Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 127: Realm of Fear

A man confronting his fear

Plot Synopsis:  Lieutenant Barclay faces his fear of transporting, but now he thinks that he’s being attacked by a creature inside the transporter beam.

Plot A and B Analysis:  This episode has a very long teaser, clocking in at over four minutes. The USS Yosemite got pulled into the plasma stream between a red giant star and a nearby white dwarf star. Can’t tractor beam them, can’t take a shuttle, have to transport over. Barclay comes up with an idea to stabilize the tractor beam, but when it comes time to beam over we realize his phobia of using the transporter is too intense and he bails out. Plot A is about the mystery of the Yosemite, plot B is about Barclay’s phobia. In the 15th minute Barclay does beam over and back, only to see some kind of worm-thing in the transporter stream, and it comes up to attack him before he re-materializes. Later, Barclay realizes he either has a glowing arm, or transporter psychosis. Barclay’s hypochondria gets more and more significant as the episode progress: between the plexing, drinking copious amounts of water, checking his pulse and eyesight and power walking around the ship, it’s quite a thing to behold. Barclay doesn’t give up and gets into the transporter again, where he again sees the worm. We learn about the microbes native to the plasma, and Barclay does a powerfully brave thing which results in saving several lives. The plot is pretty well-paced and never dull, and we have an unexpected conclusion. There is a missing bit at the end though, what happens to the Yosemite? Did they leave it in there? Get it out somehow? Destroy it?

Favorite Scenes:  It’s pretty funny to watch Barclay spontaneously manifest symptoms of transporter psychosis, both when he’s asking the computer about it and later in engineering. The 33rd minute is great, because Barclay sounds like he’s off his rocker presenting his experience to the crew, but he asks the captain to take his word something is going on. After only a moment Picard orders a complete disassembly of the transporter, a security alert, and Crusher decides to do a pain-staking diagnostic of Barclay’s arm. That’s what I’m talking about, this is a crew that backs each other up! The scene in which Barclay grabs one of the worms is very cool, doing about the scariest thing possible for him.

The Yosemite in the plasma stream. I just thought it was a cool shot

Use of Cast/Characters:  Picard just does a couple of captain things, but one of them shows he’s in Barclay’s corner. Riker gets about the same time, solely in his role as first officer, and Data doesn’t get much more himself. Worf has about two lines in the entire episode. Beverly does get to be involved but only in her role as doctor, she only gets about one good scene. Marina is still looking mighty tanned after her honeymoon, and Troi does play a significant part in this episode as a counselor to Reg. Geordi plays about as big a role as Troi, as his friend and fellow problem-solver regarding the Yosemite and the transporter. This episode is really Barclay’s though, and he has significant character development and is the primary mover of the plot and its resolution. He gives his usual excellent performance and is a funny guy to watch at certain points, but the audience is also pulling for him and he doesn’t play everything for laughs. He’s the best thing about the episode. O’Brien is active in the plot as the transporter chief, and he and Barclay develop a bit of a friendship.

Blu Ray Version:  The plasma stream itself was cleaned up and looks more like what it’s supposed to be for this version, which is an improvement. The sparkle from the transporter effect was punched up a bit too. 

“Captain have you ever heard of personal space?” “I could so do you right now!”

Nitpicks:  There is a blatant reuse of the binary star system from Evolution in this episode. We will see it yet again in Preemptive Strike. C’mon, this is the beginning of season six, they don’t have the budget by now to do something original? In the 13th minute with the admiral, where is her communicator? At 22:47 the computer is describing the symptoms of transporter psychosis and it says two symptoms are somatic and tactile hallucinations, but somatic symptoms are tactile symptoms–they mean the same thing. At 23:40 Patrick is standing so incredibly close to Beverly during her report it strikes me as a little creepy. Also, when Barclay asks Geordi if he’s ever experienced anything strange happening during a transport, Geordi says no. Really, never? How about a few episodes ago during The Next Phase, when you and Ro became invisible and intangible, and everyone thought you were dead?! Wouldn’t that qualify?

Overall Impression:  The Barclay episodes have a bit of humanity to them, of human weakness and foibles which I like. First it was holodeck addiction, then his brittle elevation to super-genius, now his phobias. His episodes are memorable and purposeful, and it’s hard to believe he was only in five episodes. This is an average episode for this point in TNG and its strengths are Dwight Schultz’s performance, the transporter effect, and Picard backing Barclay up. It got too explanatory toward the end, and a little confusing: the Cardassian red herring, the weird microbes, and too much talk about nucleonic particles, pattern buffers and bio-filters to explain why all this happened the way it did. Overall it’s a perfectly decent episode, but nothing exceptional. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.

Not the blue arm, not the blue arm!

Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This episode does have a long teaser, but the record is still held by The Nth Degree, which is close to 7 and a half minutes long. Some of you may wonder if the whole ‘plexing’ thing is based on anything real. There is something called Emotional Freedom Techniques that some therapists use with their clients, which do involve tapping. There is a lot of significant research validating it, but I’ve never used it in my practice. O’Brien’s rank changes yet again in this episode, as the pips on his collar change. Here’s a link for those interested, the section is called problematic rank history. In short, he was always supposed to be a non-comissioned officer, like a chief petty officer, never an actual officer.

The transports we see Barclay do throughout the episode are the first time we see what it’s like to be transported from a first-person point of view (the only other time is the Voyager episode Prototype). The mysterious worm-like figure in the transporter beam was made out of latex. To get the illusion of it floating, Dan Curry put on a green screen suit and did tai chi movements to give it life. The admiral, in her one forgettable scene, has her wearing a new variation on the admiral’s uniform. This uniform will be used from now until the First Contact film.

For those interested, the scene were Barclay and Troi are practically racing down the corridors of the ship, it was really just the same corridor they used in four different shots. They’re just walking down the same set four times, try seeing if you can notice the breaks. This is the third of five episodes Barclay appears in. He actually appears in more Voyager episodes than TNG! As for the Talarian Hook Spider, the Talarians were the race back in Suddenly Human.

Missable/Unmissable?  It’s missable, but if you’re a Barclay fan I’d recommend it. The next episode is a candidate for worst of the entire season

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