Star Trek: The Next Generation: Schisms   Rewatch 
July 1, 2021 7:22 AM - Season 6, Episode 5 - Subscribe

"Thank you, thank you. My next poem is titled, 'Can't Sleep, Aliens-of-the-Week Will Eat Me.'"

Memoria Alpha is your taxonomic nomenclature,
A fan-created database, meticulous by nature:

- Although hardly the first Trek episode in which characters have been abducted by aliens, "Schisms" marks Trek's first foray into the phenomenon of alien abduction in the popular sense. Set designer Richard James compared the episode to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Brannon Braga noted, "Getting kidnapped by aliens is not very fresh. I was more interested in those first four acts, the mystery and the weirdness and seeing our people losing their minds, which is not something you get to see very often."

- Actor Brent Spiner was highly impressed with Data's poem, "Ode to Spot." He recalled, "I couldn't believe it because not only did it rhyme but it's technobabble and it also had something to say. It had a really sweet point of view towards the cat."

- A schism is a split or division. As such, the title refers to the splits in subspace that allow the aliens to abduct crewmembers.

- Picard's Aunt Adele was previously mentioned in "Ensign Ro" and "Cause and Effect". In "Ensign Ro", Picard gave Admiral Kennelly her cure for the common cold, ginger tea with honey. In "Cause and Effect", he gave Crusher her recipe for steamed milk with nutmeg when she had trouble sleeping. Here, Crusher gives Riker her recipe for warm milk toddy.

- Director Robert Wiemer, Brannon Braga, and Michael Piller were all disappointed at the look of the aliens, and decided not to bring them back, despite the open ending. Braga stated, "I felt they looked like monks – fish monks – and monks aren't terrifying."

"I've been in this room before."
"We've all been here before."

- La Forge and Riker

Poster's Log, Emergency Posting Hologram reporting:

MA is obviously right that this isn't the first alien abduction episode in Trek by a long shot, nor is it the last; ditto for aliens experimenting on the crew without their knowledge and permission. And it's not the first time that TNG has done an insomnia-themed episode, as witness "Night Terrors" in S4. The thing that distinguishes this one is that there's actual, physical evidence of the events occurring; they're not hallucinations caused by lack of REM sleep. Also, there's a sort of randomness about the aliens' actions that defies easy explanation and is never rationalized. Why did they take Riker's arm off and reattach it almost (but not quite) exactly in the same place? Why did they turn that one guy's blood into plastic? (That reminded me of certain anatomical models derived by plasticizing cadavers such as those shown in Body Worlds [CW: dead people and animals].) What's with that blade thing that looks like something a Klingon would use to gut a fish? We never know if these aliens are serious scientists, or just kids screwing around with lab equipment, or something that defies simple categories like that; they're really, you know, alien.

One other thing that distinguishes this ep from previous and similar episodes is the scene on the holodeck where they're pooling their semi-remembered experiences to sketch out the memories of their abductions. They even had a civilian who's not one of the seven or so crewmembers who do everything, which was nice. I also liked that Troi ran that "focus group"; as recent eps testify, she's probably the most ill-used of the regular characters, and the show really should have used her more in these sort of investigatory scenes and episodes instead of having Data play Sherlock Holmes (sometimes literally) all the time.

Poster's Log (EPH) supplemental:

Here's the full text of "Ode to Spot." The ep gets a laugh out of showing the rest of the audience, not just the sleep-deprived Riker, being visibly bored, but it has a nice, bouncy, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-I-am-the-very-model-of-a-scientist-salarian rhythm to it.

The idea that there are different layers of subspace that can be drilled down through isn't referenced again in the franchise AFAIK, but there's a bit in the DS9 tech manual that talks about Cardassian experiments to hide ships in the "K layer" of subspace; it sounds kind of like the phase cloak that was referenced recently in "The Next Phase" and will be again in this series.

In terms of cryptic Voyageresque episode titles, "Schisms" is pretty far up there; you'd expect an ep with this title to be about the followers of the Prophets vs. those of the Pah-Wraiths, or maybe those of Vaal vs. Landru if they kept their religion even after First Contact.

On a more serious note, there's been some writing about alien abduction memories and how they might be memories of actual abuse that have been processed to reduce the trauma; the novel Mysterious Skin, and the Gregg Araki movie adaptation, deal with this. (See also this recent thread on the blue about the "Satanic panic.") The franchise has not always been very good on this subject, as witness this VOY episode. [spoilers, obvs.]
posted by Halloween Jack (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Braga stated, "I felt they looked like monks – fish monks – and monks aren't terrifying."

lol what
posted by meese at 8:03 AM on July 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

"I felt they looked like monks – fish monks – and monks aren't terrifying."

Said no one who grew-up Catholic.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:15 AM on July 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

"I felt they looked like monks – fish monks – and monks aren't terrifying."

Mick Fleetwood could not be reached for comment.
posted by hanov3r at 8:21 AM on July 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ode to Spot is legitimately impressive, though I do not really care for the "isn't Data cute when he's humaning" scenes. I often ponder about my own cat's fairly well developed cognitive array.

The table-making scene in the holodeck is pretty fun, were those real tables or somehow animated? I was thinking how it's probably hard to come up with a bunch of tables that don't look too 20th-century.

I took me a good 20 minutes into the episode before I was confident whether I was watching the mildly weird and unpleasant one where Riker goes kinda insane because of covert alien abduction, or the very weird and unpleasant one where Riker goes super insane due to covert alien abduction. Turns out it's the former, and the latter is next season.
posted by skewed at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

The table-making scene in the holodeck is pretty fun

I get a little salty about that scene because 1) some of the leaps the computer takes based on the descriptions given are very very broad, 2) the tilted metal "table" it comes up with is a chair, and 3) the table in the alternate dimension is flat, not tilted.
posted by hanov3r at 9:44 AM on July 1, 2021 [12 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Alien Abduction grabs your most cunning crew member(say, Data) and keeps them captive until you have 3 Leadership present. One of the most common skills, this ain't too difficult. The Second Edition version has a different skill requirement but is also pretty easy.

Subspace Schism features our lovely fish monk front and center. The five second a bit loosey goosey in practice, people generally were not using such precise timings even in tournament play. Probably most effective with Heisenberg Compensators from a couple episodes back.

Warped Space is a high point science missions for the Klingons. They're actually not too bad at these, and 45 points is a tempting target.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

With apologies for sharing a brain worm: someone on The Greatest Generation Reddit forum pointed out recently that, if you actually read it without remembering the show, the first line in "Ode to Spot" is very clearly not meant as a question. (Your taxonomic nomenclature is felis catus.) Everyone who has ever repeated it since has made a very weird choice that doesn't make any sense given the next line. I've enjoyed it at least ten times in the past, but never noticed that before. I can't hear it any longer without feeling critical.

But, it's still a very fun episode. I agree that the leaps the computer makes during the table holodeck scene are pretty wild. But, that doesn't spoil it for me. (My head canon is always that the computer is actually more aware of everything happening than we are and it just plays dumb because it enjoys watching apes solve problems. That's why it knows when you've finished a conversation and can travel directly to a planet hundreds of light years away specified with six digits.) The film-making choices in the table scene are really good and it gave me the willies as a teenager.
posted by eotvos at 1:04 PM on July 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

When I was in elementary school, PBS spent one summer showing Jon Pertwee episodes of Dr. Who. I remember being really freaked out by Terror of the Autons.

This episode was one of the first times a Star Trek episode did the same kind of thing. It's a very non-ST premise handled quite well, I think.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:55 PM on July 1, 2021

Data's poetry is great and they're all dicks for acting that way about it fight me.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:19 PM on July 1, 2021 [14 favorites]

kitten kaboodle: That was my response, too. Also, many of these characters are Gilbert & Sullivan nerds; how could they possibly dislike Ode to Spot?
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:46 PM on July 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Regardless of the quality of the poetry being read, live poetry readings cannot be anything but awkward. This is a universal constant, even in the 24th century.
posted by wabbittwax at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's funny, I mean, I often have massive issues with the character of Data, and he's one of my least favorite, but stuff like his poetry or painting or what have you (I am NOT including trying comedy) go a long way toward making me like him more. And I know he doesn't have feelings to hurt, as he points out to Geordi, but as much as I have an allergic reaction to poetry readings or open mic nights or people earnestly singing at me, I just find the whole crew's reaction to Data really off-putting. I have suffered through some really awful shit for my friends ("your interpretation of the role was so unique!") and while Riker gets a pass, I'm distressed that no one else can bother to at least feign interest on his behalf. And it's not even bad. They just don't want to be at a recitation. They don't want to take a not-particularly long time to sit and be civil and listen to their friend's work. Also, Data is a great cat dad and I appreciate him writing poetry about Spot.

The rest of the episode is nicely creepy. The image of Riker being sucked out of his quarters has become a meme in fandomland, especially on Tumblr, but the whole thing is still nicely awful, that total loss of control. I disagree that the fish monks weren't creepy, I thought they were spooky as hell the first time I saw this, especially because of the clicking sounds.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:18 PM on July 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

When I was in elementary school, PBS spent one summer showing Jon Pertwee episodes of Dr. Who.

That's a strange way to spend the summer, I can't imagine he was very interested in watching them.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2021 [10 favorites]

Also, in defense of everyone's reaction to Data's poetry: He says Ode to Spot is his "next" poem, so it seems likely we're coming in near the end of what was a long and brutal reading. Perhaps Data's first dozen or so poems were not quite so clever and amusing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:10 PM on July 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

"Commander Riker, you have anticipated my denouement" is an all time great line.
posted by supercres at 4:39 PM on July 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

ok I’ve had the Tool song in my head all day

just in case you needed some other creepy thing, with more interpretive dance than you were expecting

I know it’s from 10 years later but that doesn’t get the song out of my head

I know the fish monks fit
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:32 PM on July 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Dr. Crusher has Riker, Geordi, Worf, and the civilian woman in sick bay for testing. She goes over to talk to Picard about what she's learned and uses the word "three" when referring to those being tested. I think the civvie may have been a late edition to the script? Or maybe she just didn't count. Awww!
posted by Fukiyama at 7:16 PM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think the civvie may have been a late edition to the script? Or maybe she just didn't count. Awww!

Maybe the civilians on the Enterprise have a civilian doctor under normal circumstances? Like how Alexander's school teachers aren't officers.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:51 PM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I adore Data and his relationship with Spot, but the "non-sentient" part of the poem has always bugged me a little. Animals are sentient, and Data should know that. But the rest of the poem is very sweet, so I'll give it a pass.

IIRC Data's cat was played by a number of different cats, with very different looks... but none of them had spots!

There's a funny thing with the TNG characters, where on the one hand we don't know a lot about their lives outside of work and they're arguably kind of idealized, two-dimensional heroes... but then on the other hand you've got episodes like this where we see them go through these creepy, traumatic situations and their sanity is really tested. In various episodes we see these characters at their rawest, and some of them come close to having mental breakdowns. You could make a whole montage of insomnia scenes from this show, people alone in their quarters, miserably tossing and turning. It's like we get the shiny, heroic surface, and we also see them at their most raw and vulnerable... but then the middle stuff, the everyday person, is kind of... missing.

Now that I think of it, the characterization on this show is an exact mid-point between TOS, where the characters were pretty straightforward heroes, and DS9, where the characters were very complex and grounded and we knew all about everybody's private life, to the point that we probably learned more about Morn's life than we ever knew about Chekhov's... and Morn was a background character who never spoke! All three shows are great in their own ways, but it's striking to me how TNG occupies this weird middle ground between DS9's warts-and-all approach and TOS's few-if-any-warts.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:09 PM on July 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

Maybe the civilians on the Enterprise have a civilian doctor under normal circumstances?

Who knows? It was just odd. All four abductees were in sick bay with Starfleet Medical personnel fluttering around doing their stuff and Crusher reported to Picard the results she had gotten on the three so far.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:20 PM on July 1, 2021

You could make a whole montage of insomnia scenes from this show, people alone in their quarters, miserably tossing and turning.
So many hard, triangular foam pillows! Noooooo!

Good points, Ursula Hitler. There's definitely a Trek trajectory there. I'm tempted to argue it may have gone a little too far recently and could be dialed back some. I really love Disco, but at least once in nearly every episode I want to yell, "you know you're in the middle of doing a really important job, right? Get on with it! Tell us about your childhood after you've put out the fire." (I'm certainly not arguing we should return to TNG style writing, as fond as I am of it.)

TNG and arguably the first few seasons of DS9 really do seem like the transition between what I think of as old television and contemporary television. There are a few other shows that are similar in that way. MASH, for example, dances back and forth between a Punch-and-Judy show where we don't know or care about anybody and stories with lasting consequences and history. (Not always well, as I recall. But it's been a long time since I've seen it.) In TNG, the mixture is a bit jarring. Sometimes people have histories and events have lasting consequences. Sometimes they don't. With less talented actors, it couldn't possibly have worked.
posted by eotvos at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

So many hard, triangular foam pillows! Noooooo!

I was flabbergasted to see Riker having a rectangular pillow with a regular pillow case and sheets, white colored. I had to go back and watch it again just to make sure.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:12 AM on July 2, 2021

This jumped out at me while I was watching the last few minutes of the episode:

Picard: Captain's log, stardate 46191.2. The tetryon emissions in cargo bay four have ceased, and there have been no further indications of alien intrusions. All Enterprise crewmembers are safe and accounted for. But we are still left with some unanswered questions.

seconds later . . .

DATA: Possibly they were simply curious. Explorers like ourselves.
RIKER: Ensign Rager and I were lucky to have escaped. Lieutenant Hagler's dead. Whoever it was sent that thing was more than simply curious.

Poor Hagler, couldn't even get noticed by the captain when his blood was turned into a liquid polymer. Or maybe he did live and it's Riker who is wrong?
posted by skewed at 8:19 AM on July 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Starfleet captains are trained to forget about redshirts as quickly as possible, it's the only way to stay emotionally stable when you're losing a couple crewmembers a week.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Picard totally had a date at the poetry reading, right? Lieutenant Jae, out of uniform? Scandalous.
posted by rodlymight at 7:16 PM on July 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Just read Jae's entry, and wow. She was in nearly as many episodes as Wesley Crusher (63 vs. 68) and more movies (3 vs. 1).
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:08 PM on July 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

A little late to this party, but I loved the holodeck sequence where everyone is registering all these vague memories like "there was something smooth", "i felt cold", "it was yellow, black, and rectangular" or whatnot and then suddenly Worf jumps in all "OH MAN THERE WAS THIS SWEET KNIFE, IT HAD TWO BLADES, ONE WAS CURVED AND THE OTHER SERRATED, EXACTLY TEN INCHES LONG, IT WAS AWESOME"
posted by phooky at 4:57 PM on July 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

That holodeck scene with the tables drove me absolutely bonkers and I have to blame it on the props people. It’s been a few months but I seem to recall it was like:

Make a table
[makes normal table]
No a little shorter
And metal not wood
[table is now metal]
Hmm yes and tilt it slightly

Like. What.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:29 PM on July 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's possible the computer was aware they were investigating a potential abduction scenario. Maybe, as they were talking about their memories, the computer was listening and made the assumption that when they asked for a tilted table they meant "alien abduction table." While the computer doesn't really behave like a sentient entity it is capable of creating sentient beings in the holodeck, so we're talking about a machine that clearly understands a lot more than it lets on! Either that or maybe it's kind of like a Google image search. If you searched for "tilted table" on Google it wouldn't be so surprising if one of the first results was some scary thing from one of the Saw movies!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:54 PM on July 15, 2021

I find it hilarious that despite being interested in what was very slowly happening, I fell asleep while watching. It was almost exactly like Riker falling asleep at Data's poetry reading.

And yes, cats ARE sentient.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:16 PM on February 4, 2022

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