This review contains spoilers.
2.22 Shades of Gray
The moon landing. The fall of the Berlin wall. The first 3D broadcast of the Queen’s Speech. TV has been the medium through which we’ve experienced some of history’s most important events. Mainly those that have happened in the last 60-70 years, admittedly, but let’s not let that dull the wonder. The powerful simplicity of electromagnetic signals transmitting sound and images around the globe using naught but an orbital network of multi-million dollar satellites cannot be denied.
Which brings us to the big question: where were YOU the first time you felt so much contempt towards Shades of Gray that you switched your TV off in disgust and went to do something else with your life instead?
The episode begins with Riker and Geordi on the surface of an alien planet. Riker has just been spiked in the leg by something, and they’re worried the wound might be full of alien crawlies. Although he laughs it off, the transporter is unable to filter out a possible infection, so Pulaski beams down to inspect his injury.
Declaring Riker’s leg medically unfit for duty, Pulaski insists he beam back to the ship. They discover that Riker has indeed been infected by something not quite a bacteria, not quite a virus, but very difficult to get rid of. Worse, it’s already given him a dead leg, and now it’s spreading up his body towards his precious brain, which is the place where he keeps all of his memories and knowledge of various lovemaking techniques.
Although he seems in good spirits, cracking jokes with those visiting and attending to him, Troi comes to visit and can sense his fear. Riker remains resolute, saying that if he has to die, let it be with his sense of humour intact. The universe obliges, and he promptly passes out as the Bacterio-viral-infection spreads to his spinal column (that’s the main thing that keeps you conscious, if I remember my human biology correctly).
Desperate to save Riker’s life, Troi and Pulaski insist on undressing him during an advert break, place a shiny medical blanket atop his bearded form and then drive a series of needles into his brain, forcing it to stay active as the infection spreads to it.
For the remaining thirty minutes, we are treated to scenes of Riker remembering the events of previous episodes. That’s right, it’s a clip show. A “Best of Riker” clip show. Intercut with these “memories” are brief scenes of Troi and Pulaski monitoring the effect that electrocuting various sections of Riker’s brain has on the spread of the infection as they try to get it under control.
With the help of Troi’s empathic voyeurism, they discover that good memories produce endorphins which make the infection spread more, and bad ones produce endorphins which slow the infection down. Rather than take the next logical step of replicating the necessary chemicals and putting him on a drip, they decide to kill the infection off completely by making Riker remember as much bad stuff as possible.
His bad memories include the time he first met the Ferengi, the time he was devoured by an oil slick, and other large chunks of season one. Eventually it becomes a big Clockwork Orange-style montage of Riker getting punched or electrocuted or axe-kicked by an old man with a cockroach in his head. This kills the infection in his brain, and also his leg. He wakes up, still grinning, which I know is what I do when I finally wake up from an unending nightmare with no escape. Everyone is pleased. Except the viewers.
TNG WTF: The entire episode is one giant chunk of WTF. Although it becomes a lot easier to understand when you realise that it was the result of the network asking for them to bring an episode in significantly under-budget to account for some budget overruns earlier in the series.
TNG LOL: O’Brien and Pulaski’s exchange, as the Chief ribs her over her Transportophobia:
O’Brien: “I hope these are the right coordinates. Just kidding, Doctor. I know how much you love the transporter.”Pulaski: “About as much as I love comical transporter chiefs.”
The exchange itself isn’t funny, but we know who won that argument. I probably don’t need to say whether it was Miles “six seasons of TNG and seven of DS9” O’Brien or Doctor “One season then gone forever” Pulaski.
Who’s That Face?: There are no guest stars in this episode. But hey, that’s Jonathan Frakes! Director of Thunderbirds Are Go!
Time Until Meeting: No meetings here. Didn’t have the budget to use such lavish scenes.
Captain’s Log: There are plenty of contenders for the worst TNG episode ever, and only the fact that it isn’t based on racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes prevents this from being a serious contender. It is, however, the most technically inept. It’s poorly-written (most of Pulaski’s dialogue in particular seems to make no sense), poorly-acted, poorly-paced and poorly-conceived. Perhaps, given the restrictions on it, there wasn’t a chance of it ever being anything else.
But even if you forgive all that, the fact that they managed to END the season on this? Absolutely unforgivable.
Watch or Skip? Skip it. Skip it and never look back.
And that brings us to the end of season two! So long, Pulaski! So long, crappy uniforms! So long, original title sequence! And so long TNG revisitations, because we’re going to take a short break. Schedule-willing, we’ll be back to tackle season three in the new year. Until then, thanks for reading!
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