Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hollow Pursuits [3.21]

Diagnostic engineer Reg Barclay is too nervous and insecure to perform his duties on board the Enterprise effectively, but finds solace and catharsis in a series of elaborate fantasies lived out on the holodeck, with false and often unflattering re-creations of the senior staff as characters.  Reg attempts to help Geordi and the rest of the crew explain a series of bizarre and apparently unrelated malfunctions, but in the process has his secret holodeck life exposed.  In the end, he is able to help the find the answer to the problem and save the ship, ultimately leaving his holo-addiction behind.

Written by Sally Caves. Directed by Cliff Bole.

Previous Episode: Tin ManNext Episode: The Most Toys

Comments:
Hollow Pursuits is a hugely enjoyable episode.  Like several others of late (Tin Man, The Hunted), it really focuses on a guest star, but in this case Lt. Reg Barclay is so enjoyable that he right away feels like part of the family.  Having him played by a recognizable TV star like Dwight Schultz does not hurt in creating this effect, but the writing of the character stands strongly on its own as well.  He’s made to be likeable and refreshingly flawed.  As Picard says, he’s not used to seeing a negative performance appraisal of one of his crew, and it’s obvious why this is:  usually they are written as unnaturally well-balanced.  Though Barclay’s nervousness is extreme, it’s great to see such a foible played out.  It’s also great to see the irritation and impatience that he brings out in the regular crew.

The plot of Hollow Pursuits is pretty simple, but is more than enough to carry the episode through.  One of the real treats of the story is seeing so much of the action taking place amongst the engineering crew.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen Geordi have engineers to actually be chief to, but there’s never been so many before.  And it is the first time we’ve gotten a glimpse of what his role really consists of, with daily staff briefings and a big checklist of jobs to do, systems to maintain, and so on.  It actually adds a lot of depth to his character.  And even though most of them don’t talk (for union purposes, I’m sure), at least having Geordi, Wesley, Barclay and Lt. Duffy all present to play off each other means that this is not too obvious – especially the excellent scene where they figure out what is going on.  The focus on each of these characters makes this episode really the first crack at a “lower decks” type story that the series has had (where we focus on the “ordinary” crewmen rather than the senior staff), and it’s a welcome approach.

Of course, the real highlight of the episode are Barclay’s holodeck fantasies.  There is not a parody amongst them who is not hilarious.  From the slobbish Wesley to the vague and airheaded Beverly to the romantic fantasy of Troi, there is one good laugh after another.  I particularly enjoy seeing Picard,  Data and Geordi play three musketeers in the scene where they confront Riker and company – they’ve got some great banter.  But of course it’s hard to beat out on the short and spunky Riker for pure comic gold.  Watching the real Riker and Troi confront their holodeck counterparts would make the whole episode worthwhile, even if the rest of it were not already good.

The ending is a nice touch, though it’s not too hard to figure out.  I read somewhere that originally Barclay was going to leave the crew to go check into a hospital or something.  If so, I’m glad they changed it, and I’m glad we’ll get to see Lt. Barclay again.

Shout Out to the Past:
• There’s a fairly direct, though not detailed, reference to Geordi’s experiences on the holodeck in Booby Trap

Setting Up the Future:
• As mentioned, Barclay will re-appear again, I think about once per season from here on.  He’ll also show up in one of the movies and then in a bunch of Voyager episodes, some with Deanna Troi.

Guest Cast:
• Dwight Schultz makes his debut as as Lt. Barclay, a role he’ll play about a dozen times across the Star Trek franchise.  He is of course best known as “Howling Mad” Murdock from the TV series, The A Team.

• Charley Lang appears as Lt. Duffy.  He’s appeared as a congressman in a few episodes of The West Wing, and also appeared in a few episodes of Murphy Brown as the lead character’s second secretary.

Observations:
• My first thought at the start is that Troi is wearing a nice dress.  This makes especial sense once you realize it’s a holodeck fantasy.

• On the holodeck, when you save a program, it also automatically quits for some reason.  I’m glad my computer doesn’t do that.

• Good line of Picard trying to shut down the unkind “Broccoli” nickname:  “Lets just get that uncaught, shall we?”  I also like his counsel to Geordi on dealing with Barclay, “Try harder, Geordi.  He’s a member of your team…I suggest you put your personal discomfort on one side, Commander.  Dismissed.”

• In the briefing scene, Wesley is the perfect foil to work against Barclay.  He is completely true to his character, jumping in with all of his suggestions.

• A bit of trivia:  the Enterprise has 4000 power systems.

• And of course, another great moment is Picard getting Barclay’s name wrong, which also leads to a very funny Data moment:  “Metathesis is one of the most common of pronunciations errors, sir.”

• Guinan’s outfit is particularly strange.  It sounds like her mother is still alive.

• I’m glad O’Brien tests those transporters.  Good line of Geordi’s:  “Glad I don’t have anywhere to go.”

• There’s some toxic substance which could kill everyone that the Enterprise sensors can’t scan for?  Uh, that seems like the sort of thing you should fix.

• Beverly only appears in this episode in her holodeck form.

Dialogue High Point
It is really hard to argue with Troi’s holodeck catchphrase, and subsequent lines (edited together here for convenience)

I am the goddess of empathy.  Cast off your inhibitions and embrace love, truth, joy.  Discard your facades and reveal your true being to me!  Cast aside your masks and let me slip into your minds.

Previous Episode: Tin ManNext Episode: The Most Toys

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One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hollow Pursuits [3.21]

  1. This episode is hilarious, and just so much fun to watch. Good ol’ Lt. Broccoli is one of th best recurring characters, up there with Q. And his Holodeck fantasies are wonderfully absurd. Just a great episode.

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