Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Realm of Fear"


Air date: 9/28/1992
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Based purely on longevity, Star Trek gets around to a story about everything eventually, and in "Realm of Fear" we get a 24th-century analogue for the fear of air travel. Our resident neurotic, Lt. Reginald Barclay, is in mortal terror of going through the transporter, particularly in this case where the interference is bad and the transport cycle will take longer than usual. But despite the fact that going through the transporter disassembles you "molecule by molecule" and puts you back together again, Geordi nevertheless reassures Barclay that the numbers over the decades (and centuries) are irrefutable: "It really is the safest way to travel."

If you're going to do a transporter-phobia episode, I guess it makes sense to use Reg Barclay. Dwight Schultz is suitably game, perhaps even excessively so, taking his ever-twitchy persona into the realm of fear, panic, and hypochondria. One mildly amusing scene shows him convincing himself he has "transporter psychosis" when he listens to the computer list all of its symptoms while he realizes to his horror that maybe he's experiencing all of them. And how I love that Troi is able to prescribe for his anxiety the treatment of "plexing" — tapping with his finger behind his ear on a bundle of nerves. Whoa — I guess 24th-century medicine has totally evolved beyond the need for pharmaceuticals! (But of course it hasn't evolved past the point where Troi can relieve Barclay of duty simply for being somewhat on-edge. Sigh.)

If you care about the plot of "Realm of Fear," you are likely to be sorely disappointed, as this is a pretty low-octane affair. It features little in the way of compelling procedural TNG problem-solving and instead a lot of meaningless technobabble for technobabble's sake. The mystery surrounding the missing crew of the crippled science vessel is developed with so little urgency that it plays as background noise. The real point here is Barclay's transporter fear.

Naturally, the key to the mystery ties into Barclay's strange experiences while in the transporter beam, thus forcing him to confront his fear while simultaneously solving the mystery of the missing crew members. Unfortunately, the pedestrian plot is not compensated for by a compelling character story or any real psychological drama. It's all just kind of there in front of us, forcing us to shrug. Watchable, sure. But it doesn't leave so much of a minute's lasting impression.

Previous episode: Time's Arrow, Part II
Next episode: Man of the People

Season Index

26 comments on this review

Elliott - Sat, May 26, 2012 - 10:02pm (USA Central)
Uhk...so begins the worst season of TNG which had exactly 4 decent-good episodes ("Schisms", "Chain of Command", "Tapestry" and "Frame of Mind"), 4 okay episodes ("Relics", "Quality of Life", "Face of the Enemy" and "Suspicions") and 18 forgettable to awful episodes. Yeesh. That's worse the Voyager's 2nd season and about as bad as Enterprise's.

Even in the early episodes of Trek, when they took an idea for a subject, the usually mined the content for character substance or a morality play or at the very least an exercise in visceral science fiction. From here-on-out on TNG, the case would frequently be a rather boring concept attached to a weak and superficial character outing, which perfectly describes this episode. The excuse that the franchise was so "old" as to be reaching for new concepts is a lame one. In DS9, Voyager and Enterprise (with mixed success), seemingly "done" and new concepts were put to very good use for another 11 years after TNG ended.

In other news, welcome back! Thanks for the review nuggets. A shame this season is so rife with crap (a fact which I for one believe is a good reason to understand and forgive the long wait for reviews).
Josh G. - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
I do like this episode, but then I like Barclay.

@Elliot: You don't like "True Q", "Ship in a Bottle", "Birthright", "Starship Mine", "Lessons", "The Chase", "Rightful Heir", "Second Chances", and "Timescape"?

I remember being pretty excited about the "Descent" cliffhanger too back when it first aired.
Elliott - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 5:40pm (USA Central)
@Josh :

I'll save individual criticisms of those shows when Jammer publishes their reviews, but suffice it to say, No, I did not.

"Descent" was awful.
Latex Zebra - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 3:02am (USA Central)
This episode is great foreshadowing of the Internet.
Tell me you haven#'t had some ailment and then goggled the symptons only to find out you have minutes to live.
Overall not an amazing episode but passable.
Paul - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 3:18am (USA Central)
Actually, I always thought 6th season is among TNG's better ones. 3 and 4 are naturally on the top, but this one isn't too shabby. A bunch of pretty good episodes methinks.

"Realm of Fear" I also liked. It's an amusing and somewhat silly episode that doesn't take itself too seriously. Making Barclay the central character helps maintain an air of freshness throughout the hour.
Elliott - Tue, May 29, 2012 - 11:04am (USA Central)
@Josh :

Let me amend slightly : I enjoy "Ship in a Bottle," but I can't defend it as a good show; I'll say the same about "Lessons." Even if they were good shows however, that's not a stellar season by any means. I should also probably add that, as a sane human, I do not count TNG's 1st season in any assessment of it.
Landon - Tue, May 29, 2012 - 11:19am (USA Central)
@Elliot I cant believe you think so low of tng ssn 6. I thought, while its not on the level of ssns 3 or 4, that it was probably the most creative- episode to episode in sheer different, new ideas and visuals.

Are you forgetting fistful of datas? timescape? the wonderful ship in a bottle? and many more....

The only thing I'll say is that after Birthright Part 1 {another great one unlike anything we had seen prior-fresh} the good episodes were few and far between. And that was aggrivating. Personally I like a ssn to end strong {see ds 9ssn 2}. But the first half of the ssn was just so packed with creativity. Even 2nd half episodes I didnt care for like the chase attempted to do something diff. and explain the likeness of humanoid races....

grumpy_otter - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 2:16pm (USA Central)
Hi Elliott! Nice to "see" you again! You said this one is a "weak and superficial character outing" and while I somewhat agree, that is also why I think I like this episode. I like these people, Reg especially, and spending an hour in their company doing nothing much is fine with me. And I like that Reg is proven right in the end.

And to Jammer--could "plexing" simply be Deanna's placebo for Reg to distract him? That's what I always thought.
Elliott - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
Hi Grumpy--

I wish the plexing were a placebo--that would have been a lot more fun, but we see D'eanna plexing herself (doesn't that sound PG13?) in "Timescape."

I'll say for this episode that if it were anyone except Barclay, it would be unwatchable. While I'm not as big a fan of it as others, "Nth Degree" was an infinitely better use of him and his neuroses and also featured and ending which "proved him right." This episode seems to exist to give us a 1st person perspective on transporting.
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 4:37pm (USA Central)
"but we see D'eanna plexing herself (doesn't that sound PG13?) in "Timescape." "

Oh barf. Thought there might be a plausible explanation for that idiocy.

Nth Degree is indeed a much better Barclay outing--I just meant that I don't mind this one since I like him (and the others) so much.
Grumpy - Sun, Jun 10, 2012 - 5:19pm (USA Central)
Although I disagree with Elliott that "Suspicions" is okay or that "Schisms" is decent, I wholeheartedly share the feeling that "Realm of Fear" marked a turning point. For me, anyway, the night this episode aired was the night I began to say, "Why am I still watching this show? Why are they still making it?" That may have as much to do with where I was in my life, having made TNG appointment viewing for the past five years. But the decline of the show is borne out by subsequent episodes.
William B - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
I liked the resolution to the mystery, actually -- that the missing crew members were the creature in the transporter (rather than, say, them having been attacked by that monster) is both original and gives Barclay some mild redemption by allowing his fears to have some justification and to be useful in their own right. The episode seems to be a bit of a takeoff on the same tropes as, say, The Twilight Zone's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (with William Shatner!, or John Lithgow if you want), and those stories tend to have two possible resolutions: the neurotic is crazy, or there *is* a gremlin on the airplane wing. The third option that the gremlin is actually a missing passenger is unexpected.

The episode relies too much on technobabble as a substitute for actual storytelling (duh), and it is rather unbelievable that Barclay could have hid this completely debilitation phobia until now. It's a shame, because I do think Barclay is a good character to explore mental health issues (in space!) and he is allowed character flaws which the main cast are not at this point. If I squint at the outlines, I do like Barclay's arc in the episode, even if it is both superficial and hard to believe.
Shane - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 3:49am (USA Central)
I thoroughly enjoyed this episodes (and Season 6 as a whole). Maybe it's not the most ground breaking thing in the world but I don't care for show that is always trying to have some huge plot or a ton of action anyway.

As said by an earlier poster, I like these people (especially Reg) and I enjoyed spending the time with them. TNG's quieter episodes can still be truly enjoyable simply because of the characters.

Some people might think the "twist" or the resolution at the end of the episode is weak but I think it's got a touch of Twilight Zone to it and that's a good thing.

My Trek friends and I really like the moment Reg scurries out of Troi's office while plexing and nearly runs in to a crew member walking down the hall. "In through the nose, out through the mouth. Thanks again!" (nearly hits crew member) "Awwwgh." LOL.
Rachel - Mon, Aug 20, 2012 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
I think anyone could relate to this episode where they have had a fear manifest itself in some way. True, the technobabble goes into overload here (even outdoing a B'Elanna - Captain Janeway conversation!) but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I actually enjoyed TNG right through to the end. I think for s6, Chain of Command is the stand-out story, but there are plenty of good ones too. Deanna's 'plexing' tactic may seem simplistic, but how many medicines handed out by doctors have resulted in bad side effects? I'm happy if the 24th century has more alternative therapies available. Dwight Schultz - always watchable....great to see him in Voyager too.
Poltargyst - Fri, Sep 7, 2012 - 10:05pm (USA Central)
1) I never liked the idea that the transporter actually disassembles you. I think it should transport you whole like through a mini wormhole.

2) I'm going to defend plexing. I've know those who suffer from anxiety, and there are tapping techniques that offer relief in ways that can't possibly be placebo.
Jack - Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - 11:41am (USA Central)
I can't accept that someone can "see" while being transported...they have no eyes.

This episode was just a hot mess. And Barkley's presence drags any episode down.
Rob - Tue, Feb 5, 2013 - 8:15pm (USA Central)
This episode contained what I consider the most TNG line of any episode of Star Trek: When Picard noted in his log that the microbes had been returned to the plasma stream.

Only Star Trek TNG would care about the fate of microbes.
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 9:45am (USA Central)
@Jack, I wasn't going to mention it to avoid nitpicking but yes, if you are disassembled molecularly, how do you see?

I did enjoy the hypochondria scenes though, and Miles' pet tarantula, but that was about it.
mephyve - Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - 4:31pm (USA Central)
I like but by this time the 'incompetent Mr.Broccoli' becomes the 'hero Barkley' theme has gotten old. There was way too much time spent here on the incompetent broccoli side. Not to mention how convenient it is that the first time his fear of transporting is addressed he is the only one who experiences weirdness in the transporter. It was so telegraphed. It would have been better to not have mentioned his fear at all.
William B - Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - 9:36am (USA Central)
Huh, apparently I already wrote about that episode, and had more to say then than I do now. Okay, well, here goes: I like Barclay, we don't see him that often, and so I enjoy it. Also, Barclay taking the initiative here is a big step forward from either having to be pushed around by the crew in order to get anything done ("Hollow Pursuits") or being the subject of an alien probe which transforms ("The Nth Degree") -- not to discount those episodes, both of which (especially the latter) are way better than this episode, but this is important in that it shows a progression in Barclay's character and shows him taking a more active stance in dealing with his phobias. This actually makes "Ship in a Bottle" a nice capper, since in that episode his mental state doesn't impact the plot at all -- he has gotten to the point where his presence in the episode need not be about his neuroses.

I like the Barclay/O'Brien scenes, too.

Anyway the episode is telegraphed, drowning in technobabble, slow-paced, etc., etc., etc. So, yeah, 2 stars -- but I still like parts of it, more than in other 2 star shows, perhaps.
Jason Luthor - Wed, Aug 28, 2013 - 3:34pm (USA Central)
I love this episode because it's almost a slice of life episode, dealing with a man's hypochondria and anxiety except IN THE FUTURE. It has always been a favorite of mine, going back to when I was a young boy dealing with those sort of issues.
Smith - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 12:23pm (USA Central)
Episode that I liked...am surprised how critical everybody is of it. Nice thing about "Barclay" is that he doesn't "wear a mask". You can "see" his inner thoughts unlike the other characters which makes him fun to follow.
Simone - Mon, May 12, 2014 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
@Rob: I also noted that line on microbes! I thought it was great! :--)
Lal - Thu, Oct 9, 2014 - 12:59pm (USA Central)
I guess I can't quibble with the 2 stars rating - it's not a terribly great episode. But I found it an enjoyable time. But I always like Barclay episodes - he's the closer-to-everyman person (albeit with exaggerated expression of his neuroses, perhaps) that I can somewhat identify with.

Hell, I don't care how safe transporting in the 24th Century would be, there HAS to be plenty people around the Alpha Quadrant with neuroses about it.

I do think the grabbing the microbes = saving the other ship's crew was a little odd. And I also wouldn't have thought that you'd see or feel anything while being transported, except that one instant your on the Enterprise and the next you're somewhere else. Unless we're supposed to believe that your conscious mind can somehow perceive things even when all your body's matter has been disassembled and converted into a data stream?
Slug stream - Tue, Oct 28, 2014 - 6:28am (USA Central)
How come the crew members appear as giant slugs in the transporter stream, or spatially distorted microbes, why would they appear as microbes, why would they just be hanging around in transporter stream space as giant slugs, waiting to be grabbed? And how exactly did that relate to the explosion on the ship... This episode is such a mess - from Inner Light to here in a couple of episodes.. Haha
Nonya - Fri, Dec 5, 2014 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
I didn't mind this episode. It was nice, and the slow pace I actually found appealing. Barkley was good too. Not a great episode, but very pleasant.

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