Written by Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria
Directed by James L. Conway
As the seasons wore on, there was a big danger of the characters beginning to stagnate. For a while, it seemed as if the character of Commander Riker was in danger of this. He seemed to be falling into a sort of malaise prior to this episode. Frame of Mind gave the character a boost that was sorely needed.
Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the android Data (Brent Spiner) are rehearsing their roles in a play while Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) directs them. Riker is playing a paranoid person in a psychiatric institution – the play title is Frame of Mind.
Following the rehearsal, Riker is given a mission to go undercover on the planet Tilonus IV where he has to locate a Federation Research Team which has gone into hiding during an apparent civil war. Riker has five days before the mission will take place so the show goes on!
He then experiences some odd reactions – thinking crew members are staring at him, blaming him for things. Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) tells him it’s okay to explore the darker side of one’s psyche and to have fun with it. A recurring character (portrayed by David Selsburg) seems to pop in and out of Riker’s thoughts. He soon finds himself in a room where this person -“Dr. Syrus” – is treating him as a mental patient.
He seems to be vacillating between the two worlds – one a reality and the other not. He thinks his time in the mental institution on Tilonus IV occurred in his dreams as he seems to wake and be back on board the Enterprise.
This is a terrific story as first-time viewers are unsure until the end just what is “real” and what isn’t. Is Riker descending into madness? Is his mind being manipulated by some alien race? Is he in reality a patient in a mental ward on Tilonus IV or suffering through a mental breakdown? None of the answers are apparent throughout this episode.
Jonathan Frakes gives a terrific performance. His appearance and demeanor from the beginning show Riker as being a bit frazzled and worn. As he’s going through the throes of a possible mental illness, he gives Riker the right amount of uncertainty as to what’s real and what’s in his head, while at the same time keeping Riker true to the strength he has always projected. It’s one of the finest performances by Frakes in the series.
Selsburg gives a terrific performance as the wild-card in the episode. Is he merely an innocent crewman caught in Riker’s descent into madness? Is he a doctor trying to help him? Or possibly a captor holding him against his will for nefarious purposes? Selsburg captures all of these possibilities convincingly in the short time he has to project them.
The rest of the cast has supporting parts, and portrays them well. Data and Dr. Crusher are involved with Riker in the play. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) dispatches Riker on his mission. When he begins to doubt his mental clarity, Troi is the one he turns to for counseling. Various members of the crew assist in other ways while truly lending support to let Riker and Frakes shine through in this episode.
Although not action-oriented, it is one of the better stories in the series. Surprisingly, it was written by Brannon Braga who is not regarded well among the fans for his contributions to the Star Trek franchise. Here, however, he had produced one gem for his collection. Even with knowing the resolution to the situation, it is worth repeated viewing for the good performances, especially by Frakes.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Chase
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Suspicions