Star Trek: The Next Generation: Hollow Pursuits   Rewatch 
November 27, 2020 5:47 AM - Season 3, Episode 21 - Subscribe

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasyyy? Caught in a holo-deck with Lieutenant Reg Brocc-o-liii…

Memory Alpha will spank you if you misbehave:

• This episode marks the first appearance of Dwight Schultz as Lieutenant Reginald Barclay. Schultz had been a Star Trek fan for a long time, and had asked Rick Berman to consider him if the right part came along. Schultz' official fan site claims it was Whoopi Goldberg who recommended him to the Star Trek producers. Schultz was thrilled with the part of Lt. Barclay.

• At the age of forty-three, Dwight Schultz was one of the oldest actors to portray a junior officer, making his first appearance as Barclay holding the rank of lieutenant junior grade. In the actual US Navy, upon which Starfleet ranks are mostly based, lieutenants are normally in their early twenties, having obtained their rank by virtue of a college degree.

• The production staff noted that the show was not intended as a satire of obsessive Star Trek fans. Director Cliff Bole commented, "I didn't feel that, and I would have heard if it was intended. I certainly didn't approach it that way."

• Likewise, Michael Piller remarked, "It really was not intended directly at Star Trek fans. It was certainly about fantasy life versus reality. More than any other character in the three years I have been at Star Trek, the character of Barclay was more like me than anybody else. My wife watched that show and saw what was going on, and said that's [me] because I'm constantly in my fantasy world. Fortunately, I make a living at it. I have an extraordinary fantasy life and use my imagination all the time. It's real life that I have the problems with. I was delightfully happy with the episode." In fact, Barclay's line about "[standing] in the corner, trying to look comfortable examining a potted plant" was taken near-verbatim from something that Piller himself said to Ira Steven Behr shortly after the latter joined the show's writing staff; Behr subsequently added the line to the script when he performed a rewrite on the episode.

• Barclay refers to a flux capacitor when in Troi's office. According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, this is a reference to the Back to the Future series of films. It appears the term Barclay was supposed to use was "flow capacitor", according to Wesley's dialogue in the previous scene.

• The tune of "The Minstrel Boy" can be heard playing during the scene where Barclay is seen leaving the holodeck at the end of the episode.

"The idea of fitting in just… repels me."
- Guinan

"If Barclay's having difficulty facing reality, to suddenly destroy his only means of escape would be brutal and could do considerable damage."
- Deanna Troi

"Cast aside your masks, and let me slip into your mind."
- The Goddess of Empathy

Poster's Log:
Barclay shows up in a total of five TNG episodes, six VOY episodes, and in First Contact in a delightful cameo. Schultz is an MVP recurring guest actor, bringing so many angles to his performance in this and several subsequent Barclay appearances. I've probably mentioned this in a previous FF thread, but if you want to see yet another different side of Schultz, check him out as J. Robert Oppenheimer in the excellent film Fat Man and Little Boy.

As a Trek overthinker, I also appreciate this episode for establishing a bit more about Federation (or at least Starfleet) social mores related to the holodeck. There are more TNG "holodeck episodes" to come, of course, but my gut/vague memory tells me that (A) there aren't as many more as you might think, and (B) this is the last one that delves into the social aspects of it. It's one of the topics that Voyager will explore more fully, with (as is always the case on Voyager) mixed but mostly-watchable results.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Barclay shows up in a total of five TNG episodes...

Only five? I guess that's testament to both the character and Shultz's playing of the character that is just seems like Barclay is almost always there.

Barclay, to me, came as close as the show ever did to depicting the "everyperson" and their nervous relationship with all the overwhelming technology saturating their world, which the main characters just take for granted. I wouldn't be surprised if more viewers identify with Reg far more than any other character.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:28 AM on November 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Only five? I guess that's testament to both the character and Shultz's playing of the character that is just seems like Barclay is almost always there.

Oddly, I only remembered 2 Barclay episodes - this one and the one with the transporter creatures, so it's a nice surprise to realize I have 3 others to look forward to. (I mean, I'm sure I've seen every TNG episode at least once on the original broadcast and others multiple times in syndication, so I'm bound to remember them once they come up in the re-watch, but, still, for now they're a mystery in a good 'present in gift-wrap' way.)

It's funny, I definitely remember feeling that Barclay was symbolic of Trek-nerds in this episode back when it first ran, but only after seeing it mentioned in the Fanfare post. It didn't pop into my head at all while re-watching the show this week.
posted by oh yeah! at 10:06 AM on November 27, 2020

If you're ever interested in what episodes a particular Trek character appeared in, you can go to their Memory Alpha entry to find out, although i get the "gift wrap" thing perfectly.

I liked this ep a lot more upon rewatching it initially; as I mentioned in my comment on "Booby Trap", I'd initially put Barclay's behavior in the same catetgory as La Forge's toward/with Leah Brahms, but that's not really how the respective plots played out. Geordi really did recreate Leah to help with the immediate problem, and only got a crush on her after some intense mutual nerding-out; Reg deliberately set out to recast all the TNG main characters as either potential (or actual--it's not stated whether they actually bumped uglies, and maybe not really the point) lovers or as foils for him to prove his holo-alpha-ness. The Three Musketeers setting (well, mostly; I'm not sure if the French of that era had some Goddess of Empathy as an allegorical equivalent to Liberty, or was just Reg kind of winging it to have a Troi doppelganger wearing not a lot of clothing) was kind of funny--I'm not sure what cracks me up about Wesley just eating an entire pie all the time, but it does--but there's still a seamy aspect to it, and even more so in the context of the scene from the teaser. It's definitely an order or two of magnitude beyond someone recreating a colleague to solve a problem and then, after a few marathon hacking sessions, realizing that, hey, they're kind of cute. But Geordi does try to connect with Reg after being coached by Picard, and even mentions his own little holodeck escapade, although not mentioning Leah by name.

Also, Dwight Schultz sells the character as less sleazy and more just kind of desperate, not only in terms of his (lack of) love life but just generally. Getting assigned to the E-D has already been established as one of the choice gigs in Starfleet, I think, and they already did the bit with Gomez where someone makes a bad first impression, but what if they don't recover from that; what if it snowballs? Whether or not Barclay was intended consciously to be a nerd doppelganger, or maybe a more-realistic nerd doppelganger than Wonder Child Wesley (and maybe a bit more like the real-life Wil Wheaton, who is more geeky IRL than on the show, and certainly got picked on by Trekkies while the show was being produced), there were certainly examples around, even if, like Michael Piller, they went pro. Heck, I've had a relatively successful career in my own profession--at least, I've been gainfully employed for most of my life in it--and I recently had an experience where I was definitely the odd man out during a meeting where everyone else was in a different division of my department. That scene around the engineering table really hit home. So, yeah. And indulging in a game or recreation where the player gets a feeling of more puissance than they have IRL is also very much a nerd thing, especially if the recreation is more immersive, such as LARPing, historical recreation, MMORPGs, or VR sets. I've never gotten into the first two, but I've known a lot of people who have, and they tell the stories of the people who are super-hardcore into it with a mixture of grudging admiration and some alarm.

A couple of other things: the only thing about the ep that I found a little unlikely was how everyone admitted that they got the nickname "Broccoli" from the teenager on the crew, and I also liked Schultz in Fat Man and Little Boy; he was also good as XO Pressley in the first Mass Effect game and the beginning of the second.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Time for (retail) therapy with cards from the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere('94): Goddess of Empathy; Fever Emergency; Reginald Barclay. GoE is another in the proud line of 'Premiere cards that feel so Magic the Gathering it hurts', meanwhile Reg gets a hilarious image. Barclay got two other personae in 1E, which were effective deck centerpieces.

Fajo Collection('97): Guinan. The Fajo Collection was a premium set which got you 18 somewhat gimmicky cards via mail order. I've got set #633/40000, myself. Guinan's card art extends out of the frame and features highly saturated yellow for her outfit. A Guinan card was teased in '94 in a magazine ad, with a different image and an Anthropology skill. Neither of the nifty special skills on this one existed at that time. The original never saw release.

Naturally, there will be more from the Fajo Collection in the following episode...

Second Ediiton('02): Invidium Leak. A basic common.

Call to Arms('03): Reginald Barclay, Reclusive Engineer. Keep that ship moving -- for a price. Barclay is way less significant or flavorful in his 2E iteration, for a change.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:02 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I never thought I'd say this, but thank god for Tin Man, otherwise that would be three episodes in a row where I was often curled in a ball of embarrassment. The gang discovering that Barclay was putting them in his holodeck fantasies is the ultimate in cringe. It's funny, but I'd misremembered it as there being an actual rule against using real people in your holo fanfic, rather than just Riker barking about how there should be a rule against it.

This episode features that thing where I end up detesting almost everyone for the entirety of the episode--they all remind me way too much of the kids who bullied me in school, and even as funny as Picard accidentally calling him "broccoli" is, the whole thing feels like the Enterprise is this floating classroom full of shitty elites and spoiled kids who think nothing of how much their own behavior contributes to Reg's problems. I was so grateful to Guinan for her great put-downs of Geordi's excuses and rationalizations; she feels like the only adult on the ship at times. Picard telling them to stop calling Barclay juvenile names is totally toothless, and then Geordi lets it ride until their little gossip sesh ends and then he's all "it ends here." (Yes, I totally overidentify with Reg Barclay, what can I say. I love him.)

Of course it's totally inappropriate to be doing what he's doing, and always showing up late, etc. But I recall all too well not doing the things I was supposed to do when I felt like I was constantly running a gauntlet of awful people, of slacking on my jobs when it felt like the office was made up of bullies with their sights trained only on me. I'm so glad the other episodes with Barclay are less fraught, but this one's really uncomfortable for hypersensitive me to watch.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:35 PM on November 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Reg deliberately set out to recast all the TNG main characters as either potential (or actual--it's not stated whether they actually bumped uglies...

Worst job on the Enterprise? Holodeck cleanup.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:11 PM on November 27, 2020

kitten kaboodle, I'd thought that there was a rule against recreating real people as well, and think that it was probably just a general social taboo (or, maybe more to the point, getting caught at it). Two episodes that I can think of when it came up were DS9's "Meridian", where Kira can't simply forbid Quark from selling her holographic likeness, although she strongly discourages him from taking a picture and could have had him arrested for hacking into her personnel files to get it, but instead hatches a suitable sting for him with Odo. (It's also a testament to Jeffrey Combs' acting that he makes Tiron, his first Trek role, the sort of purely loathsome person who is completely unabashed about wanting to holo-bang Kira's holo-doppelganger.) And in VOY's "Author, Author", the EMH's holonovel Photons Be Free, being basically a roman à clef about his being required to do things that he found ethically or personally objectionable, had very-thinly-veiled versions of the Voyager crew, so not technically their likenesses, although Tom Paris showed him that two can play at that game.

And your point about the vicious cycle with people being picked on for poor job performance leading to even worse job performance is spot on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:24 PM on November 27, 2020

I was always surprised that it isn't taboo to simply sashay into someone else's holodeck program. You'd think having your holodeck time private would be rule #1, unless you'd invited people.
posted by zadcat at 6:46 PM on November 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I made a song about this episode
posted by chrchr at 9:42 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am normally very uncomfortable when characters onscreen get embarrassed. Yet I laughed so hard at this one, because Barclay's imagining of them was so hilarious and creative. He genuinely nettled them and it was their fault for barging in. He wasn't solely pitiful, which made him more interesting.

I do wonder now, if Troi was the only counselor, what about crew members whose problem was with her? Could they get distance counseling from someone else?
posted by emjaybee at 8:17 AM on November 28, 2020

I feel like "What are the rules for recreating people on the holodeck?" "Why is Barclay a LTJG in his 40s?" and "What do you do when you've got a problem with the only therapist on your ship?" are things where it's obvious that, for much of the lifespan of the show, the world off-screen just didn't exist -- the writers had some idea that the Federation was an egalitarian post-scarcity society, but the details were hazy and handwavy and the mental construct varied at least a bit from writer to writer and production crew to production crew. When there was ambiguity, "whatever lets us tell this week's story" seems to have ruled.

In some ways, that gives the writers freedom, because there's nobody "well-actually"-ing them in the writer's room. On the other hand, that leads to conversations like this where the fans discover that aspects of the world just don't hold up under the flimsiest of scrutiny (because they were not expected to undergo such scrutiny)! No value-judgements here from me, either to fans or the writers, but it's a thing that's super clear when you watch especially older shows like this, pre-intense-internet fandom (yeah, I know Trek fans were Trek fans back as far as TOS, but we had zines, not AO3/ Alpha, etc)

There's definitely world-building answers we can come up with, post hoc, for each of those questions, that are interesting and lead to other interesting ideas, and it's super freakin' cool that we're all sitting around trying to cook up internally-consistent worldbuilding to explain independent, unplanned writing/casting decisions 30-ish years ago, today..
posted by Alterscape at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Not sure if this counts as one, but I’m going to repeat that while I thought I hated holodeck episodes, they continue to be great. Barclay’s holoadventures are hilarious.

I didn’t put together why he seemed familiar when it originally aired, but kids of a certain age may remember Dwight Schultz was also “Howling Mad” Murdock on the A-Team.
posted by rodlymight at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

I didn’t put together why he seemed familiar when it originally aired, but kids of a certain age may remember Dwight Schultz was also “Howling Mad” Murdock on the A-Team.

That is where I know him best aside from TNG. And it really makes his performance as Barclay all that much more interesting given how different the character is from Murdock.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Schultz’s acting chops are really put to the test in this episode as we see all the various personalities Barclay acts out (from the opening bar scene to his nervousness in the cargo bay to the differences between the holodeck and real therapy sessions).

One thing I come away with on rewatch - the crew don’t generally like each other. There is FAR too much twinkling delight at each other’s embarrassment.

Guinan is a FAR better therapist than Troi. Her early talk with LaForge about Barclay is kind of perfect.

One wonders how the saucer section, without a warp drive, might have handled a separation at warp 9.4.
posted by hanov3r at 8:16 AM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I watched a later episode last night where a saucer separation at warp is discussed, with the command staff determining it will "drop out of warp in a couple of minutes." So, maybe it's a non-event? Could also be another example of the writers not all being on the same page.

Steve Shives (lefty Trek vlogger) did a longform thing a year or two ago on how Guinan would have been a better ship's counselor than Troi. It's a damn shame it would've probably been cost-prohibitive (or maybe we need to blame racist execs? Unclear) to have Whoopi Goldberg as a main cast member. This is definitely one of the episodes that contributes to that thought.

And yeah, Schultz does great work in this episod as you say, hanov3r!
posted by Alterscape at 8:36 AM on November 29, 2020

One wonders how the saucer section, without a warp drive, might have handled a separation at warp 9.4.

They did a saucer sep while at warp in "Encounter at Farpoint." The saucer just slows down until it drops out of warp I assume.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:18 AM on November 29, 2020

Warp 9.4 is close to the structural limit of the ship. As a comparison, I can probably survive jumping out of a car moving at 30-40 mph but probably not 95 mph.
posted by hanov3r at 9:37 AM on November 29, 2020

Guinan is a FAR better therapist than Troi. Her early talk with LaForge about Barclay is kind of perfect.

This reminded me of a little scene my brother and I did a long time ago based off of "Yesterday's Enterprise" and the final talk between LaForge and Guinan:
Me pages: (Guinan) "Geordi, tell me about... Tasha Yar."

Brother paged with (Geordi) "She was more beautiful than I imagined."

Me pages: (Guinan) "You loved her?"

Brother paged with (Geordi) "I ... of course. Everyone did, Guinan. She was one of us."

Me pages: (Guinan) "You can tell me. I tend bar and I listen."
Me pages: (Guinan) "I won't judge, like Troi."
And it goes on from there.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:36 AM on November 29, 2020

From the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual:
As the Saucer Module is equipped only with impulse propulsion, computational modeling has verified that special cautions must be observed when attempting separation at high warp factors. Prior to leaving the protection of the Battle Section's warp field, the Saucer Module SIF [Structural Integrity Field], IDF [Inertial Dampening Field], and shield grid are run at high output, and its four forward deflectors take over to sweep away debris in absence of the dish on the Battle Section. Decaying warp field energy surrounding the Saucer Module is managed by the driver coil segments of the impulse engines. This energy will take, on average, two minutes to dissipate and bring the vehicle to its original sublight velocity.
Sounds dicey but I think it ultimately boils down to: it works if the writers need it to work, and doesn't work if the writers need it to not work.
posted by ckape at 4:06 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

it works if the writers need it to work, and doesn't work if the writers need it to not work.

Kind of like how Voyager had a spare warp core--clearly visible on the master systems display--but had forgotten about it by the time of that one episode where someone steals their warp core. (Yeah, maybe they had to cannibalize the spare for parts before them. Maybe. Just don't get me started on the Aeroshuttle.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:55 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

The thing about warp drive is I've always imagined the ship itself is relatively stationary inside the warp bubble. The warp engines are constantly squeezing spacetime together in front of the ship, stretching it out behind the ship, and passing the ship itself through these distortions in a bubble of "normal" space. A ship's maximum warp speed is determined by the engine's ability to manipulate spacetime while still maintaining that bubble. At a drive's extreme limits the warp bubble may start destabilizing, causing distortions that have to be managed by structural integrity and inertial dampeners.

So if the saucer section left the warp bubble it would have to pass through the spacetime distortions of the warp drive to reenter normal space, but as soon as it does it would be stationary, or perhaps traveling at whatever velocity the ship had been traveling at just prior to engaging warp. As the Technical Manual implies, the impulse engines are equipped with coils that can provide a temporary bubble of safe space until the saucer section exits the stardrive section's wake.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:48 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Guinan headwear watch: Blue teardrop (holo-Guinan), then an orange circle.
posted by Kyol at 6:41 AM on January 23, 2021

We've had a couple of these problems with the warp core, and the most striking thing to me is that "eject the warp core" doesn't seem to be a thing yet. I remember that being referenced as an option a lot - looking forward to when that starts showing up.

I like the morning stand-up in engineering, although some women would have been nice. Would have been a good opportunity to include Gomez again! Missed opportunities.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2021

Aside from that, this episode gives me two take-aways:

a) No one on the Enterprise is a competent manager

b) Starfleet is not a place that's at all friendly to disabilities. Barclay is a wierdo, but he's also obviously dealing some kind of issue - anxiety disorder, ADHD, maybe autism or something similar - a lot of different things that could cause some of what we see going on with him. But the Enterprise is full of type-A overacheivers whose advice mostly boils down to "just act normal, jeez".

Neither of which is very flattering.

There should also be more than one counselor on the ship. Our main cast are basically department heads, mostly. It'd make sense for Troi to similarly represent the mental health division of the ship, but to have more staff under her. We don't see the medical staff other than Crusher very often, but we know they're there. Same situation for mental health.

She probably shouldn't be the personal counselor of anyone else among the senior staff, honestly - she works too closely with them for that to work out well.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:26 PM on October 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

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