In the tenth episode of the sixth season of Voyager, WHAT WAS THIS EPISODE? An experience. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of addiction.
This show gets weirder and weirder, and I appreciate it so much. This is perhaps one of the oddest entries in Voyager‘s run because so much of it feels like an episode of The Next Generation. Hell, it’s not even until the final quarter of the story that the real characters from Voyager even show up! Instead, we’re given a chance to explore what Starfleet is doing (or isn’t doing, I suppose) to help bring Voyager back home.
Now that I’ve just finished “Pathfinder,” I get the sense that this actually told a needed tale while delving into nostalgia at the same time. I’m a fan of switched perspectives like this, and I definitely did not expect Voyager to give us the POV of anyone back on Earth. (And to have Barclay show up again??? I believe he was in that one episode about the Doctor’s origins in season 2.) Yet in doing so, the writers accomplish a couple things: the journey is given a new meaning and the crew experiences a major milestone. ALL IN THE SAME EPISODE.
There was always a risk in using Barclay for this story because it involved a relapse of his holo-addiction, and it also relies on him making some terrible judgment calls. His obsession with the Voyager crew – who all appear as they did in season one – is not healthy, and he risked his entire career here while pursuing this new “family.” The show does a decent job of explaining why Barclay made the choices he did, and it also dangles a huge carrot in front of the audience. The man’s theory was an appealing one: he thought that somehow, they could create a wormhole of sorts that would allow Starfleet to have two-way communications with Voyager. So… yes??? You should try it? There’s an element of this script that felt like a subtle criticism of the bureaucracy of Starfleet, given that Barclay had to leap through so many hoops in order to try something that apparently hurt no one. Was there ever a risk established for using the array? Because I don’t recall one! Thus, why not just try?
On that level, the testing of Barclay’s theory made a lot of sense to me. It was so simple; why couldn’t they just let him do it?
Unfortunately, Deanna Troi (I MISSED YOU, PLEASE COME BACK INTO MY LIFE) visits Barclay upon request, which is both how we get this entire story and learn of how attached he has become to the holographic versions of the Voyager crew, a stunning repeat of the same problem he had on The Next Generation. His anxiety and paranoia are back, but the reasoning is slightly different. Ever since leaving the Enterprise, Barclay has craved the same kind of familial friendship that he gained onboard that ship. On Earth, it’s almost like he’s reverted back to his state before all of his growth. He doesn’t have the same support system or sense of understanding, and so he drifts back to the same thing he used to depend on: fantasy narratives in the holodeck.
There’s an undeniable creepiness to watching the Voyager crew act sort of like what we know them to be, except that it became clear to me that Barclay had programmed the characters in the holodeck to appeal to him, to approve of him, to see him as the most valuable member of the team. THAT’S NOT A GOOD THING. And Deanna saw right through it! There was an issue where Harkins, Barclay’s superior officer, wasn’t taking Barclay’s theory seriously. At the same time, look at what Barclay was doing! Ignoring orders, breaking into facilities, dismissing protocol… he wasn’t exactly doing much to make things easy for him, was he? That’s not to suggest that people who have mental illnesses should have to “perform” in order to be sympathetic, and lord knows I have no interest in that idea myself. Barclay had other means to pursue this without hurting other people. For example, perhaps insinuating that Admiral Paris didn’t think about how lonely Voyager must be was a bad move! SURELY.
But even that only goes so far! Barclay broke into the facility because he was certain this was his only chance, and he was willing to give up his entire Starfleet career just to know the truth, even if that truth wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He’d developed another unhealthy and disturbing attachment to fictional versions of real people, and he’d pissed off practically everyone who had worked with him. Yet if he had not broken the rules and risked everything, would Starfleet have been able to pull off what Barclay did?
It is definitely very strange that of all episodes, this is the one where Voyager finally makes contact with people from Earth in real time. The whole episode barely features the Voyager crew! However, I cannot sit here and deny how powerful the moment was. After five seasons of endless chaos and conflict while on their way home, this crew deserved something good. Coming off of “The Voyager Conspiracy,” I didn’t expect “Pathfinder” to give us yet another. BUT OH MY GOD, THEY TALKED WITH STARFLEET. THEY GOT INFORMATION THAT MIGHT HELP THEM CUT THEIR TIME HOME. ADMIRAL PARIS SENT HIS SON A MESSAGE. Look, that is three emotional conclusion to three Voyager episodes IN A ROW. I’m a bit of a mess because of this? But it’s a good thing. That contact was a huge moment in this show’s history, and there’s a part of me that admires that it is within such a weird episode. The final scene is a little sloppy, since it suggests that Barclay is now “fine” after all this. It’s an unnecessarily neat conclusion that doesn’t need to be there. But also: Neelix the cat??? More cats on Star Trek, please.
The video for “Pathfinder” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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