Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Big Goodbye"

2 stars

Air date: 1/11/1988
Written by Tracy Torme
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Picard takes to the holodeck for a little R&R, playing the role of Dixon Hill, a 1940s private detective that would be at home in a film noir, if only this episode had the gumption to actually do noir as a style rather than simply a generic concept. If the point of this episode is merely to do a period piece with 1940s costumes and sets, it's a success. If the point is to tell a compelling story, it's a failure.

The funny thing about TNG season one is its pace; at times it's almost startlingly slow, with simple, straightforward plots. "The Big Goodbye" is an example of not just slow, but also uneventful — far too much so for its own good. There simply isn't an hour's worth of material here, and the payoff is too lacking in juice and irony to be worth the wait.

It's the first Holodeck Run Awry episode — a TNG concept that would go on to become a tradition and ultimately a cliche. I should probably note, however, that "awry" is far too extreme a word for this exceptionally restrained episode. Even tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney, as big gangster Cyrus Redblock, seems hobbled by the episode's restraint. His right-hand man Felix (Harvey Jason) is more colorful, but also far more annoying, and way too stupid to be plausible.

There is one interesting question that the episode poses: Picard exits the holodeck and leaves Hill's cop friend pondering whether his life is simply an illusion — which, of course, it is. It's a question that would surface many more times in Trek after this story.

Previous episode: Haven
Next episode: Datalore

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34 comments on this review

Fri, Oct 30, 2009, 8:03pm (UTC -5)
I've been working my way through all the live action Trek (not watching "Star Trek: The Animated Series"). I think "The Big Goodbye" is the best TNG episode I've seen thus far (I've been watching them in the order they're mentioned in on this page).
Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 4:52pm (UTC -5)
Jammer, you say Felix is too stupid to be plausible. But may I point something out? The entire simulation, and it's fictional characters (including Felix) is a program. This means Felix himself is a program or subroutine, and e.g., not sentient. So his "stupidness" might just be a result of a lazy holodeck programmer, and that I would say IS plausible.

Incidentally, I fully agree with your two star rating for this episode. If I had to watch this or Haven for a week continuously, I would gladly choose Haven. : )
Mon, Jun 25, 2012, 9:58pm (UTC -5)
"The Big Goodbye" has one of my favorite lines of Trek ever:

Cyrus Redblock: (to Doctor Crusher):
"Manners, good lady, are never a waste of time. Civility, gentlemen, always civility. (to his hired thug): Get that stiff outta here..."
Wed, Jul 11, 2012, 11:20am (UTC -5)
It's not that bad, at least I've found it more interesting than "Haven".

Yet, both episodes make me feel a bit uneasy, because they have NOTHING to do with what I had in mind when I wanted to watch Star Trek. The real sci-fi seems to be missing.
Sun, Oct 28, 2012, 8:18am (UTC -5)
Again, am slightly more sympathetic to this oe than Jammer, but I agree it is very much a 'slow burner' and not in the sense of a 'Wire' episode either. Whilst on a mission to a diplomatic rendezvous with the Insectoid and notoriously punctilious Jarada, Picard chooses to enter the Holodeck world of Dixon Hill, but becomes trapped when the holodeck malfunctions due to a probe scan.

The obvious logical hole in such a plot device aside, and the fact that one probe can cause such potentially dangerous malfunctions meaning I question whether they would have commissioned the concept in the first place, this episode is very much one to appreciate the 1940s 'film noir' episode sets as opposed to the story which is, as Jammer says, all setup with relatively little in the way of payoff.

I Did enjoy the guest cast with one glaring exception. Lawrence Tierney as Redblock and Everyman Dick Miller as the News Vendor arguing with Data's revelation that DiMaggio's hitting streak would be snapped by the Clevland Indians are both excellent. Gary Armagnac and David Selburg as Detective Mcnary and Historian Whalen are also excellent. The one bum note is Harvey Jason as Felix Leech, whose ridiculous line delivery probably knocks half a star off this one!

I'm slightly torn here, as I recognise the story's inherent weakness but did enjoy both the sets and the Guest cast- the script's rather meandering nature again holds back what could have been a very strong episode. Nevertheless again a 2.5 star rating which continues a run of fair to reasonable eps. Sadly it isn't long before two of the most notorious clunkers in the show's history...
Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 7:14pm (UTC -5)
A big frustration to me was Picard's reluctance to let Data take the bad guys by surprise and beat the crap out of them. This was not a "Prime Directive issue" Nobody had to play by the rules.
Wed, Sep 10, 2014, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
I would give this one zero stars just for being guilty of starting the holodeck gone awry trope that would haunt Star Trek for the next decade. Why use Star Trek as vehicle to to do bad period pieces?
Mon, Sep 22, 2014, 11:03pm (UTC -5)
I always get very frustrated at Cmdr Riker when I watch this one. He knows that the [Aliens of the week whose name I have forgotten] are very picky about language and protocol, yet he keeps talking to them!! At one point, he opens a channel and starts with "We demand..." before being cut off. Not smart.
They should have just stayed silent until Captain Picard and co. were freed.

You can tell it's an early holodeck episode as Geordi is concerned that if they simply shut off the holodeck then all the real people inside will disappear along with the characters. Scary new tech!
Sun, Jan 4, 2015, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
I hadn't seen this episode in years and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Yes, the noir concept could've been taken further, and the story is routine especially in hindsight. But the cast shines. After 12 episodes of being just the speechifying captain, it's refreshing to see Picard so excited about what is essentially a 24th-century video game. And there are moments of pure comedy gold, such as Crusher taking a piece of gum and then swallowing it.
Diamond Dave
Wed, Aug 12, 2015, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
Ah, the granddaddy of all the crazy holodeck episodes that were to follow. I suppose if nothing else it gives the cast the opportunity to play out of character, and it would be wrong to say there are not some fun moments in here. It's handled competently enough.

But really, I have some sympathy with the commentators that question whether this is what TNG should be about. Viewed as the first one and ignoring what is to come - fine. 2 stars.
Sun, Oct 4, 2015, 5:57am (UTC -5)
I'm a fan of science fiction. It's my favorite genre of entertainment. However I DESPISE detective stories - all of them. Police procedural or private detectives or whatever, I find them unbearably tedious. The only thing that could make one worse is to set it in a time period in the past that I also find boring as paint drying. Uggg. Not a detective in the 40 s! And we have to listen to the stupid forties lingo. Shoot me. Why do Star Trek creators assume their main fan base wants to watch this kind of stuff? It's got zero to do with science fiction except that is the stupid device used to trick me into watching it. I hated the stupid period pieces in tos. I hate them eve more in tng.
Wed, Nov 11, 2015, 9:00am (UTC -5)
I feel about this episode much like both Jammer and I feel about Voyager's "Worst Case Scenario"-great fun to have the characters having fun, with the jeopardy plot taking a little away but not much and still being some fun in itself.
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
I didn't care for the plot, but the costumes were to DIE for. I love Beverly's pink outfit, plus her imitating the forties woman with her lipstick. Not to mention, I think Data looked pretty sexy in that pinstripe suit. >////< Anyone else?
Sat, Apr 2, 2016, 11:50am (UTC -5)
I'm red watching TNG right now and I'm remembering just how much I hated those damn holodeck stories....
Tue, Jul 5, 2016, 4:00am (UTC -5)
Compared to the rest of the first season's average episodes, this one wasn't half bad. Why is it that when I first watched this episode in my teens (and later on DVD at age 20), I didn't really care too much for it - or any of the first season for that matter. Now at 35, I'm re-watching them all and loving it. This gets a 2.5 out of 4 from me.
Tue, Jul 5, 2016, 6:38am (UTC -5)
@ David: I can't watch almost any of S1, it's just so low-quality when compared to most everything else that came later.

All I can remember about S1 offhand for example:
*Dudes in togas
*Worf in a red shirt
*Space net and Q's trial
*A dude's head explodes
*Super-giant Ferengi closeups on the view screen
*Yar vs. tar. Tar wins.

There are a few really good / classic episodes in S2 and S3 and S4 are probably when TNG was unbeatable IMO.
Wed, Oct 12, 2016, 3:43pm (UTC -5)
The first holodeck story has all the elements that were later done to death in TNG and the spin-offs.
Last Unicorn Games even published a supplement for its Star Trek RPG based on the premise imaginatively titled Holodeck Adventures.
Frankly I think the program makers should have stopped here.
Having the crew play gangsters is as old as 'A Piece of the Action' from TOS; a superior frolic to this episode but it also works here as a bit of fun.

That is all this episode really amounts to though-a gag.

There are some hilariously dated bits of nonsense-
1. Annoying wunderkind Wesley reads a couple of manuals and totally takes over from Geordi .
2. He examines the intricacies of the holodeck control panel with a binocular microscope -not a software fault then
and surely they would just replace the faulty module.
Sat, Apr 8, 2017, 1:56am (UTC -5)
I agree with Nic's review. This was good fun. Aaron is right though: why would Riker start with "We damand--" on a sensitive diplomatic mission?

Three stars.
Joseph A Mitchell
Sun, Jun 25, 2017, 3:21am (UTC -5)
Jammer...really? Not sure I will put much credence to subsequent reviews. I thought this to be a fascinating episode and exploration of a technology that IS sci first and at the time no one had seen to this extent. Your review is a beacon unto the unworthiness of retrospectives and the snobbery that goes with the territory.
Sun, Aug 6, 2017, 2:58pm (UTC -5)
2 stars meh

A potentially interesting episode that spins it's wheels(the interrogation of Dixon Hill grounded episode to a screeching halt) and only experiences a slight uptick at the very end with Cyrus Redblock but not nearly enough to salvage or make up for the plodding preceding forty five minutes.

The episode did effectively capture the awe of holodeck technology as this new piece of Trek technology that would go on to wear out its welcome and feel ho hum by the end of the modern Trek era
Sarjenka's Little Brother
Thu, Dec 7, 2017, 9:20pm (UTC -5)
I liked this better than I remembered liking it on first go 'round.

So we've had:

The Battle / Hide and Q / Haven / Big Goodbye

While none of these will go on to be even a Top 30 or even Top 40 episode, each in its own way, helped lay the groundwork of what's to come.

With "The Battle," we finally got a Federation vs. other corporeal space-dwelling beings episode. That became the bread and butter of Next Gen: Those Klingon / Romulan / Cardassian / Federation arcs and episodes.

With "Hide and Q," we got our first signal this series was actually going to do follow-up episodes and that what happened in previous episodes will possibly come up again.

With "Haven," we get a character-driven story. Our main players are being fleshed out with families and feelings and concerns that go beyond energy beings. It will make their encounters with the truly alien species all the more impressive.

With "Big Goodbye," we get our second technology driven episode, and our first one where we start to learn of the characters' interests and passions. More fleshing out.

To me, all four of these were rough drafts of better kinds of episodes to come.

All of these episodes are flawed, but they were a lifeline to a ST fan who was really beginning to despair that the show was going to be one bizarre, disjointed encounter after another with unfathomable, powerful beings.

P.S. May I mention my annoyance for this episode and the show in general and all Treks in general? These people are ALL OVER THE MAP when it comes to their understand of Earth culture. Sometimes, they seem to know the oddest, most detailed tidbits of history. Other times, they are baffled by broad swaths of Earth history anyone should know.

For instance, Worf was raised on Earth. Why would an "automobile" be a puzzle to him and more than a "chariot" would puzzle us? (Perhaps at the time, Worf's backstory didn't involve being raised on Earth).

They never really did get a dial on historical recollection by the characters.
Wed, Dec 13, 2017, 3:29pm (UTC -5)
This episode has one great scene, and that's the moment Picard in the ready room joyously tells the crew of his fun times in the Holodeck. The rest doesn't work. It fails as a homage to 1940s/50s noirs, and its central conflict makes no sense, as Data - super fast and impervious to bullets - could have easily saved Picard and company and disarmed the holo-villains.
Tue, Feb 6, 2018, 6:17pm (UTC -5)
TNG's first holodeck experience does give an idea of the dangers and wonders of the device in this very basic episode. And the B-plot of Picard spewing the right nonsense to some anal-retentive insect race was total garbage. Chalk up another win for the boy genius Wesley doing what nobody else on the ship can do (fix the holodeck).

Spiner gets to show off his gangster accent, Dr. Crusher fumbles and stumbles as a broad and they brought in the equivalent of a redshirt to get shot -- it's all pretty mindless stuff but there are some whimsical moments seeing the crew in 1940s attire.

I liked the Redblock character -- seemed to portray the gangster well for me -- interesting is the emphasis on manners despite the criminal acts. The little guy who just wants to kill people was stupid -- not sure for what purpose such an idiotic character was created. But the cop wondering about his family once the program terminates does plant a bit of a seed in terms of holodeck characters thinking beyond their supposed limitations. Picard doesn't have all the holodeck "answers" either.

Barely 2 stars for "The Big Goodbye" -- entertaining at times but the problem was resolved as you'd expect it to be (conveniently in time). Perhaps a learning experience about the dangers of the holodeck for the crew and obviously setting it up for more adventures where it malfunctions. There will be better holodeck-gone-wrong episodes...
Peter Swinkels
Sat, Feb 24, 2018, 4:39pm (UTC -5)
While fun, it's also absurd. The holodeck must have been designed by idiots for it to fail like that without an emergy shutdown or exit.
Prince of Space
Wed, Mar 14, 2018, 4:28am (UTC -5)
As I type this, I inhabit a world where a cup of coffee has to have “Warning this is hot” printed on the side and commercials where CGI cars do crazy stuff have to have “Do not attempt.”

Yet in Star Trek’s world, a crew is set off in a ship with holodecks and nobody really has a clue just what they can and cannot do.

Sadly, I think I prefer Trek’s world. Granted it could allow for some accidents and mishaps, but this world just caters to the lowest common denominator of stupid and fear of lawsuits.

Yeah... I’d definitely take my chances with an occasional holodeck adventure over a constant barrage of mouth-breathing mediocrity. haha
Tue, May 8, 2018, 12:03am (UTC -5)
They fly all the way to that planet, just for Picard to deliver a greeting, and then fly off again?
Sat, May 19, 2018, 4:23pm (UTC -5)
The begining was great. The ending left me cold. Holodek characters becoming sentient was definitely handled better in later episodes. Here it seemed clunky.
Thu, Jun 21, 2018, 12:18am (UTC -5)
Can we talk about how Captain Picard calls a staff meeting after using the holodeck for the first time? To rave about it? And why was Wesley there!?

Fri, Nov 23, 2018, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
Terrible but with some good gags - 1 star. I really take the point made by Sarjenka's Little Brother above, though - TNG came straight out of the gate with 4 God-Like Being episodes in just its first 8 hours (Encounter At Farpoint, The Last Outpost, Where No One Has Gone Before, Justice), so even though the episodes that followed in this mid-part of the season weren't great, they at least signaled that the show intended to tell different kinds of stories instead of just falling back on GLB encounters all the time.
Tue, Feb 19, 2019, 6:43pm (UTC -5)
Watching this again, I found it to be even more dull than I'd remembered. There is something theoretically interesting about the episode, though: the A-plot sees Picard forced to act convincingly so as to protect himself from (and fit in with) nefarious holograms, and the B-plot sees Picard forced to convinginly act out an alien language so as to assuage (and fit in with) some nefarious insectoid aliens. The phoniness of the holodeck and Picard's holo-performances echo Picard's attempts to sell his phony little alien monologue.

Comparison's to TOS' "A Piece of the Action" also seem apt. But where "A Piece of the Action" captures well the manic, brisk pace of early noirs and gangster movies - Kirk and his buddies are repeatedly hurtling from one set to the next - "The Big Goodbye" is a static and dull thing, stuck on a series of claustrophobic sets. Of course great old noirs (think "The Big Sleep", "Maltese Falcon" or "The Killing") were often clausterphobic and bound to tiny sets, but they had rapid-fire, machine-gun dialogue, zipping wittily back and forth. There's no wit or zip in Picard's holonovel. Thankfully the show would quickly swap Dixon Hill for Sherlock Holmes, the cultured British detective perhaps tonally more suited to the "sophisticated" pose struck by TNG.

Watching this again, I also noticed that Wesley attends a staff briefing in the observation lounge. This is a room for command staff, and an ensign like him should not be there at all. Throughout the first season, he is repeatedly inserting himself into plots that he has no business being in. I like the character - the idea of following a kid from civilian to ensign to more is a good one - but he's not written well at all.
Thu, Feb 21, 2019, 7:56pm (UTC -5)
Ah the holodeck. They provide an interlude to the main Trek episode style. Often going back to romantic eras like the 20s or 30s to Hot Jazz, Gumshoes or to my preferred one the Sherlock Holmes. When this first aired 30 years ago, I think we got a kick out of these episodes but rolled our eyes and wondered why people didn't just live in the holodecks. Now being older, I still think that. Ha ha just kidding where would the fun be in that?

This episode was okay as the main holodeck intro one (where the whole episode is basically in the alternate universe of the holodeck).

I give it a 2.25 for that.
Sat, Feb 23, 2019, 11:07am (UTC -5)
Really not a fan of this episode. Can we talk about the Federation bending over backward to unbelievable levels to not risk offending these Jarada? Why is the obligation all on the Federation and none on the Jarada to show good manners? And then all the other reasons this episode is dull. 1 star
Thu, Mar 21, 2019, 12:05pm (UTC -5)
@Markus It's because the Federation wanted an alliance with them. The Jarada had a take it or leave it attitude about the situation.
Bob James
Sun, Apr 14, 2019, 4:34pm (UTC -5)
Such a pathetic episode.
The major crisis is the Holodeck doors won't open...

and if they open the doors by force, it will kill everyone inside the holodeck.
Solution...Wesley Crusher saves the day.

Why would someone write something this awful and think it was a good idea?

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