Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Hollow Pursuits”

“Hollow Pursuits”
Written by Sally Caves
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 3, Episode 21
Production episode 40273-169
Original air date: April 30, 1990
Stardate: 43807.4

Captain’s Log: The scene is Ten-Forward. Lieutenant Reginald Barclay pours himself a drink from a bottle. Guinan cautions him that she doesn’t want any trouble — because where Barclay goes, trouble always follows. La Forge comes into Ten-Forward and demands that Barclay return to duty. Barclay tells him to buzz off, punctuating his point with a hearty shove that sends the chief engineer ass over teakettle. Riker comes over to point out that he’s being insubordinate, and Barclay takes him down, too. Troi watches all this, feeling his confidence and arrogant resolve and is incredibly turned on.

Before he can continue, he’s summoned to a cargo bay — at which point he tells the holodeck to save the program. He reports to the cargo bay, where La Forge is complaining to Riker about how much of a problem Barclay is — he just coasts along, always late, never doing his best work. When Barclay comes in (trying to hide behind containers initially), he is upbraided by both La Forge and Riker.

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La Forge, O’Brien, and Lieutenant Duffy are working with some medical tissue samples provided by the Mikulax in sealed containers — well, mostly sealed, as Duffy notes that one seal is broken. The anti-grav unit being used to move them around the ship seems to be failing, which Barclay is assigned to fix. After Barclay insists nothing’s wrong with it, the unit fails, knocking yet another container over, breaking its seal. Duffy and O’Brien clean up the container, and Barclay thumphers for a few seconds before finally going to look at the unit.

Riker and La Forge meet with Picard to discuss transferring Barclay off, but Picard refuses to pass the buck. He’s a member of La Forge’s team, so it’s La Forge’s responsibility as his CO to make it work. Picard suggests becoming his best friend, the thought of which sends La Forge screaming from the room (well, okay, only metaphorically), but he gives it a shot, having a pleasant, encouraging chat with Barclay and inviting him to the staff meeting the next morning.

(Picard also learns of the nickname “Broccoli” that Wes started, and which catches on among the crew. Picard orders it to cease, which La Forge later reinforces.)

Barclay shows up on time for the meeting (barely), which also includes Duffy, a few other engineers who don’t have speaking parts, and Wes, who’s putting some time into engineering as part of his endless studies.

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When Barclay reports on the antigrav unit, Wes makes comments and suggestions of his own in his usual snotty-teenager manner. To his credit, Wes realizes his mistake later on in Ten-Forward, but the damage has been done. Barclay retreats to the holodeck again, to have a “counseling” session with his version of Troi — which modulates into Barclay’s “goddess of empathy” program, in which Troi is a love goddess who fulfills Barclay’s every desire.

Things get weird(er) when Duffy’s ale glass springs a leak. There’s nothing wrong with the ale, or with anyone else’s drink, and Data theorizes that the glass may have been exposed to an unshielded power source. It turns out that Barclay was already going to run a test on all four thousand of the Enterprise‘s power systems to see if it could explain the antigrav malfunction, also. (When the gang is reporting this to the captain, Picard accidentally refers to the lieutenant as “Broccoli,” resulting in a moment of major awkwardness.)

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Later on, La Forge seeks out Barclay, finding him on the holodeck — where he’s once again re-created crew members. This time it’s Crusher on a swing, Wes being an obnoxious kid, and Picard, La Forge, and Data as three swordsmen whom Barclay takes on singlehandedly. (Amusingly, most of the serious swordplay shots are distance shots so the stunt doubles can do the work, but there’s one closeup of Picard and Barclay fencing, as Sir Patrick Stewart is the one member of the cast with fencing training.)

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Another malfunction hits in a transporter room, after O’Brien did some maintenance. This becomes a major concern. Riker calls for a meeting on the bridge including Barclay, which La Forge asks to postpone to 1400 so he can have a session with Troi.

Said session doesn’t go so hot, and Barclay runs out of the room the microsecond an opening presents itself. Troi goes to the bridge to talk to La Forge about Barclay, when 1400 comes and goes, and Riker wants to know where Barclay is. The computer reveals that he’s on the holodeck, and Riker, fed up, goes to get him, La Forge and Troi joining him.

The trio get a tour of Barclay’s images of the crew. They are confronted by the Picard/Data/La Forge swordsmen, as well as obnoxious Wes before meeting “Number One,” a short, high-pitched-voice version of Riker. Troi insists that this is a healthy method of escape for someone who has trouble dealing with reality — right up until they come across goddess-of-empathy Troi.

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They finally find Barclay, asleep on Crusher’s lap. He’s exhausted himself from all the work.

However, there isn’t time to deal with Barclay’s holographic indiscretions, as there’s yet another malfunction: the antimatter injectors have become locked and the ship is accelerating out of control. La Forge, Wes, Duffy, Barclay, and the guys who don’t have speaking parts all gather ’round in engineering to try to figure out what the problem is, and how to fix it.

It’s Barclay who has the brainstorm: what if it’s one of them? They can’t find a systemic explanation, and the systems don’t interact anyhow. But what if one of them contaminated the systems? It was Duffy’s glass, and he messed with the antimatter injectors — and O’Brien played with the transporter. Wes points out that an internal scan would catch it, but Barclay posits that if it was something they couldn’t scan….

La Forge goes to the computer. What substances can’t be picked up by an internal scan? There are over 15,000 of those. What of those can survive in an oxygen atmosphere? That narrows it down to 500. What of those would alter the molecular structure of glass? Only five.

One has a half-life of fifteen seconds, so it wouldn’t survive long enough to spread around the ship; two more are sufficiently toxic that they’d all be dead. That leaves two others, one of which, invidium, used to be used in medical containment units, though not for over a century. However, the Mikulax might still use it, and one of those seals was broken, and fondled by both Duffy and O’Brien.

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After Barclay and La Forge confirm the invidium, they cool the injectors down to -200 degrees Celsius, which neutralizes the invidium. The ship is saved, and all is right with the world.

On the advice of Troi, Barclay shuts down and erases all his holodeck programs. Except for #9.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: We get a whole mess’a technobabble in this one, some real, some not: magnetic capacitors, flow regulators, flow capacitors (which Barclay amusingly later refers to as a “flux capacitor,” since apparently he’s building a time machine), nucleosynthesis, phase transition coils, magnetic quench on the fusion preburners, fuel inlet serves, swirl dampers, gaseous cryonetrium, primary coupling, starboard transfer conduit, ventral relay, and so on.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: The real Troi tries to help Barclay out, starting with a classic breathing exercise of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. That actually works, by the way. Of course, it was only meant as a starting point, but it gave Barclay the opening he needed to scamper away from having a conversation with a woman he’s had sexual fantasies about.

The goddess-of-empathy Troi is a fantastic sendup of the counselor, spouting all kinds of nonsense about casting off masks and such.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s role in the episode proper is fairly standard, but Brent Spiner throws himself into the part of swordsman with a delightfully manic glee. He also looks frighteningly like a Guy Fawkes mask…

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There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is the one regular cast member we don’t see a version of on the holodeck (except in the final goodbye scene on the “bridge”), which is kind of unfortunate — though also probably better for Barclay’s continued good health, as the real Worf’s response to that would probably be less measured than that of La Forge, Troi, and Riker….

The Boy!?: Wes comes up with the “Broccoli” nickname that later gets Picard in trouble, and Barclay’s response is to make his holographic version of Wes a replica of Thomas Gainesborough’s “The Blue Boy.”

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No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Where Barclay re-creates the male members of the crew as adversaries to fight (or figures to be mocked and disdained), he sexualizes the women, turning Troi into someone who wants sex with Barclay at all costs, and Crusher into a beautiful woman into whose lap he happily falls asleep. (Honestly, Crusher is sexier in her amazing dress than Troi is in the goddess of empathy toga.)

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Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan provides some useful insight on Barclay to La Forge, talking about Turkim, a family member who was somewhat ostracized. But Guinan was drawn to him because she never liked the idea of fitting in. Her advice helps, especially after La Forge discovers Barclay’s holodeck program.

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Speaking of which, this episode sets a really dreadful precedent. La Forge just walks in on Barclay’s program, intruding on his privacy and, to my mind, violating his basic rights. Later on, when Riker, Troi, and La Forge go in, that’s fine, as Barclay’s supposed to be on the bridge and hasn’t reported, so his duty to Starfleet overrides his privacy, but earlier? La Forge had no business going into the holodeck then, especially since he later tells Barclay that what goes on in the holodeck is his own business.

I Believe I Said That: “Why is Lieutenant Barclay being referred to clandestinely as a vegetable?”

Data, inquiring about the “Broccoli” nickname. It’s only after Data asks that question that La Forge remembers to enforce Picard’s request that the nickname cease.

Welcome Aboard: Charley Lang does a nice job as Duffy, that extra speaking part helping create the impression of a larger staff beyond the regulars (La Forge and Wes) and the guest-star-of-the-week (Barclay), and more generally reminding the audience that there are a thousand people on board.

But of course this episode is best remembered as the introduction of Reginald Barclay, who would continue to recur on both TNG and Voyager, appear in the movie First Contact, and also be mentioned on both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. Dwight Schultz is simply fantastic in the part, convincingly showing the depths of Barclay’s neuroses without ever crossing over into stereotypical parody. It would have been easy to make him a caricature, but at no point does Barclay ever feel anything other than real, whether he’s stammering through a report or pretending to be a badass on the holodeck or gravely saying to La Forge, “‘Just shy’ — sounds like nothing serious, doesn’t it?”

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Trivial Matters: Schultz appeared with Whoopi Goldberg in the movie The Long Walk Home, and he told her how much of a Star Trek fan he was, leading to Goldberg petitioning Rick Berman to find a part for him.

In addition to continuing to appear onscreen, Barclay has appeared in plenty of works of tie-in fiction; the full list is too numerous, but a few of note include Gemworld Books 1-2 by John Vornholt, Full Circle and its post-finale Voyager sequels by Kirsten Beyer, Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee, and the short stories “The Naked Truth” by Jerry M. Wolfe in Strange New Worlds and “Thinking of You” by Greg Cox in The Sky’s the Limit.

Barclay isn’t the only recurring engineer to debut in this episode: Duffy would be given the first name of Kieran and made a regular in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series, as the second-in-command of the S.C.E. team aboard the U.S.S. da Vinci. Of particular note are the stories Interphase by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Wildfire by David Mack, your humble rewatcher’s own Many Splendors, and “Field Expediency” by Ward & Dilmore in Tales of the Dominion War.

La Forge twice makes references to his dalliance with the holographic Leah Brahms in “Booby Trap.”

Make it So: “Poor Broccoli.” This episode got mixed responses when it aired 20 years ago, as many of the nerdier Star Trek fans viewed it as a satire of, well, them. Both director Cliff Bole and executive producer Michael Piller deny it — Piller went so far as to say that Barclay was a pretty good analogue for Piller himself, he was just lucky enough to get paid for his wild imaginings — but those denials are a bit disingenuous. Yes, Barclay is a fairly standard recluse, painfully shy, but the Venn diagram of that and the stereotypical Trek fan has significant overlap.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter, because the episode never once makes fun of Barclay or makes him ridiculous. In the end, he even saves the ship!

In many ways, the episode’s ahead of its time. Every third show on TV now has at least one geek character — not to mention the fact that The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular sitcoms on the air. Honestly, Reg Barclay pretty much is Raj Koothrappali

This episode works on pretty much every level. Besides the introduction and development of a character outside the normal idealized humans we tend to see on Trek (particularly on TNG), we also get a fun little puzzle, some hilarious holodeck scenes (every actors chews all over their holo-roles with gusto, with Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Wil Wheaton particularly standing out — the latter provides a nice prelude to his current recurring roles on both Leverage and Eureka with his Blue Boy Wes), and some good advice from Guinan to La Forge while wearing a yellow outfit that’s hideous even by Guinan’s low standards.

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Best of all is the fact that the solution to the problem is a team effort. While the initial inspiration of “What if one of us is the problem?” is Barclay’s, the solution is arrived at thanks to the contributions of La Forge, Barclay, Wes, and Duffy. Just great stuff.

 

Warp factor rating: 8


Keith R.A. DeCandido is working right now on Goblin Precinct, the sequel to his high fantasy police procedurals Dragon Precinct and Unicorn Precinct. The book should be out this spring from Dark Quest Books if all goes according to plan. Go to Keith’s web site for info on his latest works, as well as links to his blog, his podcasts, his Facebook and Twitter, and lots more.

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