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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S3E21 "Hollow Pursuits"

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Starfleet's resident Shrinking Violet, Lieutenant Barclay.

La Forge: You're just shy, Barclay.
Barclay: Just shy... sounds like nothing serious, doesn't it? You can't know.

Original air date: April 30, 1990

We're introduced to Lieutenant Barclay, who's drinking in Ten-Forward when La Forge shows up to dress him down. After some tough talk worthy of a Dixon Hill story, Barclay shoves him ass-over-teakettle. Riker jumps up and confronts Barclay but gets more of the same. Barclay's overwhelming manliness has impressed Troi, and the pair start to romance each other, but then Barclay gets summoned to the cargo bay. What's going on? This whole sequence has been a wish-fulfillment fantasy on the holodeck. When Barclay arrives for work, he proves to be a meek, awkward, and unpopular officer. As Barclay fumbles with trying to move some canisters of volatile chemicals, during which a couple of them break (remember this), La Forge and Riker discuss how they just can't handle "Broccoli" (thanks for the nickname, Wesley), saying he isn't Enterprise material.

La Forge and Riker go to Picard with their concerns and suggest transferring Barclay off the ship. But Picard doesn't like the idea of giving up and foisting Barclay on someone else. He tells La Forge to stop calling the man "Broccoli" behind his back and start nurturing him to help him fit in. La Forge dutifully starts including Barclay on Engineering briefings and puts him in charge of solving some issues with odd malfunctions cropping up around the ship. La Forge comes to realize that Barclay is a smart, imaginative guy when he's not too shy to speak up. After stumbling into one of Barclay's escapist fantasies on the holodeck, in which Barclay is a badass swordsman against Musketeer doppelgangers of Picard, Data, and La Forge himself, La Forge has a heart-to-heart with Barclay and insists that he get some therapy.

Barclay's intense crush on Troi makes his first therapy session with the real counsellor too awkward. He ends the session abruptly before running off in embarrassment. Troi tells Riker and La Forge about the strange end to their session, causing the three of them to go looking for Barclay. He's fled into the holodeck, where the three officers discover yet another of his programs. Riker and Troi are not amused by the unflattering representations of them in Barclay's fantasy (or too-flattering, in Trio's case). Barclay is embarrassed to be caught once again and offers to resign, but La Forge won't hear it. He reveals that he himself once fell in love with a holodeck program, but it’s time for Barclay to knock it off and focus on his real-world responsibilities.

The malfunctions throughout the ship are getting worse to the point that the navigation controls stop responding, causing the ship to start accelerating out of control. If Engineering doesn't find a solution in 15 minutes, the engines will blow up. La Forge leads a brainstorming session with all his best engineers and Barclay. But Barclay is the one who realizes that if the problem isn't a systemic error, then it must come from one of the engineers spreading some foreign substance around the ship. La Forge and the rest of the team narrow down the culprit to invidium from the broken canister at the beginning of the episode. La Forge and Barclay rush to the cargo hold and confirm their theory, then recommend flushing the ship's engines to neutralize the compound. The ship is saved!

Barclay arrives on the bridge and announces that he's come to the hard decision to leave them forever, but it turns out that he's talking to his holodeck programs rather than the real crew. He ends the program and erases all of his programs, but with a sly grin decides to keep "number nine" for a rainy day.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Accidental Misnaming: People nickname Barclay "Broccoli," and then just after Picard has told them not to, he ends up using the name by accident.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: At least, the ones in Barclay's program do (with Barclay himself as the bad boy in question).
    Holo-Troi: I feel your confidence... your arrogant resolve. It excites me.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Barclay's mistreatment by the main crew for much of the episode. Geordi realizes this through the episode's Whoopi Epiphany Speech.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: Barclay starts out spending most of his time in the holodeck, but with Geordi's support, he starts to cut down on his holo-fantasies.
  • Art Imitates Art: Holo-Wesley's appearance was based on a famous painting by Thomas Gainsborough called "The Blue Boy". His costume was copied in detail and references to the painter and the painting can be found in the script.
  • Author Avatar: Barclay's party shyness is based on Michael Piller's own experiences verbatim.
  • Benevolent Boss: While Barclay being inadequate is the bottom line for La Forge and Riker, Picard isn't convinced, saying it's too easy to foist a problematic officer off onto another post, and insists that they take the time to get to know the man and find out why he's like this. Suffice to say, Picard's act of goodwill pays off.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Barclay keeps having these on the Holodeck, with Holo!Troi of course. The kicker is that Barclay is a terrible kisser, looking like he's about to devour her whole head.
  • Big Eater: Holo-Wesley is always seen stuffing his face with pie like a naughty child.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Troi snaps at her holo-counterpart, "Muzzle it!"
  • Bookends: The episode begins and ends with Barclay in a holo-simulation involving the main cast before shutting it offreluctantly the first time, willingly the second.
  • Call-Back: While lecturing Barclay about his Holodeck addiction, Geordi says he understands how easy it can be to lose oneself in it, admitting that he once fell in love while inside.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The broken medical canister from The Teaser turns out to be the cause of everything that goes wrong aboard the Enterprise.
  • Cringe Comedy: Riker, Troi and La Forge walking in on Barclay's holodeck program. Even before they find him, things get pretty awkward.
  • Death Glare: When Data tries to reassure Picard that his Freudian slip with Barclay's nickname was an understandable case of metathesis, Picard silences him with a glare.
    Data: Metathesis is one of the most common of pronunciation errors, sir. A reversal of vowel and consonant, Barc to Broc— (sees Picard glaring at him and suddenly becomes very interested in a nearby console)
  • Dual Wielding: Barclay vs. Musketeer Picard, Geordi, and Data.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Broccoli," coined by Wesley. Data points out to the others that nicknames are supposed to be friendly, causing La Forge to announce that the joke is over. Of course, this is after Picard ordered them to knock it off.
    Geordi: Broccoli makes me nervous, Captain. He makes everybody nervous.
    Picard: "Broccoli"?
    Riker: (smirking) Young Mister Crusher started that. I guess it's caught on.
    Picard: (not smirking) Let's just get that un-caught, shall we?
  • Establishing Character Moment: The Teaser is this for Barclay. He's a big tough guy on his holodeck program, and then when he goes to meet his superiors, he's so meek he actually hides.
  • Exact Time to Failure: True to form, the computer tells everyone exactly how many seconds are left before the Enterprise flies apart.
  • Fantastic Drug: The holodeck, sort of, as this episode introduces the concept of holoaddiction.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When O'Brien tries to demonstrate the transporter test to Geordi, the first transport of a duranium canister shows it to be slightly charred after transport. The second transport is what reduces the canister to a pile of goo.
  • Flynning: Barclay's swordfight with his holographic enemies is pure cinematic swashbuckling, since it's a fantasy after all.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: When Barclay fights the holo-Musketeers, it's not just their swords that clash.
    Musketeer!Data: You are outnumbered, Mister Barclay! Say you will yield and it ends here!
    Barclay: I shall speak with my sword, sir!
  • Hypocritical Humor: Troi finds Barclay's various Holodeck versions of the others rather amusing. Then she meets hers. And the amusement vanishes very quickly. A smirking Riker (who up until this point has been nothing but angry) is quick to rub it in her face.
    Troi: Computer, deactivate—
    Riker: Computer, belay that. (full troll mode) We want to get more insight into what's been troubling this poor man, remember? (to Geordi) Quite a healthy fantasy life, wouldn't you say?
    Geordi: Mmm.
    Troi: (silently fuming)
  • The Internet Is for Porn: In this case, it's the holodeck, which is being used by Barclay to invoke his various fantasies, including Troi being the Goddess of Empathy and his love interest. Luckily, his fantasies are all safe for network television (what we see of them, anyway).
  • Jerkass Realization: La Forge, Duffy, and Wesley chuckle over their nickname for Barclay until Data notes that nicknames are supposed to be friendly rather than insulting. That kills all the humor from the joke and makes the others realize they're being dicks.
    Data: Pardon me, but why is Lieutenant Barclay being referred to clandestinely as a vegetable?
    (Duffy barely stifles a laugh)
    Wesley: It's a joke, Data. You know, a nickname.
    Data: (thinks for a moment) Nicknames generally denote fondness, a diminutive shared between friends.
    Geordi: Data's absolutely right. The nickname stops here and now. Captain's orders.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Subverted. Picard and Riker suspect that Barclay's former CO had given him glowing performance evaluations specifically to bait another captain into requesting him. This turns out to be an unfair assessment. Barclay is indeed a skilled engineer, but has serious issues with anxiety that prevent him from interacting with others properly. Once Picard and Geordi take the time to nurture him, Reg more than comes into his own.
  • Large Ham:
    • All three holo-musketeers.
      Musketeer Picard: (re Geordi, Riker, and Deanna) They are quite disagreeable, aren't they? (draws his sword along with his comrades) Shall we...have at them?
      Musketeer Data: Deeee-lighted!
      Musketeer Geordi: We shall thrrrash them!
    • Barclay himself is the cock of the walk while he's in the confines of the holodeck. When his fantasy is interrupted, however, he's immediately back to being a Shrinking Violet, in true escapist fashion.
  • Look Behind You: Barclay thinks that Musketeer Picard is pulling this trick, until Geordi reveals that he's right behind Barclay.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: An early and partial example. The focus of the episode is half on lowly officer Barclay and half on how the main characters deal with him. We also get more time with some of La Forge's otherwise anonymous direct reports.
  • Lust Object: Holo-Troi exists purely for Barclay to smooch, especially as the Goddess of Empathy.
  • Marty Stu: Barclay becomes this In-Universe with his holodeck programs, complete with plenty of Character Shilling from the Musketeers.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Guinan tells Geordi about Barclay, she mentions how imaginative he is. Later, after seeing Barclay's choice of holodeck programs, Geordi admits that he appreciates Barclay's imagination. Guinan gives a subtle look of approval.
  • Nervous Wreck: At his worst, Barclay is this. Watching him try to be assertive is pretty painful.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The test cylinder props were actually U.S. Navy sonar buoy transport cases.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Picard's utterly mortified facial expression when he realizes he's accidentally called Barclay "Broccoli."
    • Barclay then has a moment of this when he sees that Geordi has just walked in on one of his holo-programs.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Unlike Geordi, Troi and Riker are not amused by the holographic versions of themselves that Barclay has cooked up. Riker is a pipsqueak, while Troi is "the Goddess of Empathy."
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Played for Laughs; Troi coldly tells her holographic self to "muzzle it."
  • Out of Focus: Worf only has five lines in the episode.
  • Percussive Therapy: A variation involving swords instead of fists, but it's the same idea as it allows Barclay to vent in private.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The episode starts in Ten Forward, where we first meet Barclay. He displays gross insubordination to both La Forge and Riker, who both act like wimps in response, then flirts with Troi, who's been slinking around in a blue dress—then he is called to the cargo bay. His whole demeanor changes as he stands up and says, "Computer, save program."
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Picard becomes the first person we see to give Barclay a chance at succeeding. Rather than pawn him off on someone else (as Riker suspects his previous CO did), Picard orders Geordi to be more patient and friendly with him in hopes of bringing him out of his shell.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What do you suppose is on Barclay Program 9, the only one he doesn't delete at the end? (Judging by a conversation between Worf and O'Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it's possibly the "Three Musketeers" program.)
  • Ron the Death Eater: Happens In-Universe, as the male main crewmembers, especially Riker, are all portrayed as arrogant idiots, whereas the female crewmembers Troi and Crusher are portrayed as loving and gentle figures (although Troi's not very happy to see her holographic counterpart).
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Because Barclay feels like no one wants to be around him, he's always late and nervous. Because Barclay is always late and nervous, no one wants to be around him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the systems that malfunctions is the flux capacitor. However, in the previous scene, it's referred to as a "flow capacitor," making this either a script error or a flub on Dwight Schultz's part.
    • Barclay's middle name is Endicott, a nod to the character of Clayton Endicott III on Benson, played by René Auberjonois, who would later play Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Shrinking Violet: Barclay has some serious social anxiety. He literally hides from Geordi when first arriving for duty.
  • Stealth Pun: That title could also be heard as "holo pursuits."
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Holo-Beverly is on a swing in one of Barclay's programs.
  • Take That, Audience!: When it was broadcast, some viewers took this episode as a slap in the face, considering Barclay to be a shallow parody of Star Trek fans. However, Barclay's nuanced characterization (within this debut episode as well as subsequent appearances) wound up winning the crowd.
  • Techno Babble: Quite a lot of it when Geordi heads a brainstorming session trying to figure out why the ship is malfunctioning.
  • Teleporter Accident: One of the rare times when nobody gets hurt—just a piece of metal gets melted. When reconfiguring transporters, it's apparently standard procedure to beam chunks of metal from pad to pad to check for such problems. (Better than testing it on the nearest Red Shirt.)
  • That Came Out Wrong: "I look forward to reading your report, Mr. Broccoli." Poor Barclay can't get out of that meeting fast enough, and Picard clearly feels like a total jackass for that little flub.
  • There Are No Therapists: For all the posturing the Federation does about tolerance and progressiveness, their stance on mental health is somewhat lacking as shown by how many of the Enterprise's command staff are willing to pawn Barclay onto another crew and be rid of him rather than address the root of the problem. Downplayed since they aren't therapists and their main responsibility is to keep the ship running smoothly.
  • There Should Be a Law: When Riker sees Barclay's "Musketeer" program.
    Riker: This is a violation of protocol. Crew members should not be simulated on the holodeck.
    Geordi: Commander, I don't think there's any regulation against—
    Riker: Well, there ought to be.
    • Subsequent episodes show there are in fact regulations against basing holodeck characters off of real people without their consent, so either that's a Retcon or further legislation was eventually passed In-Universe.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: When Riker goes to the holodeck to deal with Barclay, Geordi knows that he won't like what he sees and invites Deanna to come along.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • Riker doesn't raise his voice at all during the episode, but he radiates cold fury anytime he's near Barclay or in Barclay's holo-program.
    • Deanna is just as coldly furious at Barclay after meeting the Goddess of Empathy.
      Deanna: We have a lot to talk about, Mr. Barclay.
  • Twist Ending: Mildly. Barclay telling the crew of the Enterprise that he's feeling better about himself and no longer needs their support. Turns out he's telling their holodeck versions that he doesn't need them anymore.
  • Warm Milk Helps You Sleep: Barclay's drink. Guinan says this word-for-word when Geordi chuckles at it.
    Guinan: Warm milk helps you sleep, LaForge. You should try it.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Guinan gives one to Geordi on how best to work with Barclay.
    Guinan: The idea of fitting in just... repels me.
    Geordi: Maybe I didn't make myself clear. Barclay, he's always late, he's nervous, nobody wants to be around him.
    Guinan: If I had the feeling that nobody wanted to be around me, I'd probably be late and nervous too.
  • You Look Familiar: In-Universe—Riker's doppelganger says he has a "familiar bearing" upon meeting the real deal.