Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Pathfinder"

There was a first season admonition to the VOY writing staff to avoid familiar elements of the 24th century Star Trek universe. There was supposed to be a foreign lost and yearning feel for the show. After the first season had less than expected success, we got a second season with Amelia Earhart, Q, a Cardassian spy, a Cardassians missile, and Barclay. So much for the foreign lost and yearning feel. The shoe has struck a much better balance with it since. A case in point, at least in theme, is “Pathfinder.’ But it is an episode I cannot help but feel is taking the success of TNG and propping up VOY’s sagging fortunes with it.

The only defense I am going to make for “Pathfinder” is utilizing Barclay as the main connection to TNG--was anyone particularly happy to see Troi?--is a fantastic idea. The powers that be could have been far more blatant. They have, after all, used Riker and la forge in pivotal roles. I have a soft spot for Barclay. It probably dates back to Dwight Shultz’s H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock days considering his TNG episodes have been uneven, but it is there. Shultz plays Barclay at his terminally nervous, emotionally damaged genius best in “Pathfinder.”

But there are some big problems with the episode. It retreads the old ground of Barclay’s holodeck addiction from his very first appearance. There are quite a few continuity errors, which is fast becoming a VOY staple. The conclusion is a forced feel good ending that should not turn out as happily as it did considering the steps Barclay took to get there. In other words, you have to overlook a lot of flaws in order to like “Pathfinder.”

Since we last saw Barclay, he has been reassigned to the Pathfinder Project at Starfleet Command on Earth. He requests a visit from Troi in order to seek her assistance in getting back on the job after he is booted off for erratic behavior. He recounts the story of what happened in flashback. Pathfinder is a project in which Starfleet believes it can establish one way communication with Voyager. Barclay has a wild theory they can create a micro wormhole and establish two way communication, but the commander in charge thinks his theory is too off the wall to bring to Adm. Paris’ attention. But Barclay has become emotionally invested in Voyager‘s fate. He thinks they are just as lonely as he is. His belief is to the poin the has recreated the ship on the holodeck and practically lives there with warped versions of the crew. He makes an end run around the commander. When that does not work, he breaks into the Pathfinder Project and creates the wormhole himself. He has to dodge Starfleet security, but he evades them long enough for his plan to work. Two way communication with Voyager is established.

I wrote above there were three problems with “Pathfinder.” The first is the retreading of old ground. Barclay has not suffered from holoaddiction since his first appearance. Do we really have to see him go through it again, particularly as a convenient way to involve the regular characters? Granted, Barclay’s attachment to the crew is explained, although I had to watch the scene three times and can still only guess at the exact reason. Shultz cannot speak well when emotion, but Barclay’s family has been killed. I think he says they were in San Francisco during the Breen attack. He has been using the crew as a sursurrogate family ever since. Poignant, I will admit. Far more so than janeway’s claim the crew is a surrogate family for each other. But it just does not fly. It is even worse considering how fast Barclay overcomes his emotional issues.

It is no secret holodeck episodes bug me by their very existence. I am in the Scott Adams, creator of Dilbertt, camp on the issue. He once said that when a holodeck is invented, there will be no further human accomplishments because we can fulfill all our fantasies at the touch of a button. The only argument you can make against that idea is the absurd Star Trek notion 24th century humans are too perfect to revel in fantasy creations all the time. At least in Barclay’s case, there is an effort to support Adams’ theory. Barclay is fulfilling his fantasy of belonging to a new family byu creating fawning versions of the Voyager crew for emotional support. Somehow, I think that is simply a happy accident, there I cannot give too mark a mark for it.

The second problem is continuity errors. In order to communicate with Voyager, Barclay has to know its exact location. He uses a flight trajectory from when the Doctor was transported to the Alpha Quadrant two years prior, but that does not take into account the transwarp technology, the Borg technology, and the catapult from the previous episode which puts the ship 30-35,000 light years from Earth. Barclay cannot know that. As far as he is concerned, Voyager is 60,000 light years away. Yet he pinpoints the location perfectly. I also think San Francisco ought to have a few scars from the Breen attack a year before. Starfleet suffered some major losses, yet does not show it.

The third is that ending I keep harping on. Barclay, who has been insubordinate, gone against an admiral, and fought off security forces even though he can barely string together four words to utter a sentence towards any of them, is promoted, put in charge of a new project to find ways to speed up Voyager journey home, and finds a love interest when all his emotional problems evaporate in a snap. It is so over the top perfect, I cannot buy it.

I am well aware I am going against the general consensus with “Pathfinder.” A lot of fans like it. But they like it because it is a TNG episode disguised as a VOY installment. The real VOY characters do not even show up until the final four minutes of the episodes. They are practically incidental. I did confess to liking Barclay in general, and he is good here. But outside of him, there is nothing but problems. I am going to rate “Pathfinder” as the weakest possible good rating because the good elements are all TNG while the bad ones are pure VOY.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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