Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 92: The Nth Degree

Barclay is the MAN…and the machine!

Plot Synopsis: After an encounter with a mysterious alien probe, Lieutenant Barclay begins to exhibit signs of profound intelligence, ultimately hooking himself into the ship’s computer and hurling the Enterprise into apparent danger.

Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser is one of the longest ever and has two parts, both of which are good. The first has Barclay portraying Cyrano from the eponymous play, and acting in pretty godawful fashion. The second has the Enterprise arriving at the Argus Array, a big telescope that stopped transmitting two months previous. They find a probe, and when Geordi and Barclay take a shuttle out to investigate it flashes and knocks Barclay out. Plot A is about Barclay’s mental odyssey, there is no plot B. Barclay wakes up with no apparent ill effects, but meanwhile the probe starts acting up, following the Enterprise and threatening to overload its computer with all the energy it’s putting out. Nothing the crew does can affect it until Barclay magically increases the shields by 300%! Then they blow the thing to kingdom come. A whole slew of unusual behavior follows: offering to solve a complex problem in record time, showing utter brilliance as an actor, arguing grand unification theory with Einstein, etc. A crisis occurs and Barclay takes control of the computer to save the array and the Enterprise, but now there’s a problem: he’s expanded his mind into the computer and can’t be separated without dying. The plot here is well-paced, enjoyable, and unpredictable. It’s a fun ride from beginning to end.

Favorite Scenes: There are a lot of good scenes in this episode. The things Geordi says while in the shuttle with Barclay about how meeting the unknown is why he’s in Starfleet has always resonated with me. The exploration of the unknown is a major reason I watch Star Trek. One that always makes me smile is when they take him in to Dr. Crusher. After a description of how advanced his brain has become she sums it all up:

Dr. Crusher:  Lieutenant, you could very well be the most advanced human being who has ever lived.

*Barclay just nods his head, as if thinking to himself “sounds about right”*

The next one that’s cool is when things start to get out of control in repairing the array. The reactors on the array start a chain reaction that will lead it go critical, and the Enterprise computer isn’t fast enough to keep up. Barclay races to the holodeck and takes action:

Barclay:  Create as follows: work station chair. *poof, it’s created* Now, create a standard alphanumeric console position for the left hand. *poof* Now an iconic display console positioned for the right hand. *poof* Tie both consoles into the Enterprise main computer core utilizing neural scan interface.

Computer *buzzes*: There is no such device on file.

Barclay: No problem. Here’s how you build it…

Getting chased by the probe of doom!

Use of Cast/Characters: Picard doesn’t do a lot here that’s interesting except deciding to pull the plug on Barclay at an appropriate moment. Riker and Data don’t do much. Troi is active in letting him know how far he’s progressed early on, is the object of some romantic affections, and trying to reach him later. Beverly has some character development here as we learn she heads up some kind of acting workshop; it’s nice to know she does more than be a doctor. Worf doesn’t do much in this episode. Geordi has a lot to do here, and is really with Barclay through his continuing progression and evolution. It’s nice to see, and he’s a natural choice to be the audience’s surrogate as he reacts to the things Barclay does. Dwight Schultz’s Barclay is, of course, the centerpiece of this episode. He’s a lot of fun to watch as the bumbling insecure character changes into a kind of perfect human. He does dramatic and comedic moments with equal flair and is frankly what makes watching it so fun. Jim Norton is good playing Einstein and in fact reprises this character in Descent in season six.

Blu Ray Version: Unfortunately the picture is a bit grainier in parts than the level of quality I’m used to.

Barclay, correcting some of Einstein’s math. Poor guy should know his limitations.

Nitpicks: In the 27th minute, why does Riker tell Worf to start a red alert? He’s just been saying ‘red alert’ himself for the entire series! I wish the Enterprise could have kept that 300% increase in shield power. Seems like everything he did would have been logged and be replicatable, even if it might have made the ship a little too uber. Finally, when they arrive at the center of the galaxy, what about Sha Ka Ree from Star Trek V, also at the center? It had only come out two years previous to this episode.

Overall Impression: I really enjoy this episode. The character of Barclay is one I’ve always enjoyed, and the fact that he’s initially an underdog does increase his likability. Normally I’m not a fan of a guest star who takes center stage at the expense of the rest of the crew, but this is an exception. He’s an interesting character and this episode is entertaining to watch from beginning to end, whether he’s explaining how he tripled the effectiveness of the shields, acting out monologues from famous plays, hitting on Deanna, arguing with Einstein, or doing a HAL impression. I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.

The Cytherians. I kinda like these guys.

Behind the Scenes/Trivia: For those of you who noticed, Barclay responding “I’m afraid I can’t do that sir” is a subtle reference to the monumental sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, when HAL says “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” I loved it. Joe Menosky, the writer of this episode, reportedly said he was proud of having his name on this show more than any other episode he wrote. Those lasers you see coming down on Dwight’s head are the real thing, coupled with mirrors, they weren’t added later which allowed the director and cinematographer to move the camera.

Dwight Schultz was asked to return due to his popularity in his first episode, Hollow Pursuits. He named this one the favorite episode he was in. For those continuity wonks, the dress Deanna wears in the teaser is the exact same dress she wore in Hollow Pursuits in Ten Forward. Also, take a look at the blackboard that Einstein is writing on. Some of the equations have in-jokes, such as Uru + Se + I = Ya + Ts + Ur + A, an anime reference.

Missable/Unmissable? This is one of my favorite episodes from season 4. In my opinion it’s unmissable. The next episode is even more so.

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