Before a delicate diplomatic mission, Picard decides to relax by enjoying a virtual reality game based on the 20th century pulp detective character, Dixon Hill, aboard the holodeck. However, a malfunction traps Picard, Data, Dr. Crusher, and another crew member in the game, where the dangers their characters face are very real. Picard has to escape fictional criminals and get off the holodeck to save the life of one of the crew, who has been shot, and to complete his diplomatic mission before time runs out.
Written by Tracy Torme. Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.
Well, this one is a notable chapter in Star Trek history, as we get our first “holodeck” episode – referring usually to stories in which the Holodeck serves as a recreational device for the crew, and a excuse for the producers to dress up all the characters in period clothing. Along with that, these stories usually include the holodeck breaking or malfunctioning, with the accompanying first example of the holodeck breaking – in this case it’s the alien probe that apparently causes this.
Rescuing someone out of the holodeck sounds like pretty complicated stuff. Everyone keeps going on about how long it will take and how careful they have to be. Nobody makes any reference to what seems to me to be the most obvious thing, which is to try to transporters. The holodeck computers are apparently on a completely different system to the rest of the ship because no attempt is made to get the ship’s computer to override the holodeck. Wesley even mentions something about how if the program is disengaged in the wrong way, all the people inside will vanish! What?! That’s crazy – why on earth would anyone risk that for a game?! It’s contradictory to what we’ve learned about the holodeck before or after – it doesn’t digitize you into some sort of computer environment. Rather it simulates a real environment using transporters, replicators, and force fields.
The plot of the episode is pretty one note. Picard is stressed because of a big protocol mission so he decides to unwind on the holodeck. Of course he gets trapped there and the crew have to rescue him in order to complete this mission on time. The plot inside the holodeck isn’t any more interesting. Picard finds out his character’s client has been murdered, gets harrassed by some cops, and then his crew member gets shot. That’s when they realize the Holodeck isn’t working, at which point they stand around not sure what to do until more bad guys turn up, and they have to keep them talking to avoid being killed. Suddenly, the holodeck door opens, and the bad guy goes through it and disappear. That’s it. Oh, Picard races to the bridge and completes his mission, and everyone sits around talking in character a bit. We don’t even find out if poor Mr. Whalen survived or not!
While the story is simple and spends a lot of time with everyone gushing over this fabulous technology (granted this may have been less annoying at the time when it was new to fans as well), the character work is pretty good – at least for Picard, Data, and Dr. Crusher. In particular, I enjoy seeing the attraction between Picard and Crusher played up. Picard doesn’t seem to fully realize what he’s done when he basically asks Crusher out on a date – but she sure does, and she definitely dolls up for the occasion. I especially found it funny watching her irritated response when Whalen and Data decide to accompany her and Picard back to Dixon Hill’s office.
When he first sees Beverly dressed up in costume, there are some very sweet lines of dialogue that I enjoy. First he gazes at her, and referencing the “realism” of their environment, says to her…
Picard: I must say you wear it well.
And a moment later, still gazing intently at each other, they exchange
Picard: Perhaps we should be getting back to the Enterprise
Crusher: We are on the Enterprise.
The other characters are all pretty uninteresting. It’s annoying that the show continues to treat Wesley like he’s smarter than everyone else, although there is an attempt to justify his involvement because of his concern for his mother.
The holodeck itself is treated a bit inconsistently here compared to later stories. Usually, it’s pretty well established that apparently, nothing created on the holodeck can survive off of it, but here we have lipstick staying with Picard (though theoretically it could have been replicated rather than an illusion), and also both Redblock and Leech surviving for a few seconds off of it.
There are hints as well of much later developments of holographic characters “coming to life” with Dixon Hill’s detective friend pondering his fate once Picard leaves the story. If it were me, I’d have very quickly programmed my holodeck so that none of its characters could recognize any indications of the “outside world”.
So anyway, the end result of this episode is all right, but unspectacular, and serves as a harbinger for either better or worse things to come, depending on your opinion of holodeck episodes.
Shout Out to the Past:
• Picard’s interest in detective stories and Data’s fascination with Sherlock Holmes had been mentioned earlier, in the episode Lonely Among Us.
Anticipating the Future:
• There are tons of other holodeck episodes to come, including a return of Dixon Hill, and several much deeper explorations of Data’s fondness for Sherlock Holmes. Themes of holodeck characters gaining varying levels of sentience turn up again over the years on this series, as well as Deep Space Nine and especially Voyager.
Lawrence Tierney, who plays Cyrus Redblock, had been acting since the era the Holodeck recreates in this episode, famous as a “tough guy,” including playing the lead role in Dillinger
William Boyett appears here as Lt. Dan Bell, has played tons of roles, including regulars on Adam-12 and Highway Patrol. He also appears as Policeman in Next Generation’s “Time’s Arrow part 1”.
David Selburg plays Whalen, and also had parts in episodes of Voyager and Enterprise. He turns up again in Next Generation in “Frame of Mind.”
Mike Genovese, who plays the desk sergeant, had a regular role in The Flash.
Dick Miller, who plays the newspaper vendor, has had tons of roles in TV and movies, including parts in Deep Space Nine, The Flash, The Terminator, Gremlins, and more.
• In addition to being the first episode with a holodeck malfunction, this is also the first episode with a holodeck kiss, between Picard as Dixon Hill and his holographic client. Eww.
• Mr. Whalen – what is his job? Picard calls him a 20th Century historian, but later he refers to him as “fiction expert”. A “fiction expert”?! Why does the Enterprise have a “fiction expert”?
• Riker sends Geordi to the Holodeck to collect Captain Picard – why not just use the communicator? Maybe he just wants to be sensitive about calling him out of his downtime activity.
• Picard tries to smoke – pretty funny.
• Why is Beverly still wearing her hat and veil during an obvious medical emergency?
• Once the Holodeck door is opened, why isn’t it the same door that Wesley and Geordi are working on? I guess there’s more than one, but still you’d think there’d be people working there as well.
• Once the villains are disposed of, people are pretty casual about getting Whalen to sick bay
• Brent Spiner gets to play his third character, so to speak. He has lots over the years, but here he plays “Data as a 1940’s pulp character”. Previously, he’s played Data, of course, and “Data as Sherlock Holmes.” He gets a few funny lines. In response to the bad guy saying, “I’m a tolerant man, but I do not tolerate disrespect,” he gets to say, “Your devotion to etiquette is highly admirable, sir.”
Dialogue High Point
A little line from Picard that is pretty clever. When a police officer tells him not to leave town…
If I leave town, town leaves with me.