Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: Hollow Pursuits

The Next Generation, Season 3
"Hollow Pursuits"
Airdate: April 30, 1990
68 of 176 produced
68 of 176 aired


Introduction

A shy engineer, Reginald Barclay, is not adapting well to life on the Enterprise. He is constantly nervous and withdrawn and it's affecting his work. He retreats to the only safe place he knows: the holodeck. There he is commanding, powerful, and irresistible to women. But his fantasy world begins to collapse when the minor problems he has been tasked with fixing begin to threaten the ship, and the senior staff discover his somewhat unorthodox holodeck programs.

If this has been my holo-novel, she'd be wearing far fewer clothes, and the swing would have had much different uses.



[Ed. note: This is Kevin here, and I just want to clarify that this post has been published in my name, as I made the first set of notes, to which Matt responded. But the captions...the captions are all Matt. Thank you.]

[Other Ed. Note: Oh, come on Kevin. Tell me you wouldn't tap that.]

[Previous Ed. Note: I'd tap dance with that. Ha ha!]

Writing

Kevin: This is a great episode, hands down one of the best of season 3. It expands the canon in a few wonderful ways that both make the episode and the series as a whole more enjoyable. First, it turns out there are still human beings in the 24th century. Taking the bridge crews of the Enterprises over the years, it begins to look like no one is less than stellar in the Federation. It's nice to see someone who is just squeaking by. It makes the universe more realistic and makes the senior staff all the more remarkable. It's easy to be a god if you're actually from Olympus. We also get a concrete declaration of what the holodeck is most certainly used for most often: the fulfillment of tacky sexual fantasies. I'll get to the substance of Barclay's holodeck fantasy in a second, but I just want to start out by appreciating the acknowledgment of what we all knew since the doors first opened on that sylvan glade in "Encounter at Farpoint": the holodeck, like the internet, is for porn.

Matthew: Yeah, there has been a definite lack of "Lower Decks" -style stories so far in the series, and the franchise. We got a few characters in TOS like Kevin Riley or the lovebirds from "Balance of Terror," but never a real every-man's perspective on life in Starfleet. And that type of perspective is sorely needed to make the world feel real at times. Barclay is a masterful creation. His presence also gives the main characters a chance to be something other than wonderful, nice, and competent. In fact, they get to be outright jerks. When Geordi admits he can't stand Barclay, it deepens his character and gives Picard the chance to play "good shepherd."

Kevin: I like the character of Barclay. He's a far better avatar for the average viewer than Wesley. Barclay is certainly competent technically, but his insecurities hold him back, and that's far more identifiable than "wunderkind." This is also a good Geordi episode. After three years of almost perfect harmony, it's odd to think there's someone on the Enterprise who doesn't get along with everyone, and it was nice watching Geordi transition from begrudging to genuine in his concern for Barclay. I particularly liked that he referenced "Booby Trap" and Leah Brahms, if only obliquely.

Matthew: Yeah, I think we could have gotten a bit more about Brahms from Geordi. But the fact that they worked it in is great. The nice thing here is that it acknowledges both Troi's role as counselor to the crew (instead of just deception-sensor on the bridge) as well as her obvious sexual appeal to crew members.

Kevin: The substance of the fantasies is comedy gold, no two ways about it. Little Riker and the Three Musketeers were a stroke of genius. It's a nice riff on how their constant excelling at things must come off to other people sometimes. The only part of the fantasy that really disturbed me outright was the Troi avatar. Obviously, everyone's holodeck avatar is a reduced version of the original that Barclay can manage. It's one thing to imagine your superiors as mental and physical weaklings to feel more powerful, but it raises my feminist hackles to see a woman reduced to a platitude-spewing, hyper-compliant idiot so Barclay feels comfortable enough to sleep with her. And lastly, I would be remiss if I did not draw your attention to a key line of dialogue from the Crusher avatar: "Mind your manners, Wesley, or Master Barclay will spank you." I'm not going to comment beyond suggesting a slash story just got its wings.

Matthew: Well, I think this is just an indicator of the character, not necessarily the opinions the writers have towards women. Certainly, they seem to exist only for Barclay's pleasure (if you think he didn't do it with the Crusher simulacrum... you're wrong). But a maladjusted socially-phobic person would probably objectify people like this, given his lack of experience with them. And we don't know that the Goddess-Troi was an idiot. She seems to have a good vocabulary, and may well offer the sorts of services that a high priestess might... in addition to sex, of course.

Kevin: The science fiction is this episode is pretty subtle. It's a variation on the exploration of how technological advancements will impact our society. Riker raises a valid question. Is it acceptable to copy real people for the purposes of fantasy. In the modern world, you can't use someone else's image commercially without their consent. You can use it artistically with a fair amount of leeway. But what about private use? It's not a sin to image a real person doing...I'll just say "things" and leave it at that. Does a modern-day celebrity have a claim against someone photoshopping their head onto someone else's (presumably naked) body? Assuming the program were only for his own personal use, should there be a basis to object? Is Little Riker okay but Real Doll Troi not? I actually would have appreciated a little clarification from Troi on her outrage. I have a hard time believing a Betazoid penalizes other people for their sexual fantasies. Both as a telepath and a counselor, she should understand a certain amount of fantasy, even about colleagues is healthy. I find it more credible that her shock is not at being the object of Barclay's fantasies, but at being reduced to a simpering idiot to do so.

Matthew: I agree this episode could have gone deeper into the ethical issues. But this is one of those "we wish his were a two-parter" type problems. The episode as it stands is chock full and complete, with no dragging bits. I will say that this, to me, is a great piece of science fiction - sci-fi being defined as the exploration of how a currently non-existent technology would change humanity. They could have gone further - the sexual addiction aspects were only hinted at - but this is probably because it is a family show. This type of tale could (and perhaps should in a different context) go into some pretty dark places. It does raise questions for me, though: how many holodecks are there on the ship? Do civilians get to use them, too? Why don't people want to be in them literally all the time? The implication is that everyone but Barclay somehow has superhuman self-control. I find this unbelievable. DS9 and Voyager treat holodecks a bit more believably on this sci-fi axis. But it starts here.

Kevin: The B-plot was good too. The mystery built well, and the solution was well realized. It was nice to watch Geordi efficiently reduce the thousands of substances not detected by normal scan to the five most likely culprits. It made everyone look competent. I also liked the ending when he says goodbye to the holo-Enterprise crew. It raises the possibility that what we just saw was another holodeck fantasy where Barclay gets to save the day.

Matthew: My problem with the peril is that it was caused by an apparent incompatibility of technologies from different eras. But come on - if this substance "invidium" (patent pending from the George Lucas School of Too-Accurate Sci-Fi Names) was so damaging to power systems in this era, why wouldn't it be dangerous to the systems of another era? What were the Mikulaks using, horse-drawn hover-carriages? Seems like this stuff should put more than a hole in a glass - it should kill people.


Acting

Kevin: Children of the 80s will no doubt recognize Dwight Schultz as Murdock from "The A-Team." He really hit this one out of the park and it's easy to see why they brought him back so often. His nervousness is palpable. Geordi comments he makes others nervous, and he's right. I felt reflexively nervous on his behalf. When he says the line about memorizing things to say at a party and ending up studying a houseplant, my heart breaks a little.

Matthew: Dwight Schultz is a hell of an actor. You might not have known it from "The A-Team." I sure didn't. But his range here is really pretty spectacular. Physical comedy, straight-man nervousness, vulnerability, emotion, pathos - he just really puts on a bravura performance. It only gets better in various future outings, such as "The Nth Degree."

Kevin: I also think this was a good Geordi episode. It lent credence to his role not just as a skilled engineer but to his role as a leader of a team of people. The rest of the crew really tore into their holo-roles. From Wesley stuffing his face to Little Riker's obnoxious eagerness, they all really displayed their comedy chops.

Matthew: Frakes shows he has a good sense of humor. Wheaton plays the snotty teen to the hilt. The physical acting of the fencing scenes is a nice showcase for all concerned, too. Stewart gets to play both the grandiose musketeer as well as the concerned Captain. And his delivery on "Broccoli" is impeccable.

Production Values

Kevin: The holodeck scenes were really good. Some of the transitions were a little obvious, but that was a limitation of the technology. The forest looked expansive and thoroughly thought out, but still somehow fake. I think it was the lighting choices. It gave it a slightly off feel that reinforced the fantastical nature of the setting. The costumes were clearly pulled from Three Musketeers productions, but they were lush and appropriately over the top. Beverly in a hoop skirt on a swing continues to slay me.

Matthew: Yes, the holodeck scenes were really rich and visually interesting. There was a lighting filter on the camera that imparted a dreamy quality. In the Ten Forward scene, Troi wears a dark blue dress that they should have used again. It looked almost like her teal number, but was way better-looking.

Kevin: I liked the scenes in the cargo bay, as it's always nice to see new rooms on the Enterprise, and the malformed glass was neatly done as well. Overall, I really have no complaints, beyond wishing we got to see some of the now-damaged injector assemblies. It would have been a neat addition to the Enterprise.

Matthew: Yeah, the canisters and the holo-sled were cool, too. The Michael Jackson detecto-glove was kind of hokey. I found the glass a little odd. The carved finger impressions read weird on screen - I thought for a while that the glass had morphed because of the damage. But no - people just drink out of odd glassware.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is a 5 for me. The story is interesting and layered. It's engaging on both the personal level with such an identifiable character, and on the broader level, with its implications for future society. The episode mixes some genuine pathos and flawlessly executed comedy. This is episode, for me, is the culmination of two and half seasons of work. The holo-fantasies aren't funny without the knowledge of their real selves, and the production work needed the high quality the show spent its early years developing. Every aspect of the show demonstrates how Star Trek has grown in terms of both technical skill and storytelling.

Matthew: A no-doubter. The writing was inspired, both on a comedy as well as a thought-provoking level. The acting was superb, especially from the guest star, on which this episode lives or dies. The production got the job done, and looked good in places. Most of all, this episode is just a sheer joy to watch. I've seen it dozens of times, and have never been bored. I still laugh at the jokes. I still feel for Barclay. This is a 5, through and through, which makes our combined rating a 10.

2 comments:

  1. I love everything about this episode but one thing that struck me was how Picard treated the situation, especially the scene in his ready room with La Forg and Riker. How incredibly professional and full of integrity he was. This really made me respect him as both a leader and man. Picard just has so much class and integrity.

    This is not only consistent with his established character so far but really added that layer to it.

    When Riker takes his complaint about Barclay to Picard and chuckles when LaForge makes the Broccoli remark, Picard doesnt. He is above that. He urges his officers, who - at this point seem rather juvenile having found such a silly name for one of their fellow ship-mates - to unlearn that habit and orders Geordi to do something about it. Note the look on Riker's face when Picard orders them to stop the jokes and get serious about their fellow ship-mate. Riker realized he was out of line - almost unprofessional so he straightens up. Superbly acted.

    Had this been Edward Jellico, he would have had a laugh with them at the expense of Brocolli and immediately issued orders to transfer him with a reprimand on his record. Not so Picard. He really stood up to the occasion and acted like a leader would. How one would expect him to react.

    In Chain of Command, Riker tells Jellico that he is arrogant, closed-minded and controlling. That he doesnt provide an atmosphere of trust, nor INSPIRES people to go out of their way for him - all of which are hallmarks, or at the least indispensable traits, of a great captain and especially leader, because just being competent at your job is not enough - you have to do more.

    Captain Picard truly is the kind of man that creates an atmosphere of trust and inspires his crew, the officers under him, to want to do their best, to go out of their way for him, for the team. That is the man he is and I think Picard's approach to this was exactly as one would expect him to behave (internal consistency and character integrity maintenance).

    Even when Picard slipped later on and called Barclay Broccoli himself, he still maintained. Stewart never went out of character to crack a smile or make it known that "ey, man, this was just a joke," Picard wouldnt do that. He is too composed, too much of a gentleman to ever be juvenile in front of his crew, even if it is funny (which this was not imo).

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  2. This is one of my most favorite episodes of the whole series. Dwight Schultz is incredible. So much respect. He is easily my favorite character in the series.

    The "I am the goddess of empathy" scene is one of the funniest scenes ever put on television. Troi's setup with the "elements of humor" was perfect. But Fantasy Troi isn't a mindless dolt--she's the one person who truly cares and can help Barclay the most by listening to his problems. Barclay truly wants her to care, because she's the person he truly wants to be closest to. And it's his fantasy program, after all. This is why he is the most uncomfortable around her outside of the holodeck.

    The Picard Broccoli scene is one of the second-funniest scenes ever put on television. The reason it's so funny is precisely because he slipped off his perfectly composed horse, showing he's just as human as even Barclay. That is what really brings the episode around full-circle for me.

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