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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Jack Graham
    May 11, 2015 @ 2:28 am

    Hang on… you're seriously telling me people don't like this? Seriously? This actually has a bad reputation?

    Sorry but what the actual fuck???

    This has always been one of my absolute favourites of TNG. Like, it was one of the ones I'd defend even when I was in my 'must kill all Trek with fire' phase.

    This is a genuinely creep, spooky thriller. You mentioned the bits with the bodies in the morgue… that actually gave me nightmares when I saw it as a kid (which is good, btw)… but I'd also mention the intense spookiness of Riker being sure he's being watched in his quarters, and the business of the door chimes going off followed by the knock on the door. Very few ghost stories really get how scary a sudden, unexpected knock at the door can be.

    You mentioned that it's about what happens when people can't dream… it's also about co-ooperation between species who are so different they can't even talk to each other in any straightforward way (something TNG really only does a few times)… and scientific knowledge understood via poetic metaphor…

    It's a cracker. Trekkies don't understand their own show, clearly.


  2. K. Jones
    May 11, 2015 @ 3:31 am

    I'm glad I watched Night Terrors to prep for this. I have really, really fond memories of Night Terrors being downright terrifying to me as a child. All the best pop culture stuff has affected my younger self here and there with some good and proper scares. Particularly Doc Crusher examining that room full of corpses, which out-of-context sounds kind of ridiculous (I mean she's got whole teams of frazzled, but probably still competent staff to help with that so she's not alone in a room with the dead.)

    You're so right about Data, though. O'Brien on the other hand, I glanced over. Not that he wasn't clearly acting rotten, it's just that we're meant to know that something's wrong and I think what's lost in that is that those people with a more active dream-life are the ones who are strongest affected. Riker is visibly a shell of himself, and kind O'Brien is testy and vile. One imagines Reg Barclay is somewhere belowdecks punching people. But if that's jarring (and it is, because comparatively later when that other ops guy is turning all revolutionary, O'Brien plays as the slightly more level-headed one) I think some of it just comes from how good Colm Meaney is at playing overboard, embittered, slightly vicious types. This isn't uncommon, though, for someone eminently likable and charming to be able to be doubly unlikable when they're acting unlikable. Personally I can draw instant comparisons to a large number of my direct family members, and lest I seem bitter, probably myself as well, since I suffer from actual sleep problems that can result in a personality 180 sometimes.

    I was primarily interested in watching this for Deanna and having forgotten a chunk of the sci-fi story mechanics I was really pleased with the emphasis on frankly the way psychic brainwaves actually work. It's stealth worldbuilding, but it's also a great way to isolate and elevate Deanna from the rest of the crew in a way that's not marginalizing her or making her seem elite or aristocratic, but rather just kind of highlights the real difference, which is as simple as "she's got an extra sensory node in her brain." Really, though, the way in which the psychic force from the other side is trying to communicate does three things (again, stealthily). First it coyly intimates that the Enterprise is lucky to have a psychic onboard (specifically Deanna, because she can study dream logic (using Data as sounding board, of course)). Second, it coyly suggests that some of the more creative thinkers who are wrecks without dream-sleep might be "closer to psychic/empathic" than those who aren't. Which is a brilliantly low-key revelation. Would it surprise us to learn that Riker and O'Brien are sort of latent "near-empathic" humans? No. Third, just the very notion that us everyday humans can hear psychic signals, we just can't process them, and the way it acts as interference makes total sense to me and kind of highlights how and where in the mind and brain psychic powers manifest.

    There's a bit of magic here as well, as once again we encounter another barely sciencey space phenomena that's like a bridge to an Otherworld. Where once again there's a couple Betazoids at the center of it, the Enterprise's magical axis is tilted out of sync, the feng shui is off. I don't think it's a coincidence that the mystery aliens speak to Deanna through metaphor about moons and eyes, for instance.


  3. K. Jones
    May 11, 2015 @ 3:42 am

    Something sort of neat to think about is how rapidly O'Brien, or even rather, "The O'Briens" are being elevated is that we're five episodes into it and we've already gotten a "personality swap/negative psychic effects" type episode with them playing a central role. Really, at this point, how long before we get "demonic possession" tropes, right?

    A recurring character is one thing. We get Q, Lwaxana, and Reg Barclay once a year. O'Brien is an unofficial Main Character at this point, with all the perks, and his own supporting character.

    Another mild thing to think of really quickly is the overlooked job of Transporter operator. If Star Trek made now, I don't think they'd be able to avoid retooling the Transporter operator's job to more effectively convey what it is – which is essentially "mission control", monitoring the lifesigns and approximate geographic locations of everyone in the mission and providing evacuation if necessary. To put it another way – the main "mission" transporter room should be located right out the back door from the command bridge.


  4. Froborr
    May 11, 2015 @ 4:29 am

    Oh, I like the idea of a transporter chief acting as mission control–it'd be particularly interesting fused with the communications officer role, which never made sense to me as Worf or Tasha's job. But I could see Uhura being great at a mission control position, something like Misato Katsuragi but without the daddy issues.

    With your permission, I'm totally going to steal this for my STO character's logs.


  5. Froborr
    May 11, 2015 @ 4:32 am

    Jack Graham said basically everything I would have. Count me as another for whom Crusher's scene in the morgue is a childhood standout. And yeah, I love the slow burn of this episode.

    This is a real standout for me, one of the episodes I remember most vividly, so count me as another astounded that it's disliked.


  6. Adam Riggio
    May 11, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    One of the things I always enjoy about Colm Meaney's career are the times when he plays arseholes and murderers. He's fantastically entertaining. I'm thinking in particular of that jackass federal cop in Con Air who tries to shoot down the plane before Nicolas Cage's long-ass hippie hair has a chance to save the day. And as Russell Brand's greasy Vegas club musician dad in Get Him to the Greek. And as the grandpa-rock DJ who snaps and holds Radio Norwich hostage in the Alan Partridge film. He really does play mean so well.

    It's a true testament to his range, because he plays kind so well too. I'm thinking of O'Brien of course, but also a TV miniseries from about a decade ago based on a novel about my home island of Newfoundland, Random Passage. I'm quite impressed by his post-Trek career, really, becoming a sort of Irish everyman character actor.


  7. K. Jones
    May 11, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

    By all means. Head-canon can't become canon without fan-canon in the interim, and not to delve too deep into pseudo-military accuracy, but it does seem like a good fit for a Senior Chief. Picard shouldn't have to simultaneously face off against a Romulan Commander on a viewscreen and do hand signals behind his back to relay downstairs to monitor what's happening on the landing mission.


  8. K. Jones
    May 11, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

    I like roles where he's a bit of both, like the bullish detective in Intermission, or the wisdom-of-years gangster of Layer Cake.


  9. Josh Marsfelder
    May 12, 2015 @ 5:17 am

    Colm Meaney's fantastic acting range is always something I've admired about him. I may have found O'Brien's scenes here jarring, but that's only because of how uncannily well Colm sells them. He's every bit as talented as actor as his castmates, and he's probably one of the most versatile of the bunch.

    That he's capable of such a diverse spectrum of emotions and personalities is self-evident. There's a very good reason why he's placed with with Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis in "Power Play".


  10. Daru
    May 13, 2015 @ 8:44 pm

    I'm with Froborr and Jack as being dumbfounded that standard Trek fans don't like this – my jaw is now on the floor! For me this s one of my all time favourite episodes. We have so much here as others have said above: eeriness, great pacing, a creative in-story challenge to solve, portals and communion wit the Otherworld, a great Deanna story and I always love stuff involving dreams.

    I don't bother about any problems with the flying Deanna effects – who cares?

    O'Brien's fine for me as I love Colm's range and you know when something is off-kilter on the inner or outer in a story when he does something non-chief like. I think of him as a kind of warm, human barometer for the heart of whatever crew he works with.

    Love this story – Trekkies don't have a clue clearly.


  11. Ross
    May 14, 2015 @ 12:24 am

    At a wild guess, I know I had a hard time getting past the whole "Spacefaring aliens who can only communicate in the form of insomnia and vague symbolism" thing. (I can't recall what he suggested instead, but I remember that my dad, who is a chemist, thought "one moon circles" was a particularly obtuse way of communicating that they wanted hydrogen. Also that "we desperately need the single most abundant substance in the universe, because we don't have any" was pretty contrived. And a concept that we will be seeing again when we get to Voyager)


  12. K. Jones
    May 15, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

    It's interest to me from an audience detection sense that he went right to hydrogen, when I, having not seen the episode in an age but being a pretty good deductive reasoner in fiction went right to "they're talking binary star system … Data, where's the nearest binary star?" Sure, not exactly the most one-to-one moon metaphor, but my first thought was a large orbiting body, not a small one.


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