Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Nth Degree"

****

Air date: 4/1/1991
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Legato

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise is assigned to repair the Argus Array, a space telescope that has stopped working. (It's the 24th-century equivalent of the Hubble Space Telescope; was this story about a critical scientific tool in need of crucial repairs ripped from the headlines of the time?) A mysterious probe orbiting the array zaps Barclay while he's on a shuttle mission. After returning to the ship, Barclay has a newfound confidence and his brain activity increases exponentially. He becomes smarter and smarter, and that begins to worry some people.

The character outline is Flowers for Algernon, except instead of taking a mentally challenged man and turning him into a genius, it takes a man of average intelligence (for this crew) and turns him into an ultra-confident, cosmic super-genius. In the opening scene, regular-Barclay is playing Cyrano de Bergerac in a performance that, let's face it, is pathetic despite his best efforts. Later, watch how genius-Barclay's acting is so mesmerizing that it practically makes Crusher weep. Dwight Schultz's performance as Barclay is pitch perfect because it finds the right balance between earnest sincerity and dryly ironic narcissism. Schultz, and the episode, know that deep down this is all kinda funny because it's about Barclay, and they don't shy away from the comic notes of Barclay's growing ego and arrogance, even if he's always well intentioned.

Meanwhile, the imaginative sci-fi machinations proceed at warp speed. To fix the array, Barclay comes up with a brilliant plan that's impossible to execute by anyone except him, and requires a computer interface far faster than anything available, so he uses the holodeck to build a device that taps him directly into the ship's computer core (this device is both creepy and really cool; kudos to the production designers), where his brainpower expands and eventually takes over the entire computer and, thus, the ship. Barclay begins to develop a god complex, perhaps not unjustifiably, and claims he can understand the entire universe as a simple equation. He starts to scare the hell out of everybody.

The way the crew reacts to all this is absolutely honest human nature; they fear what they cannot predict or understand, and I don't blame them — especially when Barclay puts an energy field off the starboard side of the ship and prepares to send the crew 30,000 light-years through it, while assuring everybody, "Please, you must trust me." The suspense of what waits at the other side is one of the true moments of unpredictable awe in the Trek canon.

What actually waits there, alas, cannot live up to that awe, but I did still enjoy the episode's sense of whimsical curiosity, in which it turns out that advanced aliens used Barclay as an implement to bring the Enterprise here in carrying out their own exploration of the galaxy. Barclay is of course returned to normal, which begs the question of whether it's a blessing or a tragedy to allow the blind man to see before taking it away again. "The Nth Degree" is a splendidly unique amalgam of tones and themes, plot and characterization, imagination and bemusement, and it ends up being one of the most fascinating hours in TNG's run.

Previous episode: Identity Crisis
Next episode: Qpid

Season Index

7 comments on this review

Eric - Sun, May 13, 2012 - 11:43pm (USA Central)
He wasn't completely returned to normal, I loved how there was some residual effect at the end. What would have happened had they not destroyed that probe? This episode was a precursor to a good Voyager/Barclay episode later on.
Peremensoe - Sat, Nov 3, 2012 - 12:25am (USA Central)
The ominous feel is heightened by the echoes (as it were) of Hal from *2001*, as Barclay-computer speaks to the crew throughout the ship. Notice the similarity of the scene where Geordi is changing out components. I kept expecting Barclay-computer to say, "What are you doing, Geordi? ... I can't let you do that, Geordi."
Sintek - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 1:28pm (USA Central)
I regret learning that Dwight Schultz is a wacko conspiracy believing tea bagger nutjob. I can't enjoy the Barclay episodes now.
T'Paul - Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - 7:25am (USA Central)
Haha, totally, 2001esque... Yeah, shame about the political views, since his character seemed to be used to promote tolerance in most of his episodes
Exponent - Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 12:27am (USA Central)
A great episode, showing a full acting range from Mr. Schultz, and classic Sci-Fi themes executed Star Trek style. Even Troi had a meaty role for once.

Once again, as with "Hollow Pursuits", I feel the need to correct calumny directed towards Dwight Schultz. There is nothing about the desire to have balanced government budgets, responsibility and freedom to direct your own life (rather than that being the state taking over that role) and rule of law rather than rule of men, that is incompatible in any way with the pro-exploration and pro-respect views espoused by Star Trek.

Indeed, those of us of this orientation seek to simply espouse the same values and philosophy as the United States' "Founding Fathers" (notably minus the slavery some of them were slow to get rid of). Does one think for a moment that Benjamin Franklin wouldn't be thrilled to stand on the bridge of a real Enterprise? And the same man made a point of telling his countrymen that they gave us "a Republic, if you can keep it", and "pennies do not come from heaven - they have to be earned here on earth".

No, the calumny directed to Mr Schultz is a calumny directed against me and many, and hence I vigorously protest. May we regain the republic that is slipping out of our hands, both for the sake of freedom, and so that we'll have the kind of society that actually _can_ support noble exploration!
Gooz - Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - 8:20pm (USA Central)
How did the enterprise get back after this? They must've used the technology of the big head santa people at the center of the universe. Lt. Barclay must have heard about some of this at some point. This knowledge would come in handy if he were to find himself, at some point in the future, perhaps in a different Trek franchise, trying to get a ship home from far away.

Magic Reset Button.
Adara - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 12:45am (USA Central)
I love this episode so much. Barclay is a great character, and so well-acted. Like others here, I don't understand the Dwight Schultz hate. He's an actor. His job is to play a role, and he does that very well. His political beliefs are irrelevant. When I get good service at a restaurant, I don't care what my server thinks about tax policies. This is no different. We all have favorite actors - what are the odds that every single one of them sits on our side of the political spectrum? For the record, I'm as radical a leftist as they come. I disagree 100% with just about everything Mr. Schultz believes. I'm so left I hate Obama because he's too far right. I'm so left I believe in a maximum wage. I'm so left I've actually hugged trees. But none of that changes the fact that I love Barclay. Disagreeing with someone doesn't mean you can't appreciate their talent. If I ever get a chance to meet Mr. Schultz, I will ask him about acting, not politics. And I'll never listen to his radio show. Problem solved.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer