Star Trek The Next Generation: The Nth Degree

Barclay: "I'm afraid I can't do that, sir."

When the Enterprise is called to the Argus Array because of an alien probe that has shut down the main computer, things get complicated when Lt. Barclay gets zapped by the probe.

The plot is a classic science fiction exploration of extreme intelligence and what would happen to a person if suddenly gifted with that kind of mind. Normally, this trope involves the hyper-intelligent person becoming almost god-like and cold. Disconnecting with the rest of humanity, the subject of the massive gain in intelligence may end up benevolent, but is more often depicted as malevolent. This episode gave us a nice balance where Barclay's actions seemed hostile at the time, but ended up being totally innocent in the long run.

In fact, nothing Barclay does throughout the entire episode is especially wrong. It might've been a direct contradiction of Picard's orders, but everything he did was for the betterment of the ship and crew. It's a testament to the innate goodness in Barclay that when he is suddenly hundreds of times more intelligent and confident, he doesn't really abuse that gift. Sure, he hits on Deanna, but he doesn't push it, he's never sleazy or even aloof about his new intelligence. It helps cancel out some the initial creep factor his character was introduced with in "Hollow Pursuits."

But this was also a chance to explore Barclay as the other, a character on board a ship where everyone seems to be mostly perfect. Not to say the other characters don't have flaws, but they are far more well rounded than Barclay is. He's brilliant, but also different. Nervous and lacking confidence, he is socially awkward and doesn't understand how to relate to people on a personal level. All his superiors have taken an interest in bringing him out of his shell, but their motives are clearly to make him more like them.

You'd think the Enterprise would be less rigid socially. Perhaps the consequence for this kind of advanced civilization is that society as a whole has become less forgiving of those who don't conform to the general norm. Or is that just a Starfleet thing? I guess I often forget that this is technically a military institution, even though the Enterprise is on a mission of exploration. Is the need for sameness in the crew the reason why all the quirky secondary crew characters we meet end up disappearing after an episode or two?

Anyway, this was also a nice episode for Beverly and Deanna. They were both the most involved in Barclay's transition from brilliant nerd to proper crew member — Beverly in particular using theater in a way that allowed him to play someone else, but also forced him to engage with people in a public setting away from the isolation of the Holodeck. Deanna's contribution was a little more intimate, as Barclay managed to make a pass at Troi that she didn't accept until after his super intelligence was removed.

Speaking of which, the aliens were kind of different too. Instead of the god-like aliens (although the Cytherians were close with the giant hovering head and ethereal appearance), they were just curious explorers with a strange need to stay home and bring the universe to them. It was a fun little twist on the usual malevolent aliens, and there was no intention to kidnap or hold the crew hostage. It was instead a small moment of true exploration as the crew fulfilled their mission, albeit a little backwards (they were the ones who were sought after).

Bits:

The lasers that were bouncing off of Barclay's head when he was hooked into the computer were actual lasers bouncing off his head. They weren't a special effect added in post production (ah, the wonders of pre-CGI Hollywood).

This episode was choosen specifically for Dwight Schultz to come back as Barclay.

The Argus Array was an interesting idea, but I wonder why it wasn't already manned? Shouldn't there be an established engeineering crew on board to monitor stuff like what happened to the Array?

Picard was unusually distant and a touch cold in this episode, as if we were seeing him as just the Captain from Barclay's point of view.

Why did Picard try to destroy the probe before attempting to escape the probe? Wouldn't destruction be a last resort?

Troi is wearing the same dress as she did in Barclay's holodeck fantasy in "Hollow Pursuits."

Quotes:

Riker: "Bravo!"
Troi: "Wonderful! Wonderful!"
Data: "Lieutenant Barclay's performance was adequate, but clearly not rooted in the method approach. I do not understand why..."
Riker: "Data... because it's polite."

Barclay: "It just occurred to me that I could set up a frequency harmonic between the deflector and the shield grid... using the warp field generator as a power flow anti-attenuator and that of course naturally created an amplification of the inherent energy output."
Riker: "Uh huh, I see that."

Geordi: "You just spent the entire night arguing grand unification theories with Albert Einstein!"

Beverly: "Incredible! The production of neurotransmitters in your brain has jumped over 500%! ... I couldn't even guess at your IQ level now."
Barclay: "Probably somewhere between 1200 and 1450."

Picard: "Has Mister Barclay done anything that could be considered... potentially threatening?"
Troi: "Well, he did make a pass at me last night." (looks from Riker and La Forge) "A good one."
Picard: "I'd hardly consider that a threat."
Troi: "No, but it's certainly unusual behavior for Barclay."

Barclay: "Tie both consoles into the Enterprise main computer core utilizing neural-scan interface."
Computer: "There is no such device on file. "
Barclay: "No problem. Here's how you build it. "

Barclay: "I've finally become the person I've always wanted to be. Do we have to ask why?"

Barclay: "I wish I could convey to you what it's like for me now, what I've become. I can conceive almost infinite possibilities and can fully explore each of them in a nanosecond. I perceive the universe as a single equation, and it is so simple. I understand... everything."

Troi: "How do you feel now?"
Barclay: "Smaller. "
Geordi: "Just plain old Barclay, huh?"
Barclay: "It always seems to come back to that, doesn't it? "

Barclay: " May I? (moves a piece) Checkmate in nine moves."
Troi: " I didn't know you play chess."
Barclay: " I don't... "

This was an excellent vehicle for Dwight Schultz. He has always been a marvelous actor and this allowed him to explore his range. The episode itself, while a solid episode, was nothing all that special except for the fact that it was about Barclay.

3 out of 4 Alien probes that zap you with super intelligence

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

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