“The Nth Degree”
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Rob Legato
Season 4, Episode 19
Production episode 40274-193
Original air date: April 1, 1991
Captain’s Log: Crusher and Barclay are performing Cyrano de Bergerac, the former as Roxanne, the latter in the title role. Barclay is pretty terrible, though he has very occasional flashes of talent — but yeah, mostly terrible. In the audience, Riker, Troi, and La Forge are all clapping enthusiastically. Data and Worf are both less enthused, though the former comes around when Riker points out that it’s polite to applaud and pretend like he was good.
The Enterprise arrives at the Argus Array, an automated subspace telescope on the edge of Federation space. It stopped working, and the Enterprise has been sent to fix it. Worf detects an unidentified object near the array, and Picard sends La Forge in a shuttle.
La Forge takes Barclay onto Shuttle 5, and they start scanning the device. They try a bunch of things, but the device is parsimonious with revelations. When they try a positron scan, there’s a burst of light, the shuttle computer is knocked offline, and Barclay is rendered unconscious.
Barclay and La Forge are beamed back to the ship, with Barclay in sickbay. The flash overloaded his optic nerves and rendered him unconscious — La Forge’s VISOR filtered it out.
When Picard decides to take the probe in tow, it starts moving — though its method of propulsion is unclear. It heads right for the Enterprise, and proves invulnerable to phaser fire. The probe’s energy output continues to increase, and Worf expresses concern for the ship’s safety. The probe follows them even at warp.
Then Barclay takes the ship to impulse, using warp power to increase shield output by 300%, which allows them to use photon torpedoes (the probe was too close to risk that before). The thing is, Barclay did all this without checking with La Forge, he just barged ahead.
Heading back to the array, La Forge says that the telescope’s computer’s inoperable (probably from the probe), and the reactors were also damaged. They have to repair them one by one. Barclay disagrees (rather publicly, and confidently) and says they can all be repaired at once if they just create a new operating system for the array. Data points out that it would take weeks to do that, but Barclay claims he can do it overnight.
That evening, Barclay does another scene from Cyrano in Crusher’s acting workshop, and it’s night and day from his earlier work, a brilliant performance. Troi follows Barclay to Ten-Forward and says that he’s changed. Barclay agrees — he’s found confidence that he never knew was there.
The next morning, Barclay isn’t at the engineering meeting, and the computer locates him on a holodeck. Fearful that Barclay has regressed, La Forge goes to the holodeck — only to find that Barclay isn’t in one of his fantasies. Exactly. Instead, he’s been up all night with a holographic simulation of Albert Einstein, discussing dimensional theory.
La Forge is worried. This is a massive change in behavior — and intelligence — for Barclay, and they need to know what happened. Reluctantly, Barclay goes to sickbay, where Crusher discovers that his brainwave activity is off the charts. His IQ is in the thousands, and he’s also experienced an increase in creativity, imagination, and more. The senior staff expresses concern over whether or not he’s dangerous, with Riker raising the possibility of confining him to quarters. But he hasn’t actually done anything threatening, and they can honestly use his help fixing the array. Besides, can you really lock somebody up for being too smart?
One of the array reactors starts breaking down, and it has a cascade effect. They can’t shut it down from the Enterprise, and the whole thing will explode in about ten minutes. Barclay, frustrated with the slow speed of the computer, goes to the holodeck to build a neural interface between the ship’s computer and his mind. The bridge loses computer control for a moment, and when it comes back, the array’s reactors have shut down.
When Picard asks the computer what happened, Barclay responds. He has interfaced directly with the ship’s computer. Most of his higher cognitive functions are now in the computer core — and he can’t put them back, as his human brain wouldn’t be able to handle it anymore and he’d die.
The senior staff meets in the observation lounge — after La Forge cuts the room off from the computer. Data suggests a bypass from engineering to the bridge so they’d still have control of propulsion. As La Forge does the work, he and Barclay talk — the engineer’s understanding is all-encompassing. He now understands everything, and feels he’s been chosen for a great purpose.
As if to prove it, Barclay uses the Enterprise nacelles to form a graviton wave that is creating a subspace field, which Barclay says will allow them to travel farther than any human has ever travelled before. Picard orders him to stop, but Barclay says he’d rather not. This is the first time he’s been insubordinate.
Troi tries to convince him to obey the captain’s orders, but he refuses, and also blocks La Forge’s bypass.
The Enterprise enters the subspace field, and Barclay is now refusing to respond to Picard. Reluctantly, the captain orders Worf to disconnect Barclay — but he’s now protected by a force field. The ship goes into a bizarre distortion, and then comes out of it 30,000 light-years away, near the center of the galaxy.
It turns out that the probe belonged to a species known as the Cytherians. They are on the same mission as the Enterprise: seeking out new life and new civilizations. But their method of doing so is to bring people to them. They tried to impart the information to the Argus Array computer and to the shuttle computer, but the technologies were incompatible — however they were able to “reprogram” Barclay so that he would be able to bring the Enterprise to the Cytherians’ home.
For the next ten days, the crew hangs out with the Cytherians, who then send the Enterprise back to Federation space with nifty new knowledge that it’ll take decades to parse. Barclay, meanwhile, is back to normal — he remembers everything he did, but can’t remember why or how. He feels “smaller,” but there’s at least some residue of what happened, as he suddenly now knows how to play chess...
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: La Forge and Barclay try a bunch of scans: a passive high-res series on the EM band, a neutron densitometer (which sounds like something out of a 50s alien-invasion movie), an active scan, and a positron emission.
As the episode progresses, Barclay lets loose with several streams of technobabble, ranging from a way to improve Crusher’s scanning equipment to instructing the holodeck on how to construct a neural-scan interface.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi and Barclay talk about how far he’s come. Barclay isn’t entirely convinced that acting on stage as another person is all that much different from what he did on the holodeck, but Troi points out that he’s interacting with other people when he’s on stage, not hiding away from everyone else.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Crusher points out to Worf — who has been watching the theatrical work with barely concealed disdain — that she has an opening in her acting workshop, prompting the standard Worf “oh no anything but that!” expression.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Barclay asks Troi for a walk in the arboretum, which she politely refuses due to the inappropriateness. Later, when Picard asks if Barclay’s done anything that could be considered threatening, Troi hesitantly mentions that he made a pass at her — “a good one.” After the meeting, Riker asks if the pass was successful, and Troi just smiles and leaves, which is delightfully mean. And in the end, after Barclay has returned to normal, Troi takes him up on that walk, which Barclay nervously agrees to.
What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Barclay uses the holodeck to create a neural interface with the ship’s computer, enabling the ship to respond directly to his thoughts.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Anaya gets to fly the ship this week — at least, when Barclay allows her to.
I Believe I Said That: “It just occurred to me that I could set up a frequency harmonic between the deflector and the shield grid, using the warp-field generator as a power flow anti-attenuator and that, of course, naturally created an amplification of the inherent energy output.”
“Uh huh. I see that.”
Barclay providing technobabble, and Riker refusing to admit that he didn’t follow a single word he said.
Welcome Aboard: Jim Norton makes the first of two appearances as a holographic Albert Einstein (he’ll be back in “Descent,” playing poker with Data, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking). Page Leong plays the latest conn officer, Ensign April Anaya, while Saxon Trainer and David Coburn play a couple of engineers needed to fill out the scenes there. The late Kay E. Kuter does a very Danny Kaye-like turn as the Cytherian’s big giant head (he’ll be back on Deep Space Nine as the title role in “The Storyteller”).
But of course the big guest star is Dwight Schultz, making a triumphant return as Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, firmly establishing Barclay as the recurring character he would remain on both TNG and Voyager.
Trivial Matters: This is the second time a ship named Enterprise traveled to the center of the galaxy and met a big giant head that looks like an elderly white guy. It also happened in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Apparently earlier drafts of the script had the Cytherians being more menacing, but it was decided that it would make it too much like that film, and, to quote Ronald D. Moore, “The absolute last thing that we wanted to remind anyone of was Star Trek V.”
The Argus Array will be seen again in “Parallels.”
This is the first time we see Crusher’s sideline as a drama teacher, which will be seen again in “Disaster,” “A Fistful of Datas,” and “Frame of Mind.”
Make it So: “And when your tears fall for him, some few will be for me.” There have been times over this rewatch when I’ve gone into great length in this section about it (sometimes excessive, viz. “Sarek”), but I don’t find that I have much to say about this episode — but not for any bad reason. Quite the opposite, it’s an excellent episode that works on pretty much every level. It’s a good sequel to “Hollow Pursuits,” as it gives Barclay what he always wanted — confidence, creativity, intelligence — but yanks it away from him at the end. It provides a wonderfully alien species in the Cytherians, who are in the fine Star Trek tradition of aliens who seem menacing but turn out to be more complicated than that. It makes very good use of Cyrano de Bergerac, one of the greatest plays in the history of human theatre. (Digression: I got to see a production of it when I was a kid with Derek Jacobi in the title role on Broadway. “Amazing” doesn’t begin to cover it.)
Ultimately, what sells it is Dwight Schultz, who gives a superb performance: the contrast in his two Cyrano scenes, the increased confidence as he goes on (modulating from his typical Barclay babbling when he suggests modifications to Crusher to his godlike takeover of the computer), and particularly in the subtle changes to his facial expressions when he’s virtually immobile on the holodeck and talking through the ship’s speakers. Just a great performance.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that it’s the nominating period for the Parsec Awards. You should totally go to their web site and nominate the podcasts he’s involved with: The Chronic Rift, The Dome, HG World, and, of course, Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast.