Summary: An Evil Barclay hologram stalks Seven of Nine, Good Barclay Human stalks Troi. Continuity stalks Voyager. Barclay is still oppressed by the man.
Ever since Reginald Barclay came to identify with Voyager’s isolation and loneliness in Pathfinder, he’s been obsessed with Voyager and with ending Voyager’s isolation
"So I'm just Barclay's sidekick now. Figures."
as a way of ending his own by proxy. Of course, Reg having a little trouble interacting with people, even Voyager crew people, he created a holodeck version of Voyager in which he’s suave, sophisticated and worshiped by all. In Inside Man he turns the tables by sending an enhanced holographic version of himself to the real Voyager. Where before Barclay was content to create holographic worlds for himself where he was all powerful, he has since come to realize that these worlds are actually fake. So of course now he’s turned to creating superior holographic versions of himself to interact with the real world.
The EHB (Enhanced or Evil Holographic Barclay) is everything that Barclay isn’t, or that Barclay thinks he isn’t and would like to be. Charming, a natural leader and the life of the party is what Barclay seems to have been aiming for, but when crossed with a Ferengi amoral con artist reprogramming job, what comes out the other end looks like a psychopath running for political office. The EHB sports a fixed demented grin and spews out ridiculous platitudes to the crew. He calls Voyager a “Miracle ship” and tells Neelix he has the most important job of them all and in a not so subtle in-joke tells Seven of Nine that she’s actually the most popular crew member of them all.
Properly directed and balanced with the scenes from the real Barclay’s life this might actually have been pretty funny and dark stuff as Mike Vejar managed to make it in the original Pathfinder. Unfortunately the direction is too aimless in the first half and by the time the strong Barclay storyline begins, the EHB’s storyline has almost ended. And the EHB scenes aren’t so much funny as confusing. Considering that the EHB does everything but hum melodies while sharpening a butcher knife, it’s hard to understand how the Voyager crew is stupid enough to fall for everything he says. As Tom Paris points out in a nice touch of continuity early on, Voyager’s attempts to get home have ended in disaster and the EHB’s routine is about as sophisticated as Quark’s.
Inside Man only becomes interesting when it snaps back to Barclay’s life, which ironically enough despite its supposed boredom is a lot more interesting and textured
"Of course I love him for himself."
than the “Voyager gets screwed once again but saved in time by a technogizmo factor.” Barclay’s plot isn’t that much more original than Voyager’s, but he is so screwed up, off balance and lost in a giant universe that it actually seems plausible that his story might not have a happy ending. And for all of Voyager’s travels, Barclay’s move from Starfleet to the beach and back seems to have more scale and scope than anything Voyager has done this season.
Maybe it’s the moody lighting, but even Barclay trying to do comedy is a whole lot darker than Imperfection or Unimatrix Zero. After all, Barclay doesn’t have to draw on Post-Borg angst or Half-Klingon angst or I’m-the-Commander-and-I-have-to-get-my-crew home-angst. He’s just the only imperfect, neurotic person in all of Starfleet and it and the few sets of the research labs and the beach are just so much more watchable than more filler from the Delta Quadrant follies. This is bad news for Voyager’s lackluster final season, but good news for any potential Starfleet HQ show or any version of Series V that will include more characters like Barclay and less characters like Janeway or 7 of 9.
One of the advantages of the Barclay side of the story is also the fact that Barclay is dealing with a conspiracy that might have plausibly gone unnoticed. The method of Barclay’s exploitation and how clueless he was about it is very plausible and ties in perfectly with Barclay’s backstory and character, while the method of the Voyager side of the conspiracy wouldn’t have fooled a child. Basically on the word of a hologram who’s really charming, Janeway nearly kills her entire crew without actually verifying the information with Starfleet itself. Janeway, who is usually paranoid and sensing conspiracies where there are none, is never remotely suspicious of the EHB until the EMH’s pettiness (in a plot point recycled so often it’s practically turned to mulch) raises her suspicions. Barclay is supposed to be gullible and easily taken advantage of, Janeway isn’t.
Still unlike the two previous Barclay episodes, Inside Man actually provides something useful for Troi to do. Where in Pathfinder she was just someone for Barclay to
"I am evil racial stereotype #3 Mugh mugh mugh"
talk to, here she actually takes a leading role in some of the events. The interrogation scenes are priceless with every single actor from Admiral Paris down shining in however much screentime they get. This is the only time IM successfully combines the dark and light touches that made Pathfinder so successful and it alone is worth the price of admission. As in Tinker Tailor, the humor works because it’s grounded in reality and in genuine human pain, while on the Voyager side the funniest bit is just the sight gag involving the Doctor’s golfing costume.
Of course the producers use Troi’s scenes to inject as many references to absent TNG crewmembers as possible. Troi vacations with Will on the beach but he isn’t due to arrive yet (possible reference to the TNG pilot), Barclay sings a duet with Data and discusses his holographic matrix with Geordi. These references fall somewhere between cute and grating. Considering Voyager’s current lackluster state, the reminders of a better show now deceased end up generating more nostalgia than annoyance at the painfully obvious tactics for trying to cash in on TNG’s popularity.
The final ending of the show is buried in technobabble but since it occupies little enough time and there’s not much suspense left by this point, it’s less of an issue than it might normally be. Best of all, by the end of the episode Voyager’s crew have not been clued in to all the events and are just as ignorant, meanwhile Barclay has produced an updated EHB that’s practically designed to terrify the Voyager crew as soon as it arrives. So despite a weak beginning and a not-really-there Voyager story, Inside Man has enough good moments, good humor and Barclay to make it pleasant and offbeat viewing.