Hollow Pursuits is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that is somewhat divisive among fans, but not for the reasons you may think. The episode itself centers around Reginald Barkley, an engineering lieutenant who is painfully introverted, yet has created a fantasy world based on those he works with, and uses to deal with his insecurities, to the virtual (no pun intended) detriment of his job. Because he is so introverted and awkward around others, he crumples like a house of cards at the slightest whiff of authority, but when he is on the holodeck, he is the opposite, in that he’s in control, self-assured, confident, even to the point of being insubordinate and getting the girl, quite literally. This is something he simply cannot do in the real world.
The reason this episode is so divisive among Star Trek fans is because many felt it hit a little too close to home. It’s hardly a secret that many fans of not just Star Trek, but sci fi in general, are painfully shy, awkward around those we don’t know, preferring to remain around like-minded small groups or individuals, or preferring to just be left alone. I count myself among these people, as I’ve had to contend with severe, almost crippling anxiety and depression for most of my life, and sci fi, fantasy and similar genres of video games, tabletop games and books have served to be quite the escape for me, so I definitely understand Barkley, or Broccoli as he is not-so-affectionately referred to in the episode.
Some fans, however, feel the episode was a rather pointed and detrimental take on Star Trek fandom, since by the airing of the episode, there had been quite a number of Star Trek conventions, as well as science fiction conventions in general, and the perception of the general public was that fans of the show were not unlike Barkley; painfully shy to the point of appearing awkward and meek in public, yet all too consumed with their passion in sci fi, fantasy, or whatever their interest, to the detriment of their careers, education, relationships, or anything else in the real world. This is a view seemingly confirmed by episode writer Sally Caves, who stated that she specifically wrote the character Reginald Barkley as a satirical depiction of Star Trek fans and their obsession with fictional characters.
Other fans had a more tempered view of the episode, in that they felt it was a commentary on what happened when one took things too far, when they became all too consumed with a fantasy, and it negatively affected their lives. Personally I subscribe to this view of the episode.
As for the acting of the episode, Dwight Schultz’s take on Reginald Barkley, I thought, was wonderful, since he perfectly portrayed someone who was utterly, hopelessly introverted, unsure of himself, and just needed someone to draw him out of his shell. And I can only imagine how some of the cast felt when they had to act out their holodeck counterparts, especially Johnathan Frakes (Cmdr. Riker) and Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi). I had a rather good laugh when they both went into the holodeck and each looked legitimately offended when they encountered their holodeck version in Brocolli… I mean Barkley’s holodeck simulation.
Overall, I think it was a decent episode, and worthy of inclusion in the Star Trek canon, regardless of what some fans may think of it. I doubt it’ll get on anyone’s top ten lists any time soon, but it’s still a solid episode nonetheless, and should be watched by all Star Trek fans. Reason being, we have to laugh at ourselves some of the time…