Star Trek: The Next Generation: Frame of Mind   Rewatch 
August 27, 2021 4:51 AM - Season 6, Episode 21 - Subscribe

Riker begins to suspect that all of Tilonus IV's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

We can try to help you remember what happened using Memory Alpha:

• This episode originated from the barest of premises from Brannon Braga. Braga recalled, "I had a notion: What if Riker woke up in an alien insane asylum and had no idea how he got there and was told he was crazy?" In the late season time crunch, the idea was accepted by the skeptical Michael Piller and Rick Berman to replace another story that had failed to materialize. According to Jeri Taylor, "We didn't have time to do a story, so we went ahead and 'broke' this...which is the most risky thing in the world to do. They're painstaking, they take days, and if you lose it you're doomed!" After a torturous three day break session, however, the staff emerged with a workable story that impressed Piller.

• The use of Riker was in part intended to remedy Braga's perception that the character was underused. "Riker's a friendly character, he's the one Human you can do humor with, you can do action – and here you can jerk him around and drive him crazy!"

• Due to contemporary mental health trends, Braga briefly reconsidered his frequent use of the word "crazy" in the teleplay. He explained, "People use this word, it's a good word, and I decided to use it. When you get too 'politically correct' it shows, and what's 'PC' today won't be five years from now. Star Trek is a show that transcends time, and we try not to date it."

• Braga thought this was Frakes' best episode, calling his performance "a real tour de force."

• Naren Shankar commented, "I think this is the best script Brannon has ever written for the series. It was a phenomenally cool first draft and it's an incredibly great episode. It's a darker season this year which is funny because, in general, we're not a very dark bunch. Dark stories are very attractive, they're interesting and the emotions they bring up are attractive because they're powerful and off-putting. We have had some very intense episodes and gut-wrenching stuff. There's not a lot of light moments in "Face of the Enemy" and "Chain of Command"."


"The play is full of disturbing images. People losing their minds, being tortured by doctors. I can't get it out of my mind."
- Riker, on "Frame of Mind"

"I remember when they brought you in. You were struggling, screaming. We could barely hold you down. In fact, just getting the blood off your hands took over an hour."
"Blood?"
"On your hands, clothes. You didn't just kill that man, you mutilated him."
- Mavek and Riker


Poster's Log:
Based on what I've read online over the years, I have a sense that people have pretty varying opinions about this one, which I'll be interested to see shake out in the comments here. Seems to me at least that nobody would argue it's boring—and Frakes' performance may be the dominant factor there. IMO, the Achilles' heel of this one is that what's really happening is too guessable, so even though they made the right moves w/r/t establishing tension and uncertainty, the intended gut punch ends up being more of a nudge. (Not to mention that this premise is really hurt by the Principle of Main-Cast Continuity, which isn't the official TV Tropes name for it AFAIK but you know what I'm getting at.)

Also, the shattering effect is, and has always been, corny; just because they can, it does not necessarily follow that they must. I think my favorite parts are the very first scene and the very last scene.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm basically with you on this one. I don't think that there's necessarily anything wrong with the idea that Riker could have been temporarily mentally ill, as there are multiple instances in the franchise where external factors produce different varieties of that (notably the "The Naked Time/Now" episodes). But they tipped their hand very obviously, very early in the episode. And I'd question Braga's choice of Riker for this ep; not only has Riker been to this well more than once in this series (working his way through multiple layers of realistic deception in "Future Imperfect", undercover away missions gone awry in "First Contact" and "Who Watches the Watchers", even the later scene where he's strapped to the table having weird alien science done to him is reminiscent of the later scene in "Schisms"), but you'd think that aliens who wanted Federation tech would have gone for someone in ops, preferably engineering, or at least sciences, rather than command; it would have been a nice switch for La Forge not to have an "unlucky in love" episode, or even Barclay could have been the subject, given his general bag of personal problems and his interest in being part of Crusher's drama club. An episode that does a much better job of questioning whether the protagonist's entire previous experiences had been a fantasy or delusion was DS9's "Far Beyond the Stars", in part because of the care given to creating Benny Russell's world; the Tilonus hospital isn't much more extensive or realistic than the stage set.

In general, this ep reminds me of something that I think one of my professors way back in my undergrad days said: the problem with psychodrama is that good drama doesn't necessarily equal good psychology, or vice versa. ("Far Beyond the Stars" is an exception because it does an excellent job of making the point that Russell's real problem is being beaten down, in more than one way, by the racist society that he lives in.) I'm also aiming a jaundiced eye at Braga's "it's a perfectly cromulent word" argument; it says a lot more about Braga than about political correctness in language.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:01 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


The little peck on the lips Riker gives Troi before leaving Ten-Forward is unusual, isn't it?

Does the fake cell door in Crusher's play open automatically, like 'real' Enterprise doors do, or are there Enterprise stage-hands waiting out of sight to pull the doors open?
posted by hanov3r at 7:09 AM on August 27


Also, the shattering effect is, and has always been, corny

Aw man, I love the shattering effect, especially the final one where the entire screen shatters to reveal the "real world" scene already in progress.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:30 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Pattern Enhancers is a classic premiere 'silver bullet' type card: it beats other effects, mentioned by name. Pretty niche, maybe stick it in Q's Tent for a rainy day.

Frame of Mind makes one of your personnel, selected randomly, super bad without telepathic assistance. The classic selection of skills to give them is of course Barbering and Cantankerousness.

When they were creating the official sealed deck product(i.e., for tournament play using a deliberately limited card pool) they returned to the idea of selecting a skill, but instead of being a pure detriment, you could use it to fill out a key skill in such a constrained environment. This is done with Reflection Therapy, amply supported by Suna in the same set, who also provided the key SECURITY and MEDICAL skills, appearing here for the first time on the same personnel. A very nice couple cards for the versatility of choosing a skill in regular play, as well.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:11 AM on August 27


When you get too 'politically correct' it shows, and what's 'PC' today won't be five years from now. Star Trek is a show that transcends time, and we try not to date it."

"We'll probably go back to stigmatizing mental illness in the far future." - Brannon Braga, probably.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:34 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


After a torturous three day break session, however, the staff emerged with a workable story that impressed Piller...
He explained, "People use this word, it's a good word, and I decided to use it. When you get too 'politically correct' it shows, and what's 'PC' today won't be five years from now. Star Trek is a show that transcends time, and we try not to date it"...
Naren Shankar commented, "I think this is the best script Brannon has ever written for the series. It was a phenomenally cool first draft and it's an incredibly great episode.


It's kind of astounding to me how so many un-self-aware people managed to all find employment in the same place at the same time.

Aaanyway, despite the fact that I really dislike the apparently obligatory "insane asylum" episode that every series has, this one's okay enough. Frakes is always fun when he's twitchy. But it's definitely undercut by what Halloween Jack refers to, the fact that this is perilously close to a number of other episodes. I suppose they thought that almost all of the main characters had had some sort of "am I the only one losing touch with reality?" story, but Riker seems disproportionately centered in them.

The shattering effect makes me a little nostalgically amused--back when fan vidders were transitioning from making vids on VCRs to using computers, everyone was SO EXCITED to use rudimentary effects like that and vids of the era were hilariously full of ALL the effects.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 6:14 PM on August 27


Great points so far.

Aside from the themes and what this episode recycled from old ones...

This one really makes evident Jonathan Frakes in his final form. That asylum outfit he wears shows off just a large man he had become. Long gone was the tall thin young man of the first season.

Crusher wears that dress outfit to the play. Riker freaks out when he sees Suna sitting with Worf and Picard and Beverly takes Riker off to Sick Bay. Where we find Riker is still in his costume from the play, but Beverly has changed closes to her Starfleet uniform. No doubt due to need to do all sick bay scenes at once and then play scenes, but it stood out to me. I wonder what how that went in universe. "Will, you sit here a moment and relax while I go change clothes."

That's all I got. I like this one and the trailer for it has always stood out as memorable from back in the day, but the end doesn't really pay off well.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:09 PM on August 27


I wonder what how that went in universe. "Will, you sit here a moment and relax while I go change clothes."

I wonder something similar whenever there's a commercial break right in the middle of a tense confrontation, but it comes back from commercial with a Captain's Supplemental Log voice-over, even though the scene is still in progress. "Pardon me, Hostile Alien ship, I need to update our paperwork before we start firing at each other."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:37 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Eh, I'm happy to suspend disbelief on that one. It makes as much sense as no one ever taking a dump on the Enterprise, either. Unless I've been misinterpreting "Captain's Log, Supplemental" all these years.
posted by phooky at 11:18 AM on August 28


Well, you know what Mr. Spock found in the bathroom...
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:44 AM on August 28


"Frame is Mind" is an episode that is great on concept but weak on details. Frakes going crazy is enough. But afterwards, when I look closer, the story is kinda patchy. Even though they wrap things up at the end, I still have questions.
posted by Stuka at 3:18 PM on August 28


It makes as much sense as no one ever taking a dump on the Enterprise, either.

No, but they do have 'waste extraction' on DS9.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:37 PM on August 28


And barbers -- on Enterprise-D, DS9, & Voyager.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:48 PM on August 28


I find parts of this one viscerally disturbing, like when Riker thinks he’s going to be locked up for the rest of his life by himself in this dark, featureless cell. The set design looked so cheap, even for the time period, I think that made it even creepier.

The shattering effect is weird and jarring, and. completely takes you out of the drama; so maybe it’s extra appropriate for this episode.

The fake-out with the patient Riker meets in the common area, who coincidentally happens to have a very similar delusion, and is even spouting very Federation-esque ship names like “Yorktown” was pretty cheap.
posted by skewed at 9:19 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


The set design looked so cheap, even for the time period

I always assumed it was an extension of the cheap play set expanded upon by Riker’s mind. It’s supposed to look that way.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:52 AM on August 29


The fake-out with the patient Riker meets in the common area, who coincidentally happens to have a very similar delusion, and is even spouting very Federation-esque ship names like “Yorktown” was pretty cheap.

I was going to mention this scene. I can suspend disbelief and buy into the idea that Riker is crazy or something. But then that other patient, who is clearly a native, starts talking into her spoon to contact the Yorktown, that is really jarring. How can she know about that? Is Riker hallucinating her too? Too many questions.
posted by Stuka at 9:35 AM on August 29


I think the Yorktown lady was just part of Riker's dream. Except for the last minute or so, the whole episode was his dream, which combined memories of what happened before he went on the undercover mission with metaphorical imagery of how the Tilonians had him trapped and were manipulating his mind. I think they explained at the end that so much of the dream was a part of himself that was trying to tell the conscious part to wake up and get out of there.

What wasn't clear to me was whether any part of the dream was something the Tilonians were purposefully implanting in his mind. Were they really trying to convince him he was insane and homicidal--or was that all just Riker's own mind trying to tell him where he was and using memories of acting in the play to build up the message? That is, as far as the Tilonians were concerned, they were just trying to suck some information out of his brain, and they didn't care what he might be dreaming about.
posted by polecat at 2:56 PM on August 30


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