6/4/14

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Nth Degree"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S04E19
Air Date: April 1, 1991
Written by: Joe Menosky
Directed by: Robert Legato

Premise
After scanning an alien probe, Lt. Barclay goes from zero to Gilderoy Lockhart, quantum engineering wizard, in sixty seconds.

Recap
It starts with Broccoli and Crusher acting in a stage production of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac with the esteemed actor Reginald Barclay wearing the famous long nose. And when I say "esteemed actor" I mean "person who's too nervous about remembering his lines to remember or deliver them correctly." After watching the horrid rendition of Rostand's masterpiece, the audience applauds, and this confuses Data who wonders why they're praising Broccoli for mediocre work. He doesn't understand that just putting himself in front of a crowd and performing is a big event for the shy lieutenant. He's made a lot of personal improvements since we last saw him. He does, however, express concern that he's only trading one virtual reality (the holodeck) for another (the stage). Nevertheless, Troi assures him that he's doing great.

After the play, it's time to get to work. The Argus Array telescope hasn't been broadcasting for two months and the Enterprise has been sent to check it out. When they get there, they find a probe floating near it, so Picard sends Geordi and Broccoli to check it out. While attempting to scan the probe, it shoots back an energy surge that knocks Broccoli out. He's beamed back to sick bay to find that there was enough energy in the flash to overload his optical nerves. Geordi wasn't affected because of his special blind-guy visor. Crusher says she's waiting for one more test to see if Broccoli's totally okay, but we immediately know he's different when he pipes up confidently to suggest a brilliant way to make the test go faster. Meanwhile, the probe is coming after the Enterprise, and her only retaliation to deal with this dangerous device is to back away slowly.
Just don't look it directly in the optical sensory unit.
The probe starts emitting some dangerous energy levels and continues following the Enterprise even into warp 2. Riker advises not using torpedos at that distance since it could cripple the Enterprise, but phasers don't phase the probe and it's only getting closer. Fortunately, Barclay is able to use his newfound smarts to improvise a solution to make the shields 300% stronger so they'll hold against a torpedo blast. And it works. They probe is destroyed and now people are afraid of how smart and confident Barclay suddenly is. Nevertheless, they need to keep him around because now he has an ingenious way to fix the Argus Array in two days instead of six weeks. That's cool, but instead of getting right to work, he goes and practices Cyrano de Bergerac with Crusher and hitting on Troi in Ten Forward. He does surprisingly well at both of these endeavors.

Then he gets to work. By consulting with Albert Einstein in the holodeck. Geordi finds him and expresses concern about his sudden smarts, so Barclay goes to sick bay and Crusher finds that the production of neurotransmitters in his brain have jumped 500%. Not only that, but both sides of his brain are acting as one. Intelligence, creativity, ingenuity, everything has been enhanced. Crusher says that he might be the most advanced human to ever exist. I say he needs to have a quick chat with Gary Mitchell.
"So, Broccoli, is that a stupid name, or...?"
Meanwhile, after having a meeting about Barclay's condition (in which Riker gets jealous of his pass at Troi), the Enterprise runs into trouble when generator nine on the Argus Array starts to overload. Variables on the overload run too quickly for the Enterprise's computer to fix, but losing the array would be a disaster. So, what's Barclay's solution to the problem? Connect his brain to the computer. He does this using devices he creates in the holodeck and the reactor suddenly cools down. Hooray! The day is saved! Now get your brain out of that computer, Broccoli! ...Oh, no, he can't. That would kill him. Of course. Well, no matter. He'll take the time he has in the computer to come up with brand new ways to travel, to seek out new life and new civilizations! To boldly take the Enterprise into a graviton field disturbance without permission!

Of course, it's not the exciting new technology that's the problem here, it's the "without permission" part. Refusing to obey a direct order from Picard, Barclay continues creating the graviton field while the rest of the crew tries to stop him without his knowledge. Of course, he discovers that they're trying to stop him, and stops them from stopping him. In a short burst, he hurls the Enterprise thousands of lightyears away. And what is in this unknown section of the galaxy? The floating head of Kenny Rogers.
"Y'ALL GOT A GOOD CHICKEN RECIPE?"
The old prospector looks highly amused at the crew of the Enterprise. He quickly begins to understand what human beings are and how their society is structured, but he doesn't have a very good command for answer questions. Luckily, he knows how to get Barclay out of his brain-fusion with the computer. Once he does that, Barclay is able to explain that this species sent the probe they were looking at and that probe is designed to help people get to where they are. This species are explorers, too, except instead of boldly going, they boldly stay and bring everything to them. Picard agrees to an exchange of information with the new life form, and Barclay goes back to being regular old Broccoli. But before Troi agrees to take a walk with him in the arboretum, a suggestion made by him when he was super-Barclay, he makes a winning move on a neighbor's chess game, a game he doesn't normally play. Perhaps he's retained some of what this new species gave him after all.

Review
Once again Barclay is featured in a nerd wish fulfillment story. I find more and more of myself in common with Barclay every time he comes up. (Well, except for the genius engineering status.) This was a great story about what can happen when a nerd is given ultimate power. Even if he means well, he could go overboard and scare everyone around him. Not only that, though, it's a good lesson about confidence and getting a proper handle on the correct amount of it while still following orders from superiors. I love me some Broccoli.