Star Trek The Next Generation: The Big Goodbye

There ain't no legs like those holodeck legs!
McNary: "When you're gone, will this world still exist? Will my wife and kids still be waiting for me at home?"

When the Captain has stress and Deanna blinks empathically, there's only one thing to do: get dressed up and go LARPing.

This episode is fun but largely hit or miss, with some great moments and some frustrating scenes. (Dr. Crusher actually gets up and wipes Picard's mouth at one point, as if he's a little boy, during a staff meeting.) Altogether, this comes across as another of the early Trek episodes that come closer to hitting the sweet spot. I enjoyed it, but there's noticeable gaps in character and plot.

You've got a little something right here, Jean-Luc.

I like the role Troi takes here, of counterbalance to the Captain's OCD. It's true: people like Picard are capable of killing themselves through work, and sometimes need to be encouraged, for the health of the crew, to let off steam. It's slightly better than her just telling people something's wrong–and a nice premise for an episode that marks the advent of the holodeck, that mysterious machine which has been the envy of every gamer since the early 80's.

The holodeck reminds me very strongly of the concept of racting from Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, and I appreciate Picard drooling over the textural reality of the experience the way a book collector might, for example, lose it over a rare Shakespeare First Folio. (I'm not sure if his gushing was out of character, or an early example of his deeper character. I think I need to watch more to figure that out.) So is his excitement at being interrogated by Actual Period Policemen.

I also love the advent of Data's curiosity. His interest in what's happening with Picard, in the world of Dixon Hill and mystery in general becomes firmly established here, and we also see the bonds of a friendship beginning to form with the captain. Speaking of relations with the Captain, wasn't it cheeky for Riker to take that call without the Captain there, even if the Jarada were going off-plan? I think he's trying to show himself once again to be more than a "mere subordinate."

When it comes to plot, though, this episode leaves you wanting. Throughout the episode I had this nagging feeling that Picard was on drugs or something. A short visit to the holodeck, fine, but for him to be there so long without becoming worried about the rest of the world? About the impending contact with the angry aliens? About his ship? He's giggling and jovial pretty much until his crew member gets shot, and even then his protests seem petulant. The Holodeck Goes Evil plot is about as terrifying as the rehashed organized crime boss with the emphasis on good manners, and frankly, I'm surprised the Jarada don't shoot the Enterprise out of annoyance while waiting for Picard to finish his fun and games, malfunction aside (why not simply transport them out?)


Ultimately, the ending feels unsatisfying, and almost like a joke. Picard takes time to say goodbye to the holodeck characters he's just spent hours trying to convince of their unreality. He screeches incomprehensibly for five minutes, the crew applauds (possibly at getting through the episode), and then Data begins to recite the opening to a novel… which winds up sending me helpless into laughter. I think the special effects and Brent Spiner's wonderful acting – he pulls off acting like an android acting like a detective story mobster – keep the script alive, but only just.

Bits and pieces

--The holodeck illusions were really well done, to my mind, but then a lot of the special effects on Trek were done well. I particularly love the second visit to the holodeck with Crusher, Whalen and Data.

--I never get tired of Data reading at Dataspeed, and love Data's baseball knowledge and his banter with the newsagent.

--The probe special effect was sort of off and looked a little cheesy, especially with the zooming and the opening/closing door. Again, so many effects are done well that these few mistakes really stand out.

--Beverly competitively raising her hemline. I love these little moments!

Dr. Crusher learns about the importance of knee exposure.

--Costumes. I love the Starfleet uniform being compared to a bellhop's; Wesley's shirt is clearly not responding to the power of thought. If it is, I live in fear.

--Definitely some heat between Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden.

--Wesley now not only pilots the ship and performs a bunch of other jobs, he absorbs manuals and fixes holodecks. Does he get a paycheck for any of this? Academy credit? Anything? I don't get his fear-inspiring concern at the end, however. Can holodecks make real people disappear? And I don't understand how Redblock and his cronies can exist even for a minute outside of the holodeck.

--This ep seems to be a homage to a TOS episode, "A Piece of the Action", which also featured the crew going to a world which seemed populated by mobsters.

--While the crime boss is a cliche, Tierney does a GREAT job pulling it off.

Quotables

Picard: "No, he's not. He's from... South America."
Newsagent: "Yeah, he's got a nice tan."

Crusher: "Where's the Captain?"
Data: "He's on ice."
Crusher: "What do you mean?"
Data: "He's being grilled."
Crusher: "What is he, a fish?"

Redblock: "Computer? I don't know that word."
Data: "An electronic or mechanical apparatus capable of carrying out repetitious or complex mathematical operations at high speed. Computers are used to control, process, perform, or store–"
Leech: "Enough! Let me kill him. He's really beginning to irritate me."

Overall

Two and a half minutes of applause at Picard's Jaradan screech.

3 comments:

Juliette said...

This isn't a great episode, but watching them all gush over the holodeck is both weird and kind of funny after years of it! I guess it must have been new technology at the time Picard joined the Enterprise...

drnanamom said...

This episode is cheesy but fun and I always enjoy this side of Picard. I agree that Data was the best thing in it and I also enjoyed Crusher trying to imitate the woman in the station. Thanks for the review.

Billie Doux said...

I didn't remember most of this episode and quite enjoyed it. Yes, it's flawed, as you pointed out, Joseph, but I always liked the holodeck episodes and watching Patrick Stewart do something other than captaining.

I'd forgotten that Dixon Hill was an homage to Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon, but I was reminded by the actors playing Redblock and Leach doing imitations of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. There was also, as you said, a little bit of "A Piece of the Action". And the Data from South America thing might have been a nod to "The City on the Edge of Forever" where Kirk tried to explain how Spock looked by saying he was Chinese.

Loved Data's suit. especially with his complexion and yellow eyes. :) I agree that Data was the best part of the episode. What would this series have been without Brent Spiner?