The Big Goodbye (TNG Rewatch, Season 1, Episode 11)

The first of (far too) many “trapped on the holodeck” episodes.

Exhausted while preparing for a high-stakes diplomatic ritual, Picard takes a break in a virtual-reality simulation of a 1940s detective novel. I remembered enjoying Brent Spiner’s portrayal of Data adapting to the noir setting, but on my rewatch I was delighted by Gates McFadden’s physical comedy when Dr. Crusher joins the party.

Picard dominates a staff meeting by enthusing about his holodeck experience. The scene, which starts in medias res, presents about 15 lines about the holodeck, Picard reminds everyone why they’ve gathered, and then after just 8 more lines dismisses everyone from yet another meeting that could have been handled by email.

After the holodeck malfunctions, the script required Picard to try lecturing some NPC baddies into changing sides. As traditional as Picard is, he doubtless grew up in a society that understands simulations. Both Data and Crusher tell him (each in their own way) it’s pointless.

Of un-glitching the holodeck, Wesley at one point says: “If this isn’t done correctly, the program could abort and everyone inside could vanish.” Clearly whoever designed the 24th-century holodeck would have created a big red “reset” button, instantly reachable from the inside or the outside. While the script established something went wrong when this week’s mysterious aliens scanned the ship, come on.

These exchanges were of course there to benefit the 1980s audience, most of whom thought of video games as low-resolution arcade shooters. While Picard’s “big goodbye” with his “good cop” buddy McNary worked well, the character scenes didn’t distract me from the clunky plot contrivances. Later episodes would try to come up with some reason for why the crew needed to play along with the scenario.

In the final scene, when Picard has to recite a ritual greeting to persnickety aliens, Troi sits on the edge of her seat, silently mouthing the words. It’s a small touch, but a good use of her character. And ultimately I found myself smiling at Data’s final noir monologue.

Good ensemble acting once again helps the show rise above mediocre material. The holodeck sequences were fun, but contrived. The in-world reason for why they can’t just shut off the holodeck was awkward lampshading the first time around, and has not aged well — particularly in light of how quickly the holodeck concept would brand the Star Trek franchise.