200. The Nth Degree
FORMULA: Hollow Pursuits + Where No One Has Gone Before + Where No Man Has Gone Before + Spock's Brain
WHY WE LIKE IT: Barclay episodes are generally fun and this one's no different.
WHY WE DON'T: Did they have to end it on a note of psychobabble and a cheap joke?
REVIEW: Barclay's back! This is good for two reasons: 1) His first appearance was a great episode and 2) while it's accepted fact that a guest-star playing a crew member is always somewhere on the ship, it's so rare that we actually see them. So though Barclay appears here, where is he usually? Night shift? But let's let that go. We have him, let's enjoy him.
And we do. We get just enough of the jittery Barclay before he becomes "like everyone else on board", a progression that's well played by Dwight Schultz. By the time he becomes a human computer (complete with shockingly cool laser show), the episode enters 2001 territory, or was I the only one reminded of HAL 2000 as Geordi was working the Jeffries tubes? In a final twist, the reason he takes over the ship is totally benign (even cute), and it was great to see Picard go from pissed to excited explorer mode in 1 second flat.
Because that's one of the good things about The Nth Degree: Even if it centers on a guest-star, the main cast isn't ignored. Geordi was always going to be heavily featured, but more interesting is Beverly, showing interest in the arts again. I have to say that the scenes Barclay is given to perform are perfectly chosen. Cyrano COULD be played as flustered when meeting Roxanne at breakfast (though maybe not that self-conscious about his wig), so it's not like Barclay's nervous tics are ruining the scene. Later, the moon fantasy not only plays with Star Trek's genre, but also includes the line "What is he doing among us" which speaks to Barclay's character specifically.
Data's critical opinions, Worf being teased, Riker getting jealous over Barclay hitting on Deanna... And yes, the hint of a romance between the shy lieutenant and the counselor (in that blue dress? I'd be very tempted as well) which sadly never really amounted to anything. It is sweet though, so this is a (surprisingly) strong episode for Troi.
LESSON: N = a lot.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Almost makes you wish Barclay was featured more often, maybe like Deep Space 9's guest-stars were (that cast was a lot bigger than the opening credits let on). Fun and still surprising.