Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Hollow Pursuits"

***

Air date: 4/30/1990
Written by Sally Caves
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

At long last, here's welcome evidence that there are screw-ups in Starfleet. Given how the Enterprise is so often a testament to the hopelessly elite, it's refreshing to get a story about lowly Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), a guy who's always late, awkward in groups, inexplicable to his shipmates, unable to fit in, and addicted to his fantasies in the holodeck.

Geordi is fed up and frankly doesn't want to deal with him anymore. Picard's approach is more proof of his Picard-ness: Rather than abandon this officer and transfer him out, he asks Geordi to make more of an effort to reach out and get to know the guy. It's not an easy task. Barclay's shyness reaches a level of social paralysis, and it makes him ineffective as a communicator in a workplace setting. Meanwhile, he spends all his free time in the holodeck.

The episode is probably best remembered for its amusing holodeck sequences featuring Barclay's overactive imagination and depictions of real crew members — including a uniquely hilarious opening scene where Barclay's overconfident alter ego (and it's a complete alter ego) struts into Ten-Forward and pushes Geordi and Riker around. Later, there's swordplay, which features a version of Riker that Barclay has digitally shortened. Troi finds it all to be amusing and therapeutic — until she sees the digital version of herself that Barclay has created (the "Goddess of Empathy").

But the heart of the episode is in deconstructing a man who doesn't fit in or feel comfortable. Guinan's sympathy for Barclay's situation is commendable. And Geordi makes a real effort to break down his defenses. Of course, the hilarious moment when Picard slips and calls him "Broccoli" is a classic, comic worst-case scenario. After all of Geordi's efforts, the captain accidentally sets everything back a step.

Does the episode need its overplayed jeopardy premise involving the malfunction that causes the Enterprise to race out of control? And does the jeopardy have to come down to terse, last-minute warnings from the computer that the ship is about to be destroyed? No and no. But I do like the way the engineering team swiftly deconstructs the problem with simple logic to find the solution. These are smart people working a problem intelligently. The episode's closing joke is Barclay's goodbye scene — to the holographic crew. Barclay is a welcome rough pebble among all the Enterprise's polished pearls.

Previous episode: Tin Man
Next episode: The Most Toys

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15 comments on this review

Jso - Fri, Jan 9, 2009 - 7:15pm (USA Central)
None of the comments mention Hollow Persuits? Barclay is one of my very favorite recurring guest characters on TNG (and Voyager).

Anyway it's pretty surprising how season 3 managed to turn everything around for the series, considering how awful season 2 was. Good thing the show survived long enough for us to see 5 more seasons.
stviateur - Sat, Jun 18, 2011 - 9:48am (USA Central)
Although I agree with Jammer that Hallow Pursuits was an entertaining hour of tv, the one thing that bugged me about the show that he didn't mention was the ease in which anyone can walk in while the holodeck is occupied. I can easily imagine far more embarassing uses to which such incredible tech can be used! I mean, isn't there any kind of security with the thing? Barclay's use of the holodeck made me wonder too about its availability in Federation society in general. If there was such a thing in real life, I'm afraid society would simply collapse as, human nature being what it is, most people would become so addicted to living out their fantasies on a holodeck that society would simply collapse. It reminds me of an experiment I read of where mice were allowed to press a button that stimulated their pleasure centers and they ended up starving to death because they couldn't bear not being stimulated.
jay - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 2:02pm (USA Central)
^ yeah, in "Our Man Bashir" Julian claims that entering a holodeck that is in use is "illegal".
PeteTongLaw - Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
Watching this episode today the thing that struck me was that Geordi senior team in Engineering is all men. Definitely would not be cast that way now.
William B - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 12:50pm (USA Central)
I've always liked Barclay, and I'm impressed by how well this episode presents a balanced look at what it means for a social misfit to be in the workplace both for said misfit and for his superiors. It's easy to fall into Barclay's perspective, and the episode earns our sympathies partly by aligning him with the fans. Michael Piller has said that Barclay's holodeck simulation wasn't meant to be a commentary of fans and fanfic, but whether Piller realized it or not that is part of the effect: the episode contrasts the desire to be an idealized version of oneself, hanging out with and being superior to one's own heroes, with the reality of what walking alongside such giants would mean. And Barclay's opinions of his crewmembers often align with fans'. Troi is *hot* and Barclay imagines seducing her; Wesley is obnoxious and Barclay imagines him as a brat who gets threatened by his mother with spanking*. Still, we are shown Geordi's perspective as well, and Barclay's spending all his time on the holodeck and inability to communicate properly are not just funny impediments but genuinely serious ones.

Somewhat unfortunately, I think that the jeopardy premise maybe was necessary for the episode to work within the standalone episode format. Part of what the episode needs to do is to establish why Barclay ultimately *is* a worthwhile crewmember to have around in spite of his considerable flaws, and it needs to make clear that while there is a large portion of pity and willingness to try to make anyone feel welcome in the crew, Barclay actually is more than just a charity project. Saving the ship is a somewhat truncated way of showing that Barclay, should he gain enough confidence to contribute to the Engineering staff and the crew at large, is good for the ship. If TNG had a greater devotion to ongoing storylines, it could potentially have a more realistic storyline in which Barclay gradually turns around and so the dividends from Picard, Troi and Geordi's investment in Barclay come more gradually. However, that is still hard to pull off with a secondary character, to say the least. Having Barclay be both a competent officer and use his imagination and thinking-outside-the-box mentality to save the ship is the way in which the episode doesn't merely send the message that any officer can get away with incompetence; the point is rather that Barclay's ability to contribute to the team is in somewhat nontraditional ways that require some effort on the part of his superiors to find his niche. All that said, this probably could have been accomplished by having the problem be serious but not a ship-threatening one; something that could require the ship need to shut down for a few weeks or some such without requiring that Every Person On The Ship Die if it's not solved right away.

On that level, I like very much that the central idea Barclay suggests -- that it's a person who is infecting the various engineering systems -- is both outside the box of normal thinking, and also something that doesn't require a genius-level intellect, the way something Wesley might have done in s1. I have seen the episode *before* and I didn't remember that it was carried by people, and I didn't think there was any way this mystery could have a resolution that would not just be tech. Barclay's creativity, which Guinan notes should be valuable to an engineering team, and which is the thing that keeps him disconnected from other people (since he lives in his Secret Life of Walter Mitty fantasy world), is the thing that is useful, should he be able to apply it to his job.

The episode is still merely good and not great, because the fantasy sequences, while memorable, get repetitive after a while, and the jeopardy premise, while probably necessary for the episode to work as I said above, still wins Barclay's entry into the fold a little cheaply, and also relies on a lot of tech. As Jammer says, hearing the Engineering team work through the problem logically is a total delight, however. I also appreciate how the episode's end teases the probability that Barclay will be leaving the ship in a way that suggests that the Enterprise and Geordi and Barclay himself will not have to deal with any of the difficulties that the episode suggests. But, no, Barclay is here to stay, and he's merely leaving his fantasies behind. In keeping with the show's genuine attempt to imagine a better humanity, it's not so much that people are cured of social dysfunctions like what Barclay has, but that society has grown and adapted so that it's possible to find a place to let unusual and imperfect humans be the best they can be. High 3 stars.
Sintek - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 1:30pm (USA Central)
I regret learning that Dwight Schultz is a wacko racist conspiracy believing tea bagger nutjob. I can't enjoy the Barclay episodes now.
Corey - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 2:28pm (USA Central)
@Sintek: While I have no idea if what you said about Schultz is true, I don't see why it has to affect your enjoyment of his performance if he did well.

Bobby Fischer is an excellent example of this: his victories over his fellow GMs (Grandmasters) in chess were just inspired - he defeated a GM 6-0 in a candidate's match and that just wasn't done! But he clearly was anti-Semite, had paranoi, and had hate issues. In other words, his chess was brilliant but he wasn't so stellar a person. If you so choose, you can do the same - enjoy a performance without liking the actor.

To each is own though.

As for the episode, I enjoyed seeing the main characters in fantasy, as surely the characters ARE in fans' fantasies. In odd sort of way, it mimics real life.

I too, like Jammer, enjoyed seeing a less than perfect human on the Enterprise, and liked seeing Picard refuse to just transfer problems to other starships rather than just deal with them. 3 stars for me as well.
Moonie - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 8:35am (USA Central)
I am not a fan of Holodeck episodes. They always make me cringe a little bit because they are so awkward. I watched this one with a TNG virgin and I'm almost sure this person never wants to watch another TNG episode, no matter how many times I tell them that there are much better episodes.

I don't agree with Jammer's review here. To me this is a one-star episode.
Exponent - Sun, Nov 24, 2013 - 12:48am (USA Central)
I just got done watching this episode, and it was a hoot!

However, the comment above slandering Dwight Schultz as racist, and a "tea bagger" is anything BUT a hoot. (And if don't you know how that latter epithet came about, let's just say that is tremendously sexually crude).

Right at this very moment, I'm listening to a podcast from Dwight Schultz (from this September), and he sounds like a guy who both occasionally talks with a wacky voice (like you'd expect a voice actor to do), and has not uttered anything racist or "nut job" in any way.

Please don't slander people, on the right or on the left. If someone says something you find disagreeable, state what actually was said, don't just slap a label on them in an internet forum.
SkepticalMI - Thu, Feb 6, 2014 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
On Sintak's comment I will only say this: it doesn't surprise me but does dismay me that so many people who undoubtedly consider themselves enlightened, tolerant people feel it is ok to slander, insult, and feel such incredible hatred towards people who happen to have a different political philosophy. It's just another outside group that the inside group can be intolerant towards in order to feel superior.

As for the episode itself, it was great fun. TNG gets some flack (and deservedly so sometimes) for being too invested in character insights or dealing with moral or philosophical issues to the detriment of a good story. Here, though, it's a character episode, but one that is entertaining and relatively fast moving as well. It's funny at times, serious at times, mysterious at times, and indulgent at times. I didn't feel the holodeck scenes dragged on too long. It helped that the first two weren't obviously on the holodeck, and that the latter three involved actors we like hamming it up for all they're worth.

And Barclay, well, great character. Is his neurosis a bit too exaggerated? Maybe a bit, but I've known some people who were pretty close to that. And as an introvert myself, there were moments that were pretty realistic... And the episode is pretty fair when exploring these issues. Geordi and Riker come off as a little bit nasty in their harsh treatment of Barclay, and yet completely justified and understandable too. Picard's defense of Barclay may seem too tolerant for someone as immature as Barclay, but he has a point too that Barclay has had a reasonably successful Starfleet career so far and thus could be a valuable member of the crew. Essentially, the message is that socially inept people should be given a fair amount of leeway, but in return it better not cause problems with their work or other people.

The different reactions to Barclay's holodeck adventure were nice touches too. It makes sense that LaForge was the most sympathetic, as 1) he has no place to talk (and kudos to the writers for calling back to Booby Trap), and 2) he didn't see the more controversial characters (the goddess of empathy and mini-Riker) until later.

I also don't care that the "ship in danger" plot was used. The episode needed to show two things: that an addiction to a fantasy life can be rather crippling to one's real life, and that socially awkward people are people too. The 10 seconds to destruction plot managed both of them nicely. Because Barclay was spending too much time on the holodeck and not doing his job, a thousand people nearly died. And because LaForge put in a bit of effort to make Barclay feel a part of the team, a thousand people didn't die. Hurray! The only quibble is that time was running out and the two of them were still walking around everywhere. You'd think the no running in the hallways rule could be a bit relaxed in those situations...

PeteTongLaw, you think the all-male senior staff was the most alien part of that scene? How about the fact that a staff meeting only lasted 2 minutes? Now that's an unrealistic utopian future!
Susan - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 11:33pm (USA Central)
Sooooooo nobodys even going to bring up how absolutely CREEPED out Troi had to have been to find out Barclay was having sex with her doppleganger on the holodeck? Can you just imagine if it had been for real? lol Barclay would be fired and possibly jailed, Troi would SUE Starfleet for not having security on her pattern, just thinking of the all implications bowls me over. Thank God it's in the Star Trek universe, lol. Oh and around 12 minutes in I swear I heard Barclay talking about the "flux capacitor" lol swear, go see!
me - Mon, Apr 14, 2014 - 1:10am (USA Central)
program 9.
Rikko - Sat, May 3, 2014 - 2:20pm (USA Central)
Now, 3 stars seems about right for this one :)

I like that this episode addresses the big elephant in the (holodeck) room: with tech good enough to imitate life, what's stopping anybody to create their own personal version of people they know in real life?

Picard seems to engage in Dixon Hill fantasies every now and then, Riker and Geordi created a fake woman to spend time with, and even Data enjoys playing as Sherlock Holmes, but what separates Barclay from the main characters is that the latter know when to stop. I thought it was due time to see a holodeck episode that deals with social issues instead of malfunctions.

It's not a classic episode by any means, but it's both fun and interesting. And Barclay is a great character and I'm glad to read he's coming back later.

Funny though, now that it's been more than a year since I've watched the episode, all I remember is Barclay's awkwardness and holographic adventures (and his trouble with the real people) but totally forgot about the critical situation of the week.
213karaokejoe - Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - 9:39pm (USA Central)
Perhaps I notice it more in this episode than in others, but I laugh at Guinan's hat flopping around as she counsels with Geordi.
213karaokejoe - Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
Reading through all the comments I don't see the feeling that I get from the episode. It seemed that the ship in danger part of the episode was meant to show that some people have a different way of thinking and that can be an advantage when we are encouraging to them.

As a school teacher, I am trained to see that angle.

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