Plot Synopsis: Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, an introverted diagnostic engineer, is having difficulties dealing with his Holodeck fantasies. Meanwhile a series of seemingly inconsequential errors on board the Enterprise lead to its imminent destruction.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here has a nice trick in store for us. Deana walks in Ten Forward dressed in a slinky blue dress, and one of the guys from the A-Team starts pushing around Geordi and Riker! Things seem a bit off, until we realize he’s in the holodeck. Plot A is about Lieutenant Barclay; a very minor plot thread is about a series of weird malfunctions on the ship. The plot is always interesting and even thought-provoking. Of course there would be holodeck addiction, and we learn about it through the introduction of a new recurring character on the show. The plot is not predictable, and even the series of malfunctions require some lateral thinking to solve.
Favorite Scenes: A scene that I think is overlooked is where Riker and LaForge bring Barclay to the attention of Picard in about the 7th minute. Picard’s response reveals the kind of leader he is, and causes Geordi to grow and become a better officer. All while helping out a guy who doesn’t seem to “fit in.”
Picard: It’s easy to transfer a problem to someone else. Too easy.
Geordi: Captain, it’s not like I haven’t tried.
Picard: Try harder, Geordi. He’s a member of your team. Try to find some way to help him to make a positive contribution, get to know the man better. Make him your best friend.
Geordi: *pause* With all due respect, sir, my best friend? I can barely tolerate being in the same room with the man.
Picard: Then I suggest you put your personal discomfort on one side, commander. Dismissed.
Another scene is where Picard accidentally calls Barclay “broccoli.” Anyone else wince every time you see that? Guinan also makes a wonderful point about ‘fitting in’, which resonated with me as a teenager. The highlight of this episode are the holodeck scenes with Barclay, particularly when he fights off three musketeer-like Enterprise officers, and later when the senior officers encounter alternate versions of themselves. Marina Sirtis probably has the single best line in the episode:
Goddess of Empathy: Cast aside your masks, and let me slip into your mind…
Real Troi: Muzzle it.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard doesn’t play much of a role in this episode other than one scene, where he causes Geordi to change his approach toward Barclay. This is one of those times I think we in the real world can learn a lesson: good leaders retain good people and can identify and get rid of bad team members. Great leaders can turn ‘bad’ people into great team members. Who wouldn’t to serve under a captain with that kind of leadership? Riker does mostly first officer things in this episode, but he is present in quite a bit of it. Data is in essentially the same boat. Troi plays a significant role here, actually acting like a counselor! Geordi is a stand out in this episode. He pulls off being an effective superior, a good friend, and he learns something about command as well. Worf has a few lines but might as well not be in the episode. Wesley plays a part, but not a big one. At the end he doesn’t single-handedly solve anything, but does contribute as a team member. Beverly Crusher only appears in this episode as a hologram. The biggest story though, is Dwight Schultz. He is pitch-perfect as a groundbreaking relatable character. A stammering, generally intimidated introvert who is smart but unappreciated, doesn’t have any self-confidence or friends. His character had such a great response that he will return several more times. Whoopi plays her usual wise character, and contributes in her own way to Geordi understanding Barclay better.
Blu Ray Version: Wow, the planet right after the teaser, when the title card is up, is simply awesome. The CGI guys did a great job here. Another result of the HD quality is where we can see Schultz’s stunt double at 21:53.
Nitpicks: The perspective shots meant to trick us into the holodeck Riker being short doesn’t really work. When the Enterprise is seconds away from losing structural integrity shouldn’t the ship be shaking or something, at least a little? Also, Picard’s last command to reroute power through the “ventral relay” is the last piece to get the ship out of warp? Eh, didn’t need to happen. These are admittedly minor nitpicks, the episode is great.
Overall Impression: This is a terrific episode. It makes excellent use of TNG’s greatest contribution to Star Trek technology, the holodeck, to show us the dangers associated with overuse. Not only does it affect Barclay’s work, but also his sense of belonging in the world. This is best exemplified by his line “You know, the people I create in there are more real to me than anyone I meet out here. Except maybe you, Commander.” Unlike the previous episode, this one is actually more enjoyable as an adult. Dwight Schultz understandably becomes a fan favorite. He really is just a normal guy, somehow landing a job with the super-humanly competent professionals on the Enterprise. He also does things we might do if we had a holodeck: making out with Troi, beating up on people that he feels intimidated by, etc. His popularity and charm won over the audience and would pave the way for later characters, such as Ro Laren, that didn’t “fit in.” Also enjoyable is this is another example of people solving the problem, not technology–overdependence on reversing or repolarizing things is a problem that would plague subsequent Star Trek series. I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Barclay is played by Dwight Schultz, who you ought to know if you were alive in the 80’s at all! He played the pilot Murdoch on the A-Team. Did you notice Barclay talking about the ‘flux capacitor’ at 11:50? An easily missed–and possibly unintentional–Back to the Future reference, because he was supposed to say flow capacitor. Geordi’s allusion to falling in love in the holodeck is a reference to Booby Trap; in retrospect he’s a great crew mate to help Barclay with his addiction. Dwight Schultz was a longtime fan of Star Trek (both TOS and TNG) and asked Rick Berman to consider him for a part when a good one came along. Whoopi Goldberg was working with him on another project and put in the good word for him to get cast. The writers subsequently created Barclay specifically for him to play.
Holodeck Wesley’s appearance was taken directly from a famous painting called “The Blue Boy.” This episode was nominated for another in a long series of Emmys, this time for Hairstyling.
Missable/Unmissable? In my opinion, unmissable. Barclay is introduced and is so well-liked he returns in four subsequent TNG episodes, First Contact, and six Voyager episodes. It’s also eminently watchable in its own right. The next episode is just as good.