WARNING: This post contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG offering, "Schisms". Those not wishing to be torn asunder by opinions regarding this show are advised to skip this message.
Well, I'd really *like* to like this show better than I did...
...unfortunately, I can't. Some of my disappointment is related to the preview from the previous week, however; it's not all hooked into the show as an isolated piece. We shall see, after this synopsis:
As the Enterprise enters a very dense globular cluster to begin a charting mission, Riker struggles with chronic oversleeping, causing him to arrive late at a meeting with Geordi and Data in which they decide to start an experiment with the warp engines to try to increase their charting speed. Later that day, (after falling asleep at a poetry reading by Data), Riker checks with Dr. Crusher about his sleep problems, but with no physical signs of problems, all she can do is suggest some warm milk.
Some time later, Geordi and Data begin their experiment, only to have sensors read an explosion in the cargo bay containing the junction channeling the sensor energy. They rush to the bay, only to find no signs of any problems at all. Perplexed, Geordi tells Riker that evening; they conclude it must have been a sensor glitch and decide to continue in the morning. However, Riker is then quite surprised to see Geordi come to wake Riker up only moments after (as far as Riker's concerned) Riker went to bed!
Shortly thereafter, odd occurrences begin to spread throughout the crew; Geordi's VISOR momentarily lapses, Data "loses" ninety minutes' worth of memory, and Riker and Worf both have strong emotional reactions to commonplace objects (Riker to the helm controls, Worf to a pair of barbers' scissors). Then, Geordi and Data find traces of subspace particle emission in the cargo bay _itself_, and trace it to the junction, now glowing and swirling brightly. The particles are found to be tetryons, subspace particles that shouldn't be able to exist in normal space. However, since the effect is small, all remains reasonably calm.
Riker, meanwhile, talks to Troi about his odd reaction to the helm, only to find that he's the third person to talk to her that day about strange reactions to specific objects. She finds that a total of four people have had these responses (Riker, Worf, Geordi, and an unidentified crewmember), and
brings them all together to discuss their experiences. They quickly find that they are somehow *sharing* a memory, and Troi takes them to the holodeck to help solidify the traces of memory they have about the event. What they deduce is a chilling scene: all four remember being restrained on a metal examining table, with a bright light shining directly in their faces and some rather sinister-looking tools hanging near them. When the tableau is completed with the addition of some fast clicking noises coming from the darkness, Geordi shudders. "I've been in this room before..."
Beverly examines them all, and finds that all four appear to have been given a neural sedative. In addition, she finds traces of tetryonic emission in all four bodies, and Data adds that an examination of his records shows him to have been absent from the Enterprise for the ninety-minute period he lacks a memory of. When Picard finds that two members of the crew (including Ensign Rager) are missing as they speak, he orders a security alert and puts Geordi to work finding the source of the emissions. (Beverly also finds that Riker's right arm shows signs of having been surgically severed and reattached, a thought that Riker does not find at all pleasant.)
Geordi and Data find that the tetryonic emission in the cargo bay has increased dramatically, and is now focusing on a subspace "rupture" slowly forming in the middle of the bay. It appears to be both controlled and threatening, and Geordi reasons that his subspace experiments got somebody's attention. After one of the two missing crewmembers returns near to death, a conference is hastily called. Geordi says that the rift can be stopped, but only by stopping the tetryonic emissions *at their source*, and that their source is currently untraceable. However, Worf suggests that a homing device be taken to their domain, and Riker offers himself as carrier, reasoning that since he's been abducted several times already, he likely will be again. Beverly rigs up a neurostimulant to counter the effects of the sedative, and he feigns unconsciousness as he's taken into the abductors' domain.
While he spies on his abductors (who, although humanoid in shape, appear somewhat insectlike in appearance and demeanor), Geordi hurriedly scans all subspace domains as quickly as possible to locate the homing beacon. With the rift locating critical size (threatening a hull breach), Geordi finds the domain just in time, and the Enterprise uses a graviton pulse (several, in fact, since the first few are countered) to close the tetryonic rift, with Riker carrying himself and Rager through just in time. However, as the rift closes, a small glowing object emerges and flees the ship; it's thought to be a probe, but Riker warns that the intentions of these experimenters are clearly far from friendly...
There we are. Now for the commentary.
First of all, I have to deal with the part of my disappointment that doesn't reflect poorly on the show *itself*, but on the preview for it. While most previews for TNG manage to avoid spelling out the whole plot, this one didn't; anyone who saw the preview knew much of the sequence of events, including the "revelation" that crewmembers were being abducted. I can't help wondering how I would have felt had I avoided the preview this time; surely, there would have been at least a few more surprises. Bad move.
As for the rest...well, let's start with an explanation. I've gone on record many, many times as saying that I consider character problems more important than plot problems, unless the show is completely plot-driven or the plot problems are so vast as to overshadow everything else. Unfortunately, both of those disclaimers apply here.
Before I go into that, though, I should mention that the characters for the most part made sense. While it's certainly nice to say nothing was *wrong* with them, though, I'd like to be able to say that lots of things were *right*; and given that for nine-tenths of the show the characters were merely plot-driven vehicles, I can't really say that, except for the parts regarding Data's poetry reading. (More about that later.)
Actually, I should make one other change to that; Troi was put to very good use here; while the purpose of her conversations with Riker and other abductees was still to advance the plot, they seemed so perfectly in keeping with Troi's job description that it's well worth mentioning.
While I'm at it, I have to commend all involved for the holodeck sequence. It was by far the single most effective scene of the show for me, and despite a couple of silly points (such as the telepathic power of the computer; a change from a wooden to a metal table results in a *lot* more than a change of substance :-) ), it had me riveted. Good work on the part of the writers, directors *and* actors.
As for the plot, however, I saw several problems. The first is a rather hefty dose of faulty reasoning on both the characters' and writers' part. Recall that we're told several times that the Abductors [for want of a better name] took an interest in the Enterprise because of Geordi's experiments. However, this is patently absurd unless they're time travelers, because Riker's sleep problems (*including* a bad reaction to Beverly's bright light in his face) started well before Geordi's experiment. That's flat-out poor thinking, and somebody should have caught it. (It would have been pretty easy to change, too; just have the initial meeting let Geordi tell Riker "here's what I've been doing" rather than "here's what we're going to do" and you're set.)
The second is a complaint I've made a few times before, and unfortunately think I'm going to continue making for a while. The technobabble level of this season has been too high by a couple of orders of magnitude, *especially* here. Technological points or cute "let's get into the science of this
fictional universe" ideas are fine, but they have to (1) remain as a backdrop to the stories rather than the cause of them, and similarly, (2) not become a crutch for those who think "well, I can't think of a real reason for a plot, so let's just throw in enough large and meaningless words to hope people don't notice." I hate to say it, but this show felt to me like it failed both criteria.
I don't want to say that, particularly because some parts here and there *were* so suitably creepy, from the holodeck sequence to Geordi's wake-up call on Riker. (I also liked the point that early on, everyone who was "losing" time had recently seen Geordi; it almost could make one wonder if he were carrying some strange effect himself.) But fundamentally, when the points on which the plots hinge start hanging on *that* much technobabble at once, it makes the show that much more remote to me. I'm not watching to learn about subspace, I'm watching to see the characters I care about; and here I felt like I was being told "sorry, subspace manifolds are more important than the characters." Not a happy feeling.
I have somewhat mixed emotions about the open ending this time. On the one hand, any sign that events will carry over into other shows is usually a pleasant one. On the other hand, however, there are already so *many* things that are waiting to be dealt with that I don't, quite honestly, have much of a sense of whether this is one that will actually be dealt with; and when such wonderful ideas as the "Conspiracy" parasites, Geordi's abuse at the hands of the Romulans in "The Mind's Eye", and Picard's life-changing experiences in "The Inner Light" [*especially* this one] have all been apparently left out by the dustbin, I can't work up much enthusiasm for a plotline where the villains are such ciphers.
Enough negativity; on to another bright spot. Data's poetry reading had to be one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long time on TNG, and one of the flat-out weirdest ways to end a teaser ever. (And okay, so Riker's sudden applause didn't quite have the same verve as Radar O'Reilly's classic "...AH, Bach!" line in a particularly memorable "MASH", but it did the job. :-) ) I'll have to go back and transcribe the Ode to Spot sometime for some cat-loving friends. ["A tail is quite essential/ For your acrobatic talents. You would not be so agile/ If you lacked its counterbalance." :-) ] I have a great respect for whoever took the time to write those poems; I also have to wonder how soon they're going to be carted off for treatment. ;-)
(I was interested to see Geordi talk so much to Data about form vs. substance and being "clever" without any meat, though, since the latter is almost exactly how I phrased many of my points about "Time's Arrow II" a few weeks back, and that I thought "Schisms" was very much a case of "all form, no substance" itself. It seemed almost incongruous.)
There's not really much I have left to say here. A few bits here and there were as creepy as they were evidently designed to be, but on the whole I was left pretty cold by the whole thing. There was no center to this show that could hold it together aside from the technobabble; and that rang very hollow after a couple of minutes. Ah, well.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 4. The basic idea is a 5, probably, but the holes bring it down. (The poetry, however, brought it back up a bit.)
Plot Handling: 7. Good creepiness in some places, but distinctly plodding in others. Characterization: 4. Good Troi, but the others were but ciphers.
TOTAL: 5. That feels about right.
A woman "breaks out" into Qness, and Q seems to take an interest. Now *this* looks decidedly interesting...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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