In the second episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, Lt. Barclay must face his worst fear in order to save the Enterprise. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of phobias, specifically arachnophobia and acrophobia, and body horror.
I grew up with a pretty intense fear of both spiders and heights. Over the years, my fear of heights has all but evaporated, and I credit that almost entirely to the fact that I became so obsessed with rollercoasters after going on Space Mountain at age 10 that I just forced myself to deal with it. There are still things that spook me out, like the Skydeck in Willis Tower, but I can handle most instances of my fear cropping back up again. (There is one exception: I don’t fuck with heights when they intersect with unprotected situations. Like, I will not lean over the edge of a super high building or stand on the edge of a cliff because no. Not gonna do it.
My fear of spiders is a lot more temperamental. For example, Christina the tarantula? Doesn’t do a thing to me, and I would absolutely hold that cutie. Spiders in the wild or in my apartment? BURN IT ALL THE WAY DOWN FOREVER. I don’t know if it’s the irrational threat that terrifies me so much or what, but I can’t do it. I hate them most of the time, and the thought of them fills me with an intense dread and pain. O’Brien’s story about those horrible monsters in the tube? That is a perfect example of a situation where I would let billions die before you could ever get me in the same general vicinity of that planet.
Okay, I’m exaggerating but YOU GET THE POINT. Phobias don’t necessarily have a logic to them, and they manifest in such varied ways that you have to be delicate about them. That’s one of the reasons that I enjoyed “Realm of Fear” so much. This story is written with sympathy in mind, both in terms of how it treats Barclay and how those on the Enterprise treat him, too. When he expresses fear of the transporter, Deanna is not interested in forcing him to face his phobia. Hell, when he rushes off to use the plexing technique Deanna taught him, she actually wants to stop him. She wants to make sure that he’s got a safe space to explore his fears and slowly confront them, and I think that’s admirable.
And for what it’s worth, I loved that Barclay’s journey through his fear was portrayed as a courageous thing. This whole plot in “Realm of Fear” was his LITERAL NIGHTMARE, y’all, and he still willingly had himself transported multiple times – including being held in the transporter stream, risking his life – in order to save others. Barclay is obviously one of my favorite recurring characters on the Next Generation, and I believe that this episode is yet another example of why I find him compelling. It’s easy to write characters who are perpetually brave, almost to a point of recklessness, but what about characters with severe social anxieties? What about characters with phobias? What about characters who aren’t sure of the right choice, who struggle with morality amidst a cadre that always seems to know the right thing to do at the perfect time to do it?
Barclay works as a character because hesitation is at the core of his behavior, and The Next Generation never tells us that he is a bad person or that he’s a useless crew member because of it. He had no bigger fear than being torn apart, atom-by-atom, in a transporter stream, and he still risked his own life toying with that very risk, all so he might save others. And that’s pretty damn amazing to me.
The video for “Realm of Fear” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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