Star Trek: The Next Generation: Disaster   Rewatch 
April 1, 2021 3:38 AM - Season 5, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Each senior officer gets trapped in an uncomfortable social, biological, and/or respiratory situation when a quantum filament disables the Enterprise, stranding the crew in various parts of the ship.

I'm not sure who I feel sorry for, Memory Alpha or MetaFilter:

• Jeri Taylor commented that this episode "was pitched by a couple of outside writers and it's something we had never done before. I believe in variety. I think that it freshens a series. If you see the same story week after week it becomes deadly dull…I'm very much for breaking formula, changing something and doing a different kind of story. It was let's do something different – stop them dead in space and give them lots of problems."

• Teleplay writer Ronald D. Moore recalled, "I thought let's just have fun with it. We put our people in interesting and fun situations. It was nice to put Troi in the captain's chair and Picard in the elevator shaft. It was very episodic, and I remember the best moment was when we were breaking the story. Michael left the room and we were looking at different elements – Data and Riker in the powertube, in particular – and somebody said, 'What if Riker takes Data's head off?' Michael came back in and we said, 'You're going to hate this, but what if we took his head off?', and he laughed and rolled his eyes and said, 'Do it. No one will let us do it, but go ahead, it'll be fun.' I wrote it and Rick [Berman] never said a word. It's amazing that we got away with it."

• Moore remembered, "The Worf plot came out of our constant search for things to cut against his fierce, hyper-masculine Klingon nature. We all fell in love with the idea of him being the guy who delivers the baby. And Michael Dorn liked doing comedic stuff. I think he got tired of us beating him up all the time."

• Originally, Moore planned for it to rain in the turboshaft, inspired by reports of weather forming in NASA's enormous Vehicle Assembly Building. Moore placed Picard in the shaft so that he would have to face currents of electricity. The idea was dropped due to the practical issues with introducing water to an indoor set.

• Moore noted that following modern naval procedure, Deanna Troi should not have been in the chain of command to take over the bridge in a crisis. He decided to bend the rules for the sake of drama.

• Moore saw the episode as The Next Generation's homage to disaster movies. To this end, he half-jokingly proposed casting Shelley Winters in the episode, but the idea was rejected.

• This was the last episode aired before Gene Roddenberry's death on 24 October 1991.

• This is the final time during the series that the Enterprise's saucer separation capability is mentioned. It was not referenced again until Star Trek Generations.

• There is a humorous reference to this episode in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Accession". Worf becomes alarmed at hearing that Keiko is pregnant again, and hastily plans a vacation to Earth for when she is due, so he does not have to assist with the birth again. (Worf does appear in "The Begotten" but does avoid helping with the birth.) In DS9: "The Begotten", Miles O'Brien also references having missed Molly's birth in this episode.

• Michael Piller remarked, "I think 'Disaster' was a fun show, it achieved everything that we set out to do. Ron wrote a nice script, I loved the stuff with Data's head disembodied. It had a real pace and rhythm. It didn't reach the upper echelon of episodes for me because it didn't really have a mystery or science fiction base to it."

• However, Piller regretted the direction that Ro Laren took in the episode. "We gave her the role of the disbeliever who had nowhere to go but lose in the end because she didn't believe Troi. I think, as I wrote in a memo, it would have been much better if she'd been around a year with some victories before we threw her right into that situation to look rather foolish. And I didn't like the moment where she had to come back and say, which was almost the same arc as that character in the opening who apologized to Data, 'Gee, you were right, Counselor and I was wrong, and I respect you.' To me, after Troi made the right decision in a crisis, Ro's character, and I'm not sure if anybody would agree with me on this, would have said, 'You still could have killed us and I still think I was right and you're just lucky it came out this way.' That's the way I would have ended it with her. The bridge sequence was my least favorite part of the show because it seemed very predictable to me."

"What did you do for your science projects?"
"I planted radishes in this special dirt and they came up all weird!"
"I see. That's very… very commendable."
- Jean-Luc Picard and Paterson

"No, I mean contractions… I'm going into labor!"
"You cannot. This is not a good time, Keiko."
- Keiko O'Brien and Worf

"By not separating the ship now, you could be responsible for all our deaths."
"Thank you, Ensign. Proceed."
- Ro and Troi

Poster's Log:
Starting to agree with kitten kaboodle about O'Brien becoming kind of a jerk. He all but rolls his eyes at Troi for mistaking a quantum filament for a cosmic string. Ironic, seeing as in the future he won't say word one about Bashir mistaking a preganglionic fiber for a postganglionic nerve.

I bet it rains inside Discovery's turboshaft. Hell, I bet that turboshaft has its own Oort cloud.

Data's Severed Head will return memorably at the end of this season.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh yay. I've been waiting for the rewatch to catch up to this episode so that I can declare it as my favourite episode of TNG. Not because it's the best episode, but because it somehow reminds me of all my favourite things about the show: it features the full cast of characters, mixes clear stakes, humour, and problem solving, and even though they can't communicate, the crew save the day by guessing each others' decision making by assuming that everyone is maximally competent. Maximum competence porn.

I also want to offer my pet theory about star trek, which is that the best trek has kids around (i.e. TNG and DS9). They don't need to always or even often feature, but they should be on board. On one hand, I know it's implausible to have kids on such dangerous missions, but it's hardly the most implausible thing about star trek. On the other hand, it's the best counterweight to the excessive militarism that permeates star trek. With kids on board, you aren't showing up ready to start a fight, and it helps emphasize that the crew are a bunch of scientists with a thirst for adventure (and sometimes even families!).

And plus, as a kid watching TNG, it did make it much easier for me to connect with (and yes, I really valued Wesley's presence too). Are the newer, darker star treks going to inspire young people to be scientists in the way that TNG did? For the record, I'm really enjoying Disco, but I still think this key element is missing.
posted by Alex404 at 4:59 AM on April 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

This was a fun one, and it really did a good job of nailing that "disaster movie packed with character actors" vibe. Troi got command, Picard grew a heart, and fish out of water Worf is best Worf. I wonder if that kid is going to have "you were delivered by a warrior!" plotline at some point. That ending was jarring, though. The ship got wrecked, you blew up Data's body, you lost a bunch of crew, our turbolift is a shattered mess but hey the ship didn't blow up so... we're good now, right? Right, kids?

KIDS: ... we present you with this plaque!
PICARD: Why, that's wonderful, children! I think... I'll hang it... right over here.
CREEPY DESPAIRING KID: Why there, Captain?
PICARD: Well, because that's where Lieutenant Monroe died, when all this started.
KIDS: Someone died?
PICARD: Oh, yes, a great many people died, I think. Data?
DATA: Thirty eight crew and passengers died brutally during the encounter with the quantum filament, sir.
PICARD [adjusting plaque]: Including our brave Monroe, when the helm console exploded.
DATA: A not uncommon occurance. Seventeen bridge officers have--
PICARD: Yes, yes, Mr. Data, later.
WORF: Sir, once again, I insist that we repair that helm console!
PICARD [rolling eyes]: And once again, Mr. Worf, your concerns have been noted. Now then, who wants to see the battle bridge?

[Adjacent TV Guide listing] This week on the Lockhorns! Leroy and Loretta attempt to simultaneously gaslight each other about their child's name; given how close they are to being due, we can only suppose that this has been going on for months and months.
posted by phooky at 6:02 AM on April 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

This may be one of the best premises possible for a bottle episode: yeah, they're still hanging around the ship, but the ship itself becomes a menace of sorts, and they're split up into not-the-usual teams and have to go out of their comfort zones and improvise like mad. In fact, it's such a good premise that DS9 blatantly stole it. Not all the separate threads worked equally well--Crusher and La Forge's problem seemed a lot less urgent, somehow, even with the myth that being exposed to space will almost instantly kill you*--but the rest were pretty good, and even funny in parts: the weird dirt radishes, Data's head, Worf moonlighting as an obstetrician. And I disagree about Ro's role; I think that she is exactly the kind of person to suggest ditching the stardrive section and cutting their losses. I don't think that we ever find out exactly what happened in the incident that led to her court-martial, but I'd bet that it was a tough call like that, and one where she likewise turned out to be wrong.

It's a little melancholy to consider that this was probably the last episode of Trek that Roddenberry lived to see. (There's a story that, days before he died, he saw a rough cut of Star Trek VI and immediately drafted a response demanding cuts, but I've also heard of someone else saying that he probably wasn't aware enough to be able to do anything remotely like that.) I'll probably have more to say about that when we get to "Unification", which has a certain resonance with that subject.

*Something that has been pointed out WRT other SF stories, whether it's the myth of explosive decompression (Total Recall) or the alleged gale-force winds of escaping air (Aliens, Alien: Resurrection). I did like the bit about not breathing out.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:49 AM on April 1, 2021

I really dislike the tendency to pair Picard up with kids, that whole thread was very dull, I thought. Also, Picard appointing that one kid Officer in Charge of Radishes is just a dick move. The kid is old enough to conduct award-winning science experiments, he's gonna know he's being patronized.

However, the episode as a whole is a lot better than I remembered. I was very saddened by the death of Lieutenant Monroe, who was able to diagnose the quantum filament with astonishing speed.
posted by skewed at 7:25 AM on April 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is definitely one of my favorite episodes. The best part for me is Troi. Once the fact she's in charge sinks in, she is cool and collected. I don't necessarily agree with her decisions, but she is very firm in her decision making and I think they should have advanced her into a more command oriented role earlier than they did.

Reading MA and how the writers didn't get think they'd get away with removing Data's head, I am always intrigued by how clueless those people come off in their comments sometimes. Maybe they should have given more context on why Data losing his body was a big deal, but it just seems like they dream up these concepts that were, "We could never get away with this, but let's do it and see! And then Rick never said anything!" and it's more of their own creation than being a real thing Rick would never allow.

Be sure to read the further adventures of Marissa Flores (TVTropes).
posted by Fukiyama at 7:58 AM on April 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

I was just about to post that TVTropes link because if I have to know about that garbage, so do all of you.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:01 AM on April 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Plasma Fire damages a ship each turn until it's fixed, normally that means blowing up in two turns. In those Premiere days it could take out an unattended ship, but even back then going out without a SECURITY personnel on board was just asking for it.

We don't return to the episode until the first three expansion sets of Second Edition, with Exposed Power Relay, Quantum Filament, and Dealing With Pressure respectively. EPR I used regularly, it's like a lethal Pinned Down to limit the size of your opponent's crew attempting a mission.

Quantum Filament appropriately damages a ship, in Second Edition you could have two Damage cards on a ship from dilemmas or ship battles, a third would blow ya up.

DWP was basically a soft counter to filling up your crew with cheap personnel like Martin and Barron, who generally don't have stats high enough to pass.

Come to think of it, it would be totally valid to play these three dilemmas together on a on an opponent's mission attempt: cut their crew down to eight with EPR, maybe stop three more with DWP(you should remember what crew members they've played, more or less, to know whether it has a chance to hit), then the 5 crew left can try to pass Quantum Filament and finish the mission.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2021

I find this episode notable not for its own qualities, but for the memorable fanfics it spawned.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:37 AM on April 1, 2021

What a delight to discover that I didn't hate this episode after all--somewhere along the line, age seems to have softened me on it and the kids, and I quite liked them this time and found it all a rollicking good adventure of competence porn (my favorite too, Alex404!). Except for the childbirth scenes, which are saved only by Worf, because I hate how all that screaming and yelling infests pretty much every freaking show I ever watch and I cannot abide it. Ugh.

But everything else was more enjoyable this time, maybe because I haven't watched it in years? I don't know. (Though I definitely thought of phooky when the Battling Bickersons were arguing over naming the child. Why are they married??) I loved Picard trying to awkwardly rouse the kids, and that Number One was a young girl, and I most especially loved that Ro took issue with Troi over a survival matter and their argument had nothing to do with men or any kind of touchy-feely subject. Ro's dfficulty was essentially that Troi wasn't trained in command and ship operations, not some weird cat-fight concept, which this show had immense difficulty with--most scenes with women together don't come anywhere near the Bechdel test's general vicinity, let alone pass it.

There were a number of things I'd forgotten, but my favorite was Data telling Riker he should take his head off, and Riker being all defeated and slouching there, going "No! I could not do that!" [pause, eyes begin twinkling a little] "Could I?"

It would have been nice to have more acknowledgement of the crew who died, that's true. But that's so typical of older television--everything in service to a nice wrap-up ending.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

The ship is constructed of materials that emit radiation when set on fire? The fuel for their emergency thruster packs explodes when exposed to radiation? What kind of emergencies were they envisioning?? Not to even mention exploding bridge consoles…

As always, technical nitpicks of the show about made up impossible technology are just for fun, I thought it was a pretty solid episode.
posted by rodlymight at 7:20 PM on April 1, 2021

Shouldn't Geordi have been able to see the infrared from the fire, instead of having Beverly tell him the wall was hot?

Also, is it still a bottle episode if there's half a dozen different bottles?

My one factoid about this episode was that putting O'Brien and Ro together was a test-run for DS9, but I see Memory Alpha has a citation needed on that, so maybe that's not real, considering how well-sourced most production anecdotes on Memory Alpha are.

All of those children now outrank Chief O'Brien.
posted by ckape at 10:39 PM on April 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

All of those children now outrank Chief O'Brien.

Hmmm... as a Chief if they think an Ensign outranks them and you'll get a lot of interesting answers that aren't quite "Yes" and aren't quite "No"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:49 PM on April 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I really liked this one overall, I thought it did a good job shaking everything up and I did love seeing Troi in control.

Minor quibble: when Keiko is actually giving birth, you can see someone's disembodied hands holding her arm and later handing Worf a blanket. I found it kind of creepy that we never got to see that poor extra. I guess they would have had to pay them more. However it did make me notice that the baby blanket, at least, had a nice fuzzy lining on the other side of the shiny. I've always thought their bedlinens were way too metallic looking to be remotely comfortable, but if they're lined then maybe they're just ugly, not ugly and uncomfortable. Still wouldn't want one of those pillowcases though!
posted by Athanassiel at 2:49 AM on January 22, 2022

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