Star Trek The Next Generation: Disaster

"Sounds like fun."

Disaster movies can be fun if you don't take them too seriously. This episode was a bit like The Poseidon Adventure crossed with Airplane. Plus it was a good episode for female characters. (Well, maybe not for Lieutenant Monroe.)

Let's begin with the cutest plotline, which was an injured Picard trapped in a turbolift with three adorable kids who were at first terrified of him. Realizing that yelling at them to stop crying wasn't going to work, Picard made each of them an officer and got them to help him tackle the problem. Since Marissa was the oldest, Picard made her first officer — and then he actually listened to her opinion, a very Picard thing to do. It was Marissa who overrode Picard's order that they leave him and his broken ankle in the turbolift and insisted that they all stay together. Since the turbolift plummeted down the shaft right after they got out, little Marissa essentially saved Picard's life.

I really liked that Picard gave them his pips — two for Marissa as second in command, one for Jay Gordon as science officer, and one for little Paterson as executive officer in charge of radishes — and that in the scene in the end where they were presenting Picard with a thank-you plaque, the kids were still wearing those pips. Hey, if I were the kid in that situation, I would have worn them 24/7 forever, or at least until I got old enough to find them embarrassing, or too nerdy a fashion statement.


Meanwhile on the Bridge, it was Ensign Ro and Chief O'Brien in a verbal fight to the death about what to do before the antimatter containment failed and blew up the ship. Ro wanted to separate the saucer section, while O'Brien thought they should be more cautious. Caught in the middle was Deanna Troi, whom we just found out is a Lieutenant Commander. (We didn't know that, did we?) I assume that's a similar situation to the doctors in M*A*S*H automatically becoming officers when commissioned, even though they never rose through the ranks doing officer-like things.

After standing around aimlessly and trying to help without realizing the obvious, Deanna took command and probably thought back quickly to what she learned in the class she must have taken on command-skills-for-medical-personnel back at the Academy. She asked her officers for options, and then she made the necessary life and death decision, refusing to let Ensign Ro intimidate her.

Perhaps I should pass over Riker doing Die Hard in the Jeffries tube corridor while carrying Data's dead around with him, although it did make me laugh because I'd completely forgotten it.


With the exception of Picard and the kids, which was the most fun for me because Patrick Stewart, I enjoyed the adventure in the cargo bay the most. It even started out fun, with Geordi reluctantly singing Gilbert and Sullivan at Beverly's behest before the two of them were frantically trying to keep the barrels of something that would apparently explode away from the inconvenient plasma fire.

While the two of them pushing those big yellow barrels laboriously across the floor wasn't exciting, evacuating the air from the cargo bay certainly was. I particularly liked the matter-of-fact way Beverly told Geordi what dire things would happen to their bodies and how quickly they would die from (1) depressurization and (2) asphyxiation. I also liked that it was Beverly who got to the all-important control panel, while Geordi passed out on the floor; it made sense that Beverly, a doctor, would have a better grasp on how to deal with what was happening to her body.

Like I said, a good episode for our female characters. Except maybe for Keiko.

The obvious comic relief in this episode was Worf delivering Keiko's baby girl, which I found genuinely funny from beginning to end. (Or, and I'm feeling a bit defensive after reading some other reviews of this episode out there, I thought it was funny; your mileage may vary.) Worf's birthing instructions were so perfectly Worf-like. "You may give birth now."

Michael Dorn's deadpan delivery aside, pun intended, I think I liked it because while Worf was out of his element and uncomfortable with the situation, he did a perfectly good and competent job. They didn't try to make the situation sillier with Worf losing his composure or making mistakes, because it would be out of character. Keiko yelling at him and drenching him with sarcasm felt a bit too contrived, though, and I usually liked Rosalind Chao's performances as Keiko.

So okay, a lot of this episode felt contrived. Why would one set of turbolift doors refuse to open while the other did? Why would there be barrels of materials that could explode just sitting unsecured in the cargo bay, and why was the door control near Geordi but the atmosphere control on the other side of the room? And of course, we all knew that Deanna would make the right choice on the bridge. (Again, I'm going to gloss right over Riker taking Data's head off.)

But all disaster movies are contrived, with a ridiculous number of difficulties and problems to overcome: it's the genre. And "Disaster" was an hour spent with characters we loved for years, dealing with an unusual situation. It wasn't boring.

Bits:

-- Stardate 45156.1, with the Enterprise leaving Mudor 5 before being hit by a quantum filament, a.k.a. a huge, gnarly McGuffin.

-- Marissa, the eldest child and Picard's "Number One," was played by Erika Flores, whom I recognized as a cast member on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Actually, a controversial cast member, since she was replaced by another actress after three seasons. (Here's the story on Wikipedia.)

-- Marissa suggested "The Laughing Vulcan and His Dog" as their climbing song, but Picard prevailed with "Frere Jacques." They so rarely remind us that Patrick Stewart's character is supposed to be French.

-- The Ensign Ro versus Chief O'Brien dynamic was set up because the producers were thinking seriously about the characters they were going to spin off on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Something I wouldn't have realized if I hadn't read up about this episode.

-- Dr. Crusher mentioned hyronalin treatments for radiation. I remembered Dr. McCoy mentioning hyronalin in the original Star Trek episode "The Deadly Years," but according to Memory Alpha, it was mentioned other times as well.

-- These days, it seems odd not to know the sex of the baby ahead of time, but I guess not so much in 1991. Maybe that's one futuristic situation the writers should have anticipated. But then we wouldn't have gotten the cute Miles and Keiko squabbling about the baby's (male) name.

-- And another thing. These days, they would have introduced Lieutenant Monroe as a minor character a few episodes ago so that we would care when she died.

Quotes:

Paterson: "Can I be an officer, too?"
Picard: "Well, let me see. Your science project involved radishes, did it not?"
Paterson: "Yes, sir."
Picard: "Then I shall appoint you my executive officer in charge of radishes."

O'Brien: "If it falls to fifteen percent, the field will collapse and we'll have a containment breach."
Deanna: "Which means?"
Ensign Ro: "Which means the ship will explode."

Riker: (to Data) "Let me get this straight. You want me to take off your head?"

Keiko: "I'm going into labor!"
Worf: "You cannot. This is not a good time, Keiko!"

Worf: "I must urge you gently but firmly to push harder."

Worf: "You are fully dilated to ten centimeters. You may now give birth."

Data: "You must hurry, commander. The containment field has dropped to sixteen percent."
Riker: "I'm trying. You need a bigger head."
You know, the birth stuff and the big head stuff feels connected somehow, even though it wasn't. An inadvertent juxtaposition, perhaps.

Deanna: "I don't think I'm cut out to be Captain. First officer, maybe. I understand there aren't many qualifications."

While this one isn't a fan favorite, I remember enjoying it when it initially aired, and I enjoyed it just now on rewatch. Three out of four radishes that grew up all weird,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

I always enjoyed this one as well, even though many reviewers were pretty negative. Giving an episode the title "Disaster" gives critics a too-easy opportunity to make plays on the name.

William Russell said...

I always loved it too. Giving different cast members a chance to interact with people you wouldn't normally see them with. Mostly it was just fun.
I never fail to smile when both Riker and Marissa respond to Picard's "number one" comment at the end of the show.