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August 31, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Big Goodbye

by Wil Wheaton, posted Jul 11th 2007 11:05AM
the big goodbyeTitle: The Big Goodbye
Original Air Date: January 11, 1988
Written By: Tracy Torme
Directed by: Joseph L. Scanlan
Episode: S01E012
Stardate: 41997.7

The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan, and the imperial senate will not stand for -- oh. Wait. Sorry. Wrong Star. Let's start over, shall we?

The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to meet the Jarada, an alien species with a peculiar affinity for protocol: if Picard doesn't speak a particular greeting in exactly the right way at exactly the right time, the Jaradan won't join the Federation, and they'll take all their mythical Jaradan weed with them.

Picard and Counselor Troi have been practicing his speech for hours, because it is just about the most important thing Picard has done since convincing Q that humanity isn't a bunch of asscocks. Because he is so aware of the significance of the meeting, he naturally closes up his books and heads down to the holodeck to goof off. (If my son Ryan, who is about to enter college, is reading this, please don't follow his example if you intend to graduate in four years. Keep studying. Your grades and my money thank you.)

Picard tells us in his personal log that he's looking forward to trying out something new called a holodeck program: rather than simply recreating a time or a place (or both) it recreates an entire fictional universe inside the Enterprise (infinite recursion alert! Infinite recursion alert!) with characters and a story, sort of like LARPing, if LARPing wasn't totally lame.

This particular program will recreate the fictional world of Dixon Hill, a Chandler-esque private eye from 1940s San Francisco, who is one of Picard's personal heroes. Picard will be playing the title role, and after a few minutes inside the program, he has already retained his first client: a dame with a big . . . problem. Seems some lout is trying to put her on ice, and the only man who can help her is Dixon Hill . . . who really needs to change out of his funky pajamas and into a proper suit. Picard takes the case, and then he takes a powder. He saves the program for later, and heads back to the Enterprise for a change of clothes.

On his way to that room on the Enterprise where they keep all the 1940s costumes, he calls a meeting of the entire senior staff (and Wesley Crusher, of course) in the observation lounge, where, with a conviction normally reserved for timeshare salesmen, he describes how great the new holodeck is. Then he recaps for the audience just how important it is that nobody screws up the contact with the Jarada. Data really wants everyone to know precisely how serious it is, to within a tolerance of one micron, but Picard adjourns the meeting before he can break out the puppets, music, and multimedia presentations.

Geordi and Data walk and talk, and Data tries to understand why Picard and the rest of the crew wouldn't want to relive, in the most graphic detail possible, the last (failed) contact between the Jarada and the Federation. Geordi tells Data that it's the sort of thing that one doesn't need to experience twice, and Data mercifully (and uncharacteristically) lets it go, actually changing the subject to the "puzzling character" of Dixon Hill. Geordi tells Data that he should, like, go study all about Dixon Hill and stuff and just get off his back because he's got shit to do, man. They part ways: Data heads up to the bridge to learn about Dixon Hill, and Geordi whistles the theme to Reading Rainbow while he walks on down the hall. Whether he came to a door and looked inside will forever remain a mystery, though I hear that before he went to Stellar Cartography before he put his boots on.

(Nitpicker's note: If you look over Geordi's shoulder about five seconds into this scene, you can catch a glimpse of some doors behind them which aren't closed all the way, revealing some nice, white, incandescent 20th century light. If you're interested in the geography of the stage, the room where that door sits is part of Engineering, with the pool table removed for this particular scene. You may also notice that there are a ton of extras walking around the corridors in this episode, which was intended to convey to the audience just how many people were on the Enterprise D, but I think just makes the place seem cluttered.)

With eleven hours to go before the Jaradan rendezvous, Picard contacts the ship's 20th Century Literature Expert, Mr. Whalen (you'll find one in every ship, you'll see) and invites him to come along on another trip into Dixon Hill's world, appropriately dressed this time. Data meets them both, and the three of them walk back into The Big Goodbye.

After a brief encounter with a newspaper salesman, played perfectly by Dick Miller - who was one of the most instantly-recognizable character actors of the last thirty years, and was an inspired bit of casting - we learn that Dixon Hill's newest client, Jessica Bradley, has been found dead. A couple of cops show up, and take Picard downtown, citing the rock-solid evidence of a Dixon Hill business card in her purse. Max Factor and a Mister Kleenex are also suspects, apparently.

Back in the real world, the Enterprise is scanned by a long range Jaradan probe, which makes the whole ship shimmy and shake with a bump and a grind that it just can't fake, because it's on top, it's on top. Yeah, it's a pretty killer probe, that's for sure.

After the probe does its thing, the Jarada make contact: they want to talk to the captain, and are offended that they can't immediately speak to the person in charge, which would explain why the Jarada destroyed every planet in the Dell technical support system. Riker manages to temporarily mollify the Jarada, but nobody gives him a cookie for what is presumably a pretty impressive feat. Oh well. He sends Geordi down to the holodeck to pick up the captain.

Meanwhile, Dr. Crusher dons some swanky '40s garb and heads into the holodeck, which helpfully puts her right into the police station where Picard, er, I mean, Dixon Hill, is being interrogated. A quick glimpse into the interrogation room reveals that Picard is really enjoying the "Bad Cop" half of the routine.

Geordi arrives, but is unable to communicate with them, access the program, or open the doors. (Though none of us were aware of it at the time, this was an historic event: it was the first of 9,624,000 confirmed holodeck malfunctions.)

Riker decides he'll head down to see if he can help out (because, as the First Officer, he's clearly more qualified than the dude who will soon be the Chief Engineer,) but is stopped by Wesley Crusher on the way. Wesley informs Riker that he's studied all of the holodeck manuals, and could probably be of some help down there. Riker, who clearly has no idea who the go-to guy is whenever there's anything wrong with the ship, tells Wesley to stay on the bridge. He's about to leave when Troi reminds Riker that Wesley's mother is also missing. Oh, and the kid's a freakin' genius who will one day transcend space and time after saving the Enterprise from 9,624,000 confirmed holodeck malfunctions, so maybe he could, you know, tag along.

Before Riker can argue, Troi distracts him with some Imzadi cleavage. Riker succumbs to the Betazoid Mind Trick and invites Wesley to come with him. Wesley tries to catch a glimpse of Troi's goodies on his way to the turbolift, but he's too late. Dammit, foiled again.

Back in the holodeck program, Dr. Crusher tries to put on makeup, while a desk sergeant tries to put the moves on her. It's a pretty cute scene, especially when he gives her a stick of gum, which she chews and swallows. Inside the interrogation room, Picard convinces the "good cop," his pal Lt. McNary, to spring him from the clink, and they celebrate with a cigarette, which Picard handles about as well as Beverly handled the gum. McNary invites him to dinner, but Picard tells him he has "other duties."

"Blond or Brunette?" he asks.

"Oh, she's a lady alright," Picard replies, "And her name is Enterprise."

It's truly awesome moment, and even though we see it coming a light year away, we don't mind a bit. When he comes out into the lobby and meets up with Dr. Crusher, who plays the part of the moll to perfection, only half of us mind, and even then it's because it reminds us of a slightly weird BBS chatting incident that we'd like to forget.

Back on the lady called Enterprise, Riker arrives with Wesley, who springs into action and starts investigating some blinking lights and Okudagrams. Geordi, who knows when to step back and let the fourteen year-old master do his thing, watches with, um, quiet awe. Yeah, that's it.

Inside, Picard decides that playtime is over and it's time to STFU&GBTW, but Dr. Crusher wants to check out his office. Any chance of that being a euphemism is reduced when Data and Whalen tag along. When they get to his office, the euphemism possibility is completely eliminated when Felix Leech, a Peter Lorre-esqe hired goon, is waiting for them. With a gun. And he's pissed.

There's another great moment here where the gun comes out, and Picard and company all look at each other with this wide-eyed grin, like it's the coolest thing they've ever seen. It's one of the rare times on TNG when we in the audience feel genuine suspense, too, because we know that gun's going to go off and someone is going to get hurt. Those of us who are longtime fans also know that, for the purposes of this holodeck program, the part of Ensign Ricky Redshirt will be played by the ship's historian Mr. Whalen, who doesn't disappoint and dutifully takes a bullet in the gut from Leech. This leads to another great moment, when everyone realizes that, holy shit, he just shot Whalen.

Dr. Crusher tells them that they have to get Whalen to Sick Bay, Picard smacks around Leech, and they can't get the computer to give them an exit. This is sort of a problem because Whalen is dying, and back in the real world the Jarada will be expecting the Captain to speak to them pretty soon. Just to make things a little more tense, tough guy Cyrus Redblock shows up with Leech and another hired goon. It turns out that Redblock hired Hill to find an "item," which Hill hasn't produced. Redblock and his goons intend to help Hill find it, using their guns. After Leech pistol whips Picard, McNary arrives, and we've got ourselves what you could call "a situation."

Picard tries to talk them out of the situation, using the old, "Hey, man, we're from another world" routine, but Redblock and company ain't buying. Data tries the well-known, "Hey, man, these characters aren't even real," line, which served us all well though years of Star Trek convention appearances. Unfortunately, it's met with similar results.

Outside the holodeck, Wesley has figured out the problem, but before he can launch into some glorious technobabble, Riker cuts him off. Will it work or not? Wesley isn't sure; if he does it wrong, the program could terminate and take everything inside -- including the humans -- into the cornfield nebula. (Nitpicker alert: Uhh, how, exactly, could the imaginary holodeck program terminate and make the real flesh and blood people inside vanish? Wouldn't they just be left inside a black room with yellow reflective tape on the walls?)

Riker tells him to quit talking about it, and do it.

Meanwhile, back in the holodeck, Picard makes one last effort to save Whalen and resolve the situation using the pretty much foolproof "Hey, man, if you help us save this dude here, by getting him into our Sick Bay, we can, like, totally use the computer to give you shit and stuff," routine. Data launches into seventeen pages of Dataspeak about computers, and Leech wants to kill him . . . temporarily making Leech a sort of sympathetic character.

But before Redblock can give the order to start greasing these feebs, Wesley zaps the holodeck controls with his patented holodeck zapping tool. The world of Dixon Hill's 1940s San Francisco is briefly replaced with the world of scary, snowy, Blizzardotron IV, before just as quickly flipping back to Hill's office. While everyone enjoys a collective WTF moment, the exit suddenly appears. Picard tries to leave, but Redblock and Leech head out into the corridor, as excited as Lindsay Lohan at an all you can eat Vicodin and Redbull party.

"A whole new world to plunder!" Redblock says gleefully . . . until the two of them vanish into thin air. Oops.

Back in the holodeck, Data and Dr. Crusher take Whalen back to sickbay, leaving Picard, as Dixon Hill, to have the titular Big Goodbye with McNary, who wants to know if the world will still be there when Picard leaves. Picard tells him he doesn't know, but they'll always have Paris. Oh, wait. That's a different holodeck malfunction episode. Sorry, my bad. They share a bit of existential reflection, and Picard heads out to the bridge.

Once he gets there, he delivers the required greeting to the Jarada, which sounds remarkably like someone throwing up after a Jagermeister bender. However, he does it perfectly, and the Jaradan Weed will soon be available all throughout the Federation, man.

Quotable Dialogue:
You're a pretty hep-looking broad.
Is that good?

Obligatory Technobabble: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A Newtonian truism which you have obviously neglected." - Cyrus Redblock explaining to Dixon Hill why he let Leech pistol whip him. (I bet you were expecting some Wesley Crusher Holodeck repairing line, weren't you? It's a long series, folks. We'll get around to it eventually.)

Behind the Scenes Memory: Lawrence Tierney, who played Cyrus Redblock, was infamous around Hollywood for having much in common with the tough guys he played in the movies. I had an encounter of my own with him just outside Stage 16 (affectionately known to all who worked there as Planet Hell) while we filmed this episode.

"Hey," he said to me one afternoon between scenes, "do you play football?"

I was 15 at the time, and weighed 95 pounds . . . if I was soaking wet and carrying a ten-pound weight.

"Uh, no," I said.

He leaned into me, menacingly.

"Why the hell not? What are you, some kind of sissy faggot?"

I panicked, certain that he was going to beat the shit out of me because I was more comfortable throwing 3d6 than a pigskin.

"I'm not strong enough to play football!" I said.

"Well, maybe you wouldn't be so weak if you played football!" he growled.

An assistant director arrived just in time to call us to the set and save me from certain death.

The Bottom Line: While a lot of fans love this episode because it introduces the holodeck -- TNG's first completely original contribution to the Trek universe -- I love it for entirely different reasons. We'd done 12 episodes before this, which is half a season, and this one was our favorite to shoot at the time. There isn't an actor in the world who doesn't love playing a period piece, and I think our real joy in filming 'The Big Goodbye' cascaded into our performances. As actors, we're clearly enjoying ourselves, so our characters feel relaxed and unselfconscious (Except for me, of course, but I was supposed to be nervous and self-conscious in this one.) It's a subtle change from some of the earlier episodes, but this is one of the very first times where the audience could really feel the actors - and therefore their characters - coming together and settling in.

Of course, there are lots of things for nitpickers to go nuts over in this show, like when Data tells Picard that he knows everything about the 1940s, but two minutes later doesn't understand when a holodeck character uses period slang. The incongruity is compounded when Data suddenly has a full grasp of hard boiled noir lingo in the very next scene. I suppose it's forgivable, though, because Brent commits so brilliantly and hilariously to it. There's also that whole thing with Wesley fixing the holodeck with one zap of a magic holodeck-fixing-thing, but since that's not really what this episode is about, it's also more forgivable than it would otherwise be.

There are some truly charming moments, as well. Everything that takes place in the holodeck program feels like it's ripped from the pages of a classic Raymond Chandler novel. Whether it needs to be funny, or thoughtful, the dialog between the holodeck-created Dixon Hill characters and the Starfleet characters always works. Watching Dr. Crusher figure out how to use make-up, Picard's unrestrained joy at discovering how cool the holodeck program is, and how the characters commit to their fictional literary counterparts is awesome. But we're still inside the Star Trek universe, so at the very end, we get to explore the classic science fiction theme of perception vs. reality, if only briefly.

It is a fantastic collaborative effort, from Tracy Torme's script, to Joseph Scanlan's direction, to Ed Brown's cinematography, to every actor's performance. There's a reason 'The Big Goodbye' is the only Star Trek episode to win a Peabody.

Final Grade: A

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Actually the whole "Beverly struggles to apply makeup" was one of the scenes that most bothers me about this episode. You can clearly see Gates McFadden already had a ton of makeup on before she even stepped inside the Holodeck. Attempting to make us believe her "lack of knowledge" about how to use make up was truly stretching it there.

September 18 2007 at 3:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Haven't commented before, but a friend directed me to them this past spring and I've been laughing ever since. The ST insights and the pop-culture jokes are fantastic. Keep 'em coming!

September 15 2007 at 7:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Taker Park

Reading that Wil Wheaton has a son old enough for college after a 16 hour shift is enough to knock anyone back on their heels. But, thanks to the aforementioned information, I don't feel so old and useless now.

I personally am hoping for the day when Wil reviews an episode with Ensign Ro.

September 01 2007 at 7:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ted C

Now that I think about it, "The Big Goodbye" didn't introduced the holodeck -- it introduced the "holodeck crisis" plot device, which ended up being heavily overused in the series. If an entertainment system built today caused as many near-death experiences, it would be recalled, and the developers would be sued out of existence.

August 20 2007 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Love the reviews keep um comin',
oh by the way happy birthday!

July 29 2007 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Long time reader, first time commenter.....

Wil does an amazing job with these. I laugh multiple times reading each one. The pop culture references are beautifully obscure. In fact, I occasionally have to Google something he writes to see just what the hell it is!

Here is one of the gems that made me laugh this time: "Geordi tells Data that he should, like, go study all about Dixon Hill and stuff and just get off his back because he's got shit to do, man." I could totally see Geordi saying that in real life.

Great stuff. Thanks for the entertainment, Wil!

July 27 2007 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The thing that always, always bugs me about this episode is the disconnect between the crew inside the Holodeck and the ones outside working to fix it. At the end of the episode, the Holodeck door opens, and NO ONE RUSHES IN TO SEE IF THEY'RE ALL RIGHT!

I always imagine Riker, Geordi and Wesley out in the hall, seeing the door opening. Riker says, "Great! You did it! Let's head to Ten Forward to celebrate!" Then they wander off.

July 25 2007 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matt Colville

I just read through all of these reviews in one sitting and was laughing out loud for much of it. I've since forward them to my friends via teh intarwebs.

It's really a crime Wil only does one of these every couple of months. They're great. They do a fantastic job of affectionately illustrating exactly why I hated this show *yet kept watching it*. There was a lot of great acting, some great moments, and a lot of truly awful plotting.

I suspect (and I suspect I'm not the first person to say this) that there's a substantive audience out there for a whole book of these. I would read that book! Probably pay for it, too!

Wil seems like an astonishingly together guy. Wil, if you're ever in Westwood and want to bust out your d20, you'd be welcome in my game.

July 24 2007 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was watching this one again today for the first time in quite a while and I always wonder if the lipstick Picard picks up from the broad should disappear when he leaves the 'deck?

Which I guess leads to the debate over what is replicated and what is projected on the holodeck ;)

July 20 2007 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I miss the show, but the new book RESISTANCE is great! Keeps STNG alive. And as for Wil/Wes--hard life after a tv series for a kid. Seems he's doing well for himself.

July 20 2007 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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