Star Trek: The Next Generation – Frame of Mind [6.21]

Riker finds himself inexplicably bouncing back and forth between two realities – the one he is familiar with on the Enterprise, and one in which he is a mental patient on an alien world in which his life in Starfleet is a fantasy.  The connection is made more confusing by the fact that on the Enterprise, Riker is acting in a play that is very similar to his mental patient reality.  Eventually, Riker realizes that neither world is real, and that he is actually a prisoner on an alien world, and that his subconscious is fighting back against drugs that he has been given.  Riker is able to escape and return back to the Enterprise.

Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by James L. Conway.

Previous Episode: The Chase • Next Episode: Suspicions

Comments:
Regular commentator “xmenxpert” recently referred to Frame of Mind as the best Riker story ever.  This is open to debate, since the guy was basically the main character of The Best of Both Worlds, but I understand his point.  While it may or may not be the best episode ever that featured Riker, it’s easily the best showcase of Riker that we’ve ever had, or perhaps more accurately, the best showcase of Jonathan Frakes as an actor.  Usually when you use a phrase like “tour de force performance” in association with Next Generation, you are almost certainly talking about Patrick Stewart in an episode like Family or Chain of Command part II.  But here the term very appropriately lands on Frakes.  The guy doesn’t just give a good performance – he is outstanding.  He takes us through Riker’s increasing confusion into the depths of madness in a way that is believable and engaging and quite unsettling.

Of course, he is supported by some good and trippy direction, and a story that doesn’t spill all of its beans all at once.  Sort of similar to the movie Coherence that I reviewed last time, the episode manages to continually give you enough hints to make you think you have a handle on what’s going on, before it suddenly engages in another twist that makes you realize you are still not on solid footing.  The best example was when Administrator Suna suddenly shows up in the midst of Riker’s holographic therapy, making you think that he must be involved in some sort of conspiracy to drive Riker insane, and that the Dr. Syrus may either get killed for stumbling onto something he shouldn’t have, or even become Riker’s ally.  It’s a well played moment that fits the eventual story reveal, but is played well to serve as a red herring.

All the supporting performances are fine but none really stand out, which is fine for an episode like this.  Unlike a lot of Picard’s best episodes, which are often “duets”, Frame of Mind is really a solo act.  Probably the most interesting part for any of the other characters is Beverly, who we get to see in her love of theatre and directing again.  It’s always fun to see these personal sides to the characters.

If there are any weak spots to the story, it’s just, that to my poorly discerning eyes anyway, Administrator Suna and Dr. Syrus look similar enough that I didn’t realize they were two different characters until the scene mentioned above where Suna shows up during the therapy.  And also, “real Riker” at the end isn’t nearly as interesting as “crazy Riker” throughout the story, but I guess that’s to be expected.  But aside from these little nit-picks, it’s really a strong piece of work.

Guest Cast:
• Andrew Prine plays Administrator Suna.  I know him as Steven from the two original V miniseries, and also as James Keller from the original film of The Miracle Worker.

• Susanna Thompson, who plays Inmate Jaya, previously appeared as a Romulan on The Next Phase.  She went on to play the Borg Queen on a number of episodes of Voyager and Moira Queen on Arrow.

Shout out to the Past
Nothing, except that we again see Riker acting, and Beverly’s interest in directing, and those nifty transporter pattern enhancers showing up again!

Observations:
• The opening bit, where we go from an agitated and paranoid Riker to a smiling and laughing Riker, revealing he is just acting, is a great hook.

• Riker kisses Troi on the lips.  I always found this relationship odd.

• The theatre on the Enterprise is really small, considering there are 1000 people on board

• Super creepy when the alien shows up in the audience, and then turns into the psychiatrist.  Or at least that’s what I thought until I realized that the alien in the audience is someone different than the psychiatrist.  But it’s still very creepy.

• Disturbing and sad when the female inmate starts speaking into the spoon

• And surprising again when Riker wakes up back on the Enterprise

• The play itself seems pretty good but it’s a bit that it ends with the character ranting “I’m not crazy!  I’m not crazy!”

• Cute bit when Troi tells Riker that everyone understands the pressure he’s under, and then Data congratulations Riker on his portrayal of multi-infart dementia.  “Well,” says Troi after Data has gone, “maybe not everyone understands.”

• We don’t see any scenes without Riker, including exteriors of the ship, during the hallucination / dream, but we do see lots of moments where people are looking at Riker and he doesn’t notice them at that moment. Not that it bothers me though.

• Worf, Troi and Picard are good picks for Riker’s holographic emotions.  I like the fact that they are wearing three different coloured uniforms.

• In this episode, only Riker, Worf, Picard, Troi and Beverly are actually real, amongst the main characters.

Dialogue High Point
For how great an episode it is, there isn’t that much dialog that’s especially cool. But I did like Data’s line as Riker is trying to figure out to act this character:

Most humanoids have the potential to be irrational. Perhaps you should attempt to access that part of your psyche.

Previous Episode: The Chase • Next Episode: Suspicions

 

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