Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Disaster”

Written by Ron Jarvis & Philip A. Scorza and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
Season 5, Episode 5
Production episode 40275-205
Original air date: October 21, 1991
Stardate: 45156.1

Captain’s log: The Enterprise‘s previous mission was done early, so they’re just hanging out. In Ten-Forward, we see Riker, Data, and Worf, hanging out with the O’Briens. Keiko is exceedingly pregnant, and the O’Briens have been arguing over what to name the child if it’s a boy. (Apparently, in the 24th century, parents still like to be kept in suspense as to the sex of their child until it’s born.) Riker suggests “William” as a fine, fine name. O’Brien goes off to do a transporter simulation on the bridge (which makes no sense, but he needs to be on the bridge for that part of the plot).

In a cargo bay, Crusher is inexplicably trying to convince La Forge to be Major-General Stanley in a production of The Pirates of Penzance. On the bridge, Troi introduces Picard to Marissa, Jay Gordon, and Patterson, the children who won a science fair, and therefore get a tour of the ship with Picard. (O’Brien arrives on the bridge as they leave, and wonders who to feel sorrier for, the captain or the kids.) Picard asks them about their projects, and Patterson speaks first: he grew special radishes that grew all weird!

The ship then starts shaking as if they’ve hit something. There are power fluctuations all over the ship, and when it finally settles, they’re only on emergency power. Lieutenant Monroe is in charge of the bridge, and she theorizes that they hit a quantum filament. Pretty much everything is offline, and then Ensign Mandel detects another filament. Monroe tells all hands to brace for impact—and then that impact causes her console to explode and everyone on the bridge to fall down. Troi, O’Brien, and Mandel recover, but Monroe is killed. Mandel checks the turbolifts, but they’re not working. Neither is anything else, including communications.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

On the turbolift, Picard appears to have a broken leg and is trapped with three crying children. Jay Gordon, the most serious of the three, is convinced that they’re all going to die, and Picard can do little to calm them.

On the bridge, O’Brien tries to send a distress call, but he has no idea if they’re even transmitting. Ro shows up, yanking the turbolift doors apart from the inside, having been in a ‘lift that was almost at the bridge. She announces that emergency bulkheads were shut beneath the ‘lift, so getting out that way isn’t happening. It also means the bridge has been physically cut off from the rest of the ship by those bulkheads—probably lowered due to a hull breach.

Mandel has gotten partial sensors back, and is picking up life signs in the saucer section. He’s not reading anything in the drive section, but that doesn’t prove anything, as sensors could be malfunctioning. Troi can sense people alive and in pain, but that’s about it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

O’Brien points out that Troi is the senior officer on the deck, with Monroe dead—the other three are a noncom and two ensigns, while Troi is a lieutenant commander—and Troi very quietly and nervously asks for suggestions. O’Brien recommends an emergency protocol that puts all systems on manual, bypassing the non-working computer. Ro and Mandel work on getting life support stabilized and communications working.

Riker, Worf, and Data have set up Ten-Forward as a triage center. Access to the bridge and sickbay is cut off, so Data has ordered casualties to be brought to Ten-Forward. Riker decides to proceed as if everyone on the bridge is dead and no one’s in control of the ship. Leaving Worf in charge of Ten-Forward, Riker and Data head toward engineering, using service crawlways.

La Forge and Crusher are trapped in the cargo bay. A plasma fire starts when a shattered energy conduit ignites the compounds in the bulkhead. The fire’s putting out radiation that will affect La Forge and Crusher, but also eventually ignite the quaratum in the barrels in the cargo bay. They are, in a word, screwed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

Picard, with the help of Marissa, sees that the external power to the turbolift has been cut off. The ‘lift shifts position momentarily, but Picard can’t reach the ceiling on one good leg. He looks at Marissa, and tells her that he needs a first officer to help him get out of this situation, giving her two of his pips. Then he says to “Number One,” that he needs a crew to help get that hatch open. Jay Gordon gets a pip and is made science officer, while Patterson, in light of his particular science project, gets the final pip, and is made executive officer in charge of radishes.

Riker and Data crawl through the bowels of the ship. A coolant leak behind them forces them to lower a bulkhead—but the way in front of them is blocked by an arc of electricity.

Crusher and La Forge move the barrels of quaratum to the other side of the cargo bay to buy them more time, as the radiation levels are lower farther from the plasma fire. But they’re just delaying the inevitable.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

On the bridge, Ro has dumped phaser power into the engineering terminal to get it working, which O’Brien decries as an improper procedure, but Ro snaps that they won’t survive by playing it safe. Readings indicate that the containment field around the antimatter was damaged by the filament, and the field strength is falling, and when it gets below a certain threshold, the field collapses, the antimatter collides with matter, and everything goes boom.

Data can’t shut down the electrical arc. The only option is to interrupt the flow with a non-conductive material—but the only non-conductive material they have is Data’s body. He can shield his positronic brain from the surge of the arc, and then Riker can remove Data’s cranial unit and bring it to engineering. So, yeah, Riker gets to carry Data’s head to engineering, because THEY SAVED DATA’S BRAIN!!!!!

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

On the turbolift, Jay Gordon gets on Picard’s shoulders and gets the hatch open—just as the ‘lift shifts again. He climbs onto the top of the ‘lift and reports that one of the emergency clamps holding them in place is broken. Sooner or later, the ‘lift is going to fall, so Picard informs his Number One that she needs to get her crew out of the ‘lift—but his ankle’s broken, so he can’t go with them. Marissa, however, announces that the crew has decided to stick together. Picard dryly points out that this is mutiny, and then instructs Marissa on how to get some optical cable out of the panel.

La Forge figures out the best way to put out the plasma fire: starve it. They’re in a cargo bay, they can just open the door, the fire will go out, and the quaratum will be blown out into space. The trick works, and they’re safe.

In Ten-Forward, Keiko and Worf are helping treat the injured. Then Keiko starts going into the world’s most ill-timed labor. Worf, armed only with a tricorder and a long-ago Academy emergency first-aid course that included a computer-simulated birth, has to serve as Keiko’s midwife.

Ro and O’Brien argue about how to proceed. Ro wants to separate the saucer, but O’Brien thinks that’s cold-blooded, as there might be people down there. Worse, there’s no power to engineering, so if anybody is down there, they have no way to even know there’s a problem—which is unfortunate, as the problem can only be fixed from engineering. Troi orders O’Brien to transfer power to a monitor down there so they can be told of the problem. Troi also orders Ro to get the ship ready to separate. At one point, the power coupling overheats—as Ro feared it would—but O’Brien is able to keep the field from collapsing. But it could happen again, and Ro insists that they separate the saucer immediately. Troi, in no uncertain terms, says that they’ll separate when she says so and not a moment before. After that, she, for the first time, sits in the command chair.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

Picard and the kids climb up the service ladder (Picard hopping), all of them tied together by the optical cable. As they climb, the ‘lift they were in plummets and crashes. Picard leads them in a singalong of “Frère Jacques” to keep their spirits up as they proceed up the ladder, eventually making it to a clear deck.

Riker and Data’s head arrive at engineering, where the blast doors have lowered. Riker hooks Data’s head up to a console, and he’s able to open the doors. They see that the containment field is almost down, thanks to the power transfer from the bridge, and—once Riker makes a few new connections on Data’s head—they’re able to stabilize the containment field.

Keiko gives birth to a baby girl while Worf struggles through it as best he can. (“The computer simulation was not like this—that delivery was very orderly.” “Well, I’m sorry!”)

Eventually, the ship is back in order. Marissa, Jay Gordon, and Patterson present Picard with a commemorative plaque by way of a thank-you for keeping them from staying scared. (They’re all still wearing their pips, too.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: A quantum filament is hundreds of meters long, has no mass, and can apparently break everything on a starship. Also, if the strength of the containment field around the antimatter goes below 15% it collapses. So that probably shouldn’t happen. In addition, quaratum explodes when exposed to radiation, which makes you wonder why they don’t store it in lead barrels (or some other radiation-proof substance).

It’s never explained why the combadges don’t work, since they obviously have their own independent power source, else they wouldn’t work off-ship. (Maybe the filament overloaded them?)

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi gets her first command experience rather by accident, as she’s the only ranking officer left alive on the bridge when the filament hits. Her struggles with keeping up with the technobabble are amusing, in particular when she tries to analogize a quantum filament to a cosmic string, because she knows that one (following the events of “The Loss“). She’s crestfallen when O’Brien tells her that that’s a totally different phenomenon.

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf gets to play midwife, and he doesn’t suck too badly at it, mostly following the steps in the textbook (and reading those steps out in his stentorian voice, adding to the hilarity). On the Deep Space Nine episode “Accession,” when Keiko reveals that she’s pregnant again, Worf panics and announces that he’ll be on vacation on Earth when she’s due. (He isn’t, as it happens, but neither is he put in a position to midwife the O’Briens’ second child in “The Begotten,” which always struck me as a missed opportunity.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

If I only had a brain…: So it turns out that Data’s head can function independently of his body, leading to one of the most hilarious visuals in the show’s history. (Not to mention Riker’s grumbling that Data needs a bigger head as he tries to plug the ship into his cranium.) We’ll see this a few more times, most notably in “Time’s Arrow.”

In the driver’s seat: Poor Lieutenant Monroe. She probably figured she had light duty, running the bridge with a skeleton crew during downtime. Instead, she got herself crispy fried, just so Troi could have some command experience. (Also: what happened to her body? The bridge was cut off, so what did they do with it? Stick it in Picard’s ready room?) When it’s all over, Ro’s back at conn.

I believe I said that: “Your contractions are now only thirty seconds apart. Dilation has increased to seven centimeters since the onset of labor. That did not take long.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

One of many hilarious exchanges between Worf and Keiko when the latter gives birth.

Welcome aboard: The main guest stars are Erika Flores (two years prior to her regular role as Colleen Cooper on the first three seasons of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), John Christian Graas, and Max Supera as the three children stuck in a turbolift with Picard. Jana Marie Hupp gets to be blown up as Monroe, and Cameron Arnett gets to spout technobabble as Mandel. The remaining guests are recurring: Colm Meaney as O’Brien, Rosalind Chao as Keiko, and Michelle Forbes as Ro.

Trivial matters: This is the last episode of TNG that aired before Gene Roddenberry’s death on October 24, 1991.

Ro Laren’s appearance in this episode establishes her as a recurring character rather than a one-off guest star. She’ll next show up in “Conundrum.”

This is also, obviously, the first appearance of Molly Miyaki Worf O’Brien (full name from, of all places, the novelization of “Unification” by Jeri Taylor). Molly will continue to appear on both TNG and DS9, though her age will be, er, variable.

Crusher tells La Forge that their radiation exposure will require hyronalin treatments. That drug was first mentioned way back in “The Deadly Years” on the original series as the main treatment for radiation. Crusher also used it in “Final Mission.”

With the command itch having been scratched in this episode, Troi will eventually take the bridge officer’s test in “Thine Own Self” so she can command the bridge for realsies.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

Of the three child actors in this episode, only one—Erika Flores—is still acting. Max Supera pursued a career in music, and John Christian Graas joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

The character of Marissa Flores became the subject of legendarily awful fanfiction.

Your humble rewatcher told this story from the POV of Sonya Gomez and Kieran Duffy (who wound up trapped in a corridor) in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Many Splendors (collected in the What’s Past trade paperback).

From 1990-1994, your humble rewatcher was a cohost and coproducer of a public access TV show in New York City called The Chronic Rift (revived in 2008 as a podcast that’s still going strong). We had an annual “Roundtable Awards,” where we gave out awards for various aspects of the genre, and in 1992, Ronald D. Moore won for Best Writer of a TV Show or Movie, in part due to this episode. We had no budget, so the “award” was the plastic thing they use to hold up the middle of the pizza box spray-painted gold and mounted on a piece of styrofoam that we spray-painted black. In 2010, Ron and I were both guests at the I-Con convention, and we did a radio show together (Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction), where he informed me that he still had that award two decades later. It was the first one he’d ever won for his writing.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Disaster

Make it so: “You may now give birth.” This episode is, on the one hand, totally predictable, full of clichés, and a very paint-by-numbers disaster movie scenario. You get folks put in situations they’re not ideally suited for—Picard with children, Troi in command, Worf as a midwife—and coming through in the end.

And you know what? I don’t care, as it’s a very good example of the cliché. All the character notes work, and it’s got some of the absolute funniest moments in the show’s history (Picard trying to get the kids to stop crying, which only makes them cry more; Riker’s response to Data’s suggestion of his decapitation; pretty much every scene with Worf and Keiko). Troi gets some character growth, Ro’s acerbic style gets its first practical workout, we get a precursor of O’Brien’s upcoming tenure as Deep Space 9’s main engineer, Rosalind Chao gets a rare opportunity to show off her comic chops, Data gets to be a disembodied head for a scene (which never gets old), and Sir Patrick Stewart develops a lovely rapport with the three kids. Those kids are also well played, as they actually act and sound like kids. (I particularly like Jay Gordon’s never-ending fatalism.)

The only real weak spot is the La Forge/Crusher portion, which is uninteresting, uneventful, and uninspired, and felt like they couldn’t figure out what to do with those two. (Also, what was Crusher thinking asking the tone-deaf La Forge to play Major-General Stanley? That was the worst rendition of “Model of a Modern Major-General” ever.)

Still a very enjoyable episode, one that never fails to entertain even with repeated rewatches.


Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido was amused to discover that, when he completes the Leverage novel he’s currently writing (The Zoo Job, due out either in later 2012 or early 2013), he’ll have written for exactly 20 different licensed universes. Because he’s just that awesome. Or something…


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