Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Shades of Gray”

“Shades of Gray”
Teleplay by Maurice Hurley and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Story by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rob Bowman

Season 2, Episode 22
Original air date: July 17, 1989
Star date: 42976.1

Mission summary

Riker and La Forge are exploring Dagobah when Riker gets a scratch on his leg. *tension music* He think it’s just a flesh wound, but La Forge asks for an emergency beam-out anyway. Unsurprisingly, the transporter’s biofilters detect something low-budget within Riker and just to be on the safe side, O’Brien decides not to beam him up until Pulaski can unnecessarily risk exposure by beaming down herself. She looks at him, sees it’s a flesh wound, and they beam up. Efficiency! But by now Riker’s leg is numb…

They get Riker to sickbay and Pulaski determines that microbes, partly resembling a virus and partly resembling bacteria for maximum nonsense value, have entwined themselves around Riker’s nerves. The prognosis isn’t good. Eventually the infection will reach the brain, interfering with neural activity and killing our first officer. But Riker’s in good spirits! He jokes around with Picard, and that weepy chick who keeps hanging around, as if nothing’s wrong, because he’s a ManTM. Then he goes into a coma*. Meanwhile La Forge and Data went back to the planet to find the organism (I wonder whose shit list La Forge got on…). Sure enough, a vine snaps out at La Forge and Data catches it just in time. They bring their squirmy sample back to the lab, though this scene winds up being irrelevant and the sample is never discussed again.

Back in sickbay, Jonathan Frakes sees his career flash before his eyes

Troi uses her racial bonus to read Riker’s unconscious mind and determine that he’s having nice dreams. Pulaski uses her supervillain brain-boring machine to intensify these “good” feelings (science!) and (just to show you shouldn’t peep on someone’s subconscious) Troi has to watch him score a little bowchickawowwow. Sadly, the stimulation giving him all these sexytimes has just made the infection worse (my 6th grade health teacher could have told her that) and made Troi even weepier, so they try a different tack–make Riker feel bad things so the microbes realize they should’ve taken that Night Court gig instead. It starts to work! So Pulaski intensifies her thingywhatsit and tries to give him memories where he was fighting for his life, because that’s like, parallelism and stuff. It’s working! Just three more clips to go!

And the infection is gone! But not really because there’s still a few minutes left to go. Riker says he’s had some weird dreams and we’re supposed to smile because we were there but we don’t because we wish we hadn’t been.

* A manly one, with fighting and hot chicks.

We're bored, too, Riker.

Analysis

I feel you, screencap of bored Riker on Dagobah. I feel you.

Usually when you throw together a clip show you do it using the series’ best episodes. You know, those moments we all know and love. You don’t show Ferengis with laser whips and exploding worm heads. I just… what even? Then you have the “infection” that’s neither bacterial nor viral and wraps itself around the “great” sciatic nerve (way better than all those lesser ones) and as soon as the growth rate stops… the infection disappears! Don’t ask questions it’s space science! And then, just when you think you get a 30-second relief from the damnable clips with a frame story, you have to look at Troi’s scrunched up, mascara-runny face to prove that this is all very Emotional. In case you weren’t already aware of how hollow it is.

The writers had no interest in shaping Riker to be anything other than a lame Kirk substitute. I honestly can’t get past the manly coma. What would be so awful about him being scared to die? He lies there talking to Troi, saying nothing. You know what that scene (which they took the time to shoot!) would be good for? Allowing Troi to do her job! Counsel him! In his time of need! But no, he has to set an “example” to…who? Pulaski? Who does he think is watching him? Then he passes out, and his life is flashing before his eyes, and the great moments of the past two years were lots of fighting and bagging guest stars. They had to do a clip show, fine. But why not use this opportunity to show us something about Riker?  Didn’t it strike anyone as odd that on the brink of death Riker doesn’t remember any of his crippling daddy issues? Are there really no turning points in his life, no moments that he would think back and, had he made a different choice, would not have wound up where he is? Not even the token scene from his childhood or his teen years? What about cutting the scenes to leave some open questions, like what if he hadn’t come on the Enterprise during Farpoint? Or what if he had taken that command and left everyone? What if he had tried to rekindle his relationship with Troi? Instead, you get into his head and there’s nothing there. It’s a bunch of pointless struggles and forced sexytimes that, when all put together like that, draw your mind to the inevitable conclusion that show was never, ever going to succeed with this creative team. They just needed something on the screen to shove out the door, and they didn’t care what it was, which has been the theme since the beginning. Weak stories, terrible acting, lifeless characters, bad jokes–in a way, it’s the perfect endcap to a dreadful two seasons.

And now, finally… to the good stuff.

Torie’s Rating: Dead in Space (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: I guess Sickbay buys its sheets where the galaxy’s little girls buy them, too.

Best Line: PULASKI: There may be some residual memory loss. I just want to be certain that you still know who you are.
RIKER: Of course I know who I am. I’m Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.

Trivia/Other Notes: Because the show had blown its budget on Sherlock Holmes and the Borg, they wanted a show on the cheap in three days. The writers’ strike of 1988 didn’t help, and this is what you get when you’re low on cash and talent (Hurley, who “wrote” it, called this a “piece of shit”).

Pulaski gets no send-off. The return of Gates McFadden appears to have been a last-minute, over-the-summer-break event following Hurley’s departure.


Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 21 – “Peak Performance.”

Next post:  Season 2 Wrap-Up.

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.