Monday, August 8, 2011

Enterprise Infected: "Phantasms" Is Surprisingly Good!

The Good: Acting, Idea, Use of character elements, Imagery
The Bad: Plot repetition
The Basics: When Data experiences a nightmare in "Phantasms," the crew must interpret its meaning before Data goes insane and one of them dies.

When Data gained the ability to dream in the sixth season episode "The Birthright," many fans were miffed that the ability was not revisited in "The Birthright, Part II." Since then, it had seemed like a capricious act of character growth that attempted to make the android officer more human than he already was. In "Phantasms," that ability resurfaces as a far more valuable tool and less like a cheap plot device.

Data experiences a nightmare wherein he is dismembered by miners from the 1850s. Disturbed that his dream subroutine may be malfunctioning, Data seeks counsel on the matter. He learns that dreams are the manifestations of his subconscious and his repeated nightmares indicate an apparent deep-seated psychosis. The nightmares take on a bizarre twist when Data sees his fellow crewmembers in various stages of consuming one another. His nightmare culminates in a violent episode where Data awakens to find himself stabbing Counselor Troi.

"Phantasms" does what it needs to do in that it continues Data's story of growth from simple machine into an actualized individual. It does more than remind us that Data can dream, it makes the android's dreams significant and meaningful. Most fans had the feeling "it's about time." And it was.

Unfortunately, in that regard, "Phantasms" is a bit obvious. The viewers all know that dreams come from the subconscious and it seems somewhat insulting the amount of time the episode takes to discuss that. Moreover, if in "Measure Of A Man" back in the second season established that Data has a conscious, why is there so much debate over the idea that Data might have a subconscious?

But "Phantasms" does quite a bit more right than wrong. First, it keeps a very consistent tone and that is one of rather engaging suspense. It's horrifying to watch Data descend into potential insanity. Even though the detached viewer might note that it seems unlikely from the start that Data is going to end up with permanent damage and that it is improbable that he is actually insane, the episode does an excellent job of making it difficult to remain detached and dispassionate through the ordeal.

Part of what makes the episode so engaging is the imagery. The images of Data's nemesi and crewmembers are very fitting and remarkably dreamlike. The writers of this episode have clearly studied their Freud, which is probably why he makes an appearance in the episode. The imagery is bizarre and quite dreamlike.

What tethers this episode to the viewer is the quality of the acting. Once more, Brent Spiner does an excellent job of keeping Data emotionless in situations that are inherently emotional, making the experience of watching an android's nightmare far more realistic than silly. And "Phantasms" is an episode that it would be easy to make into something silly. Spiner's serious demeanor goes a long way to giving the episode credibility.

As well, the appearance of Counselor Troi acting as an actual Counselor is refreshing. Once Sirtis lost her cleavage-bearing outfits in season six, the emphasis on her character has expanded and in "Phantasms" we see her once again actually doing her job, which is nice. It sets up her future appearances on Star Trek Voyager and in the feature films well as a character who has a purpose beyond looking fabulous.

"Phantasms" may be enjoyed by anyone who likes a decent science fiction horror piece. The episode is engaging as a psychological study and anyone with a psychology background would undoubtedly enjoy all of the psychosexual imagery. Certainly not for children, "Phantasms" is an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that is very accessible and provides enough curiosities to hold up over repeated viewings.

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


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD set reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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