Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Frame of Mind"
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...@juliet.caltech.edu>
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Frame of Mind", the latest
offering from TNG. Those who haven't seen the episode yet are strongly advised to hold off this article until they have.
My head hurts. :-)
Another in TNG's recent line of reality-bending shows has appeared, and has worked all too well. More detail after a synopsis:
Riker, looking very disheveled, is deep in conversation with an unseen
doctor. It soon becomes clear that he's in an insane asylum, brought there
until he can stand trial for his actions. Riker steadily loses what little cool he has, and in the end has some sharp words for the doctor:
"You've told me what to eat and what to think and what to say -- and then,
when I show a glimmer of independent thought, you strap me down, you inject
me with drugs and you call it a treatment!" "You're becoming agitated." "You
bet I'm agitated. I may be surrounded by insanity, but I am not insane, and there's no ... no ..."
Riker breaks away from the character he's been portraying with Data, and asks
director/playwright Beverly Crusher if he can try the speech again. She
disagrees, saying that they've all made "a lot of progress" with it, and
suggesting that although Riker's character has a great many problems to wrestle with, Riker himself should _relax_.
Riker agrees and leaves. He walks down the hall rehearsing the speech in his
mind, but stops when he reaches the turbolift and sees a strange face that he doesn't recognize...
Some time later, Picard briefs Riker on an upcoming assignment at Tilonus
Four. The government there has collapsed, and a Federation research group
has disappeared. The knowledge they have of advanced technology would be
invaluable to any of the various factions trying to seize power on the planet, and so Riker will be assigned to get them out, undercover.
Worf briefs him on the specifics of the mission and on the culture of the
planet, including methods to communicate with the Enterprise and safety
precautions. Riker takes it all seriously, but not seriously enough for
Worf, who suggests he pay closer attention. Worf also shows him an example
of combat with the local knife, but accidentally nicks Riker in the forehead in the process.
Riker goes to sickbay to get it looked at, and although it heals with no
problems, Riker's surprised to find that it still hurts. Suddenly, he finds
himself reacting very strangely when a burn victim is brought in, and quickly
leaves. He mentions the incident to Troi, who dismisses it and the
uneasiness he's felt ever since starting the play as due to facing emotions
for the role he's rarely dealt with. Riker sees the same person whose
appearance in the turbolift earlier shocked him, and decides to go to bed early.
The play goes well, with Riker hitting the final speech perfectly. Data, as
the doctor, says dispassionately, "I can see we have a _lot_ of work to do,"
and leaves as Riker screams to him that he's *not* crazy. As the play
closes, Data receives warm applause, and Riker receives a standing ovation.
However, on his second bow, he sees the same strange individual standing between Picard and Worf -- and on the third...
..He finds himself in the same "room" that was in the play, but it is now
enclosed. The applause is gone, and in its place -- a doctor, smiling, and saying "I can see we have a lot of work to do."
The doctor doesn't believe in the Enterprise, referring to Riker's claim to
having just been in the play as "the ship again...". Riker, already a bit on
edge, is now very distraught, unable even to remember who he is with any
great confidence. The doctor, Doctor Syrus, attributes the pain in Riker's
head to an escape attempt the previous evening; the cut Riker received from
Worf in his fantasy was this same cut, transposed. Riker discovers to his
horror that he's in the Tilonus Four Institute for Mental Disorders, and
Syrus refuses to tell him why, instead leaving and promising to talk more later. "You're making excellent progress."
Very shortly afterwards, a remote voice asks Riker if he wants to spend some
time out in the "common room". Riker agrees, and is led there by two large
attendants, one of whom gets him his lunch. While Riker sits and prepares to
eat, a woman sits down with him, saying "I hear you're a Starfleet officer."
She claims to also be from Starfleet, abducted for various tortures and
experiments, and tells him a rescue mission is imminent -- then calls her "ship" on a spoon.
The guard, Mavek, takes the spoon away from the woman and talks to Riker. He
insults Riker's "progress" and taunts him about his past. Riker becomes more
and more agitated as Mavek continues, and when Mavek finally reveals that
Riker is there for killing and mutilating a man, Riker snaps and attacks him. Riker is pulled off, and Mavek gives him an injection --
-- and Riker wakes up in his quarters on the Enterprise in a cold sweat.
Later, Riker tells Bev about it as he gets made up for the play. She is concerned, but figures it'll be all right.
The play goes well, until the closing sequences. In the final scenes, Riker
at one point sees Dr. Syrus staring at him from backstage and freezes. He
also hears strange noises and loses his grip on the scene, and finally sees
the strange person who's been dogging his footsteps again. He attacks this
man, demanding to know who he is, but is shocked to hear him say he's simply Lieutenant Suna. Beverly takes Riker to sickbay.
There, she finds no sign of neurological damage, and attributes Riker's
problems to simple fatigue. Riker is more paranoid, asking her to check for
drugs in his system, but when they turn up negative as well he takes her advice and heads to get some rest.
En route to his quarters, he talks to Troi, who reassures him that everyone
understands. She suggests some relaxation techniques, but as he remarks that
they never work for him he hears a voice saying "Perhaps you need another treatment." He freezes, but shakes it off.
He gets into the turbolift, which then opens onto the asylum corridor. He
panics, but covers his eyes and insists it isn't real. He walks out onto the
hallway of the Enterprise and walks down more comfortably. When he turns a
corner, however, he sees the woman inmate from the asylum, who says, "Don't
let them tell you you're crazy." Panicked, he runs to Troi's quarters, goes in --
-- and hears the door slam shut on his asylum cell. "Help me! Help ... me ..."
In the common room, Riker begs Syrus for help, saying that his shipboard
experiences seem warped and hellish, and that only the hospital feels real to
him. Syrus is pleased to hear Riker reject his delusions, and adds that
legal issues will soon force Riker's treatment along one way or the other.
He gives Riker a choice: "reflection therapy", in which Riker will openly
confront various facets of his personality, or surgery to alter the aspects
of his personality which caused his illness. Riker chooses the former, even knowing the unpleasantness involved.
In the therapy session, Riker speaks to his raw emotions, represented by Troi
("there's still a great deal of you that believes you're on a starship"), his
actions, represented by Worf, and logical thought reasoning the connections
between the two, represented by Picard. "Picard" tells him that he was
followed into an alley and grabbed from behind. "How many?" "Three. Humanoid. I only saw the face of one of them." "What did he look like?"
The imager produces "Lt. Suna", who Syrus identifies as the hospital administrator. "What part of me does he represent?" "I have no idea."
Suddenly, Troi steps forward, telling Riker not to believe any of this.
"You're still with us, on the Enterprise." Riker refuses to believe her,
even when Worf and Picard add their voices as well, warning him that he's in
danger. He tells them they're all delusions and wills their images away. Syrus is impressed; "we'll continue later..."
Later, as Riker sits in the common room eating, he sees Beverly coming
towards him and looks away, saying "it's not real". She sits down across
from him and tells him that he was captured during the mission to Tilonus
Four, and that the authorities are telling Starfleet that he killed someone.
The hospital administrator isn't even acknowledging Riker's presence, so the work is going slowly -- but, she assures him, they will get him out soon.
That evening, Riker wakes up when he hears a noise. Worf and Data break into
his room and attempt to rescue Riker. However, he rejects their help,
breaking free from Data long enough to cry for assistance and then taking
Worf's phaser away. However, even given that, the guards don't manage to capture anyone, and Riker is returned to the Enterprise.
There, in sickbay, Bev says he's had damage to long-term memory that will
take a while to fix. Riker looks as though he's been put through a ringer,
and the cut on his temple is back. Bev reassures him that it's minor and
heals it. After Picard discusses some of the aftermath, Riker puts his hand
to his head in pain and finds the cut _again_. The shock of seeing its
return makes him suspect the Enterprise isn't real, and he causes chaos long
enough to grab a phaser and break away. At first, he threatens everyone
else. "If I'm right, you're not really here. This isn't a real phaser -- it's all a fantasy, and I'm going to destroy it any way I can."
"What if it isn't a fantasy?", Picard asks calmly. "Are you willing to kill to take that chance?"
"You're right," Riker smiles, "I'm not. But--" and he slowly turns the
phaser on himself-- "I'm going to find out what's real and what's not." He fires, and the scene around him shatters...
.. and he finds himself in the asylum, where Dr. Suna is getting a progress
report. Suna concludes that Riker will need the surgery. However, Riker
realizes that he's still holding a phaser. "It's not a phaser, it's a
knife ... give it to me." Riker stares at Suna, then feels a pain in his
head and feels the cut return to his temple. He decides that this scenario
isn't real either and "shatters" Mavek. "None of this is real!" He sets the phaser high enough to destroy half the building and fires --
-- and finds himself on stage with Suna on the Enterprise. "You're the only
constant," he realizes, "the only person in both places! This isn't real
either." Suna tries to reassure him, but he feels the cut return to his head _again_ -- "You're *lying*!!" "Let me help you." "No!"
The audience bursts into applause. Riker continues to fight Suna, finally
pushing him into a wall. He runs to the "cell" door and bashes himself against it. Both he and the scene shatter...
..and Riker wakes up to find himself on a lab table, being milked for neural
information. He fights his way clear, grabbing both his knife and the
pendant he used for communications, and manages to successfully beam out with Suna watching helplessly.
Some time later, with Riker's memory fixed properly, the pieces are put
together. He was abducted two days after his arrival, and was put through a
particular neurosomatic technique to have information taken from him. The
scenario he went through, Troi reasons, was his own mind's defense mechanism
against the treatment, trying to latch on to any familiar settings possible
to keep him sane. "You should get some rest," Picard advises: "we can talk some more tomorrow." "There's one thing I'd like to do first."
And after clearing it with Beverly, Riker begins striking the set of her play.
Whew. Two long synopses in as many weeks -- stop me before I watch again. :-) Now, on to comments:
Some of TNG's best efforts have involved completely changing "reality" on the
show in some way, or changing our perceptions of it. "Cause and Effect" did
it, "The Inner Light" did it -- and, most appropriately here, "Ship in a
Bottle" did it in spades. "Frame of Mind" joined in, making us just as
befuddled and confused as Riker was. I think it's good for us, and good for the show, so there's one plus right off the bat.
In addition, this is the first of those "reality-bending" shows that had a
strong sense of paranoia about it. Paranoia and general "creepiness" is also
something TNG's done well, though to a lesser extent: I happen to be one of
the few people on earth who *liked* "Night Terrors", and both "Identity
Crisis" and "Schisms" had some appropriately creepy moments, if ones later
backed away from. ("Realm of Fear" had a ton of it, too -- but that was a Barclay story, so it's to be expected.)
"Frame of Mind" didn't back away at all -- it drew the audience in to such an
extent that *we* were slightly maddened by all the reality-shifting. In
fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that draws some negative fire from viewers
who don't like to be made quite so confused. (Me, I love being that confused. :-) )
In fact, with the combination of reality-warping and general unease, this was
nothing if not reminiscent of "The Prisoner" in many ways. My memory of that
show is hazy enough that I can't recall specifics, but devotees of both shows
could probably cite chapter and verse. Regardless, since "The Prisoner" in
many ways _defines_ a paranoid show, to be compared to it favorably is a good sign.
I'll admit that in some ways, making _none_ of the show entirely "real" until
Riker wakes up is a bit of a cheat. But I don't think it's much of one;
there were certainly elements we saw in the early minutes that were close to
what "actually" happened, and the show would have lost a lot with any sort of
framing sequence. (The play provided more than enough of a framing element,
in my opinion, though giving it the same name as the episode was _cruel_. :-) )
Acting-wise, this was Frakes's role of a lifetime. This is the sort of
episode that usually gets given to Stewart, but for once it went to Frakes.
He ended up in _every single scene_, which is grueling enough -- but then he
also had to play well against his usual character, becoming edgy, vulnerable,
and somewhat *lost* as the show ground on. It's the sort of role most actors would love to get, and that not nearly so many could pull off.
Frakes, in something of a surprise for me, nailed it almost perfectly. About
the only scene that didn't quite do it was his "let me out of here!" when he
ends up back in the cell, and that's just _one line_. Everything else, from
his slight mugging when Riker is acting to his very disheveled, jumpy nature
in nearly the whole show, worked extremely well. Frakes has finally proven,
I think, that given the proper material he _can_ shine as an actor -- now if we can just get him that material more often, we're in business. :-)
We also got something rather rare in TNG, and in fact something that appears
to date to be a sign that Brannon Braga wrote the show: recurring imagery.
In "Cause and Effect", we had the breaking glass; here, we had the cut on
Riker's head. In external reality, the cut had a reason -- it's where the
neural whatchamahoozit was inserted (and he _does_ cut himself when he takes
it out); but in Riker's internal reality, its return was always a tip-off
that the scene he was in wasn't real. Sharp thinking was very much in
evidence when it was used, and there was some sharp directing to keep bringing it back differently, too.
In fact, I have to wonder where James L. Conway has been for the last few
years. He's directed TNG episodes before, but only in the first season --
and "Justice" and "The Neutral Zone" were hardly directing triumphs.
Whatever he's been doing since 1988, it apparently did wonders for his
directing: this was creepy enough that it was _almost_ making me think Rob
Bowman had done the work. (Where *is* Bowman, anyway? I still miss his stuff.)
A sign of just *how* effectively the show managed to draw me in was this: it
fooled me. I had assumed that at least some of the "asylum" scenes were
real, and definitely believed Bev's appearance and the rescue attempt were
telling us what was actually going on. To discover that that wasn't the case
was _quite_ a shock, I can tell you -- and even on a second viewing, there's
no real tip-off until the cut comes back. In retrospect, it might actually
be nice if there had been some very mild clues there, rather than seeming as completely surprising as it was, but that's a mild objection only.
(Related to that, when Syrus seemed so incredibly surprised to see Suna show
up in the reflection therapy, my and Lisa's first thought was "oh, the
doctor's legitimate and not in on whatever this is," not, "uh-oh, none of it's real!" Good misdirection.)
I don't know who decided to use the "shattering" effect in the closing
sequences -- whether it was a writing choice, a directing choice, or an FX
choice. Whoever it is, though, needs to be commended. When I saw those
effects in the preview the preceding week, I'd figured they were a cute new
preview technique and was intrigued. When they actually were used so very effectively in the show _itself_, though, it quite honestly blew me away.
There's not much more to say (a relief, I'm sure). So, some quick shorter points:
-- I knew I'd recognized David Selburg (Syrus) from somewhere, and this time
I know where. He showed up briefly waaaaaaaay back in "The Big Goodbye" as Whalen the historian. He was much more interesting here, though.
-- Very minor nitpick: if Riker was going down as a native, shouldn't he
have had the tentacle-head look in the real reality? Or are we meant to assume that it was removed when he was caught?
-- This is one of those shows that suggests the usually squeaky-clean TNG
crew is in fact horribly demented inside. Riker's mind chose a weird way to
keep Riker sane, and Bev gets some particularly disturbing inspiration for her plays...
-- Someone really _must_ fix those turbolifts. Way too dangerous for words. :-)
That's about it. Marvelous, marvelous work -- "Frame of Mind" is shaping up to be one of TNG's best this season.
So, numbers time:
Plot: 9.5. A small clue or two would've made this a 10.
Plot Handling: 10. Breathtaking.
Characterization: 10. See "plot handling".
TOTAL: 10, easily. Bravo.
Bev decides to play detective. Bad idea...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"It's as if I was in 'Frame of Mind'!"
Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...