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

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18 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.
eriq - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 10:02pm (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
@Sintek... You are an idiot.
DLPB - Wed, Feb 25, 2015 - 1:48pm (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)

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 (USA Central)

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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
@ dlpb

What precisely did I say in my post that isn't factual? I await your answer with bated breath.

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