Frame of Mind (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 6, Episode 21) Riker is an asylum inmate who hallucinates he’s a Starfleet officer rehearsing a play about an asylum inmate

Rewatching ST:TNG

Riker overprepares for a role in “Beverly’s play,” which distracts him during his briefing for an undercover mission, so that Worf accidentally cuts him while demonstrating a ceremonial knife.

The night of the performance, the crowd applauds enthusiastically, but Riker is disturbed when he notices in the crowd a humanoid alien he had bumped in the corridor before.

Suddenly the setting shifts, and Riker finds himself in a real cell that resembles the play set, where an alien tells him he’s an inmate who’s been having delusions about serving on a starship.

Riker is confused, but resigns himself to visit the common area as a reward for his recent progress. There, a woman identifies herself as a kidnapped Starfleet officer and says she has a communicator — but it’s really a spoon.

An orderly taunts Riker, who starts to struggle, and as he’s injected with a drug, he passes out, only to wake up in his quarters. It was all a dream, and he hasn’t actually performed in the play yet.

Crusher assures Riker that he’ll do fine, and doesn’t seem that worried about the affect the play has had on Riker’s ability to do his job.

His performance this time is much more intense and unhinged, and when he spots in the crowd the same alien he’s seen before, he confronts him, startling the man, who identifies himself as Lt. Suna.

Crusher takes him to sickbay, but can find nothing wrong with him. Data commends Riker on his bold acting choice to improvise by confronting an audience member. Riker hears the voice of the asylum doctor and sees delusional spoon lady telling him he’s not crazy, and soon he’s back in the asylum again.

There, Dr. Syrus asks him to undergo a kind of therapy where he will interact with aspects of his personality, to explore the violent act for which he has been incarcerated. When he’s told to get in touch with his emotions, Troi does the talking; when he gets angry, Worf takes over; as he tries to reason his way through events, it’s Picard.

As part of the therapy, Riker must reject these visions, which he does with enthusiasm. Back in the common room, he sees Crusher, who tells him she’s there to help him escape. Data and Worf show up later, though Riker tries to fight them off.

Back in sickbay, Riker is still unsettled, and though his companions assure him he’s been rescued, Riker is suspicious, grabs Worf’s phaser, and tests a theory.

Next, he seems to be back in the asylum, where Suna and Syrus discuss his ongoing delusions, but he’s still holding Worf’s phaser. When he literally takes a phaser to the fourth wall, on the other side he sees the audience that was watching the play. Behind him now is the asylum set, as familiar faces from the Enterprise-D applaud him as he continues to resist the delusions.

Because this is TV and the writers have a story to wrap up, when Riker wakes up in an alien laboratory, his equipment is sitting out on a nearby table, so he can just grab his communicator and request an emergency transport. (Okay, the communicator was camouflaged as a pendant, but still.)

We get a quick infodump from Picard that explains what happened, and the final scene shows Riker tearing down the stage set. He’s apparently been held prisoner on the planet for several days, so it seems a bit odd that the set was still standing… I mean, can’t they just replicate set pieces, and de-replicate them when they’re done with them? Why build a physical set, when you can just walk into a holodeck and conjure up whatever location and props you want?

Actor Jonathan Frakes gets to show off his skills, delivering the same lines first as a competent amateur (who muffs a line, breaks character, and laughs about it); then as a truly deranged and disturbed person. He also mutters those lines to himself as he shuffles through the corridors after rehearsal. I kept noticing Frakes’s acting and thinking about the metatheatrical references and time the crew members would have needed to put into this endeavor.
 
It’s nice to imagine that a Starfleet career doesn’t get in the way of hobbies, but even on M*A*S*H the incoming choppers carrying wounded would regularly arrive to interrupt downtime activities. We’ve seen Riker on other undercover missions where he has to play a role, but it’s the actor Jonathan Frakes, not the character Will Riker, who’s emotionally invested in acting. I enjoyed watching Frakes work, but I’m not sure I learned much about the character Riker, especially because in the final infodump we gather that much of what we just saw was filtered through Riker’s interrogation-distorted memories, meaning that much of what we saw never happened in the continuity of TNG. Because the viewpoint character gleefully tears apart the stage set at the end of the episode, the script ultimately doesn’t really seem to say much about the function of theatre in the future.
 

Oh, well. I enjoyed seeing the many plot twists I had forgotten, and at least they weren’t trapped in the holodeck again.