18 April 2016

The Nth Degree

Episode: s4, ep 19

What Happens
Reg Barclay (a nervous Engineer last seen in Hollow Pursuits) and Dr Crusher are performing a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac in full costume and makeup. Barclay's performance is awkward, but everyone claps and makes nice comments about his acting because this is how these things work. Turns out Crusher has an acting workshop, and she mentions an opening to Worf. Troi congratulates Barclay on his improved confidence, though he has difficulty accepting the compliment.
The Enterprise is checking on a big telescopic array that has mysteriously stopped working, an alien probe or something found nearby is the problem. Geordi takes Barclay out in a shuttle to investigate it, but their scans reveal nothing. A flash of light knocks Barclay out and he's taken to sickbay. Barclay tells Crusher she could get his results quicker by doing something that doesn't apply to biology, but he seems certain it'll work. The alien probe follows the Enterprise and speeding up doesn't shake it loose. The weapons don't do anything to it, though Worf is totally allowed to shoot at it, which probably makes him happy. In Engineering Barclay is ahead of Geordi in powering up the weapons, then he does something else and tells Picard that they can use the stronger weapons now because he's improved the shields. Geordi is shocked but agrees and the probe is destroyed while the ship only shakes a bit.
Barclay is invited to a staff meeting with Geordi, who doesn't know how he did the thing. They need to fix the big space telescope and all of Geordi's plans involve carefully shutting bits down and doing it over weeks, but then Barclay says he has a way that will take days. Barclay has much more confidence and is now better at acting and asking Troi out, as well as engineering. He goes to the holodeck, as is his wont, but Geordi finds him having a chat with holo-Einstein about stuff that's way over Geordi's head. Geordi has Barclay go to sickbay and Crusher finds that the probe did something to Barclay's brain meaning that he's now the smartest human ever. No one suggests a brain-off with Data, which is greatly disappointing to me. Senior staff discuss the Barclay situation, but then the telescope fix Barclay suggested causes an engine problem that puts the ship and telescope in danger. Barclay says the Computer is too slow, he rushes to the holodeck and uses it to hijack the ship and fix the telescope. Once the panic has died down it turns out Barclay has merged his mind with the Computer using a neural interface of his own invention.
Senior staff have a secret meeting about ship-Barclay and Geordi thinks he has a way of bypassing Barclay on his flashy, holodeck throne, but when he tries Barclay's voice stops him and explains he has a higher purpose now. The engines start acting strangely and Barclay says that he now knows there are no limits and he wants to take the ship somewhere. He won't listen to Picard or Troi when they try to tell him what he's doing is wrong. He keeps claiming what he's doing has a greater purpose. The ship jumps into something that is more warpy than warp and they stop 30,000 light years away at the centre of the galaxy. A floating old-man head (which comes out of central casting for Judeo-Christian god) appears on the Bridge and talks jovially to them. Barclay arrives and explains that this is the race that sent the probe, they have put him back in his own body now. They are explorers like the Star Fleet crew, but they use their mind-altering tech to bring others to them instead of travelling places themselves (which is a really impressive kind of lazy). 10 days later the Enterprise is returned safely with loads of info we don't hear anything about from a first-contact encounter we never get to see (because this is totally a show about space exploration and definitely not a workplace drama that happens to be on a spaceship). Barclay is mostly back to normal, with memories of what happened but not the knowledge of how. He and Troi head out for the date he asked her on before.

Does Not Compute
Data questions everyone's happy reaction to Barclay's acting, which isn't rooted in the Method (as if that's the only way of acting). Riker quietly tells him that it's polite to clap. It's like Data doesn't understand how these performances and recitals work. People show up and clap when he does stuff, it's clearly part of the social contract of the ship. Plus humans aren't perfect mimics unlike someone.
I was a little surprised that Data was never used in comparison to the enhanced Barclay. Do Barclay's enhancements make him more like an android? Who is quicker or smarter? If Barclay is able to merge with the ship does that mean Data could? Data's more like the ship/Computer. Is this situation something the two could bond over? Barclay still has feelings at first, but these seem less prominent when he merges with the ship and he overcome by the instructions. Let's face it, Data is the only other crew member who hijacked the ship due to programming. I think the episode didn't want to go into these issues, I guess an enhanced human is supposed to be something different to an android, but it feels like a missed opportunity to explore the situation of both characters.

Doctor Doctor
I wonder if Dr Crusher's choice of performance piece was based on Barclay's swashbuckling, Francophile holodeck programme? He did seem comfortable with everyone being in period dress and floppy hats. Though I don't think she ever saw the holodeck version of herself, or her son. Of course Reg is less confident and graceful on stage than in the holodeck, but for someone as nervy as him it seems like a good performance for only 6 weeks rehearsals. Crusher's invitation to Worf suggests she's running a whole drama workshop, but is it just for crew members who have issues socialising?

Blind Engineering
Geordi compliments Barclay's skills as an Engineer and takes him out in the shuttle to do some interesting stuff. It is probably easier for the Engineers to look impressive when they aren't being outshone by a certain precocious Ensign. We don't normally see him do this kind of thing, but it suggests that Geordi is aware that he needs to develop his staff and give them opportunities.
When ship-Barclay is monitoring everything Geordi has to undo all the recording devices in the meeting room so that senior staff can have discussions without Barclay hearing. Do all the rooms have recording devices? Are they always on? Obviously the comms system goes through the computer and everyone's location is tracked by their badges and it seems like people are supposed to record a lot of logs, but is everything being recorded all the time? I live in a country with a lot of mass surveillance and even I think that seems extreme. When Geordi is trying to bypass ship-Barclay to keep control of the Engine he discovers that ship-Barclay knows what's going on and his power makes him super creepy (even for a guy who became obsessed with acting out intricate fantasies about his colleagues).

It's Not Easy Being Troi (and there are no good pics of her from this episode)
Barclays transformation from anxious and slightly-inappropriate to less anxious and mostly not inappropriate has been overseen by Troi in her primary role as Counsellor. It's good hear that she's been working with people on long-term problems, though it seems as though Crusher's been contributing a fair bit in this case even though that's outside her primary role. Troi congratulates Reg on his progress, on being able to perform in front of people, though Reg is grateful he's also self-aware -and self-deprecating- enough to point out that he's likely swapping one form of fantasy for another. When he gets artificially more confident Barclay 'makes a pass' at Troi (that phrase sounds a bit dated now, I can't imagine it's going to last another few centuries), a good one. I'm not sure quite why that is part of his upgrade, why would being more confident socially and sexually be of use to the aliens? Riker queries Troi about Barclay's pass, jovially but with a bit of an edge. He's talking like it's funny, which I think it is supposed to be, but I think he's genuinely weirded out by the idea that Barclay might have a shot with his ex. Troi will only give him a grin, which is pretty funny. It is not any of Riker's business, and again it seems that Troi is a better ex than Riker is, though he's been much worse in the past.
When ship-Barclay is a problem Troi goes to the holodeck to speak to him in person. Deanna talks to Reg as a friend and tries to point out how he's making everyone feel. It doesn't work, but it seems fitting to her role that she would do that. At then end she does take that walk with Barclay, but I don't get the implication of that. I think it's perhaps a friendly thing, though I feel like there are echoes of the woman-as-reward trope. It could equally be read as Troi wanting to do something for him after all he's been through. I don't know because I don't really understand dating.

Random Crewmember: Barclay
Everyone is much nicer to Barclay this time, there's no name-calling (which was instigated by a teenager last time) or his superiors finding him off-putting, so that's nice. He's being treated as someone who needs a little encouragement socially, rather than that weird guy at work. He's still shy and apologetic, but he's been helped by Troi and Crusher, and the male crew members are not being such jerks, so overall it feels like character development (which is someone this show has been getting better at but doesn't have loads of). He's unwilling to take Troi's compliment on his improvement, suspecting acting is just another way of hiding away. Later he thanks Geo for taking on a mission and doesn't dispel engineering compliment, showing that he's got more confidence in his work than himself. When Bacrlay's intelligence and confidence grows he initially seems to be suggesting improvements in the manner of someone who just wants to help. As it continues he becomes more bold and commanding, which I think makes him seem more of a jerk (like that version of himself he was pretending to be on the holodeck last episode). Though the episode seems to suggest that he's more attractive as a result of his confidencde, not allowing for when people can become arrogant, especially if they start taking over what other folk are doing.
When he merges with the ship his feelings take a back seat, probably because he's now experiencing something no human ever has and is presumably less guided by his body and brain. His purpose has been programmed into him more strongly than his concern for other people. I feel like their could have been some good material in playing this episode more like a paranoid thriller, with the crew trying to resist under the gaze of Big Barclay. Though that would have taken up yet more space in an episode that massively rushes its conclusion to the point where a new, highly-advanced race who can enhance and hijack human minds is just tossed out as casually as anything, apparently without any implications (but it's not the first time this show has done such a thing). At the end Barclay seems to have regained some of his former humility, and seems puzzled by all that's happened to him as he doesn't retain the knowledge.

Security Breach
Again someone takes control of the ship from the holodeck, at least this time its a member of Engineering and not an artificial intelligence created by the Computer itself, but still. Surely the holodeck shouldn't connect to other ship systems, especially not all of them. I suppose that Barclay could probably have merged with the ship anywhere, but the holodeck was the only place that he was able to quickly create a neural interface in order to control the ship diectly with his mind. Incidentally that's something else that no one really mentions (and I assume will never be mentioned again), but he did create something that allowed direct mind-to-Computer communication. Even if he doesn't remember how he did it that seems like something people would want to study. Maybe it's being looked at along with all the info from those aliens that Picard assures us won't directly affect anything for a while.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Discussing how to fix the telescope, Barclay is Geordi's guest and completely overrules him in suggesting how to quickly fix the telescope, this is where he starts losing his vaguely apologetic manner.
2. Senior staff discuss Barclay's new smarts with Picard, there's concern but as he's useful and hasn't done anything wrong(yet) so Picard is happy to let him get on with things and keep an eye on it.
3. Secret meeting about the ship-Barclay hybrid. They want to bypass Barclay's control without killing him or damaging the ship, Geordi thinks he has an idea involving wiring or something.

The End
Troi takes Barclay for that arboretum date he asked her on when he was enhanced. Why does a starship have an arboretum? I mean at no point do either of them say anything that suggest its a holodeck programme, so I assume it's an actual big room full of real trees. Presumably it's there to keep Keiko (and any other  botanists they have) occupied. Barclay is a bit awkward, to show he's back to normal. As they are leaving 10 Forward Barclay interrupts someone's chess game, moves a piece and announces checkmate in 9 moves, then he reveals that he doesn't play chess, to show he's not entirely back to normal. It's kinda rude and makes Barclay a chess git.*

* I've noticed that TV sometimes shows off a character's smartness using chess. They'll have someone casually wander up to a game other people are playing and show that they've effortlessly mastered this complex, tactical game by finishing it for someone else. When this happens that character is a chess git.**

** I don't mean to suggest that people who play chess in general are gits. I have chess-playing friends who are perfectly lovely people. It's just if they do stuff like this, which is think is probably only a thing on TV. It's a lazy shorthand for showing someone to be smart, and a side effect is that they're also being an arrogant git and ruining someone else's game.

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