Written by Joe Menosky, David Carren, J. Larry Carroll, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Legato
In the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the show that really perfected the ensemble cast and put it to good use. Babylon 5, from what I’ve seen, did a good job with this as well. Characters would enter and leave the universe at various intervals, characters who made an appearance several seasons (or episodes) ago would suddenly reappear, and some characters would stay on the periphery of the action and fit into the story as needed.
In the case of The Nth Degree, the writers bring back the character of Barclay (portrayed by Dwight Schultz) whom viewers first met in the episode Hollow Pursuits. Barclay is a crewmember who doesn’t quite fit in with everyone else; a sort of misfit in the 24th century.
When viewers first become reacquainted with Barclay, he is performing a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden). He still appears to be the same nervous man, not quite sure of himself or his place on the Enterprise. However, he has been working on coping with reality with the help of ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).
When ship’s engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) is assigned to repair a large space telescope that has been damaged by a probe of unknown origin, he takes Barclay with him. While on the probe’s platform, they are hit with an energy surge and rendered unconscious.
Immediately upon awakening in sick bay, there is an apparent change in Barclay. Not only is his intelligence growing by leaps and bounds, but he is also more confident and sure of himself. Within a short time he has evolved into the most advanced human being ever known.
One gripe I have with many of the episodes is that the guest cast is featured and the regular cast is either in the background or not involved with the guest cast enough. Although that happens to an extent in The Nth Degree, the episode does not suffer for it. The reason for that is the actor who portrays Barclay.
Dwight Schultz once again does a fantastic job. He manages to make both extremes in Barclay’s persona seem perfectly natural and believable. Anyone who remembers him from The A-Team should not let their perceptions of that series color their view of this man. He is an exceptional actor and his recurring work in the Star Trek universe as Barclay is just one indication of that.
The writers do a terrific job here as Barclay’s character changes all the way through the story, building to what the viewers do not know. Humor is incorporated in a good way in scenes such as when Barclay is explaining to Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) how he managed to increase power to the shields. It’s such technobabble that the viewers don’t understand – and neither does Riker! Yet, he pretends he does so not to lose face.
The rest of the crew is virtually helpless to stop him from eventually taking over the ship. What exactly is happening to him and why is resolved at the end, and in a way that I was comfortable with. It did not feel contrived nor did I feel let down by the ending as I have at other times when whatever has happened to a character is negated at the end of the episode.
While most of the cast is secondary to Dwight Schultz, those that do interact with him do a fine job. Particularly notable is Marina Sirtis as Troi as her involvement with Barclay is taken to a different level as he changes and grows before her. Yet she also demonstrates concern for the man and how he will cope; her worry is genuine – that of a good friend. She demonstrates patience and reluctance to judge him at a time when everyone else begins treating him as an enemy. It’s a good opportunity for Sirtis who rarely gets anything beyond a supporting role. Although essentially still a supporting actress here, she has more to do than just talking about whether or not the alien on the viewscreen is lying to the Captain.
However, the writers had one major flaw line come from her mouth. As she’s attempting to reason with Barclay, she informs him “the Captain will do everything in his power to stop you..” Why she would feel the need to inform him of that, I don’t know. Barclay either should have known that already, or if he didn’t, she has just given him a warning. Either way, it’s a bad line. There is an effect to that line, but it could have been brought into the story in a much neater way.
This is a great episode that any fan of the series is sure to appreciate. Although the background in Hollow Pursuits is helpful, it’s not completely necessary. It’s nice if the viewer has the familiarity with what Barclay has gone through in this universe, but it’s possible to pick up this episode cold and still enjoy it.
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