Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: Pathfinder

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 6
Airdate: December 1, 1999
128 of 168 produced
128 of 168 aired


On Earth, the Starfleet Communications Research Center attempts to find a way to contact Voyager. Their most nervous employee, Reginald Barclay, becomes obsessed with the task.

Deepening the mystery of how Starfgleet peons secure choice real estate in the most competitive market in the world.


Matthew: This story updates us on what's going on in the Alpha Quadrant. I think this is a useful task, because Voyager can feel disconnected from the larger Trek universe. To know that Starfleet is actively looking for Voyager (especially after the Doctor's encounter with the USS Prometheus during "Message in a Bottle" several seasons ago) makes the whole world feel rational and cohesive. But even more than that, it allows us to check in on two beloved TNG characters before the actors get too far past their primes. Does it make the universe feel smaller? Maybe a little? It could have been any of a thousand other Starfleet officers. But you know what? Barclay was just a bit player in TNG, and one that personally I adore, for his vulnerabilities.

Kevin: I think as far as crossovers go, this works pretty well in terms of set up. By revealing it in the teaser from the opening frames, it prevents the gimmicky 'look who's here' of a more stunt focused casting decision. It also centers the story on them, with pretty minimal input from the actual Voyager crew, so it feels, structurally at least, like a companion story in the Trek universe rather than a piece of stunt casting for its own sake.

Matthew: I think this story portrays in-character evolutions for Barclay and Troi. Troi is a competent, caring therapist, who is personal friends with Barclay. It makes sense that she would carve out time if he was in need. As far as Barclay goes, it makes total sense to me that a person with Social Anxiety would relapse if he were to lose his support network. Barclay was still competent at his work (which he gained during TNG), and his imagination is still his strength, but he has retreated into obsessive compulsion and holodeck use. I like his supervisor, and think he struck a great balance between care for a member of his staff and desire to go by the book.

Kevin: I agree with that generally, but don't like the specific way they pitched it. I fully accept that he would retreat to the holodeck, and even take solace in fake relationships with the crew. I do have a question about why the holodeck on this project even has Voyager crew. At best, they would need a mock up of the ship to run tests on, but there is no rational need to recreate the Voyager crew at all. My primary problem is that Barclay has again created characters that he easily outclasses in a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's not overtly sexual as it was with The Goddess of Empathy, but when B'Elanna basically acts like she can't do her job without Barclay's help, I cringe. I feel like that lack of overt sexualization may be credited as much to having Jeri Taylor in the room as anything. I think had they been closer to their real selves and the fake friendships superficially healthier, it would have read more like a person whose grown backsliding rather than no growth at all. Even Harkins trying to draw him out implies Barclay has never bonded with his Pathfinder colleagues rather than backslide from that. A tweak of trying to get him to resume coming to dinner rather than an awkward first ask would have helped. Overall, I just felt this was closer to a reset than a backslide for Barclay.

Matthew: Having Admiral Paris be the head of the project precipitated some nicely emotional scenes, especially when they finally communicated. I do think Barclay went unduly overboard when he chastised Paris for not worrying about the Voyager crew. But, as a Tom Paris aficionado, this helped me to appreciate their relationship more. Overall, I find the emotional tenor for the "real" Voyager crew to be one of the highlights of the episode. This is the moment they get to talk directly to people at home, and the moment was treated with the weight it deserved.

Kevin: I'll agree with all that. For only getting a few minutes of 'actual' screen time, Mulgrew and MacNeill used them well. My only real complaint with the structure of the Pathfinder plot was not giving a reason why trying Barclay's latest harebrained scheme was a bad idea. Would it use up a finite resource? Do they only get one shot, so it's impossible to try two plans? It undercut the tension a little.

Matthew: I know one of Kevin's main criticisms is the way the holographic Voyager crew was portrayed - as a kind of creepy wish fulfillment on Barclay's part. To which I say.... that's just Reginald Barclay for you? He's kind of a creep. Beyond that, I don't find it unrealistic to imagine that a holodeck program that simulates real people would still make those "people" like the human user and have their lives revolve around his. This seems in keeping with past portrayals of the holodeck.

Kevin: Other people have created customized fantasies on the holodeck, but even Geordi, the man with the least game in the Federation, created a version of Leah Brahms that was capable and engaging and happened to like him, rather than one so dazzled by Geordi's superior skills that she fell for him out of some weird codependent awe. It's in the shading. A fake Tuvok that skips over the years of relationship building to regard him as a respected colleague is fine. That is understandable wish fulfillment. A Tuvok so outclassed that he will not engage in games for the certainty of being defeated is ridiculous on its face in a way that makes the whole thing a little weird, and thus hard to relate too. I can understand people using the holodeck to skip over the work of creating a real relationship, but are at least mimicking a healthy relationship. Barclay has to make people not just like him organically, but feel inferior to him to feel comfort. After a decade of work, that is the thing he should have confronted by now in some meaningful way, and the sensation that he hasn't is what keeps that episode at arms length for me.


Matthew: Dwight Schultz has a tough row to hoe with Barclay, because he has to portray crippling social anxiety but not make it too cringe-inducing for us to watch. I think he was successful here. He skirted the boundary while explaining his plan to Admiral Paris, but overall was very identifiable, warm, but also prickly and weird in that peculiarly Barclay way.

Kevin: Whatever my complaints for the script, I cannot fault the acting. Schultz balances an earnest vulnerability with just the right shades of pathetic that make you annoyed at him before you remember he needs your help and you need to figure out how to do that.

Matthew: It's not until you see Marina Sirtis killing it as Counselor Troi after a long absence on screen that you realize just how wonderful and comforting a presence she is. This story was written well, and she definitely rose to the occasion in the acting of it. Competence and compassion ooze out of the character, and her line readings are perfectly balanced between empathy and "too much." A home run for her.

Kevin: I do continue to regret the criminal underwriting for her character on TNG proper. There are just so many avenues where a person as versed in emotions as the other are versed in science would be interesting and Sirtis can certainly pull it off, and did when given the opportunity. She did so here, for sure.

Matthew: I also really liked Richard Herd as Admiral Paris and Richard McGonagle as Peter Harkins. They inhabited the roles perfectly. This is what I don't think people understand when they watch an Abrams movie or Discovery and they think (but are wrong) that it is just as good. You need bit players who seem like normal people. Not everyone is the greatest expert at X in the world, and not everybody is dramatic all the time. Sometimes, people are just normal guys, like Pete, and sometimes they are just a concerned father who still has to follow the rules, like Admiral Paris. The realness of these characters makes the universe feel real, and not like a silly dramatic construct designed by a corporate committee to maximize profits for an intellectual property.

Kevin: I agree particularly on Harkins. He really nailed "middle management." He seems like a basically decent guy and good at his job, so it makes the world seem nice that your midlevel functionary is a pretty OK person rather than a disappointed jerk with an ax to grind. Not everyone can be captain, so like Lower Decks, it's nice to see those characters filled in.

Production Values

Matthew: Big Okudagrams? Check. Alternating neon light tube thingie? Check. Holodeck backdrop? Check. The Starfleet sets have everything they need and look pretty good. Only a few analog knobs and dials stick out as weird stuff they had on the Paramount backlot.

Kevin: I would have liked a window in the Pathfinder lab, but that's a small complaint.

Matthew: I loved Barclay's apartment. Aside from questions of how a peon like Barclay gets such a killer view (the economics of the future are somewhat different), it looked like a real home - unpacked crates and slight disarray and all. A terrific job of both set design and dressing.


Matthew: This episode is Fun with a capital F. I always get excited about watching it, and have never been bored. I'm a sucker for any Trek episode set on Earth, I love both the Barclay and Troi characters, and I think both Barclay and Troi are well served by the writing here. I also think this episode is an effective story that advances the overall Voyager plot in necessary ways, and gives the Voyager crew some good emotional development. It also works as an "alternative history" glimpse, with Barclay's view of how Voyager's crew would look. Writing, acting, and production values are all well above average. So for me, it's a 5.

Kevin: I certainly agree it's a fun episode overall, and certainly clears that needed hurdle for a crossover episode for justifying itself beyond mere stunt. That said, I think it turns the dials a little too far to the point it almost feels like a soft reset of Barclay rather than merely a more mature Barclay risking the loss of his growth to the stress of the new job. It's not fatal, but the problems do stick out for me a little. Maybe a more realistic, less weirdly fawning Voyager crew would have walked that line better, or some stakes for why trying Barclay's plan was unfeasible would have pushed this father for me. Still, I think this lands in 4 territory for a total of 9.



  1. This may be a little heretical, but I never liked Reg that much. He managed to pull himself out of my retching at his first holodeck creations, as intended by that episode. But then he gains super intelligence and quickly becomes a borderline villain. His inferiority complex just grinds my gears. As such, it's hard for me to enjoy Barclay episodes (except the one about his transporter fear; that worked quite well in my eyes).

    But there is no denying he is wonderfully acted, and Marina Sirtis and Troi are most welcome.

    1. I think Barclay is a character (like Q, let's say) best used in small doses. I just think that TNG and VOY were successful in finding the right dosage :)

  2. Fun fact: Reg was in more Voyager episodes than TNG episodes, Voy:6 TNG:5. Does that mean he is more of a Voyager character? I find that thought amusing since we usually perceive him as a semi-regular TNG character who appeared briefly in Voyager. Though he was in the First Contact movie which I guess makes it a tie.

  3. I love this episode. I watch it over and over again. I love seeing Troi. I love Neelix the cat. I can identify with Reg Barclay on so many levels. I choke up every time they establish two-way contact and the Admiral asks after his son and our crew are assured that they are not as alone as they think.


    I agree with everything you guys say, but (and since I am not listening to the podcasts since I am reading this while at work and don't know if one of you brings this point up) there is one big nit I have to pick about this one. Barclay is able to guestimate which three sectors where Voyager would be located based on its last known location and probable average cruising speed, right? But, there is no way in hell he could have known about the FIVE instances where the ship was able to travel beyond the limits of warp speed since "Message In a Bottle": the 300 light-year quantum slipstream trip in "Hope and Fear," the 2,500 light year jump through the Malon wormhole in "Night," the 10,000 light-year jump due to their own quantum slipstream experiment in "Timeless," the 20,000 light-year transwarp trip at the end of "Dark Frontier," and the 600 light-year jump in "The Voyager Conspiracy". Just saying, that point momentarily takes me out of the episode whenever it comes up.

    1. Perhaps his guess is based on assuming a few random occurrences of "transwarp" jumps? He did leap to the center of the galaxy to meet the Cythereans, after all. But yeah, I like the way you pick nits, good sir.