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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

5 Comments

  1. Ross
    May 13, 2015 @ 9:15 am

    The way I remember it, the weirdest thing about that final FX shot is not the special effect itself, but the weird-ass way the Big Giant Head spends the whole time mugging.

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  2. Adam Riggio
    May 13, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

    I loved the Big Giant Head.

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  3. Daru
    May 13, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

    "It uses the Flowers for Algernon plot to explore what happens when a person undergoes a life-changing, transcendent experience…and then what happens to them afterward."

    Oh yes absolutely Josh, and when you say: "The whole thing about shamanic experiences is that they're only the first step. The trick is how to incorporate them into your day-to-day life to sublimate our material existence in the physical world. Sometimes it takes us our entire lives to come to terms with this, and Deanna says as much in the denouement." – you are right on the button. The one massive thing that really frustrates me about the appropriation of shamanic terminology by New Age factions is that it is often used in a transcendent way, which is so wrong. These practices have always seemed to be about coming fully into the world, not leaving it.

    The thing they forget about shamanic trances and practices is that as you say they were always about brining healing back into the physical 3D material world and day-to-day life. And in connection with this tale, they were also often also highly performative in nature, with sleight of hand tricks and such like being applied to heighten the drama. Additionally, the healing was often also done in in a community setting, for the whole community – as opposed to practices that so-called Western 'shamans' often do where they use a Therapist/Doctor style approach with 1:1 private sessions.

    So I love the knowing performativity in Schultz's acting here, and in Barclay as he takes the journey of learning how to fully bring his gifts back to the community.

    Deanna is amazing here to as she acts as an amazing healer and guide, the anchor need when someone journeys, and I really enjoy how she plays that role with such grace.

    Love this one – this is why I adore Barclay and Schultz.

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  4. K. Jones
    May 14, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

    Nth Degree is another episode that scared me as a child. The scenes of Barclay, disembodied voice, in the holodeck were probably the first time I've ever experienced a depiction of a disembodied voice, and were just right as far as being scary for kids, but not so much for adults.

    Another nice moment this episode comes in the form of some of that Hollow Pursuits connective tissue – less the progress Troi has made counseling Barclay and more in the progress Geordi has made doing so, as when the computer informs him that Barclay is in the Holodeck, Burton gives such a soft, resigned sigh that's kind of pitch-perfect in the way of fanservice so subtle that you'd never know if you hadn't seen the prior episode. It is indeed the best kind of sequel that can be unique and unslavish and still replete with follow-up material that's broad enough and universal enough that the previous outing is not required reading to understand the thing.

    I could talk about Shultz's recursive performativity and how it skews back to the greatest moments of Shatner in TOS. I could talk about Gates McFadden getting solid comedic play here. I could talk about how finally an episode downplays Data and gives Worf (by way of Picard) a nuanced, quick, punchy ethical conundrum that we see him wrestle very, very quickly rather than being drawn into melodrama.

    More than any of that we see that Barclay hasn't just grown on us, he's grown on the entire damn crew as they've gotten to know him and understand him better. This is another element I like about the format – we really didn't need to see all the interim steps between Hollow Pursuit and now as each crewmember came to like or accept Barclay and he grew a little each time and proved himself as one of Geordi's most crafty guys.

    We can just easily take it for granted that after a year on the Enterprise, he's bettered himself, formed relationships – it wasn't Barclay's fault he was so insular and his anxiety disorder kept regressing – it was the community he was in on that Other Ship.

    People like Barclay NEED a place and crew and community like Enterprise. For their own health.

    Elsewise I like that the tense suspense of the plot is never overplayed as far as "deadly dark drama". It's tense enough without that pretext, and wonderful that in proper fashion, the elevated suspense gives way to benevolent alien contact instead of something more insidious.

    In fact I can hardly believe they never rehashed this plot in later shows with malevolence instead of benevolence.

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  5. K. Jones
    May 15, 2015 @ 5:51 am

    I had the kernel of a thought that this episode essentially turns Barclay into an archetropal Mary-Sue, only to then turn the Mary-Sue archetrope into a suspenseful threat, and then to deconstruct it. But it's just a mild overlap during the middle chapters when he's showing the whole crew up, and not a proper deconstruction or parody of the concept as a whole, because that wouldn't service the story or character to linger on and try to disassemble.

    But something about Shultz, and the rest of the cast's somewhat Shatnerian knowing artifice definitely sidesteps a lot of the classic things associated with Mary-Sue tropes.

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