the cuckoo's nest really feels upsetting, given how good his "real" life is. I think he also did a good job of acting like he was acting in the "Frame of Mind" scenes early on. It must be hard to portray the things you spend a career making yourself not do, like a good dancer trying to act like he dances badly, and it was really nice to see.

Matthew: Frakes really sold the story, and without his performance it would not have worked nearly as well. It takes a brave actor to let himself appear haggard, disheveled, and out of control. It also takes a fine actor to not overdo it. Frakes totally delivered. Some standout scenes include the prologue, as you mentioned, but also the rescue scene in which he turns on his friends, and the final crackup scene.

Kevin: The asylum staff and denizens were fun and well-realized. They were tropes to be sure, but that was kind of the point. Susanna Thompson last appeared as a Romulan in "The Next Phase," and I'm glad they brought her back. She can act through the prostheses well and there is something really compelling about her voice. I bought that she thought the spoon was a communicator, and that's not an easy thing to telegraph. I also like Mavek's taunting. He really brought his A-game for being the bullying guard.

Matthew: Very much agreed on the bit players. Since this episode is so Riker heavy and lacking in the rest of the main cast, the guest cast really had to step up their game. I am also a big Susanna Thompson fan (if you've never watched "Kings," you should, and it's a crime that it was cancelled after only 13 episodes). Gary Wentz as Mavek was a great boorish guard. David Selberg was a good patronizing therapist. It was really well done casting all around.

Production Values

Kevin: This is a great episode in terms of set design and cinematography. The cell looked like a great "play" set and they did a great job transitioning from the fake set to the "real" one. The phaser shattering effect looked a tad CGI-ed, but it worked for the scene. Layering the audience of the play with the fractured reality of the asylum was also well achieved. Obviously, as a long time viewer, I knew knew that Riker was really Riker, but I definitely was along for the ride on Riker's crisis, and I think the acting went a long way to selling it, but the staging put it really over the top.

Matthew: I loved the shatter effect then, and I love it now. It fits the story well, too. The psychic projector device looked neat, and the effects on it and the pattern enhancer were good. There weren't a lot of opticals, and they weren't overly noticeable. To me, that's the mark of good, understated effects. I want to mention James Conway's direction - the use of quick cuts was disorienting in a good way, and the zooming shot of Riker screaming in the window was really effective.

Kevin: Another note of praise for the production end of things is how great a job the episode did of having so many different sets, but still feeling claustrophobic. Straight up bottle shows have felt more open than the scenes here.

Matthew: The sets really worked for me. I loved the metal mirror in the hospital room, just as would exist in a secured facility like a prison or an asylum. The room itself looked drab and creepy. The halls and group space in the hospital were also good. The redress of Ten Forward to accommodate the "Frame of Mind" play set was good, though I do wonder how people feel about having their bar given over for days on end for a play.  


Kevin: I am going with a 4 on this one. I think the ending is a bit of a whiff, but the episode itself is so interesting and creepy and possessed of a frenetic energy that I cant help but be thoroughly entertained by it. A bravura performance by Frakes seals the deal on putting this in the upper tier of the series.

Matthew: I loved this when it aired, and I appreciate it even more now. It's a great story with interesting dream-like logic and creepiness up the wazoo. It's excitingly developed and paced very well. The sets and the atmosphere are first rate. And the acting by Frakes is top notch. I've got to go with a 5, which makes our combined rating a 9.

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