***** (5 stars out of 5)
Picking up old medical waste turns out to be a bad idea! When Engineer Duffy drops one of the Mikulak sample containers, he tells Geordi he's blown a seal. Geordi tells him to chuck the damn thing and leave his personal life out of it.
Somebody on this sparkling technological marvel of the future has to do the dull, menial jobs...
Enter Lieutenant Reg Barclay, a diagnostics engineer who came highly recommended by starship Captain Gleason. Yet Barclay's always late and often on report. Was Gleason spreading a thick, creamy layer of truthiness?
Barclay has crafted a vivid fantasy life on the holodeck where he can deck the holo-boss. In the off-hour illusions he's a bad-ass who can put Riker in a headlock for his 'holier-than-thou attitude', or put Troi in a lip lock as 'The Godess of Empathy'. In reality Reg's got a nervous stammer and he's awkward with everyone.
Picard orders Geordi to get to know Barclay. "Make him your best friend."
Guinan's Uncle Terkim was regarded as a bad influence, but she thought of him as the only one in her family with a sense of humour. Guinan not only likes misfits like Barclay, the idea of "Fitting In" repels her.
Geordi bolsters the efforts of his underling and ends up making an actual friend. Finally there's someone in Barclay's corner he didn't program himself. After Geordi's adventure with Holographic Leah Brahms, his attitude about Barclay's fantasies is necessarily sympathetic. To La Forge, any holodecking is good holodecking, just so long as it isn't ruining you IRL.
(Which it does, because, let's face it, holodecks would be so addictive that holo-addicts would make meth-heads seem like chocoholics.)
Everyone soon blunders into Barclay's private domain. Troi is amused when Riker is affronted by his tiny Musketeer facsimile. Will in turn is pretty gleeful when Deanna meets Toga Troi.
"We want to gain some insight into what's been troubling this poor man," Riker grins.
Real Troi snarls at the gushing fantasy goddess. "Muzzle it."
Mortified, Barclay asks La Forge for a transfer off the Enterprise. Geordi refuses to give up on the guy. "You're just shy, Barclay."
"Just shy. It sounds like nothing serious, doesn't it?"
Despite his anxiety, his flights of fantasy, and his mistaking a flow capacitor for a flux capacitor, Barclay (teamed up with Geordi) brings the mad skills in time to save the ship from a runaway warp flight disaster.
"Hollow Pursuits" is a personal favourite of mine and the debut of a personal favourite character. I love the TNG crew unconditionally, but as much as I look up to heroic types, I'm drawn to the relatable guys as well. If flawed, imaginative weirdo Reg Barclay belonged on the Enterprise then so did I, or so the fantasy goes. If he could overcome his shortcomings then I could, too. There's nothing hollow about that pursuit.