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Hollow Pursuits

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 4
Disc No : 3.5 Episode : 68
First Aired : 30 Apr 1990 Stardate : 43807.4
Director : Cliff Bole Year : 2366
Writers : Sally Caves Season : 3
Guest Cast :
Brent Spiner as Musketeer-Data
Charley Lang as Lieutenant Duffey
Colm Meaney as Miles Edward O'Brien
Dwight Schultz as Lieutenant Reginald Barclay
Gates McFadden as Holo-Beverley
Jonathan Frakes as Holo-Riker
Jonathan Frakes as Musketeer-Riker
LeVar Burton as Holo-Geordi
LeVar Burton as Musketeer-Geordi
Marina Sirtis as Holo-Troi
Marina Sirtis as The Goddess of Empathy
Patrick Stewart as Musketeer-Picard
Wil Wheaton as Holo-Wesley
Moral :
Fantasies : Well be honest, you would if you could...
YATI : Twice in this episode people walk in on Barclay playing in the holodeck, embarrasing him immensely. I don't know about you, but I would really, REALLY want to lock the door if I was on a holodeck. Yet there is no indication that anybody over rides a lock in order to get into the holodeck, they just walk in.
Great Moment : I absolutely love the bit where Troi, Riker and Geordi come across the 'Goddess of Empathy', most epsecially Geordi's stunned reaction.
Body Count : Zero.
Factoid : The transporter test objects seen in this episode are actually casings for US Navy sonar bouys.

Dwight Schultz was a long-time fan of Star Trek, and had asked Rick Berman if he could be on the show if the right part ever came around. He also mentioned being a fan to Whoopi Goldberg when they worked together, and she also recommended him to the producers. The producers were so keen on the idea that they wrote the part of Lieutenant Barclay specifically with him in mind.

Barclay mentions a flux capacitor to the holographic version of Troi in one of their sessions. The flux capacitor is the device that makes time travel possible in the Back to the Future movies. This may be an error (or deliberate joke) since the actual device Wesley referred to was a flow capacitor!

Some have felt that Barclay was intended as a satire of fans who are obsessed with Star Trek (people like me, essentially). The producers and director of the episode deny that this was their intent. Michael Piller commented that of all the characters on the show, Barclay was the one most like himself.

Plotline

The Enterprise-D is on a mission to transport biological tissue samples to Nhami IV to assist in the treatment of Correllium fever on that world. The arrival of the samples is complicated when an antigrav lifting unit malfunctions, causing one of the containers to fall over and spring a small leak. Geordi assigns Lieutenant Barclay to the problem, but confides in Riker that Barclay is a problem in his department. The engineer is always late, never seems to give his best effort, and is constantly nervous around other people. So bad is the problem that Ensign Crusher has dubbed him "Lieutenant Broccoli" in order to mock him behind his back.

We see that in private, Barclay is a very different person. He enjoys creating holodeck programs based around elements of his life, either directly based on the Enterprise-D or taking simulations of the crew and placing them in other scenarios. In these fantasies Barclay is smarter, bolder, and more skilled than everybody else in every way - he frequently bests others in duels, either with swordplay or unarmed combat. In turn, he is often rewarded by romantic (and, by implication, sexual) liaisons with Deanna Troi.

Geordi wants to transfer Barclay off the Enterprise-D, but Captain Picard refuses. He is unaccustomed to seeing poor performance reviews for personnel on his ship, especially since Barclay came highly recommended by his last commanding officer, Captain Gleason - though Riker wonders if Gleason didn't perhaps exaggerate his effectiveness in order to get rid of him. Picard and asks Geordi to befriend Barclay and discover what is troubling him.

Geordi tries to do this, including Barclay in the regular Engineering meeting and bringing him to the bridge. The former just embarrasses Barclay more when Wesley interrupts him to "correct" his advice, whilst the latter ends on an even worse note when Captain Picard accidentally calls him "Lieutenant Broccoli" to his face.

Barclay responds by again retreating to the holodeck for more time with Deanna, who refers to herself as "The Goddess of Empathy."

Geordi chats to Guinan about Barclay, noting that he is difficult to deal with and that everybody dislikes him. Guinan wonders if perhaps he isn't difficult to deal with because everybody dislikes him, cautioning Geordi to keep a more open mind to those who are different. Geordi decides to visit Barclay in the holodeck, where he walks in one one of his simulations of the bridge crew.

Geordi tries not to be too judgmental, remembering how he once fell in love with a holodeck recreation (a reference to Dr. Leah Brahms in the episode "Galaxy's Child". He advises Barclay to see the real Counsellor Troi for therapy, which Barclay tries, but the session does not go well and he quickly retreats to the holodeck again.

Meanwhile, odd equipment malfunctions have been showing up on the ship. A glass in Ten Forward seemed to partially dissolve in a person's hand. A transporter test run resulted in the test object appearing on the pad badly deformed. There appears to be no correlation between the events, and the crew is at a loss to explain them.

When Barclay fails to show up for a meeting with Commander Riker, Riker takes Geordi and Troi to the holodeck to find him. They take a quick tour through one of his fantasy worlds, finding a version of Wesley who constantly sits stuffing his face, a rather short version of Riker, and senior officers who do little more than fight amongst themselves and wax lyrical about Barclay's skill as a master swordsman. Riker is offended, though Troi writes it off as merely harmless fantasy - until they meet a scantily clad "Goddess of Empathy" who urges them to discard their inhibitions and embrace love. A stunned Geordi can only watch as Troi becomes furious as Riker mocks her.

On the bridge, the ship suddenly jumps to warp 7.25 when the matter-antimatter injectors lock open for a split second. The error is corrected, but there is no explanation. Picard calls Geordi to get him working on the problem, and suggests he get Barclay involved as well. They find the Engineer sleeping in the program and wake him, embarrassing him further.

Barclay and Geordi set to work on the problem. The warp engines malfunction again, refusing to drop the ship to impulse or to respond to diagnostic commands. Instead the ship begins to accelerate out of control. The Engineers struggle to understand what is happening, but no answer explains the problem as all the recent malfunctions involve widely disparate systems with little in common. Suddenly Barclay theorises that perhaps the engineers themselves are the common link, since they interact with all of the affected systems - perhaps they have been spreading some form of contamination around the ship.

A quiz of the computer indicates that there are fifteen thousand five hundred twenty five known substances that cannot be detected by standard internal scans. Most cannot survive in an Oxygen atmosphere, leaving five hundred thirty two possible contaminants. Narrowing further to those that could alter the molecular structure of glass leaves five. One, Jakmanite, is eliminated because it has a half has a half life of fifteen seconds and sou couldn't last long enough to spread. To more, Selgninaem and lucovexitrin, are so toxic that they would have killed everybody. This leaves saltzgadum and invidium - and invidium is used in medical sample containers, which the Enterprise-D is transporting. A quick test confirms that the broken container leaked invidium which they crew then spread around.

The solution is to cool the affected systems down, since invidium becomes inert below -200 degrees celsius. This works, unlocking the injectors and allowing them to shut down the warp drive. Geordi congratulates Barclay for his contribution, noting that he is glad the Engineer was with them in the real world today.

Barclay goes to the bridge and lets the senior officers know that he has made the decision to leave the ship - but then we see he is actually speaking of the holographic recreation, which he has decided to shut down. He deletes his programs as he leaves, pausing to tell the computer to leave one of his favourites. We are thus left with the impression that Barclay is not quite cured of his addiction.

Analysis

In common with "Tin Man", this episode has the advantage that it delves into the negative side of an established facet of Trek, but also shares the weakness that it doesn't really explore the details around it all that fully.

It's to be very much commended that Hollow Pursuits has one of the better uses of the Holodeck in all of Star Trek. For once the thing isn't malfunctioning and threatening to kill people, and it isn't blurring the line between fantasy and reality in a literal sense - rather, we're looking at what the effect might be on people if they are able to immerse themselves in a fantasy world that is exactly as they want it down to every last completely realistic detail. Of course some people are going to find their holodeck worlds feeling more appealing than their real lives!

The nature of Barclay's fantasies is interesting, if perhaps a little conventional. He eggs up his own ego by making himself the best at everything. He puts himself into social situations in which he dominates those who would normally dominate himself. He makes those who threaten his ego in the real world into figures of fun and contempt. And, of course, he has attractive women who don't notice him in the real world swooning over him on the holodeck. It's all standard stuff, but in that sense it's quite grounded and realistic since it's what many of use would do.

We might now all want to spend our time sword fighting or beating up on Riker, but I'm sure every person reading this has a pretty good idea of the kinds of worlds they would create in the holodeck. I know I certainly do. As for the level of addiction, whilst many would no doubt be able to have fun for an hour and then walk away, certainly we would expect there to be those who wanted more, and more, and more.

And it's nice to see the crew dealing with a crewmember who isn't the best for a change. I know it's the Federation flagship and gets the cream of the crop and all that, but with a thousand people on board surely personnel problems will crop up from time to time, so seeing this one adds a touch of realism.

The problem of the week is also a reasonable one. It's not overly technobabbly - there is a fair bit of weird substance names and such thrown in there, but at heart the problem is that they got this stuff on them and they've spread it around and it's breaking things. Simple, quite understandable, and well within the bounds of reason. Barclay's suggestion that they might be the ones spreading the stuff makes sense, but it's also especially good that they don't go too far into Mary Sue (Gary Sue) territory by making him the problem solver whilst Geordi and the others stand around admiring him. Yes, Barclay provides the initial idea, but it's Geordi who then quizzes the computer about the possible substances, and who narrows it down to five possibilities. Wesley eliminates two of those, Duffy thinks to mention the broken canister, and everyone works together to implement the solution. It's a genuine team effort, with Barclay acting as a crucial piece but not as the only one.

It's also nice to see that he doesn't get a miracle cure at the end of the episode. Yes, he winds up more confident and being able to relate better to at least a couple of people, and yes he deletes most of his programs, but he does save that one, so it's not simply a cure. And that's realistic too, since in the real world addicts are rarely if ever able to simply give up their addictions. Anybody wanna bet the program he kept was one of the ones with the Goddess of Empathy in it?

What's the downside? Well, like Tin Man, the episode really highlights that Trek has this technology but nobody in universe or out has ever really delved into the rules concerning it. Is what Barclay did in any way against regulations? Riker declares that it is "a violation of protocol" to simulate crewmembers on the holodeck, and when Geordi objects that he doesn't think there is an actual regulation against it, comments that there ought to be. He then tries to erase the program, something Troi overrides.

The thing is, issues like this would have to be settled not long after the holodeck was invented. There really would need to be clear rules on whether you could simulate real living people on the holodeck, and everyone would know them. So why doesn't Riker? And even if he objects, does that mean he can just delete the program whenever he likes? Think about that. All the programs are kept on the computer. If Riker were to call up that list and go through them, deleting all the ones he objected to... surely that's a massive invasion of privacy, isn't it? Surely there has to be a regulation against that?

It's also fun to speculate on what exactly the rules are governing the content of holodeck programs, if any. It is implied, though never really stated, that one can have sex with holographic characters, and that people do - including Riker, actually, in The Perfect Mate. But what about violence? If Barclay was murdering Riker over and over again on the holodeck, is that a problem? What if he's murdering children on there? Or doing even more depraved things? Does anybody (Troi, perhaps) have the right to review the crew's holoprograms looking for themes and activities that might indicate mental health issues? Or do people on the ship have a right to privacy against that sort of intrusion?

It's not so different from the real world, either. Right now, I could sit at my computer and use a word processor to write out any fantasy I like. Of course it's not visual and physical in the way holodeck programs are, but it's alike in kind if not detail. So far as I'm aware, no matter what I might choose to write, no crime has been committed and nobody has any right to see it or judge me for it. If your boss was allowed to review what's on your computer and judge you for it, you're be pretty annoyed, yes? But then Barclay was doing this stuff on a computer belonging to his boss, which changes the rules. It's a huge, complicated area, and we virtually never learn anything about how it's regulated, if indeed it is regulated at all. It's a shame that neither this episode nor any other with Barclay ever really touched upon such issues.

But it's a relatively minor grips, really. I still enjoyed this episode a lot, and Schultz makes a great guest star. Well worth watching.
Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 9,324 Last updated : 14 Aug 2016