Mon
Jun 13 2011 12:07pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Big Goodbye”

Crusher and Picard on the holodeck“The Big Goodbye”
Written by Tracey Tormé
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Season 1, Episode 11
Production episode 40271-113
Original air date: January 11, 1988
Stardate: 41997.7

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is about to have a rendezvous with the Jarada, a reclusive, particular species who sound very much like Daffy Duck. Picard must pronounce the greeting to them perfectly, or risk offending them. (The last contact with them saw a simple mispronunciation lead to 20 years of silence from the Jarada.)

Exhausted from his study of the language and the greeting with Troi, Picard is convinced by the counselor to take a break on the holodeck.

He runs the Dixon Hill program, based on a fictional private detective from 1940s San Francisco. Still in uniform, Hill’s secretary assumes he lost a bet, while a femme fatale with nice legs wishes to hire him to find out who’s trying to kill her.

Picard takes a break to meet with the senior staff and waxes rhapsodic about the holodeck program before discussing the Jarada. He then returns to the holodeck, joined initially by ship’s historian Whelan, as well as Data, who has read all the Dixon Hill stories. Upon his return to the holodeck, he discovers that the woman who hired him was murdered, and he’s immediately picked up by the police. He’s interrogated for quite some time before finally being released.

The Jarada hit the Enterprise with a scanning wave of sufficient intensity that it screws up the holodeck. The crew can’t access it, and Picard’s group cannot get the exit to open. That latter issue becomes problematic when Leech—a flunky of Cyrus Redblock, the local gangster who has hired Hill to find “the object”—shoots Whelan, and he starts to bleed.

Picard strikes Leech, who runs away, returning with the well-spoken Redblock. Attempts to stall Redblock on the holodeck match Riker’s attempts to stall the Jarada, and both prove fruitless. However, Wes is able to open the holodeck door. Picard tricks Redblock and Leech into walking into the Enterprise corridor—which makes them disappear—and Data and Crusher bring Whelan to sickbay while Picard runs to the bridge to deliver the greeting to the Jarada while still wearing a suit, trenchcoat, and hat.

After which, he orders La Forge to leave orbit, and “step on it.”

Picard and Data on the holodeck

What Happens On The Holodeck, Stays On The Holodeck: The first holodeck-gone-bad episode, which would become a cliché in due course. The notion that the holodeck could ever allow someone inside it to be hurt is distressing, and the apparent risk that simply shutting the holodeck off would kill the people inside it is ridiculous. Who built this thing, anyhow?

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard invites Crusher to the holodeck with him, then pours cold water on the whole thing by inviting Whelan along. He is later blown away by Crusher in period dress—as well he should be. Seriously, the whole episode’s worth it just to see Gates McFadden in the pink suit, hat, gloves, and net. Hubba.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s Sherlock Holmes obsession from “Lonely Among Us” is referenced, and the similarities between Hill and Holmes lead to Data reading the entire Hill oeuvre. The android joins the trip to the holodeck and even occasionally modulates into period dialogue to entertaining effect. His android skin tone leads to questions, which are put off by claiming that he’s from South America. (It’s unclear if this is akin to Manuel being from Barcelona on Fawlty Towers or the Coneheads being from France…)

There’s also a hilarious bit of business when Data tries to move a floor lamp, doesn’t realize he yanks the cord out of the socket, keeps shaking the lamp to try to get it to work, not noticing Picard find a new socket for the lamp, causing it to alight again, with Data smiling, thinking he did something.

The Boy!?: Wes volunteers to help figure out what’s wrong with the holodeck. Riker refuses until Troi gently reminds him that his mother’s trapped in there, too. He’s much more self-conscious and nervous than confident and smug, which is a better look on him.

Welcome Aboard: Some truly stellar guest casting here. Harvey Jason does a fun impersonation of Peter Lorre as Leech, and there’s nobody in the world better equipped to do a Sydney Greenstreet pastiche than Lawrence Tierney, who owns the episode as Cyrus Redblock (a name obviously derived from the actor he’s riffing on). The bit parts all feel like they could’ve been extras in The Maltese Falcon, most notably Mike Genovese as the desk sergeant who hits on Crusher and the ubitquitous Dick Miller as the news vendor.

I Believe I Said That. “You do spell knife with a K.”

“I spell knife with an N. But then, I never could spell.”

Troi and Picard discussing language.

A HARD RAIN by Dean Wesley SmithTrivial Matters: Picard’s interest in Dixon Hill would resurface in several episodes, as well as Star Trek: First Contact and a few novels, most notably A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith, the vast majority of which takes place in the holodeck during a Dixon Hill program, written in the style of an old pulp magazine.

The Jarada would return in the novels Imbalance by V.E. Mitchell and this author’s own Demons of Air and Darkness.

The news vendor’s complaint that Cleveland has no pitching shows a lack of research—Bob Feller had been the Indians’ ace for years, and he was generally one of the finest pitchers ever to draw breath. Nobody who actually followed baseball would say that Cleveland had no pitching in 1941. The London Kings player who broke Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak would later be revealed to be Buck Bokai on the Deep Space Nine episode “If Wishes Were Horses.”

Make It So: A delightful episode that was a lot more fun to watch the first time than it is now, when the holodeck-gone-wrong plot has been done to death and back again.

But period pieces are often fun, and this is a nifty reworking of The Maltese Falcon with lots of funny lines, charming performances by all the actors, who are so clearly having fun playing dress-up and play-acting. Of particular note are Sir Patrick Stewart, who gets more and more comfortable with the role of Hill as the episode progresses, and Brent Spiner, who modulates hilariously into the cheesy 1940s slang.

The episode also raises some interesting philosophical questions, particularly in Picard’s final conversation with Lieutenant McNary where the cop asks if he actually exists and Picard can’t give him a good answer.

It won a Peabody Award, and quite frankly deserved it. A sheer joy all around.

 

Warp factor rating: 7.


Keith R.A. DeCandido has a new novel out: the Dungeons & Dragons tome Dark Sun: Under the Crimson Sun. You should buy it. Really. You can follow Keith online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.

22 comments
Christopher Orr
1. Daedalus
I hope you are happy. After reading this series (and your mentioning of your Trek books), I have jumped back into Trek fiction after a decade away.

I just picked up the beginning of the DS9 relaunch yesterday. Admitedly, it is nice to have some light reading in an established universe after dense books like Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covanent series.
Keith DeCandido
2. krad
Daedalus: Yes, yes, I am happy, especially since it looks like Demons of Air and Darkness (which features the Jarada!) and "Horn and Ivory" are on your list. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
NickM
3. NickM
Keith,

Isn't this an episode where Data uses a contraction? That bugged me so damn much. I know, "Shut up Wesley!"

This was a fun episode though, and while no Crusher fan here, she was a pretty tasty looking dame, with some nice gams. :-)
Keith DeCandido
4. krad
NickM: I'll get to this when we reach "Datalore," but Data used contractions all throughout the first season. That was never a thing until "Datalore" retconned it in.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
rob mcCathy
5. roblewmac
While an ok holodeck show I hate holodeck shows.
Christopher Orr
6. Daedalus
Even when I was younger, I was bothered that the holodeck had (presumably) only one level of safeties that could be taken offline or disabled so easily.

It smacks of cheap drama, honestly. When I look at the code I write (and the devices my mechanical engineering friends design), there are a lot of checks and redundancies. At the very least, an error state should be detected and lead to a graceful shutdown. Not "Oops. I crossed this wire and now the universe explodes".
NickM
7. Lsana
I'm another one who never liked holodeck episodes. The "OMG, the safeties have failed" was definitely one irritating aspect of it. I guess sometime in between now and the 24th century, someone followed Shakespeare's advice and killed all the lawyers, because there is no way that one of these could have survived a single liablity suit.

Even more than that, though, was the feeling that I wasn't really watching Star Trek any more. I tuned in to watch sci-fi, not a noir film, a spy thriller, or a Bronte-esque gothic adventure. When the holodeck was an occasional novelty, I could appriciate it as part of the "look what cool stuff will be in the future," but I didn't like it when it was the feature of entire episodes.
NickM
8. DeborahB
I'm not a fan of the period pieces - whether on the holodeck or some time travel accident or whatever. Give me the future, not the "funny" reactions of the characters to society from hundreds of years ago. The only exception that comes to mind in the Trek universe is TOS "The City on the Edge of Forever". I still love that one.
rob mcCathy
9. roblewmac
A smart enought Romulan spy could kill the entire crew during halo-HAMLET
NickM
10. John R. Ellis
To be fair, was TOS any better on this count than the later incarnations? It didn't have a Holodeck, true. But it did have countless, countless, COUNTLESS alien worlds that were "Just like Earth, only gangster times/the communists conquered the USA/Romans" etc.

At least the Holodeck had a better excuse for doing a Western or whatever.
rob mcCathy
11. roblewmac
I think Cheesy as most were I do like the TOS "other earths" better because at least they go to a planet rather than going to the magic basement that tries to kill them. But I grant that it's the same.
NickM
12. Christopher L. Bennett
Definitely a high point of the first season, maybe the first one where every element really worked. Except, agreed, for the "holodeck safeties are down" bit. If the weapon in question had been, say, a knife or a club that one of the players would've needed to handle, it would make sense for it to be a solid physical object that could injure someone if the "turn this intangible if it threatens anyone's health" subroutine is turned off. But what possible reason would there be for a holodeck gun to fire physical bullets at all? They travel too fast for anyone to see, so there's no reason to waste the energy and processing power on simulating them in the first place. Just simulate the muzzle flash and the impact, like Hollywood does with blanks and squibs.

This is also one of the first episodes to show Troi contributing meaningfully, using her expertise in alien cultures and contact protocols to help the captain prepare for his job. It was about time someone figured out there could be more to her role than just vocalizing what other people were feeling.

When this episode first aired, my father pointed out a nice musical in-joke courtesy of composer Dennis McCarthy. When Picard first enters the holodeck, the song playing on the radio in the hallway is "Out of Nowhere" by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman. It's actually a double-level in-joke: not only is the line "You came to me from out of nowhere" appropriate for a scene where Picard has just stepped into a world created out of nothing by the holodeck (or from the holo-world's perspective, just stepped into it from out of thin air), but the song uses the same changes (harmonic/chord structure) as Alexander Courage's Star Trek theme. (Or rather, Courage's theme uses "Out of Nowhere"'s changes, since the song was written decades earlier.)

I love what was done with the Jarada in Imbalance. One of my favorite worldbuilding exercises in Trek Lit. No offense, Keith, but I wish you'd made your version of the Jarada consistent with that book's version.
Andrew Love
13. AndyLove
This episode has one of my favorite bits of dialogue:

McNARY You're insane! You think you can kill a cop and get away with it?

REDBLOCK Why not? I've done it before.


Redblock conveys genuine menace in this scene - more than the usual villians of the week often do.
Richard Boye
14. sarcastro
roblewmac@11


"I think Cheesy as most were I do like the TOS "other earths" better because at least they go to a planet rather than going to the magic basement that tries to kill them."

Ha!

Thanks, that made my day.

(back in usenet of yore I'd simply say .sigged! and you would all know what I meant...)
Fake Name
16. ThePendragon
I always loved the holodeck episodes despite how contrived the safety failures were, I just ignored that because I loved the what-if scenarios they allowed for. The only thing that ever truly bugged me was watching the characters walk to and from the holodecks in costumes. I always felt that the Holodeck should be able to overlay whatever clothing was necessary for the given program.
Stephen Dunscombe
17. cythraul
I was always sort of horrified by Federation diplomacy in this episode. The Jarada subjected the previous diplomats, and the ship and crew that carried them, to Some Unspecified Horrific Fate for mispronouncing a word. The Federation response was to send more diplomats - ones with families aboard - and just hope they did better than last time?

The typical response to a foreign government executing your diplomats is war. I know the Federation isn't supposed to be typical, but I think you take your hippy future vision too far, Mr. Roddenberry!

Also: why didn't they transmit a pre-recorded greeting? That way Picard could try it as many times as he needs to.

Also also: Picard's French. He doesn't spell "knife" with an N or a K. He spells "couteau" with a C.
NickM
18. Pendard
I'm going to be unique in this comment thread and admit that I do like holodeck episodes. Some of my favorites are "Hollow Pursuits," "Ship in a Bottle," "Our Man Bashir," and "Bride of Chaotica!" Later in TNG season 1, there's an excellent episode, "11001001," a large part of which has to do with the holodeck. The holodeck was a great excuse for the actors to have a little fun, and that's always great to watch. Even the sillier episodes, like "A Fistful of Datas," are a good time.

However, I don't care for "The Big Goodbye" that much. I think this is a pretty middle of the road episode even by TNG season 1 standards. Part of it is the way that everyone keeps acting like it's their first time on a holodeck. Part of it is the fact that, even at this early point in Picard's character development, it's difficult to believe that he likes something so low brow as noir detective stories (if it had been Riker or Geordi or Tasha, I'd have bought it). Part of it is how the holographic characters get so existential about their lack of reality. Mostly, it's just boring. The episode is half over before Waylon gets shot, which is pretty much what passes as a story -- and I don't even know who Waylon is, I've never seen him before or since! And unlike "Haven," which I can forgive for many sins because it introduced something great to the series (Lwaxana Troi, in that case), I can't say that Dixon Hill's brief reappearances in "Manhunt" or "Clues" really endeared him to me, though Star Trek: First Contact was a bit more fun.

Basically, this one just feels like a dud. There's probably a dozen better episodes in TNG season 1.
rob mcCathy
19. roblewmac
I'VE always wondered how BORING is popculture on Star trek? evreybody's in love with the 20th century
NickM
20. Ensign Jayburd
I'm not adverse to Holodeck episodes, I just don't particularly care for this one or the Dixon Hill character. Why not give Picard something more compatible like a Shakespeare play? I'd love to see Picard playing MacBeth (OK, so he did, but that's besides the point) and, after realizing he's no longer safe in the holodeck, have to avoid being killed by MacDuff at the end (or any other holodeck character, for that matter for none of them are "of woman born").
NickM
21. k9feline
I agree with Christopher Bennet. This is the first really good episode of TNG with no noticable flaws.

And I love all holosuite episodes!
NickM
22. ellisk
Yeah, I agree, this is a goodie. Dr. Crusher looked damn good in 1941 garb, and Picard actually noticed. Data's "gangsta-speak" was a hoot. Over the course of all the series, the "holodeck run amok/how do we turn off this crazy thing" story-line was way overdone, but as this is the first instance, it's OK. Thumbs up.

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