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The Trek Nation - Hollow Pursuits

Hollow Pursuits

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 12, 2008 - 10:17 PM GMT

See Also: 'Hollow Pursuits' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: LaForge is having a problem with Lieutenant Barclay, who is often late for work and seems nervous and uninspired when he arrives. Barclay can't even manage to repair a simple malfunction in an anti-gravity platform, causing it to collapse and overturn a canister of alien tissue samples. While Picard advises LaForge to find a way to connect with the troubled officer, Barclay goes to hide on the holodeck, where he has made recreations of many of the ship's senior crewmembers so that he can put LaForge and Riker in their place and "relax" with Counselor Troi. LaForge later finds him there in a simulation where Barclay is the master of a fantasy estate with the crew as his subordinates. Having fallen in love with Leah Brahms on the holodeck, LaForge is sympathetic and agrees not to tell anyone Barclay's secret. But when Riker can't find Barclay to investigate another in a series of malfunctions plaguing the ship, he goes to the holodeck with Troi, where the two discover simulated versions of themselves that irritate them. Before they have time to discuss discipline, however, the ship suffers from a series of system failures that will lead to its destruction if not resolved. Barclay hypothesizes that the malfunctions stem from something in one of the canisters of alien samples, and LaForge proves him correct. Having saved the ship, Barclay decides to delete his holographic fantasy world.


Analysis: While it's easy to believe that there are socially incompetent nerds in Starfleet, it's hard to believe that there's anyone so unable to work in a team or control his nerves to offer suggestions on Picard's Enterprise as Barclay. His characterization has always seemed rather over-the-top to me, and as a result, what should be a solid episode about the unique contributions of someone who follows a different drummer - someone like Data, who gets picked on for being an android, or Worf, who gets picked on for growling - takes on the feeling of an After School Special for all the awkward geeks whom the writers suppose to be Star Trek's core audience. In this storyline, the main characters all see themselves as just terrific and Barclay as the awkward outsider; there's no attempt to relate to him by someone like Riker, who seems to buy into Barclay's perception of him as the Homecoming King, or even Wesley, who gives Barclay the nickname "Broccoli" even though Wesley unquestionably knows what it's like to be picked on for not fitting in. We get no insight whatsoever into the regular characters; only LaForge even makes an effort to relate to Barclay in terms of their common insecurities, and no recognition that anyone else ever uses the holodeck for, oh, getting laid, despite the fact that we've already met Riker's Minuet.

I'll come clean: I know I'm supposed to be grateful to get some insight into what life in Starfleet is like for someone outside the top crew, but I've always felt that "Hollow Pursuits" really condescends to fans. Forget your forms of escapism, it seems to be saying, and live in the real world! Throw out your fantasy objects and pay more attention to your job! Okay...so we should turn off the television, stop going to conventions, and by all means give up any erotic daydreams we may have about Counselor Troi? I'm one who found William Shatner's "Get a Life!" routine on Saturday Night Live hilarious, but Shatner was at that point in a career slump, living with the fame of being Captain Kirk without an attendant career boost because no one could see him as anything else. For Star Trek's writers, who are getting paid to produce strange new worlds for fans to explore, to produce an episode about how some people are too involved with the characters and should pay more attention to the real world...um, all right, I'll stop watching your show and buying your products, and by the way could you be consistent enough to give Kathryn Janeway a real boyfriend instead of a holographic one when you get to her, so we don't think female captains are pathetic losers?

Part of what's appealing about Star Trek is that none of the major characters are paragons. Data's a super-genius, but he can't relate to human emotions or even appreciate a good joke. Wesley's a genius too, but he has so much trouble making friends his own age that his mother frets over her own failures in regard to her well-behaved son. Troi's empathy leaves her emotionally involved at moments when others need dispassionate insights from a counselor. Worf's the only Klingon on a ship of mostly humans, with a temper they disdain and little patience with human humor. LaForge knows better than anyone that what happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Even Picard has his flaws; he has difficulty putting up with the children on his ship, he's so uptight that he has to be nudged by his senior staff into taking a vacation, he has unresolved issues with the widow of his onetime best friend who also happens to be his CMO. Of course, the audience knows things about them that other officers on the ship wouldn't know, but I'd expect a little more sympathy from them and a little more of a glimpse by Barclay into their limitations. As Data points out to Picard when Picard screws up and calls Barclay "Broccoli" to his face, everyone screws up -- surely someone could point that out to Barclay, too.

Given how full of themselves the senior officers seem to be, it's actually delightful to see them get their comeuppance -- in the first holodeck scenario, Barclay beats up LaForge and Riker, which turns Troi on, and in a later one, he casts Picard, LaForge and Data as the Three Musketeers, with Wesley as a sullen squire, Riker as a subpar swordsman and Troi as the Goddess of Empathy, a hilarious portrayal that displeases the counselor, who had initially found Barclay's holographic fantasy world to be harmless and therapeutic. Of course, she doesn't know that she's already been his lover in two other holographic scenarios, though he can't even sit through a breathing exercise with her during a counseling session. Is that sexual harrassment, or not if it stays on the holodeck? Betcha anything Riker has similar fantasies about Troi; is he less of a loser for it because he actually has a chance with her? How about Worf, who has no chance at present but will later on? How about Wesley ("Master Barclay will spank you if you misbehave")? How about your average Star Trek fan?

The disaster storyline that gives Barclay his turn to save the ship feels contrived and rushed. We never get a solid answer about what causes the initial malfunction to the antigrav unit, presumably before that unit's failure caused the compromise of other ship's systems, so are we to understand that Barclay only made up for his own mistake in the first place? There are some nice scenes with LaForge and Barclay thinking through the problem, but the rest of the engineering staff comes across as arrogant, mean, and not all that bright. You'd think someone would have noticed that, too, before Barclay became paralyzed trying to work with them. I don't find Reg as annoying as the self-righteous people who feel so sorry for themselves for having to work with him.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.