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Night Terrors

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 28, 2009 - 12:48 AM GMT

See Also: 'Night Terrors' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Captain Picard is ordered to search for the U.S.S. Brattain, which has disappeared near a binary star. When the Enterprise tracks down the ship, an away team discovers that the entire crew has died, apparently by murder and suicide; the sole survivor is a catatonic Betazoid with whom Troi can communicate telepathically, but she can make no sense of his thoughts. LaForge cannot activate the Brattain's engines, and when he tries to have the Enterprise tow the vessel, the Enterprise's engines fail as well. Soon many crewmembers are behaving erratically and Troi is suffering from nightmares. Only Data remains entirely unaffected. He hypothesizes that the Enterprise, like the Brattain before it, is trapped in a spatial rupture called a Tyken's Rift, but though that would explain the energy drain, it does not explain the crew's behavior. Data believes the crew can escape the rift by creating a massive explosion, but it requires work to set up and the crew's behavior becomes more and more unstable during the preparations. Crusher realizes that this is because everyone on the crew save Troi has stopped dreaming, but she is unable to induce REM sleep in any of them. Soon there is a near-riot in Ten Forward and Worf tries to commit suicide, though Troi is able to talk him out of it. She tries again to communicate with the semi-conscious Betazoid, whom she realizes is sharing her nightmares, which she concludes are not dreams at all but a form of communication from telepathic beings trapped on the other side of the rift. Data proposes that Troi try to send a message via a dream to these aliens, then guesses that the "one moon circles" from her dream is a hydrogen atom. The Enterprise releases hydrogen into space, which Troi successfully asks the aliens to ignite. The resulting explosion frees the Enterprise and, presumably, their unseen saviors, allowing the crew to recover.

Analysis: I appreciate the attempt to tell a haunted house story (well, a haunted ship story), but "Night Terrors" is never very scary and its technobabble never makes much sense. There are some nice performances from the regulars, even poor Marina Sirtis who has to float in nightmare-space shouting things like, "Where are you? What do you want?" while looking terrified - but both the science and the fiction aren't Star Trek's finest. It doesn't help either that the crazy crew is so reminiscent of crazy crews in other episodes, only without a fun angle - there's no sexual obsession, no out-of-character skulking around. We get to see Picard cowering in terror, Crusher ordering a bunch of zombies to go back to being dead, and Worf about to stab himself with a serrated blade, but it's hard to be as entertained by this kind of deviant behavior as by "I never told my mother I loved her." There's a lovely moment where Guinan makes everyone in Ten Forward behave by pulling out a giant alien gun...but the payoff in giggles probably isn't worth the wondering why she didn't volunteer for more critical duties if she was unaffected by the dream deprivation.

What works best about this episode is the pacing. We enter with the crisis already underway - the Enterprise on the hunt for a disabled vessel - and we see very quickly that something horrific has happened to its crew. Then the Enterprise's engines fail, LaForge and Data conclude that the ship is stuck in a spatial rift, and it's instantly apparent that her crew is going to face the same madness that destroyed the crew of the Brattain. Because of this framework, I immediately assumed the Brattain was in the same sort of rift as the Defiant from "The Tholian Web," which also caused the crew to go mad and kill one another; since the madness here is a different cause altogether, it's a bit odd that the setup is so similar.

The fact that the sole survivor of the catastrophe is a Betazoid suggests that Troi must be the one to save the day, which in turn suggests that there's an empathic or telepathic component to the nightmare - something I'm surprised Troi herself can't determine until Crusher realizes Troi is the only person dreaming on the entire ship. But no one seems to be thinking very quickly. If I'd been on the crew, I might have guessed, for instance, that something had occurred akin to the events that triggered "The Naked Time" and "The Naked Now" - Riker made a connection in that early episode right away. Yet the best minds on the Enterprise seem flummoxed during failures that the audience can predict all too easily.

And the fact that everyone will be fine is predictable as well, which means that the atmosphere is never more than a bit creepy. The sense of menace to the crew is never real; Gates McFadden and Patrick Stewart try very hard to convince us that their characters are terrified when isolated, and Michael Dorn has a touching moment as a powerless, petrified Worf choosing death at his own hand, which leads to Troi's strongest moment of the episode, talking him out of it. Plus I'd forgotten that the honeymoon was over so quickly for Miles and Keiko with his accusations of infidelity...they start arguing and, so far as I can recall, don't stop until the end of the Dominion War!

The lack of brilliance in the writing translates as unimpressive behavior among the crew. Crusher may not be able to induce REM sleep, but surely she could sedate all unnecessary personnel to avoid violence, or fill the air with nitrous oxide to get everyone laughing - something like what Doctor McCoy did when Jack the Ripper was threatening Kirk's Enterprise? LaForge may not have a backup plan to create a safe explosion, but couldn't he try something radical like jettisoning the warp drive, hitting it with phasers, and hoping Starfleet will send someone to look for them just the way Starfleet sent the Enterprise after the Brattain? For an episode without a lot of creativity, there should be better use of Star Trek's past.

It's nice that Troi's emotional reasoning and Data's logic lead them to the same conclusion, and that with their two heads together, they decipher the location of the star system and the need for hydrogen. Yet it's really pure chance that Data manages to scroll past an atom at precisely the moment Troi is looking for an image that might match up with "one moon circles." All in all, "Night Terrors" is pleasant enough to watch, but can't really be rated a good episode.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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