In brief: A watchable but ultimately unfulfilling take on the "Voyager crew as saps" episode.
"Inside Man" has a few things going for it, but one of those things, unfortunately, is not the bigger picture. That is to say, when you have at your disposal the entire Alpha Quadrant guest cast that made "Pathfinder" such a winner last year, why waste it on a silly caper plot that doesn't advance Voyager along the lines of the continuing saga of its search for a way home?
Even worse, why waste it on yet another example of the crew being manipulated like sorry saps into believing that a shortcut home is actually going to work when in fact it would get them all killed, a la the deception in "Hope and Fear"? "Inside Man" is a collection of isolated bright ideas undercut by standard plotting and character stupidity.
And a show of hands: Do we really want to see the Ferengi again?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The underlying premise is actually a very reasonable one — the idea that Reg Barclay would transmit a hologram of himself to Voyager as an interactive program to assist in future coordination between Voyager and the Alpha Quadrant.
Unfortunately, the problem with "Inside Man" is that it's heavy on gimmicks and alarmingly light on story. One admirable aspect of both "Pathfinder" and "Life Line" from last season — both which featured Barclay and Troi and other characters from the Alpha Quadrant — is that they were real stories with true appeal and meaning. They were not stunt episodes. "Inside Man," on the other hand, is just that — a stunt episode that doesn't mean anything to any of its characters ... not the Voyager crew members in the Delta Quadrant nor Barclay back home in the Alpha Quadrant.
The plot can basically be summarized in one sentence: Some scheming Ferengi intercept the transmission of Barclay's hologram and reprogram it to deceptively lure Voyager through a manufactured tech anomaly so they can get their hands on Seven of Nine's nanoprobes and sell them for huge profit. (No one on board Voyager, by the way, will survive the radiation when traveling through this anomaly, which makes me wonder if even Ferengi would resort to murdering 150 people to score a quick buck.)
Aside from following this premise through to its inevitable conclusion, the rest of the episode is either (a) filler scenes or (b) rehashes of Barclay's character theme that were already covered in the far-superior "Pathfinder."
Some of this is admittedly entertaining. For example, the most truthful and appropriate idea in the episode is the notion that the Reg hologram has such a confident swagger to him. It's a programmed personality that serves as the alter-ego to the programmer. (This is assuming its outgoing nature wasn't programmed by the Ferengi, of course.)
And even if most of this is rehash, I still have to confess to enjoying Dwight Schultz as Barclay. Here he gets two very different riffs on Barclay — as the real Barclay, and also as the holographic version he wishes he could be. The real Barclay is the same guy we knew from "Pathfinder" — always sure his ideas will work but unable to totally convince his boss Harkins (Richard McGonagle) that he's on the right track. But even though this may be fun, we've been here and done this. When you have a rare opportunity to use these characters, why waste time doing everything over again?
Sure, holo-Barclay is a personable fellow. But I still had to ask myself if having him do impressions in the Voyager mess hall was really the least bit necessary to the story.
And take, for example, the extended scene between Barclay and Troi on the beach. It very well might be the longest dialog scene in the episode, and yet it doesn't need to be. The amount of information we get here is secondary to the setting, as if the scene had to be drawn out unnecessarily in order to justify the expense of shooting on location rather than on soundstages. (When I'm thinking of things like that, it's an indication the dialog isn't holding enough of my attention.) And Barclay comes close at times to being reduced to the status of a cartoon character, decked out in a hat and sunglasses designed to make him look awkward. The character analysis in "Pathfinder" was far less forced, and more truthful.
The main drive of the plot hinges on some contrived facts that annoyed me. One is the idea that the Voyager crew, like brainless lemmings, would follow holo-Barclay so blindly. The proposed Instant Way Home [TM] in this episode is one mired in the typical invented technobabble, and one that would be very dangerous for our gallant Voyager crew. Radiation levels would be lethal, and yet the deceptive holo-Barclay explains away the danger as no longer a problem thanks to shield modifications and Doc's inoculations. Far too simplified, it seems the Voyager crew is prepared to follow Barclay straight to their doom. Meanwhile, we get the usual discussions among the crew about being excited about possibly getting home while also trying to keep optimism in check.
Back in the Alpha Quadrant, we learn that the Ferengi gained access to Barclay's hologram thanks to Barclay's ex-girlfriend Leosa (Sharisse Baker-Bernard), who had played Barlcay for a fool specifically to obtain information about his transmissions to Voyager. I would say "poor Reg" here, the way he's a victim of his own trusting nature, but unlike "Pathfinder" the writers don't seem to be sympathizing with him nearly as much as they seem to be laughing at him behind his back.
The conclusion is one of those races against the clock where Barclay must use his technical ingenuity to foil the Ferengi before the Voyager crew is lured through the anomaly and killed. Par for course (but I wanted a different course).
And, no, I didn't really need to see the Ferengi again. Does a single one of them as portrayed here look like he has the intelligence to come up with a plan as brilliant as this one? If not, the explanation may be that the plan isn't brilliant so much as the victims of the plan — in both the Alpha and Delta quadrants — are gullible fools. At the very least, I'll give Barclay and his team, including Admiral Paris (Richard Herd), credit for figuring out the Ferengi plot without too much slow-wittedness.
But that's not enough, because the bottom line is that "Inside Man" starts out as a promising idea that is quickly tossed aside in favor of something trivial and mundane. "Pathfinder" and "Life Line" showed true promise in telling a story arc that connected Voyager with the Alpha Quadrant, using Barclay as the common thread to hold it all together. "Inside Man" doesn't bother to be a story that we should care about; it seems convinced that Barclay and Troi are enough on their own to keep us interested. They're not.
As far as the Voyager-characters-as-saps paradigm goes, the last scene aboard Voyager is perhaps the show's most telling, in which Tom and B'Elanna pull Harry's leg with a far-fetched premise that promises another way home. And there he is, Harry Kim, still, after all these years and the immediately preceding events of "Inside Man," playing the part of the hapless chump — just as gullible and naive as he was when this series premiered nearly six years ago. Is this supposed to be a funny joke on the character? If we buy into it, I'm thinking the joke is on us.
Next week: "Being John Malkovich" — Voyager style! (In other words, "Being Seven of Nine.")
Junior-high question of the week: Why does a transwarp conduit (as depicted in animation in "Inside Man") look exactly like a condom?