Saturday, July 30, 2011

Riker's Insanity Is A "Framed" Perfect Episode: "Frame Of Mind!"

The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Mood!
The Bad: Nothing.
The Basics: When Riker begins to lose his mind, he finds himself inexplicably moving between an asylum and the Enterprise in a thrilling hour of television.

Anyone who is a fan of my reviews or who listens to me talk about the Star Trek franchise knows that I think the institution went wrong in Brannon Braga. He saved Star Trek The Next Generation from being too insular and slow, but he's a one-trick pony with only three or four unique ideas. His work on Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise has been completely derivative of his episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation. "Frame Of Mind" is the best Braga ever got and it remains his sterling Star Trek The Next Generation outing.

When Riker is preparing for a play set in an insane asylum, he begins to find himself unnerved. As he plans for an undercover mission to a world undergoing a political revolution, he finds himself tired and his attention wandering. It does not take long for him to discover why; he is actually in an insane asylum on Tilonus IV. He has suffered a psychotic break after killing a civilian in a riot and Riker is frustrated to find his plight mirroring the play he was in on the Enterprise. Soon, Riker is finding his sense of reality seriously warped as he shifts between the ship and the asylum. When the realities link when a rescue operation from the Enterprise is mounted, Riker faces a full mental collapse.

This is probably the best performance Jonathan Frakes ever pulled off. "Frame Of Mind" is a tight episode with a lot of tension and so much of it comes down to the performance of Frakes. Frakes has excellent facial articulation and control over his body. There's not a moment that Riker's confusion could be mistaken for Frakes being uncertain. No, it's clear that Frakes is performing up to his highest caliber, as is evident in the very first scene where there is a break between Riker acting and reverting to his normal character and Frakes never comes through as Frakes, it's always Riker. That type of layered acting is an expert technique and cannot be pulled off by just anyone.

Riker is a character that has been underused since the second season and this piece brings him back in full force with all of the potential that existed before Worf and Data began to get more airtime than him. As an added irony, it is those two characters that attempt the rescue attempt in the asylum when Riker turns on them. Perhaps Brannon Braga has a sense of humor about the series after all. But Riker here is vibrant and intriguing to watch.

Riker's unsettled lack of presence in either "reality" is enough to keep the viewer intrigued and waiting to see what happens. His uncertain place in the world is phenomenal to watch and as he attempts to piece together the truth of what happened and how he got where he is, the viewer is drawn more and more inside. This is a tight episode and it stands up to rewatching quite well. The episode moves quickly and is quite tense.

Add to the mood and plot, the entire acting staff is great here. As well as Jonathan Frakes, the guest actors are phenomenal. David Selberg is amazing as the calm and compassionate Dr. Syrus. Syrus is Riker's ally in the mental institution and Selberg plays him with realistic compassion. In direct contrast to Syrus is the villainous Suna. Suna is a menacing agent within the asylum. Andrew Prine is great as this adversary. Even better Prine makes Suna dramatically different from his villain on V: The Final Battle (reviewed here!).

"Frame Of Mind" is a clever character drama that explores the effects of a man losing his sense of reality. Better than most anything on television, this episode is entertaining and may be enjoyed by anyone who wants to watch a psychological thriller. In the end, there is almost no science fiction here; it's a study of the descent into madness. Sometimes the best thing science fiction may do is explore the human condition and "Frame Of Mind" does that with insight and expert vision.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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