Season Six - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Schisms

Written by Brannon Braga, Jean Louise Matthias, Ronald Wilkerson, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine later deals with the subject of the alleged Roswell, New Mexico alien incident in a humorous way, up until now, none of the Star Trek series have ever touched on some of the crazy stories of alien abductions or UFOs being sited. It’s generally safe to assume that in the Star Trek universe, some of the alien races we see are responsible for some of the UFO incidents, but the writers and producers always seemed to be careful not to give any credence to any of the tabloid stories which surface.

In Schisms, however, the subject of alien abduction is given full attention.

The Enterprise is studying a dense area of space for the first time. Despite thinking he had a good night’s sleep (and actually oversleeping) Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) feels like he can’t keep his eyes open. He falls asleep twice at the android Data’s (Brent Spiner) poetry reading (not that his poetry is all that great anyway) and then goes to Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) for a medical scan and advice.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise’s sensor array then detects an explosion in a cargo bay that hasn’t happened. The blind Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) begins having trouble with his VISOR which allows him to see. Data loses an hour of time he can’t account for.

If you’ve read a lot of alien abduction stories, it sounds familiar. However, I have to say that on first viewing, the episode caught me off-guard. I had it confused with another episode, so I was surprised at the direction it took.

The crew members who are experiencing these odd occurrences all get together in the holo-deck and recreate what appears to be blocked somehow in their memories. Again, it is very familiar to anyone who is into reading about alien abductions and the like. They manage to figure out that two other crew members are missing from the ship and have not taken a shuttle nor beamed off. When one of them returns suddenly to his quarters in critical condition, they know they must act but aren’t sure how.

Complicating matters even further is a phenomenon attributed to these same aliens altering the structure of one of the cargo bays, putting the entire ship at risk.

The writing for this episode is excellent. It’s one of the few episodes Brannon Braga has scripted which don’t seem to show complete contempt for series continuity. The only thing I think was missing was a direct link to some of the “alien abductions” of the past. That is left to the viewer to decide whether or not these aliens are responsible for some of the alleged abductions which have taken place.

The acting is also superb. It’s quite ironic that Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker is one of their subjects since he will go on to host the infamous Alien Autopsy footage shown in 1995. Here, he is excellent as the most frequent abductee, initially showing what appears to be extreme fatigue and disorientation with facial expressions and wide eyes. I got the feeling something was wrong, but there was no pinpoint of him saying it until much later. When he is taken by the aliens again, this time awake, he does a wonderful job conveying his nervousness and fear over being in the situation.

That’s what this episode is gunning for – the fright factor. Not quite out and out horror, it is the stuff of waking up nights in a cold sweat when I’m not sure why. It plays on my own fears by having the experiences of the crew happen during their sleeping hours, yet it never comes right out and says it is trying to scare the viewer.

This is an episode that doesn’t rely on characters’ history, so it’s easy for just about anyone to pick up and watch. It does make a good introduction to a new viewer as to what exactly is right about the series.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Relics

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – True Q

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