Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Big Goodbye   Rewatch 
May 11, 2020 5:10 AM - Season 1, Episode 12 - Subscribe

White-Hot DANGER! Red-Hot DAMES! Jean-Luc Picard IS Dixon Hill, P.I., in "The Case of the Killer Holodeck"!

I'm gonna make you a Memory Alpha recap you can't refuse:

• "The Big Goodbye" won the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in television broadcasting in 1987. This episode was the first hour-long drama to win a Peabody Award in that category.

• The basic premise of this episode was conceived by Gene Roddenberry, who suggested doing a detective story on the holodeck. It was writer Tracy Tormé, however, who added numerous film noir references in the script, being a fan of the genre. The events of the Dixon Hill program as depicted on the holodeck were a homage to the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon.

• The character of Dixon Hill was originally named "Dixon Steele", as a homage to Tormé's favorite Bogart movie (In a Lonely Place), but it had to be changed because it too closely resembled the name of the protagonist of the then-successful series Remington Steele.

• Tormé and Scanlan together suggested filming the 1940s scenes in black and white. Rick Berman and Robert Justman disagreed, arguing that the holodeck could not change the appearance of the crew. The Captain Proton program, seen in several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, later indeed showed characters in black and white.

• One of the headlines Captain Jean-Luc Picard reads is "DiMaggio streak reaches 37." According to the Baseball Almanac, DiMaggio reached that number on 25 June 1941. The unnamed baseball player who broke Joe DiMaggio's record for longest consecutive game hitting streak was later revealed, in DS9: "If Wishes Were Horses", as Harmon "Buck" Bokai of the London Kings.

• The illustrations of the characters for the Dixon Hill series are from FASA RPG materials. Some of these illustrations are of canonical Star Trek characters: Phillip Green, Harry Mudd, Zefram Cochrane, Ilia, Cyrano Jones, Richard Daystrom, Sarek, and Garth of Izar.

• During the filming of this episode, Lawrence Tierney (Cyrus Redblock) menacingly insulted 15-year-old Wil Wheaton with his remarks.

• Budget restrictions prevented the Jarada from appearing on screen. Tormé was disappointed, because he had developed a hive mind culture for the aliens. The script of the episode describes them as "wasp-like; black and yellow, with pointed insectile features and waving black antennae."

• Picard accesses the Dixon Hill holodeck program again in later episodes "Manhunt" (season 2) and "Clues" (season 4) as well as in the film Star Trek: First Contact.

• Cyrus Redblock and Felix Leech do not begin to disappear until they have completely exited the holodeck. Subsequent episodes, such as "Ship in a Bottle" and VOY: "Projections", make it clear that a holographic character or object will disappear immediately upon passing beyond the range of holographic projectors. This also means the lipstick on Picard's cheek should have disappeared, either gradually or immediately, after leaving the holodeck.

• This is the only episode that briefly shows Tasha Yar in command on the bridge.

• In a 2007 online review, Wil Wheaton gave this episode an "A". He remarked, "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."

• Producer Maurice Hurley described this episode as being like a "breath of fresh air." He explained, "It was just fun to do. It's got humor and life to it. The thing is that Star Trek can't brood. If it broods, it gets self important and self-indulgent and preachy, like it has a tendency to do if it's not careful. But if it has some life to it, some humor, then it just jumps up and flies."


"What a language!"
"But you spell knife with a 'k'."
"I spell 'knife' with an 'n'. But then, I never could spell."
- Picard and Troi, discussing the complexity of the Jaradan language


"I lost a bet."
- Picard, explaining his Starfleet uniform to a bemused holodeck character


"The sense of reality was absolutely incredible! When that woman kissed me, it was so..."
"Exciting?"
"Real!"
- Picard, after getting kissed by Jessica Bradley on the holodeck, and Beverly Crusher


"Hey, Dix! How's tricks?"
"Oh, she's fine. Fine."
- Vendor greeting Picard, who doesn't understand 1940s vernacular


Poster's Log:
Here's one I might not have seen since it originally aired in 1988. Perhaps that's just as well, because it's surprisingly tedious, at least to a viewer for whom the holodeck is old news. Clearly the audience (and the Enterprise crew, for that matter) is still supposed to find the holodeck concept novel and charming at this point.

I utterly forgot that the always-terrifying Lawrence Tierney is in this, and also that his dialogue here was so elaborate (which I assume is a reference to something of Bogart's or Spillane's). I highly recommend reading about Tierney's personal life.

Given his incompetence at the lingo, Picard must be the same sort of fan of Dixon Hill novels that I am of Aubrey/Maturin novels…and maybe a little rusty, on top of that. He's less bad at the lingo in later Dixon Hill episodes IIRC—glad those later writers recognized that the joke was played-out halfway through this one.

Now, in defense of "holodeck episodes"—because some Trekkies hate 'em, and understandably—they're always at their best when they include some amount of philosophical musings on the nature of AI-personhood. And what's really interesting is that this is something the franchise is fairly consistent about! There's a little bit of it at the end of this one, and we'll get a lot more in TNG: "11001001", "Elementary, My Dear Data", and "Ship in a Bottle", not to mention the recurring characters of Vic Fontaine in DS9 and The Doctor in Voyager, and the whole dang plot of Picard (or at least of its first season)!

Let me also fend off the "what holodecks do and do not physically manifest" question by pointing out (NERD ANALYSIS INCOMING) that the TNG Technical Manual describes holoprojection as essentially being a combination of 3-D images, precise force-field projection (to create the illusion of touching a nonphysical object), and replicators for certain props. This seems to explain the lipstick in this episode, and the water dripping off of Wesley when he walked off the holodeck in "Farpoint".

I can understand and appreciate the show's desire to give Picard and Crusher their big Bogart/Bergman close-up here, more so because, after season 1, the relationship between these characters is handled with a lot more subtlety.

One of TNG's bad habits—for which it isn't entirely to blame due to the demands of non-serialized storytelling—is introducing supposedly-astropolitically-significant species in a single episode and then seeming to forget about them—the Sheliak, the Talarians, and this episode's introduction of the Jarada. They are mentioned only once more in the rest of the franchise, TNG season 2's "Samaritan Snare," but in the context of being as much of a threat as freakin' Romulans. Later, the Breen, offhandedly mentioned three times on TNG, get fleshed-out quite a bit more in DS9, and of course TNG itself finally gets it right w/r/t developing an original antagonist faction in the Cardassians, without whom DS9 wouldn't exist in any recognizable form.

I coincidentally happened to notice, less than 48 hours before rewatching this, that Amazon apparently is streaming a documentary film all about bit part actor Dick Miller (seen here as the newsstand guy, and seen in DS9 with a much bigger role in the must-see two-parter "Past Tense").

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Greatest Generation" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It was raining in the city by the bay. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the slime..."
posted by sugar and confetti at 8:30 AM on May 11


Holodeck malfunction episodes became such a cliche in the franchise that I think that they may have stopped taking story pitches for them for a while, although they kept being produced because a) they're a way of using non-Trek props and sets and b) the showrunners and cast seem to love them. Here, the premise is new, and the episode actually uses that, with the crew breaking character to talk about how great everything is; the scene where they're grinning at the thugs because they don't realize the danger that they're in is my favorite in the episode. Likewise, Beverly Crusher has a compact, but doesn't know how to use it, and takes cues from a character who does, and Data gets into it a little too much, doing a sort of Jimmy Cagney imitation, more of a stand-up comedian routine probably than any actual classic gangster actor. These are nice touches, signs of the showrunners thinking around the edges of the premise.

One of TNG's bad habits—for which it isn't entirely to blame due to the demands of non-serialized storytelling—is introducing supposedly-astropolitically-significant species in a single episode and then seeming to forget about them

A bad habit that they inherited from TOS, with the First Federation and the Organians being chief among them. At least VOY revisited the premise of the aliens who were very particular about manners with the Tak Tak, who actually showed up more than once.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:15 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


This episode was... OK? The holodeck stuff was fun, and it looked fun to film. The alien threat was meh, and we had another “why is Wesley doing something that there must be a couple of trained personnel to handle” moment that went on way too long, but overall the series seems to be getting its feet under it.

Now I ant yo see the Enterprise crew LARP.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:20 PM on May 11


Now I ant yo see the Enterprise crew LARP.

You gotta wait till season 4 for that one.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:28 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


This dumb episode always makes me think of the most trek theory question I have which is: If a person stayed in a holodeck long enough, eating only holofood, drinking only holowater, breathing holoair, at a certain point would they be so entirely compromised by their body using only holographic nutrients as building blocks for cellular metabolism that they would break down upon leaving the space? It's the goofy scene of Redblock walking out the holodeck before fading away that makes me think of that.

Though to be honest, I'm sure some trek novel has covered that topic, maybe Barclay has to get a real world food/water IV drip for a month after a overly long holosesh.
posted by Ferreous at 12:35 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


Always wonder what Holodeck programmers, safety and security division, say what they do when asked at parties.
posted by juiceCake at 1:54 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


Feels a bit weird for them to be upgrading the holodeck already, since the Enterprise is only a few months into service. Apparently TNG's utopianism does not extend to having software features finished at launch. I assume the upgrade is for conversational interactivity, since up to now the holodeck has been just used for landscapes and Yar's martial-arts demonstration that one time. I'm wondering if this means that interactive fiction wasn't part of the original (out-of-universe) concept for the holodeck, since that ends up being most of what the holodeck is used for. It does provide a much more logical outlet for Trek writers seemingly insatiable desire to have episodes set in what's basically Earth's history.

I am glad that future holo-programmers apparently realized eventually that having holocharacters notice and comment on users' appearance was not only a waste of effort but also pretty problematic.
posted by ckape at 2:06 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


This dumb episode always makes me think of the most trek theory question I have which is: If a person stayed in a holodeck long enough, eating only holofood, drinking only holowater, breathing holoair, at a certain point would they be so entirely compromised by their body using only holographic nutrients as building blocks for cellular metabolism that they would break down upon leaving the space?

No; the air is real air, and stuff that they eat is real food that's been replicated. See CheesesOfBrazil's comment above; basically, anything and everything that you can smell or taste has to be made of real molecules. There are all sorts of questions that come up WRT how holodecks work in some particular scenarios, such as how, for example, you can have two opposing teams of real people play a baseball game in a holosuite the size of a medium-large bedroom (DS9 fans will know exactly what I'm talking about here); there's some discussion of optical trickery and treadmill effects in the tech manual and online forums, but at some point you just have to shrug and say, eh, space magic. (That it's really, really complicated helps explain why it breaks down so often.) One thing that I've wondered is at what point a holographic apple tree becomes a holographic tree with real apples if you decide to pick one at random.

I'm wondering if this means that interactive fiction wasn't part of the original (out-of-universe) concept for the holodeck, since that ends up being most of what the holodeck is used for.

Maybe? The first time we see it (outside of the animated series' "The Practical Joker"), Data's just out in the woods somewhere.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:13 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


Always wonder what Holodeck programmers, safety and security division, say what they do when asked at parties.

Whatever it is, it's better than the maintenance engineers. "I'm the guy that wipes down the loads."
posted by sugar and confetti at 3:49 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


no no no

there *is* no holodeck. When people step through the holodeck arch, they are transportorially dissassembled and instantiated within an arbitrary-environment sim. You know, sort of a choose-your-own San Junipero. Saves a ton of space on the ship. When you leave, you walk out the arch and are reintegrated.

The real wonder is that people don’t accidentally get stuck in there.
posted by mwhybark at 5:47 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


...the real holodecks were the friends we made along the way?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:29 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


I remember this fondly and it's still a fine episode. But I'm a sucker for holodeck episodes.

There's a straight line between this episode and 'First Contact' which gave Stewart a chance to emote some serious rage.
posted by porpoise at 7:06 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


I may not have actually seen this since initial broadcast. I have watched snippets since then, for sure. It’s much better than I remembered. The dialog written for Tierney in particular was just fantastic, well above requirements for the role.

One weird continuity note: Wes and Geordi are in the hallway next to the arch doorway. They are fiddling with the circuits, and Wes sends the group in the holodeck to a wintry landscape before they return to Dix’s office. Seconds later, Mr. Leech and Redblock step out into the hall where we see them dissolve in a full-body shot incorporating the open door to the holodeck... but there’s no open maintenance panels, no Wes, and no Geordi. Hmmmm
posted by mwhybark at 7:33 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


P. S. Kind of interesting to flip into Penny Dreadful - City of Angels immediately after and see the strides in period design, as well as the successes and strengths of the Dixon Hill sets and costumes. Having Brent Spiner show up in both casts is also amusing.
posted by mwhybark at 8:12 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


ha ha ha, evidence for my holosim thesis from MA: “Wesley comments that the problem can be fixed, but if it is not done properly, the holoprogram could abort and everyone inside the holodeck could vanish.”
posted by mwhybark at 10:04 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


I just came up with an alternative theory as to why everyone might "vanish", and it connects with sugar and confetti's comment above, which evokes the specter of the holodeck jizz mopper. Namely, there isn't one, because, just as the replicators create real food as well as any odors in the environment, they also get rid of anything unwanted left there, whether it's the aroma of mid-20C San Francisco, leftover food, or, well, waste products. (If Dixon Hill had to take a crap, it wouldn't just sit there.) This is probably an automatic function whenever someone stops using the holodeck; the holoprogram rarely stops that very instant, but may take a second or two. And if the holodeck is busted, it may assume that everything in the holodeck is trash and disintegrate it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:22 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


Brings new meaning to the computer term “garbage collection”.
posted by Servo5678 at 1:49 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


One thing that I've wondered is at what point a holographic apple tree becomes a holographic tree with real apples if you decide to pick one at random.

Now that's a good one. I suppose it would all depend on what the program's author stipulated when designing it. Like how when you're new to Skyrim, it takes some time to learn to recognize which mushrooms and berries are harvestable and which aren't.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:09 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


...Or, much like low-detail models getting swapped for high-detail as you approach them, maybe every apple is nonreplicated until the computer surmises that you're probably about to be within arm's reach.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:15 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]


It’s hard for me to get past the idea that holodeck guns shoot real bullets. It’s like the dumbest version of the “lamps in videogames use real electricity” meme. Kinda like this episode though, you’ve got the hardboiled patter, a couple decent fish out of water bits, LARP Data, it’s a fun light snack.
posted by rodlymight at 8:21 PM on May 13


> Now I ant yo see the Enterprise crew LARP.
MetaFilter's own cortex made a whole webcomic about that, but it looks like it's offline? LarpTrek.com just redirects to cortex's website. Anyway, it seems there's a Tumblr mirror, difficult to navigate in the usual Tumblr way.
posted by Syllepsis at 11:37 AM on May 16


It has taken me over thirty years to realize that "Cyrus Redblock" is a play on "Sidney Greenstreet."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:20 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Felix Leech is clearly also a Peter Lorre takeoff.

I just watched this episode for the first time and wondered why the plot was so coy about the "item" Redblock thought Dixon Hill was in possession of. It's clearly a reference to the Maltese falcon, but surely they could've come up with something tangentially similar.

No mention of "holodeck safety protocols are off" which would come up so often in later episodes. The guns just worked.

Did we ever see those little scopes Wesley Crusher uses to peer into the holodeck (or its circuitry) again?

They tried hard, but there never was any natural chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden.
posted by zadcat at 4:04 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


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