12/11/12

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Big Goodbye"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S01E12
Air Date: January 11, 1988
Written by: Tracy Tormé
Directed by: Joseph L. Scanlan

Premise
Picard and friends get stuck in a 1940's film noir holodeck program on their way to an important diplomatic meeting.

Review
The Enterprise is on her way to meet the Jaradans and this insect-like race is so picky about their diplomacy that Picard has to learn their language of clicks and buzz-sounds perfectly without using the universal translator or risk starting a war with them. Needless to say, the high stakes and the difficult situation mean Picard could use a break from the stress, so, at Troi's suggestion, he plays around in the holodeck, the "Dixon Hill" program.

Initially, he enters the program in his Starfleet uniform which made all the characters from the 1840's joke about him being a bellhop or losing a bet. He gets himself acquainted with the program by entering Dixon Hill's office. And he is, apparently, playing the part of Dixon Hill, the film noir private eye. And then... SHE walked in. Jessica Bradley comes to hire Dixon Hill because she believes someone is trying to kill her. It takes some convincing for Picard to say yes to the job, but the kiss she plants on him pretty much seals the deal. Except now he's gotta leave to attend a briefing with his senior staff.
This is what the holodeck is all about
In the briefing, Picard tells all his staff about how awesome the holodeck is and how real it is. He's like a kid with his first video game console. He's so excited, in fact, that he wants to bring back a couple people to go again before they have to meet the Jaradans. Dr. Whalen, a redshirt who's big on anthropology, and Data, who just wants to learn more about humans, both join him. But not before changing into the proper attire. When they reenter the 1940's program, they fit right in. They walk along the street, pick up a newspaper and find that Jessica Bradley is dead. The police chief finds them and accuses Picard, the great Dixon Hill, of killing her.

Back on the bridge, they're just about ready to meet the Jaradans. The Jaradans are impatient, though. They contact the Enterprise and speak through the universal translator. When Riker answers instead of Picard, they are outraged and cut the transmission. Riker sends Crusher to go find Picard in the holodeck, and that's when the Jaradans send a probe to the Enterprise the probe screws everything up and causes the holodeck to malfunction, but Crusher is still able to squeeze in through the perilous doors.
What safety protocol made it okay for a holodeck doors to be thick as a bank vault anyway?
Inside, she finds that Picard is undergoing interrogation. He's also trying to explain to the characters that he really should be going now because of the Jaradans. But what do they know? They're just fictitious characters in a holonovel. Picard finally is let out of interrogation and meets Beverly, swooning at how gorgeous she looks in old style garb. Well, he's ready to go home, but first... Beverly wants to see Dixon's office. And, of course, Whalen and Data come along, too.

When they get to the office they find that a guy named Leech has been waiting for Dixon Hill to return and give him some kind of "object". He detains them in Hill's office so they're unable to leave, so Whalen acts all tough in front of him. Which kind of backfires when Leech pulls a gun on him and fires. Because the malfunction turned off the safety protocols and the bullets are now real. Outside of the holodeck, Wesley and Geordi are trying to fix the holodeck while Whalen, shot in the gut, has to get to sickbay or he'll die.
Either that or he's just acting to fool Leech...
Picard disarms Leech and tries to open the holodeck door, but there's no response. The malfunction has frozen the door and all manual controls are inaccessible. Their lives are in the hands of Wesley who's fixing it from the outside. Meanwhile, this Redblock character walks into the office. He's Leech's boss and he demands to know where the "object" is. The Officer McNary comes along and Redblock disarms him and tells him to join Dixon and pals. Picard drops all pretense and tries to explain that they're all in a holodeck program and need to get out. Redblock is obviously not buying it... until they end up in a frozen tundra. For a few seconds, snow sweeps across the drifting planes they find themselves in and then flashes back to Dixon's office. Now Redblock is on board.

Eventually Wesley fixes the door and it opens for Picard. Picard explains that that's the way to his world and if they let him leave, they'll come back with even greater "objects" than he was expecting to find. But Redblock's no sucker. He thinks he can go to Picard's world just as well as Picard can. So he and Leech try. They walk out of the door... and immediately disintegrate because there are no holoprojectors out there. That leaves Picard to say The Big Goodbye to Officer McNary. They've become good friends over the course of the episode and now McNary has big questions about whether or not he'll actually exist after Picard leaves and the Dixon Hill story ends. That is a question, the answer to which Picard does not know. But he leaves anyway, recites the greeting to the Jaradens flawlessly and a new story for the Federation begins.

Overall Thoughts
This is a high point in the first season of The Next Generation. A very well done episode with a great story and great sets and great characterization. It strikes me how Picard has become good friends with a fictional character in much the same way that we become good friends with Picard and the crew. In a lot of ways, a series finale is The Big Goodbye to our favorite TV characters after we've spent years getting to know them deeply and intimately. If there was ever a more meta episode of Star Trek, I can't think of it. Well... except for "Trials and Tribble-ations"... but we'll get there.