This episode features Troi's surprise fiancee, as announced by a silver-plated face on top of a box of jewels that is teleported onto the Enterprise for plot-driven reasons. A silver-plated, moving, talking face, on top of a box filled with Mardi Gras beads. You know, how weddings are announced IN SPACE. (Shrug emoticon goes here.) It quickly transpires that Troi is not keen on marrying the guy, but she'll go along with it because Tradition. The young man appears, and he's about 12 years old, so that's awkward, and then Troi's Mom appears.
(A side note here: I have a real soft spot for Majel Barrett because she was so lovely to me at a convention once, very long ago, and as such, I kind of love Lawxana Troi because she is SO over the top and crazy, like Auntie Mame mixed with Samantha from Sex and the City. But I will admit that her presence made the episode feel more like an old Marx Brothers movie than a Star Trek episode.)
From there, it's quickly established that Riker is mad at Troi for going along with the Tradition, but he refuses to come out and say anything, and keeps making excuses to not deal with it. (Way mature there, Riker.) There's also the B-plot of the episode, which involves an alien ship approaching the planet below, and the crew realizing that said ship is the last of the Turellians, a group of aliens who are frighteningly similar to US (the viewers) in that they wasted their tech on war and bloodshed, and now they have some genetically created disease and are the untouchables of the universe. Troi's baby-faced fiancee is apparently in telepathic communication with them from birth, and has dreamt of one of their women folk since childhood and when he sees her, he beams over to the Untouchable ship and that's it, the wedding's off, and yay, a sigh of relief from everyone.
There's a lot of talk in this episode about communication, including the priceless line, "Failure to communicate is inherently hostile." Troi and her Mom have a lot of conversations (orally and psychically) about how much communication is too much, and of course, Troi's Mom says a lot but understands very little. Poor Troi. Even in the future, you can't escape stupid.
Funniest Line: Data, at the worst engagement party in the entire universe, "Could you please continue the petty bickering? It is most intriguing."
The writers' 'ship = Awkward!Troi/Sullen!Riker
Most annoying music: It's a tie between the single violin of braveryyyyy and the panpipes of introspection.
Continuing the theme of the last episode, "The Big Goodbye" opens with the interesting challenge of learning a truly alien language, and the consequences of failure. It's nice to encounter some truly inhuman aliens, even if it's just the idea of them (I suppose making the insect alien prosthetics would have burned through a lot of the budget.) Picard is burnt out from learning this alien stuff, so Troi suggests he take a break and relax...in the Holodeck!
The Holodeck is simultaneously my most and least favorite plot contrivance. On the plus side, the crew gets to wear period costumes, and there are some really fun stories that can be told. (And, seriously, seeing everyone is clothing other than Star Fleet uniforms is just so entertaining!) But on the negative side, it is SO contrived, and its inclusion in the plot leads to plot stupidity like, "we can't shut down the holodeck because then we would erase everything including all the regular characters!" Uhm, seriously? Also weird is Picard's dialogue in this episode, which is a lot of clunky exposition about how great the Holodeck is, as if he's opened a brand new toy for Christmas. Why is this new to him, and to the Enterprise, and if it is, couldn't we have introduced this idea in a smoother way, like, "The Enterprise is a test ship for the new, fully functional Holodeck, which can do... [blah blah blah specs.]"
The Holodeck story that Picard is reenacting is a noir detective novel about a Sam Spade-like character called Dixon Hill who works out of San Francisco in 1941. Data, Crusher, and a random character we've never met before who is supposedly an expert on 20th century Earth culture join Picard for this story, and blunder through the plot line, until the narrative turns against them and the previously unknown character is actually shot by a thug. At this point, everyone realizes that they're stuck in the Holodeck story, and while Geordi and Wesley try to rescue them (why they couldn't just break down the door is beyond me), Picard, Data, and Crusher attempt to reason their way out of the story with the characters. There's a really lovely parting scene at the end where the last character standing asks Picard if he (the character) will continue to exist when Picard leaves. Half in shadow, Picard says that he doesn't know (and thus ushers in one of plotlines that it will grapple with for years to come, the rights of an A.I. character.) Then he goes to the bridge (still in costume) and nails the communication with the aliens. YAY, Picard!
Funniest/Best Line: The Holodeck baddie, who is surprisingly well spoken, "Make your thoughts fruitful and your words eloquent."
Funniest Moment: Watching Crusher mimic the movements of another woman in the Holodeck police waiting room is just adorable. Even more adorable is the following scene, where a random guy offers her a stick of gum and she swallows it whole.
The writers' 'ship= Picard/Crusher, but only after Picard is disastrously unaware and Crusher is damseled. >:(
The plot aspect that ties these two episodes together is the tricky challenge of introducing a brand new character and making the audience care about him/her in the space of about twenty minutes. Both of these episodes try really, really hard to do just that, but only "The Big Goodbye" succeeds with the Holodeck characters who first realize that Picard/Dixon Hill is, in fact, from another planet, and then, heartbreakingly, that his leaving their space means that they will, effectively die. The new character in "Haven" is a little trickier to care about, for the reasons explained above. It's one thing to see a new character who has an annoying family and a bizarre tie to a main character, but it's another entirely to hang the entire plot on him and his revelations and expect the audience to feel anything about him.