Monday, October 17, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Disaster

The Next Generation, Season 5
Airdate: October 21, 1991
104 of 176 produced
104 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is struck by a quantum filament, a dangerous phenomenon that severely damages the ship. Powerless, and adrift, most of the crew is trapped where they are, with no way to communicate with anyone else. Captain Picard is trapped in an unstable turbolift with a group of school children. On the bridge, Counselor Troi is suddenly the ranking officer, and is now faced with a new crisis. The anitmatter containment field is failing, and she must make a choice. Separate the saucer and leave many of the crew to die, or try to repair the damage, and risk all thousand people on board.

Commander Data reminisces over days when his neck wasn't so fat. 


Kevin: Ron Moore has talked about this episode as an homage to the disaster film genre of 1970s, apparently going so far as to see if Shelly Winters was available. Generally, when TNG went on a field trip to a different genre of storytelling, they succeed. Think "The Big Goodbye," for example. Here, they largely succeed in entertaining me. I will say I think the episode was a little lightweight and indulged in one too many tropes of the genre. The minute you see Keiko rocking the baby bump, you just knew she was going to go into labor at the wrong time. I found the quantum filament idea a little lacking as well. It's a significant threat that happily we don't have to show you since it only a few nanometeres wide. I am bothered by the idea that Troi could be in charge without realizing it herself. In the modern armed services "staff officers" like Counselor Troi are not in the chain of command regardless of rank. Interestingly, that would have put Ro, a "line officer" in charge. That would have been interesting. I like the idea of Troi needing to take charge, I think they just wrote her a little too wide-eyed for the episode. It would have been more interesting to see her take command and have to combat that perception of her rather than kind of validate it.

Matthew: The essentially throwaway aspect of the plot, namely the "disaster," didn't bother me as much as it seems to have bothered you. I viewed it as a vehicle to get us into character interactions and developments. So my estimate of the episode relies mainly on how and whether the vignettes succeed at presenting us with this interaction and development. My biggest problem with the Ro/Troi plot was not that Ro advocated the position she did. I can see it as reasonable and interesting from a utilitarian perspective. What bothered me is that Troi couldn't simply sense more than 1,000 people still alive on board - she seems to have indicated an ability to do so in past episodes.  Even just sensing her Imzadi could have added a nice thread to the episode - she trusts in Riker to recognize and fix the problem. But beyond that plot point, it was nice to see two strong female characters argue positions against each other, and just be in command without any eyelashes batted over the fact that the interlocuters were female. In the end, I enjoyed this vignette as a chance for Troi to get tossed headfirst into command situations - and this was of course beautifully picked up by a later episode, with Troi finally getting her real-life space jammies and commander pip.

Kevin: Another thing about the Troi in command plot was I don't think it went far enough in stressing the character or the relationships. It was not that Ensign Ro "could have been right." Ensign Ro was right. The prudent thing to do was to separate the saucer. Troi gambled and won, but that doesn't mean she didn't gamble. That being said, I can't see Picard or Riker or even Data agreeing with Ro on this one, but it would have been nice for a little denoument with Picard about command and the hard decisions. It could have elevated the episode from entertaining to something with a little meat on it.

Matthew: I agree that Ro was right. That's why I would have preferred the question to hinge on Troi's intuition and whether or not she could trust it. Maybe her senses could have been a little bit wonky after the disaster or something.

Kevin: The balance of the episode I tend to treat like a riff on the Data's Day model. We don't necessarily need a strong plot, we can sustain an episode watching the characters just be themselves. The scenes between Geordi and Crusher are surprisingly good. They don't get many scenes together, and it was lovely seeing the two of them act so well together. Of the vignettes of problem solving, I found theirs the most fun and the solution most satisfying. One small medical point, Crusher should have advised exhaling before hitting the button. Have full lungs could have caused them to burst.

Matthew: I absolutely adored the Crusher/Geordi scenes. We get Gilbert and Sullivan, cargo containers that actually look heavy, a plasma fire, and evacuating the air from the bay. It's just "cool!" after "cool!" after "cool!" This vignette felt the most scienc-ey, and the deep space vacuum idea is something I've been waiting to see on Trek, but that TOS probably couldn't handle due to budgetary constraints. This whole episode could have been about them, as far as I'm concerned. They could have MacGuyvered a bunch of stuff, like an air filter, a space suit, done an EVA, whatever.

Kevin: The Picard scenes were good, and that's saying something, because I tend to be annoyed by child actors. The scenes played well off of Picard's established discomfort around children, and the scenes of him overcoming that to help them were actually pretty sweet. Though here was another missed opportunity to put some meat on the bones of the story. We never really see civilians impacted by the dangers the Enterprise faces. It could been interesting to see how officers respond when their families are threatened, and not just themselves.

Matthew: I also liked the Picard scenes, even despite his jacket. The way he pushed past his distaste for children and came up with strategies to mollify and motivate them was really nice for his character. And of course, we are introduced to the immortal children's hit, "The Laughing Vulcan and his Dog."

Kevin: Riker and Data had some great scenes, and the dark comedy of Data requesting that he remove his head is pretty good. My only concern, and this was more a staging thing, was that there were not even bodies in or near Engineering. Weren't people on duty before the filament hit?

Matthew: Yeah, the Riker/Data stuff really seemed like filler to me. There were scienc-ey elements, but they were all made up science. And I agree - why the heck would it fall upon Data and Riker to fix the warp containment field? If even the Engineering crew had been knocked unconscious by gas or something, that would have been better. As far as the remaining vignette, I enjoyed the labor comedy quite a bit, especially having recently attended one myself. Keiko's labor itself was a bit... compressed, shall we say. But the comedy works because it's true.


Kevin: I want to go on record as saying I am normally deeply annoyed by child actors. They are either shrill and annoying or bizarrely prescient for their ages, but here, the kids were pretty realistic, and the between the director and the actors created some credible performances. The turbolift scenes were well done, and it was nice to see a range of actions. The oldest tried to step up and be helpful, the youngest had a bit of a meltdown, and both felt pretty genuine.

Matthew: Agreed on both counts. Child actors have destroyed more than one otherwise great piece of sci-fi (well, Episode 1 probably never could have been great, Jake Lloyd notwithstanding). And you're precisely correct on why they did not do so here - they weren't those precocious, irritating commercial-star kids who we all just kind of want to punch in the face. (Ba-BAM! How do you like that, Cody?) Patterson was close, but he was balanced by Jay Gordon, who was sort of a sullen pre-teen. The scenes played well with Patrick Stewart, and both the comedy and the drama were good thanks to the chemistry.

Kevin: I really loved the scenes with Crusher and LaForge. Both McFadden and Burton are awesome actors. There's a craft to acting, and these two excel at it. From the banter about performing "The Pirates of Penzance" to the moving the barrels together, it was clear they both understood and committed to a dozen small decisions to give the scene veracity and it paid off. It's a shame they don't have more scenes together. It's a master class in how to make any scene interstesting and real.

Matthew: I don't have much to add here. Imagine me nodding my head vigorously in agreement.

Kevin: Rosalind Chao and Michael Dorn did provide some great comedy this episode. Speaking of master classes, Professor Dorn could easily teach a class on "the straight man." And Chao, despite only appearing a handful of times, really feels like a fully developed character, and still turned in a great performance despite having to be stuck lying down for a lot of it.

Matthew: Some people think (including Michael Piller, apparently), that Michelle Forbes was dealt some crap cards with this Ro script. I disagree. I think it was written perfectly in character, and that she really delivered on the scenes - both with the headstrong insistence on separating the saucer, and with her contrition at the end upon seeing that Counselor Troi was right about the survivors. Sirtis also did a great job portraying someone who is out of her depth, but determined to maintain control over the situation.

Production Values

Kevin: On the one hand, creating an invisible threat seems a copout, but other than that, I liked a lot of the decisions they made. Seeing the Enteprise go dark is visually interesting and pretty unsettling. The turboshaft set was nice and detailed.

Matthew: I was wondering the whole time whether they were using the turbo-shaft set from Star Trek V. It looked neat, either way. I really liked how they built the top of a lift and showed it through the doors of the Bridge set, with Ro climbing up. I will say though that the "crawl-way" floor was ridiculous. Why would someone design a space designated for crawling that featured such knee-destroying nubbins all the way along the floor?

Kevin: I like the cargo bay scenes. The fire was okay, but the shot of the air being evacuated with the barrels into space was really well done. I love whenever they open a cargo door to open space. It always looks awesome.

Matthew: Yeah, I was really pleased by these scenes, too. I liked the fire, since it looked "different." I wish they would have done some makeup on Geordi and Crusher indicating some facial blood vessels bursting, and so on. I have to single out the "Data's head" effect as being pretty lame. It was SUPER obvious that he had a latex appliance around his neck, and that Spiner was sitting inside a table.


Kevin: This episode always genuinely entertains me. The comedy of a woman giving birth at a bad time may be predictable, but it's funny to watch. The other characters get nice scenes that fit their characters and provide some tension. A more thoughtful set up for putting Troi in charge would have elevated the episode, but as it stands, this gets a 3 from me.

Matthew: I think it's a 4. For me this episode is about character development, and I think at least three main-cast characters (Picard, Troi, and Ro) got very good development. We also got more O'Brien and Keiko, and the cargo bay scenes were totally cool. I agree that this episode didn't enter the absolute upper echelons, and it probably could have by axing one or two of the vignettes and developing one of them entirely (my Geordi/Crusher MacGuyver idea, for instance). But I think the acting, writing, and production values were consistently above average here. So overall, our combined ratings make a 7.

1 comment:

  1. Someone needs to actually write "The Laughing Vulcan and His Dog"!! 'Nuff said!!

    I nominate you two. >>:-)