Star Trek: The Next Generation

“Realm of Fear”

2 stars.

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

Review Text

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

Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.

◄ Season Index

Comment Section

70 comments on this post 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).

    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.

    @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.

    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.

    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.

    @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.

    @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....

    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.

    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.

    "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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    @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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Episode that I 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.

    @Rob: I also noted that line on microbes! I thought it was great! :--)

    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?

    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

    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.

    Not even Dwight's acting can save this one. And how sci-fi writers can have such a complete disregard for physics astounds me. I am to believe that people being deconstructed can move about in the pattern beam and / or still see etc. What a joke.

    This one was disappointing across the board. First there's Barclay's role. His acting is good, but at times I felt I was watching the neurotic and hypochondriac rantings of Woody Allen in one of his early movies. I was waiting for Diane Keaton to walk out in a Starfleet uniform. Honestly, how did Barclay ever manage to be accepted to Starfleet Academy, much less graduate, much less be assigned to the Enterprise?? I could accept him as running a gift shop on some starbase, but as an executive officer on the Enterprise? No.

    The transporter plot was filled with so much junk science, it was embarrassing. Your atoms are scrambled, yet your eyes can see and your brain can register visual input? I think the writer was the one who was afflicted with transporter psychosis. I like Barclay and find him amusing in small doses, but this episode was a 1 star for me.

    I really liked the believable reactions, especially Barclay's, to all the technobabble. It's a lot more engaging than space politics or space morality.

    There's memorable images, and a nice, smooth band of tension throughout. Remember when TV had a train of thought?

    Pretty ho hum episode. I do like the twist that the worms in the transporter stream were the missing crew of the other ship. I agree with others though...when you're energy you don't have eyes and you can't see, nor have any perception of time and space.

    "Realm of Fear" - a lackluster character story with a rather lackluster plot. Another average episode, but this time there are things that I actually can point to that I dislike.

    What was the point of this episode? To do a science fiction version of the fear of airplane travel? If that's all it was then I'd probably just say it's average and more on, giving a third episode in a row a 5 score. But I don't think that was the main intention. I think the main goal was to make Barclay look like an idiot. So, he starts seeing his arm glow blue after something funky happens during transport and what is his response? To go to Sickbay, like a rational person? NO. It's to convince himself, with the help of the computer, that he's just hallucinating due to a rare psychological condition. Brilliant! Then, what's his response when he thinks he has a mental problem? To go to Troi for help, again like a rational person would? NO. He decides to just ignore the problem, hope it goes away and actively resist help from Troi when it's offered. Fucking brilliant! Look, I get that Barclay is supposed to be a little neurotic and generally phobic (that's why I like him), but this is just ridiculous. Dude, if your arm is freaking glowing, go see a damn doctor!

    Then there's the fact that the resolution almost comes out of left field. There is so little energy and urgency to this plot that I almost forgot about the four missing crew members who turn out to be the entities in the transporter stream. The fact that four missing people are deliberately mentioned early in the episode didn't help either. There's one reference to them and then we're off to spend the rest of the episode on Barclay's stupidity. When Barclay re-materialized with one of them in tow, it took me a while to remember that they were name-dropped earlier. And, Barclay sure seemed to come to the conclusion that the worm-things are really people rather suddenly, didn't he (not to mention that it's never explained why they look like that instead of like people).

    But, I am going to be generous to "Realm of Fear" for one scene - the scene of Picard talking to an admiral in the Ready Room. It's a rather unnecessary scene for this anemic story, but I like the fact that it name drops the Cardassians as antagonists for the Federation and Ferengi. DS9 would premier a little less than half-way through this season of TNG and it's nice to see them doing what they can, even in this small way, to set up the Cardassian threat for that show. It's a nice little bit of world-building to throw into the mix. It's so small that it would probably go by unnoticed at the time, but looking back you can see how your subconscious was subtly being prepared for something else. Nicely done!


    This reminded me almost of a time capsule opening of a first season episode. We have an interesting concept that is not really explored, and a character lead who doesn't really have enough character development to carry a full episode. We have a very dodgy special effect (was that Slimer in the matter stream?!), and a technobabble conclusion that not only seems to make no sense it resolves a plot point that everyone else in the episode seemed to forget anyway.

    2 stars.

    One strange thing I noticed in this episode was in the first scene in the conference room when Beverly is speaking to everyone about her findings. Picard is standing so awkwardly close to her (practically on top of her) and when she is speaking he is staring at her with this goofy look on his face. For a minute I thought I was watching the gag reel and they were about to bust out in laughter at any second.

    I thought this episode was OK, good for a casual watch for to be entertained by Barkley but doesn't stand up to a more focused viewing and determined following of the (as said above) overly technobabble filled plot. And I am not one to normally complain about technobabble, I don't think I ever have before on these reviews, so you know if I complain about it that it must be quite bad.

    I did want to comment though that this episode can be a lense through which retrospectively we see the warning signs related to Brannon Braga (the writer of this episode). The lack of respect for physics, or for human drama (turns the chance for meaningful examination of mental health in the future to a joke with that "plexing" thing- I remember Braga out of all the writers being the most vocal complaining about having to write lines for Counsular Troi, a "psychologist!" Oh, no! Looks like maybe you might have to do some research for this character, Braga, since you are obviously very ignorant on the subject of psychology and mental health. But since as we know Braga is not exactly one to do needed research we just get that plexing nonsense.
    Other patterns that are complained about in Voyager and Enterpise begin to be noticeable here too, and since Braga was such a driving force behind those shows it is an interest angle to consider his writing from.

    But at this point thankfully Braga still had people above him to veto ideas that got too off the wall (thank god for Michael Piler) and keep him focused (the guy can actually make good episodes when he works under Piler's authority and his episodes benefit for Piler's re-writes, and when he has talented colleagues like Ronald Moore to bounce ideas around with (like how Moore had the idea in Frame of Mind to have the episode be oriented around a play) . So in other words Braga was a guy who never have should have became an executive producer on Star Trek. He does have some good, high concept ideas, but he needs the support of equal ranked peers and the editing of a boss like MP to be at his best. Unfortunately one of his talents was being good at kissing Rick Berman's ass and being a good company man, so he got promoted way before he could handle it and go look at Voyager for evidence of the resulting harm.
    Final note on this episode, for me anyway it's still watchable and decent episode to me despite the flaws in the writing and that's a testament to TNG's standards of quality

    La forge tells Barkley that he never had a transporter incident. Was Barkley not there last season when the entire ship thought he was dead from one?

    After watching this one on TV again, I realized how boring Lt. Barclay's quarters were. For a guy with such creativity and imagination I thought the set designers could do better than two dishes above his bed.

    The where O'Brien and LaForge are trying to convince Barkley how safe transporting is was a bit ridiculous. If there have only ever been "2 or 3" transporter accidents in the timeframe they laid out, then all of them happened on the Enterprise. You only have to go back a few episodes to "The Next Phase to find the most recent one.

    Did not enjoy this episode at all -- immediately in the teaser Barclay and his over-exaggerated issues turned me off. "Hollow Pursuits" was ok but this episode was just plain boring with too much nonsensical technobabble.

    Troi was also terrible in this episode -- she can really just relieve Barclay of duty? But then Barclay still gets O'Brien to transport him and he calls all the senior staff for a meeting? I think this downplays Troi's importance and role -- which is not a bad thing, for me. I also found myself tapping myself behind the ear while watching...

    So were the crew from the other ship turned into those fat worm-like creatures in the transporter field and Barclay had to overcome his fear and grab onto one of them to save the crew? If that's all it comes down to, it's pretty lame. The whole plot is overly simplistic. This isn't a good example of TNG problem solving logically and sensibly. Heavy on technobabble and entirely reliant on one person's trusting his instincts in an instant.

    Barely 1.5 stars for "Realm of Fear" -- while it is good to shine the light on a crew member's unusual issues, this episode exaggerates it such that the normal person can't take it seriously. TNG has treated this kind of topic much better in prior episodes. I didn't find it compelling at all to see Barclay going through all the self-diagnosis etc. TNG S6 not off to a stellar start.

    ⭐️ ⭐️ 💫

    Pretty good idea and Brannon didvgreat job nailing the mannerisms and characterization of someone suffering from a phobia and generalized anxiety. He really nailed the details from Barclay freaking out as moment of transport nearing to The embarrassment he has for flaking out when the rest of the away team managed to beam like no big deal to suffering internally and mind mulling all sorts of worst case scenarios. That all was realistic and well done
    I also Liked Riker’s act of kindness telling Barclay that he was glad Barclay joined them.

    I also thought fresh to finally see what it is like to transport from the transportee’s point of view.

    The mystery was intriguing as to what Barclay saw on beam, the reaction from the dead crewman and Barclays glowing arm. BUT the payoff was really really underwhelming and not very satisfying. The whole “the Yosemite crew looked like monster worms was due to distorted spatial relationship” I didn’t buy and felt similar to it was all a Dream.

    If the payoff had been better—cause it is the weakest part of a solid episode of have given it 3 or 3.5 stars

    I've been watching all the Star Trek movies and TV episodes on Hulu for the past six months or so, and mostly enjoying it. And I've been reading reviews here of TNG episodes for a month now I think. I really like both the initial reviews and all the great comments.

    Anyway, I finally had to say something because of conversation between Reg and Geordi.

    Reg: Commander, has anything strange ever happened to you during transport?
    La Forge: Like what?
    Reg: I don't know. Anything out of the ordinary.
    Geordi: No, not really.

    Well, except for the time he and Ro Laren went out of phase with the rest of the universe a couple episodes back. Other than that, smooth sailing I guess.

    O'Brien has been a transporter chief for 22 years he states. That's sad.

    And this episode probably gave him the most speaking time until he joined DS9; he got to keep repeating the same technobabble steps in the transporting process, 3 times. Boring...

    So why were the crewmember giant slugs again?
    Oh no don't worry.

    The missing crewmembers idea and out of phase slug like aliens all feature in 'The Vanished' a scenario for Fasa's Star Trek rpg written in 1983-oops!

    I like this episode. I am not sure what I thought when I saw it at age 20. Was I as sympathetic and knowledgeable about phobias as am now?

    I remember the slug things in the transporter. Yes there is a lot of technobabble here and I lost the plot a bit at the end when the slugs turned out to be people.

    But it is a good premise and it is good to show that basic human disorders don't go away too easily when shame is involved and prevents a person from seeking help.

    I am in Reg's corner in general. It is also good to show the life of a manager (Geordie) who must put aside his impatience and assumptions and reach out. I have been a manager and it is a thankless job often.

    I will say that one way that the bridge crew really shines is in their ability to put aside annoyance and keep an open mind and remain objective. That takes some practice and leads to better solutions. They did it in this episode despite Reg hiding his observations until the middle of the night.

    Wasn’t Reg insubordinate by directly assembling the senior staff for that middle-of-the-night meeting? Shouldn’t he have requested it through his direct boss, Geordi? I would think Geordi would have been annoyed by Reg’s actions.

    Late to the party, but would like to comment that "plexing" may be related to vagal maneuvers / carotid sinus massage, which does slow the heart rate.

    I like the general premise of a transporter fear / transport goes wrong episode. And it turned out OK, but nothing to get excited about. Or disappointed about either.

    Something that bothered me about this episode is that Barclay didn't immediately rush to sickbay and insist on a deep scan of his arm. It's not out of character to expect this: he's always imposing on others to entertain his neuroses. Except this one time where they'd actually find something. I guess Barclay looked at the minute counter and realize he had to stretch things along a little more.

    Another thing that bothered me is that there are actual best practices to reduce phobias that involve tackling the problem piece by piece. There really wasn't a need for Betazoid pseudoscience. Then again, it's Star Trek. Someone could pull a muscle and the solution would be to reionize the DNA substrate manifold to rebalance the deuterium carboid sternofiben.

    One thing I hadn't seen anyone consider in the comments is that maybe the size-exaggerated microbes weren't real? It wasn't something I ever considered when I watched this episode the first time, but looking back I began to wonder about. Here's why:

    1.) The very first thing that tipped me off to this was actually one of the final things to happen in the episode - when Lt. Barclay grabs one and then tells the others something to the effect "the crew members are in there - you have to grab on and REALLY HOLD ON!" My first thought was 'oh no - he didn't warn them they look like giant microbes! What if it frightens them!' (Wouldn't that frighten anyone, especially if they are expecting to see a person as opposed to an attacking monster?)... but no-one else hesitates and no-one else mentions this being an issue. All three rescuers lock on to their respective humans as if they saw them that way.

    2.) Another thing that tipped me off was looking back over the episode in hindsight - where did we pick up the idea about microbes to begin with? It was mentioned by Dr. Crusher who was speculating on what Lt. Barclay might have been seeing. At this point in the episode we don't even know if what Barclay is seeing is real or not and neither does the crew (as an aside, I like how the entire crew is obviously annoyed at being woken in the middle of the night for this anxiety-fueled meeting called by Barclay, but instead of getting angry and/or writing him off, they all decide to take him seriously and help him out with extra work and responsibilities investigating - they know how he gets when he Web MD's himself but no-one judges him harshly for it).

    3.) Not long after this, Dr. Crusher discovers ACTUAL alien microbes in his arm - and I think as a result, we all began to make the connection between her earlier speculation that MAYBE he's "seeing" the microbes in the matter stream and microbes that are actually literally physically in his arm - but there's never any hard connection between the two. I think it's natural that we just sort of "bridge the gap" and assume it must all be the same thing because that would make the most sense, right? Even if we don't have hard proof that is what it is.

    So, something this got me wondering about: how well can people "see" inside a matter stream? Notwithstanding the previous discussion on how ridiculous it is anyone can see with demateralised eyes (maybe we only "see" the bits before and after materalisation, rather than the entire process?), the vision cannot be as clear as it was on TV, right? That has to be some made-for-TV magick, right? What if Barclay was looking at the missing crew members the entire time but because his vision was so disoriented by the de/re-materalisation process and the overlaying matter stream - coupled with his intense fear of developing psychosis - he never really saw what he was looking at clearly? Remember, the first time he couldn't see clearly what the "thing" was at all - with each transport it became more and more clear to him.

    With the first transport (away from the Enterprise), he sees nothing at all. He's more worried about never re-materalising than anything else, because this is, presumably, his very first transport ever in his entire life. Now, knowing he obviously survived because he's still here - his fear changes. Now, with his second transport (back to the Enterprise), he sees something during the de-materalisation process - it's so faint we can't see it, and we see even Barclay squints at it like he's not sure too. It reminded me of when you get those "floaters" in your eye; you know, those little squiggly lines that can sometimes block some of your vision but then you try to look directly at them and they fade away? Anyways, after being de-materalised and seeing that, Barclay has a new fear and it manifests during the re-materalisation process. Now that he has de-materalised away from the Yosemite and he is re-materalising on the Enterprise, he sees that same squiggle more clearly, and it touches his arm. At this point, it is still out of focus (we won't see the "mouth" like opening until his third transport later on in the episode). At this point what he is seeing is more clear than it was initially but less clear than it would be finally. At this point it touches his arm and he becomes infected with the microbes Dr. Crusher will later discover.

    What's more likely? That we are literally "seeing" with the naked eye microbes entering Barclay's arm, or that one of the crew members reached out to a fellow human, desperate to escape from this purgatory, and unwittingly transferred the microbes from themselves to Barclay by contact? Remember, Barclay never sees the "thing" clearly, though it does have a skin-like colour and the approximate shape of an arm. What if the person reached out and we just couldn't see their body in the background because of the matter stream? Like a person reaching through an obscuring fog, for example? It's natural that Barclay or the crew would never speculate on this, because a person surviving in a buffer that long is unheard of, and everyone is still thinking of the crew as "missing" rather than "present" right there under their noses. We wouldn't see anyone surviving in a buffer long-term like that until Commander Riker's copy and old Chief Scotty from TOS pops up in later episodes. At this point it is unheard of.

    It is only after Lt. Barclay asks Alexa to google up Web for him does he start suspecting he may have transporter psychosis - which as unlikely as it is, is still more likely than the missing crew surviving in the buffer all this time (as normally people can only last a minute or two in it at most), because at least you have cases of psychosis - there are no cases (to my knowledge) of people surviving in a buffer long-term at this point in the Star Trek universe. So now Barclay has had the experience, built it up in his mind, got the computer to confirm it for him, let it fester further in his mind, to the point that he WANTS to take a third trip just to see now, frightened as he is.

    In a hilarious scene, he "orders" Chief O'Brien to transport him (despite having earlier been relived of duty), O'Brien doesn't really buy it but goes along with it and this is when we finally see the "mouth" like shadow on the "microbe." When Barclay is in full anxiety mode. By now, we should know something is off (though I admit I didn't until I looked back in hindsight) because microbes don't have mouths. They cannot bite. The way microscopic organisms consume is not the way we consume. But really, think about it for a second - an arm you cannot see but a blurry shape of, plus the fact you've been told this is a microbe on top of your already out-of-control anxiety - could a human arm blurred in a thick fog not look like a giant worm coming to get you? Especially if you are already frightened and you only get a glimpse of it for a few seconds? Remember O'Brien told the others they would get a "bumpy ride" of 4-5 seconds - but by the time Barclay showed up he got the normal ride of 1-3 seconds, take that time frame minus what he couldn't see without eyes between being de- and re-materalised, and he only gets a glance at this "thing." Could a glance at an arm coming out of a fog not look scary? Fingers like teeth, shadow of the palm like a gaping mouth? Can you even have a shadow in a matter stream?

    Think about it... why would he grab on to this scary monster trying to get him, when before he recoiled? He only grabs on later, during his FOURTH transport when O'Brien said they would have to suspend him in the stream for FORTY-FIVE SECONDS to rid his body of the microbes. 45 seconds is a long time compared to the mere 1 or 2 he had before... don't believe me? Try holding your breath for 45 seconds and you'll see it feels like forever. Is it possible he was forced to look at this "microbe" thing for so long that he realised he was actually seeing an arm and just instinctively reached out? Afterall, it must have looked VERY different once he got a moment to really look at it as opposed to just glancing at it out of fear.

    I can't think of why else he wouldn't've warned the rest of the crew when they also went in to rescue the others, other than that he realised there was no monster at all, it was just his fear distorting his perception. Like the tree branch that scratches your bedroom window at night during every Halloween flick ever. It looks and sounds and feels scary only when you ARE scared. But then mom comes in and turns on the bedroom like and suddenly that tree isn't so scary anymore.

    That's the only way I know to take this episode. And that because we saw it from Barclay's perspective, we became just as "frightened" in a way (as in, we saw it the way he saw it, rather than it actually was). I could be wrong, but the episode doesn't make much sense to me otherwise. To me, it has to be either that, or the "monsters" were just merely allegorical for Braga's fear of flying, as it has been said this episode was based on. But Star Trek doesn't do a lot of overt allegory like that, and usually there are some kind of physical explanation for most episodes in general.

    All in all, I completely forgot the crew members were even missing until they were grabbed at the end of the episode. Normally I would say that's not very good writing, but in this case they were just merely the B plot and Barclay was the A plot (when normally you'd expect it to be the reverse) - which I don't mind because I actually like Barclay as a character for the most part. Barclay episodes are always fun even if they all are filled with glaring plot holes and wide leaps of logic :)

    I want to give kudos to the production crew for the exploding sample container in engineering. Despite being behind a forcefield, still came across as quite powerful and frightening.

    Also, I always laugh at the final scene in the transporter room. When Worf and his security team enter, Barclay says "There are more crew members in the beam. You have to grab them and hold on." Worf then responds immediately with "Understood. Follow me." LOL what? These guys have NO IDEA what's going on, and after Barclay spouts some nonsense about people being in the transporter beam, while being dragged off the floor, Worf is all "oh ok, no problem." That's some crap writing there.

    I do like a Reg story, and I really enjoyed this one. The techno-nonsense aspect of the plot is really just a vehicle for the main plot trajectory of Reg being neurotic, conquering his fear, then solving the puzzle and saving lives - and I think it works really well. Dwight Schultz is a very effective performer in this role.

    Of course there are problems with it. Deanna doesn't seem to have her empathic abilities in this one; she comes across as having no more insight than a human. How could Reg keep what he describes as "mortal terror" from her? She even asks "is there something you're not telling me?"

    And how can you be sentient enough to recognise bizarre space creatures while your brain molecules are being dispersed?

    Reg's hair style is more or less a combover. Surely if you're sufficiently bothered about being bald, there must be some sort of cheap and easy hair transplant technique by the 24th Century?

    I was interested that the dead burns victim was shown so graphically; surprising for family TV in the early '90s, or even now.

    Anyway, very good. After an awful start, this episode gives me hope for the sixth series.

    Plexing - not so 24th century. I have been on training for techniques to manage anxiety that are similar to this. One was to tap on the palmar/ventral surface of the wrist in a rhythmic, repetitive way (can't remember why they suggested this part of the body) and another one was to use an elastic band around the wrist and snap it against your wrist. I have a strong feeling that I saw this used on another TV series, but am struggling to recall which one....As to the evidence base for this then maybe we can ask Deanna.

    I adore Reg Barclay. For all the reasons that often make me question the perfect brave Starfleet heroes. He's a genius, he's socially challenged, he has fears about things everyone else takes for granted, (but, hell, remember Dr McCoy and HIS views on beaming all over the place?), he's a hypochondriac, quite possibly the most completely convincing "human" character in the whole of ST. He's such a welcome counterpoint to the Picard types who never miss an opportunity to lecture and preach about Starfleet and Federation values. Thank God Roddenberry's future vision has not sanitised humanity from characters such as Reg Barclay. (Nick Locarno also comes to mind. Such "flawed" characters are essential in any balanced depiction of humanity.)
    And nothing more challenging than facing one's fears, and putting yourself out in the way you fear most to save others in the process. Although the notion of people "simmering in the memory buffers" for hours is a bit of a stretch. These simpler episodes, dealing with one specific issue and one specific character developed narratively and dramatically are among ST's best in all its iterations. I wonder why they haven't done it more often, the much maligned STV actually having done this better than other iterations. Voyager actually improves with repeated viewing, some EPs are now classic fare, I have used "Nothing Human" and "Prime Factors" to "teach" ethics in professional training classes with much more success than textbooks by experts have had. The essential duality and ambiguity of ethics gets handled brilliantly in such EPs. Same with this Reg Barclay episode, we have dramatic tension and ambiguity, in other words complex TV for adult minds done well, such a welcome breather from all the phaser and photon torpedo shooting by Starfleet macho types. Long live, Reg!

    In real life charcters like Barcaly can be quite tiresome. But you then often learn that they posess hidden but very good quilities, professionally and personally.

    As almost always O'Brian comes over so very naturaly and the sceenes between him and Barclay is so very good. The other actors are actors. Colm Meaney does not seem to be acting. He is just transforms to Miles O'Brian, a relible "simple" CPO doing the things he ist told to do.

    Starting this ep, I was momentarily confused that O'Brien was still the transporter chief. I had thought DS9 started at the same time as TNG S6, so that the two seasons were in synch. Turns out that's not right, DS9 seems instead to have started halfway through TNG S6. Huh.

    One thing I'm realizing now about Barclay's transporter phobia is that it's probably the most rational fear I can imagine. Since I am more or less convinced that what the transporter does is destroy you and create a copy somewhere else, I'd be terrified of that too. No way I'd let anyone do that to me!

    @Peter G.

    In fact, the philosophical issue of identity underlying the Star Trek transporter was the basis of one of the essay questions on the admission application for the University of Chicago when I was applying there decades ago. They didn't say the words "Star Trek" or "transporter," but described a device that takes a person apart and assembles a perfect copy of them somewhere else. Part A was if the device completely destroyed the original at the sending end so that only the version at the receiving end still existed, while Part B was if the next generation (so to speak) of the device could leave the original intact while still making the copy somewhere else. For both parts, the question to be answered was, which version of the person is really "you"?

    My stance was that both are you, but that they are separate people, who share a past but separate futures. (In Part A, that future is death, or whatever may come after it.) In other words, that they have different "souls."

    I ended up deciding to go to Notre Dame instead, but the University of Chicago apparently liked my answer; they did accept me!

    From that perspective, the transporter chief is a serial killer living in a society that has decided to have no problem with his crimes, as long as there keep being copies to pick up where his "victims" left off. That would make it very reasonable for Barclay to have been avoiding him.

    "From that perspective, the transporter chief is a serial killer living in a society that has decided to have no problem with his crimes, as long as there keep being copies to pick up where his "victims" left off. That would make it very reasonable for Barclay to have been avoiding him."

    Yeah, no kidding. Not sure if you're a PC gamer but there's a terrific game called Torment: Tides of Numenara which is a successor to what is generally considered to be the best RPG story, Planescape: Torment. Both games delve heavily into the topic of mortality and what makes you 'you', but Numenara in particular addresses in detail the question of the relationship between "you" (whatever that is), the body you inhabit vs a copy of that body, or a new body but with modifications; or your self being converted to data; or about whether there can be multiple 'you's' at once. Anyhow, I really like the game. It allows you to choose how to interpret the answers to these questions, and the story finale follows along the interpretation of your choice.

    Ironically, Realm of Fear inadvertently undermines our previous understanding of the transporter system. It seems to me it was originally supposed to be a conversion of your body and mind into energy (i.e. destruction) and then reconstituting that body and mind elsewhere. But Realm of Fear portrays people in the 'matter stream' totally conscious and intact, as if their body as a whole is transported somewhere through a wormhole or something. Now of course this is total nonsense, and Braga is the last person to care about whether any of his stories conform to reality, but it actually undermines his script to suppose that the very thing that *should* terrify you about the transporter (your own death) is actually made untrue in this episode's logic. Poor Barclay.

    O’BRIEN: I’ll check the Heisenberg Compensators…

    Heisenberg? No wonder Barclay felt so much Uncertainty about the transporter … (I’ll fetch me coat..)

    I always enjoy Reg episodes, even though this one was riddled with entries from The Oxford Dictionary Of Technobabble. Though I’d like to whisper into Troi’s ear that the ancient 20th Century medical superstition called diazepam might have been worth a try. Still, that might have deprived us of Reg’s comical hyperchondria.

    Ok, having one of the Muppets trapped in the buffer stream with you might be rather scary, but all’s well that ends well, eh?

    I think this nearly qualifies as a 3 star episode.

    In case anyone wants to geek out on the "does the transporter kill you" debate:

    @ Peter G

    ENT's 'Daedalus' has someone trapped in transporter limbo for 15 years, evidently in some at least semi-conscious state (of presumably constant torment)!

    I found this episode more agreeable than the 2 stars Jammer gives it, if only because Schultz sells Barclay's anxiety so watchably.

    In general, I find Barclay to be a little over the top, but otherwise I enjoyed this episode. And I really liked the resolution to the mystery of the missing crew members. The first time I saw it, I had no idea that was going to happen, and I had no idea why Barclay grabbed and hugged the creature. Good sci-fi twist!

    One thing they didn't address is why on Earth (or rather why in the galaxy) would the missing crew members manifest in the beam as some sort of worm-like macro version of a microscopic creature?

    Because the plot required it to look like something alive and creepy, but not be identifiable as a person.

    How are you a Starfleet crewman for years, including on a flagship interstellar space vessel and you get away with not once (or maybe no more than a few times) having been teleported!?! Oh, he took a shuttle instead... Because shuttles are dime-a-dozen for anyone to use at will, there are no extra costs associated with using a one, no extra manpower and logs required... - especially as opposed to a quick and simple teleportation. Totally legit!

    How on earth did Barclay make it into the Starfleet Academy, let alone graduate from it!?! Don't they have psych eval. there?!? That man is an absolute mess!! Ridiculous.

    I guess the episode was foreshadowing the "everyone gets a prize just for being who they are, because everyone is just perfect the way they are!" rotten approach to merit, which would start setting in the wider society a decade or so after the show aired.

    Anyway, I watched the rest of the ep. for the sci-fi problem of the week being masterfully solved but Barclay with his identity crises and Troi's blatherings, plus the idiocy of it all, stick in the craw.

    I'm not sure we should take Barclay's statement "I've always managed to avoid it somehow" as meaning that he's literally never been transported; just that he managed to avoid it under every circumstance where it could be avoided.

    @Top Hat: Well, yes, I figured that would be an interpretation but it makes even less sense than if he never used it or used it only a few times. It means he would still have been teleported dozens, even hundreds, of times. With that amount of experience of and exposure to the source of his discomfort, there is no way in hell he'd have such an extreme phobic reaction to it. Besides, one would expect teleportation to have been part of the most basic training at the Academy and that his phobia or extreme anxiety would have been picked up on and disqualified him... - kinda like a hydrophobic fire fighter or a pilot with a fear of heights!

    But I get it. It's not meant to be a documentary and things don't need to make sense. It didn't make for a compelling story either though so, other than as B-story padding, the entire angle was boring, ill-conceived, and superfluous.

    * * *

    Another kvetch I have is that something is obviously wrong with his forearm following what might have been a hostile entity attacking him and affecting/infecting him during teleportation. Any semi-responsible crewman would have reported that immediately, lest he is indeed infected and under the influence of an alien force causing him to sabotage the ship. But nope, he just keeps it under the bushel.

    What a total basketcase. I know he provides some comedic value to some people but, as a crew member of a starship, he should have been summarily fired eons ago. Yea, he should never have set foot in the Academy, let alone on a spacefaring craft.

    @ Michael,

    I think you are underestimating the fact that he's a talented engineer who very much wants to serve the goals of the Federation and Starfleet. And it's a given that he's not only in Starfleet but on the flagship. Sure, to include any character on this show they have to be on the flagship, that's how shows typically work. But either way here he is, so we have to assume it's based on merit, even if he has psych issues.

    I can usually follow the technobabble in most Trek episodes but after seeing this episode 10 times over the years, I still don't understand what the hell they're talking about at the end. How did the crew members of the science ship get suspended in the buffer? Why did they look like worm-things in Barclay's transporter beam? Why was he the only one who saw them during transport, yet afterward the security team was able to spot them instantly and remove them from the beam?

    The way Barclay's mental health was handled on this "advanced starship" was abysmal. It wasn't until he totally flipped out and called the senior staff to a meeting that any real investigation was done.

    Troi's behaviour as a "professional" was the worst. She is supposed to be the queen of mental health and she just chalked everything up to Barclay being stressed and crazy. BUT *WHY* IS HE STRESSED, YOU NITWIT? What I also found unfortunate was that after the scene where Barclay gets relieved, Troi had no lines for the rest of the episode, even in the senior staff meeting. And NOBODY apologized to Barclay even after it was discovered that his arm sensation was due to something real, there were half-phased alien microbes floating around transporter beams, and he managed to rescue the entire science ship crew. Not ONE apology or acknowledgment that he wasn't crazy after all.

    This episode just sucks.

    Couple of things that stood out to me on rewatch - Laforge is a boob. Barclay is standing right in front of him clutching his throat (that's what it looks like, though apparently he's checking his pulse?) and he doesn't even notice. It takes DATA to notice, ask if he's okay, and report his concerns to Clueless Geordi.

    Second, in one conference Riker asks, "From where did the ionization come?" Please, is this something you can possibly imagine him saying? Picard, yes, although I would hope that by the 24th century this particular bit of pompous grammatical wrongness would finally have disappeared. But Riker? Never.

    One thing I did like was the way Barclay just fell over in despair in the counseling session (maybe not realistic, but funny). And also how he noticeably gained confidence after the senior staff took him seriously. I'm not at all a fan of Barclay, but I thought Schultz's acting was good.

    Data: "Structural reinforcement is at 240%."

    Why does that remind me of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom selling 25,000% of investor shares in The Producers? And that's more believable.

    Submit a comment

    ◄ Season Index