Lieutenant Barclay has taken up acting in his spare time. Even though he's not very good at it, Counselor Troi applauds him for his progress, as last time we saw him he would never have had the nerve to perform in front of an audience. But that isn't to say that hes entirely moved beyond feeling awkward around other people; in particular, he doesn't appreciate his own successes as much as Troi and La Forge do. After everyone else leaves, he sits alone on the stage.
Anyway, the Enterprise's next mission is to investigate the Argus Array, a large unmanned radio telescope at the edge of Federation space, which inexplicably went silent two months ago. They discover a mysterious probe, which they conclude is the most likely culprit, and send La Forge and Barclay to get a closer look. Barclay thanks La Forge for choosing him for the assignment, and La Forge tells him that he's one of the ships top engineers, and its about time he got in on some of the interesting stuff. Just then the probe emits a flash of light that knocks Barclay unconscious. When he comes to he has Dr. Crusher check him out. She tells him that he seems to be OK but shell have to wait for some test results to know for sure. Rather abruptly, Barclay starts to make radical suggestions about how she could run the tests faster.
The probe begins approaching the Enterprise and building up some sort of energy field. They back away from it, but it matches their velocity, and their phasers do nothing to it. They can't fire photon torpedoes because the probe is too close. Barclay, acting on his own, somehow boosts shield capacity by 300% and tells Picard he can now fire photon torpedoes, which do the trick. With the probe out of the way, the crew can focus on repairing the array, which La Forge estimates will take two to three weeks. Barclay interrupts and says that he can do it in just two days by creating a new computer program to install into the array. Troi remarks to him that his confidence seems greatly improved and he agrees, though he can't explain what sparked it. It's enough for him to smoothly ask Troi on a date in the arboretum, and though she turns him down, citing professional ethics, she seems rather tempted. Even his acting has gotten better; Crusher is moved to tears by his performance in a rehearsal.
The next morning, though, it seems as if he's fallen back into his old habits—he misses a scheduled meeting and La Forge tracks him to the holodeck, where he is kicking around some quantum physics theories with Albert Einstein. La Forge remarks that the ideas they were discussing were out of his league, and should have been out of Barclays league as well. He's sure theres something fishy going on, though Barclay is offended by the implication that being mediocre and awkward is his natural state. Nevertheless Dr. Crusher confirms that his brain has dramatically changed since his encounter with the probe—enough to make him the smartest human being to ever exist.
The Argus Array's reactors go critical as they attempt to repair it, and Barclay finds the computers to be too slow, so he goes to the holodeck to build one of his own. With seconds remaining before a catastrophic overload that will destroy the Array (and probably the Enterprise with it), the reactors shut down, and when the bridge crew inquires how it happened, the computer responds in Barclay's voice. He has literally connected his brain to the ships computer systems. Picard orders him to break the connection immediately, but he and the computer are now inextricably linked. Any attempt to pull him out would kill him.
To make matters worse, Barclay soon decides to stop listening to Picard's orders and takes control of the Enterprise himself. He develops a way to move the ship at greater than warp speed and prepares to jump. Troi goes to the holodeck to reason with him, but he doesn't listen. He also blocks Geordis attempt to set up a computer bypass through Engineering. Running out of options, Picard orders Worf to disconnect Barclay by force, but Barclays set up a force field to protect himself. The ship jumps through Barclay's whatever-it-is, coming out 30,000 light-years away from where they started. When they get there, the computer is suddenly under their control again, and a giant floating head appears on the bridge. ...Oooookay. Barclay shows up, disconnected from the computer, to explain that the alien race that made the probe had designed it to bring other races to these coordinates to observe and learn from them. It was supposed to work with computers, but it accidentally reprogrammed Barclays brain instead.
The Enterprise spends ten days conversing with the aliens, then heads back to Federation space. Troi and Geordi comfort Barclay, who feels insignificant again now that the alien knowledge is out of his head. They tell him that this experience might help him grow, and either way he's still an important part of the crew. Troi even agrees to go on that walk in the arboretum with him. As they leave Ten Forward, Barclay stops to suggest a move to a woman playing chess.
Troi: I didnt know you played chess.
Barclay: [unsettled] I dont!
Tropes in this episode include:
- Bait-and-Switch: When Barclay doesn't show up to a meeting, Geordi tracks him to the holodeck, thinking he's fallen back on his addiction as seen in "Hollow Pursuits." Instead, he finds Barclay debating advanced quantum physics with Albert Einstein.
- BrainComputer Interface: Barclay creates one in order to shut down the Argus Array, since typing commands and reading screens proves too slow. Unfortunately, his mind expands into the Enterprise computer systems such that disconnecting him would kill him.
- A Day in the Limelight: For Barclay.
- "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: Barclay goes from his usual stuttering self, to a confident mega-genius, and back again.
- Huge Holographic Head: How the Cytherians present themselves to the Enterprise crew.
- Gratuitous German: Holodeck!Einstein exclaims "Gruß Gott!" while working with Barclay. This is actually a salutation in Southern Germany, mostly Bavaria, and Austria. He should have said "Mein Gott!"
- Improbably High I.Q.: Barclay estimates his I.Q. under the probe's influence is in the 1200 to 1450 range. Just a little under what Q said his was in "Deja Q."
- Not Himself: The normally withdrawn Barclay is suddenly more open and proactive after being exposed to the probe.
- Nothing Personal: Barclay says this to Worf and his security mooks, when they come to the holodeck to disconnect him by force.Barclay: I want you to know, Lieutenant Worf, that I understand your duty in this matter. And that I in no way will take your actions personally.
- Not Quite Back to Normal: As demonstrated by his chess insight at the end, Barclay seems to retain some small trace of his temporary intellect.
- OOC Is Serious Business: Geordi takes Barclay to see Dr. Crusher after finding him discussing grand unification theories with Albert Einstein on the holodeck, as those theories should have been well out of his league.
- Properly Paranoid: The crew make sure to disconnect the audio and visual pickups when discussing what to do about Computer!Barclay.
- Shout-Out: Naturally, the computer-linked hyper-intelligent Barclay has to respond to Picard's order to disconnect with "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I can't do that, sir."
- Smart People Play Chess: The episode's last scene. It is possible that Barclay was having his little joke at the players' expense, since they are half-expecting him to still be superintelligent.
- Smug Super: Though he still seems fairly friendly, the way Computer!Reg refers to the the rest of the crew as "scared children" when talking to Troi comes off as pretty arrogant.Troi: Are we children to you, now?Barclay: I can see so much more than you are capable of.
- Society Marches On: Barclay taking an unsolicited pass at a coworker (Troi) is treated like a positive sign or his rising self-confidence, with the only negative being that it makes her ex slightly jealous.
- Status Quo Is God: Barclay makes several impressive modifications to the Enterprise's systems, including 300% stronger shields and the ability to jump halfway across the galaxy in minutes. Naturally all of these improvements are gone by the next episode.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Cytherians are an incredibly advanced race, but a very static one that prefers to study the universe by sending their probes out to bring other races to them. They're very friendly, however, and the Enterprise crew spend ten very interesting days interacting with them, acquiring knowledge that will take the Federation decades to fully understand and appreciate.
- Stylistic Suck: Barclay's first stage performance.
- Technobabble: Barclay's enhanced intelligence comes with heaping helpings of this.Barclay: It just occurred to me that I could set up a frequency harmonic between the deflector and the shield grid... using the warp field generator as a power flow anti-attenuator and that of course naturally created an amplification of the inherent energy output.
Riker: Uh-huh, I see that.
- The Un-Reveal: Barclay says that he perceives the entire universe as one simple equation. Care to share, Reg?
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The Cytherian probe was just doing its job of communicating with alien computers, not realizing its signal was harmful to Federation systems.
- Wham Shot: Barclay sitting calmly in a chair on the holodeck with lasers shooting into his head, speaking through the computer without moving his mouth.
- You Are Too Late: Said word for word by Computer!Reg, when Geordi tries to bypass his link to the ship's computer.