Star Trek: The Next Generation: Realm of Fear   Rewatch 
June 21, 2021 9:03 AM - Season 6, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Lieutenant Barclay faces his fear of transporting, but now he thinks that he's being attacked by a creature inside the transporter beam.

I thought I was hallucinating, that I had... that it was transporter psychosis. But now I know what I saw in Memory Alpha was real.

Story and script
  • Brannon Braga enjoyed writing this episode. "Certainly, it was one of my most personal episodes. People around here say I am Barclay. I hate flying and that's where the idea came from. If I lived in the 24th century, I'd be afraid to transport, so I enjoyed exploring some of the deeper neuroses that Barclay had." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 257)
  • Braga, a fan of The Twilight Zone, wrote the script as a homage to "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". That episode featured William Shatner as an airplane passenger who sees a creature outside the aircraft, but nobody believes him. Accordingly, Braga substituted "a thing in the transporter" for "a thing on the wing". He commented, "I thought it would be fun to explore the notion that just as not everybody likes to fly, not everybody likes to transport […] Barclay seemed like the right guy to have that kind of neurosis." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 269)
  • Braga was proud of the title, which he thought sounded like an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 269)
  • The creatures were designed by Dan Curry and built by modelmaker Carey Howe. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 216); Profiles in History auction) Curry, covered in a green suit, later puppeteered the creatures. ("Departmental Briefing Year Six – Profile: Dan Curry", TNG Season 6 DVD special feature)
  • The red giant and white dwarf in the Igo sector seen in this episode were originally from "Evolution" and later re-used as a similar stellar phenomenon in the Topin system in "Preemptive Strike".
  • The multi-level Jefferies tube set, directly attached to main engineering, appears for the first time in this episode.
  • This episode marks the first appearance of the Admiral's uniform which was used for the rest of the series and much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, although Admiral Hayes is seen here without the standard combadge.
  • O'Brien's collar insignia changes from lieutenant (two pips) to chief (one black pip) in this episode. According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 216), this was done to reinforce the plot point that Lieutenant jg Barclay outranks O'Brien.
  • A brief insert shot of Barclay getting a glass of water from his replicator is a stock shot from TNG: "The Vengeance Factor", as Riker's red Starfleet uniform can be seen reflected from inside the replicator.
  • This is the first and only time O'Brien's pet tarantula, Christina, is seen or mentioned.
  • Jeri Taylor observed, "This was an episode that a lot of people just didn't respond to and I don't know why. I thought it was a wonderful idea. I thought Brannon wrote a terrific script. It just seemed so perfect, Barclay with a transporter phobia just seemed like a marvelous marriage of something people can relate to today and in the future: technology. I just thought everything worked with the exception of the visual effects. The explanation by the end really got painfully detailed. And it's that fine line you try to draw, if we don't say this, is the audience going to be fairly confused and cheated because they don't understand it? But if we do say it, are they going to be overwhelmed by the words? We went one way in "Time's Arrow II," and maybe we tried too hard to explain things in "Realm of Fear," but it's hard to strike that back." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 257)
Poster's Log:

Dwight Schultz's "scared Barclay" looks a lot like "very sad Barclay".

When Barclay, LaForge, and O'Brien are checking over the transporter systems, O'Brien really seems to take Barclay's fear personally. Weren't you JUST telling him you understood the fear, Chief?

Is this the first time the ship's counselor has relieved someone from active duty? Is that a privilege she has as a member of the medical team or by right of her rank as LCDR?

The senior staff's response to Barclay coming forward is admirable. One brief "are you sure?" question from Picard, then everyone is professional and working.

We'll have another episode involving staying in a transporter beam a little longer than normal in next week's Rewatch.
posted by hanov3r (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The point that you mention above about the senior staff believing Barclay is important, I think, to having some sense of character development for him; he's not just perpetually this angsty, always a bit off-kilter guy with the reputation for having all the problems. I did think that it was a bit of a stretch to establish that Barclay has never transported in his entire life, and that nobody, even in as regimented an environment as a starship (or Starfleet Academy for that matter), ever noticed. I mean, I guess that it's possible, given that we see people taking the shuttle to ships when they first board them and that the E-D used a docking port when the crew disembarked in "11001001". It's just that everyone else is so casual about using the transporter, with the exception of Leonard McCoy, M.D.

Maybe the most interesting thing about this ep was that it establishes that people are conscious throughout the transportation process, which would seem to mitigate one of the existential objections to transporters: that they in effect murder everyone who passes through them and replaces them with an exact duplicate. Barclay's POV scenes would seem to refute that. Of course, that also brings up some really disturbing implications about that upcoming episode; in previous Trek threads, I've already mentioned a really disturbing Stephen King story [spoilers, obvs] that turns that idea up to eleventy gazillion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:30 AM on June 21 [6 favorites]

This isn't terrible, but I have always disliked this one and it was pretty boring on rewatch. Jeri Ryan seems mystified as to why we didn't enjoy it, and thinks maybe it was because it was over our heads? No, it was just so straightforward it couldn't be stretched to 40 minutes without making me want to get up and go for a walk. Sometime weird happens very early on, this week's main character is the only one who notices, tries to ignore it, but problem gets bigger, it's difficult to convince everyone else that the problem is real, eventually protagonist is proven right, they all pull together to solve the problem. The beats on this premise are sooooo familiar at this point on the series, you can see where they are going almost immediately. That by itself is not fatal, we don't expect experimental, ground-breaking drama here. But the pacing is so glacial, and it takes so long to get where we all know they are going. Yes, Barclay's gut feeling was right, yes, the transporter issue is real, yes the weird fish-thing is somehow real, yes, but they spend 30 minutes setting up a not very interesting problem and then 10 minutes resolving it.

I guess what Jeri Ryan was talking about spelling out too much, was the idea that the subspace microbes were somehow connected to the missing crew-members, who could be captured if someone had just grabbed onto microbes they were attached to? Well, I believe I understood it when they went ahead and explained what happened, but that doesn't make it more interesting to watch.

I really thought it was a cool idea that in the transporter stream, you might see objects completely out of proportion to their actual proportion to you. But I don't think they did anything with that other than justify how a "microbe" could be the size of a large fish.

Similarly, the idea that you don't lose consciousness while in the transporter stream is cool too, it makes the transporter seem less like an execution of the person who is sent, followed by a reincarnation of a clone who is received. In this episode, the transporter shifts your body into a subspace stream, a place that's mostly energy, but in which physical objects can also exist--although not with the same physics as in regular space--then you move along that stream existing as your same physical self, until you arrive and shift back into regular space. Sounds great! But I don't think it's really consistent with how the transporter works in other episodes, even ones just a couple weeks off.
posted by skewed at 9:34 AM on June 21

Was thinking about the same issues, while writing pretty much at the same time, HJ, and I've thought of The Jaunt many times during Star Trek transporter episodes, as well as that one Christopher Nolan movie I won't mention for spoiler reasons.
posted by skewed at 9:36 AM on June 21

Jeri Taylor observed, "This was an episode that a lot of people just didn't respond to and I don't know why."

It's mind boggling how some of these people got to be so highly placed in the writer's room, and in BermanTrek overall, and then say things like this, that they cannot fathom the audience's response to what they have written. How they can write about different characters with different points of view if they can't understand their audience's viewpoint?
posted by Stuka at 9:39 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]

I haven't had time to watch this one yet. Just a quick note though on the awake during transport question:

In TWOK, when Kirk, his team, and Doctors Marcus beam up from the cavern, they do seem to be in the middle of a conversation. In fact, I think Saavik is in the middle of a sentence during the actual transport. Obviously conceptions differ wildly.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:04 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]

In fact, I think Saavik is in the middle of a sentence during the actual transport

To me, that's always implied a certain amount of instantaneousness about the process from the point of view of the transportee. But, when we actually see Barclay's POC, there's a good... half second?... full second?... of complete nothingness between the Enterprise and the Yosemite transporter pads that would tend to put a stutter in conversation.

Also, a little surprised that the Yosemite is an Oberth-class ship. Sounds like that's a name to reserve for a California-class ship to me.
posted by hanov3r at 10:17 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]

O'Brien's collar insignia changes from lieutenant (two pips) to chief (one black pip) in this episode. According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 216), this was done to reinforce the plot point that Lieutenant jg Barclay outranks O'Brien.

While I'm thinking about it, in retrospect, this was certainly a sign of things to come with VOY, specifically, the off-screen drama over Harry never getting promoted simply because the character had to be an ensign.
posted by Stuka at 10:21 AM on June 21

Dear Jeri Taylor:

You're right, this show was based on a good idea. The script was fine, it's a clever thing to equate fear-of-flying with fear-of-transporter. The visual effects weren't awesome, but for the 1990s that wasn't that bad.

The problem, though, is that the character who was anchoring this episode was Lieutenant Barclay, who is kind of an unlikeable doofus. And if the best story ever is about an unlikeable doofus, it's still going to turn people off, unfortuntely.

Just a thought.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to depict someone experiencing debilitating anxiety without it being just unbearable to watch.

And it's really hard to set up a "this character sure looks like he's crazy, huh???" plot without the "oh, no, he's not crazy at all, and in fact he's the only one who sees the truth!!!" twist being apparent from the word go.

The two redemptive aspects to this episode:
--How Picard and the others take him seriously, as mentioned above. I think it's especially noteworthy that Picard very obviously just doesn't like Barclay, but that doesn't stop him from being a good commander.
--The fact that Barclay's teleporter anxiety is taken seriously as a mental health concern without a magically-easy solution, even though, ultimately, the plot is working up to the "omg he was right!!!" resolution.
posted by meese at 11:42 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]

And it's really hard to set up a "this character sure looks like he's crazy, huh???" plot without the "oh, no, he's not crazy at all, and in fact he's the only one who sees the truth!!!" twist being apparent from the word go.

I think PIC handled this really well with Raffi.
posted by hanov3r at 11:55 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Barclay: Geordi, has anything weird ever happened to you in the transporter?
LaForge: Hmm...transporter? anything...strange? Let me think....hmmmm....nope.
Barclay: Have you ever had any troubles on an away mission to a planet's surface?
LaForge: Troubles? Ha! No, usually just take some readings, always routine stuff.
Barclay: Do you think it's safe to take a shuttle by yourself to Risa?
LaForge: Risa? I went there in a shuttle once. Had a great time! What are you getting at, Reg?
Barclay: Oh never mind. I think I'm having some kind of mental lapse.
posted by polecat at 12:41 PM on June 21 [10 favorites]

Aw. I feel weird saying this now but I actually always liked this episode. I was fond of Barclay (until recently when someone mentioned here how loathsome Schultz has become) and I identified with his workplace anxiety very much.

Compared to the next episode, which is so utterly loathsome, it just seems like harmless technobabble fun. I guess I’m weird but I don’t have the same antipathy.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:47 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]

Braga, a fan of The Twilight Zone, wrote the script as a homage to "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". That episode featured William Shatner as an airplane passenger who sees a creature outside the aircraft, but nobody believes him.

Slightly off-topic but this 1963 episode was remade in the 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie with John Lithgow in the Shatner role. Sixteen years later, Shatner guest-starred in a episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun. He arrives by plane to meet Lithgow and family and, well...
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:09 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]

Wasn't Pulaski transporterphobic also? She didn't have a transporter trace on file when she got rapid aged in that genetic engineering episode. At least I think.
posted by kathrynm at 5:37 PM on June 21

If you remain concious in the transporter stream that certainly complicates Scotty hanging out in the pattern buffer for 75 years. Maybe he transported some jigsaw puzzles with him.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:06 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

This is a retcon from TOS, which was clear that transporters worked by breaking you up into little particles and reassembling you at the destination.

This sort of change doesn't bother me much; the main effect is getting defensive of the new series when people don't like technobabble style or inconsistencies in DIS or PIC.

The episode as a whole? It was a Barclay episode, I was never going to like it.
posted by mark k at 6:33 PM on June 21

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Barclay Transporter Phobia is a fairly straightforward interference card, which interacts with one card in the same set(Iconian Gateway) and two as-then-unproduced ones. Decipher was pretty clever about building hype that way! Spending one card to (partially) counter one of your opponent's personnel, at random, isn't the best.

Heisenberg Compensators allows all cards to be seen before they're drawn. Simple enough. Useful for Borg players, who's success in scoring points usually involves checking the icons on top card of their decks, as with Assimilate Planet.

Speaking of broken links, Plexing could apparently have fixed Lal. Who knew?

It's, Ops Crew Time! Miles O'Brien was a premium card, and also the game's bluest. Usable enough, and featured the game's first 'download icon' for pulling cards out of your deck to play free. This was a huuuge deal for how First Ed was played. Speaking of The Chief, second edition featured Miles O'Brien, Transporter Chief which did not revolutionize TNG decks in any way but was about fine. Your average, meat and potatoes, salt of the earth card. Appropriate enough.
posted by StarkRoads at 6:50 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Plexing could apparently have fixed Lal. Who knew?

Troi: You know, Data, sometimes I think that, even though you're not currently a client of mine, you should come in to talk to me sometime. Lal's death was so tragic.

Data: [has just been talking to Barclay; is tapping the side of his neck; suddenly freezes, looks at Troi with an utterly blank expression, even for him]

Troi: So very, very tragic.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:42 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

The most striking things to me on this rewatch were how raw and real Barclay's initial transporter room anxiety attack seemed, and how much worse the already-bad puppet effects look on the remaster. It's not an episode I dislike at all, but it does take awhile to get going and is ultimately inessential.

Re: the consciousness issue and Scotty, I can think of a couple of explanations. I can imagine that your consciousness might SEEM to have full continuity throughout the process but that there might be a microsecond of suspension (/cloning) that the transportee cannot perceive.

And even if not, Scotty's enough of a wizard that I could see him programming in a "Preserve Our Sanity" subroutine for himself and his unseen redshirt buddy.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:25 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Okay, just indulge me here for a moment: imagine this episode, but instead of Barclay, Worf.

Isn't that so much more interesting? Would Worf try to filter his experience through Klingon mysticism? He's already drowning in self-doubt and identity issues; would he try to hide what he saw? Would the crew be able to get past their usual knee-jerk dismissal of Worf and give him the immediate benefit of the doubt they gave Barclay? (Based on what we've seen so far: probably not!) Also, the technobabble exposition could have been much more naturally given to Worf, who is not an engineer, than Barclay, who is.

This episode could have been pretty cool, but as others have observed it ended up being another installment of Mediocre Dude Fails Upward. Maybe that's who the writers thought the target audience was?
posted by phooky at 8:29 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]

Mediocre Dude Fails Upward

Or, you could see Barclay's arc across the franchise as "severely anxious, socially awkward person eventually overcomes many obstacles to achieve success and happiness." Really, how is this struggling but (it turns out) highly skilled Starfleet officer "mediocre"? How does he "fail upward"?

Sorry, you've kicked a couple of my sore spots. I seriously dislike the meme where people are summarily dismissed as "mediocre", and I really like Barclay. I think the character has been divisive among fans precisely because he feels so painfully, recognizably real. You've got all these perfect, polished Starfleet people, and then there's fucking Reg off in the corner having a panic attack. If you were never a Barclay then you probably bullied a Barclay in middle school.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:23 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]

If you were never a Barclay then you probably bullied a Barclay in middle school.

....This is a BIT uncharitable, perhaps? "....or you left him alone" is also an option.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

Or, you could see Barclay's arc across the franchise as "severely anxious, socially awkward person eventually overcomes many obstacles to achieve success and happiness."

Yeah, IIRC that's exactly what his arc is if you factor in his multiple Voyager appearances. If you look only at TNG, I don't recall him exhibiting especially profound growth by the time of his last appearance, apart from how he's a bit less reluctant to engage with others in this episode. TNG seemed (for whatever reason) more interested in using him as the "that guy," even down to his First Contact cameo.

But Voyager gave him some real attention, meaty opportunities, and character change in an almost Wesley-esque way. There are a lot of VOYs that can/should be skipped, but I never felt any of the Barclay installments were among them. The notion of DS9 "redeeming" certain undercooked concepts/characters from TNG has come up a few times in this rewatch, but VOY really redeemed Barclay at least to some extent. (Maybe also Q, but his character changed less by the end of VOY from his TNG status quo than Barclay did. Plus Q's coming back in PIC, so the jury's maybe still out there.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:40 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

To me, Barclay is maybe one of the more realistic portrayals of fans within the franchise itself; I called him a "nerd doppelganger" in "Hollow Pursuits", and he's specifically the kind of nerd that has trouble connecting even with other nerds. Even in "Hollow Pursuits", where it gets a little squicky--there's transference, and then there's visualizing your therapist as the "Goddess of Empathy"--he comes off as the sort of guy who uses virtual reality to make himself his own Mary Sue.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:41 AM on June 23

I'm sorry to kick your sore spots. I want to make clear that I'm not seeing this as part of a larger character arc-- I've basically only seen TOS and TNG at this point, so all I'm seeing Barclay as he appears here.

What I mean by "fail upward" is-- he's an officer. It's okay to be anxious or socially awkward; that's me, too. I'm less okay with trying to hide it when you're in a command position and other people's lives may be on the line. When I watch the scene with O'Brien trying to reassure Barclay, sure, I see Barclay having a tough time-- but I also see in O'Brien everyone who's had to carefully manage their boss's fragility. What bugs me about Barclay is not his awkwardness or failure to connect; it's that he endangers others rather than face up to his limitations.
posted by phooky at 8:29 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]

I mean, Barclay is in therapy, so...?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:28 AM on June 23

Yeah, I'm just angry about some things and a thread about an old TNG episode is probably not the best place to try and work them out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:57 PM on June 23

the jury's maybe still out there

The trial never ended!
posted by Servo5678 at 5:54 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]

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