Star Trek: The Next Generation – Schisms [6.5]

Riker finds that he is unnaturally tired.  He also begins to have strange flashbacks to dreams, triggered by ordinary things on board the Enterprise.  He pools his knowledge with other who are having similar experiences, and eventually realizes that he is being regularly kidnapped and experimented on by creatures who live in sub-space.  Thanks to a special tracking device, the crew is able to trace his movements the next time he is taken, allowing them to permanently close the portal that they are traveling into the crew’s universe through.  Riker is able to come back just in time, rescuing another kidnapped crew member.

Story by Jean Louise Matthias & Ronald Wilkerson.  Teleplay by Brannon Braga. Directed by Robert Wiemer.

Previous Episode: Relics • Next Episode: True Q

Comments:
Schisms is an interesting animal – an episode that builds its central plot quite slowly, while keeping us busy with fluff about Data’s poetry recital and some randomness about Riker having difficulty sleeping. It’s a risky tack to take with telling a story – as you could easily lose the interest of the audience while we’re waiting for something resembling a real plot to kick in. But the business with Data’s Ode to Spot is pretty darn funny – one of the best “awkward Data moments” that we’ve had for quite a while.

What really sells this episode is really strong – although not showy – performance from Jonathan Frakes. Even though not much is actually happening for the first little while, he really sells his scenes, with his tiredness and mounting confusion. At first, I was disappointed when the disturbances began to spread from Riker to others (with Worf’s scene in the barber shop), even though that was later justified, simply because I was enjoying Frakes’ role in the whole thing. Fortunately, the story contrived to keep him at the center of the action.

As the episode goes on, it does an excellent job drawing out the creepiness of what is going on. The scene in the holodeck is a memorable one, with things quickly transitioning from relatively harmless to extremely disturbing. The kicker comes when Riker is examined by Dr. Crusher again. The bit where she tells him, “It looks as though your arm has been severed and then reattached,” is one of the series all-time best what the heck?! moments.

The only disappointing thing about Schisms is really something that could only be seen in hindsight – and that the complete lack of any follow up to the story’s conclusion. Something unknown has come up from subspace, and there is both the foreboding and the promise of a new enemy – but we never hear about it again.  It’s sort of like those parasites back in the first season, except even more inventive and interesting.  Why go on at the end about how dangerous and malevolent these new enemies are if we’re never going to follow up on them (even if they were, admittedly, a bit strange looking)?

Still, the episode itself is a success.  It’s not easy, in television like Star Trek: The Next Generation to pull off a plot like this one – where the writers want to take the audience by surprise with something really strange going on in the midst of what seems to be a routine operation. As the viewers, we are expecting something strange to happen. In fact, we’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t. But Schisms does as good a job as any I’ve seen, simply because the truth turns out to be so nightmarish.  And it ends up being the first really good episode of the season.

Guest Cast:
These are the final appearances in the show for Ken Thorley as Mr. Mot(t) the Barber and Lanei Chapman as Sariel Rager, the conn officer.

Setting Up the Future:
• As mentioned above, sadly nothing – except that apparently the Ode to Spot will be mentioned again.

Observations:
• Data’s poetry reading is pretty amusing, as is Riker’s response.  The Ode to Spot is particularly great, so I want to repeat it here:

Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skill and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your sub-vocal 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 emotions.
Oh, 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.

• Who are all these people at the recital that are getting close ups? Picard almost looks like he’s on a date.  Anyway, the bit with Riker sleeping is an amusing way to open up what turns out to be a creepy episode.

• Picard’s Aunt Adele is mentioned again.  She was referred to a couple of times in the past.

• The medical team seems to be approaching Cargo Bay 4 very, very slowly

• Riker has to ask Geordi to wake him up.  Apparently, they can’t just program an alarm clock on their computer?

• Funny bit with the barber, telling Worf he’s getting dry hair because of his away missions, and that he should be using a conditioning agent.

• An unrceognizable bacteria in Geordi’s visor! Shouldn’t that at least constitute some sort of medical yellow alert?

• Good thinking Geordi – identifying that the problem is in the cargo bay

• That woman who is in Troi’s meeting – she seems to be there just to not make it only the main characters who are suffering from this strange condition

• Very effective use of the holodeck

• Data had to check his self-diagnostic to determine he was not on the ship, but surely the ship’s computer could know this

• They have really got to get the ship’s computer to raise some sort of alert when people leave the ship without authorization

• Lt. Hagler, the crew’s first fatality for the season, is mentioned as being in both Section 17 and Section 19 of the deck.

• They should give that homing device to all of the crew members who were taken, not just Riker.

• The direction in the other zone is pretty creepy, as is the hooded shuffling of the life forms

• Nice angle on the shot with Lt. Shipley in the foreground toward the end

• Riker phasers that dude.  Cool!  That’ll show ’em!

• Good effect on that thing that flies out of the ship, bumping into that barrel and so on.

• Effective line from Riker at the end:  “Ensign Ragar and I were lucky to escape. Lt. Hagler is dead. Whoever it was who sent that thing was more than simply curious.”

Dialogue High Point
The line listed above is a good one but I think ultimately my favorite is the kicker from the end of the holodeck scene for its chilling implications.  Geordi says, “I’ve been in this room before,” to which Riker replies

We’ve all been here before.

Previous Episode: Relics • Next Episode: True Q




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