Original air date: October 21, 1991
The previous mission of the Enterprise crew was finished ahead of schedule, so everyone has some free time. The main characters are spread throughout the ship doing various activities, with only Picard and Troi on the bridge. Three elementary school kids have won the Enterprise science fair, and as a reward Picard takes them on a tour around the ship. Soon after Picard and the kids have entered the turbolift, the Enterprise starts to shake violently, all power on the ship is lost, and the lift falls down. It turns out a quantum filament has hit the Enterprise, resulting in a total power failure. Even the communicators are down. The crew members are stuck in different departments of the ship, and they all have to figure out what to do without knowing what the others are up to.
On the bridge, it turns out Troi is the most senior officer still alive. She takes command of efforts to restore some semblance of power and control over the bridge, but she's completely out of her depth making command decisions and relies heavily on the others' technical knowledge. After restoring power to the terminals in Engineering, Ensign Ro realizes that the warp core is about to explode and pressures Troi to separate the saucer section to save as many people as possible. Troi insists on waiting until the last moment to give the rest of the crew every opportunity to fix the problem.
Stuck in the turbolift, Picard has broken his ankle, and the children are terrified. Picard has to figure out a way to get them out before the safety stop breaks, killing them all. The captain recruits the children to be part of his new "crew" and enlists their help scouting the area. He decides that the children have to leave him behind and find safety on the escape ladders, but the little girl serving as first officer informs him that the children refuse to leave him behind, so he leads them up the escape ladder to safety while singing "Frere Jacques."
La Forge and Crusher are stuck in the cargo bay, where a plasma fire threatens to blow up some hazardous chemicals. La Forge eventually decides that they have no other choice but to open the cargo bay doors, sweeping the chemicals into space and snuffing out the fire. In the process, however, La Forge and Crusher will be subjected to the vacuum of space. They both hold onto a railing while all the air is expelled from the bay, then stagger to the opposite side to close and repressurize the bay just before they can both pass out.
In Ten-Forward, O'Brien's pregnant wife Keiko goes into labor, with the hapless Worf forced to act as a midwife. Worf has delivered one baby before, but it was in a simulation, so his bedside manner could use some improvement. He muddles through the process as the agitated Keiko screams at him until she finally gives birth. The relieved Worf cuts the umbilical and hands over her new baby daughter.
Data and Riker venture out to the reach Engineering to see if they can restore power. When they encounter an impassable arc of electrical current, Data uses his body to short out the hazard. Riker detaches Data's head to finish the journey and plugs him into the ship's system. Data realizes that the warp core is about to explode and hastily guides Riker to make the proper connection so he can stop it. They succeed.
On the bridge, O'Brien confirms that the ship is saved, and Ro admits that Troi was right, but Troi states that she could just as easily not been.
A short while later, everything is more or less back to normal, and Picard receives a visit from his child crewmates, who present him a plaque in thanks for saving them. As he turns to leave, he gives the bridge to "number one," and both Riker and the little girl answer, "Aye, sir!" Everyone laughs.
Tropes featured in "Disaster" include:
- Artistic License Medicine: Crusher tells La Forge to resist the urge to exhale in a vacuum, but this is the exact opposite of what you should do. The proper way to handle even a very brief decompression is to exhale and completely empty your lungs so they don't pop from overpressure.
- Artistic License Military: In Real Life, a therapist like Troi would not be in command of a ship. Virtually all militaries distinguish between "staff" and "line" officers to exclude specialists like Troi from the chain of command. Ensign Ro, the highest-ranking line officer, should be the one in charge. (Starfleet has always been Mildly Military, but this is still pretty crazy.)
- Be Careful What You Wish For: In the first scene, Keiko says she wishes her pregnancy, in its eighth month, was over already.
- Bottle Episode: An edge case. Everything technically takes place aboard the Enterprise, but we see a wide range of sets, including a few new ones, such as the turbo lift access tunnels and a few new rooms in Engineering. We also have three new child characters and three recurring characters, so the episode was probably not as easy or cheap to film as most bottle episodes.
- Call-Back: When O'Brien describes the "quantum filament" to Troi, the counselor asks if it's like the "cosmic string" from "The Loss," but she's told that they're nothing alike.
- Character Development: A subtle example. Picard has some trouble interacting with his three young charges, but he's also come a long way from the first episode (where he thought he was wholly incapable of dealing with children). In particular, he doesn't throw a fit over there being children on The Bridge like he did with Wesley. The development then continues through the episode, as the shared danger makes Picard more comfortable with the kids at the end.
- Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Keiko's baby comes out clean, eyes open, and not even crying. Averted in the DVD (and Netflix streaming) version, where Molly is shown crying, naked, covered in placenta, and with a strategically placed umbilical cord still attached.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Ro for wanting to separate the ship. The writers admitted they sort of shortchanged her by having her in this position in what was her second appearance.
- Cranial Processing Unit: Riker has to carry Data's head to Engineering after Data sacrifices his body to block an arcing current.
- Crazy Enough to Work: Geordi's idea to decompress the cargo bay, both putting out the plasma fire and dumping the explosive stuff. Not only does it work, it also averts Explosive Decompression. (Crusher does, however, screw up by telling Geordi not to exhale; in reality, holding your breath in a vacuum could rupture your lungs.)
- Delivery Guy: Worf plays this part to a tee. He's nonplussed when the process doesn't go exactly as the simulated birth did in his Starfleet emergency medicine course.Worf: Congratulations. You are fully dilated to ten centimeters. You may now give birth.
Keiko: That's what I've been doing!
- Drama-Preserving Handicap: Picard breaks his ankle in the turbo lift, requiring that he work with the children rather than just tell them to be quiet while he fixes everything.
- The Eeyore: Jay Gordon, one of the science kids, continually says that they're all going to die.
- Elevator Failure: Just one of many things that go wrong.
- Explosive Instrumentation: Scratch one Red Shirt.
- Feeling the Baby Kick: Keiko O'Brien and her husband Miles are in Ten Forward, where she offers to let Riker and Data feel her baby kick. Later they are trapped in Ten Forward when the titular disaster happens. Worf ends up being midwife to the child's Screaming Birth.
- Field Promotion: Picard temporarily brevets the kids to help keep them calm and give them something to do.
- Fish out of Water: Nearly everyone is faced with a situation beyond their expertise and comfort zones:
- Troi, a psychologist, must make life-or-death command decisions.
- O'Brien is on the bridge instead of his normal role as the Transporter Chief. Additionally, he is used to a fully functioning, highly qualified command structure giving him well reasoned orders. Here he has to delicately provide both Troi & Ro the benefit of his experience without stepping on the toes of the officers.
- Ro, who is command qualified and in the command division, has to let Troi take charge due to her seniority.
- Child Hater Picard must comfort and guide three scared children.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy Worf must deliver a baby.
- Crusher and La Forge find themselves trapped in a cargo bay, away from their vitally important posts in Sickbay and Engineering.
- Riker is left crawling around the ship's guts trying out technical solutions.
- Data, normally capable of doing almost everything himself, has to rely on Riker for locomotion and, moreover, has to give guidance and instruction to someone who's not entirely familiar with the subject.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: There are five simultaneous plotlines.
- From Bad to Worse: The whole episode. Almost ends in Critical Existence Failure for the Enterprise.
- Grew a Spine: Marissa, enough to refuse Picard's order to abandon him.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: Picard to the children when he breaks his ankle.
- Involuntary Group Split: The premise of this episode.
- Irony: O'Brien snaps at Ro for rerouting photon bay power to restart the Engineering terminals, which he says is dangerous. However, it's ultimately O'Brien who argues that they should give the crew the chance to use the terminals to fix the warp core, while Ro says that it's too dangerous to wait any longer.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Ro's idea to separate the saucer and abandon the seemingly lifeless drive section is made out to be heartless, but the threat of a warp core breach keeps it on the table. Lampshaded by Troi, when Ro is proven wrong: "You could just as easily have been right."
- Layman's Terms: O'Brien translates some of Ro's technobabble for Troi.
- Let Me Get This Straight...: "You want me to take off your head...?"
- Losing Your Head: Fortunately, Data can still talk and instruct Riker while his head is separate from his body; doesn't make it any less creepy, however.
- Made of Explodium:
- The quaratum in the cargo bay where Geordi and Crusher are trapped is normally stable, but not in the presence of radioactive plasma fires.
- It's absolute madness that the Enterprise's bulkheads contain a material that's flammable and emits radiation when ignited. Geordi mentions that the ship's main power supply is involved, but that doesn't excuse the wall being Made of Explodium.
- Major General Song: Crusher wants Geordi to sing this as part of some upcoming performance. He gets out the first two lines before deciding that he can't sing, especially in front of others.
- Maternity Crisis: Keiko O'Brien, eight months pregnant, is assisting in the makeshift sickbay in Ten Forward when she goes into labor, where the only other uninjured crewmember available to be the Delivery Guy is Worf.
- More Expendable Than You: Two examples:
- Data offers to use himself to absorb an electric current, allowing Riker to pass, which will cripple him, but should leave him repairable later on. Riker points out to regardless of whether or not he'd be willing to sacrifice Data, and he isn't, it would be pointless—Riker wouldn't be able to fix the warp core without him, as he's not an engineer. Instead Data walks into the current, diverting it, but allowing Riker to detach Data's still-functional head and take it along so he can talk him through what repairs need to be done—and wire him up to the computer just in time to avert the impending explosion.
- Second, Picard tells the children to leave him behind, as he'd only slow them down; they refuse.
- Mr. Exposition: Ro and O'Brien alternate this role when Troi is struggling with the details about the disaster when she takes over. This includes Ro having to explain what happens when there is a "containment breach" in Main Engineering. The ship blows up.
- Narrating the Obvious: When the turbo lift suddenly starts falling, Picard yells, "We're falling!" There's really no reason for Picard to do this except to let the audience know why the camera went haywire and everyone dropped to the ground.
- Negative Space Wedgie: A "quantum filament," which disables the ship like a rogue tidal wave.
- No Antagonist: The conflicts of the episode are caused by a collision with a Negative Space Wedgie, not by any antagonistic character.
- No One Gets Left Behind:
- The children to Picard; they refuse to abandon him, despite his "orders" to do so.
- Also Troi to the rest of the ship—she won't separate the ship without proof there are no survivors in the drive section.
- No OSHA Compliance:
- No normal human adult would be able to reach the emergency hatch on the turbolift.
- That the turbolift would fall fast enough to injure someone is pretty pathetic seeing how our current elevators have enough safeguards installed to prevent such an incident.
- In-universe, O'Brien protests the way Ro transfers power from phasers to the engineering station because that's way too much power to put into a computer terminal.
- In the cargo bay, the control to close the external hatch and the control to repressurize the bay are nowhere near each other, almost costing Crusher and La Forge their lives.
- The quaratum in the bay is literally rocket fuel, yet the room it's stored in has no fire extinguishing equipment.
- Poorly-Disguised Pilot: Downplayed Trope. Producers were developing DS9 at the time, and had pegged O'Brien and Ro to be part of the cast. Their interactions here were to see how the two characters would play off of each other. Producers were satisfied, though Michelle Forbes ended up turning down the offer.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: This episode is essentially a Disaster Movie in space, right down to being called "Disaster".
- Red Shirt: The heretofore unseen Lt. Monroe would have been in command of the bridge, but she gets killed, so Troi is left to do the duty. Bonus points for her actually wearing a red shirt.
- Screaming Birth:Worf: Push, Keiko! Push! Push! Push!
Keiko: I AM PUSHING!
- Shrinking Violet: Marissa, before her Character Development.
- Significant Wardrobe Shift: A mild example, but Marissa is dressed in a much brighter reddish-pink outfit at the end of the episode, after her confidence boost.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: As usual, the idealist Troi turns out to be correct for gambling the lives of the saucer section to give the rest of the ship a chance to survive. In the end, however, she does admit that the pragmatist Ro could just as easily have been correct.
- That's an Order!: Marissa gets to use the line when telling the other two kids to be quiet.
- Three-Month-Old Newborn: Molly starts her SORAS right out of the gate. It's all the more obvious because she's a month premature.
- Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Picard is clearly ill at ease while in the turbolift with three kids—and that's before things go to hell.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: It's been established that Captain Picard feels uncomfortable around kids, so of course he gets stuck inside the lift with three young children.
- You Are in Command Now: Troi is forced into command on the bridge after Lt. Monroe is killed. Despite her rank as Lieutenant Commander, she has no idea what she's doing. Neither does she seem to understand the basics of how the ship works.