Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Nth Degree   Rewatch 
February 18, 2021 5:12 AM - Season 4, Episode 19 - Subscribe

Lt. Barclay gets into a competition with Einstein and some aliens about who's more big-headed.

Soon everyone will understand what Memory Alpha can do for FanFare:

• "The Nth Degree" originated as a vehicle to allow popular guest star Dwight Schultz to reprise his role of Reginald Barclay. Michael Piller recalled, "We had sort of put in our laundry list of things we wanted to bring back fourth season. 'Hollow Pursuits' was a wonderful episode last year, and [Barclay] is a very interesting character and a great actor. We were having trouble finding something that would make it worthwhile to bring him back. Joe had this concept of somebody who became super intelligent and said, 'Maybe this could be our Barclay show,' and we weren't sure what we were going to do with our premise at first, but we finally got a story together." He added, "I think Rick came up with the idea of doing Cyrano. It was kind of a con on the audience."

• According to Rob Legato, the script was constantly revised, with the final scene only delivered on the day of shooting. In earlier drafts, the Cytherian was more malevolent, but this was changed to avoid the common hostage plot.

• Live lasers were used in the scenes where Barclay interfaces with the computer. According to Michael Piller, "We've used laser beams in post production for firing things and lighting effects, and we've had several meetings where we've wanted to use them in production but have never done it. Rob suggested it on this episode and it was a wonderful idea – all those beams coming down and hitting his head are all laser beams and mirrors. It's all live, it's another effect we want to use more of. It's really weird and allows you to move the camera. If it was laid down in post-production, you wouldn't be able to."

• This episode has one of the longest teasers in the franchise, seven minutes and 21 seconds long.

• Michael Piller remarked, "I was really pleased with the way it turned out. Joe Menosky has said he was really proud to have his name on that show, more so than any other show. That's Rob Legato's second episode and Rob did a masterful job in terms of interpreting the story."

"I've finally become the person I've always wanted to be. Do we have to ask why?"
"Yeah. I think we do."
- Reginald Barclay and Geordi La Forge

"Has Mister Barclay done anything that could be considered potentially threatening?"
"Well, he did make a pass at me last night. A good one."
- Picard and Troi

Poster's Log:
I feel like this would be a much weaker episode if it was about anybody other than Barclay. That's probably largely because the overused Flowers for Algernon story annoys me. (As does the closing gag, which might have at least been cute had they not blown their "he's not supposed to know how to ___!" wad in the Picard office scene already. No, never mind, still not cute, because Troi wanting to go on that "date" is unbelievably unprofessional.)

But we get the very enjoyable stage scenes, and we get the nice stuff between Geordi and Barclay on the shuttle—a nice example of continuity in this otherwise-episodic show. It was also a good call to make the Cytherians friendly; the closing bit about how they spent a few weeks on a cultural-exchange hang-out was nice and, IMO, plausible.

I noticed a lot of stiff moments w/r/t acting and editing, which could be in part due to episode director Rob Legato being not all that Trek-seasoned (his only prior episode directing credit is "Menage a Troi," in which, well, one doesn't so much "direct" the actors as "get out of their way," perhaps). The stiff moment that stuck out most to me was Riker's line "Nothing.", which somehow just felt really season 1. Maybe the editing is more to blame.

I 100% headcanon that "God" from STV is a Cytherian, probably an exiled criminal of their race. They were both found in the same part of the galaxy and they're both giant freakin' floating heads with trans-galactic psychic powers!

Milkshake Duck Log:
As explained in this one's Greatest Gen (another stronger-than-average installment of their podcast, IMO), Dwight Schultz eventually became a right-wing radio personality. X(

There's only one more "Barclay episode," season 6's "Realm of Fear," but Barclay has small (IIRC) roles in two additional upcoming episodes.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was a complete sucker for this one because in the past I've been a sucker for stories of people unlocking their hidden potential--everything from the aforementioned Flowers for Algernon (although I would headcanon an ending where "Chaяly" Gordon managed to stop the reversal of the process) to Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, in DC Comics, to Bradley Cooper's Limitless. (I should hastily add that I've never gotten into them to the degree that I thought that I could actually do it, as a lot of the more seriously woo cults and cult-adjacent self improvement movements have, the more extreme of which shade into belief in superpowers. I also didn't have much use for Scarlett Johansson's Lucy, which was like a parody of these stories.) Trek has also dabbled in these types of stories, with Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and Charles Evans in "Charlie X" all assuming more godlike powers, although the first two started out with being super-smart; the connection between the two was strengthened in this series' "Where No One Has Gone Before", with the Traveler noting that Wesley was starting to grasp that time and space were a function of thought. Barclay isn't quite that ascended here, although that's probably a good thing, and with his ability to think a neural interface into existence via the holodeck mechanics, he doesn't really need it anyway.

Other bits: I totally accept that "God" was a exiled Cytherian; possibly, he was exiled for being pro-starship. Also, good catch in the tags for the HAL homage.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:50 AM on February 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't really like Barclay episodes much, and I also hate Flowers For Algernon stories, but I like this episode a good bit.

Gates McFadden's response to Barclay's improved Cyrano is really good--it's gotta be tough when you're supposed to respond as though you've just witnessed the most amazing dramatic performance, when it's just a . . . fine reading by Schultz.

Barclay's neural disco is indeed pretty awesome.

I saw this at around age 14, and was relieved to find an explicit example of what "a pass" was, and what it looked like when a good one was being made. TV really is educational! Not a phrase we really use much more, I guess we'd say something like "making a move on someone in an inappropriate setting". On this rewatch, I'm continually impressed by Sirtis, she really brings dignity to her character despite being given very little to work with.

I also don't think I ever caught the fun HAL 9000 reference to this one before, but putting Geordi in the Jeffries tube puts a pretty fine point on it.
posted by skewed at 6:57 AM on February 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

As explained in this one's Greatest Gen (another stronger-than-average installment of their podcast, IMO), Dwight Schultz eventually became a right-wing radio personality. X(

This just makes me ineffably sad.
posted by briank at 10:38 AM on February 18, 2021

I didn’t remember having watched this before until that giant head at the end - that’s an image that really stuck with me for some reason.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:05 PM on February 18, 2021

posted by wabbittwax at 12:40 PM on February 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

posted by rocketman at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2021

I always really enjoyed this one, I guess because I used to love Barclay back in the day. Well, that's certainly taken a hit now, what dispiriting news about Schultz. I think I imprinted heavily on things like Colossus: The Forbin Project or even that TOS episode when I was a kid, and so I used to get heavily caught up in someone becoming superhuman and then everyone else desperately trying to plot a way to save themselves from the all-powerful character(s). It was terrifying and compelling for me.

But yeah, I feel like the best thing they did for this episode was to make the aliens so charming and odd, their delight at their new study-buddies is infectious, and it's such a different way to handle that in the series. They made the right decision, particularly because it gave Patrick Stewart a chance to do indignantly cranky before they learn what's going on.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:36 PM on February 18, 2021

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Five cards from Premiere this time around, including Cytherians, which sends a ship encountering it off to the far reaches of space. Hopefully it doesn't run into any Paxan Wormholes. 15 points is a pretty big prize as these things go. Alien Probe is a pretty straightforward utility card. Repair Mission is pretty much the archetypal fed space mission. Bring some engineers and a programmer, and you're set.

What engineers? Maybe Linda Larson, but probably Geordi LaForge. Great image, decent stats, and a pretty handy skill block.

Speaking of of nice images, in Second Edition we got To Boldly Go, a reasonably priced Fed support card.

Wesley's Card of the Day for Cytherians, Alien Probe, and Geordi provides a slightly deeper look at how these early cards were received strategically at the time.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:00 AM on February 19, 2021

I found Dwight Schultz's acting (and, I suppose, how the character was written) in the previous Barclay episode to be really off-putting. In this one I thought it was a lot better tuned so that things really came together to create a fun mood.

So surely the Cytherians shared their technology for zapping halfway across the galaxy in a few seconds. And it didn't take too long for Barclay to re-engineer the Enterprise to do it. That's gonna turn everything upside down, right?
posted by polecat at 2:27 PM on February 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Barclay was also in some Voyager episodes, involving him in the project to communicate with the lost ship and help bring it home. But I don't think the incident in this episode was ever once mentioned – that he'd once been in direct contact with a species that had the power to zip people vast distances, and why didn't he drop them a line?
posted by zadcat at 7:16 AM on February 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah there’s a bit of voiceover at the end that says the Cytherians and the Enterprise shared information with each other, and I was like “oh DID they then?” I suppose there are all sorts of good reasons for them not to share such advanced tech, but it would have been nice to get a line of dialogue explaining that, because as it stands, calling these guys on the space phone would seem to be the solution to every third episode going forward.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:08 AM on February 20, 2021

Barclay seems popular as a character here on Metafilter, but I never liked the character or got the point of him being on the show. His stories always ground TNG to a halt for me.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm with you on Barclay. Maybe it's the fumbling way he's presented, but he seems too visibly incompetent for Starfleet.

I liked this episode, though! We get some nice models for the probe and array, Mr. Disco Brain, "A good one!", and a friendly smiling silly old space head. It felt like good old-fashioned Trek, with new alien worlds, distant space telescopes, and the idea that they're supposed to be exploring the unknown.

Which brings me to the question: what is up with Picard this episode? He sounds like he drowned his sense of wonder in the bathtub. Mysterious alien space probe? Geordi is all yesssss but Picard is just pissed that it broke his telescope. Barclay has merged with the computer and transcended to a new stage of consciousness? Maybe you want to talk to him about that, find out what it's like? No, Picard just wants his computer back, he'd gotten the PADD themes tweaked jussst the way he likes it. A big smiling friendly alien space head appears on the bridge, and he's immediately all WHY ARE YOU SHITTING IN MY CORNFLAKES, SPACE MAN.

Even his closing monologue sounds sarcastic. "We exchanged soooo much information, not things like how to ensmarten people or go super fast, but, you know, about our feeeelings. We are now three days behind schedule on our mission to repair ice machines on Risa Nine."
posted by phooky at 7:46 AM on February 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I noticed Picard's odd attitude too. The only thing I can think of is that he might be stressed out because the Argus Array is probably a high priority for Starfleet, as is suggested by its location and subsequent canonical appearances (MA page for the Argus Array; contains TNG season 7 spoilers).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Eh, I don't mind get-off-my-lawn Picard once in a while. And I'd be a little perturbed if the crewmember who was mostly inoffensive but kind of squirrelly personally suddenly went MODOK and took over the ship.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 AM on February 21, 2021

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