At long last, here's welcome evidence that there are screw-ups in Starfleet. Given how the Enterprise is so often a testament to the hopelessly elite, it's refreshing to get a story about lowly Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), a guy who's always late, awkward in groups, inexplicable to his shipmates, unable to fit in, and addicted to his fantasies in the holodeck.
Geordi is fed up and frankly doesn't want to deal with him anymore. Picard's approach is more proof of his Picard-ness: Rather than abandon this officer and transfer him out, he asks Geordi to make more of an effort to reach out and get to know the guy. It's not an easy task. Barclay's shyness reaches a level of social paralysis, and it makes him ineffective as a communicator in a workplace setting. Meanwhile, he spends all his free time in the holodeck.
The episode is probably best remembered for its amusing holodeck sequences featuring Barclay's overactive imagination and depictions of real crew members — including a uniquely hilarious opening scene where Barclay's overconfident alter ego (and it's a complete alter ego) struts into Ten-Forward and pushes Geordi and Riker around. Later, there's swordplay, which features a version of Riker that Barclay has digitally shortened. Troi finds it all to be amusing and therapeutic — until she sees the digital version of herself that Barclay has created (the "Goddess of Empathy").
But the heart of the episode is in deconstructing a man who doesn't fit in or feel comfortable. Guinan's sympathy for Barclay's situation is commendable. And Geordi makes a real effort to break down his defenses. Of course, the hilarious moment when Picard slips and calls him "Broccoli" is a classic, comic worst-case scenario. After all of Geordi's efforts, the captain accidentally sets everything back a step.
Does the episode need its overplayed jeopardy premise involving the malfunction that causes the Enterprise to race out of control? And does the jeopardy have to come down to terse, last-minute warnings from the computer that the ship is about to be destroyed? No and no. But I do like the way the engineering team swiftly deconstructs the problem with simple logic to find the solution. These are smart people working a problem intelligently. The episode's closing joke is Barclay's goodbye scene — to the holographic crew. Barclay is a welcome rough pebble among all the Enterprise's polished pearls.