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

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29 comments on this review

Eric
Sun, May 13, 2012, 11:43pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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.
eriq
Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 10:02pm (UTC -5)
Well said! And I must agree, Barclay is a great character played by a fine actor. Love all of his episodes!

I love the Nth Degree but man it's so tough to pick between that and the great Voyager episodes with the Midas Array - I can't help but always cheer this very special TNG character on. There is just some really wonderful, memorable material here.
Lal
Thu, Sep 25, 2014, 4:20pm (UTC -5)
Well, I guess if I go to Dwight Schultz's autograph table at the Con I'm going to this weekend, I won't be talking about politics. I'll just tell him that the Barclay character he helped create makes me feel better about situations in my life where I've felt a lack of confidence, or have royally screwed up.

From my very liberal, fairly socialist point of view, all I can say about Schultz's politics is, "Well, nobody's perfect." :p
Robert
Fri, Sep 26, 2014, 8:30am (UTC -5)
It's not going to stop me from enjoying Barclay, but I think that when fans are as passionate about a series as Star Trek it feels like a betrayal to learn that one of your favorite Trek stars has beliefs that are completely opposing Trek values.

Disclaimer - I don't think it's impossible to be a conservative Trek fan, I'm not saying that, I just think that when you get too far right watching Trek just feels odd, whereas you don't get that heading too far left. If you throw up a little in your mouth at the thought of any kind of socialism, you probably shouldn't be watching Trek (IMHO).
Phillip
Sat, Nov 8, 2014, 3:46am (UTC -5)
Conservatives aren't allowed to watch Star Trek. Well we'll let them watch enterprise but none of the good trek. If you think beverly crusher shouldn't give free healthcare in sickbay then Star Trek isn't for you
CPUFP
Tue, Jan 20, 2015, 9:18am (UTC -5)
An all around great episode (if you can look over the ridiculous giant bearded floating lion head alien at the end). And wow, Dwight Schultz sure can act!
Shannon
Sun, Feb 22, 2015, 6:27pm (UTC -5)
@Sintek... You are an idiot.
DLPB
Wed, Feb 25, 2015, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
I regret learning that Dwight Schultz is a wacko conspiracy believing tea bagger nutjob. I can't enjoy the Barclay episodes now.

-----------

Shame that your left-leaning, tolerance for all Trek mantra doesn't seem to extend to those you disagree with. Funny that.
DLPB
Wed, Feb 25, 2015, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BaGWg7Lh74

He also doesn't seem bad to me. Seems like someone who is sick of leftist fascists and apologists. Nice to see a guy who cares and who lives in the real world.

A lot of hollywood is the way it is because those people never have to live in places with crime and so on. Deluded, self hating , appeasing leftists.
Dave in NC
Thu, Feb 26, 2015, 9:48am (UTC -5)
@ DLPB

Hollywood is like any other industry: make a public enough stink about not getting work and eventually you for sure won't get any. Ask Victoria Rowell or the lady who played Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince.

The truth is no one wants to hear a poor-me story about how the world is keeping someone down.

Seriously, man, not everything should be viewed through a socio-political lens. You REALLY need to reevaluate your thought processes.
dlpb
Sat, Feb 28, 2015, 8:24pm (UTC -5)
I was responding to someone calling him a right wing nut job. Of course, I've also responded to you for doing roughly the same elsewhere on Jammer. You need to stop lying and start living in the real world.
Dave in NC
Sun, Mar 1, 2015, 11:10pm (UTC -5)
@ dlpb

What precisely did I say in my post that isn't factual? I await your answer with bated breath.
Chef
Thu, May 28, 2015, 10:05pm (UTC -5)
Settle down, children.
Luke
Sat, Jul 18, 2015, 12:22pm (UTC -5)
What difference do the man's politics make? What difference do George Takei's politics make? None, they're actors. Moving on.

"The Nth Degree" - is it an excellent episode? Yes. 10 out of 10 excellent? Hardly.

This episode, like the two immediately preceding it, has an excellently creepy atmosphere - seen best in the scene where Barclay tells Picard that he can't disconnect himself from the computer. Even though Dwight Schultz does a voice-over as the computer voice, most of that scene involves him doing everything non-verbally. And, my oh my, does he do a good job! Just his flicking of his eyes back and forth between Picard and Worf makes the scene ultra-creepy. What sets "The Nth Degree" apart from "Night Terrors" and "Identity Crisis," however, is that the atmosphere isn't the only thing keeping it afloat.

Dwight Schultz delivers a knock-out performance here. From the shy, fumbling Barclay of the opening theater scene to the well-meaning but growingly narcissistic one, this man is on the top of his game.

But what really stands out, for me anyway, is the fact that we have an episode here that focuses on "seeking out new life and new civilizations" and actually isn't boring as hell. I tend to like my Trek focused on world-building and fleshing out the larger picture of the fictional universe. Episodes like this often leave me feeling flat. But this one, however, doesn't. I was hooked from the first frame.

Sadly, like Jammer said, the payoff just doesn't fit. So, some aliens we'll never see again brought them there because they're explorers who never leave their homes? Big whoop! Barclay is almost completely returned to his usual socially-phobic self? Why?! Why did the writers have them travel to the center of the galaxy? What was the point if they weren't going to do anything with that concept?

Finally, just a minor nitpick. The scene with Barclay and Einstein in the holodeck is probably the best in the episode but LaForge's reaction to it leaves me perplexed somewhat. Grand unification theories are way over LaForge's head? This is a guy who is the Chief Engineer on the most advanced ship humanity has ever produced, a ship which travels by literally distorting the very fabric of the space-time continuum. He also lives in a civilization where fourth graders are taught advanced calculus. That "stuff" should be second nature to him.

8/10
Diamond Dave
Fri, Sep 18, 2015, 1:31pm (UTC -5)
So Barclay goes on the ultimate geek fantasy journey, becoming the confident, hyper intelligent person "I always wanted to be".

I wouldn't go overboard about this one. It's an excellent performance by Dwight Shultz, but the episode spends so long setting him up as the megalomaniac, Messiah complex, Hal 9000 type bad guy that I couldn't help thinking when watching "is this a 2-parter, cos they are going to have to wrap this up really quickly". Then the final twist is done in literally a minute and the whole piece suffers as a result.

There were some other good moments - Crusher's face as Troi describes Barclay's pass at her is wonderful - but overall I couldn't get too engaged. And I don't normally go on about plot holes but... why was the probe acting as a threat to the ship...? 2.5 stars.
Nic
Thu, Oct 1, 2015, 9:32pm (UTC -5)
I love this episode for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons was that the reveal of the Cytherians at the end DID live up the awe and especially to the spirit of Star Trek: they are explorers, they are curious about us just as we are about them. I get such a wonderful feeling of optimism about the real-life future of space exploration when I watch this episode, and it's not a feeling I get very often, even when watching or reading science-fiction in general. Kudos.
Tim
Sat, Dec 12, 2015, 6:23am (UTC -5)
I liked this much more than the two prior episodes, but 4 stars? On par with Yesterday's Enterprise, BOBW, Sins of The Father? No way. It's great fun and trekkian, but not quite on that level.

And I agree with whoever -- I was taken aback when I looked Schultz up the other day and found out he's part of the right-wing wacko conspiracy theorist echo chamber, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate and enjoy his work.
Dan
Tue, Jan 12, 2016, 1:26am (UTC -5)
Picard in the conference room the next day: "Worf, we need to have a serious talk about security on this ship. Back-to-back weeks of known-risk crew members having their way with the Enterprise are not going to look good on my next report. I'm already in hot water because of the Data/Soong incident a few months ago. Not to mention Duras and Ardra..."
J J
Sun, Mar 6, 2016, 4:19pm (UTC -5)
@Sinteck wrote "I regret learning that Dwight Schultz is a wacko conspiracy believing tea bagger nutjob. I can't enjoy the Barclay episodes now."

Ahhh…the hate-spewing left resulting to name-calling yet again. Yet they want us to believe that they are the party of tolerance and peace.

Makes me laugh out loud every time.

Fortunately, from all the progress we see in the 24th century, it would seem that liberalism was eradicated long ago from the show's perspective.


Trent
Tue, Mar 22, 2016, 2:48am (UTC -5)
Well said, J J.

It's a guarantee that the mighty federation wasn't built by a bunch of dumb, lazy, pot-smoking hippie liberals sitting around on their ass, waiting for a free-hand out at the tax-payer's expense. Try to take a liberal's free handout away and you'll quickly be called a racist/sexist/bigot and every other name their feeble brain can come up with. Liberalism/progressivism/socialism/communism are the biggest joke ever played on society.

The vast majority of America is not, or ever has been racist, sexist, or any other vile name.

However, the only way a Liberal can feel good about his/her pathetic lifestyle is to put down others an lie about what others believe.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are out building, designing, inventing, creating, and solving all the world's problems. We are the majority, and I've no doubt that we will build a very bright future for everyone going forward.

And don't worry. Darwinism will quickly rid the world of the immoral, bottom-feeding scum where liberals reside.
Donwan
Thu, Aug 4, 2016, 11:10am (UTC -5)
Good job with that comment, Trent. Star Trek TNG is definitely a platform for conservative values and morality, in my opinion.

I think Denise Crosby left early on was because she is a 100% leftist and couldn't stand morality being taught through a TV show.

And I fully agree: all hate comes from the left. All conservatives I know are the most loving, moral, charitable people I've ever met.
Aaron
Thu, Aug 18, 2016, 7:32pm (UTC -5)
I am curious as to how the obvious conservative utopia that is the Star Trek universe will come about? Perhaps you all can share your manifestos with us who sadly lack the chemical imbalance for us to grasp its complexities.
Laben
Sun, Aug 21, 2016, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
Actually I don't believe 'Star Trek' is a Utopia by any means at all....all they did is replace America, Russians, Chinese, etc. with the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians and continue waging war.

There is really no progress made whatsoever by humanity on Star Trek....most of Star Trek TNG, DS9, Voyager, and the movies thereafter were all about war and violence.

Sure the show is entertaining, but real progress, in my opinion, would be a largely peaceful state of being with no need for petty conflicts and battles any longer. Technology itself obviously doesn't guarantee peace - people can either use it for good or for bad.

That's my two cents, and I really don't care if anyone sees that as left or right wing.

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