Plot Synopsis: Captain Picard and some of the Enterprise crew get stuck on the holodeck on their way to an important diplomatic mission.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is alright. We learn about an alien race that Captain Picard has to greet in their own language or risk alienating an entire race that Starfleet is trying to establish contact with. Picard’s stressed out with preparing for the ritualized greeting he has to give, so Deana suggests he take a little break by using the upgraded holodeck. He chooses Dixon Hill, a Humphrey Bogart-type detective from the ‘40s. Plot A has to do with the holodeck adventure, plot B with the Jarada, the alien race. Picard has such a good time he tells his bridge crew, inviting a few of them to join him. The Jarada scan the ship previous to their meeting, and the intensity of the scan makes the holodeck malfunction, and from now on nobody can leave. From here the adventure is on! The holodeck descends from fun to dangerous as the crew realize their lives are in actual danger, and pressure mounts from an impatient alien race. Plot A is just a blast from start to finish, well-paced and very tightly written. Plot B is okay at best, but it’s only about 10 minutes of the episode so don’t worry about it. Plot A even ends on a philosophical note, which leaves the audience thoughtful about the “life” of holodeck characters. This is so provocative that it will be returned to more than once in the series.
Favorite Scenes: There are a lot, virtually all of the scenes on the holodeck are great, and that’s the majority of the episode. Some of the lines are really great, and are delivered by a host of character actors throughout the episode.
Holodeck character looking at Data: Hey Dix, what gives with this guy? He’s not from around here, is he?
Picard: No he’s not; he’s uh…he’s from South America
Holodeck character: Yeah…he’s got a nice tan.
Later on we get some more good lines:
Data to Crusher imitating a 40’s accent as she walks in the police department: Hey Doc what’s cookin?
Crusher: Where’s Captain Picard?
Data: He’s on ice. He’s bring grilled.
Crusher: What is he, a fish?
Whalen: He’s being interrogated. They think he committed a murder.
Crusher, with a child-like look of excitement on her face: Why aren’t we all being interrogated!?
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard gets the most development here as we learn more about what he enjoys, and Patrick gives an enjoyable performance in his fantasy. Gates McFadden is really enjoyable in this episode. Her first scene in the observation lounge is fun to watch as she decides to accept Picard’s offer to join her, thinking it’s a kind of date only to find out he wants to bring along other folks too. Her reaction is pitch perfect, as is her later scenes when she tries to imitate a prostitute. Really everything she does in this episode is good. Brent Spiner is also excellent throughout as he tries to play a ‘40s sidekick from “South America”, and is one of the funnier elements in the episode. The other cast members only have minor roles, with Tasha and Worf having the least to do. Virtually every guest star is perfect and only adds to the enjoyment, the only relatively weak performance is given by David Selburg as Whalen, and even that isn’t distracting.
Blu Ray Version: The clarity here just makes you enjoy the wonderful ‘40s era detail in this episode even more. It also helps make out many of the pages of the “Dixon Hill” books that Data skims. Most of them are pages from the FASA published Star Trek RPG game books and a ton of recognizable images. For those interested, here is a link to a wealth of info on the subject.
Nitpicks: Guess I’m not sure why Picard uses a log entry to describe that’s he trying out the holodeck. Also, why is Wesley the one trying to fix the Holodeck, when Geordi is right there? Granted he hasn’t been written as an engineer yet, but he’s still a trained technical Starfleet officer. One of the few flaws is a technical one: the idea that turning off the holodeck brings the possibility that even the real people inside it could vanish. Sorry, that’s ridiculous, even as a kid that didn’t make sense to me.
Overall Impression: This is one of those episodes I didn’t fully appreciate when I was a kid, but it’s one of two candidates for best episode of the season. The writing in this episode is first-class all the way thanks to a script by Tracy Torme, the actors are having a blast, the story coheres and everything comes together and just works. There are a lot of details that are only more endearing upon re-watching, such as the Peter Lorre impression that one of the character actors is doing. This may be the first TNG installment that doesn’t reek of the original series at all, and in fact becomes the benchmark for all subsequent holodeck episodes. It’s almost too bad, because the de facto holodeck plot in the future will be the dang thing breaking down, trying to recapture the magic. If we’re grading on a curve I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This was the 11th episode aired, but the 12th episode made. The title of this episode is a mash-up of two classic Raymond Chandler books, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Torme and Scanlan (the director) suggested they shoot the holodeck scenes in black-and-white, but the redoubtable (and occasionally douche-baggy) Rick Berman vetoed this, so we’d have to wait until Voyager before we got to see B&W stuff on holodeck episodes. The alien Jarada were planned to be in this episode but were cut due to budget restrictions. This episode won a couple of awards: an Emmy for Outstanding Costume Design, and a Peabody for excellence in TV broadcasting. This is the only time any iteration of Star Trek has won a Peabody. It was also nominated for an Outstanding Cinematography Emmy. Lastly, this story is from the files of Wil Wheaton, I’ll let him share his story in his own words:
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 $#!+ 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.
Missable/Unmissable? There are only two first season episodes that absolutely stand up to the rest of the seasons even all these years later, and this is one of them. My vote is an emphatic unmissable! The next episode isn’t even close to this quality.