WARNING: The following post contains particularly frightening spoilers for this week's TNG offering, "Realm of Fear". Those afraid of spoilers should either get over their fears or skip over this post.

Much better. Not top-drawer, but much more enjoyable.

If they'd just tone down on that bloody technobabble...but I jump ahead. Hark, 'tis a synopsis!

The Enterprise locates the derelict science vessel USS Yosemite, which had been observing a set of "plasma streamers." The only safe way to travel between ships is to link up the two ships' transporter systems, which is done. However, Lt. Reg Barclay abandons the mission temporarily out of a sense of extreme terror over using the transporters. After some quick counseling from Troi (who recommends a relaxation technique), however, he manages to transport over and begins to work.

The team finds four crewmembers unaccounted for, and the rest all dead. All signs point to an explosion in the transporter console, yet the transporter works perfectly. One of the bodies and a shattered sample container are beamed back to the Enterprise for study, and the away team returns. However, while Barclay is in transport, he sees what appears to be a wormlike creature *in the matter stream* with him, which then approaches and touches his left arm. When he arrives on board the Enterprise, he is decidedly shaken.

While Barclay and Geordi try (and fail) to reconstitute the Yosemite's scrambled logs, Barclay hints at what he saw in the transporter, leaving the story vague on specifics. Geordi and O'Brien check out the transporter in question, but find no problems whatsoever. Further, Geordi and O'Brien both reemphasize to Reg how safe transporting really is as a mode of travel. Meanwhile, Beverly's examination of the corpse results in a sudden, short-lived heartbeat, and similar occurrences in the brain and lungs.

Later, Barclay is relaxing in Ten-Forward when his arm suddenly flares with pain and begins to glow. Panicking, he covers it as it fades and hurries out of the lounge to his quarters. There, he listens to a description of the old disease "transporter psychosis" and becomes convinced that he's a victim of it.

After Beverly gives her report on the Yosemite crewmember (residual ionization in the body caused those sporadic occurrences), the suggestion is made that the ship might have tried to beam aboard a piece of a plasma streamer for study, and that an explosion of that nature might have caused all the damage they've seen. Geordi, Data, and a very jittery Barclay check the container and find the same ionization traces. They decide to repeat the same experiment under better-controlled circumstances. However, Geordi, tipped off by Data as to Barclay's odd behavior, calls in Troi to help calm him down. Troi then, based on her observations, relieves Barclay of duty.

Barclay tries to relax in his quarters and fails. Then, trying to sleep, he once again sees his arm begin to glow. This time, he goes to the transporter room and orders O'Brien to beam him to the Yosemite and back again, this time manually re-creating an ionic fluctuation that occurred during his original beam-back. When O'Brien does so, Barclay *again* sees the wormlike creature in the matter stream, and this time has the senior staff awakened for a briefing. Picard orders that one transporter disassembled for analysis initially, and Beverly finds with a microcellular scan of Barclay's arm that the same ionization patterns as in the dead Yosemite crewman are now in his body. This time, all transporters are taken offline, as Barclay returns to Engineering to carry out the experiment previously arranged.

The streamer is beamed aboard inside a container, and the container is further enclosed in a containment field. However, during a resonance scan the container explodes; the field, however, remains intact, and Geordi spots patterns indicative of *life* in the streamer. That excitement fades, however, when he finds that Reg is now unconscious, with much of his *body* glowing the way his arm was earlier...

When Barclay revives, he's told the news; there are small, "quasi-energy" microbes inhabiting the streamer, and he must have seen one of them caught in the pattern buffer, grossly distorted in size. Sadly, the microbes are also infesting his body, and slowly killing him. The only possible way to remove them would be to hold his body in transporter stasis and try to pick out a pattern that the biofilter could recognize. It might work, but it also runs the risk of pattern degradation; Barclay might never emerge from transport.

Barclay, with little option, accepts the risk, and as the suspension begins, he once again encounters the lifeform in the matter stream. As Geordi, O'Brien and Beverly work frantically to screen out the microbes, the lifeform approaches Barclay. They discover the right patterns just in the nick of time, but as the beam-in commences, Barclay spies a *second* lifeform and grabs onto the first, playing a hunch. He rematerializes intact on board the Enterprise, holding on to *one of the missing four Yosemite crewmembers*. Apparently, they had also been infected with the microbes, but the limits were pushed too far in the same attempt to cure them, thus losing them to the pattern buffer. Worf and a security team, using the same technique, manage to recover the other three missing crewmembers; and having returned the microbes to their proper homes, the Enterprise moves on.

There we are; that wasn't so bad, was it? Now, on to commentary.

The show's biggest *drawback*, as you may have gathered from my synopsis, was that it was very tech-heavy. I realize that some may not consider that a drawback; I have acquaintances who, for example, consider one of ST6's shining moments to be seeing the Constitution-class blueprints Scotty was reading. I, however, tend to prefer the technology as an underlying *background* to a story, not the overriding reason for the story's very existence. This show centered, as I see it, primarily on the transporter and its operations, not on Barclay or any other crewmember; and that hurts it.

However, Barclay was a very prominent *subordinate* focus to the show, and that earns it back a lot of the mileage it had lost. Dwight Schultz did his usual good job with TNG's Token Neurotic, and he's still remarkably entertaining to watch in the role. It's interesting how one character's presence or absence can make or break a story; if "Realm of Fear" had put, say, Geordi or Riker in the role of transporter-"victim" rather than Barclay, I suspect it could have been a mighty boring show. Fortunately, this managed not to be.

Aside from the technobabble-heavy nature of the story, the plotting itself had good points and bad points. A few below, bad first:

First of all, I do have a minor problem with the plausibility of the whole setup. Let's see: sensors can't penetrate the plasma stream well enough to even check for life signs, yet somehow the Enterprise can confidently* manipulate the Yosemite's transporter system well enough to link it to the Enterprise's own? Reg had a point; I wouldn't have trusted that linkup to speak my weight. Along similar lines, if they had computer control good enough to engage the Yosemite's transporters, why couldn't they just power up the engines and get it out of the stream by itself, *then* beam over safely? ("Because then there wouldn't be a story; c'mon, Tim." "Shh.")

The tech-heavy nature of the thing also made the plot *itself* plod along rather ponderously on occasion. The big example in my mind is the Geordi/Reg/O'Brien scene discussing transporter safety and transporter theory. It's not often that I'm in a situation where I actually check my watch to wonder how soon a scene will end, but this was one of them. (The only exception there was Reg's comment about his professor referring to the "billlllyuns and billllyuns" of particles the body is broken into during transport, but that's more a Cornell-specific thing, I suspect. :-) )

On the other hand, I very much *liked* the ending; having the crawly turn out to be a disguised Yosemite crewman was a major surprise for me, but one that in retrospect turns out to be a well-founded, head-slapping "of *course*!" surprise following in the footsteps of "The Defector". I had completely and utterly forgotten about the four missing crewmembers until then; the setup for that resolution was very subtly and quietly done. That kind of plotting I like a great deal; let's see more of it.

Character-wise, there was also some good and bad. Again, bad first:

There were at least two situations that suggested the crew were rather less swift than they usually appear, and that's not so good. First off, I find it unlikely that Riker would make a sweeping statement about seeing no traces of *anyone* on board, when in fact all but four crewmembers are there, one of them close enough that Bev virtually tripped over it. That felt like an editing glitch to me. Second, the whole idea of "hey, they tried this experiment and it killed everybody; why don't we try to repeat it ourselves?" is a plotting idea that usually rankles with me, and here wasn't much of an exception. Granted, I think the idea was that they'd be able to do it on the Enterprise more safely than they could on the Yosemite, but there's nothing to really make that plain...and I've seen enough examples of "oh, it couldn't cause *us* problems" to be suspicious.

On the other hand, several character bits were treated very well, most of them again centering on Barclay. His counseling session with Troi, although a little slow-paced, made *sense* to me given both characters, and provided not a few smiles to boot. Even his reactions to hearing the symptoms of transporter psychosis worked for me; it's one of the oldest gags in the book, but it's close enough to realistic that when played well it can work.

Two lines in particular from Barclay really worked for me, incidentally:

"...I get a certain feeling. I guess you could call it...*mortal terror*. <<thud>>"

and "I just don't get to see these decks very often. Look, there's stellar cartography! I thought that was deck eleven!" :-)

I've no idea why; just something about the delivery really got me smiling.

There really isn't *that* much else I have to say, really. A few short points:

--There were several occasions that invited the MST3K treatment. The most flagrant of those had to be when Beverly's suddenly started having a heartbeat. She quickly acted and his heart *stopped* beating. "Well, that takes care of that. Damn corpses, trying to come back to life and make more work for us..." :-) (Another had to be Geordi's crack about Reg looking pale, however. Er...Geordi, pardon me for asking, but isn't it a *wee* bit difficult for you to tell?)

--On a very worried note, I saw absolutely no sign here that the events of "The Inner Light" are being used to influence Picard at all. Granted, he had a minor part, but it's cause for concern. We need something soon...

--All 3 of the final Yosemite crewmembers are brought back at once. Excuse me, but I *do* seem to recall the point being made that there was only bandwidth enough to beam one person around at a time here. What gives?

There, now I've babbled enough. This had a few holes, but on the whole I enjoyed myself a lot more during this one than I did during "Time's Arrow, Part II". That may bode well; I hope so.

So, then, those numerical things:

Plot: 8.'Twas running a 5-6 for all the difficulties, but the sheer cleverness of the ending saves it a lot.

Plot Handling: 5. Slooooooow; Cliff Bole's done a lot better.

Characterization: 9. This, on the other hand, was a lot more worth watching, which is nice, since that's my main interest.

TOTAL: 8, rounding up a bit for decent music and terrific FX. "Darmok" it isn't, but it beats the opener all hollow.

NEXT WEEK: Troi ages quickly and becomes either domineering, possessed, or both. Pardon the jumping to conclusions, but I *really* hope this is better than it looks. Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "You know, I think this is the first time we've talked outside the transporter room." "Well, to be honest, I've always avoided you." -- Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...