12 November 2014

Hollow Pursuits

Episode: s3, ep21

If this is what it's like to be an ordinary crew member I understand why we hardly see those guys.

What Happens
An Enterprise crewmember called Barclay causes trouble in 10 Forward, fighting with Riker and flirting with Troi.  It is a holodeck simulation. Geordi complains to Riker about Barclay being always late and kinda nervy. A container of some steaming stuff breaks and has to be destroyed. When Barclay shows up Riker reprimands him. Barclay tries to fix a faulty, floaty trolley. The ship is taking some stuff to some place, because B-plot. Riker and Geordi go to Picard about getting Barclay transferred, but Picard tells Geordi to try harder and make friends with Barclay. Geordi whines about this to other crew members (including other engineers). Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli*, as do Riker and Geordi. A cup has a hole in it and spills on an engineer and that is a problem, because replicators.
Geordi tells Barclay to investigate the floaty trolley and the cup hole, then tries to boost a nervous person's confidence by making him speak at a briefing. Wesley shuts him down and Barclay goes to the holodeck. His holodeck simulations feature senior crew as buffoonish Musketeers, and Troi as a platitude-spouting goddess-type. More unrelated systems do weird things, no one knows why. Geordi walks in on Barclay's insulting simulation, and they have a talk in 10 Forward. Barclay explains the problems he has with shyness. Geordi offers to help and orders him to go see Counsellor Troi.  Barclay visits Troi, gets freaked out and runs to the holodeck. The ship is going faster and no one can't stop it. Geordi, Riker and Troi go after Barclay and see the ridiculous versions of themselves. Geordi suggests Barclay has a problem, and tells him he's needed in the real world. None of the engineers (or Wesley, who is hanging out in Engineering this week) understand why weird things keep happening. Barclay suggests that the engineers themselves are spreading something. They check and it turns out it was that broken container of steaming stuff from the beginning. After a lot of technobabble, and the ship being in danger due to increasing acceleration, the problem is fixed. The ship is saved. Geordi commends Barclay.

Oh Captain, My Captain
It's good, and surprisingly nice, that Picard won't give up on an officer but wants to create a positive environment to bring out his potential. On the other hand, Picard didn't like people telling him how to relax in Captain's Holiday, so why is it OK to order Geordi to become best friends with someone he doesn't like? The answer is cos he's the damn Captain, that's why. A starship is not a democracy.
When Picard unintentionally called Barclay, Broccoli to his face it was funny in an awkward way. Then as Picard stood there and realised what he'd done it just got awkward. He could have just walked away immediately, but he stands there and looks at the man while acknowledging his mistake and waiting until he leaves.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Here we see what a jerk Riker can be if a member of the lower orders annoys him. He's the one who tells Geordi that Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli. Real mature Commander, passing on childish nicknames like primary school gossip. Riker is fed up of seeing Barcley's name on reports. We never see these reports because we don't see the paperwork parts of Riker's job. All the rest of the time I bet he's dealing with forms, even if they are on a tablet. Riker is the first to suggest that Barclay was recommended to them by someone who wanted to get rid of him. Has Riker pulled this stunt himself? Is that his plan for transferring Barclay?
Riker is obviously angry about the party-size holodeck version of himself Barclay has created, anyone would be. Can't blame him for that. Though Troi is right to be amused, it is hilarious..

Does Not Compute
Data is the one to point out, in his figuring-out-social-mores way, that everyone using Broccoli to refer to Barclay is actually mean. Data also tries to help explain Picard's slip of the tongue, but has gotten used to facial cues enough to stop at a glare.
The holodeck-musketeer version of Data kind reminds me of the V masks. I guess it's the pale skin and that style of facial hair. (See my Bonfire Night post before this one to see a load of fellows sporting the style.)

Blind Engineering
Geordi doesn't get on with Barclay, not just because he performs badly, but because he makes Geordi and other crew nervous. I expect it's people picking up Barclay's nervousness and responding badly to it. I might feel bad for Geordi -it's not fun having to spend time with someone you don't get on with- except that he's senior staff and he whines about it. Gee, it's so irritating when your boss expects you to use people management skills on your subordinates. He keeps calling Barclay his "project", which is a really helpful way to think when attempting to befriend a person. Also he's the one that refers to Barclay as Broccoli in front of the Captain, while he's supposed to be having a serious meeting. Hardly professional, Geordi. Though this is not the first time Geordi has had issues working with his staff. Maybe this is why Geordi's best friend is an android. Geordi uses the Broccoli nickname until Data points out it's mean, then in fairness he does try to shut it down.
Geordi manages to have an honest talk with Barclay, after finding him in the holodeck. It's good that no one mocks Barclay about his hobby, and though there's disapproval there does also seem to be concern. Geordi obviously doesn't fully understand Reg Barclay's shyness, confident people often don't, but he does listen. This conversation with Geordi is probably the closest anyone gets to connecting with Barclay. He suggests Barclay go to Troi, because to him that's the obvious thing to do in that situation.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi gets to be a Counsellor here (as opposed to Picard's assistant, which is her unofficial role), and again
she proves to be good at her job. She tries to put Reg at ease in the counselling session using a simple breathing exercise to start. He won't let things go any further and flees. You'd think she must sense that he's really nervous and attracted to her. Then again as the show's eye candy (her official out-of-universe role) she may be used to sensing those feelings in others.
Troi is supportive of Barclay's escapist tendencies, if they are useful for him. The reveal of Barclay's holo-Troi does anger her, and would seem to undermine her point, but her anger is as natural as Riker's. Besides I suspect it's less the attraction she has a problem with -though she'd be justified in feeling creeped out by it- than the fact that Barclay's version of her is superficial and spouts nonsense.

Not Actually An Ensign
Mmmm... pie
Wesley started the Broccoli nickname, though there's no indication why he did something so juvenile. Barclay doesn't like Wesley, probably due to the name calling. Or perhaps many of the non-senior staff don't like Wesley. He's not gone through the Academy like they did and he's on the Bridge, flying the ship and buddying up with senior officers, all because his mum is the Chief Medical Officer. I could see Wesley being disliked because of the favouritism that is shown to him.
I'm not sure why Geordi bothers explaining Wesley's presence in Engineering. After the Bridge it's the main place he hangs out. Geordi probably shouldn't have tried to make Reg feel better by inviting to contribute to a briefing also featuring a precocious know-it-all. Not a confidence building moment, being bested by an unqualified teenager. It's no surprise Wesley has a place in Barclay's revenge fantasy, though I'm not sure why he's scoffing pie. Wesley does at least acknowledge that shutting Barclay down was unhelpful when Geordi explains the situation later, and feels pity for Broccoli.

Guinan's Hat: Dark Blue (in the holo-deck, mirroring holo-Troi's outfit) and Orange - orange (the colour) felt that looks kinda like an orange (the fruit)
Pulling it off
Geordi talks to Guinan about Barclay, cos she's the person he goes to when having interpersonal issues. He complains about having Barclay as his "project". Guinan refuses to dismiss Barclay. Yes, he's quiet and often alone, but she doesn't judge him for it. She also knows that Barclay is imaginative. She compares him to her unpopular uncle, who was actually really funny when you got to know him. She also indicates that she didn't quite fit in either, and that she's since rejected the idea of fitting in. When Geordi tries to argue that Barclay's nervy attitude makes other people uncomfortable, Guinan counters that anyone would behave like that if they knew they were unwanted. Thank God (which she is in the Muppets universe) for Guinan's non-judgmental, compassionate attitude.

Poor Broccoli
I cannot decide with Barclay. Is he an average, introverted person working in a place where most people are overachievers who lack social anxiety? Or is he a slightly creepy guy who spends more time than is healthy working out his frustrations with revenge fantasies and titillation involving his coworkers? Probably somewhere in between.
The show wants us to feel sorry for Barclay. He's the only member of the Enterprise crew that I've ever seen being derided. Even when people disagreed before there was always respect, which is just missing here. Guinan makes an excellent point that people don't thrive in hostile environments. His escapism is only natural. There's a suggestion that Barclay has behaved like this in the past, but it could be that the pressure of working on the Enterprise and meeting their standards has caused him to indulge more. He's become dependent on his coping mechanism to the extent that it's interrupting his work. When Barclay is describing his awkwardness and anxiety in social situations my heart went out to him. I'm sure anyone who's felt out of place at a party can sympathise. I suspect that while various crewmembers are characters for Trek viewers to aspire to, according to the old stereotype Barclay is one they can identify with.
The creepy thing really comes down to the content of Barclay's simulations. Most of the in-show objection to this seems to be that it lacks respect, and that people understandably don't like seeing his versions of them. Riker thinks it's bad to use crewmember's images, there's distaste there, but I doubt confident, straight-talking Riker would ever think of using a holodeck this way. The episode says that Barclay is attracted to Troi, and enacts simulations where she responds positively to him. It never says he sleeps with holo-Troi. Then again people assume that is happening. We don't know if the holodecks on the Enterprise even allow for sexual entertainment, it's never suggested that they do. These aren't Quark's holosuites from DS9. If Barclay is sleeping with holo-Troi that would be creepy. Just as it would be creepy if his sword fights with other holo-crew involved slicing them up with realistic gore. Again the show doesn't suggest this, and in this case no one seems to be assuming it. Holo-Beverly tells holo-Wesley Barclay will spank him for misbehaviour, but that is about infantilising Wesley, not something Barclay would actually do.
When Barclay is pushed to really focus on his job due to an emergency he performs well, loses his nerve and solves the problem, thus saving the day. His usefulness means people will be his friends. That's how this social structure works.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Riker and Geordi tell Picard about the Barclay problem, hoping to get rid of him. Picard insists Geordi try harder with him and orders him to become Reg Barclay's best friend.
2. The Briefing in Engineering. Geordi tries to increase Barclay's confidence, by getting him to talk in front of everyone. Wesley totally talks over Barclay even though he doesn't actually work there and is not involved with that project.

Geordi has a one-on-one with Barclay in 10 Forward, which isn't really official.
Barclay has a very short counselling session with the real Counsellor Troi, but is too nervy and bolts after doing some breathing exercises.

Why can't the other crew members find Barclay in the holodeck? It's not a massive room (though bigger than Troy and Abed's Imaginarium in Community). I know there's holo-landscape in the way, but I don't get why. Surely the holodeck should open on the part of the scene the player (user?) is interacting with? Though at least the holodeck is operating normally here; no creating matter that survives outside, killing people, or creating life.
It's interesting that Riker assumes it's against protocol to simulate crewmembers in the holodeck. Geordi doesn't think it is, and surely if it were the Computer would have stopped Barclay doing it? Except Barclay's an engineer, and engineers of certain rank can do just about anything on these ships. Also, if those regulations do exist Geordi very purposely got around them in Booby Trap by creating a replica of a real scientist. Initially he did it for work purposes, but he admits to Barclay that he fell in love with her (an accurate simulation of a real stranger that he had created). What he leaves out is that he was supposed to be saving the ship at the time (and it was assumed he was doing so with his actual staff). Plus it's not like Riker has never got carried away over a holodeck simulation, perhaps even fallen in love with one, thus endangering the ship.

Communication Breakdown
When Barclay is hailed in the holodeck he continues his conversation with holo-Troi, which includes the word "darling", before responding. How does the comms system know not to broadcast that? The whole Computer voice command thing is really confusing. People don't ever tell it they've stopped issuing commands, but carry right on speaking to others. It seems fine to say "Computer" in a conversation without accidentally giving instructions (unlike that XBox Play advert). It always does things immediately, unless you're gonna belay the order or change the instruction. Does it know when you're paying attention to it? Is it a hobgoblin?

The End
Barclay strides onto the Bridge, and thanks everyone before saying farewell. Then he ends programme because of course he was talking to his holo-friends. He tells the Computer to erase all his programmes, except one. Oh Barclay, you scamp.

* Due to watching TV I've known since childhood that in the US broccoli is the worst of the vegetables, like some kind of green tyrant king or something. It was only a few years ago that I learned why. It's because the first President Bush became president so that his mother wouldn't make him eat broccoli anymore, and in a fit of loyalty to their leader Americans have vilified that vegetable in their media ever since.


  1. I didn't try broccoli for years (my family didn't cook it). I like it now, but didn't get it until college...

    1. I used to dislike most fruits and vegetables (I had various food issues growing up). Now I like most veggies, but don't eat much fruit. I'd realised from cartoons that broccoli was supposed to be the worst vegetable. I saw a clip of that George Bush Snr speech (was that press conference about something else too?) a few years ago and it clicked that the stuff on TV might be a reference. It also means the green bean thing from an episode of the West Wing makes more sense.
      Then again brussel sprouts have a similar rep over here and I'm not sure what that's about. My home town had a sprout festival a few years ago, for reasons that were never clear to me. I could theoretically put it down to Euro-skepticism, but that's probably massively overthinking a common dislike for a gross-tasting vegetable. :)

  2. Why no review of episode 20? Tin man.

  3. Why no review of episode 20? Tin man