In which Captain Picard and Data look completely fly in chalkstripe suits and fedoras and what else do I care about?
Seriously. Unf. Jaunty. Jean-Luc Picard knows how to angle a hat.
Memory Alpha says: Captain Picard and some of the Enterprise crew get stuck on the holodeck on their way to an important diplomatic mission. (Please click the Memory Alpha link for detailed information.)
I think I’m going to write this one up as a proper summary with commentary, because I’ve been slothful lately. I know the bullet point commentary works okay for people who watch the episode themselves and then see what I had to say about it, but there’s something to be said for reading an episode. Sometimes it’s almost as satisfying as actually watching it, not that I can really explain why.
Anyway! This is the first episode to feature holodeck LARPing and start exploring the storytelling possibilities of this nifty bit of technology – which, if you want to be realistic about it, is obviously incredibly dangerous to have on your starship, almost as dangerous as Data. Both are extremely powerful and unpredictably glitchy – but the holodeck is fun and Data is lovable, and quite frankly we know where our priorities lie.
Riker gets to do the opening narration, saying the ship is going to make a ‘brief but necessary contact’ with some insect people who are really uptight about salutations and pronunciations. Oddly, while Riker’s log entry plays as a voiceover, we see him sitting on the bridge not speaking, just (presumably) thinking about the situation. Either that or he is making a serious face while thinking about bosoms or trombones or dogsledding.
So Picard has to recite the greeting exactly as written to avoid mortally offending the bugs – and he is having trouble reading it on his computer screen due to the eccentric characters used, and I question why it can’t just be rendered in a phonetic alphabet for him (or why he can’t listen to and imitate a sound file). Deanna is helping him, because this is one of those episodes where she’s written more as a diplomat than as a psychologist, and gosh do I wish her job title had been Liaison Officer or Cultural Attaché or Xeno-Anthropologist. It would even make sense of her not wearing the same uniform as everyone else if she were part of the Federation Diplomatic Corps or whatever instead of, surely, a branch of Starfleet Medical. That could also set up some interesting conflicts if the Corps’ political priorities were sometimes different from Starfleet’s military/exploratory ones.
This conversation also introduces the idea that Picard is poor at spelling; I can’t remember if this is ever brought up again, but presumably it’s not too much of a problem for a person who dictates all his log entries. To George Bernard Shaw’s sorrow and indignation, the spelling of English has not been rationalised; knife is still spelled with a k and ‘ghoti’ is still pronounced ‘fish.’
Picard is frantically cramming, although he’s tired, and Deanna gives him permission, and tries to get him to give himself permission, to take a break and try out the newly upgraded holodeck. She tells him he needs ‘a diversion.’ While this is good advice, they may all later wish that he had relaxed with a good book or taken a bath. Picard says ‘Dixon Hill’ with evident pleasure, and Deanna tells him the program is installed and waiting. I would like to know who wrote the program. Are programs based on books automatically generated by the computer based on the text, or does a real person have to adapt and code them? Can I just upload the Discworld series and get a right-down-to-the-Smell simulation of Ankh-Morpork, or do I need to ask Data or Broccoli to set it up for me so I can play Watchmen-and-robbers in my downtime from whatever the hell I do on the Enterprise? (Suggestions: make cocktails requiring the human touch in Ten Forward, proofread and correct anything Captain Picard writes, follow O’Brien around adoringly and ask him to come and play Vimes.)
Oddly, then, the next scene has Picard going to the holodeck and the computer voice (not Majel Barrett, in this episode, just some woman) asking him to program the place and time for the setting. I know this is so the audience can hear that it’s San Francisco in 1941, but surely that could be worked in some other way – especially because Picard then says ‘File Dixon Hill: Private Detective’ which must have the place and time set up already. Unless of course it doesn’t and you can request a Dixon Hill adventure set in, say, Shanghai in 1978. (Presumably the Julian Bashir: Secret Agent program allows you to play in any Bond era, and Julian is just a Connery purist.)
So the first thing Picard sees in this wondrous recreation of another place and time is a poo-brown office-building hallway with a cleaning lady mopping the floor. Still, he looks around in wonder because it’s so unlike his everyday world. When he enters Dixon Hill’s office, the secretary responds to him as Dix, and there’s some mutual confusion about his uniform – because she is programmed to think he’s her boss, but not to ‘see’ him dressed like her boss. Picard realises he should have dressed for the occasion, and darn right. Playing dress-ups is serious business to me, and it drives me mad when people want to half-ass it. She updates him on the work at hand while she puts her lovely 1940s gloves, coat and hat on, and departs for a date, leaving him to meet with a female client waiting in his office. (‘Nice legs,’ she says, and Picard looks at his own legs, which I would like to say are perfectly acceptable.)
Picard takes a moment to enjoy the name painted on the front door, then goes into the rear office where we get a lovely old-fashioned shot with the client’s elegantly stockinged legs dominating the foreground. Picard intelligently uses his secretary’s guess about his clothes, saying ‘I lost a bet.’ She remarks that at least he’s ready for Halloween, and he repeats ‘Halloween?’ as if this is a foreign concept, and I am so sad to think that Halloween may not be celebrated in the 24th Century, if only because I have an adorable mental picture of O’Brien taking his children trick-or-treating. (He dresses up as the Fourth Doctor, with scarf, Molly is a little Dalek and Yoshi, who is just toddling, rides on a working model of K-9. Julian tags along as the Brigadier. Good times are had, my friend, good times.)
Anyway, she needs his help, because somebody’s trying to kill her! So far, so noir.
After the credits, Picard narrates that Dixon Hill has been his hero since boyhood, and the characters he’s interacting with are generated by the computer. This brings up the question of whether the computer just brings to life characters described in the books, or generates fresh characters based on these types – I am, of course, comparing this with the limitations shown in ‘Elementary, My Dear Data,’ because if the former, then of course Picard will know who everyone is and nothing they do can surprise him. He is evidently both fascinated and a little unsettled by how real the characters seem, and thoroughly enjoying playing the part of Hill – and being vamped by the lady client, who gives him a ‘C-note’ and can’t find anywhere to put it but tucked inside his onesie collar. She takes one of his business cards from a tumbler on the desk, which will matter later.
Picard sits down at his desk and looks around happily, then gets up to investigate the sound of a car horn from outside. He’s very impressed by the street scene he can see from the window – but perhaps feels he’s had enough fun for one day, because the next thing he does is call for the exit. As he goes to leave, there’s a knock at the door, and he calls to the person silhouetted against the frosted glass to come back later, as he’s ‘not dressed properly.’ Picard leaves, but the program continues to run, as a man with a peculiar accent enters the office and looks for Hill, confused. So even though the player has left the holodeck, because he hasn’t actually paused or stopped the program, its little ‘world’ continues to exist, with the NPCs therein acting more or less autonomously. That’s a really interesting little wrinkle. It doesn’t go on for long, though, because once outside the holodeck, Picard saves his game and logs off.
He strides off down the corridor, and there’s an odd bit where a young woman in Science blue passes him and looks back, as if he puzzles her. I rewind it because I think it’s a weird reaction and then realise it’s because Picard has a smudge of red lipstick on his face from the lady client kissing him goodbye – so, like the water on Wesley staying wet in the pilot, any kind of stain you get on you in the holodeck will apparently remain when you leave.
In the next scene, Picard is such a huge dork that he has called a meeting of his senior staff to tell them how cool the new holodeck program is. He is beaming and giddy and Data has to explain to Worf what ‘auto-mobiles’ are. He calls them ‘ancient,’ which seems imprecise (I’m just saying, I wouldn’t call something from four hundred years before me ancient) and says they were ‘used primarily for transportation.’ He then goes on to mention the secondary uses of the car as a status symbol and in ‘teenage mating rituals’ which makes Wesley grin, and what the hell is he doing there anyway? Wesley dear, if you were in the back seat of a car with a girl you’d probably get sidetracked figuring out how the seatbelts worked.
Picard enthuses some more, and it’s very cute, and Data is obviously enthralled. Beverly comments that he makes it sound very real, and gets up to, in an extremely wifely manner, wipe the lipstick off his cheek with her thumb. Picard is a little embarrassed, but says he’s going to go again, in costume this time. Riker gives him a huge leering smirk, leaning back in his chair, because already he thinks the holodeck is for porn, and Picard has spent his whole time in there KISSING LADIES.
Anyway, as long as Beverly has her hands all over his face, Picard invites her to join him in the Hill game. She looks a little surprised, but pleased to accept, and as he walks away saying he also wants to bring a 20th Century historian with them, her subtly frustrated/disappointed expression, realising it’s not a date, is lovely; Gates McFadden does a really nice job in this scene. I remember reading recently that her audition for Beverly was the tiddly ‘extremely… extremely‘ scene from ‘The Naked Now,’ based on which she thought it was going to be a funny role, and she was disappointed that she didn’t get much light-hearted material. When she does get it, she handles it very well. Bev flumps into her chair as Picard bubbles some more about how REAL it was, and confirms Riker’s suspicion about the lady-kissing.
Apparently the meeting was called, not so the captain could tell everyone about how awesome Second Life is, but to discuss the insect-people situation. Riker explains that they’re strategically important, but have been pissed off at the Feds for twenty years because somebody mispronounced something the last time they met. Data thinks they ought to re-watch the ‘tape’ of that incident, but nobody else likes that idea – to his confusion, Deanna and Picard both squelch his suggestions.
Out in the corridor, Data and Geordi walk and talk while a lot of extras (including some in the infamous skant uniform) bustle behind them, which is a nice change from how deserted some areas of the ship have seemed in the past. Data is puzzled by the captain’s reluctance to review all material related to the bitchy bug people, and Geordi says that when you’ve seen that reaction once, you don’t have to see it again, implying that it was really XTREME to try and give us some sense of high stakes for this mission. Data makes a weird and adorable ‘Hmm!’ noise and changes the subject to Dixon Hill. At this point, for no apparent reason, Geordi looks back behind them as a skant-wearing woman with nice legs crosses the corridor. Exactly what does that visor pick up?
Data is curious about Hill, who Geordi dismisses as ‘just a 20th Century Sherlock Holmes.’ (You bore, Geordi. As if all detective characters are alike because they detect? Kindly read a Lord Peter Wimsey, a Chief Inspector Wexford and a Jack Reacher and then come talk to me. About how wrong you are and how awesome my taste in books is.) Data thinks it would be interesting to compare them, though, to which Geordi dorks ‘Indubitably, my dear Data; indubitably.’ He strolls off without saying goodbye or anything and his dear Data goes through a door, I think to his own room (although the ceiling looks a lot like the ceiling of the bridge – the shots are tightly framed so that we don’t really see his surroundings, because I don’t think they had a full Data’s-quarters set yet), where he looks up Dixon Hill on the computer and speed-reads the stories, looking enraptured. (The computer display gives the author of the Hill stories as Tracy Tormé, the screenwriter of this episode.)
Elsewhere, Picard has dressed up awesomely in trenchcoat, suit and fedora, and is chatting to Whalen, who he now describes as a fiction expert, somewhat different from a historian, I’d think. (Well… expert in fiction from history? Which is different from historical fiction. Or trying to learn history from reading fiction. Historical fiction is definitely a good way to get into history, but I’d sooner read Alison Weir than Philippa Gregory. Actually, Weir has done some historical novels now, which muddies the point I meant to make – and anyway Weir is one of Gregory’s major sources, and – and – oh gosh you guys I just love the Tudor court, and I will ask Broccoli to make me a simulation in which I can try to save Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon’s marriage.) Whalen is excited, thinks bow ties are cool, and has nice pointy Starfleet sideburns.
At this point Data arrives, looking if possible even more awesome than Picard, because as this and the ‘Time’s Arrow’ episodes will demonstrate, Brent Spiner just looks ridiculously good in old-fashioned suits, and asks permission to join them, saying he is ‘totally versed in the genre of the period’ (and… and I’m not sure those last five words actually say anything). Picard turns up his coat collar jauntily (it flops right back down) and says ‘Well, shall we?’ I suppose Data takes this as permission, because he smiles very sweetly and adjusts his hat to a more jaunty angle as he joins Picard and Whalen. Look at that, I just liked Smiley Data – I think he actually found the happy medium between his early creepy grin and later facial neutrality. He can smile at me while wearing a fedora (or his ‘Royale’ cowboy hat) any time.
This time, the holodeck doors give onto the night-time street scene Picard saw from the window, and the three men walk in without waiting for Beverly, who has yet to join them. Well! I say men, not gentlemen. They look around in wonder, of course, like a buncha rubes, and Whalen has to gently guide Picard out of the path of an oncoming auto-mobile. I think this is where an ad-break went.
Now we have a composite shot that I really like, with the holodeck doorway (more bustling extras are seen out in the corridor) visible on the street and fading out as its doors close and the three men walk deeper into the virtual world. The street set really is beautifully dressed, with heaps of detail, and they have some awesome, bulbous, glistening old cars (Whalen pets one as he passes it) and gorgeous outfits on the extras. A newspaper vendor greets Picard, ‘Hey, Dix! How’s tricks?’ which Picard hears as ‘Trix’ and replies ‘Oh, she’s fine, fine.’ (Is there a character called Trix or Trixie in the books, so this makes sense? I can’t remember the secretary’s name.)
Whalen says ‘He actually thinks you’re Dixon Hill!’ because apparently hologram NPCs don’t notice you saying things like that and get suspicious, and Picard awkwardly (‘Say, Mac’) buys a newspaper without any money, because the vendor, knowing him, will let him pay later. (I suppose, really, Picard should still have that C-note, rematerialising in his collar when he entered the deck, but you can’t expect a man who runs a street newsstand to break a hundred for you. On the other hand, given how much thought he has obviously put into his costume, you’d think he might have thought to replicate and bring some play-money, or that Data or Whalen might. It would be a nice touch if one of them had. You know, I’m not even sure how much sense it makes that Picard is foxed by the expression ‘how’s tricks’ but elsewhere uses colloquialisms like ‘snoop’ that confuse Data. This, of course, is an inevitable difficulty of writing dialogue for characters living in the far future – sometimes you will want them to be as puzzled by present-day language as you or I would be by Tudor English, but at the same time you want them to speak colloquially enough to sound natural and relatable to a present-day audience. I’m not actually complaining about it, just thinking about how it all works. And it is better than when writers try to make up futuristic slang and swear words, the only one of which I like is ‘smeg.’)
Picard reads the headlines (this would have been a good point to get in the fact that it’s 1941, without the setting-programming lines earlier), pronouncing ‘Hitler’ and ‘Roosevelt’ correctly but fluffing ‘DiMaggio,’ so that Data corrects him. This seems less like Picard being unfamiliar with baseball and more like Picard being unfamiliar with Italian surnames. Data and Whalen fill him in (in a nice indication of Data’s faith in his captain’s knowledge, he tries to prompt his memory by giving DiMaggio’s nicknames before explaining who he means) while the news vendor tunes out the fact that Whalen speaks of baseball’s popularity in the past tense to concentrate on disagreeing with Data about the Cleveland Indians. A connection to the dialogue in this scene will be made in ‘If Wishes Were Horses,’ establishing that the shortstop for the ‘London Kings’ that Data mentions is Sisko’s favourite player, Buck Bokai. The news vendor finally catches on that the extremely pale yellow-eyed man who speaks of events in 2027 as a fait accompli is ‘not from around here.’ Picard passes Data off as being ‘from South America,’ to which the vendor replies ‘Yeah, he’s got a nice tan.’ Either he thinks Dix is bullshitting him, or (an interesting idea) you can condition how NPCs perceive you by your assertions.
Picard learns from the inside pages of the paper that his lady client actually has been murdered. What determines how much time passed in Dixon Hill World while Picard was off the holodeck? He is dismayed, saying he should have listened to her (I’m not sure what he means – would listening to her have meant staying on the deck and investigating the case immediately?) and Whalen reassures him that she was only a fictional character. Is she from a DH story that Picard hasn’t read? He seems surprised that she died. Still, it is disconcerting to learn that someone whose lipstick you had on your face is ‘dead.’
Along come two stock hard-boiled police detectives (actually, I thought at first they were gangsters, but the conversation gradually reveals they’re not; a nice touch, I suppose, since one of the major ideas in a Raymond Chandler novel or indeed a James Ellroy one is that the Bay City/LAPD are effectively just another gang), who sneer ‘Well, well, look what the cat dragged in.’ Data repeats ‘Cat?’ Yes, cat, Data, you are going to love them. You know, the mention of a cat just made me realise that I don’t think Tasha was in the meeting scene earlier. She’s not dead yet; where is she this week? There is some byplay about Data’s South American status – ‘Can’t you tell?’ – and again, because of the way the vendor reads this line I’m not totally sure if he’s being sarcastic. Still, nobody seems overly concerned by Data’s complexion; I think they are programmed to accept a certain amount of cognitive dissonance for the sake of smooth gameplay. Sneery Detective tells Data to ‘keep his nose clean’ and he touches his nose and looks at his fingers, perhaps wondering if he too has somehow acquired some stray lipstick.
Anyway, one of the dicks is conciliatory towards Dix, while the other is suspicious of him and wants to know where he was last night, which Picard tells him would be hard to explain. It seems this guy has long considered Hill a shady character and wants to question him in relation to his client’s death – purely because she had his business card in her purse. I can understand a police detective being annoyed by a private detective, who he might see as interfering in legitimate investigations, but it’s not clear why he believes Hill capable of murder, or indeed what he thinks his motive would have been for this particular murder. Whalen thinks all this is awesome, and watches with a big smile.
On the bridge, Wesley and Geordi are driving and Tasha (oh hi!) reports that the insect people are probing them. It’s quite an intrusive probe, and makes the doors of the holodeck open and shut repeatedly (now showing the hallway of Hill’s office building, not the street set). The bugs send a message, in English, requesting the reciprocal greeting in their own language. They are cross at being greeted by a mere Riker, and get sniffy when he requests visual contact (actually, all this week’s budget went on 1941, so there was nothing left over to make bug aliens and they had to have a reason to avoid showing them). Riker sends Geordi to bring Picard up from the holodeck – you’d think you could just use the comm system for that, but that would be too convenient. Why, too, would you send Geordi to do this cabin boy errand when Wesley is sitting right there? Wesley is such a Riker’s Pet.
Cut to Beverly adjusting the seams of her stockings, ready to go into the holodeck. She looks absolutely lovely in a pale pink suit and black hat, with a black oval handbag. The holodeck’s malfunction is evident from the fact that the sliding doors misbehave as she tries to go through. She goes directly into a police station, where standard TV-show police station things are going on; a desk sergeant is giving instructions to uniformed officers, a tarty-looking woman in red sits waiting shamefacedly (PROSTITUTE), a man bickers with another officer, and Data loiters near the door, reading the Wanted posters on a glassed-in bulletin board and playing with his hat in a distinctly un-android-like manner, and it’s just lucky you can’t get your fingers trapped in a fedora. I further note that he is wearing two-tone wing-tip shoes, and fall a little bit further in love with his costume. (South American men are such sharp dressers.)
Beverly stumbles on the steps just inside the door (what, they don’t have high heels in the future? Well, perhaps Beverly just isn’t a high heels kind of woman), getting Data’s attention, and it becomes clear that the hat-twirling is part of a character he’s been developing, as he puts on a vaguely Bugs Bunny-like wiseguy voice and greets her with ‘Hiya, Doc! What’s cookin’?’ Whalen looks jazzed by this. Beverly seems rather anxious, though, perhaps just because she’s uncomfortable in these clothes, perhaps because the misbehaving door worried her, and asks after Picard, who Data tells her is both ‘on ice’ and ‘being grilled.’
When Whalen explains that Picard is suspected of murder, Bev’s little face lights up with excitement and she asks why they aren’t all being interrogated; maybe she should go and help him! Her hair looks great, all bouncy and curly on her shoulders, and they have chosen exactly the right shade of pink for a redhead to wear, a dusty rose that doesn’t fight her hair for dominance. Really, a big A+ to the wardrobe, makeup and hair people for this episode. Whalen dissuades her, saying Picard is having the time of his life, and Beverly complains ‘Why should he have all the fun?’ She takes a seat next to the rueful prostitute, who is shortly led away by an officer (‘C’mon, Toots, let’s go’), and Beverly thoughtfully adjusts her jacket to cover her chest a little more. It’s another nice little bit. Apparently everyone had fun making this episode, and I certainly hope Ms McFadden did.
In the interrogation room, Picard is really enjoying himself, telling the aggressive detective ‘Oh, very good! I’ve read all this before, you know. It’s absolutely as it should be.’ The detective looks frog-faced and fumes.
Geordi can’t reach Picard on the holodeck – in fact, he can’t access the program or even get the doors open. Looks of consternation on the bridge, where Worf is filling in for Geordi. Now the bugs will be mad!
Riker voiceovers his concern, puts Tasha in charge of the bridge (whee, swivelly chair privileges!) and sets out for the holodeck. Wesley asks to go with him, saying he’s studied the holodeck manuals and thinks he could help. He actually says this in a polite, deferential way, which is a relief after all that ‘I glanced at it’ and ‘Heh, adults’ business not so long ago. Riker tells him Geordi is capable and he should stay here, but Auntie Deanna helpfully reminds him that Wesley’s mum is stuck on the holodeck too. Riker relents and Deanna smiles to herself as they leave.
Picard is still being grilled on ice, and getting slightly tired of it. The ‘bad cop’ leaves the room, leaving his good cop pal to appease Dix. Picard actually does want to leave, although he doesn’t seem to think of simply asking the program to pause. I will put this down to unfamiliarity with holodeck games – perhaps Picard thinks you have to wait for a lull in the action, rather than stepping out in mid-scene. Good cop promises to see what he can do.
Out in the station waiting room, Beverly watches the prostitute powdering her nose (I’m not being euphemistic, she is adjusting her makeup) and experiments a little awkwardly with using her own compact. I’ve heard people say this is silly, because Beverly obviously wears makeup every day, but if she’s not used to a pressed powder compact, sure, she could be awkward with it (I’m pants with pressed powder and a puff and prefer using loose powder and a brush). Maybe makeup application technology is different in the future; maybe you spray it on with an airbrush. I loved the ‘makeup box’ with the Chanel logo on it in The Fifth Element – it could be something like that. She gets the attention of the desk sergeant, who attempts to win her affection by giving her a stick of chewing gum and calling her ‘a pretty hep-looking broad.’ He invites her to a Tommy Dorsey show and dance while she briefly chews and swallows the gum. Hee.
Riker, Geordi and Wesley try to access the holodeck. Wesley springs into action, working the control panel inside the wall, while Geordi looks over his shoulder and coaches him. Riker is useless in the background. In fact, he’s kind of a pain in the butt, because he enters the scene asking ‘Have you tried the intercom?’ Geordi says ‘Yes’ in a tone that suggests he would very much like to say ‘Duh.’ And even so, Riker immediately presses the intercom button and barks ‘Riker to holodeck’!
In Hill World, Picard is released, but warned not to leave town. He gets a great line: ‘If I leave town, the town leaves with me.’ Apparently Hill is ‘dealing with Redblock’ and this makes him look bad to the police? I think Redblock is some kind of a bad guy. Picard makes a very awkward attempt to smoke a cigarette the friendly detective offers him, and turns down an invitation to go home with him and have dinner with his family, saying he has other duties. The dick asks ‘Blonde or brunette?’ and Picard anthropomorphises ‘She’s a lady, all right – and her name is Enterprise.’ Charmingly, the dick says she sounds like a working girl to him. Although Montgomery Scott is presently just a pattern hovering in a transporter buffer, the information about his fists clenches in rage at that.
Out in the waiting room, Whalen is playing with a lovely Art Deco light fitting (I really enjoy how the actor is finding little bits of business to show how much Whalen is enjoying his surroundings – it builds well to his near-fatal mistake later) and Data is preening himself before a reflective surface (well, he has a right; he looks superfine today). Good Cop sees the hep-looking broad waiting for Picard, gives him a Look and departs. Beverly has been having some fun with her costume, putting on white-framed sunglasses and pulling down the veil of her hat (indoors), and as Picard approaches her she removes the sunglasses (at least she’s wearing them behind the veil) and gently asks ‘Have a good time?’ He says he doesn’t know – sometimes it seems too real.
He huskily compliments her awesome outfit and they gaze at each other in a tight two-shot and make me sad that the writers wanted to keep him ‘free’ for short-term romances. Picard says they should get back to the Enterprise, and Bev reminds him they’re on the Enterprise, a nice indicator of how complete a different world this simulation feels to him. Before they go, though, she’d like to see his office. The delicate discomfort and attraction between them is really beautifully played. As they turn to go, ‘Cockblock’ Whalen asks if he can go too, and Data, who has an excuse for being crashingly insensitive, chimes in with his nasal wiseguy voice, saying he’d ‘love to take a gander.’ Beverly mentally crushes both their skulls and Picard doesn’t look very happy either.
Back at the office, there is still more unwanted company, as the oddly-accented man who was looking for Dix before is waiting for them. Whalen recognises him as ‘Felix Leach,’ saying he’s read about him many times. If this is the case, he should be able to anticipate the type of thing Leach is likely to do, but everyone (and let’s remember everyone except possibly Beverly has read this series, and Data just read the whole set today) seems surprised when he takes exception to Picard’s brush-off attempt, follows them into the inner office and draws a gun. The adventurers all look at each other smilingly, pleased by the excitement. Except, for some reason, Data is now not smiling, just looking surprised.
To remind us that there’s supposed to be tension in the B-plot, Tasha and Will talk over the intercom about how they’re getting close to their rendezvous with the bitchy bugs, who are maintaining radio silence. All they can do is wait while Wesley, Geordi and a random goldshirt twiddle with the holodeck’s guts. Wesley thinks that the problem was caused by the probe, but they still haven’t been able to isolate it.
Back in Hill World, where there actually is tension, Leach is upset, in a squirrelly way. He hired Hill to locate ‘a certain object’ and feels he’s been jerking him around. He believes Hill has the object and is keeping it from him. Still smirking to each other, the adventurers strike poses (Beverly sitting up on the desk with her legs crossed fetchingly) and Picard tells Leach that ‘the game is over.’ Leach assures him that it is not a game. Whalen, who is super into all this, adjusts his cool bow tie and says ‘Take it from me, Leach, you’ll never find it. Now, gimme the gun.’
Instead, Leach gives him its contents, and he falls to the floor with a grunt of shock and pain. Beverly, understandably, thinks he is just acting and applauds. Leach looks as shocked at what he has done as Whalen does to find that he’s been made to bleed his own blood. ‘But,’ he groans as Beverly catches on and starts unbuttoning his shirt, ‘they’re not real…’
Shit just got real.
(I always enjoy an opportunity to say that.)
After the ads, Beverly reports that Whalen, who has quite a nice hairy chest, is suffering massive internal bleeding and needs to go to sickbay. Apparently they are not quite immersed enough in the world of the simulation any more to think of calling an ambulance and seeing if there’s a hospital in this game – all right, 1941 emergency medicine was not great, but it’s better than what Beverly can do with Dix’s office supplies if they can’t get out of the holodeck. (Which they don’t yet realise they can’t – and yet nobody has said ‘end program’ or ‘freeze program,’ again, I guess, because this isn’t yet standard practice.)
Leach is having his own problems with reality, as he is incredulous when Picard punches him for threatening to shoot again. Instead of actually shooting again, he leaves, threatening them with Redblock’s wrath. Bev warns that Whalen is in danger of dying, and Picard calls for the exit – but nothing happens. Picard sends Data to check for the exit in the hall, but he draws a blank. Reassuringly, he has completely dropped any wiseguy mannerisms and is all business (Data being all business in an emergency = my heart aflutter. Data being all business in a chalkstripe suit = gosh.) As Beverly frets that she’s losing Whalen’s pulse, Picard barks increasingly frantically for the computer to let them exit.
On the bridge, Riker continues to be the boss who cannot or will not understand that a technical difficulty won’t go away any faster because of how urgent he feels it is, and Geordi suggests that he stall the bug bitches.
Considering that the bugs don’t want visual communication, and considering that Deanna rehearsed the formal greeting with Picard, why doesn’t she just get on the line, claim ‘Jean-Luc’ is a girl’s name and she’s the captain, give them the greeting and defuse the situation?
In Hill World, Data and Picard are feeling the walls as if to find a hidden door (I remember in ‘Farpoint’ Data was able to recognise where the real walls of the holodeck were – I don’t know if that ability is remembered or any use here) while Beverly paces anxiously and goes back to check on Whalen. Data is stumped – and when Beverly calls for light, discovers the limitations of lamps that plug into the wall. There’s a very nice bit of business where, carrying the lamp towards her, Data accidentally pulls out the plug and is puzzled by the light going out. While he is jiggling the lampstand, Picard, unnoticed by him, carries the plug around to another socket and puts it in, the light comes back on, and Data smiles, thinking he has fixed it.
It’s cute as hell, and Brent Spiner sells it as he does everything, but it would have made so much more sense if Picard carried the lamp and Data knew about electric cords.
Leach returns at this point, looking triumphant and bringing with him Mr Redblock, who wears a brown derby, perhaps because he likes to think of his head as a restaurant. Apparently this actor cornered Wil Wheaton on set, asked him why he didn’t play football, and called him a sissy little faggot. Poor little Wil was terrified. Yes, I’ve been reading his reviews. Anyway, he wants this mystery item. Redblock is the type of villain who likes to make a show of how polite and civilised he is, despite his thuggish apperance, and makes philosophical statements like ‘Life is an endless stream of choices’ and ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’ (when he lets Leach take a retaliatory pop at Picard, which makes Data leap forward protectively and Picard’s lip bleed).
At this point, Good Cop arrives, having expected to have a drink with Dix and talk about that hotsy-totsy Enterprise. He makes snotty remarks about the man holding a gun on him and gets punched in the tummy. Data gives Redblock some lip about his hypocritical ‘devotion to etiquette,’ which I like since Data is a profoundly polite person, and Redblock and Leach speculate about where he’s from, saying he looks like a ghost. Data begins ‘I was created on a planet -‘ (Picard: ‘Data.’) ‘South America.’ But Redblock is a world traveller, and has never seen anything like Data. Picard chooses this moment to say Data is not from this world, that none of them are – they are from a world of fabulous riches far greater than the ‘item’ Redblock is after.
Leach doesn’t believe him, pointing out that he’s ‘a private dick,’ possibly the only time anyone in Star Trek gets to say ‘dick’ so I hope he enjoyed it, and has never said anything about being from a fabulous-riches world before. Even Good Cop doesn’t believe him. Picard protests that he is not really Dixon Hill, and Data tries to help by calling him a facsimile, fraud and cheap imitation. (‘Sorry, sir. That did not come out quite the way I intended.’) Data goes so far as to inform Redblock that he is a fictional character. This cuts very little ice, and Leach gets ferretty and asks Redblock’s permission to kill ’em all (surprising me a little, given how appalled he looked at having shot Whalen, which he seemed to do in a panic rather than deliberately). Redblock thinks this would be a very interesting test of who’s fictional. He really has excellent dialogue – I’m not transcribing it all but you should watch this scene, he’s a very satisfying villain and he walks straight in with a complete sense of his character (probably because he had played basically the same guy in a LOT of tough-guy movies).
Anyway, Redblock orders Leach to kill Beverly. PERIL! Leach holds his gun like a noob. Anyway, this drives Picard to ‘admit’ that he has the ‘item.’ He offers to explain if Leach will back off. (Leach is now making a big creepy deal of how much he wants to kill someone, possibly to impress Redblock.) To buy Bev some time, and to try to save poor Whalen’s life, Picard begins to bargain. (Of course, this effrontery just gains him Redblock’s respect.) I am sort of impressed that Beverly has managed not to get any blood on her beautiful pink suit.
On the bridge, Riker tries hailing the bugs, but gets tweedly feedback noises that make everyone wince, except for Worf, who has an odd reaction shot where he sits up and looks around as if the noise means something to him. Riker cuts the connection and decides to bother Geordi again, because Geordi could totally have the problem fixed already and just be sitting there twiddling his thumbs waiting for Riker to call, right? Actually, Geordi thinks they have something, and generously offers to let Wesley explain. Riker has no time for their nerd technobabble though, and just wants to know if Wesley can fix it.
Wesley says nervously that he doesn’t know if he should, because if he gets it wrong everyone inside the holodeck could vanish. (He does not explain how or why this might happen, but then, Riker wouldn’t let him explain. I presume it has something to do with the fact that both holodecks and replicators are outgrowths of transporter technology – the people in the deck could be dematerialised. ‘Our Man Bashir,’ of course, revolves around the fact that a person’s complete transporter pattern can be stored in holodeck memory, but I don’t expect the writers to have worked that out this far ahead. However, it would be satisfying to watch ‘The Big Goodbye’ and ‘Our Man Bashir’ as a double feature, besides reminding us how good Star Trek actors tend to look in suits, and how much fun it is just to let Avery Brooks rant.)
In Hill World, Picard asks Redblock’s help to save Whalen by regaining contact with the computer (I presume he doesn’t think Redblock actually can help, but is stalling him to protect Bev and Whalen and sees no reason to keep up any pretence in doing so). Redblock says he doesn’t know that word, and Data gives him a nice, precise definition, which Leach interrupts, begging to be allowed to keel heem – ‘He’s really beginning to irritate me.’ Actually, given Redblock’s own verbosity, I think he was probably quite enjoying Data’s explanation, and wondering if he could hire him away from Hill. Data would make an excellent henchman if he weren’t so moral.
In the corridor, Wesley screws his courage to the sticking place and tries whatever it is he was planning to do. Abruptly, Hill World dissolves into, for no particular reason, a snowy landscape where high winds are blowing. Everyone reacts in shock. Then they are back to the office (still sprinkled with soap-flake snow) and, clever Wesley, the exit has reappeared. Picard makes for it, pausing in the doorway, and Redblock follows, saying ‘Remarkable. Is this a two-way passage?’ He’s seriously considering the possibility of travelling to another world by stepping through a magic door. Redblock is an interesting foreshadowing of Moriarty’s dawning realisation of the world beyond his own in ‘Elementary, My Dear Data,’ and it’s interesting to set the two of them alongside Vic Fontaine, who knows he is a fictional creation in a simulated world-within-a-world, but seems perfectly content with this. (I love Vic and wish he could have been introduced earlier in DS9. In my headcanon, he goes on tour in a ship that is entirely a holodeck inside, the exact reverse of the eventual solution to the Moriarty problem.)
Picard steps up to the doorway, saying that if Redblock lets them help Whalen, they will return with ‘the item.’ Redblock calls him a scamp, asking if he expects him to wait there while he leaves. Data says ‘If you are going to go through yourself, sir, that is not possible,’ but Redblock retorts that one look at Data proves anything is possible. He intends to go through to the other world, instructing his henchmen to kill all the rest and make sure their bodies are never found. He farewells Picard with ‘Au’voir, bonne chance, mon ami’ (how’d he know he’s French!?) and, taking Leach with him, steps out into the corridor.
Now this really does not make sense. If there were an antechamber to the holodeck in which NPCs could appear before one entered the full simulated environment, okay, it would work. But Leach and Redblock are now standing out in a corridor where there is nothing to transmit their holographic images or the, um, patterns of force that make them solid. A few moments later, though, they slowly dissolve from the feet up, Redblock shouting indignantly that they can’t do this to him. He’s Cyrus Redblock! CYRUS REDBLOCK! Histrionics won’t save him now.
In the deck, Data snatches the gun from the startled remaining Redblock goon and pinches the barrel closed before dropping it disdainfully on the floor. He grabs the man by his necktie and says to Picard ‘With your permission, sir?’ Permission granted, and Data punches his ticket with what I’m tempted to call a certain satisfaction. Best henchman in the world. He gives a weird little sniff and shrug afterwards which I presume is one last touch of his wiseguy character. All that was completely unnecessary, of course, since they could now pause the program or just walk out and switch it off. But Data had to have his moment to be studly, so okay.
Picard instructs him to carry Whalen to sickbay, which I have to say, he does without any particular haste considering that the man has been dying of a gut shot (he’s actually pretty quiet for someone gutshot) for quite a while now. Data seems to be considerably more protective of Picard than he is concerned about Whalen, who is, after all, not a regular cast member.
The person who carries ‘Whalen’ (I think it’s a dummy) out of the room past Picard is visibly not Brent Spiner (he’s shot so that you can’t see his face, but his hair is a different shape). I have no idea why this happens. Did Spiner have to go home early? Was carrying dummies not in his contract? Does he only lift kids?
This leaves Picard to say the ‘Big Goodbye’ of the title to his Good Cop friend. For absolutely no reason I can understand, he tells him ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ I know this character is Dixon Hill’s friend, but there really hasn’t been that much sign of an emotional connection between him and Picard. If it were a Raymond Chandler novel they’d have an intense and awkwardly homoerotic bond, of course, but this episode hasn’t been played that way, partly because Picard and Beverly are more interesting as a couple, partly because Redblock took up a lot of time being established as an awesome and loquacious villain, so there just hasn’t been time for this character to be built up as sympathetic.
Good Cop is resigned to his duty, though, staying to book the unconscious hood. There’s a slow, sad saxophone on the score, and the lighting people are having fun with the shadows of the Venetian blinds on the men’s faces. Good Cop asks, when Dix is gone, will this world still exist? Will his wife and kids be waiting for him at home? Picard answers that he honestly doesn’t know. The continued passage of time while Picard was out of the program suggests that they might… but does any of it matter to the audience? Not much. The attempt to give Good Cop pathos this late in the day doesn’t work too well for me, although the saxophone and the Venetians are doing their best. Picard says ‘Goodbye, my friend’ and leaves the deck. The doors close, and all within is dark. If the lights had then come up to show us the sterile black walls and orange grid, that woulda been ice cold. They don’t.
Picard strides onto the bridge, still looking fly as hell in his suit, and throws his trenchcoat and hat onto his chair, saying he’s as ready as he’ll ever be. He loosens his tie and puts his hands on his hips as Tasha opens the hailing frequency to the bugs, and there is just something so awesome about a guy in a slightly rumpled lounge suit standing on the bridge of a starship looking kind of tired and harrassed and practical and ‘let’s just nail this shit so I can go home.’ It tickles my tummy.
As Data enters the bridge (still in his awesome wiseguy suit) Picard starts making weird noises, evidently the bug greeting. Deanna watches him intently and mouths the words along with him, which I really like. There is a heavy pause, before a favourable response comes over the line from the bugs. Everyone claps and cheers (Riker wasn’t kidding when he said this would be a brief visit – apparently the bugs require nothing more than hearing the greeting spoken, no follow-up or anything), and Data sits down at his console, still wearing his awesome suit, and for God’s sake, can this just be his duty uniform from now on? Or could he please wear more suits off duty?
Perhaps so nobody will notice how useless he was today, Riker asks Picard if he had a nice ‘vacation,’ and Picard twinkles that it was a nice place to visit, but he wouldn’t want to die there. Geordi asks Data ‘How was it?’ and Data, pushing his hat up with a forefinger, begins a Chandleresque narration, ‘It was raining in the city by the bay…’ until Picard cuts him off with a warning ‘Data.’
‘Sorry, sir.’ To my amusement, Data straightens his hat as he turns to face the front. All business. Picard puts his own hat back on, because let’s face it, they just make you feel more awesome, and gives the order to go in his best approximation of a Bogart slur: ‘Shtep on it.’ It’s no ‘Punch it,’ but it’ll do.
That really is a lovely episode, feeling far more mature than most of the first season. It’s a foretaste of many things – the whole genre-within-Star-Trek of ‘holodeck on the fritz’ episodes, for one thing – but also how very well this cast can work together and how beautifully they handle comic material. Considering the excellent comic and dramatic skills present in the TNG cast, it is sad and puzzling that the movies leaned so heavily towards action. Only First Contact seems to get this recipe more or less right… and of course, that’s the movie that includes a Dixon Hill scene. Nice.
This episode also gets Wesley Crusher right, the way that, if he had been consistently written, he would probably have been much better accepted by viewers – precocious but not over-confident. (This path seems to have been taken with the Anton Yelchin version of Chekov, and fans certainly seem to like him okay.) He is visibly nervous both when asking Riker’s permission to help with the holodeck and while working on its circuitry, and while he does save the day, our noses aren’t rubbed in it. In fact, I don’t think he even gets thanked or praised!
Incidentally, I have no idea whether Whalen survived. But who cares? LOOK HOW FLY THEY LOOKED. BEHOLD DATA’S SHOES.
Let’s check in with my dear friend O’Brien, as we did not see him this week.
‘I’ve got that Ankh-Morpork sim ready for you, but I had to turn down the smell; people on the surrounding decks were complaining.’