Friday, March 24, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 93 (The Nth Degree)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Despite the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation had a good deal of continuity, there were still a few episodes that came from nowhere and went nowhere.  In The Nth Degree has a little of both.  The Enterprise finds a probe that it’s never seen before, doesn’t seem to like to be scanned and has a nasty habit of taking down computers.  In fact, the reason that they come across it is that it’s disabled the computers on the Argus Array, which may cause the nuclear reactors to go critical.

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge goes in to investigate with Reginald Barclay.  Yes, this is the Reginald Barclay who would rather hide in the holodeck than deal with other people.  While scanning the probe, Barclay is knocked unconscious by a strong pulse of light.  (He and La Forge have to beam back to the Enterprise since their shuttlecraft has been disabled.)  At first, everything seems fine.

However, as he’s leaving sickbay, Barclay comes up with an idea to cut the turnaround time on a test.  His intelligence grows exponentially, as do his social skills.  His acting goes from fumbling to brilliant.  He teaches someone to play violin, despite never having been able to play, himself.  He even debates quantum physics with a simulated version of Einstein.

When the array is just about to go critical and explode, Barclay rushes to the holodeck and basically hooks himself directly to the computer since having to say stuff is too slow for him.  He’s able to shut down the array’s reactors, but can’t unhook himself; all of his higher brain functions are now handled by the ship’s computer.  If he were to leave, he’d die.

Having been in only one episode before this, it’s entirely conceivable that Barclay might not make it out, but there’s still the question of what’s going on.  What exactly happened to Barclay?  He’s seen as enough of a threat now that the crew has to try to get him out of there, whatever the cost, as has access to the ship’s internal sensors, meaning he can see and hear what everyone does.

Before anything can be done, Barclay takes the ship near the center of the universe to meet a race called the Cytherians.  Rather than build expensive ships to go around the galaxy, they build probes that show space-faring races how to come to them.  They’re able to get Barclay back out of the holdeck so that he might explain everything to the bridge crew.

All we get to see of the Cytherians is a disembodied head floating in front of the bridge’s view screen.  He makes a few comments about humans, but that’s it.  The closing scene starts with Captain Picard making a log entry about how long it will take scientists to figure out the new technology.   We then get to see Barclay maybe a little more confident after his ordeal.  He’s back to being his old self.

The episode ends with Barclay (presumably) helping someone in a game of 3D chess, hinting that he may have kept something.  This doesn’t prove to be the case.  Barclay makes three more appearances on The Next Generation.  There’s no mention of him doing anything special, even unrelated to the influence of the Cytherians.  He doesn’t write any papers or get a promotion.  It would have even been funny to have the person he helped at chess make a snide remark about how he was wrong or something.

For that matter, the Cytherian technology and information is never mentioned again.  Barclay is able to take the Enterprise 30,000 light years in a short period of time.  This is never brought up again.  You’d think that at some point during Star Trek: Voyager’s seven-year run, someone would have looked into it, considering that they were stranded 70,000 light years from home.

One thing I remember finding odd was that the Cytherian technology was so incredible incompatible with Federation technology.  I understand that they must come in contact with a lot of different races and varying technologies, but this is what they do.  I suppose that’s why they’d start with an unmanned piece of technology.  If the array had blown up, at least there would have been no one onboard to be hurt.  If they were successful, someone would have eventually been contacted, or at least come looking when the Argus Array stopped transmitting.  I find it hard to believe that the Cytherians nearly blew something up because of compatibility issues.

Ultimately, the episode seems a bit rushed.  It might have been interesting to have buildup over several episodes.  Maybe we could even learn a bit more about the alien race, especially considering that the Enterprise is on a mission of exploration, sent out to meet new races.  The rush is especially noticeable in Barclay’s advancement.  The crisis seems to be there just to get Barclay to either use his super intelligence or to get him into the holodeck.

I’d advise against getting this on VHS.  It’s fun to watch, but has little replay value.  Instead, I’d say get the season on DVD or watch it streaming on Netflix.

IMDb page

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