Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Night Terrors"


Air date: 3/18/1991
Teleplay by Pamela Douglas and Jeri Taylor
Story by Shari Goodhartz
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After finding the USS Brattain, a Starfleet vessel that had gone missing, the Enterprise away team beams aboard to discover everyone dead, after having apparently gone insane and killed each other. There is a sole survivor: a Betazoid man in a catatonic state. Troi attempts to communicate with him telepathically while the crew attempts to solve the mystery of what happened to the Brattain. But then the Enterprise becomes stuck and cannot move from its current position, while members of the crew start experiencing hallucinations and unease.

"Night Terrors" initially resembles a ghost story (or, in the Trek world, a weird-alien-presence story). The episode's depiction of a silent and ominous Brattain hints at a catastrophe that must have been initiated by some sort of outside influence. What I like best about "Night Terrors" is that it begins with the strange and surreal and slowly scales it back to more real-world symptoms. The reason the Enterprise is stuck is because of a known energy-draining phenomenon called a Tyken's Rift. And the reason people are hallucinating is because they haven't gotten any REM sleep for many days. The sleep deprivation is causing fatigue among the entire crew that, Crusher reports, will inevitably end in insanity and mass violence.

It's kind of fun seeing the crew so sleep deprived that they're like the walking dead, and the hallucinations make for at least one well-executed creepy image, where Crusher is in a room full of corpses that she suddenly hallucinates as sitting up on their slabs.

Overall, it's an average outing. The way the mystery is solved by Troi and Data requires so many assumptions that one hopes guessing and logic are the same thing. And then there are the lackluster scenes of Troi's dreams (she's the only one who can dream, because she's Betazoid) where she's floating in a green space cloud and yelling at two lights. These visuals look like they were conceived for a flying cartoon superhero. And why can't the aliens who are trying to communicate simply say, "We need hydrogen," rather than concocting riddles about "one moon circling the other"? I know; I'm being a nitpicker.

Previous episode: Galaxy's Child
Next episode: Identity Crisis

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11 comments on this review

TS - Tue, Apr 7, 2009 - 2:43am (USA Central)
Ugh. I don't blame you for being anti-Troi. Those scenes in Night Terrors where she's "flying" and constantly yelling "Where are youuuu?"... no, thanks.

It was a neat idea but I thought it was handled very poorly. I think that one deserves a *1/2 at most.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to your Season 5 reviews.
Gatton - Mon, Apr 13, 2009 - 4:51pm (USA Central)
"Night Terrors" is worth it to me for that ultra creepy morgue scene alone. That scared the crap out of me as a kid. TNG wouldn't do disturbing imagery like that again until "Phantasms."

I am anxiously awaiting the season 5 reviews as well just so I can get on here and gush about "The Inner Light."
aaron - Mon, Sep 6, 2010 - 1:16am (USA Central)
Dammit Jammer! I cant believe I never thought about that in Night Terrors. They obviously could communicate with us.

Would have been alot easier if they had simply said "Hey floating lady ... If you got any hydrogen laying around we sure could use some."

Which brings me to point 2) Unless im mistaken; isnt hydrogen all over the place in space??
Will - Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - 11:21am (USA Central)
I usually completely agree with your verdict on Star Trek episodes, but I have to disagree on this one. I found Night Terrors to be an excellent episode (relative to the average for TNG, at least). It really managed to push all of our buttons for a tense atmosphere (if you're a horror buff, I guess this was all baby stuff to you, still pretty good creepiness for Star Trek standards), and have a decent story as well.

The show really handled the Troi-subplot well (admittedly the dream scenes got a little tiresome, but was I the only person who found them to be deliciously creepy before we knew they were a call for help, and not some creepy alien telling his victims about the eyes in the darkness), especially when it came to holding back the moment when the catatonic betazoid revealed he had the same dreams.

Admittedly, the episode falls into the category of "good action" TNG episodes, rather than the awesome "moral story" episodes that TNG did so well (it obviously does not compare to masterpieces such as Chain of Command Pt 2). I'd settle for saying it was a really good filler episode.

As for your question about why the aliens couldn't explicitly say "We need hydrogen", the answer is simple. First of all, the alien's language was likely very different than ours (maybe not even vocal), so they may not have been able to accurately communicate the name of a specific (and technical) thing. Perhaps their communication doesn't even have the concept of names. Secondly, I would guess that when sending a message through a telepathic dream-link, there's a lot up to how the receiving person manifests the communication in their dreams. I doubt that the whole "floating through a green mist" thing was part of the message, as it had nothing to do with it. It may just be how Troi(and the other guy)'s betazoid brain interpreted the message.

Based off of all that, it's safe to assume that the best way to send such a message would be through symbolism based off of established shared concepts (the aliens know the enterprise and the britain are space-fairing vessels, so their occupants must know about moons and their shape). Sure, there's a decent chance the receivers won't make the connection, but I doubt it would be possible for two species who communicate in entirely different ways, to directly state such a message.
Jason - Sat, Jun 22, 2013 - 7:49pm (USA Central)
I agree with Will on the symbolic aspect of communication. The aliens had a very tiny shared language of dream symbols to communicate technical information.

But I still think the episode is only "fair", because it relies on Troi too heavily. She's a bad character, and giving her story focus ruins an otherwise good episode.

Yeah, I'm a Troi-hater.
William B - Wed, Jul 3, 2013 - 8:05am (USA Central)
Yeah, as said before, I think the "one moon circles" worked well, because I do think that the aliens have to communicate symbolically. It is telepathic communication -- and while Troi experiences that as language, I think it's probable that it's actually the concept of "one moon circles" being communicated, which in a lot of ways is more natural than the concept of hydrogen, even though the latter is more elementary even than moons or planets.

I like this episode because I find it spooky and enjoy the various crew scenes -- Crusher in the morgue, Picard listening to the door chime several times through, O'Brien snapping at Keiko in another episode (like "The Wounded") which really does not suggest that their marriage was that great an idea. I like that the solution to the mystery involves no malevolence -- the aliens were trying to communicate, and the Tychen's Rift is just a rift; cooperation is again the ideal. Part of what is great about TNG is that it acknowledges how devastating the unknown can be even without anyone deliberately acting against you; it's scary out there. Troi going "where aaaare you?" was frustrating (and funny) but in general I like her role in this episode. Also nice to see Data in command, though episodes like this (and "Brothers," among others) make it clear that maybe Data should just be given his own ship, because he can basically run everything himself. (My girlfriend suggested that if Data had been trapped in the same warp bubble scenario as Crusher in "Remember Me," and had asked the computer if he had the necessary skills to "explore the universe," the computer would have said yes.)

Still -- and hat tip to the AV Club reviewer for pointing this out -- the fears we see from the crew don't really pertain to them all that specifically. I suppose one could make something Freudian out of the somewhat sex-preoccupied Riker finding a bunch of snakes in his bed, but I think it's more generic creepiness. While pretty effective, none of this really tells us anything about the crew. What we are left with, though, is an unsettling horror story about feeling trapped, and unable to gain respite even in sleep. This is relatable and well-executed, though it still doesn't add up to much. I agree with Jammer's 2.5 star rating, though I'd say high 2.5.
Marshal - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 1:53pm (USA Central)
Just terrible. We need the most common element in the universe. She misses the most obvious symbol for days, "two of what?" They use the symbol of a moon for an electron but they can't say two suns? I suppose the eyes are a clue not to take the moon literally as well.

The simplest solution would be to put Data in charge of the ship and place the rest of the crew in some kind of stasis or anesthetize them until outside help comes.

A peach! A giant peach flys!
Chris - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 1:27pm (USA Central)
I enjoy this episode....yeah, Troi may not be the strongest character but there are some good moments like the bit where all the corpses are suddenly sat upright. Creepy.
Susan - Fri, Dec 20, 2013 - 2:31pm (USA Central)
I think the reason they didn't just come out and say "We need hydrogen" was because if they had they knew the other ship (Enterprise) wouldn't know they were stuck as well in the exact same freaky dream situation, as in "They need hydrogen but why, for what purpose, and our crew is falling apart, but THEY want hydrogen." The Enterprise crew had to know the other ship was communicating through dreams, because it was the only way the other ship could receive a reply. If they'd simply said "We need hydrogen" then the Enterprise wouldn't have known how to respond.
Susan - Fri, Dec 20, 2013 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
lol plus what Will said.
SkepticalMI - Fri, Apr 4, 2014 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
So the crew is suffering from a lack of dreaming. This causes hallucinations, but also lack of concentration, paranoia, and general feelings of exhaustion. The other ship ended up all killing each other over it. So what do we see? Some hallucinations, and a near riot in Ten-Forward from the junior officers. And we see the senior officers tired and stumbling over words... but still courteous and respectful to each other. Really?

I mean, take the scene where Crusher was explaining the lack of REM to Picard. She was slow, stumbling over words, and taking a rather roundabout way of explaining things. Shouldn't Picard have been getting impatient? Shouldn't he have snapped at Beverly, even if apologizing afterwards? I mean, I've never been caught in a telepathic REM-dampening field or whatever, but I have been tired on occasion. And on those occasions, I tend to be more irritable than normal. Shouldn't that be magnified for people who were suffering from a life-threatening disorder? And wouldn't that be more fun to watch? Watching people stumble over words is boring. Watching people snap at Troi for whining about having nightmares while everyone else was not dreaming to death? See arguments break out at random on the bridge? That's much better.

I guess what I'm saying is that this was a really strong concept. A good solid sci-fi "what if" plot, one that was built on reasonably solid science and also built up a good mystery. There were some good ideas here, but the direction felt a bit bland. Same plot, better execution? Well, it may not be an instant classic, but I imagine it would have been a very good episode. Instead, we just got something decent. Some of the effects and crew reactions worked, others not so much. Still, it had its moments.

(On the plus side, the morgue hallucination was excellent. Very very freaky, probably the best horror moment in Trek.)

As for the "Eyes in the Dark, One Moon Circles" bit, well, I think that can be explained away, and agree with what Will said. Of course, one wonders why the Enterprise's computer has an image of hydrogen as a proton with an electron orbiting it in a circle, but, well, whatever...

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