In the many sweeping generalizations of the last half-decade of the franchise before the J.J. Abrams reboot, it's always been unfair to suggest the sixth season of Voyager as both a colossal failure and waste of time, and you can look no further for contradiction than "Pathfinder," the episode that began the crew's last leg of the journey home.
There's a lot of things to like about this one, actually, or if you're still being obstinate, then at least consider it noteworthy. Dwight Schultz, for instance, returns to the series (after making a more random appearance in the second season episode "Projections") and the franchise as the ship's unlikely savior. Then again, maybe he wasn't so unlikely. Originally a beloved if neurotic recurring character in The Next Generation, Reginald Barclay was a brilliant engineer who kept getting in his own way, finally tapping into his potential with a little prodding from the combined efforts of Captain Picard's crew. He made an appearance in First Contact, but seemed destined to remain known as the guy who was once nicknamed "Broccoli" (and not affectionately).
Some fans considered "Pathfinder" to be a character regression for the guy who first made a name for himself retreating to the fantasies of the Holodeck, Barclay once again preferring to hang out with holograms rather than real people. Yet they really missed the point. In a roundabout way, what he was really doing was integrating what had once been his biggest failing with his greatest strength, and in the process solved the riddle of how Starfleet could locate and establish regular contact with the wayward crew in the Delta Quadrant. It was a fete of brilliance that he could never have achieved serving aboard a starship. No offense to Scotty or La Forge, but this is an accomplishment of far greater important than making an engine sing even in the midst of a crisis.
Anyway, Barclay is joined by Marina Sirtis (making the first of three appearances in the series), once again portraying Deanna Troi, saddled with the task of figuring out the most peculiar officer in the fleet one more time. The episode also features the debut of Richard Herd in the role of Admiral Owen Paris, former colleague of Captain Janeway and Tom Paris, making the implicit case that father no longer so harshly judges son in his efforts to oversee the success of this project.
Subconsciously, "Pathfinder" was a huge development in the series, making what the show would never be able to do without limiting the dramatic impact of finally getting home in the finale possible by finally opening contact with home.
It's essential viewing in every sense of the word, a clear highlight of the series, something a skeptical fan can use if they want to approach with an open mind, a break from the regular format, a giant step forward for an established character...you name it.
franchise * series * essential * character
Memory Alpha summary.