Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Schisms"

***

Air date: 10/19/1992
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Jean Louise Matthias & Ron Wilkerson
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Commander Riker can't seem to get enough sleep at night. He's tired when he wakes up, late to his shift, exhausted all day, and when he attends Data's self-composed poetry recital, he falls asleep. (Although the joke of the recital — which hilariously includes "Ode to Spot" — is that everyone in attendance would honestly probably rather be sleeping.) But night after night, Riker lies down to bed, and then it's suddenly morning, as if the nighttime hours didn't exist.

"Schisms" is an effective, slow build of quietly escalating dread. What starts with Riker being tired slowly turns into the realization that something very ominous is afoot, and it's not just Riker. Geordi is having unexplained pain, Worf freaks out upon seeing a pair of scissors, and numerous people think they have missing hours in their lives. There is evidence that some have been subjected to surgical procedures. Eventually, a crew member turns up dead. It all culminates in a spookily played scene in the holodeck where Riker, Worf, and Geordi try to piece together foggy memories of having been ... somewhere. They remember being constrained in ... something. They slowly assemble these half-forgotten pieces into a simulated reconstruction until a strange operating table is sitting before them. It turns out they've all been kidnapped and returned by aliens from another dimension.

This episode basically takes the idea of 20th-century humans claiming to be abducted and experimented on by aliens and ports it into 24th-century Starfleet. That's a neat quasi-meta narrative trick when you think about it: The premise becomes strangely novel precisely because it doesn't seem like it should be applied to characters who are already on Star Trek.

Eventually, the crew devises a way for Riker to be abducted to the alien realm without being forced into unconsciousness, so he can stay awake and rescue a missing crew member. The aliens are strange and make clicking sounds. Sure, they look like guys wearing robes and Halloween masks, but I can't much complain. The lighting is dark and strange. The mood is bizarre and atmospheric. "Schisms" ends on a note of Unsolved Mystery. Since it seems inspired by an episode of the TV show with that name, that's appropriate.

Previous episode: Relics
Next episode: True Q

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31 comments on this review

bigpale - Sat, May 26, 2012 - 6:49pm (USA Central)
Welcome back.

Always like this episode. I remember as a kid having nightmares as a result of it.
Edax - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 5:14am (USA Central)
I still remember the sound those aliens make to this day. *shudder*
Latex Zebra - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 3:15am (USA Central)
As someone who gets very vivid nightmares and that feeling of awake when asleep this episode scared the shit out of me.

Surprised no one has ripped this idea off for a horror movie.
Paul - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 3:28am (USA Central)
I always liked this one. It's just so deliciously creepy, so unlike anything TNG attempted. Yeah, resolution is rather by-the-numbers and anticlimactic (often the case when you try too hard to explain what should be left, at least in part, ambiguous and mysterious), but this is still an enjoyable hour of TV.
Latex Zebra - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 4:12am (USA Central)
Oh and the Ode to Spot is absolutely brilliant. I used to recite it to our cats.
Landon - Tue, May 29, 2012 - 11:25am (USA Central)
I wonder if Jammer has ever played the mass effect series. It is the only other sci fi franchgise on par with Star Trek IMO. If so, I wonder what he, such a critical reviewer, thinks of the me 3 ending....if youre reading Jammer....
Jammer - Tue, May 29, 2012 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
Landon, I have not played the Mass Effect series. Indeed, I am so far removed from the gaming world that I'd never even heard of it (or forgot if I did) until you just mentioned it.
Landon - Wed, May 30, 2012 - 10:24am (USA Central)
Jammer, if you ever have the time, play it. Youll be glad you did. Coming from another ST,BSG fan...

btw, nothing new but why so hard on voyager? It has the best overall cast of characters in the franchise. Even if there is wasted potential story wise....
Ravo - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 10:15am (USA Central)
Voyager has the best overall cast? *shudder*
Yeah, I guess I won't be playing mass effect...
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
I agree this is a good episode, but what took me out of it to a distracting level was the scene on the holodeck. I love reconstructions, but this one failed because the setting they DESCRIBE to the computer is not the one the computer presents--the computer presents the one we have seen in the "hallucinations." They describe it badly; the computer sees it perfectly. Which got me thinking that the computer could read minds, and that got me thinking of weird scenarios, and it just pulled me out of the story.

Another episode, of which I cannot remember the name, had Geordi reconstructing a scene on the holodeck and then starting to turn into a shadow creature thingie. THAT reconstruction was brilliantly done and had lots of menace.

This one was so stupid I lost interest. But still a relatively enjoyable episode.
Landon - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 2:26pm (USA Central)
@Ravo lets see....janeway, the doctor, seven, tuvok, belanna......you give me a top 5 better...dont play-your loss
Grumpy - Sun, Jun 10, 2012 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
Ugh. Can't stand this one. Lost me in the teaser. While Data's poem was clever (although he misuses "obviates" to mean "makes obvious"), there's no excuse for ending with the big stinger of... Riker sleeps! That's just lame. Especially when, at this point in the story, the aliens haven't abducted anybody yet. That is, Riker's drowsiness is unrelated to the plot.
Elliott - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 6:02pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy : Actually, he had been abducted at that point, just no one had realised it yet.

This is one of the season's few good offerings. The pacing, mood, acting (one character who continually got better written and performed as the series went on was Riker) and commitment to the idea really sell.

@Ravo and Landon : Nerd-Alert Warning to the following (my nerdiness not yours) :

Method 1 (ranks):

Picard (4) > Janeway (3) > Kirk (2) > Sisko (1) > Archer (0)
Spock (4) > Riker (3) > Kira (2) > Chakotay (1) > T'Pol (0)
The Doctor (5) > Bones (4) > Pulaski (3) > Crusher (2) > Phlox (1) > Bashir (0)
Data (1) > 7of9 = Odo (0) [that's a tough category]
O'Brien (4) > Torres (3) > Trip (2) > LaForge (1) > Scotty (0)
Sato (4) > Uhura (3) > Troi (2) > Kes (1) > Ezri (0)
Sulu (3) > Paris (2) > Ro (1) > Mayweather (0)
Guinan (3) > Quark (2) > Neelix (1) > Chef (0)
Dukat (3) > Q (2) > Kahn (1) > Borg Queen (0)
Tuvok (5) > Worf (TNG) (4) > Worf (DS9) (3) > Reed (2) Chekov (1) > Yar (0)
Nog (3) > Naomi (2) > Wesley (1) > Jake (0)
Jadzia (2) > Kim (1) > Rand (0)
Garek (1) > Seska (0)

Totals :
TOS : 18
*TNG : 26
DS9 : 21
VOY : 24
ENT : 9

Method 2 (Same as above, using only categories in which all may participate :

TOS : 14
*TNG : 19
DS9 : 10
VOY : 18
ENT : 9

Method 3 ( / 10) :
TOS : Kirk (8), Spock (10), Bones (7), Scotty (3), Uhura (5), Sulu (6), Kahn (8), Chekov (2), Rand (1)

TNG : Picard (10), Riker (8), Data (10), Crusher (6), Pulaski (7), Troi (4), Ro (3), Guinan (8), Q (9), Worf (6), Wesley (4), Yar (1)

DS9 : Sisko (5), Kira (7), Odo (9), Bashir (3), O'Brien (9), Ezri (2), Quark (7), Dukat (9), Worf (6), Jake (1), Jadzia (4), Garek (10)

VOY : Janeway (9), Chakotay (3), Doc (10), 7of9 (9), Torres (7), Kes (3), Paris (5), Queen (6), Tuvok (8), Naomi (7), Kim (3), Seska (6), Neelix (5)

ENT : Archer (3), T'Pol (2), Phlox (5), Trip (6), Sato (8), Reed (3), Mayweather (1)

Averages for method
TOS : 5.6
*TNG : 6.3
DS9 : 6.0
VOY : 6.2
ENT : 4.0


In every method : TNG > VOY > DS9 > TOS > ENT
Elliott - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 6:12pm (USA Central)
I'll amend however, and add that in Method 1, DS9 gets a big advantage for all its non-regular recurers, and TOS gets shafted a bit; in Method 2, I suppose VOY should actually win, since TNG gets to count 2 doctors.

So It's something like

TNG/VOY > VOY/TNG > DS9/TOS > TOS/DS9 > ENT/ENT
Jammer - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 7:30pm (USA Central)
I am sincerely confused.
grumpy_otter - Tue, Jun 19, 2012 - 7:33pm (USA Central)
I am sincerely delighted! Elliott ranked Pulaski over Crusher! Yay!

It was fun to read, and though I don't quote get all the methodology, the rankings list were cool to peruse. This would be fun to discuss over some beers.
Elliott - Wed, Jun 20, 2012 - 11:28am (USA Central)
@grumpy_otter

I've never understood the Pulaski hate. I like Dr Crusher, sure, but Pulaski's a better doctor and a more interesting character, not to mention, Diana Muldaur can act circles around McFadden.

Notice how episodes which feature Pulaski (like "Unnatural Selection" "The Icarus Factor" "Peak Performance" and [blehg] "Shades of Grey") are made more interesting by her presence (albeit in somewhat dull if not horrible episodes overall), whereas Beverly's good episodes (like "The Highground" "The Host" "Ethics") are good in spite of her, or work without her specific character as the centre.

Yay to beer and nerdgasms!
Jay - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 1:24am (USA Central)
I don;t dislike Pulaski, but I don;t dislike Crusher either. Her tour de force was probably "Remember Me", where she carried the show alone for some 40% of its duration, and quite ably (though both Wesley and especially the Traveler in that episode made we want to vacate my stomach). I particularly liked her in Etheics, Attached, and CoC I/II. I also agree that she had her shrill episodes too. I liked Pulaksi, but her attitudes towards Data, especially early in the seaons, seems very forced.

Since I'll not be outgeeked, or outbeered, I'll do my own /10 scores for regulars and all guests appearing enough to be semiregular...

TNG:

K'Ehleyr (10)
Picard (9)
Riker (8)
O'Brien (8)
Tomolok (8)
Jaxa (8)
Boothby (8)
Madred (8)
Worf (7)
Sarek (7)
Lursa/B'Etor (7)
Shelby (7)
Gowron (7)
Kmpec (7)
Ogawa (7)
Crusher (6)
Pulaski (6)
Data (6)
Q (6)
Guinan (5)
Vash (5)
LaForge (5)
Troi (5)
Kurn (5)
Necheyev (5)
Hugh (5)
Duras (4)
Yar (4)
Crystalline Entity (4)
Soong (4)
Lwaxana (4)
Wesley (3)
Lefler (3)
Lore (2)
Traveler (1)
Ro (1)
Alexander (1)
Barclay (0)

DS9:

Garak (10)
Weyoun (10)
Dukat (10)
Tain (9)
Martok (9)
Quark (9)
Odo (9)
Joseph (9)
Damar (8)
Ross (8)
Bashir (8)
O'Brien (8)
Yates (8)
Mila (8)
Kira (7)
Sisko (7)
Opaka (7)
Mora (7)
Gowron (7)
Ziyal (6)
Keiko (6)
Sloan (6)
Winn (5)
Molly (5)
Jadzia (5)
Rom (4)
Zek (4)
Shakaar (4)
Leeta (3)
Bareil (3)
She-Founder (3)
Nog (3)
Ezri (3)
Jake (2)
Ishka (2)
Prophets (1)
Brunt (1)
Eddington (1)
Pah-Wraiths (1)
Morn (1)
Vic (0)

VOY:


Janeway (8)
Torres (8)
Pel (8)
Lt. Paris (7)
Adm. Paris (7)
Seven (7)
Tuvok (7)
Suder (7)
8472 (7)
Chakotay (6)
Doctor (6)
Seska (6)
Harkins (6)
Wildman (5)
Carey (5)
Vorik (5)
Ayala (5)
Icheb (4)
Braxton (4)
Zimmerman (3)
Kim (3)
Kes (3)
Neelix (3)
Troi (3)
Culluh (2)
Chaotica (2)
Naomi (1)
Barkley (1)
Queen (0)
Paul - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 8:11am (USA Central)
"I've never understood the Pulaski hate. I like Dr Crusher, sure, but Pulaski's a better doctor and a more interesting character, not to mention, Diana Muldaur can act circles around McFadden."

I think it comes down to her being Bones clone, and that's something many fans can't get over. Bit viewed on her own terms, I agree she's u much more interesting character than Crusher, not to mention that the actress is better too.
Grumpy - Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - 10:04am (USA Central)
"Actually, he had been abducted at that point, just no one had realised it yet."

Check the end of the show. LaForge says his sensor modification is what attracted the abductors' attention. He might be wrong, but Riker didn't immediately say, "But I had already lost sleep for 3 days and flinched at Crusher's examination *before* you modified the sensors." Therefore, the parsimonious explanation is that Braga fouled up again.

Speaking of that sensor modification, it's done by running "warp energy" through the "EPS mains" on deck 4, which is nowhere near the warp coils, main engineering, the deflector dish, or the sensors. And when a "massive" explosion is detected, a wall diagram flashes a red light on deck 10, not deck 4. Worse, though, is the most laughable moment of the episode: Worf and Crusher calmly stroll toward the emergency.

By the way, the reason for the sensor modification is to map a globular cluster more quickly. The crew complains that it would take 3 days to map 10% of it. Is their time so valuable that they can't spend 30 days exploring a "vast" region of space? As it is, the modification speeds up the process by 25%, though this can't be the first time more efficient scanning would've been useful on a starship. Hard to believe nobody ever tried it before.

"I've never understood the Pulaski hate."

From what I've read, fans loved Data, and when a new character established herself as a Data-hater, the fans hated her. Me, I liked the way she shook up the ensemble and was a little disappointed when Crusher reappeared in "Evolution."

"janeway, the doctor, seven, tuvok, belanna......you give me a top 5 better"

I'll give you the Doctor, and I liked Tim Russ and even Jennifer Lien as actors, but none of the others are characters I'd want to spend time with. But this is entirely a matter of taste, as much as Elliott has tried to quantify it.
Dan - Wed, Jul 11, 2012 - 9:00pm (USA Central)
voyager over DS9? really? well since I liked enterprise I guess all bets are off.

TNG was the best we can both agree on that :)
Niall - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 1:49pm (USA Central)
All this pseudo-statistical ranking of characters... surely it's all just a matter of personal opinion? Voyager had a strong concept and good characters but all-too-often failed to utilise these, instead mostly becoming an alien-of-the-week action show with little in the way of a bigger picture. That said, it's still my second-favourite Trek series after DS9 and it delivered a lot of good episodes. But the neglect and underdevelopment of characters like Chakotay and Kim and the stasis/non-development of others like Tuvok, Neelix and ultimately Seven (as of S6/7) was a huge missed opportunity, as was the brushing under the carpet of the Starfleet/Maquis situation after the first season.
Locke - Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
This episode scared the shit out of me as a kid - that scene in the holodeck is absolutely, genuinely and really creepy, even now. As is the idea that Riker's arm has been removed and reattached while he slept... I agree the actual ending part was no-where near up to the creepy level of the holodeck recreation but still... yeah, a really freaky episode for sure =)

And whoever wrote Data's poetry is quite simply a genius, it's so perfect and funny XD
Rog - Thu, Aug 30, 2012 - 3:43am (USA Central)
Grumpy, Laforge had been working on that modification for some time. The test we saw on the show was his final success. It is reasonable to assume he made some less successful tests prior to that one which still may have alerted the aliens.
xaaos - Sun, Feb 3, 2013 - 3:21pm (USA Central)
I laughed when Riker fell asleep and started snoring, and just like then the intro theme came up.
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 12:25pm (USA Central)
Loved Data's poetry, plus the whole concept was original and went beyond the forehead of the week type aliens... they also seemed a tad similar (at least in concept) to the aliens from fluidic space in VOY. Also good to see the TNG crew a little more helpless than usual rather than just breezing through. As usual though, a little more exploration of the implications of all of it (aliens abducting people to another universe etc.) would have been nice, but alas, I'm expecting too much
mephyve - Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - 9:06pm (USA Central)
This is one of those average episodes that I found entertaining but I didn't go gaga over it. Solid performances and I liked the red sunset poem. You can keep the ode to spot though
William B - Sat, Aug 24, 2013 - 11:19am (USA Central)
I liked both of Data's poems very much. A real hoot, and I liked his later conversation with Geordi.

I have little to say about this one, but I like it and I agree with Jammer that the trick is that it makes a hoary plotline (alien abduction!) seem original by transposing it to the 24th century wherein unexpected alien abductions seem impossible. One thing about TNG is that for the most part, the ship itself, the insides of the ship, mostly feel safe. Sometimes the ship itself will be under threat of being destroyed, and sometimes away missions will lead to your death, but for the most part threats do not come from *within* the ship, and on the rare occasions that they do they're usually concentrated on one or two people. This episode suddenly makes the insides of the ship -- crew quarters, cargo bays -- feel dangerous and frightening and insecure, for the audience and the characters, in a way that is pretty new. And the idea that one can be abducted, experimented on, and come back having lost something -- time, bodily integrity -- and not realize it is really frightening. Somehow "your arm has been amputated and surgically reattached" is both funny and creepy in equal measures.

The centrepiece scene of the episode is the recreation of their experience on the holodeck. (I hasten to note that the two best scenes of the season so far are both on the holodeck, the other being Scotty's recreation of the Enterprise -- well, okay, "Ode to Spot" is a close third.) Talk about slowly mounting dread: there is nothing unusual or frightening about that first wooden table, but each change transforms the image until the scene ends with a metal examination table, a blinding spotlight surrounded by darkness, and unending loud clicking in the background. Creepy. (There is some cheating -- the computer's idea of what a metal table looks like pretty much makes the first metal table look far creepier than anything before -- but still.)

I like that Riker is the focus here (s6 is a very good season for Riker, I think, after a very poor season five), and that he volunteers and goes to experience that personal hell awake. There is no resolution in that room, and it's a tiny bit of a disappointment, though it's all pretty much worth it when one of the aliens comes by and its claw looks very much like the "scissors" on the metal swing-arm. And I like that the episode is allowed to end on a downbeat, mysterious note, with Riker rejecting Data's interpretation of the aliens as explorers, although Data might not be wrong about the motivations.

I think 3 stars sounds right to me.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 7:31am (USA Central)
I forgot to add. This was another episode that I recorded on its original UK air. Something I did with a few of the episodes before and after this one.
As a result I have seen it many times as my quality control was a lot worse when I was 16-17.
This will be airing on SyFy soon and I am (hillariously) recording the same run of episodes. Some like Realm of Fear I wont watch. I am looking forward to seeing this one again though.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Jul 27, 2014 - 3:51pm (USA Central)
I like the way the episode built up the mystery of what's going on. It started out as just a day in the life of the Enterprise, just with Riker being a bit sleepy. And things seemed to go along well until some other weirdness. Really, it's not until Data has some missing time that we can be sure there's something technically wrong. I think Riker was a good choice for a main character here, he is essentially the everyman on the Enterprise. So if you're going to have someone abducted by aliens, it's best to make it the most relatable person available. It's kinda like how O'Brien ended up getting tortured so much on DS9.

Besides, for whatever other complaints one can make about Frakes' acting, he does a good job of being haggard and overwhelmed. Perhaps not quite as great a performance as in Frame of Mind, but I was impressed.

And yes, part of the greatness of the episode (well, goodness, I guess; it's not an instant classic or anything) is that we never really learn anything about the aliens. And in the end, the threat was great enough or at least disturbing enough that even these intrepid explorers and humanitarians wanted nothing to do with them. In Time's Arrow, I thought the ending of the Devidians was rather lame; that the Enterprise would just casually destroy the site without even trying to make contact with them was out of character. And yet here, it makes perfect sense.

This time it's personal. There was an abstract threat to Earth by the Devidians, but here there was a real, tangible threat to the Enterprise. And one that the crew seemed helpless against. It's interesting that the emotionless Data offered the suggestion that the aliens were simply explorers, and it was the guy who had his arm cut off and reattached who shot that down. Being so emotional about it may not be ideal, but it is perfectly understandable.

And even then, it's hard to argue with Riker. The Devidians were simply eating. It may not be fun for the prey, but at least they have a rational explanation for what they were doing. What about these aliens? Whatever the case, we know that doing such abductions and experimentations are immoral, so it would undoubtedly be harder to establish any meaningful relations with these creatures. And thus, making sure to cut them off entirely made perfect sense.

But even still, the ending made clear that not everything went back to normal. Riker was still greatly shaken up by events. There was still a rather unsettling feeling on board. They very nearly lost everything. And they still only managed to escape the aliens by the skin of their teeth. There was no time for introductions, no time to learn more. Instead, the aliens represented only fear of the unknown, and the Enterprise crew's survival instincts were all that was available. And that was to run away.

By the way, there does seem to be quite a bit of technobabble in this episode. Normally I don't mind it, but I did have to laugh when Crusher was giving Riker warm milk. "The heat activates the amino acids in the lactose". Psst, Bev, lactose is a sugar molecule, not a protein... that's elementary biochemistry. I don't mind rerouting power through the phase inducers to create an inverse tachyon pulse to negate the gravimetric waves... that's just magic words. Basic science is different and shouldn't be so wrong.
msw188 - Wed, Sep 17, 2014 - 11:14pm (USA Central)
I skipped this one on my recent rewatch (first since initial broadcasts and early reruns) because I had forgotten which episode it was. I did a bit of reading and realized this was the episode with 'the scene' and I watched it today.

I bring up my experience because I think it fits with my thoughts on the episode. As a whole, there's not a whole lot going on, and the script isn't anything special. But that one scene in the holodeck really sticks in the memory as something genuinely creepy, if you are willing to suspend disbelief just a bit.

I'd have a hard time giving a star-rating to something like this. The scene is a triumph of idea and atmosphere over character; the abductees feel like they could've been practically anybody. The rest of the episode is okay, but nothing great. The Ode to Spot was just lovely, but Geordi's conversation with Data feels like it belongs in an episode where character matters.

I'd waver between 2.5 and 3 stars myself.

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