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The Trek Nation - Pathfinder

Pathfinder

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:21 PM GMT

See Also: 'Pathfinder' Episode Guide

Counselor Deanna Troi comes by to visit a disheveled Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, who is frantically trying to clean his apartment. She meets his cat Neelix, who tries to eat her diet ice cream, then asks Barclay about his work on the Pathfinder project. She has guessed correctly that he didn't invite her over just to reminisce about the Enterprise. Barclay admits that she's right - in fact, he's off the project, because he became obsessed with Voyager.

Barclay had an idea to use the deep space MIDAS array to contact Voyager. His plan involved sending a tachyon pulse from the transmitter into an itinerant pulsar, which would create an artificial wormhole and allow two-way communication with the lost ship. But Barclay's boss, Commander Pete Harkins, demanded that the engineer get busy on diagnostics for Admiral Paris. Harkins wanted Barclay to finish up his work, then take a break so his boss could introduce the lieutenant to his wife's sister. Barclay refused because he wanted to spend the evening with Neelix. "Isn't that your cat?" asked the disappointed commander, not realizing Barclay really meant a computer simulation of a Voyager crewmember.

Barclay entered Voyager's mess hall, where Chakotay and Torres (dressed in Maquis clothes) and Paris and Kim played cards with him. Tuvok wasn't there because he feared Reg's prowess. Later, the visitor got a massage from the EMH as a remedy for his insomnia, then slept in holographic quarters on the holographic ship. In the morning Barclay had to evade Paris and Kim's requests for his fabulous omelets and Torres' demand for engineering assistance. He needed to get to the meeting with the admiral back in the real world "to help some friends."

Commander Harkins briefed Admiral Paris on Voyager's probable location and said the Vulcans were working with Starfleet on a way to send a message to Voyager. Barclay interrupted to announce that he believed they might be able to establish two-way communication. Stuttering about using pulsar neutrino emissions and a singularity as a conduit to talk to Voyager, the lieutenant managed to get the admiral's attention. "What do we have to lose by trying?" demanded Barclay, but Harkins told his subordinate to take the rest of the day off, apologizing to the admiral for Barclay's outburst.

Troi asks Barclay how he felt about Harkins' dismissal, but he evades the question, telling her he needed to focus his thoughts instead of discussing it. "You went back to the holodeck, didn't you?" she guesses. Barclay tells the counselor that he needed engineering advice from the people on Voyager, but she is unmoved and suggests he was just looking for escape. "They're not people."

In the simulation, Barclay played catch with Chakotay while getting ideas from Torres, who had Janeway's authorization to work with the wandering engineer. But Harkins burst in on Barclay's simulation, saw the holographic characters, and guessed that the lieutenant had relapsed into his prior holo-addiction. Learning that the engineer had spent more than 20 hours a week on the holodeck with the Voyager crew, the commander recommended counseling. "What I need is for you to pay attention to my ideas!" exclaimed Barclay, but Harkins only apologized for not paying attention to his officer's emotional distress, and removed him from the project altogether. The next morning, Admiral Paris reluctantly agreed to see Barclay when the lieutenant visited his office. Paris said he was disturbed that someone had created a hologram of his son, yet promised to look into Barclay's ideas.

Telling Troi that the line was just a ploy to get rid of him, Barclay asks her to call the admiral and declare her former crewmate psychologically fit for duty. Troi says gently that she can't do that - not when Barclay is experiencing anxiety and paranoia. "Let Starfleet take care of Voyager," she suggests, but Barclay won't hear of it. He believes he is Voyager's best hope for contact with home...and besides, the holographic crew are the only friends he has. Since leaving the Enterprise family, he's been terribly lonely. "They're not real," she reminds him of his holograms, but he doesn't know how else to cope. Troi promises to take a leave of absence from the Enterprise to help him.

Late at night, Barclay wakes with Neelix on his chest and leaves for Starfleet. When his authorization code won't work, he breaks into the lab and interfaces with the MIDAS array, directing a beam towards the itinerant pulsar. He transmits a message to Voyager, but learns that it may take 17 minutes for the tachyon beam to create a strong enough power surge. While he waits for a response, Harkins and two security officers enter the lab, ordering Barclay to step away from the controls. He does, then orders the command codes switched to the holodeck, where he flees. Sending Tuvok and then Torres after Harkins' security officers, Barclay races to the bridge to try to redirect the message to the real Voyager. But Harkins enters the simulation and initiates a warp core breech, forcing Barclay to end the program.

On the real Voyager, Seven of Nine is sneering at Neelix's lack of singing talent when she identifies a Starfleet message coming through a micro-wormhole. Janeway hears Barclay's greeting and works with Kim to get a response through. As Harkins leads the disgraced engineer away, Admiral Paris enters to say he believes Barclay's idea has merit. The lieutenant is forced to admit he already tried it without authorization, and it didn't work. Just then Janeway's hail reaches Starfleet.

The micro-wormhole is already collapsing, but Paris sends through communication technology which may permit contact later on, and Janeway sends through Voyager's database and the crew logs to inform Starfleet of their progress so far. Admiral Paris asks her to tell his son that he misses him and he's proud of him. "He heard," Janeway says, with an hand on Tom Paris' shoulder, telling Starfleet to keep a docking bay open for Voyager. The admiral promises to do all they can to bring the ship home. Then the wormhole closes.

Barclay is sad his mission is over, but Paris assures him that Project Voyager is just beginning thanks to him. Later he shares a drink with Troi, telling her about his date with Harkins' sister-in-law Hope. On Voyager, the Doctor says he has read about Barclay's transporter-phobia and holo-addiction, but the Paris praises his work and proposes a toast making Barclay an honorary crewmember. They drink in his honor.

Analysis:

Allow me to start with a very, very shallow item: the hair. Oh my god, the hair. Torres in Maquis clothes without the godawful frizzy perm, Chakotay in Maquis clothes without the pompadour, both a sight for sore eyes. And Janeway, oh so sleek and lovely in the bun of steel. It's amazing the difference that bun makes: gives her stature and gravity by drawing the viewer's eyes up instead of down, sharpens her cheekbones, makes her look more serious and at the same time more confident. It's a small, superficial matter, but since she got rid of the bun I understood why people made such a big deal over hair in the first place.

Or maybe it's not the hair; maybe it's that none of them were standing in the warped curves of the shadow of Seven of Nine. Oh, to be on Barclay's Voyager, where everyone may worship him, but at least they don't have to listen to her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, which was a bit slow and had too little Troi and not nearly enough payoff...but it had even less of the aforementioned Seven of Nine, and these days that can be enough to make an episode good. I can't say we got a nice reunion with earlier versions of the Voyager crew because we didn't; we got to meet Barclay's fantasy versions of them, who worshipped at his feet, yet they seemed so cheerful and relaxed that it was hard not to like them anyway.

The real Voyager is a great argument for Barclay's case. Those people need to get home and soon, because they're following a captain who's so obsessed with the idea, she's interfering with their ability to make a life for themselves on her ship. It's nice to see a bit of resolution to Paris' feud with his father, contrived though it was; tell me Janeway wouldn't have been screaming a warning about Species 8472 instead of encouraging reunions. Robbie McNeill did a lovely subtle job in the final scenes, proving that he can act really well when he isn't limited to Captain Proton caricature, or getting drop-kicked into love scenes with B'Elanna Torres.

I was even impressed with the continuity until the enormous error at the end, when the crew failed to recognize the name "Reginald Barclay." We know from the episode "Projections" that he was one of the programmers of the EMH, and a holographic version of Barclay interacted extensively with the Doctor in that episode. Guess it was one of those memory-wipe things. Like I said, I enjoyed this episode, so I chose not to care. "Pathfinder" made me nostalgic for the days when I thought Troi's costumes were outrageous, having no idea of the offensiveness yet to come. It even made me nostalgic for the days when her emotional counseling could get on my nerves, because I had no idea I'd be faced with a captain who would have a nervous breakdown every three weeks or so.

Most of all, "Pathfinder" made me nostalgic for the days when "holo-addiction" meant something. In an upcoming episode, the aforementioned captain who is already prone to nervous breakdowns is going to fall in love with a hologram. I'm sort of relieved Voyager aired this rehash of TNG's excellent "Hollow Pursuits" beforehand, so that when I call Janeway an incompetent hazard in need of therapy, it will be clear that it's not just personal prejudice but Starfleet precedent. I feel for Barclay, and I'm glad he's got a friend like Deanna. I'm also glad his idea worked and he'll regain some self-confidence. But they were all right when they said he needed help. Even if some good ultimately comes out of the captain finding a holographic love toy, it won't stop me from gagging at the basic concept. Can any of us imagine Troi counseling Picard for a similar problem?

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.