Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Phantasms”

“Phantasms”
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Season 7, Episode 6
Production episode 40276-258
Original air date: October 25, 1993
Stardate: 47225.7

Captain’s Log: Data walks down an empty Enterprise corridor. The use of fisheye lenses suggests something odd. He meets La Forge, who is just standing randomly against a bulkhead. They talk about the installation of a new warp core, but La Forge never moves, and there’s an odd echo to his voice.

When Data reaches an intersection, he hears a phone ringing and sees three guys who look like 19th century railroad workers using pickaxes and sledgehammers to dismantle a bulkhead and a warp plasma conduit.

The phone keeps ringing.

Data tells them to stop, but they ignore him. Then he opens his mouth and emits a really irritating high-pitched noise. Then, the workers react, telling him to be quiet and ripping off his left arm, his right leg, and finally his head.

Then Data wakes up.

The Enterprise pootles away from a starbase, having just installed a new warp core that they’re about to test. Meanwhile, Picard has been invited to the Starfleet Admirals’ Banquet, to which Riker gravely replies, “My condolences.” He’s managed to get out of it for each of the past six years, and he’s run out of excuses. He’s gonna have to go.

In engineering, as La Forge and Data do final checks on the new warp core, Data queries La Forge on the subject of nightmares. He’s dreamt 111 times since discovering the dream program back in “Birthright, Part I,” but this is the first time he’s encountered such disturbing, unpleasant imagery. La Forge figures he’s just found a new level to the program.

Meanwhile, La Forge has troubles of his own, as there’s a new ensign in engineering named Tyler who’s totally crushing on him. It’s making La Forge very uncomfortable (though some would argue that it’s no less than he deserves).

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

After getting a nudzh from Picard on the bridge, La Forge initializes the new core. Picard orders warp drive—

—and the ship doesn’t move. La Forge realigns a warp plasma conduit, but then activating warp drive drains power from the ship. Data fixes that problem, but it’ll take a couple of hours to fix the warp engines.

Troi drops in on Data, who is observing Spot asleep, and wondering what the cat dreams about. Data is considering whether or not to reactivate his dream program, and Troi encourages him to do so.

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

In this dream, Data is in Ten-Forward. Worf is eating a piece of what he describes as cellular peptide cake with mint frosting. The phone starts ringing again. Crusher is at the bar with Riker. She’s sipping from a straw that’s stuck in Riker’s right temple, presumably sucking his brains out (assuming she can find them, anyhow). Riker, while having his brains sucked out by a doctor (which I repeat only because that never gets old), encourages Data to answer the phone.

He follows the ringing to the railroad workmen again, who are standing around a cake shaped like a torso wearing a blue Starfleet uniform. Troi’s head is atop the cake, begging Data not to hurt her.

The workmen hand Data a knife, and he cuts into Troi’s “shoulder.” Troi screams at Data some more—and then it turns out it’s Troi really calling his name in Data’s cabin, with La Forge and Worf by her side. Data’s dream program was supposed to deactivate 35 minutes earlier, but it failed to do so. When he didn’t report to engineering, La Forge grew understandably concerned and called Worf and Troi.

La Forge looks him over, but everything checks out. Data decides to re-create Sigmund Freud on the holodeck. Freud’s interpretation of the dream is that it’s a clash of id and superego, a classic “dismantlement” dream (an android’s variant on a dismemberment dream), and that the Troi cake is him wanting to devour his own mother. (Data’s comment that he doesn’t have a mother doesn’t even slow Freud down.) Once he gets into Data’s sexual desires and alleged impotence (Freud obviously didn’t get the “fully functional” memo), Data realizes that this is a waste of time and deactivates the holodeck.

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

While waiting not-very-patiently for the warp core to come back online, Picard gets a call from Admiral Nakamura, who wants to know why Picard hasn’t shown up for the banquet yet. Picard assures the admiral that he’s really looking forward to the banquet, honest, and that they’ll have warp drive back really soon. Nakamura does not sound even a little bit convinced as he signs off.

This time the ship almost goes into warp, but then the warp field collapses, with the power converters blowing, and wiping out impulse engines, too.

In engineering, La Forge hands Data a brace coil that looks just like the knife he used to cut the Troi cake in his dream. He then sees a small mouth open on the back of La Forge’s neck and hears the phone ring again. Riker appears in engineering, with the straw still sticking out of his temple, telling him to answer it. The phone turns out to be inside Data’s torso. He answers it to Freud’s voice urging him to kill them.

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

La Forge then puts a hand on Data’s shoulder, and he’s back in engineering for real, holding the brace coil to his ear. Data immediately goes to Troi, who would normally say he was having a waking dream. But that would appear to be impossible for Data. Troi thinks that Data may be developing a neurosis, and she wants to start having regular counseling sessions. She also wants him to turn off the dream program until their next session.

After getting a very cranky communiqué from Nakamura, Picard goes down to engineering and starts hovering and making everyone crazy. Tyler then endears herself to La Forge by giving Picard some busywork that gets him out of their hair. La Forge then turns to ask Data something—but he’s gone.

Troi walks through the corridors of the ship, apprehensive as hell. Then Data shows up in the turbolift and starts stabbing Troi in the shoulder (the same spot on the Troi cake that he cut) with the brace coil.

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

Data—who is now surrounded by Worf and two other security guards—explains that he had another waking dream. He saw a mouth on Troi’s shoulder, similar to the one he saw on La Forge’s neck, and was overcome with the need to destroy it. Picard relieves Data of duty and confines him to quarters.

In sickbay, Crusher heals Troi’s wound, but she finds a rash where the wound was. A scan reveals cellular degradation and an interphasic signature of some kind. Using an interphasic scanner, Crusher finds a tiny creature living on Troi’s shoulder. She found another on her own arm, and a scan of Riker and Picard reveals one on the former’s temple (right where the straw was in Data’s dream) and the latter’s neck. They’re parasites that feed on cellular peptides. The crew quickly realizes that there are several links between Data’s dreams and these interphasic creatures, and they may explain his odd behavior.

La Forge links Data’s neural net to the ship’s computer so that his dreams will play out on the holodeck. Picard and La Forge follow Data as he walks down a corridor toward Ten-Forward. The phone rings. Data offers Picard a piece of cellular peptide cake (with, Worf quickly adds with his mouth full, mint frosting). The phone keeps ringing, and Riker, with Crusher still sucking his brains through a straw (seriously, that never gets old!), again urges someone to answer the damn thing. Picard answers the phone in Data’s chest, where Freud again urges “Kill them!” The scene changes to Freud’s office. The phone rings again, and then the three workmen show up, shooting Freud and then ripping apart a part of the wall, which exposes the plasma conduit they installed with the new warp core. The workmen try to destroy it. Data makes the high-pitched noise again, and it hurts the workmen.

Data says he understands, and the dream program ends. Data has La Forge alter his subprocessors so he emits an interphasic pulse. This makes the creatures go away. It turns out that the creatures were in the new plasma conduit that came with the warp core, which used a new interphasic process that attracted the creatures. They lay dormant until the warp core activated. They’ll need to fashion a new plasma conduit, which will take six hours, forcing Picard to completely miss the banquet. He is, of course, totally devastated by this. Really.

Meanwhile, Troi turns the tables on Data by bringing him a Data-shaped cake that they share.

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

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

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Interphasic creatures can only be detected by an interphasic scanner. Regular tricorders and sensors don’t pick them up. Which kinda sucks when they’re leeching away your cellular peptides.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi, in addition to doing an impersonation of Alice in Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” music video, tells Data that he’s the first patient she’s ever had who was excited about the possibility of a new neurosis.

If I Only Had a Brain…: When activating his dream program, Data “sleeps” in a bed with covers on—but is still in full uniform, down to his boots. He also pretends to yawn and smacks his lips before going to bed.

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

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is not at all happy that Riker has gotten Alexander interested in jazz, which he describes as “screeching, pounding dissonance.”

Worf also, to his regret, agrees to take care of Spot while Data is confined to quarters. Data asks him to feed him, provide him with a sandbox, and talk to him, telling him he’s a pretty cat. In response, Worf glares at Data and says, “I will feed him.” Seeing the expression on Worf’s face, Data agrees that that will be sufficient.

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

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Despite having a full-time shrink on the bridge, Data decides to have a session with Sigmund Freud on the holodeck. It’s more of a caricature of Freud than any kind of accurate representation, with simplistic references to Oedipal complexes, constant use of “classic” to define notions that were brand-new when Freud was practicing, and generally portraying Freud as an egotistical schmuck more interested in writing papers than helping patients.

Later, the holodeck is again used for research, as Data’s dream program is hooked up to it, enabling Picard and La Forge to observe the android’s dream. (At no point are there any electric sheep…)

In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Gates is the pilot once again, and she gets named in this episode (though she still doesn’t have any dialogue).

I Believe I Said That: “Dreams are the royal road to the knowledge of the mind.”

Troi, quoting Sigmund Freud, which is about the only useful thing Freud provides in the episode.

Welcome Aboard: Clyde Kusatsu reprises his role of Admiral Nakamura from “The Measure of a Man”; he’ll be back in the finale “All Good Things…” Gina Ravarra (Tyler) and Bernard Kates (Freud) compete for the distinction of who is the most annoying guest star in the episode.

Trivial Matters: This episode is the first time Data’s dream program has been referenced since it was activated in “Birthright, Part I,” which Data says was nine months earlier.

Data only thinks he has no mother—four episodes hence, in “Inheritance,” he’ll learn that he does have one.

Your humble rewatcher will establish that Alexander’s love of jazz will continue on into adulthood in A Time for War, a Time for Peace.

Obviously, Riker’s right temple is not a safe place—it gets a parasite and a straw sticking out of it this episode, and it was fairly well abused in “Frame of Mind” (also a Brannon Braga script) as well.

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

When this episode aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom, the scene of Data stabbing Troi was trimmed.

Make it So: “Sometimes a cake is just a cake.” I am second to no one in my admiration of Sir Patrick Stewart as an actor. He is brilliant, subtle, complex, magnificent in front of a camera—or, as I discovered when seeing his one-person A Christmas Carol, and again when he did The Tempest on Broadway, on stage.

But man, is he a lousy director.

While he doesn’t do quite as poorly with this episode as his previous directorial endeavors (the mediocre “In Theory,” the lifeless “Hero Worship,” the nigh-embarrassing “A Fistful of Datas”), it’s still a shadow of what it could’ve been. Then again, that’s also true of the script. Brannon Braga has trod this territory before, but where Winrich Kolbe really went the extra mile in making Data’s dreamscape surreal in “Birthright, Part I,” and James L. Conway amped up the mind-frell in “Frame of Mind,” this episode is, like Stewart’s other turns behind the camera, flat and lifeless.

The episode has its moments, but most of them are unrelated to what passes for the plot. The subplot of the Admirals’ Banquet is kinda fun (it’s the sort of bureaucratic self-congratulatory nonsense that people in charge of large organizations love to torture the people below them with), it’s nice to see La Forge be on the receiving end of someone’s creepy attentions for a change (and unlike La Forge, Tyler actually redeems herself by getting a mother-henning Picard off of La Forge’s hands), and I love that Riker has decided to torture Worf by getting Alexander into jazz. Plus, you gotta admire an episode that calls back to a Tom Petty music video.

But overall, it’s kinda dumb. Putting Sigmund Freud in there adds nothing to the story and just makes Data look stupid—seriously, what possible use could the advice of a 19th-century psychoanalyst be to a 24th-century android?—made worse by it being a particularly stereotypical, clichéd version of Dr. Freud. And for the second time in recent memory (after “Descent”), Troi has some seriously interesting psychological conversations with Data, only to have it be totally undercut by technobabble nonsense. Indeed that applies to the entire episode, as everything that’s fascinating about the plot is cut off at the knees by it being nonsense aliens buried in the made-up technology that’s solved by some more made-up technology.

On the other hand, the episode did give us the first ever android smart phone. So there’s that.

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido is at Arisia 2013 this weekend in Boston. Check out his schedule here.

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