Friday, March 24, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 91 (Night Terrors)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.


There are some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where I wonder if someone lost a bet.  I’m not saying that the episode was horrible.  I’m also not saying that each of the 178 episodes has to be great.  It’s just that you know at some point, they were falling behind and desperately needed a script.  Night Terrors should not have ever seen the light of day.

The story begins with the Enterprise finding the USS Brittain.  (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled.)  It’s been missing for about a month.  When an away team beams over, they find most of the 34 on board dead.  There’s one survivor:  a science advisor named Andrus Hagan.  He’s catatonic and not saying much.  Interestingly, he’s a Betazoid.  The Enterprise’s counselor is half Betazoid.  Coincidence?  Probably, but it will be important later on in the story.

From what the good Doctor Crusher can tell, the other 33 people killed each other or committed suicide.  There are no apparent reasons, like disease or poisoning.  Everyone just suddenly went crazy.  The mystery of the Brittain is so interesting that no one notices that everyone’s not getting any sleep.  Well, almost everyone.  Data is unaffected, being an android that doesn’t need sleep.  Troi, on the other hand, is sleeping.

Not only is Troi sleeping, she’s having nightmares.  She’s floating towards two points of light.  A mysterious, disembodied voice is going on about a moon and two eyes in the dark.  She tries to ask what the blazes they’re talking about, but she can’t get an answer out of them.  They just keep going on about a moon in the dark.

By the time anyone realizes that there might be a danger in most of the crew not getting any sleep, it’s too late.  The ship is caught in what they call a Tyken’s rift, which drains power from the ship.  It was named for a captain that figured out that a large-enough explosion would get the ship out of the rift.  The thing is no one ever talked about sleep deprivation, hallucinations or nightmares associated with a Tyken’s rift.  This is something else entirely.

When Hagen finally does start talking, he mentions something about eyes and moons and orbits and stuff.  Troi realizes that there must be another ship caught in the rift.  They must somehow be sending out a telepathic message that’s received by Betazoids, but interfering with the sleep cycles of any other humanoid that sleeps.

The two eyes must be the binary stars they’re close to.  But what’s this crap about one moon orbiting?  It takes some work, but Troi and Data realize that it might be hydrogen, the most common (and volatile) element in the universe.  Since it’s a distress call, it would stand to reason that they’re asking for hydrogen to be released, which the Enterprise does.  It takes a moment, but the aliens hold up their end of the bargain and a large explosion frees both ships.  We’re left to assume that someone will be back for the Brittain.

I didn’t particularly care for the episode when it first aired.  Now that I know more, I’m better equipped to pick apart the episode.  First off, isn’t it odd that each of the Federation ships had exactly one person on board that could receive the telepathic transmission?  You’d think that there would be a few more Betazoids on board.  Add to this that most of the rest of the crew can’t sleep because they’re on a different brainwave set.  Data is immune purely by luck of not needing sleep.  All other people on board started going crazy after ten days.  Interesting.

Oh, and did the aliens know that Betazoids used that frequency?  I suppose it could be something common to telepaths.  I suppose the aliens may have simply assumed that all humanoids operated on that REM frequency.  I have to wonder if the aliens were monitoring the Enterprise or if it was some sort of automated transmission.  If not, it would have been cruel to continuing transmitting knowing the effect it was having on most of the people.  (An automated transmission kind of makes sense.  The Brittain was there for a month and the aliens would have been there longer.  It’s possible that they went into suspended animation to conserve life support and food.)

Speaking of the transmission, the only reason I can think of for using riddles is to draw out the episode.  It would have been way too easy to have the aliens just say what they needed the Enterprise to do.  (“Smithers, release the hydrogen.”)  Instead, they go with this one-moon thing.  Don’t say, well they didn’t know if we knew what hydrogen was.  Any race capable of space travel should know what hydrogen is.  We used hydrogen and oxygen as rocket fuel.  If a science advisor didn’t pick up on it, what hope does Troi have?

In the end, everyone just goes their separate ways.  We don’t hear what happens to the aliens.  No one from the Enterprise asks the aliens about their method of communication.  It isn’t even shown if the Brittain was destroyed in the explosion.  The episode has no replay value.  Don’t buy this on VHS.  Even if you get the DVD set, you may want to consider skipping this episode unless you’re set on watching all the episodes. 



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