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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20 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...
Tom - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 4:50pm (USA Central)
I agree with your review. Very average episode.
NCC-1701-Z - Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - 9:36pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode, especially the soundtrack, which was very eerie and effective. Must admit though, when Picard arrived at the bridge screaming in the turbolift, I laughed. For me, it was the funniest part of the episode.

I think the characters assumed way too much though in the end, and in the end it was just lucky guessing on the part of our heroes. It kind of took away from the episode, but it was still a fun romp and for that I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Paul M. - Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - 3:30am (USA Central)
Oooh, I love Night Terrors, it may be one of my favourite spooky, horroroid (yeah, that's the word!) TNG episodes.

One thing I like about TNG Season 4 are these spooky mystery episodes that were quite prevalent during the seasons - Remember Me, Future Imperfect, Clues, Night Terrors, The Nth Degree, and even weaker stuff like Identity Crisis and The Loss.

TNGfan - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 2:09am (USA Central)
The morgue scene has touched all of us.
Dave in NC - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 11:00am (USA Central)
@ William

I'm going to have to rewatch this episode very soon, so I'm addressing your point from memory. I want to respond to your point about the crews visions not saying anything about the characters.

I perceived Beverly's vision in the morgue (of the dead coming to life)as reflective of her line of work . . . I'm sure it must be frustrating for a doctor in her day and age to be in a room full of dead people and not be able to heal them. I took it to mean when they all stood up that they were accusing her.

Same with Picard in the turbolift . . . walking out of the turbolift into space seems to play on the fact that while the Enterprise looks a posh spa, it is in fact an incredibly dangerous place. (Well, at least 25 times a year it is.) It represents the fear aspect of the unknown.

And of course, Riker with the snakes . . . I'll put it this way: sometimes a snake is DEFINITELY not a snake.

His bed is a nest of vipers!!! C'mon! That's character development gold. :)

FlyingSquirrel - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
Maybe it's because I first saw it at a fairly impressionable age, but I found this episode genuinely unsettling. For me it wasn't so much the hallucinations that were disturbing as the Enterprise crew having seen what happened on the Brittain and confronting the possibility that the same fate awaited them (i.e. eventually killing each other in fits of paranoid rage). It's been a while since I've seen the episode, but I think Picard's reaction when it initially looked like the hydrogen beam had failed was not just fatigue or disappointment, but wondering if there really was no way to avoid it.

(On the other hand, maybe the Enterprise crew would have just been put under some sort of long-term sedation while Data looked for other solutions. I'm guessing that at the very least, Data could order the computer to mix a sedative into the ship's air supply or something along those lines.)

Dave in NC - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 9:36pm (USA Central)
I'm rewatching it now:

Starts out with creepy music, the Brittain is adrift. Troi is unhelpful as ever: "I sense something . . ."

The scene on the bridge of the Brittain is effective: murdered corpses everywhere. I am curious, why couldn't Troi sense the one living crew member left is a Betazoid? It would have made more sense to have her ask him mentally if he was okay.

After the credits: Beverly seems really bothered by the symptomology of the dead crew. Meanwhile, Troi can't get through to the Betazoid (at least she's figured out he is one). She's as useless as ever.

Later Beverly meets with Picard in his ready room: she is definitely on a tear for a cause. The personall log of the captain of the Brittain was acted well- she really seems crazy.

Sigh . . . Troi is floating through the clouds. I hate this part of the episode. God, her questions are idiotic. "Where are you? Where are you?" And then she wakes up in bed, gasping for breath Troi-style. I love her but for realz she is not the best actress. (Her dreams have different music, more celestial and alien than the atonal nightmare music. The most effective part of this scene for sure.)

Next scene- the young ensign freaks out at sounds on the empty Brittain. Nice how they added in what he was hearing. I think the first time I watched I was disturbed by what could still be on the ship.

After some more boring useless Troi in sickbay, we are treated to a Miles and Keiko scene! Yay . . . even though Miles is under the influence of the alien sleep deprivation (and yes I know it's wrong),it's still nice to see him be a dick to Keiko for a change, considering how she treats him 99% of the time.

Gillespie's tale of ghost in Engineering with the old Starfleet uniform is kind of spooky. O'Brien casually dismissing the "shades and spirits" is pretty funny, and shows a good understanding (by the director) of the fine line between humor and horror.

Picard's Ready Room: I like the bit with the door buzzing and no one there, but I found Picard's dismissive attitude of Crusher and Troi's concern kind of surprising, considering neither one of them are prone to being dramatic.

Of course, the next scene confirms their suspicions. They are adrift as they go the commercial, and I'm digging the rhythmic synthesizers.

Conference room: I get to learn about a scientific phenomenon . . . a Tychen's Rift. I don't know if that's a real thing or not (sounds like it isn't) but it's a cool concept.

I do find it kind of unbelievable they don't have enough energy to replicate complex molecules. People are still eating, aren't they? (That was nitpicking, I confess.)

Picard and Riker in the turbolift: they are both weirded out, it is obvious. Picard definitely is worried about the safety of his ship. Which dovetails with my earlier comment: he seems to be having a panic attack on the lift.

And then we get Riker getting ready for bed, but he hasn't changed yet (see above).

I remembered wrong, Picard didn't walk into space, he was getting crushed against the light! Gravity in reverse . . . not sure what that signified, haha.

Now we get Riker and the snakes, yes! Nice usage of the atonal "crazy" music to build tension.

Next scene: a nice call-back to BOBW and using the deflector dish. I also like seeing Patrick Stewart's performance here as a Picard on the edge of sanity. So much is expressed by phrasing and posture. Less is more.

The morgue scene: scarier than I remember. My roommate almost ruined the scene by saying it looks like a Lady Gaga video. He's an ass.

Next scene: Picard and Beverly unhinged, discussing the lack of sleep. Excellent acting . . . I read somewhere where this was dismissed as "just talking slow". I find this portrayal actually to be realisitic and believable. I'm also noticing a pattern. There actually isn't TONS of music in this episode, it is saved for the moments when reality is unhinged.

Troi asks more stupid questions: "Double? Is something doubled?" God, she is dumb.

10 Forward: the crew is getting antsy. Guinan pops up! They cut away to the deflector dish failure . . . they have energy for this, but they can't replicate complex molecules? Sorry, nitpicking again.

Next scene: What is it with Worf and suicide?! How many times did the writers go to this well? More of the same: he is weak so he must die. How did he ever pass the Starfleet psych test?! ;) (I also like how his scene gets the atonal music, this time with lush strings included. The stakes are raised as much in the music as on the screen. Nice touch.)

More Troi in sickbay: She is just the worst person to be trying to get information from someone. It took her over a week to put all this together?! Talk about obtuse.

In the ready room: The explanation for Troi's nightmares is surprisingly un-technobabbly for a TNG episode. Yes, it is unscientific ("Counselor, we have no way to stop telepathic transmissions") but the explanation is graspable and believable. Good storytelling. The next scene with Data and Troi also is very logically played out.

So now, from my memories, I know I have to endure one more floating Troi scene, but at least Data was helpful enough to remind me it'll only be two minutes before it's too late. Nice callback to earlier seasons by using the comm system.

10 Forward: I liked the mob getting unruly, and I'm amused by Guinan's reaction. Her Mangus was pretty strong for setting one. ;) (I wonder who fixed the ceiling?)

Ugh, Troi is asleep. Please be over already! I wish the music during this cloud scene was easier to here, great tension building. If only Troi could say what she was sent there to say and then shut the fuck up!

The Enterprise escapes . . . the music is a little too quiet through this whole scene. They also should have used the effects shot from the episode preview, it looked more interesting than the typical one they went with here. (I feel like something was edited out here).

Data orders Picard to bed, and we get the only major key happy music in the episode, a refreshing seabreeze on a hot day. Episode over.

Final thoughts: creepy, well-acted, surprisingly plausible without relying on goofy logic and technobabble cheats. An effective musical score. Only marred by the ridiculous denseness of Counselor Troi floating around in her pajama uniform.

*** stars

phaedon - Thu, Dec 18, 2014 - 11:51pm (USA Central)
I'm really enjoying revisiting TNG for some reason. Bit of trivia:

The ship's name is correctly spelled "USS Brattain" --- even though it's misspelled on the hull of the ship itself. You can see a screen grab of the typo here:


This happens around 5 minutes into the episode. A few minutes later, Beverly and Picard review the Captain's Log from the Brattain and the entry is stamped "USS Brattain - NCC-21166."

Hope you found that interesting!
Shaen - Fri, Dec 26, 2014 - 2:49pm (USA Central)
My favorite part of this episode is the idea that Worf has a suicide table all set up and ready to go at all times.

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