Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Schisms”

“Schisms”
Written by Jean Louise Matthias & Ron Wilkerson and Brannon Braga
Directed by Robert Wiemer
Season 6, Episode 5
Production episode 40276-231
Original air date: October 19, 1992
Stardate: 46154.2

Captain’s Log: Riker is having trouble sleeping. He eventually stumbles his way to engineering to get a report from Data and La Forge. The Enterprise is charting the Amargosa Diaspora, a massive globular cluster, and La Forge may have found a way to cut down on the time it would take to scan the place.

Data holds a poetry reading. It goes about as well as you’d expect, to an audience that is torn between running screaming from the room and stabbing themselves in the eyes with hot pokers, and only do neither out of respect for Data – respect that is dwindling with each monotone-delivered stanza. Riker in particular can barely keep his eyes open.

Riker finally visits sickbay. He’s been sleeping a full night, but he wakes up exhausted and irritable. Crusher finds nothing wrong with him, so she prescribes a hot toddy (another of Picard’s aunt Adele’s remedies). Also at one point, Riker snaps at Crusher when she holds her Feinberger near Riker’s forehead.

Data then does something horrible—he asks La Forge what he thought of the poems. La Forge damns with faint praise—they were all “clever,” but they didn’t evoke an emotional response. Their talk is interrupted by the sensors picking up an EPS explosion in Cargo Bay 4. La Forge and Data send security and medical there, and they go themselves, but upon arrival, everything’s fine. It’s probably a sensor glitch—something went wrong with the upgrade.

The next morning, La Forge goes to Riker’s quarters to make sure he’s awake, as Riker had requested the night before. Riker feels like he just went to bed when La Forge arrives.

Worf arrives at the barber to get a trim from Mr. Mot. When the barber’s scissors go near his forehead, he grabs Mot’s arm. Then, obviously disturbed, Worf leaves.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

La Forge gives Riker a report on the sensor malfunction in Cargo Bay 4, and then, as he’s talking to Data, his VISOR cuts out—which had happened once earlier that day, too. Crusher finds a bacterial infection near his neural inputs- but it’s not a bacteria the computer recognizes.

When he’s done, he checks on Data – who thinks it’s only been a minute since La Forge left. Somehow, Data has lost a chunk of time. That’s three malfunctions in Cargo Bay 4—the sensor glitch, Data’s lost time, and La Forge’s VISOR cutting out—so La Forge calls in a diagnostic team to the bay.

The team soon detects a subspace emission inside the bay – sure enough, a spot on the bulkhead is glowing. The metal is in a state of flux, and appears to be converted to tetryons, which should be unstable in this universe. They can’t explain it.

On the bridge, Riker freaks out when he briefly sits at the conn to help Ensign Rager with something. He goes to Troi, who reveals that Riker’s one of several people to come to her with some kind of emotional response to an everyday object.

Troi decides to have a group therapy session. Riker, Worf, La Forge, and a civilian named Kaminer all have vague recollection of smooth, cold surfaces, a table of some kind. Riker suggests going to the holodeck to try to re-create what they each recall: a metal table at an angle, on which they all remember laying. A restraining arm was on their chest, and there was an armature on the head of the table, with a double-bladed tool at the end of it. There was also clicking. All four of them had been in that room.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

Crusher examines all four—they’ve got rising serotonin levels, thanks to a neural sedative, and Crusher has detected minute tetryon particles in their bodies, which should be impossible. Data also reports that he was off the Enterprise during the period he can’t remember. In addition, Riker’s right arm has been amputated and surgically reattached.

Picard asks the computer if any crew members are unaccounted for: two are missing, Lieutenant Edward Hagler and Ensign Sariel Rager. It’s not long before Hagler is returned, but he’s dying, his blood transforming into a polymer.

There’s now a small fissure in the middle of Cargo Bay 4, and the tetryon emissions have intensified. They can stop the emissions with a graviton pulse, but they don’t know where to send it, because subspace is so convoluted, it’s impossible to track what part of subspace people are being taken to. Worf suggests a homing beacon, which can be attached to Riker, who has, after all, been taken every night. Crusher has to give him a neural stimulant to counteract the sedative.

As he lies down to “sleep,” Riker sees a fissure open in his quarters, and he is pulled through the air into it. He winds up on a metal table that looks very much like the one created on the holodeck. Rager is on another table, eyes wide open, tubes going in and out of one arm. Aliens in cloaks are wandering about, talking in their click-filled language.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

The Enterprise tracks Riker’s homing beacon and starts the graviton pulse. However, the aliens are able to counter it. La Forge fights back, and eventually is able to close the rift – but not before Riker is able to grab Rager and jump through the rift back to the Enterprise. There’s no longer any sign of the aliens. La Forge theorizes that their sensor modification got the attention of the aliens, who live in subspace, and couldn’t survive in the Enterprise’s universe. Data theorizes that they’re explorers like them, but Riker counters that, given what they did, including killing Hagler, they’re not quite like the Enterprise.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: A particle is born! This episode marks the first mention of “tetryons,” a particle whose characteristics are mutable depending entirely upon the needs of the plot. For something Picard says can’t remain stable in this universe, it winds up having buttloads of applications: tetryon pulse launchers, compressed tetryon beam weapons (I guess the compressed tetryons give you more bang for the buck than the expanded ones), tetryon compositors, tetryon power cells, tetryon signaling devices, and SO MUCH MORE! Also subspace is apparently like a honeycomb, with lots of levels and and stuff, which is mostly so it can take longer for La Forge to track Riker and make Act 5 a bit longer.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: This episode highlights why having a shrink on board is useful, as Troi expertly teases out the images from Riker, Worf, La Forge, and Kaminer so they can re-create the abduction site on the holodeck.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Having tackled music, painting, and procreation, Data’s latest exploration of the human condition is to write poetry. The poems are exactly what you’d expect from Data: technically brilliant, specific in descriptions, low on imagery, and utterly bereft of passion. As an added bonus, he reads it in his usual flat tone, make it even more boring. Great stuff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Another case of the holodeck being used as an investigative tool (viz. “Booby Trap,” “A Matter of Perspective,” “Identity Crisis”), in this case four people who all remember the same thing trying to re-create what they recall.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf apparently gets his hair cut by Mr. Mot—and he cut it too short last time. He also saves the day by coming up with the homing beacon notion, and is particularly unimpressed by Data’s poem. After one reading, he pointedly claps exactly five times, and then puts his hands in his lap.

In the Driver’s Seat: This is the final appearance of Ensign Rager, who still gets no credit for her nifty piloting work last week, but does get a first name, Sariel.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

I Believe I Said That:Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature. / An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.”

The opening line to “Ode to Spot” by Data. It doesn’t actually get any better.

Welcome Aboard: Keeping it in the family this week, with Lanei Chapman making her fourth and final guest shot as Rager, Ken Thorley making his second and final guest shot as Mot (though the barber will continue to be referenced), and Angelina Fiordellisi, Scott T. Trost, John Nelson, and Tyce Bune filling out the cast as Kaminer, Shipley, the medtech, and Hagler, respectively.

Trivial Matters: Though it’s left open for the subspace aliens to return, they are never seen again. (Probably still plotting with the creatures from “Conspiracy”…)

Data’s poetry will be heard again, more’s the pity, in “A Fistful of Datas.”

Co-producer Wendy Neuss, sound editor Jim Wolvington, and supervising sound editor Bill Wistrom were tasked with creating the aliens’ clicks, and they actually built it into an entire language, rather than simply playing random noise. They wrote a script for the aliens in English, and then “translated” it into clicks.

A hot milk toddy is the latest Aunt Adele remedy, following ginger tea in “Ensign Ro” and warm milk with nutmeg in “Cause and Effect.”

Although it’s her last on-screen appearance, Rager is seen again in the Titan series of novels as one of the conn officers on Riker’s first command, and also makes a completely contradictory appearance in Michael Jan Friedman’s Death in Winter.

Make it So: “Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses / Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.” This episode encapsulates the best and worst of a Brannon Braga script. The former can be found in the little character touches, particularly Data’s poetry. Indeed, the poems are an absolute tour de force of wretchedness, as the poetry isn’t just bad, but exactly the kind of bad Data’s poems would be. They all rhyme skillfully, the meter is perfect, the descriptions are technically accurate – just perfectly done. And the scene where La Forge is trying desperately not to tell his best friend that he’s an awful poet is hilarious. (I kept expecting him to channel Hawkeye in the M*A*S*H episode “Dear Uncle Abdul,” where he spares Father Mulchahy’s feelings about a mediocre war song he’s trying to compose by saying, “It rhymes a lot!”) The early psychological tension of the mystery is well handled, as well, through Riker’s sleeping issues.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

Unfortunately, there’s way too much of the latter. The notion of the Enterprise crew being abducted by aliens isn’t a bad one – but then, Braga generally is good with the high concept, it’s the execution that tends to lack, and it definitely does here.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of the episode is that the group therapy session as the four crewmembers struggle to remember their abduction experiences has more tension than the alleged climax. Mostly that’s due to everything being wholly dependent on made-up science: tetryons, subspace, “solanogen-based lifeforms,” whatever that means, and so on.

Also, if the aliens only found out about them due to La Forge’s sensor adjustments, why was Riker having trouble sleeping before La Forge made those modifications?

The mystery has its appeal—though it was blown on first airing by the coming attractions giving away the abduction angle, thus spoiling it—and honestly the whole episode’s worth it for Data’s dreadful poetry, but this episode ultimately is a whole lotta meh.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Schisms

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido has never been abducted by aliens. Probably.

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