Original air date: March 18, 1991
The Enterprise is searching a binary stay system for a missing ship, the Brattain. They discover her floating in space, with all of her crew murdered except one catatonic Betazoid. Crusher begins examining the bodies and quickly realizes that the crew went berserk and killed each other. Logs from the ship reveal that the crew descended into madness. Troi tries to contact the Betazoid telepathically to find out more, but his thoughts are limited to a few fragments of words that make no sense. Further, the crew start to hear eerie noises, leading to concerns that the madness has started to infect them as well. Picard orders the ship to get the hell out of there, but the engines won't work. They're adrift, just like the Brattain was.
The ship is stuck in a "Tyken's Rift," a space anomaly that can only be escaped with an intense explosion. Over the next ten days, the trapped crew become increasingly frazzled. Crusher and Troi report that crewmen are experiencing heightened tempers and menacing hallucinations. Riker admits that he has the recurring impression that there's someone lurking in his quarters. Troi, meanwhile, is having nightmares of floating in a green vortex toward two bright lights while a voice intones, "Eyes in the dark. One moon circles." Even Picard starts to crack. Only Data seems immune.
Crusher figures out that the crew's problems stem from not getting REM sleep. Something is preventing their brainwaves from reaching the necessary frequency to dream. Only Troi, who achieves REM sleep at a different frequency due to her Betazoid ancestry, can still dream. If they don't get REM sleep, they'll eventually die. Data takes charge of a plan to push them out of the rift using a pulse from the ship's main deflector dish, but it fizzles to no effect. Things seem dire as the crew is pushed to the brink of terminal madness. Guinan only narrowly puts down a paranoia-fueled riot in Ten-Forward.
Troi keeps trying to contact the Betazoid from the Brattain. She hears him repeat the words, "Eyes in the dark. One moon circles," from her dreams and realizes that it's a message. Someone is using the frequency of dreams to send a distress beacon from the other side of the rift. That's why no one else can dream on that frequency. Troi works with Data to figure out what the message means: The "two eyes in the dark" are the binary suns, and the "one moon circling" is a single electron orbiting the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. The aliens are requesting hydrogen to blow themselves out of the rift!
Data releases a stream of hydrogen into the rift. At the same time, Crusher helps Troi instantly achieve REM sleep to tell the aliens through her dream that they should detonate the hydrogen "now!" She's only got two minutes before the ship's resources are completely depleted. Data counts down from two minutes to zero, but nothing happens. The plan seems to have failed. But then... big explosion! Both the Enterprise and another alien ship are rocketed out of the rift. The day is saved. As acting captain, Data orders the whole crew to get a good night's sleep.
Tropes featured in this episode include:
- Apocalyptic Log: Captain Zaheva's last log entry, which shows how far into paranoia and insanity she had fallen.Zaheva: First officer Brink and his men were behind it. They got to the engines, they don't work anymore. Had to eliminate Brink!
- Big "NO!": Picard screams it when he hallucinates that the turbolift ceiling is coming down to crush him.
- Call-Back: A powerful release of energy is needed to escape the Negative Space Wedgie that's draining the engines. With the ability to replicate explosive compounds already lost, Data and Geordi's first idea is to turn the deflector dish into a Wave-Motion Gun like they did against the Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds." It works about as well as it did then—the energy isn't strong enough to overcome the drain.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: O'Brien's madness manifests as delusions that Keiko is cheating on him.
- Distress Call: It turns out the Madness Mantra and nightmare Counselor Troi keeps experiencing is an alien cry for help; there's another ship caught in the Negative Space Wedgie. The aliens' psychic cries have the rather nasty side effect of blocking humanoids' ability to dream and gain rest from sleep, resulting in Sanity Slippage.
- Dream Episode: Deanna Troi has dreams which turn out to be caused by an alien sending her telepathic messages. She needs to lucid dream in order to communicate with the alien and save her crew mates, who have lost their ability to dream.
- Driven to Suicide: As the dream deprivation gets to him, Worf is tempted to commit suicide because he's afraid and unable to confront it.
- Energy Absorption: The Tyken's Rift drains all energy in the surrounding space. This leaves any ships caught in it adrift because any attempt at thrust is immediately absorbed.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Troi gets two:
- The first is when, whilst trying to get through to the Brattain's counselor, he mumbles the same Madness Mantra Troi has been dreaming about, and she realizes "It's not a dream. It's a message!"
- Later, she and Data are going through the ship's chemical database. Troi tells Data to stop on an image, and realizes that "one moon circles" refers to the makeup of a hydrogen atom (one electron circling one proton).
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: The crew of the Brattain murdered each other. The only survivor, a Betazoid, was left catatonic and likely insane.
- The Ghost: We never see or learn much of anything about the aliens on the other side of the rift. We only catch a fleeting glance at their ship.
- Just Eat Gilligan: Among all the discussions about how to create an energy burst powerful enough to disrupt the rift, no-one ever suggests just setting Brattain to auto-destruct. It could be justified on the grounds that the resulting explosion might have destroyed the Enterprise before it could escape, given the proximity of the ships, but it still seems odd that no-one even mentions it as a possibility.
- Language Barrier: The aliens can only communicate through abstract concepts, interpreted through Troi's dream. It takes most of the episode for Troi to even realize it's a message, much less the intent behind it.
- Karma Houdini: The episode ends immediately after the ships are freed, but there's no indication that the Enterprise will even attempt to contact the alien ship again, much less hold them to account for causing the deaths of the Brittain's crew. However, it's likely that the aliens had no idea how their message would affect the crew.
- Madness Mantra: "Eyes in the dark, one moon circles "
- OOC Is Serious Business: As a result of the Negative Space Wedgie, everyone starts acting off.
- Phlebotinum Overload: The only way to escape the rift is to create a release of energy so massive that it overwhelms the rift's ability to absorb it. The problem comes from the fact that the Enterprise has nothing big enough to do that, and can't replicate the materials necessary because they've been in the rift too long.
- Sanity Slippage: The Brattain crew fell victim to this, killing each other, and the Enterprise crew's sanity begins slipping as well.
- Stock Footage: The explosion of the "rift" is reused footage of the explosion of the Genesis Device from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- That's an Order!: Data states to Picard that as his final act as acting captain he is ordering Picard to bed, and that he will do the same for all personnel.
- Two Shots from Behind the Bar: When a brawl starts to develop among the sleep-deprived crew in Ten Forward, Guinan pulls out a BFG and fires a shot into the ceiling.Gillespie: What is that?
Guinan: This is a little souvenir I picked up from Magus III. That was setting number one. Anyone wanna see setting number two?
- The Walls Are Closing In: Picard hallucinates that the turbolift ceiling is about to crush him.
- Wham Shot: The first thing the away team sees when they beam over to the Brattain is Captain Zaheva in her command chair—with a knife buried in her chest.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn what happens to the catatonic Betazoid. Does he get better now that the alien messages are gone, or was his mind permanently broken?
- You Are in Command Now: Picard puts Data in command for their escape attempt, as he is the only crewmember unaffected by sleep deprivation.