Written by Sally caves & Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Cliff Bole
One complaint many people had about the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe was that it was too perfect. There rarely were characters who appeared out of shape (probably had something to do with the uniforms) and those that were usually seemed to be male characters. Ever seen an overweight female in a Starfleet uniform? I can’t recall one.
There also appeared not to be anyone who fell into what I would term the “geek” category from high school; someone who truly lacked social graces and was uncomfortable around people in general (the Klingon, Worf, does not count).
Enter the character of Barclay (portrayed by Dwight Schultz, formerly Murdock on The A-Team). I find some comfort that there are still misfits in the 24th century.
Lt. Barclay isn’t comfortable with his peers. Unable to cope, he retreats to the world of the holo-deck (a virtual reality room that makes today’s technology pale in comparison). There, he creates a world where he makes fun of those that plague him – the regular Star Trek: The Next Generation cast.
Barclay is assigned to Engineering. When Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) complains about Barclay to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and requests that he be transferred, Picard denies Geordi’s request, instead urging his Chief Engineer to befriend and attempt to reach the man.
Geordi discovers Barclay’s “world” but does not come down on him for it. Instead, he says that he understands while at the same time urging Barclay to see Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) for help dealing with his troubles. The only problem with this is that Barclay has been acting out romantic fantasies with Troi on the holo-deck, so the meeting is awkward, to say the least.
Meanwhile, several of the Enterprise‘s systems begin acting strangely, culminating in a drastic increase in warp speed which will tear the ship apart in fifteen minutes. Geordi includes Barclay in trying to solve the problems as a way of drawing him out, for the man is far from unintelligent.
The episode is good as it gives us a new, ongoing character who is quite different from anyone else we’ve seen in the 24th-century universe so far. I liked Barclay, a lot. I could feel his pain when the Captain mistakenly calls him “Broccoli” – the crew’s not-so-endearing nickname for him.
It is also very humorous as we see the crew portrayed in the holo-deck world in a way that many non-fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation see them. It is like a (good) Saturday Night Live skit; a great caricature and exaggeration of the way we see the crew when they are “serious characters.” The reactions of the “real crew” to this holo-deck world are also greatly varied. Geordi does not seem too fazed by it, nor how Barclay has portrayed him in it, while Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi’s reactions are priceless!
The acting is excellent, particularly Schultz’s. His portrayal of Barclay is so dead-on, I think it’s what leads to the addition of Barclay as a recurring character. He does not portray him as too comical that we look at the character and laugh at him, but in a way that many people can identify with and smile knowingly. If you thought his portrayal of Murdock was cartoonish, you’ll be surprised to see what a talent this man really is (I thought Murdock was one of the few stand-outs of The A-Team).
Likewise, the regular cast, especially Burton, Troi, and Stewart come off well as they attempt to deal with the man in a compassionate way rather than writing him off. Only Frakes’ performance truly feels forced. I got the feeling that for all the background material we’ve been given on Riker, he comes off as the quarterback of the football team to Barclay’s science-club geek. Whether that had more to do with the writing or Frakes’ portrayal is debatable.
This is a well-written and fun episode that works on many levels. Since most science-fiction fans rarely fit into the “cool” group in high school, the introduction of Barclay is a character we can identify with. Non-fans will get a lot from the humor in an episode that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
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