Thursday, March 10, 2011

When in Doubt, Add A New Character To Your "Hollow Pursuits!"

The Good: Excellent acting, Great characters, Good effects
The Bad: Weak plot that seems secondary to the character development.
The Basics: In one of the series' most funny episodes, a junior officer makes a mockery out of our heroes on the holodeck.

Star Trek The Next Generation tends to work along a formula that involves its main crew. So when a show focuses on a junior officer in the crew as opposed to the main crew, it forces us to open out eyes and look to see what's going on. Perhaps the best attempt at an outsider's view of the Enterprise bridge crew comes in the form of Reginald Barclay in "Hollow Pursuits."

"Hollow Pursuits" finds Barclay romancing Counselor Troi and putting down Riker only to reveal that he is in the holodeck. It turns out Mr. Barclay has an addiction to the holodeck and responds almost exclusively to his fantasies within the holodeck as opposed to the real individuals outside it. When there are a series of mechanical failures on the Enterprise, LaForge has to face that Barclay isn't living up to his expectations. In the process, LaForge befriends Barclay and discovers his holodeck world, which includes mockeries of all of the bridge officers. LaForge encourages Barclay to get counseling so he can tap the junior officer's potential.

"Hollow Pursuits" is an episode that is funny on a lot of levels. First, is the obvious one wherein the regulars we watch go through their roles with great seriousness are distorted in Barclay's holodeck world, so that Picard is a buffoon, Wesley Crusher is a fool and Deanna Troi is a sex kitten. But it's more funny to watch Barclay try to relate in the real world after having been in that fantasy realm. The difference between his fantasy counseling session and the real one is hilarious.

The man who pulls off this episode is Dwight Schultz. He plays Barclay with a stutter and the most quirky body language to come down the Star Trek pike ever. It's refreshing to see a quality actor defining this role and making us want to return to this underdog in a world of perfect people.

More than that, the perspective is excellent, both in the writing and the visual style. Seeing the Enterprise though the perspective of someone so unlike Data, Geordi and Dr. Crusher is nice. This works especially well when the officers' ideals clash with their feelings of pride, like when Riker, Troi and Geordi walk into Barclay's fantasy world and see the recreations of themselves.

In fact, the only thing that seems dull about the episode is the plot. The mechanical failures for which Geordi needs Barclay to be a functional member of the crew often seem forced. They feel like a chance to utilize the character rather than develop him. That is, rather than explore the depth of Barclay's psyche, they force a new problem on him. The only way that works is that it encourages the writers to revisit him because there is more to explore. Fortunately, they later do that.

The wonderful thing about "Hollow Pursuits" is that it offers a lot for the Star Trek The Next Generation novice to enjoy. Getting into Star Trek is daunting for people who have a stigma against it. "Hollow Pursuits" is written from a perspective a lot of people who have that stigma can appreciate; Barclay humanizes a group of heroes who usually appear as larger than life. It works at making the characters accessible from day one to start watching with "Hollow Pursuits."

And for the fans? This is a refreshing funny episode and it is well positioned, right before some of the darkest hours of Star Trek The Next Generation.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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