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The Trek Nation - The Big Goodbye

The Big Goodbye

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 18, 2007 - 9:02 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Big Goodbye' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While the Enterprise is on the way to negotiate with the Jarada, an insectoid race that controls an area of space where the Federation would like to be able to travel, Troi suggests that Picard take a break from rehearsing the very precise greeting he must speak in the Jaradan language by testing the holodeck upgrade. The captain enters the world of Dixon Hill, a detective from a series of books set in the 1940s. He invites Dr. Crusher and historial Whelan to join him, and Data asks to experience the scenario as well, but while they are trying to solve the mystery of a 20th century socialite, a Jaradan probe damages the holodeck. Not only are the crewmembers trapped, but the safeties malfunction and Whelan is seriously wounded by a gunshot. Wesley Crusher works out an experimental repair plan, though if it fails, all the crewmembers could disappear along with the world of Dixon Hill. Fortunately, the program makes an exit door appear on the holodeck, and two of the thugs threatening Picard walk into an Enterprise corridor, only to dematerialize. Picard apologizes to his friend, a fellow investigator, in the scenario before he exits to deliver the insectoid speech to such effect that the ship is allowed to pass into Jaradan space.


Analysis: Here's the thing about The Next Generation's first season: when it isn't irrevocably bad, it's really quite good. Even already-tired plot devices like Beverly swooning over Jean-Luc and her son saving the ship yet again aren't painful when the story is good. "The Big Goodbye" would have been a really good sort of storyline during the original series' third season: Spock would have played Data's bemused outsider, McCoy would have played the panicked doctor with a dying patient, and Kirk would have outsmarted the holographic villains, though he wouldn't have needed any help from a teenage whiz kid (not that it would have been necessary, because if LaForge was half the engineer that Scotty was, he'd have cut one of those little panels with a phaser and tripped the controls manually, like Scotty was always doing).

No, the episode doesn't hold up to a lot of logical analysis, starting with the question of why Picard was rehearsing the Jaradan speech by reading from a script rather than listening to a precise audio recording - this is particularly bizarre since we receive hints that the last starship captain who attempted the Jaradan greeting met up with a fate so gruesome that Geordi won't let Data talk about it. And Picard doesn't seem all that panicked about his duty when Troi tells him he needs to chill out on the holodeck. But who needs logic when we've got Felix Leech and Cyrus Redblock, two perfectly-cast versions of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet? And a red-shirt felled not by a cool alien weapon, but a holographic replica weapon!

"The Big Goodbye" is a really fun episode, and more importantly, it sets the stage for the Moriarty episodes, in which Data seeks a proper adversary for his Sherlock Holmes and in doing so creates a self-aware hologram. Mind, the characters in this installment certainly seem self-aware as well: Leech and Redblock are both aware of their "bodies" dissolving into nothingness ("I'm melting! I'm melting!"), and Dixon Hill's friend Lieutenant Bell wonders whether his wife and children will still be waiting at home for him after the program is turned off. None of them has the knowledge to reprogram the holodeck that Moriarty will acquire, but they're fully-formed characters in every sense and it's never explained whether that's a result of the malfunction after the Jaradan probe or whether it's always a risk with holographic characters. The issue of artificial reality, like artificial intelligence, runs through not only all of The Next Generation but all of the second-generation Star Trek shows, reaching its pinnacle with Voyager's holographic doctor. (In fact, I've heard from fans who believe that many inconsistencies in Trek canon can be repaired if one assumes that not only Enterprise finale "These Are the Voyages..." is set on Picard's holodeck with Riker and Troi attempting to study the era, but that the whole prequel series is an imperfect holographic recreation of an era lost to history.)

Unfortunately this episode squanders yet another chance to tell us something new about the characters. Beverly wants to be alone with Jean-Luc...uh-huh, no surprise there, and Data is fascinated by human behavior, check, and Wesley knows more than the entire engineering staff about reprogramming the computer...sigh. How about, when did Picard become interested in Dixon Hill? Was that popular reading when he was a boy in France, or at the Academy? Is it true, as Whelan surmises, that he gets a kick out of being interrogated old school style? In what way is this a relief of the burdens of command for him? We learn more about Dr. Crusher's awkwardness with high heels, old fashioned makeup cases and men trying to pick her up than we do about Picard.

It's nice to see the captain looking like he's having a really good time for once - the enthusiasm of the crew, particularly Data, is infectious - but come on, take us someplace new, like Bride of Chaotica will later do for Janeway! Picard isn't a very patient puzzle-solver in the briefing room, he prefers for his crew to come in presenting answers where Kirk would have muddled out his own. He's in the era of Roosevelt and Hitler, as a briefly-glimpsed newspaper headline reminds us...it's near Halloween, less than two months before Pearl Harbor. Why an escapist fantasy in this era, and why a noir drama with a Maltese Falcon-like missing object that obviously isn't going to bring hoped-for riches and joy? I so want to be able to draw psychological conclusions about the captain from his choice of entertainment, but it's just too thin.

Still, moments like Crusher expressing her desire to be interrogated and Picard choking while attempting to smoke a cigarette bring a smile to my face, and the dialogue is witty - when Picard says he can't visit a friend for dinner because he has other duties, the friend asks, "Blonde or brunette?", while when Crusher finds a stranger looking at her cleavage and questions him, he says his thoughts at the moment aren't fit to be spoken in mixed company. "For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction," Redblock informs Picard when he lets Leech hit him in revenge for an earlier blow. A stammering Picard, who has no idea what the item they're seeking is or where it might be, announces, "We're from a world of fabulous riches greater than the one you seek!" and when this draws skepticism - Redblock accuses him of "trying to obfuscate our sense of reality" - Data politely informs their captors that they are all, unfortunately, imaginary. These early Next Gen episodes need more humor like this, even if it's corny. The really original stuff comes later.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.