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The Trek Nation - Disaster

Disaster

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at June 20, 2009 - 3:34 AM GMT

See Also: 'Disaster' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: During a slow bridge shift, the Enterprise is struck by quantum filaments that play havoc with the ship's sytems, causing hull breaches and emergency lockdowns. Picard is trapped in a turbolift with three children who have won a science contest. Riker, Data, and Worf leave a shattered Ten Forward to find that they cannot communicate with the upper decks of the ship. Crusher and LaForge are caught in a cargo bay with containers of flammable material while a plasma fire burns in a conduit. Because Troi is the highest-ranking bridge officer to survive, she takes command, assisted by a nervous Miles O'Brien whose pregnant wife is trapped below, plus an aggressive Ro Laren who believes Troi should separate the saucer to protect the crew from an impending warp breach in the dead drive section. Picard, whose ankle breaks in the turbulence, has no way to communicate with the bridge; he must convince the terrified children to climb out of the lift and up the emergency ladders to safety. LaForge and Crusher conclude that to prevent an explosion in the cargo bay, they must evacuate the oxygen feeding the radioactive fire, meaning that they must survive without air for several seconds. Riker and Data crawl through conduits to reach Engineering, though Data sacrifices his body to disable an electrical current and Riker is forced to bring only the android's head. Meanwhile Worf and Keiko O'Brien tend the wounded, but Keiko goes into labor early, making it necessary for Worf to deliver the baby. Because Troi has insisted upon keeping power to the Engineering section, Riker discovers that the ship's engines are very near to exploding. Data's head can hook directly into the control panels, so he repairs the generators that power the containment field. The ship's systems are restored, Keiko gives birth to a healthy baby girl, and Picard is given an award by his charges for keeping them safe.


Analysis: "Disaster" isn't a particularly clever or deep episode, but it's well-paced and enjoyable, in large part because it's nice to see the crew so far outside their usual elements. Usually, when there's a crisis on the Enterprise, there's a pattern to how it's faced. Crusher deals with the injured, Troi deals with the distressed, LaForge and Data deal with the technical problems, Riker and Worf deal with the personnel matters, Picard coordinates the crew and makes major decisions under advisement from the others. Meanwhile, people like the O'Briens are either barely seen or are focused on some specific area of expertise - the transporter, botany, etc. This time, though, there's no warning, and the catastrophe catches everyone unprepared. Picard is in a situation with which he's already uncomfortable, surrounded by children; Riker, Worf and Data are in Ten Forward, cut off from the command areas of the ship; LaForge and Crusher are in a cargo bay, unable to reach Engineering or Sickbay; and Troi is on the bridge, where she must take command even though she's unsure of the emergency bulkhead protocols. The quantum filament does plenty of damage on its own, and the timing of the ship's encounter with it makes matters much worse because there's no way for the members of the crew to do their usual jobs.

On an earth-based show, the disaster would have been an earthquake that trapped the captain in the head, the XO in the mess, and the chaplain in command. So let's leave aside practical questions like why there's no backup communications - we've seen those comm badges work in all sorts of situations on planets from lightning storms to solid rock, so why didn't those designers realize they needed to work through emergency bulkheads - and scientific ones like how the ship manages to travel to the far reaches of space yet can't handle an encounter with a molecule-wide spatial filament. The science here isn't meant to be important, and the technobabble is thankfully kept to a minimum...so much so that I haven't got a clue what was in those containers in the cargo bay, LaForge rushes through the explanation so quickly. The part of the conversation that's interesting is when Crusher comes up with the idea that makes LaForge realize they need to evacuate all the oxygen from the cargo bay. How often do we see LaForge and Crusher chatting at all, let alone about whether he should sing in The Pirates of Penzance and then about a scientific problem? Similarly, have we ever seen Worf in charge of medical care and comfort?

Then there's Riker, who's used to being jack-of-all-trades - Troi jokes at the end that she thinks she would make a good first officer because there seem to be few qualifications - but isn't prepared when Data suggests that Riker sever his head and carry it to engineering to hook it up to the computer. He does it, but he's unhappy about it, much more so than Data himself who is very matter-of-fact about their desperate situation. Picard's terror of children is more well-known, though what's a revelation is how well he rises to the occasion after an initial disastrous attempt to order them to stop being scared - forgivable because he has broken his ankle and he's in pain. Picard isn't good with emotional people in general, and children tend to keep their feelings very close to the surface, but these are analytical, scientific kids at heart, and once he grants them responsibility, they rise to the occasion too, insisting that he save himself along with them. Picard has enough experience as a leader to adapt and these kids are a lot easier to talk sense with than, say, the Pakleds.

Which leaves poor Captain Troi, who's written here as unnecessarily stupid, not understanding basic emergency preparedness when one would expect that every Starfleet crewmember would have to know the drills to pass for lieutenant. Having seen Ron Moore's women on Battlestar Galactica, there are some obvious parallels - Starbuck is an evolution from Ro, who's tough as nails here, extremely competent, no tolerance for sissies, but in the end her self-sufficiency is twisted into a failing, while Troi is the dithering ineffectual woman in charge, who keeps looking at the man with more practical experience to back her up. O'Brien is the only member of the bridge crew who comes across really well despite having the most obvious emotional baggage - a pregnant wife missing elsewhere on the ship.

The preposterous, too-fast labor scene is fun to watch because Rosalind Chao is obviously comfortable with physical comedy and Michael Dorn is utterly hilarious uttering Worf's lines deadpan - "You may now give birth," he announces smugly when he discovers that Keiko is fully dilated, then complains that his experience of human birth via computer simulation was far orderly than Keiko's noisy, untimely delivery. And even if LaForge does most of the thinking in his scenes with Crusher, she's the one who stays conscious long enough to save them both. Not a great episode for women, but Next Gen on its worst days still surpasses nearly everything on television then and since.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.