When I saw the preview image for this episode, I thought I was seeing mobsters. It turned out that I was seeing the slightly less exciting private detective and cops, and that's when this episode stopped reminding me of "A Piece of the Action" from TOS. Ah well.
The Enterprise is on a mission to greet very picky insect-like aliens so that they might join the Federation. Picard is stressed out about having to learn a sentence or two in their strange language, so he takes a break gallivanting on the holodeck as a 1930s private eye. While he and other crew members are in the holodeck, the aliens send a probing signal that accidentally turns the holodeck pyscho. Picard and others are trapped there, and the safeties are turned off, both of which they discover when some historian crew member we've never met before is shot in the abdomen. While Picard is unavailable, Riker angers the aliens by not being Picard and by being totally insensitive. Wesley and Geordi eventually fix the holodeck, everyone escapes, and Picard greets the aliens to their satisfaction. Mission accomplished.
This episode was very disappointing. The biggest problem with the story was the pacing. All the major plot points were reasonable, and many were even interesting, but the pacing killed a lot of the potential suspense. Mainly, we learn that holodeck has gone bonkers, but Picard and co. don't learn the danger they're in until a few minutes before they escape. Picard spends a good deal of time being interrogated without even realizing that he's in real danger. Sure, Picard and co. are held hostage briefly by the mob after they've learned that they could really die, but they don't have to think their way out of getting killed. In fact, Picard goes right to trying to tell them the truth, which naturally they don't believe, and he doesn't even offer to use Data's super strength to prove it. Now that would have been cool. "Data, lift this desk." And then what would Data have done with that desk? Thrown it at them. I should write Star Trek episodes.
On another note, Riker apparently has no diplomatic skills whatsoever. The aliens must have been feeling gracious that day, because I think that even I would have fried his butt for being so rude to me. I'm not sure I'd call this a flaw in the writing, since it matches some of the other stupid things Riker has said in other episodes. If snarkiness is needed, like with Q, Riker's the man to call. Finesse? Let's just say he's not ready for the captain's chair just yet.
In comparison, Picard handles the mission well. I liked the bit at the beginning when he's going over the strange alien pronunciations. Even though he fubs the holodeck hostage situation, you can still believe that this is the same experienced captain who convinced Q not to kill us all. He's also willing to learn a few ridiculous-sounding alien phrases for the sake of diplomacy. It's not often I praise Picard, so enjoy it.
I still hold that this episode would have been 100% better if Data had thrown a desk at someone.
But there's hope on the horizon... I see that the next episode is entirely about Data!