Sep 28 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Schisms”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Schisms


Warp factor rating: 4

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

1. StrongDreams
I believe it's Freiburger.
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
I watched this episode for the first time pretty recently and have to agree on the "meh" of it. The idea of human astronauts being X-filed by alien astronauts is pretty nifty but yeah, something seemed to be missing. I think part of my problem is that, just like Nirvana, the 'alien abduction' angle got totally beaten to death in the 90s and early 00s, precisely thanx to Mulder & Scully being as popular as they were, and it just tasted a little stale to me.

add-on: Also, this struck me as one of those "left hanging" threads that you find in the older episodic shows; you'd think that Riker and crew would spend the next several months in therapy trying to work through it (I mean, seriously, his arm was amputated and reattached? That's gotta be a couple of sessions by itself!) I recognize that it probably happened behind the scenes but, like people mentioned when we discussed Picard/Kamin a couple of posts ago, shows now seem to have more of an arc, with repercussions and "feelings" and stuff, so I think I'm expecting it now and notice it when it's not there.
Katy Maziarz
3. ArtfulMagpie
I actually LOVE the Ode to Spot. It's hilarious! I mean, okay, sure, it's not Leaves of Grass or the Wasteland or anything, but it's kind of brilliant in its own special, androidy way. I quote it at my cat all the time!
4. Sean O'Hara
To me this episode has always been one of the few highlights of the sixth season -- the series really needed more Riker Must Suffer episodes.

There is one huge hole though -- Picard's final log blatantly contradicts the episode itself when he claims that all crewmembers are safe and accounted for. Makes you wonder if Starfleet had some reason for covering up the death.
Benji Cat
5. benjicat
Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal 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 emotion.
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.

I liked this episode both for Data's poetry and also for the use of the holodeck to recreate the table. I liked the clever demonstration of how the holodeck could be used for something constructive besides recreation and training.
William Frank
6. scifantasy
Here's your "Ode to Spot" any better when set to music?

Music by Ookla the Mok.

The Doubleclicks also have a version, but I don't see any mp3s or YouTubes available.
7. critter42
Hokay, where do I begin? I really love the holodeck scene because it shows it being used as an investigative tool again. Whenever I watch it I always think how useful something like that would be at recreating scenes for criminal investigations and the like - the ultimate evolution of the Sketch Artist (I mean look at Angela's magic computer on Bones....I'm expecting it to start calling itself Skynet soon :) ).

And does it show my unsophistication that I really like Data's poetry? I smile every time at the line you quoted above.

I have to bump it just a touch and give it a 5 just because it was Riker that was abducted/poked/prodded by the alien race rather than Picard or Troi for once...
8. DRickard
ArtfulMagpie: you read "Ode to Spot" to your cat? Someone call the ASPCA!
Keith DeCandido
9. krad
StrongDreams: You are INCORRECT! *cheeky grin* It really is Feinberger.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Elizabeth Heckert
10. silhouettepoms
OK I was 9 when this aired... and I recall finding the clicking aliens COMPLETELY FREAKY AND DISTURBING. I was downright afraid of this episode for a while. lol...
11. StrongDreams
OK, but...

...I had the making of Star Trek book back in the '70s, are you sure it wasn't "get me a Feinberg" (his name) rather than "get me a Feinberger"?'s hardly my fault anyway since Freiberger's name was in the credits and Feinberg's name was not.

Oh well.
Elizabeth Heckert
12. silhouettepoms
Of course I found the whole concept of alien abduction completely freaky as a young child. I used to get freaked out thinking an alien was watching me through my bedroom window at night, etc. I remember seeing an ad for a TV show one afternoon (one of those "Unsolved Mysteries" or mysterious happenings type shows) that made some reference to a child disappearing and an alien and I was so freaked I ran out of the house to find my dad (who was doing yard work) to tell him something scarey was on the TV. His response... turn it off. Ah. I guess but how will that keep me SAFE FROM THE ALIENS.

Strange to think that by 12 yrs old I was watching The X-Files every week.
13. lburns05
I like the poem about spot.
15. tigeraid
@10: me too, I was absolutely terrified the first time I saw this episode (I would've only been 12 at the time)... The clicking sounds and the creepy music in the holodeck, with the commercial break, was done really really well. Couldn't sleep after it.

Looking back on it now though, yeah, it's a little more mediocre. But still entertaining.
16. Don3Comp
Did the mass sleep deprivation remind anyone else of "Night Terrors?" Good creepy suspense, though (the clicking noise was just chilling); I wish these aliens had gotten another episode.

Like everyone else, I enjoyed the "Ode to Spot."

@2: Good point about the abductees needing therapy by rights. It took Picard at least one more episode ("Family") to get over his abduction by the Borg, and "I, Borg" proves that the incident was (understandably) still lodged in his psyche. But the abductees in this episode are expected to get over it before the following week. The difference, I guess, is that these aliens are (as yet) unnamed, and the officers in question were lower in rank than the captain.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
17. Lisamarie
First of all, before I go any further or read the comments:


What is WRONG with those plebes on the Enterprise, anyway???? I was also a huge fan of the end of the Sunset poem, as it made me laugh and is totally the kind of thing I'd probably do on a date (or squee if happened to me on a date - yes, PLEASE, let's talk about the science behind it all!)

Seriously way better than 99% of any poetry I've ever had to read or listen to. I thought it was clever AND heartfelt, as heartfelt as somebody who claims not to experience emotions can be. I always love that Data still tries to cultivate interests in art, beauty, poetry, etc. AND HE HAS A KITTY.
Lee VanDyke
18. Cloric
I'm going to guess that Worf shared his poor barbershop experience with Troi, as well, since Marina Sirtis' hairdresser did an abysmal job this week. Or is there a seperate beauty shop? Do the women ever mention getting their hair done? I can't seem to remember.
Joseph Newton
19. crzydroid
I would much rather listen to Data's poetry than any actual poetry. I thought it was very emotionally the one poem, Data is talking about how he goes on this date but they were totally annoyed by him explaining the sunset, even though the person totally asked. It made me feel very sympathetic for Data. Likewise, I didn't think he spoke in monotone...for a college class one time, we had some professional poetry expert come in and read a poem the way it was "meant" to be read, and I can tell you that Data's reading had a lot more emotion and inflection than that guy's did. I've also decided that poetry lends itself in general much better to singing than to reading.

Otherwise, for this episode, I guess I liked how they made the "real" table used by the aliens slightly different from the holodeck version.
Joseph Newton
20. crzydroid
@18 Cloric: There is the scene in the host where Beverly goes to the spa or whatever it is, and Deanna's always in there.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
21. Lisamarie
OMG Krad you totally do not appreciate greatness. I didn't find the poetry passionless or monotone at all. Granted, I am not big on flashy, showy emotions, but I still thought there was feeling behind it. And I love Data's particular cadence.

My husband also totally asked about Riker having the problems BEFORE the modifications were made too. Maybe he had been experimenting on it? Also, what is up with Picard saying the crew are all safe and sound? And then right after that tehy mention that that poor guy DIED.

I loved the holodeck scene it was very creepy, and I used to be really freaked out by alien abduction/Unsolved Mysteries as a kid so it totally resonated with me. My biggest complaint is similar to other episodes that introduce powerful baddies (like the aliens who could apparently wipe every memory and computer bank in the Enterprise and rewrite history) - you just never really hear from them again.
Lee VanDyke
22. Cloric
@20 crzydroid:

totally forgot about that!
23. Sanagi
I cut this episode some slack for what it does right, like putting Troi and the holodeck to good and entirely logical use. And of course, Data's poetry.

The thing that most annoys me about it is that the computer doesn't automatically sound an alert when a crewmember randomly disappears, instead waiting for someone to ask.
Todd Otto
24. indianatrekker26
Hey Krad, a quick note to you. In the tie-in fiction, specifically the 1989-1995 DC Star Trek TNG comic, Mike Friedman did bring the solanogen-based lifeforms back in issues 77-78 of that series. But you don't really find out all that much more about the aliens in that two parter.
27. RichF
My comment didn't make it twice with Firefox, so I'm trying with Internet Explorer.

My one nitpick with the discussion of "Ode to Spot" is that the way it starts should actually be written as a question:

Felis catus, is your taxonomic nomenclature, / An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature?”

For one thing, it is unlikely Data would have written a sentence fragment in the second line. For another, when "Ode to Spot" appears on Riker's script during Dr. Crusher's dramatic reading in the sixth season episode "A Fistful of Datas", Riker reads the line as a question.
Alan Courchene
28. Majicou
@27: Well, it's really the other way around. Both Spiner and Frakes read it wrong. "Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature" is a statement. The two lines can't make sense as a question. The second line is a sentence fragment, but that's poetry. It doesn't have to proceed in sentences.
29. Erik Dercf
This episode is one I remember well. I like how they are abductees. This episode has a xfiles vibe to it. The cat sonnet is wonderful when set to music.
30. Edgar Governo
Since a lot of people (myself included) really like "Ode to Spot," perhaps Keith could go into some more detail about why he considers it a bad poem, and give some examples of the poetry he does like? Is it just that it's done in a neoformalist style, as opposed to the freeform work that's more popular today, or are you just looking for a specific type of imagery as opposed to the imagery Data uses?
Andrew Love
31. AndyLove
I generally liked TNG's forays into horror, like this episode, and the one with Data's dreams; I particularly liked the creepy holodeck scene where the victims gradually recreate the scene of their nightmares.

Regarding Data's poem, the real problem with it is the misuse of the word "obviate"

"I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection."

Shouldn't that be "demonstrates" or "illustrates," rather than "obviates"
Bastiaan Stapel
34. Stapel
This plot has a great lot into it, but it has, imho, not lived up to it. I cannot say Braga is to blame for it, but I defenitely agree with KRAD's commentry: Good high concet, lack of execution.

One thing really bites me: the crew member that gets killed, has his blood drained and replaced by a liquid polymer..... Say what?
Jenny Thrash
35. Sihaya
For the rest of the day, the voice in my head will be saying "Fahyn-burg-gaaaaayrrrr!" in its best Inspector Cluseau imitation.
36. jlpsquared
I think I am going to go along with everybody and disagree with Krad, this was a wonderful episode. The Ode to Spot was magnificent, and that holodeck scene is one of my all time favourite scenes in Star Trek! That scene and the one where Geordi is on the holodeck with that wax "thing" back in season 4 are my vote for the 2 creepiest scenes in all of ST, and in a holodeck to boot!.

Yeah the ending was lame, but how many star treks, hell sci fi, really has endings that are as good as the set-up? Very few. And this really isn't the first Star Trek to fall apart in the last act.

One thing i will say is that this episode to me begins the last really good run of TNG episodes that ends with "timescape". I always felt season 5 and 7 were pretty crappy, as was the beginning of season 6, but really 3/4 of season 6, starting with this episode, are actually pretty solid episodes. Even the stinkers, like "A fistful of datas" are pretty fun to watch.
37. Codefox
This episode should have been named "Ode to Spot"
William A.
38. General_Vagueness
re: 23. Sanagi, at least it's consistent, it didn't alert anyone in "Q Who?" or "The Devil's Due" either
39. Bernadette S. Marchetti
I have a friend that memorized "Ode to Spot".

No one mentions that "polymer" means a LOT OF THINGS!! Not to mention, "polymer" could be used to describe the various parts of blood. Saying that the man's blood is being turned into a liquid polymer is so vague and her shock and dismay is simply silly for someone of her credentials.

I also found this episode creepy when I was a kid. I wasn't really allowed to watch X-Files when I was a kid (parents were kind of stupid because they also didn't let me watch The Simpsons but let me watch Married with Children...) so the whole alien abduction thing didn't seem overused to me.
Brickhouse MacLarge
40. Midnightair
Better late than never! This episode was obvious filler. Meh, is correct. Intriguing abduction premise, should have come back in later episodes. The episodic nature of TNG is beginning to wear thin. Meh.
41. Solid Muldoon
But the meter is NOT perfect. The first line has fourteen beats. The rest have fifteen.

And yes, I have it memorized, but when I recite it, I add "Spot," at the beginning.
Dante Hopkins
42. DanteHopkins
I memorized "Ode to Spot" twenty years ago, and still love that poem today. Like ArtfulMagpie, I have quoted it to every cat I've ever had. I didn't find Data's reading of it montone either, and I couldn't for the life of me understand the crew's reactions (or yours, krad).

I really liked this episode. With the bonus of seeing the lovely Ensign Rager (albeit one last time), it was creepy/scary sci-fi ( to me the best kind), and the abduction angle added to the mystery. Its definitely and episode I enjoy with each viewing, and always always good to see Counselor Troi counseling. A firm 6 of an episode.
43. ScottM
I mostly agree, though I am a bit more forgiving. The biggest contrivance for me was this: Especially considering he had a phaser, why didn't Riker just overpower the aliens and escape much sooner? Also, how did the aliens survive in that "pocket of our universe" wearing only raincoats? I also thought the holodeck scene lasted about a minute too long. It's as if they either had too much story to tell for this episode, or they had an unfounded level of confidence in the plot line.

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