The Nth Degree (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
|"The Nth Degree"|
|Star Trek: The Next Generation episode|
|Episode no.||Season 4|
|Directed by||Robert Legato|
|Written by||Joe Menosky|
|Featured music||Ron Jones|
|Original air date||April 1, 1991|
The crew discovers an alien probe near the malfunctioning Argus Array telescope. As Geordi La Forge and Reginald Barclay attempt to examine the probe from a shuttle, it emits an energy surge, knocking Barclay unconscious. He recovers quickly, but it's soon clear that Barclay is a changed man, a super-genius who knows how to fix the telescope in a fraction of the time it would normally take. As the crew struggles to adjust to Barclay's amazing new abilities, he surprises them all by connecting his brain to the ship's computer and putting the Enterprise on course for an unknown destination thirty thousand light-years away.
Rob Legato, who directed "The Nth Degree", oversaw visual effects for the episode. Legato eventually opted to create a 3-D effect wherein the Cytherian's huge head would appear to pop out of the screen. That, in turn, would allow him to have a literal face-to-face conversation with Picard.
The episode is considered one of the best Next Generation episodes. It is also considered a fan favorite in its handling of recurring character Lieutenant Reginald Barclay.
The Enterprise is sent to investigate the shutdown of the Argus Array, a deep-space telescope and radio antenna. Geordi La Forge and Lt. Reginald Barclay take a shuttlecraft to examine the array closely, discovering the presence of an alien probe nearby; the probe fires a pulse as they near it, disabling the shuttlecraft and knocking out Barclay. The Enterprise crew recovers the shuttle and are forced to destroy the probe when it follows the ship, believing the Argus Array was affected by a similar pulse. Barclay recovers, but the crew finds him to be much more intelligent than before, his IQ steadily rising.
The Array starts to undergo a series of catastrophic failures. Barclay, with his newfound intelligence, casually explains how they can use the Enterprise computers to prevent the failures, a task that will only take them two days to complete, much to La Forge's disbelief. Though Barclay's solution works temporarily, the rate of failure drastically increases, and Barclay finds the Enterprise computer too slow to keep up with it. He goes to the holodeck and creates a device that allows him to interact directly with the Enterprise and array computer systems, putting an end to the Array's failures. The crew finds that Barclay has become too integrated with the computer, and when they try to shut down the computer, Barclay sends the ship into a "subspace inversion," jumping the ship across a great distance faster than warp travel.
They arrive at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and are met by a representative of a race of beings called the Cytherians, who are far more advanced than humans and find amusement in their "bipedal locomotion" and "hierarchical collective command structure". Barclay, who was removed from the computer by the Cytherians and has lost his heightened intelligence, arrives on the bridge to help explain what has transpired. The Cytherians are friendly explorers like the Federation, but instead of traveling themselves to meet other races, they instead have launched probes that instill the necessary knowledge into beings to make them come to the Cytherians. The probe mistook the Argus Array and shuttlecraft for intelligent beings, and thus caused the failures in their systems. The Enterprise stays with the Cytherians for ten days, exchanging knowledge that will take decades to fully recognize. The Cytherians then return the Enterprise to the Argus Array. Barclay finds himself back to normal, although he keeps vivid memories of his temporary transformation and is able to play chess well even though he has never played chess.
James Hunt, reviewing for the site Den of Geek!, jovially recaps the plot ("...they meet a giant floating head alien who speaks like he was bussed in from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Apparently the race in this star system are so lazy that they like to explore by bringing ships to them, so Barclay did exactly what they want. The Enterprise crew stick around to share information, and try not to think about the array they failed to repair."), remarks on trivia and passes judgment on the episode:
Perhaps my favourite thing is that it didn't just go full Flowers For Algernon, which would've been the easy way out of the plot. Nope, the Enterprise crew completely loses control of the situation and basically they would've died if the circumstances had been less benevolent. In narrative terms it's probably not particularly satisfying for the lead characters to be passive observers to the story's climax, but as a sci-fi nerd I enjoyed the exploration of an idea through to its natural conclusion.
Keith DeCandido, in his review for Tor.com, gave the episode an 8 out of 10, writing, "it's an excellent episode that works on pretty much every level. It's a good sequel to "Hollow Pursuits," as it gives Barclay what he always wanted — confidence, creativity, intelligence — but yanks it away from him at the end. It provides a wonderfully alien species in the Cytherians, who are in the fine Star Trek tradition of aliens who seem menacing but turn out to be more complicated than that. It makes very good use of Cyrano de Bergerac, one of the greatest plays in the history of human theatre. ... Ultimately, what sells it is Dwight Schultz, who gives a superb performance..."
Jamahl Epsicokhan, also citing Daniel Keyes's classic science fiction novel in a review of 4 out of 4 stars, writes, "The character outline is Flowers for Algernon, except instead of taking a mentally challenged man and turning him into a genius, it takes a man of average intelligence (for this crew) and turns him into an ultra-confident, cosmic super-genius. In the opening scene, regular-Barclay is playing Cyrano de Bergerac in a performance that, let's face it, is pathetic despite his best efforts. Later, watch how genius-Barclay's acting is so mesmerizing that it practically makes Crusher weep." He goes on,
The way the crew reacts to all this is absolutely honest human nature; they fear what they cannot predict or understand... especially when Barclay puts an energy field off the starboard side of the ship and prepares to send the crew 30,000 light-years through it... The suspense of what waits at the other side is one of the true moments of unpredictable awe in the Trek canon. What actually waits there, alas, cannot live up to that awe, but I did still enjoy the episode's sense of whimsical curiosity, in which it turns out that advanced aliens used Barclay as an implement to bring the Enterprise here in carrying out their own exploration of the galaxy. Barclay is of course returned to normal... "The Nth Degree" is a splendidly unique amalgam of tones and themes, plot and characterization, imagination and bemusement, and it ends up being one of the most fascinating hours in TNG's run.
- Hunt, James (November 13, 2015). "Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Nth Degree". Den of Geek. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
- DeCandido, Keith R. A. (April 24, 2012). "Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Nth Degree". Tor.com. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
- Epsicokhan, Jamahl (2012). "Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Nth Degree"". Jammer's Reviews. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
- Star Trek The Next Generation DVD set, volume 4, disk 5, selection 3.
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