**** (5 stars out of 5)
Captain Picard needs a break from bizarre language lessons. He is learning to speak the tongue of the insect-like Jarada who regard incorrect pronunciation as a deadly insult... and are known to respond with violence.
Taking a break soon becomes the whole episode: it's the first non-animated holodeck malfunction tale. From Picard's reaction (calling a meeting with the lipstick of a holographic femme fatale still on his lips) he has rarely used a holodeck with this level of realism.
Jean-Luc's adventure of choice puts him in the character of Dixon Hill, fictional 1940's gumshoe and Picard's boyhood hero. When an overly aggressive scanning beam from the Jarada scrambles the holodeck it traps Picard as Dixon, Data as Carlos from South America, Bev Crusher as Toots, and ship's 20th century historian Mr. Whalen as The Mook Who Gets Plugged, See.
Picard, we learn, is weak at spelling, isn't familiar with baseball or Halloween (actually, that's only to be expected) and isn't a smoker (it really is the future if the French guy doesn't smoke).
Dick Miller, the ideally cast newspaper vendor, asks "Hey, Dix how's tricks?"
Picard responds with "Oh, she's fine, she's fine." Love that line.
The sensory illusions and shaped forcefields of the holodeck are meant to provide verisimilitude, but it's just for training and recreation. It ain't supposed to turn deadly!
"The Big Goodbye" thoroughly deserves its reputation. Action and comedy in equal measure make this tale deserving of recognition.
Also, a recurring question in the nature of computer-generated consciousness. Fictional characters with enough detail and apparent self-determination: are they 'real'? Do they 'live'? Do they go home to their loved ones when the holodeck, TV, or ebook is turned off? And what does it mean for us if they do?
As Picard tells the holo-cops: "If I leave town, town leaves with me."
"What wonderful fiction. Quite entertaining." It's one point on which I agree with disintegrated gangster Cyrus Redblock.
Watched it, loved it, bought the Dixon Hill action figure... and his reading lamp.