When Riker is infected by a mysterious infection, the only way to stop it from killing him is to stimulate his memories. That’s it.
Teleplay by Maurice Hurley and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. Story by Maurice Hurley. Directed by Rob Bowman
And here we are: Shades of Gray. Not to be confused with Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, a book I like quite a lot. Or eve Fifty Shades of Grey, a book I am planning on never reading. No, here we have the Next Generation episode Shades of Gray, widely considered to be the worst episode of Star Trek ever. Of course, that’s arguable, but it’s hard to imagine an episode that would be more missable, more irrelevant than this one – and this from a series that produced The Outrageous Okona. Most of the story is clips from previous episodes. Now, the first two seasons of Next Generation were overall not all that great anyway, so dramatically there is very little benefit from spending 30 minutes reminiscing over them.
If Shades of Gray isn’t the worst episode, it’s only because it’s so unmemorable. Really, almost nothing happens. There’s some mild attempts at characterization in the first third, but they are very mild indeed – ponderous and dull. Once Riker begins to succumb to the infection, the story, such as it is, continues forward on one note, with no real turns in it. The final victory comes apparently simply because good ol’ Dr. Pulaski just keeps on trying.
If we accept the apparent budget restrictions that made the episode necessary, would there have been any way to make it any better? It’s hard to say. Maybe if somehow Riker’s memories had been able to flow together in more unexpected ways, like an actual dream. Or at least if the very short story we had before all the flashback scenes were inserted in was a bit more compelling. At the very least if Pulaski or Troi had suddenly come up with some last second idea that would have pointed them in the right direction for how to destroy the infection, that would have at least made it feel like an actual story, and not just pointless filler.
On the other hand, I did read somewhere that the budget problems that led to this episode were created by Q Who? If that’s true, than this episode is the price we have to pay to have the Borg, which kind of makes it all worth it.
In any case, the second year of one of my favorite programs ends with weak conclusion to a lame story, followed by a silly misunderstanding by Data and a stock shot of the Enterprise flying away – an ignominious conclusion to a very mixed season.
Shout Outs to the Past
Lots, obviously from various episodes of the first two years of the series. I recognized clips from The Last Outpost, Encounter at Farpoint, The Dauphin, The Icarus Factor, Justice, 11001001, Angel One, Up the Long Ladder, Skin of Evil, The Child, A Matter of Honor, Conspiracy, Symbiosis, Heart of Glory, The Naked Now, and Loud as a Whisper. I didn’t recognize Unnatural Selection or The Schizoid Man.
Amongst the flashbacks, we also see obvious references to the first season such as Tasha Yar, Beverly Crusher, and a beardless Riker. This makes this the only episode of the series that has both Dr. Crusher and Dr. Pulaski in it.
• Both Wesley and Worf do not appear in this episode, except for in flashback footage.
• This story only works with a character like Riker, just because he’s one of the few who has had significant roles in enough episodes to fill all those flashbacks – especially all those scenes of him romancing it up with all those women.
• There are no scenes on the Bridge in this story, except in flashback. I wonder why? Surely that wouldn’t have made the episode more expensive?
• She’s kind of an interesting character, but after a whole year I feel ready to say goodbye to Dr. Pulaski.
• After Riker tells his joke (“As a matter of fact, my grandfather once got bit by a rattlesnake. After three days of intense pain, the snake died,”) the medical technician chuckles, but doesn’t make enough noise to justify the uncredited actor being bumped up to “principle” status.
• “Imzadi” – we haven’t heard that term for a while. Is it the first time this season?
• When Riker “crashes” in Sick Bay, where is the medical team? Is it really just one doctor and her assistant?
• So, 14 minutes into the episode, we start the flashback process, and the rest of the story settles into flashbacks, Troi looking worried and grieved, and Pulaski going on with medical technobabble. Abruptly, the whole episode turns from “really lame” to “unbearably tedious.” Sadly, the boring and repetitive medical scenes are actually worse than the flashbacks.
• Hmm, Justice looks even worse than I remember it.
• Thanks to this story, we get the privilege of seeing Riker’s goofy paralyzed look from Symbiosis and Remmick’s head exploding from Conspiracy all over again. Joy.
Dialogue High Point
There’s nothing that’s all that great, but I guess my favorite is a little exchange between Picard and Pulaski, talking about the ailing Riker, which is direct and to the point.
Picard: What can I do?
Pulaski: You can get out of my hair.
Picard: Aye aye, Doctor.