The Good: Great character development, Interesting premise, Nice acting
The Bad: Ease of resolution
The Basics: A surprisingly good episode in which a minor crewmember returns to be rewired by an alien race!
In "Hollow Pursuits" (reviewed here!) Reginald Barclay was introduced as a nervous, often helpless engineer who was addicted to holodeck programs. He was well-portrayed by Dwight Schultz and he seemed to be the perfect foil to the straight-laced, professional Enterprise crew. For a single episode, Barclay made Star Trek The Next Generation a funny, quirky show.
It was a surprise for most every fan of the series when "The Nth Degree" came along and Reginald Barclay returned. Barclay has begun acting, and poorly, though Counselor Troi insists he is making good progress with his attempts to deal with the real world. Unfortunately for Barclay, Geordi's attempt to include him in an away mission results in Barclay being knocked unconscious by an alien probe. When he regains consciousness not only does he have confidence, he has extreme intelligence. His intelligence begins to grow as he develops a way to save the Enterprise from the alien probe, then he manages to fix a nearby satellite, then he begins to modify the Enterprise and soon the rest of the crew fears him and his powers. When Barclay refuses to relinquish control of the ship, everyone turns on him, though they are powerless to stop him.
It's rare for Star Trek The Next Generation to give a guest character an entire episode, but to relinquish the reins to one twice is extraordinary. Perhaps the reason the series does this twice with Barclay is that he's an interesting, very different character than all of the others on Star Trek The Next Generation. Perhaps the other reason is that when the show finds a person who can act and act well, they attempt to capitalize on it. Dwight Schultz is one such actor.
The nice thing about "The Nth Degree" is it takes its time to develop without feeling like it is slowly building to something. That is, the episode progresses, making a decent story and developing the altered Barclay over the entire episode without feeling slow. In fact, the rate of development is rapid, but thorough.
While the story is definitely a Barclay tale, this episode works very well at utilizing almost the entire crew. While Picard is underplayed, Riker is used as a good foil for Barclay, appearing as a stupefied dolt. Geordi takes a nice vacation from being the whipping boy and Troi supports as a strange combination of professional counselor and potential suitor. It sets us quite well the dynamic Troi and Barclay will have throughout Star Trek The Next Generation and on into Star Trek Voyager.
Ultimately, "The Nth Degree" is simply a good idea. What Barclay is building to, the reason he will not relinquish control of the computer is a fascinating idea and one worth watching a few times. This is one of the more bizarre ideas that Star Trek The Next Generation attempts and it works so much better using the background character of Reginald Barclay. The problem with the previous episode, "Identity Crisis" (reviewed here!) is that it asks us to accept that a line officer who goes on many many missions could have something in him that somehow goes undetected. On the other hand, "The Nth Degree" works because we know almost nothing about Barclay and thus it's easy to believe there's something more in him when he encounters the probe.
The nice thing about this episode is that even if one has not seen "Hollow Pursuits," this is an easy to watch episode and fully accessible. Even if you're not a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation, there's much to enjoy here. It's basically Flowers For Algernon in the distant future and the interplay between the characters is wonderful for anyone who has ever had a problem at work and wanted to make an impression with the boss.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek works, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.