Schisms (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 6, Episode 5)

Rewatching ST:TNG

Riker is having trouble sleeping, except during Data’s poetry recitation. (“O Spot! The complex levels of behavior you display / Connote a fairly well developed cognitive array.”)

As the ship faces a labor-intensive task of charting the Space Thing of the Week, LaForge has made some adjustments to the deflector grid.

Riker’s dozing is more than a teaser gag; he reports to sickbay, and snaps at Dr. Crusher when she waves equipment near his head. Meanwhile, Worf flinches at Mr. Mot’s barber scissors.

The sensors seem jumpy too — they detect what appears to be “a massive EPS explosion” in a cargo bay, but when a team arrives to investigate, all seems well.

After LaForge’s visor malfunctions due to an unexplained bacterial infection, and Data’s internal chronometer is off by 92 minutes, LaForge wonders aloud if there might be some connection to the Space Thing.

It’s Troi who brings together four people who’ve all come to her with strange emotional responses to ordinary things. She brings Riker, Worf, LaForge and a civilian woman to the holodeck, where they share fragments of memories and the computer simulates a creepy environment featuring an examination table with a restraining arm, a bright overhead light, and distant clicking sounds.

In response to an inquiry from Picard, the computer announces that two crewmembers are missing from the ship. (It would have been nice if the computer let them know about that sort of thing without being asked.)

A glowy technobabble thing is happening in the carbo bay; LaForge surmises that his modifications to the scanners might have attracted the attention of some life form that exists in subspace.

The buildup was enjoyably creepy as the characters track down the mystery, and the group brainstorming session in the holodeck was fascinating.

Three decades later, I’m used to watching a collaborative document take shape on on Google Docs, or finding inspiration by Googling for images of a table, an inclined table, an inclined metal table; but back in 1992, before the first graphical web browser was released in 1993, the holodeck research scene was very futuristic. The scene still works — although it drags at the beginning because first the characters speak their thoughts out loud, and then rephrase those thoughts into an order for the computer to follow. 

Although the distorted camera lens does help make things look creepy inside the subpace aliens’ lab, it’s hard to fear this bunch of actors wearing rubber masks and hoodies if Riker can defeat them by pretending to be asleep until their backs are turned.

Lots of technobabble bogs this episode down, but for all the time we spend on subspace, we don’t really learn anything about these aliens.

Why not do a “the tables have turned” thing, and suck a few of the researchers out of subspace and onto the Enterprise, and have Picard give a speech about how does it feel to be abducted, and offer an olive branch to fellow explorers?

For decades Star Trek has asked us to accept that, even if we don’t understand their customs or their idioms, language is no barrier to establishing relationships with alien civilizations. But for this episode, when these aliens talk to each other, their speech is represented by unintelligible clicking. (Fans have surmised that the communicators pins have an integrated universal translator, and presumably when Riker was abducted in his pajamas he didn’t have his pin with him, but when he goes back into the vortex in full uniform, he still hears clicking instead of translated words.)