Written by Shari Goodhartz and Pamela Douglas and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Les Landau
Season 4, Episode 17
Production episode 40274-191
Original air date: March 18, 1991
Captain’s Log: The U.S.S. Brittain has been missing for about a month. The Enterprise finds it adrift in a binary star system. Life sign readings are inconclusive, likewise Troi’s empathic senses — there’s life, but she’s not sure what it is.
Riker beams over with Data, Worf, Crusher, and Troi. They find the bridge crew all dead at their posts — it looks like they were murdered — and a Betazoid hiding in a corridor just off the bridge, catatonic. He’s Andrus Hagan, a scientific advisor, and he’s the only survivor. Some were found barricaded in their quarters stockpiling weapons, others were obviously killed in combat in the corridors.
Crusher takes the bodies back to the Enterprise, where her autopsies reveal that they were all perfectly healthy, but they all killed each other. Captain Zaheva’s last log entry indicates paranoia, possibly schizophrenia and/or sleep deprivation. She speaks of having had her first officer killed after he sabotaged the engines.
La Forge and Data can get the Brittain’s engines running again, but it doesn’t work. After four days with no answers, Picard orders La Forge to get the Brittain ready for towing. The ensign who accompanies La Forge hears voices on the ship, but La Forge doesn’t hear anything.
Troi has a nightmare that sees her floating unconvincingly in a weird cloudy field with a voice saying incomprehensible things. O’Brien has a fight with Keiko, then goes to Ten-Forward where Gillespie tells him about weird things happening on the ship, like people seeing ghosts. Picard hears the door chime ring half a dozen times with nobody there, to the point where when it does ring for real, he ignores it, forcing Troi and Crusher to knock on the door. They report that there are odd behaviors all over the ship.
Another six days pass with the Enterprise immobile. Data eventually determines that they are trapped in a Tyken’s Rift, a phenomenon that drains energy. Tyken got out of it by using a massive explosion, but nothing on the Enterprise can create an explosion that big, especially with power levels reduced. What’s worse, Tyken reported nothing like what happened on the Brittain or is happening now on the Enterprise.
Picard and Riker confess to each other that they’ve both been snappish and irritable, and had odd senses of paranoia. Picard orders Riker to take a nap, try to get some rest in the hopes of one or both of them managing to maintain control. Riker returns to his cabin and imagines snakes in his bed.
After hallucinating the turbolift crushing him, Picard confides in Data — the only one who seems unaffected — that he will be relying on the android a lot. (He also reminisces about his grandfather deteriorating from what sounds like dementia.)
Crusher, after imagining the bodies of the Brittain crew are all sitting upright, realizes that nobody on the ship has been having dreams — except for Troi, who’s been having nightmares. Examination of the brain tissue of some of the Brittain crew as well as that of a random sampling of Enterprise crew, reveals a chemical imbalance that is blocking everyone’s REM sleep. They’re not dreaming, and it’s causing all the symptoms they’re experiencing.
They try channeling power through the deflector dish, but the rift just absorbs the energy. Worf suddenly leaves the bridge. Troi follows to just barely stop him from killing himself.
Data takes over as acting captain, as Picard and Riker are no longer able to function. Troi has been continuing to sit with Hagan, and she realizes that his seemingly random babbling is very similar to the images and words she’s heard in her nightmares.
Troi theorizes that there is another ship trapped in the rift, and that they’re communicating telepathically — first with Hagan, now with Troi. But their telepathy is interfering with the REM sleep of other humanoids. Troi wants to use directed dreaming, a therapeutic technique she’s used on people with nightmares, to send a message back during her dreams.
Data hopes to combine efforts with the other ship in the hopes that they can collaborate on creating an explosion that they can’t create individually. He is going through an inventory of elements on the Enterprise, but Troi says this is too complex. However one of the images is of a hydrogen atom — an electron orbiting a proton — and Troi realizes that one of the nonsense phrases from her dream, “one moon circling,” might be their way of describing a hydrogen atom. If they’re thinking the same thing, they may be trying to communicate what it is they need. The Enterprise can easily send out a stream of hydrogen.
That seems to do the trick, as the other ship is able to use the hydrogen to create the necessary explosion, freeing all three ships. (Well, two ships, since we don’t see the Brittain for some reason.) Data then sets course for a starbase and orders everyone to bed, with no mention made of the Brittain, nor of trying to communicate further with these aliens who are, among other things, responsible for the deaths of 34 people on the Brittain.
Can’t we Just Reverse the Polarity?: Keiko lets loose with an impressive stream of botanical technobabble when she’s describing her day to O’Brien.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is the only person on the ship who dreams, finding herself constantly in the world’s most unconvincing special effect, floating in a cloudy area while having aliens say cryptic things to her. But she does figure it out eventually, thus saving everyone’s bacon (with help from Data).
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s presence is the only thing that keeps the ship going, as he does not sleep or dream. (At least not yet...)
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf has an elaborate altar set up to help him kill himself. One gets the feeling that he got it ready as things were growing worse, and finally decided to take his own life when the deflector-dish trick didn’t work. He believes he is no longer a warrior, that he’s not strong enough to face what they’re fighting.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Rager returns until she forgets how to input coordinates, at which point she’s replaced by Ensign Lin.
Syntheholics Anonymous: When Gillespie starts rabble rousing in Ten-Forward, Guinan tries to calm him to no avail. Eventually, he starts a bar brawl, which Guinan cuts short by firing a really big gun into the ceiling. “That was setting number one. Anyone wanna see setting number two?”
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: In an interesting foreshadowing of things to come, Troi offers her hand to Worf when she walks him out of his quarters following his abortive suicide attempt.
I Believe I Said That: “Sir, as my final duty as acting captain, I order you to bed.”
Data, sending Picard to bed without his supper.
Welcome Aboard: John Vickery plays the first of three roles on Trek, and the only one where he doesn’t have a prosthetic forehead. He’ll be back in the recurring role of Rusot in the end-of-the-Dominion-War story arc on Deep Space Nine, and play a Klingon lawyer in Enterprise’s “Judgment.” He has one of the best voices ever, though this episode doesn’t make nearly enough use of it.
Duke Moosekian is only worth mentioning for his name. He was born Shaun Duke Moosekian, and most of the time he’s credited as Shaun Duke, which is a much more boring name. He played Gillespie, who was mainly there to show how the rest of the crew was reacting.
Trivial Matters: Apparently Marina Sirtis has a fear of heights, so the terror on her face when she was floating in a harness in the dream sequences was genuine.
The trick of channeling power through the deflector dish is the same one they tried against the Borg in “The Best of Both Worlds.” It didn’t work this time, either.
REM sleep is usually pronounced as a word, not an abbreviation, but aside from one line from Troi, everyone said “are-ee-em sleep,” making it sound like everyone was going to bed while listening to the band for which Michael Stipe is the lead singer.
Make it So: “Eyes in the dark — one moon circles.” This is a relentlessly mediocre episode. Points for getting the science right — lack of REM sleep would have these very effects — though it also requires two time jumps to make it convincing. The Enterprise spends ten days in the rift before they even figure out what it is, which strains credulity given what we’ve seen Starfleet sensors accomplish before. But it takes that long for the cumulative effect of lack of REM sleep to be noticeable, so it needed to be that long for the plot to work.
For an episode with “terrors” in the title, it’s nowhere near as suspenseful as it should be. The promise of the teaser — the crew of the Brittain all killed violently — is never really followed up on. Aside from the abortive bar brawl, and O’Brien’s rather cruel treatment of Keiko, the only effects we see are the bridge crew all acting hazy. There’s very little sign of the violence that hit the Brittain, which drains the suspense from the episode. There’s not enough of a sense of urgency. The episode has similarities to “The Tholian Web” from the original series, but that episode had much more of a sense of danger, not just from the crew going crazy (seen via Chekov’s breakdown), but from the Tholians.
And then in the end, the Enterprise just flies off, apparently leaving the Brittain behind, with no attempt made to communicate with the aliens. If nothing else, they should perhaps have been told that their attempts at communication resulted in the death of 34 people. For that matter, what happened to poor Hagan after they left the rift? Did he recover?
Plus, Troi floating in space is quite possibly the lamest special effect in TNG’s entire run.
Jonathan Frakes once described this episode as a “yawner,” and that’s as good a word as any. Unfortunate that an episode about sleep disorder mostly just puts the viewer to sleep.
Warp factor rating: 3
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that it’s the nominating period for the Parsec Awards. You should totally go to their web site and nominate the podcasts he’s involved with: The Chronic Rift, The Dome, HG World, and, of course, Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast.