TNG: S4E19: “The Nth Degree”

In which Barclay does a play, solves the universe, and gets the girl. 

They're both only still there because they think they're getting laid afterwards.

They’re both only still there because they think they’re getting laid afterwards.

We open with Bevery in a low-cut dress (for network television) and Barclay playing Cyrano de Bergerac, but this is not, in fact, a holodeck program. This is a play. With people watching. People who already think f Barclay as a bit of a screwup, so you can imagine the reaction to him dropping his lines, and his hair sticking to his nose.

Apparently, Crusher is teaching the acting workshop, and Troi recommended he do this as therapy, so I guess that’s encouraging. He’s actually managed to stand up in front of other people. Although we do have another entry for that “the Enterprise has way too many rooms” list.

What we’re really here for is a survey of the Argus array, a subspace telescope which has stopped functioning, presumably due to this unknown device hovering near it. A probe of alien design, it would seem. LaForge and Barclay get into a shuttle and go out for a closer look. Seems like the therapy has been working of LaForge makes Barclay his first call for a shuttle jaunt. The probe seems to be inert in the EM spectrum except for specifically visible wavelenghts of light – visible to humans, and no farther out. Once they start active scans and a positron beam, it bursts pure white light and knocks out Reg, and this just after a heartwarming moment between the two of them. You can’t have heartwarming moments in Starfleet, it’s like announcing that you’re two weeks away from retiring from the police force.

In a throwaway line by Picard doing his log entry, it seems LaForge and Barclay were beamed directly to sick bay. One presumes that the tractor beams have sufficient coverage to pass the shuttle around back and pull it back into the bay. Failing that, the ship would have to turn around to cover it by the shuttle bay tractor beams. This would, of course,  force the ship to stop pointing its SCIENCE BEAM (a.k.a the main deflector dish) at the array. They are also planning to tow the probe back to a science station, but it begins moving towards the Enterprise. Despite that this is a decidedly menacing action, given that it just incapacitated one of the crew, nobody seems to have decided to be menaced.

Geordi’s visor filtered out the flash, but Reg was fully affected. As he seems to be mobile, and as he leaves sickbay makes an incredibly awkward suggestion to Crusher that advances Starfleet medical science by about twenty years.

Not to be taken orally.

Not to be taken orally.

I take back my prior. Once the probe starts moving on a collision course, red alert is raised. The soundtrack still doesn’t consider the probe a threat, though. Also, they have no idea what its propulsion method is, but it appears to be capable of pursuing the ship. In order to stop it, they have to use phasers, since photon torpedoes this close could cripple the ship. Seems a shame to destroy it so they can’t study it’s drive. Luckily, the phasers also do nothing. Down in engineering, Barclay anticipates Geordi’s commands and is already on it, but to no effect. Barclay drops the ship out of warp, transfers power to the shields, and tells Picard to use photons because he’s bolstered the shields by 300%. This allows them to detonate the probe.

Now that’s over, they have to repair the Argus array. The central computer that controls all of the individual subclusters (this appears to be a setup akin to the VLA because dozens of small telescopes are almost as good as one really big one and significantly easier to produce and maintain) has been damaged and 18 fusion reactors may be about to go critical. The repair option would take weeks to do one-by-one, but Barclay comes up with an idea to repair all 18 at once, about 25 times faster than Data’s estimate for that approach. And in addition to his new-found skills at biomedical engineering and firmware kernel programming, he’s also now a good actor. You can see Crusher getting a bit moist.

I mean her eyes. She is tearing up because his reading is good. What's wrong with you?

I mean her eyes. She is tearing up because his reading is good. What’s wrong with you?

In defiance of the Dunning-Krueger effect, Reginald Barclay also notices that he’s a bit more confidence, and starts hitting on Troi when she comes by Ten-Forward. As his former counselor and the woman who saw his ‘goddess of empathy’ program, she declines, but it’s a near thing.

Back to his old ways for the next meeting, it seems, when he’s late to the Engineering standup because he’s on Holodeck 3, teaching Einstein how to integrate string theory into special relativity, and wonder of wonders, someone gave the writers a science consultant. LaForge finally calls out that he’s changed since the probe. The medical workup indicates that his brain is functioning significantly better, and his IQ is pegged somewhere between 1200 and 1450… by Reg, because Crusher doesn’t feel qualified to guess.

He has also supplanted Majel Barrett as the voice of the computer, which is a court-martial offense.

He has also supplanted Majel Barrett as the voice of the computer, which is a court-martial offense.

It’s strange, but since he’s not actually threatening anything the senior staff decide to let him help fix the array for now, but they’re running into problems because the Enterprise computer interface isn’t delivering commands fast enough to keep the reactors stable. The ship readies to jump to warp, and Barclay runs to the holodeck and starts building a new interface. because the obvious solution to I/O problems is to render more graphics. Of course, it is faster if he teaches the computer how to build a neural interface to take over the ship.

Sadly, now he can’t leave because his brain currently occupies the Starboard computer core and if he leaves his body will die. Since he was already a kernel expert, he’s rewriting the ship’s firmware bit by bit, and the best plan is currently to bypass him completely to limp to the closest starbase. This is making me want to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again. Oh, also, he’s solved the Theory of Everything, the Traveler equations, the secret of instantaneous travel, and begins taking the Enterprise via subspace gravitic wormhole or somesuch. Troi tries to talk him down, but no dice. LaForge tries to shut him down, but there is a similar lack of regular polyhedric randomization engines.

How are you going to out-think a guy that can do this?

How are you going to out-think a guy that can do this?

As the ship enters the subspace distortion, Picard finally orders Barclay disconnected by force, but of course he set up a force field. Further underlining the futility of the Starfleet Security training, their best plan is to shoot at the guy who solved subspace super-location in a fit of insomnia. I’m struggling to understand why they thought that was going to work.

And of course Worf tries to attack it.

And of course Worf tries to attack it.

Subspace quantum displacement is an unpleasant way to travel, but does take them 30,000 light-years in about half a minute, where they are confronted by a holographic head who seems mildly interested in them. Barclay calls them Cytherians, and apparently their method of exploration is to reprogram computers (or, in this case, people) by means of bringing others to them to examine and exchange ideas. They spend ten days hanging out and getting knowledge that will apparently take the Federation decades to figure out, but since it all happens in a voice-over we can presume that nothing nefarious happened. Plus, we now have an excuse for all the outlandish technological nonsense they’re going to come out with in future series. They return Barclay to his former state. He remembers doing all the things, but not knowing how, which sounds horrible. Fortunately, he actually has a support structure, and the memory of his transcendent experience. Plus, a date with Troi. Plus, he solves a chess game nine moves ahead, so maybe he’s not entirely down to baseline.

One thought on “TNG: S4E19: “The Nth Degree”

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