Thursday, July 30, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Big Goodbye"

“The Big Goodbye” features the first of many holodeck malfunctions in Trek. I am of mixed emotions about that. While I have to wonder why a series set in outer space with all its wonderful possibilities has to rely on a holodeck for stories, a few of those stories have been quite good. “The Big Goodbye” is one of them. It also earned TNG an Emmy and a Peabody Award, so one has to assume future holodeck efforts were an attempt to recreate the magic. No pun intended.

I have a penchant for noir detective stories “The Big Goodbye” is largely an homage Raymond Chandler’s The Maltese Falcon, but there are elements of many of Detective Phillip Marlowe’s cases featured. I have noted if you are not a fan of the genre, you probably either love or hate it as a perceived homage to “A Piece of the Action” from TOS. It is shortsighted to see any similarities between the two episodes, but perspective is perspective. Whether it is an homage to Chandler or “A Piece of the Action,” I consider it one of the better episodes of TNG and a vast improvement over “A Piece of the Action.”

We have Picard, stressed out because he has to perform a perfect greeting in the complicated language of a hypersensitive insectoid race. He decides to take a break in the holodeck and play his favorite fictional detective, Dixon Hill. Data and Beverley Crusher join him. A malfunction removes the safety protocols, so they find themselves in the middle of a real hardboiled criminal investigation.

The episode was a breath of fresh air, though perhaps an odd fit for the first season. Much like “The Naked Now,’ it just does not seem right to have the characters acting abnormally, either drunk or role playing, when they have not been firmly established yet. But I rate “The Big Goodbye” much higher than “The Naked Now.” It is still a better fit and more entertaining.

“The Big Goodbye” gives further hints Picard and Crusher have romantic feelings for one another. Much like the riker/Troi relationship elaborated on in the previous episode, “Haven,” it is this awkward hint they had something going in the past, but it was not enough to last. Now they are stringing each other along until they are certain no one more enticing is going to come along. Neither of their relationships--such as they were--really soared, particularly in the early seasons. I understand Picard/Crusher shippers like this episode because of the “romantic” developments, but it just does not sing for me.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

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