“Realm of Fear”
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 6, Episode 2
Production episode 40276-228
Original air date: September 28, 1992
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise has found the U.S.S. Yosemite, a science vessel exploring the Igo Sector that has gone missing. They find it in a plasma stream between two suns. The Yosemite was examining that stream, but their closer look was apparently too close. Sensors and tractor beams aren’t working, and a shuttle’s too risky, but Barclay suggests bridging the Enterprise transporter with the Yosemite transporter to punch through the interference.
La Forge asks Barclay to be on the away team, which fills him with a nameless dread. O’Brien has to send people over one at a time, and the transport will take a bit longer and be “bumpy.” That last word sends Barclay’s apprehension into overdrive.
O’Brien beams Worf over first, then Riker, then Crusher (though there’s ionic interference in the matter stream for a moment). Barclay is now shaking with the sweats, and then declares that he just can’t do this and leaves the transporter room.
He goes to talk to Troi. She thinks it’s just that he was nervous about this particular transport, but it turns out to be more fundamental than that—he has a deep-seated fear of being transported. Troi, however, tells him that lots of people suffer this type of transporter phobia (for some reason, she doesn’t mention that the Enterprise’s former chief medical officer was one of them), and they can work on it. She starts with plexing, a Betazoid technique that involves tapping a nerve cluster near the carotid artery that releases endorphins into the brain.
Barclay tries it, and the endorphins get released a little too hard—he now insists that he has to work through his fear, and is gung-ho about it. He’s gonna beam over, dagnabbit!
On the Yosemite, there are no signs of any survivors. They couldn’t have abandoned ship—the escape pods are all present, and there’s nowhere in range to transport to. There was an explosion on board that apparently happened in the transporter—yet the transporter’s still functioning.
Crusher, however, has found a body: Joshua Kelly, ship’s engineer, covered in second- and third-degree burns.
In the transporter room, Barclay prepares himself to transport. O’Brien bucks him up by telling him how he overcame his arachnophobia. After Barclay arrives, La Forge puts him to work. There are still four crew unaccounted for. La Forge also found some fragments from a container.
The away team returns. In mid-transport, Barclay sees some kind of creature with a large mouth heading right for him—but it disappears when he materializes, just as it was apparently biting his left arm.
In engineering, La Forge and Barclay work on trying to reconstruct the Yosemite logs (to no avail) and the container from the fragments they found. Reluctantly, Barclay tells La Forge about what he saw. They check the transporter, and everything’s working fine. La Forge and O’Brien also reassure Barclay that transporting is very safe.
Crusher and Ogawa perform the autopsy on Kelly—during which his heart suddenly starts beating. Then it stops, and his respiratory system starts working, and then it stops. She’s also found ionization on the body that indicates it may have been exposed to the plasma stream. La Forge theorizes that they may have tried to beam aboard some of the plasma stream and the container exploded.
Barclay goes to Ten-Forward, only to have his arm suddenly hurt and glowing purple—right at the spot where the whatever-it-was in the matter stream bit him. Rather than do the smart thing, like report to sickbay, he goes to his quarters to drink water and pace a lot and do some research on transporter psychosis. The list of symptoms the computer provides just exacerbates Barclay’s paranoia mixed with hypochondria, as does the computer’s statement that there’s no cure.
When he reports to duty the next day, he’s a mess: he’s carrying a water bottle around with him, he’s distracted in engineering, his attempt to take a nap fails, so he starts walking quickly through the corridor to exhaust himself so he can sleep. Troi follows him—comically trying to keep up with his longer strides—and finally removes him from duty. He returns to quarters and tries various relaxation techniques that do precisely nothing to relax him. He tries to sleep, but then his arm starts to hurt and do the purple glowy thing again.
Again, rather than report to sickbay, Barclay instead calls O’Brien to the transporter room in the middle of the night. There were ionic fluctuations during transport, including when Barclay was in the matter stream coming back. He orders O’Brien to transport him to the Yosemite and right back, while artificially re-creating one of those ionic fluctuations. (He makes it an actual order, too, likely the first one Barclay’s given in his Starfleet career.)
Sure enough, he sees the creature again. This time he reports to the senior staff. There’s concern that this is Barclay being crazy but he assures them that he wouldn’t have bothered them with it if he wasn’t absolutely sure.
Crusher examines his arm, and she finds traces of the same ionization that was on Kelly and the container. He definitely encountered something. Barclay goes back to work, but Crusher puts a monitoring device on his left arm.
Data, La Forge, and Barclay try to beam aboard a sample of the plasma stream into another container—this time with a force field around it. Data starts a standard scan—and it blows up. The force field keeps it contained, and La Forge’s VISOR picks up bio energy within the plasma matter. Barclay then collapses, the purple glow having extended further (the monitoring device on his arm remains quiet, however).
Turns out there are energy microbes within the plasma stream. They got caught in the buffer of the Yosemite transporter, and got into the Enterprise’s when they linked systems. There were some in Kelly’s body, and there are some now in Barclay’s. The bio-filter can’t distinguish them from energy in the matter stream, so they need to reprogram the bio-filter, but they’d need to keep Barclay in the matter stream for 30-40 seconds in order to isolate them. That’s dangerous, as too long in the matter stream will result in signal degradation and he’ll be lost forever. But it’s the only way to decontaminate him.
They dematerialize Barclay and start the bio-filter. This time, Barclay is approached by the creature again, and there are two more behind it. Barclay suddenly reaches out to the creature and grabs it. O’Brien reads a 92% increase in mass—something’s in there with him. They call Worf and put up a force field, then rematerialize him—only to see one of the Yosemite crew with Barclay. Turns out that Kelly tried to do the same thing the Enterprise did, but something went wrong, and the plasma stream exploded.
After the other three Yosemite crew are rescued, Barclay meets up with O’Brien in Ten-Forward. O’Brien realizes that this is the first time they’ve talked outside the transporter room, and Barclay admits that he avoided O’Brien because he’s the transporter chief. O’Brien introduces Barclay to his pet tarantula, Christine, which goes about as well as you’d expect....
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: We get a history of improvements in the transporter that make them incredibly safe. Notably, all of those improvements are within a time frame that indicates that they were made since the time of the original series (viz., “The Enemy Within,” “Mirror, Mirror,” Star Trek: The Motion Picture). It’s also firmly established that leaving someone in the matter stream for too long will result in pattern degradation (something that will come up again soon in “Relics”).
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi continues her ongoing project of turning Barclay into a human being, and he continues his tendency to take a relaxation technique used by her as a starting point and goes crazy with it. (He did this in “Hollow Pursuits” with the breathing technique Troi used on him, and again here with plexing.)
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data notices Barclay’s preoccupation with his health in engineering, prompting La Forge to give him the day off and sic Troi on him.
I Believe I Said That: “Commander La Forge said you seemed a little nervous this morning.”
“I’m always nervous. Everybody knows that.”
Troi trying to get Barclay to open up, and Barclay responding with a nice bit of self-awareness.
Welcome Aboard: Like John deLancie’s Q, Barclay didn’t appear in the fifth season, and like Q, he will make up for it with two appearances in the following year, as Dwight Schultz makes the first of two sixth-season showings, the next to come in “Ship in a Bottle.” Recurring players Colm Meaney as O’Brien and Patti Yasutake as Ogawa fill out the guest cast, along with Thomas Belgrey delivering exposition at the end as one of the trapped Yosemite crew and Renata Scott as an admiral to whom Picard reports.
Trivial Matters: This episode is the first time transporting is shown from the point of view of the person being beamed. We’ll see it again in the Voyager episode “Prototype.”
Barclay asks La Forge if he’s ever experienced anything out of the ordinary while transporting, and La Forge totally fails to mention what happened in “The Next Phase.”
Troi will be seen to use plexing on herself in “Timescape.”
Picard’s conversation with the admiral includes a mention of Cardassian aggression, a nice bit of foreshadowing for the growing importance of Cardassians in general, both on TNG and the forthcoming Deep Space Nine (debuting four months after this episode), and the events of “Chain of Command” in particular.
O’Brien’s pet tarantula is never seen or referenced ever again. You have to wonder if he got it just for the purpose of freaking out Barclay—indeed, that the whole fear-of-spiders thing was just something the chief made up to make Barclay feel better.
Speaking of that, Barclay offhandedly says that spiders never bothered him, which is handy, as he’ll turn into one in “Genesis.”
O’Brien’s collar now has a single square pip, which he’ll keep for this season and when he moves over to DS9. Prior to this, he had the two circular rank pips of a full lieutenant, even though he was always called “Chief” and was specifically established as enlisted personnel in “Family.”
Make it So: “I’m sorry, I can’t do this!” There’s nothing I can point to in this episode that’s actively bad. It’s always fun to see Reg Barclay, and Dwight Schultz does an excellent job of showing that Barclay is better than he was in “Hollow Pursuits” but still with a ways to go. The conversations between O’Brien and Barclay—two recurring characters who’d never been paired up before—are actually quite nifty. And while it’s true that the episode’s a bit too technobabble-heavy, it’s at least technobabble about something that’s been a major part of Star Trek from the git-go, to wit, the transporter.
But the episode ultimately has little staying power. All of Barclay’s other appearances are more memorable for reasons good (“Hollow Pursuits” was a solid intro, “The Nth Degree” was quite fun, and “Ship in a Bottle” is one of the upcoming season’s gems) and bad (“Genesis” is a howlingly ridiculous episode that’s impossible to forget). This one just, I don’t know, sits there.
The bit at the end with the tarantula was pretty hilarious, though.
Warp factor rating: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido does not fear spiders. Or transporters, for that matter.