“Pathfinder”

PDVD_045
This is step 13 of the 12-step program to beat holodeck addiction.

Back on Earth, our old buddy Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) is struggling with his life since leaving the Enterprise. He’s working on a big project aimed at establishing contact with Voyager — and he’s also recreating the crew on the holodeck, a throwback to his holodeck issues back when we first met the character in TNG’s “Hollow Pursuits”. Deanna Troi visits him to help, and he tells her about his efforts to defy orders and use an unorthodox approach to make contact. After some drama involving Starfleet and Admiral Owen Paris (Richard Herd) — Tom Paris’ father — Barclay goes against orders with his method and eventually makes brief contact, offering a glimmer of hope to the stranded Voyager crew. He also saves his career in the process.

Why it’s important

As Voyager wound down as a series, contact with the Alpha Quadrant became more commonplace. Of course, the fact that Voyager was still out there was passed on in “Message in a Bottle” two seasons earlier, but this episode provides more hope for Voyager’s safe return. Later in the sixth reason, regular monthly contact will be established.

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Now we know why Tom turned into a lizard in ‘Threshold’ — it runs in his family!

What doesn’t hold up

There’s really only one flaw in this episode’s logic, and it’s that Starfleet would have any idea about Voyager’s location since “Message in a Bottle”. The ship has jumped ahead a few times — 10 years in “Timeless”, 20 years in “Dark Frontier” and smaller jumps in “Night” and “The Voyager Conspiracy” —  so one would expect that Barclay and Starfleet wouldn’t be looking for Voyager where they found the ship.

That said, the only other problem here is that Voyager’s best episodes often involve going outside the normal routine of the ship itself — sometimes by showing Alpha Quadrant happenings or by having episodes that are what-if scenarios (like “Timeless” and “Living Witness”). It’s almost as if the way the creators decided that the frame for the series didn’t work that well (huh) and that they occasionally would have to set up situations that didn’t fit in the normal framework to be more compelling. One wonders why the creators didn’t just pitch that framework (other than adding Seven of Nine to the cast, in season four) and try to do something different in a bigger-picture way.

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“Let’s celebrate our first good episode in a long while!”

Final thoughts

Schultz and Marina Sirtis do a nice job in this episode, and it’s totally understandable and in keeping with the Barclay character that he would relate to the Voyager crew’s loneliness. That he becomes a recurring character over the next season and a half — even playing an important role in the series finale — is significant and also telling. Granted, Worf and O’Brien were directly taken from TNG to DS9, so the practice here wasn’t unprecedented — and it isn’t totally problematic. But it is interesting that with such a wide array of characters and a strong cast (as much as the Janeway character is portrayed poorly, Kate Mulgrew was rarely the problem) the Voyager creators needed to pull from TNG.

Coming later this week …

More from the Alpha Quadrant. More Barclay, more Troi and twice the Robert Picardo.

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