Thursday, May 31, 2012

Frame of Mind

***** (5 stars out of 5)

Riker's rehearsing "Frame of Mind", Doctor Crusher's play about insanity, with doctors tormenting patients as treatments. With a name like Crusher, the scary is built right in!

Tilonus IV's government has collapsed into anarchy, and resorting to torture of the Federation research team for technological information. Worf briefs Riker on his undercover role in the rescue mission. The Klingon accidentally nicks Will's temple with the bartering knife.

Bowing to the audience after the play performance, Riker finds himself in Ward 47 of the Tilonus Institute For Mental Disorders, suffering from the delusion that he belongs on a starship.

He's surrounded by crazy Tilonians with vaguely barn-owl faces. David Bowie's Goblin King does not make an appearance, but he might not be out of place in this nuthatch.

The burly orderly Mavek gleefully tells amnesiac Riker that he was brought in for a brutal stabbing murder. When Riker attacks the guard in rage, he is sedated with the biggest needle ever used by horse doctors...

And wakes from a nightmare back on Enterprise.  He performs the play again for the first time, but now he sees Tilonians who are not there, and the set itself encloses him with chiaroscuro menace.

After Crusher's exam shows nothing is wrong, Data praises Riker's vivid portrayal of dementia.

Will's reality keeps breaking, flipping between the ship and the institute. Whenever Crusher heals the cut on his head, the wound re-opens. Tormented by delusions, Will desperately seizes a phaser and turns it on himself. Or is he holding a knife?

"Frame of Mind" is where I first noticed that writer Brannon Braga could be counted on for what 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' might indelicately refer to as "a mental mind-fuck". I usually go in for the laughs myself, and there aren't any easy ones here. It's creepy as can be, a totally disturbing spiral of confusion, chaos and fear. It's not especially violent, because it's trying to give us all the chills instead. And succeeding. Special effects are minimal but outstanding. Everybody puts in a twisted showing as not-quite-themselves, while Jonathan Frakes is captivating. Hold your loved ones close and remember it's all in your head...

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