If Reginald Barclay was played by anyone else, this episode would have been unbearably uncomfortable. As is, it edges along a very fine line between fun and creepy. It is also remarkably light in both theme and message, making the title almost too fitting.
Things start off pretty interestingly, with a character who is not of the standard Starfleet stock. He is quiet, withdrawn, and not the typical confident go-getter that seems to define the crew of the Enterprise-D. Unfortunately, instead of trying to figure out what his issues are and working with him to resolve them, everyone, including Geordi and Riker, talk behind his back and put him down with nicknames and complaints. No wonder his only way to decompress from that kind of ostracism is in the Holodeck.
Compared to Riker and Minuet, or more directly with Geordi's time with the simulation of Leah Brahms in the episode "Booby Trap", Barclay's fantasies are just that, personal private fantasies. Barclay described his Holo characters as almost more real than the actual people they resemble. But I don't get the impression that he had any deep feelings for any of them. So in a real way, they were just representations. Akin to words in a diary, closed off, and never meant to be shared with anyone.
So when Riker, Troi, and Geordi barge in on him in his sanctuary from reality, they are witnessing his imagination made manifest. While this does push things into the realm of voyeurism and breaking an invisible wall of privacy, especially when they encounter their own facsimiles, it does bring up an interesting point. In this culture, were they in the wrong to invade his time on the Holodeck like that? Were his duties more important than his privacy? I wish that subject had been tackled in a bit more depth, instead of the discomfort of the situation used only for humor.
At least for me, the episode actually started to work when Geordi asked Guinan for advice and then followed through with it. Turns out Barclay just needed someone to believe in him, encourage him, and maybe even try to build a healthy relationship with him. While Barclay's turnaround was perhaps a bit too quick, at least he didn't lose his stutter and shyness in one episode. One thing was clear throughout: despite his personality quirks, Barclay was a world class engineer. He just wasn't applying his natural talent in a way that showed off his abilities.
The rest of the episode revolved around a mystery that Barclay was at the center of solving. Which was nice that the two plots complimented each-other instead of being disparate like some previous episodes. I just wish the actual mystery was more interesting, because the cargo container being the culprit was telegraphed from literally the first scene. Open container spilling out mist... hmmm, could be a problem we should look into.
Which brings up a semi-reoccurring problem: the crew's reliance on their technology. Whenever something doesn't work right, or malfunctions, the crew generally reacts like it is the biggest surprise ever. But it seems as if something goes wrong almost every single week. Sure, for them it might be stretched out by weeks or months, but it is still enough of a regular occurrence that there should be a dedicated team assigned to work on and figure out solutions to the bizarre and unknown anomalies that they encounter on a regular basis.
In this case it was something antiquated, a material that was banned by the Federation and so it was nixed from scanners or some nonsense like that. I guess there is a finite amount of information that the computer can check for, but you'd think something that dangerous and known would be on a big list of things to absolutely check for automatically. It is probably the biggest fallacy of the episode for me, the logical hoop the plot had to jump through for the solution to be resolvable in the last few minutes.
What really does save this episode is the marvelous acting by Dwight Schultz. He takes a character whom we should root for, but does some very creepy things with him... and yet somehow makes him likable. He runs the gamut from shy and introverted, to confident and extroverted. Apparently Dwight Schultz was a big fan of Star Trek, and while on a project with Whoopi Goldberg, he mentioned his affection for the series to her. She went to the producers at Paramount as his advocate, which led to this part being written for him. How cool is that?
I'm pretty sure the fencing was another excuse to utilize Patrick Stewart's skills.
Wesley on the holodeck is supposed to resemble the famous painting "The Blue Boy" by Thomas Gainsborough.
At one point Barclay is spouting out techno-jargon and is supposed to say 'flow capacitor', but instead says 'flux capacitor'. This is a direct nod to Back to the Future.
I have no idea why Barclay made Riker shorter, since Jonathan Frakes is only three inches taller than he is. Schultz is 6'1" and Frakes is 6'4" tall. That's the kind of fantasy far shorter men tend to have.
Picard: "Good, I'll look forward to your report, Mr. Broccoli... Barclay."
This was less about the line, and more about everyone's reaction to Picard slipping up.
Data: "Pardon me, but why is Lieutenant Barclay being referred to clandestinely as a vegetable?"
Not the best episode, but a good introduction to a great character.
2 1/2 out of 4 Holodeck Simulations of Crew Members
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.
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