Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Hollow Pursuits”

hollowpursuits021“Hollow Pursuits”
Written by Sally Caves
Directed by Cliff Bole

Season 3, Episode 21
Original air date: April 30, 1990
Star date: 43807.4

Mission summary

A lieutenant engineer we’ve never seen before, Barclay, is drinking in Ten Forward when La Forge reminds him that he’s on duty. Barclay blows off his superior, then wrestles even Commander Riker into submission and sends the two of them packing, while Counselor Troi looks on avidly. Just as she’s throwing herself at him, he’s ordered to report to one of the cargo bays. Guess they’ll have to pick this up later, which it turns out will be easy as easy as saying “Save program,” because he’s been playing out a fantasy on the holodeck.

Meanwhile, in Cargo Bay 5, the real La Forge is griping about Barclay’s unsatisfactory work ethic with the real Riker, who says it may be time to bring “Broccoli” to Picard’s attention. When Barclay finally arrives, he stutters an excuse and reveals his true self as seemingly bumbling and incompetent. A ruptured container of Mikulak tissue samples–needed to stop an epidemic on their planet–must be disposed of, and shortly afterward, an antigrav unit malfunctions with no discernible cause.

While Barclay tries to get to the bottom of the problem, La Forge and Riker bring their concerns to Picard, citing his worrisome history of “seclusive tendencies.” Picard insists that La Forge work harder to bring Barclay out of his shell and give him a chance, by becoming his best friend if he has to. The reluctant chief engineer gives Barclay more opportunities to show his worth, but the lieutenant continues to disappoint him. He’s shown up by Ensign Crusher in a staff meeting, which sends him back to his refuge in the holodeck, into the waiting arms of his Troi simulation, who in one program becomes his “goddess of empathy.” Ew.

A new mystery soon presents itself: Duffy’s glass starts leaking in Ten Forward. This is no prank–it seems that the molecular structure of the glass has somehow been altered. La Forge tasks Barclay with checking over the ship’s 4,000 power systems to see if they could have caused it, which he was already planning to do in his investigation of the antigrav failure. La Forge credits him with suggesting that the two events are somehow linked.

After Guinan lectures La Forge for judging Barclay because he doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the crew, he looks for the lieutenant, who he naturally finds in a holodeck. Barging into his program, La Forge discovers Barclay’s dirty little secret: another simulation in which he handily defeats Picard, La Forge, and Data in the guise of the Three Musketeers, with Dr. Crusher and Wesley watching on, decked out in Regency clothing.

Barclay is sheepish and ready to hand in his resignation, but La Forge knows a little something about unhealthy holodeck behavior, and they share a Moment.

LAFORGE: Now, as far as I’m concerned what you do in the holodeck is your own business, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.
BARCLAY: You’re, you’re not going to tell anyone about this?
LAFORGE: I don’t think everybody would appreciate your imagination like I do. It is kind of unusual, recreating people you already know.
BARCLAY: Well, it was just– I needed to blow off some steam because one, one of the officers had been getting on my back.
LAFORGE: Let me guess.
BARCLAY: It was you, and I just couldn’t tell you what I wanted to tell you to your face, so it just sort of got out of control.
LAFORGE: I don’t know. There’s a part of this that’s kind of therapeutic. Maybe you ought to talk to Counselor Troi about it.
BARCLAY: It’s, it’s, I, when I’m in there I’m just more comfortable. You don’t know what a struggle this has been for me, Commander.
LAFORGE: I’d like to help, if I can.
BARCLAY: Being afraid all the time, of forgetting somebody’s name, not knowing what to do with your hands. I mean, I’m the guy who writes down things to remember to say when there’s a party. And then when he finally get there, he winds up alone in the corner trying to look comfortable examining a potted plant.
LAFORGE: You’re just shy, Barclay.
BARCLAY: Just shy. Sounds like nothing serious, doesn’t it? You can’t know.

La Forge looks into a brand new malfunction in one of the transporter rooms and orders Barclay to get some professional help from Troi. Barclay can’t get away from the actual counselor quickly enough; he runs back to his holodeck program, where he naps with his head lying in Dr. Crusher’s lap. And that’s where Riker, Troi, and La Forge find him a short while later. Troi confronts her goddess simulation and Riker encounters a shorter, scrappier version of himself that does not amuse. Awkward.

There’s no time to lay into Barclay for his extracurricular activities, because the matter-antimatter injectors are now malfunctioning and he and La Forge are needed in Engineering. Enterprise is accelerating to dangerous speeds that will tear them apart if they can’t get to the bottom of the shipwide failures in time.

The engineering crewmembers brainstorm possible explanations, but what could cause completely unrelated occurrences like a broken antigrav, a distorted glass, a wonky transporter, and the latest issue with the injectors? They’re baffled, until Barclay’s creativity sparks an unusual idea: The crew is the connection they’re looking for! He posits that they have been transmitting something from system to system that has been disrupting their functions, something the ship’s sensors doesn’t normally pick up.

Some quick work with the computer and they track down the foreign element, invidium, as well as the source: the broken Mikulak container from the beginning of the episode! Then it’s a simple matter of flooding the injectors with some cooling stuff that will freeze the invidium and render it inert–just in time to slow the ship down and save everyone aboard. Phew. “Glad you were with us out here in the real world today, Mr. Barclay,” La Forge says.

Having become a contributing member of the Enterprise crew, Barclay says good-bye to his holodeck Bridge crew and erases all his programs–except love program number nine.

hollowpursuits153

Analysis

I’m afraid I don’t have anything too insightful to say about this episode. I think it’s really only operating on a couple of superficial, but nearly contradictory levels: 1) Indulging your fantasies is bad, and 2) Don’t judge people at face value.

I have to say that I always used to like this episode, but the gags that entertained me when I was thirteen only make me wince now, which perhaps suggests that it’s also operating on a fairly juvenile level. (I’m primarily referring to the holodeck simulations of Deanna Troi, which are about as cringeworthy as anything Quark would have dreamed up in his holosuites on DS9. That isn’t a good thing.) I think many viewers are meant to sympathize with Barclay and his inherent awkwardness–and I remember liking his character, overall, especially in later episodes–but the way he has cast the women in his fantasies doesn’t speak well of him. Yes, it’s his fantasy, but I wish they weren’t so sexual and submissive.

But of course, here I am judging Barclay, just like the others do, and we’re none of us meant to see inside his head this way. So I assume this is part of the point, and it’s intended to make us feel uncomfortable.

So I worry that the message of this episode is that it’s better to live in the real world than a fake one, that there’s something wrong with being introverted and seclusive. This is a troubling takeaway for someone like me who spent a good portion of his childhood in fantasy worlds between the covers of books, not to mention watching shows like this. But it does seem more likely to me that the point, if there is one, is to exercise moderation–that the fantasies shouldn’t interfere with living your actual life, and perhaps there’s some value in that.

Barclay doesn’t delete his programs because there’s something wrong with them or with him, but because he doesn’t need them anymore; he’s finding his place outside the holodeck with the rest of the crew, and perhaps learning to respect his shipmates more, as demonstrated by his admission to Geordi: “The people I create in there are more real to me than anyone I meet out here, except maybe you, Commander.” And he isn’t giving it all up entirely, since he holds onto program nine, whatever that might be.

It’s also worth noting that this episode doesn’t paint the rest of the crew in the best light either, particularly with their nickname for Barclay and their lack of respect for his privacy. The cracks in Roddenberry’s perfect future are showing, and it turns out that the Enterprise officers are human after all.

The B-plot isn’t anything new either: Mysterious malfunctions on the ship that put them all in danger. Yawn. I don’t even think the reveal that the broken cargo container was responsible is much of a surprise, nor the plot development that Barclay comes through in the end, though the diagnosis and solution aren’t necessarily predictable.

In the end, this seems rather one-note and less enjoyable or interesting than it seemed before I grew up.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

hollowpursuits135Thread Alert: It seems pretty clear that the outfits on the holodeck are supposed to be cheesy and awful, and Wesley’s is the best of the lot. The pie is a particularly nice touch.

Best Line: PICARD: Broccoli?
RIKER: Young Mister Crusher started that. I guess it’s caught on.
PICARD: Let’s just get that uncaught, shall we?

Trivia/Other Notes: This was Dwight Schultz’s first of many TNG appearances as Reginald Barclay, a role he would even reprise on Star Trek: Voyager. He was a lifelong fan of Star Trek and was recommended for a part by Whoopi Goldberg.

Wesley’s holodeck outfit was modeled after Thomas Gainsborough’s painting “The Blue Boy.”

Barclay mentions a “flux capacitor” to holo Troi, though he may have meant to say “flow capacitor.”

Geordi refers to his holoprogram of Leah Brahms in “Booby Trap,” and O’Brien and Worf will reminisce about this episode in DS9’s “Image in the Sand.”


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 20 – “Tin Man.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 22 – “The Most Toys.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.