I’m writing this review not because this was a spectacular episode of TNG (it’s not), nor because it’s a bad episode (it’s not that, either). On my personal 5-star rating system, in which 5 stars is apparently almost unattainable (I’m a tough grader) and 3 stars would be considered an “average” episode, one that I might not seek out but wouldn’t mind watching if it were already on the television, I scored this episode 3.5-out-of-5 stars. Better than average: Good but not quite great.
I stand by this score. I liked this episode.
I don’t look at the reviews of other people before giving an episode an overall rating. But, when I did begin reading reviews of “Night Terrors,” I was surprised that the episode was almost universally panned. Larry Nemecek, in Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, indicated that “Night Terrors” is considered one of the weaker episodes of Season 4. My favorite on-line Trek source, Memory Alpha, points out the special effects of Troi’s dream-flying sequence as one of the issues that detracts from this episode. Jonathan Frakes, Commander Riker himself, is quoted as referring to the episode as a “yawner.” The reviewers over on IMDb are a bit more generous, however, and my thoughts on the episode seem more in line with theirs, although there are still complaints about there being no action or landing parties on new planets and the like.
Except for the scenes set on the U.S.S. Brattain, this is essentially a “bottle” episode, set only on the Enterprise. I can’t really understand complaints about there being little action in the episode. TNG was never what I would consider action-packed. The action that exists is largely cerebral.
I felt I owed a better than average review to Deanna Troi, after pretty much hating the Troi-centric episode 4.10 “The Loss.” While I wouldn’t consider “Night Terrors” to be Troi-centric, Deanna does have to do some of the heavy lifting in the plot, and she figures importantly, along with Data, in the ultimate solution to their problem. And she never acts out of character in this episode the way she had to do in “The Loss.” While I will reluctantly admit that the dream-flying special effects were a bit subpar, even for the time, I don’t think they were awful.
Here’s the story. The Enterprise comes across the Brattain, which has been missing for a month or so, adrift in a binary star system. All of the crew have been murdered except for one lone Betazoid, who is catatonic. The Enterprise finds herself in the same situation as the Brattain, ensnared by a convenient plot contrivance, a space-time anomaly called a Tyken’s Rift (not real science here). Something is also robbing the Enterprise crew of their dreams, which is making everyone increasingly paranoid or subject to hallucinations, the same symptoms that eventually led to the deaths of everyone-but-one on the Brattain. Deanna is the only crewmember who is still able to dream, but all she experiences is nightmares. Troi believes she will end up catatonic like the Betazoid from the Brattain.
So, the main story question of this episode is how the crew of the Enterprise will escape the Tyken’s Rift before everyone begins firing phasers at each other.
I liked the setup here, and much of the acting as the crew begins to deteriorate is very good. I wasn’t thrilled with Chief O’Brien acting irrationally jealous in front of his new wife Keiko, but it was an adequate way of showing the effects of not dreaming. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is also affected by their situation, and Patrick Stewart is letting it show wordlessly as his face seems to grow older and more tired in front of our eyes. Stewart is a very talented actor. Or he was genuinely very, very tired. Maybe he’s a Method actor. One of my favorite scenes is with Dr. Crusher alone in the morgue, when the bodies of all the dead Brattain crew seem to come to life. This is genuinely unsettling, especially in a TNG episode. Then Worf is about to commit suicide because he thinks he is no longer a warrior because he’s experiencing fear, but Troi stops him.
The first attempt to break out of the Tyken’s Rift fails. Something about powering up the main deflector dish and releasing a burst of energy. It’s not enough.
During the final act of the episode, Data has assumed acting-captain status at Picard’s request. Data is the only one completely unaffected by whatever this phenomenon may be. Troi continues to attempt to communicate telepathically with the catatonic Betazoid from the other ship. She has a breakthrough when the catatonic Betazoid repeats the “eyes in the dark” and “one moon circling” messages that keep repeating in her “nightmare.” Troi believes that she’s not dreaming at all, but receiving telepathic messages from some unknown species, and that this telepathy may also be interfering with the REM sleep of the rest of the crew. Data says that it’s possible there is another ship on the other side of the fissure that they cannot detect. Troi believes that she could communicate to the aliens through her dreams, the same way they are communicating with her, and Data suggests that they work with the aliens to coordinate their efforts to escape the Tyken’s Rift.
While Data and Troi are sitting at a computer terminal together, Data is scrolling through the list of elements available to them, searching for one that might produce an explosion large enough to allow them to break free of the Rift. Troi makes him stop at the representation of the hydrogen atom, the phrase “one moon circles” now becoming clear to her. The aliens on the other side of the rift must have some substance that will react aggressively with hydrogen, so the Enterprise will send a stream of hydrogen into the Rift while Troi dream-emails the aliens, telling them “now.”
It’s a sketchy plan, based on an incredible leap of logic, but it works, of course.
I’ll admit that I am partial to dream-related stories, which may be why I like this episode. I don’t mean the “it was all just a dream” plots, because I genuinely despise those. I’m talking about shows that relate to lucid dreaming or accomplishing tasks through dreams. Inception. Dreamscape. Virtually all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. That type of thing. In spite of the dated special effects, this one was still a good episode for me.
Again, my rating. 3.5 out of 5 “one moon circling” hydrogen atoms.