I recently watched all 7 seasons of Star Trek Next Gen, and there was a side character that really stuck with me. It was a weirdo engineer with an anxiety disorder. In the first episode with him, no one on the ship liked working with him, and their observable dislike only caused him to be more nervous and awkward with his coworkers. His therapeutic outlet was to have fantasy experiences with the hologram recreations of his crewmates. So the more stress he was under, the more he secluded himself into the fantasy world.
I was fascinated with this particular character because up until him, everyone seemed unusually competent and skilled. He was the only one that had a off-putting behavioral oddity. I found him relatable, because I am also not sociable, and in many ways I do the exact same thing with my hobbies.
Having something ‘small and pleasant’ to say always creates the illusion of friendliness, but it’s very much an illusion, because real socializing often triggers my already short fuse. It’s not to say that I am incapable of patience and compassion, I am, it’s just that I don’t usually practice those emotions in group social performances. I’m basically a Klingon in that way. I don’t take kindly to being jerked around, and I’m not really interested in coddling a strangers outlandish wishes for the sake of ‘being nice’.
A few episodes later, the show revisits the same awkward character. He’s made some strides with his anxiety, and starts to blend in a bit, but then he gets zapped by an alien probe and ‘becomes’ the computer’s brain. He enjoys the power-trip, but by the end of the episode, he’s back to being average. Episodes with him start to feel stressful, as the audience starts to identify with his point of view.
After that, he stars in another episode about seeing something mysterious inside the transporter beam. That episode was emotionally draining, because everyone tried to convince him that he was mistaken, and that there was just no way he saw anything [when of course he Did]. A few episodes after that, he helps out with an sentient hologram character that wants to leave the ship. Which was the first episode that utilizes him in a capacity that doesn’t make him seem completely crazy. It was nice to see him reach his full potential, like maybe there’s hope for all of us weirdos after all.
And in one last episode, this character is the accidental cause of a mutation outbreak on board that causes everyone to devolve.
Although the episode didn’t focus on him, it does briefly circle back to his anxiety as a source of social discomfort between him and the rest of the crew. Drawing attention to the fact that he still has problems, and his time in Star Fleet didn’t resolve them. Which goes to show that in a world where all physiological and safety needs are met, some people are still anxious.