A character-based bottle episode (no off-ship locations), in which the Enterprise randomly bumps into a Space Thing that gives the writers an excuse to force all the main characters into odd groupings where they must act against type.
The grumpy captain is trapped in an elevator with weeping moppets; the warrior must deliver a baby; the optimistic counsellor faces a difficult pragmatic command decision; the doctor and the engineer team up against dangerous barrels. Okay, that last one was a bit odd.
The most conventional grouping is between Riker and Data, who crawl through a brand-new section of the horizontal Jeffries tubes set (which we’ll see many more times in TNG and Voyager) and face various obstacles, including one with a solution that causes Data to lose his head.
Crusher and Laforge work together smoothly. Their scenes are short, and there’s no tension between them; but the puzzle the writers came up with is interesting, The solution kind of sucks… or blows… but whatever.
The most predictable story is on the bridge, where Troi finds herself the senior officer. Nice-guy O’Brien gives bad-news technobabble that she can’t understand, while tough-as-nails pragmatist Ro challenges Troi’s wait-and-see optimism.
Keiko’s mid-labor growling offers an amusing contrast to Worf’s struggle to be supportive and gentle. I hadn’t seen this episode since before I had my own kids, and I had a flashback to my two times in the delivery room. (I had to stop the show in order to reminisce.)
When Picard crabbily orders three blubbering urchins to stop crying, and of course they blubber even more, the young actors aren’t exactly convincing, but the joke works anyway. A long scene that shows Picard and the three munckhins climbing past the camera while singing “Frère Jacques” is not hard science fiction, and Picard doesn’t explain why he and the children must climb up (rather than down, or why they don’t find a horizontal junction and just, you know, walk) but the sequence is adorable.
Because there are so many subplots, the scenarios start resolving pretty early in the process, so the last 10 minutes or so are just one happy ending after another, which kind of kills the tension, but overall the episode is well paced.
Just don’t look too closely, or you might notice that when the script calls for it, Troi has been known to telepathically sense very specific thoughts from people she can only see through a video link, and she often reports on the the general emotional status of the entire ship. If everyone else on the ship is dead, wouldn’t she sense *nothing*? Wouldn’t she *notice* the nothing? (See s4e10 “The Loss.”) But this time around she can’t tell for certain what’s going on in the drive hull.
Likewise, earlier episodes have established that Laforge’s visor can sense pretty much whatever the script requires him to sense, but in this scenario it’s Crusher who notices a hot wall and dangerous radiation. It’s as if the writers forgot about what the visor is supposed to do.
We’re told that emergency bulkheads have closed throughout the ship for safety reasons, but Laforge and Crusher have no problem opening a huge external cargo bay door, because TV.
The script requires that the ship is so damaged that every single method the different groups might possibly use to communicate with each other must be unavailable, while at the same time, we can plainly see the characters in artificial light, they walk around in artificial gravity, and the automatic doors whoosh normally — except of course when the script requires a security door to block off an exit.
There are no low-tech backups systems like speaking tubes or a rope you can pull on the bridge that rings a bell in engineering. Nobody thinks about putting on a spacesuit and tapping on the dome window of the bridge; nobody tries to shine a flashlight from a window, or hangs a flag in a window, or bangs on a wall in Morse code.
Ah, well. It’s clear the writers are trying new things, giving the actors new things to do. While this isn’t a great episode, and the predictable bridge sequence earns a facepalm, I enjoyed seeing this episode again.