Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Nth Degree [4.19]

During a repair mission, a unknown energy causes changes in Lt. Barclay’s personality, leading him to become super-intelligent, and eventually to transfer his higher brain functions into the ship’s computer and take it over.  Against Picard’s wishes, he takes the Enterprise to another location at impossible speeds, where it turns out that he is simply responding to an exploration method by friendly aliens that sit at the center of the galaxy.

Written by Joe Menosky. Directed by Robert Legato.

Previous Episode: Identity Crisis • Next Episode: Qpid

Comments:
Barclay is back!

One of the most entertaining guest characters over the whole series makes his return appearance, and while not as iconic as what we saw in Hollow Pursuits, it’s still enjoyable,  gives Dwight Schultz plenty to do, and takes Barclay forward.

The Nth Degree is an offbeat story, featuring a tried and true science fiction idea (alien interference changing a person), but done in a friendly and engaging way.  We’ve even seen it before on Star Trek, all the way back to the second Original Series pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and thankfully, the regular characters seem alert to the ominous potential that such an event could have. The episode manages to successfully keep the tension increasing until it is revealed that there really isn’t any danger or malice afoot, without that ending feeling cheap.

Building a story like this around a popular guest character like Barclay is an effective move.  It gives us more reason to feel uncertain about Barclay’s final fate than we would if it were any of the regulars, while still keeping us emotionally involved.  Dwight Schultz does a good job as nervous Barclay (though I have a hard time imagining him acting his little drama group – that feels like a bit of an excuse for Star Trek to play dress-up, but that’s how those scenes often feel) and his transition to confident, suave, super-genius Barclay is accompanied by the right combination of menace and humor.

The icing on the cake for the episode is the portrayal of the Cytherians at the conclusion.  Powerful, overwhelming, but so straightforwardly nice.  Picard’s dialog with them is a bit of a highlight, and they make a refreshing change from all the powerful but cruel or thoughtless beings they normally bump into.

Shout Out to the Past:
There are several eference back to Hollow Pursuits, and Reg’s holodeck withdrawal.

Guest Cast:
• Jim Norton plays the holodeck Albert Einstein.  He will reappear in that role one more time.  He also had a part on Babylon 5 (Dr. Lazarenn) and Father Ted (Bishop Brennan) as well as others.

• Kay E. Kuter (Cytherian) has had parts on Deep Space 9, V, The Outer Limits, the 80’s version of The Twilight ZoneThe X Files, the film Guys and Dolls, and in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction as a character called Newt Kiley.

• Page Leong (Ensign April Anaya) has shown up in small parts in Argo and The Bourne Legacy, and others.

• David Coburn (Ensign Browser) played a Minbari Ranger in a Babylon Five TV Movie, and played the voice of Captain Planet in a whole lot of animated TV episodes.

Observations:
• Cyrano de Bergerac, instead of Shakespeare.  Seems like a bit of an extreme part to plunge someone like Barclay into.

• Troi’s smartly makes the contrast between Reg’s previous fantasy life and acting.  “This isn’t fantasy, it’s theatre. You used to withdraw onto the holodeck. You isolated yourself inside your own imagination, avoiding contact with real people. Look at yourself now. Look at all the other people you’re with. You’re not just acting, you’re interacting. Give yourself some credit, Mister Barclay.”

• There’s a lot of to-do about the difference between phasers and photon torpedoes here.  I know they are different things but the technical specifics escape me.

• Reg’s change is so abrupt after his space incident, and so many strange things happen to so many members of the crew so often, you’d think someone would be reacting quicker.

• Like the last Barclay episode, we see that engineering really has a lot of people in it.  It’s nice.

• Speaking of engineers, I fully assumed that there was going to be a bit with Barclay romancing Lt. Linda Larson from engineering.  Nothing like this takes place, and Lt. Larson’s role is limited to just doing engineering stuff.

• Funny line from Troi about whether Barclay has done anything foreboding:  “Well, he did make a pass at me last night.  A good one.”  Riker’s response is predictable but funny.

• A strong candidate for the most memorable line of the show is Barclay’s line to the computer when his demands exceed it’s capacity:  “No problem. Here’s how you build it.”

• If Barclay was dangerous, than how is it helpful for Deanna to tell him that they’re trying to stop him?

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
Picard doesn’t do anything significant in the story, so it’d play pretty much the same in our alternate universe.  Except that perhaps my Dialogue High Point might not have been as good.

Goofy Fan Theory
Check it out now!

Dialogue High Point
As I’ve already mentioned, the highlight is really the conversation with the Cytherians at the end.

ALIEN:  Emotive. Electro-chemical stimulus response. Cranial plate, bipedal locomotion, endoskeletal. Contiguous external integument.
PICARD: I’m Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise.
ALIEN: Hierarchical collective command structure.
PICARD: Who are you?
ALIEN: Interrogative.
PICARD: I am interrogative, yes, and I would appreciate an explanation.

Previous Episode: Identity Crisis • Next Episode: Qpid

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