Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten – Hollow Pursuits

This is the third entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

In honor of Singles Awareness Day, I am going to do a write up on Hollow Pursuits.


Mr. Barclay wants his martini shaken, not stirred.

Brief synopsis of this episode is that a socially awkward engineer feels more comfortable in the simulated reality of the Holodeck than dealing with the complexity of normal human relationships. This sounds like nearly everyone in my freshmen engineering classes.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the first thing that pops into my head when you say that there is a virtual reality technology that is virtually indistinguishable from reality is “Why would anyone ever leave??”

This isn’t a unique thought in popular culture and science fiction. In “Parable of the Talents” by Octavia Bulter one character has never seen her mother because her mother lives in a Holodeck and never leaves. In Batman Beyond there is an episode where characters can create virtual realities to conform to their desires and they become addicted to the joy and thus become drug pushers for the villain who manufactures the technology. The whole Matrix trilogy is based on this idea of creating a comfortable virtual world away from the nastiness of reality.

I am glad that the writers on Star Trek decided to address the elephant in the room by doing an episode based on something we as viewers thought would happen if this was a real thing.

The Goddess of Empathy

The Goddess of Empathy. Gag reflex engaged!

I am sure I am not the only person who has become enamored with a virtual world that I wished I could visit and be a part of. Based on the number of LARPers in the world and the number of people who dressed up like Hobbits to go to see the Lord of the Rings movies at midnight on opening night, I know I am not alone.

Things only get to be a problem when you have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. In reality I am never going to be a Magical Girl. My pug isn’t going to make a contract with me that allows me to go out and fight witches. As cool as that is, it isn’t real.

I have a lot of things about myself that I don’t like, but I have a lot fewer of them than I did a decade ago because I wanted to change. I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to be the kind of person I liked, respected, and admired. Rather than hiding from those flaws I looked them square on and I worked to change them. There are still a lot of things about myself that I wish were better, but I keep working on them and I try every day to be better and over time it accumulates.

To quote a wise old wizard: “It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

The thing that strikes me about this episode is how innocent it is. Yes, you have the two female characters stripped of their agency and they exist to comfort Barclay and make him feel loved and accepted, but this is a far cry from a lot of the problems we are seeing today, specifically in the gaming industry.

You don’t see Barclay raping either Councilor Troi or Doctor Crusher. He doesn’t assume that because they are women and they speak to him that they are going to drop their panties for him. He seems mortified when Troi discovers his fantasy. This is a far cry from a lot of the behaviors we are seeing exhibited in the gaming industry.

Booby Trap

When you are touching the ship, you are touching me…

In fact, the closest thing I have seen to that kind of behavior was in the episode “Galaxy’s Child” when Geordi meets the woman who designed the ship. He, in the earlier episode “Booby Trap”, interacted with a hologram of her and he expected her to be far different than she actually was. His behavior in that episode was profoundly disturbing. He expects her to reciprocate his feelings even though he is a stranger to her. When she doesn’t he gets very angry with her. When she discovers the holodeck program he had of her, he tells her he was just trying to be nice to her with his voice dripping with contempt. He is angry with her for not being the perfect, compliant woman he made himself believe she was. Seriously, watch the clip.

I wrote earlier about characters being mismanaged, and sadly Geordi was one of those characters. LeVar Burton said he thought the writers didn’t know how to deal with black male sexuality so they didn’t really know what to do with Geordi. I can believe that. Between him creating a virtual female representation of the ship and the episode where he goes into a dead crew woman’s cabin, read her mail, and sit on her bed with her dog, there is very little the writers could do to make Geordi more creepy that would still fit into the nice, happy formula of Star Trek.

“Hollow Pursuits” wasn’t a perfect episode, but it went about as dark as it could while still feeling like a Star Trek episode. It brought the recurring character of Barclay that allowed the show to explore a character who wasn’t perfect but wasn’t a main part of the ensemble. I am glad that the show took pains to occasionally show us people who were not perfect who were struggling with their lives and careers rather than just giving us people who always know the answer and always do and say the right things.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!