Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Shades of Gray"

zero stars

Air date: 7/17/1989
Teleplay by Maurice Hurley and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Story by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Robert Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Worst. Finale. Ever. I might as well get it out of the way and call it the most pointless episode of TNG ever made. Honestly, was this episode even meant to be taken seriously, or were the creators as hopelessly desperate to fill the hour as it looks? Part of me thinks it's unfair to even assign a star rating to a clip show, but I'm going to do it anyway and assign it, let's see, no stars. (I suppose every Trek series has to have one.)

Not only are the choices of clips mostly bad (not that they had much to choose from at this point), the framing device is terrible: Riker is infected with parasites on an away mission, and the only way to keep them from destroying his brain are to combat them with endorphins by triggering his memory. His memories, of course, are all clips from previous first- and second-season episodes of the show. How convenient. Or, for us, inconvenient.

One nice aspect of this episode is that it took me about 25 minutes to watch on DVD because of the fast-forward button and the fact that I've seen all these other episodes in the last few months and don't feel obligated to watch excerpts again. (I can't imagine watching this episode again without a fast-forward button.) But, for the record, the clips are from the following episodes, in this order: "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," "The Last Outpost" again, "Skin of Evil" again, "11001001" again, and "Heart of Glory." And, of course, a montage where lots of stuff blows up (including Remmick's head from "Conspiracy," which is almost worth a free half-star by itself, but I'll resist).

While there are clips from a few good shows, many of the clips are from some of the series' worst episodes, and there's no reason to be repeating them. The episode's "original material" depicts how happy memories strengthen the parasites while painful ones ward them off. The scenes in sickbay with Troi and Pulaski employ much unendurable medical babble that seems to be repeating on an endless loop. I seem to remember there was a writers' strike either before or during this season of TNG. Based on this episode, they should've taken more time off.

Previous episode: Peak Performance
Next episode: Evolution

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19 comments on this review

Joe - Mon, Sep 17, 2007 - 12:27am (USA Central)
Before I watched the episode "Shades of Gray" I read the part of your review that stated 'Worst. Finale. Ever.' I thought that you were probably being unfair. But dear god, what a cinematic travesty that episode was.

Despite the fact that enduring all those meaningless flashbacks was a waste of time at best, I really thought that the worst part was the "story" that happened in between memories. Half of the things said were by the doctor, and no justification is required to explain why that is a horrendous choice.

Maybe something that was positive about "Shades of Gray" was that it actually got a laugh out loud from me. At the end, when Riker wakes up he says "you won't believe the dreams I was having", and Troy responds, laughing, "Oh yes we would!" If this was a cartoon made in the 70's for toddlers that would be appropriate.

I guess I feel more sorry for this episode than I am mad at it.
Jake - Sun, Apr 6, 2008 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
Although not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, I don't think "Shades of Gray" is as bad as say "Unnatural Selection" or "Force of Nature."
And it certainly wasn't as bad as "Threshold"
Teebore - Wed, Jun 11, 2008 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
My understanding has always been that the wretched finale (and the shorter season) was caused by the writers strike; they ran out of episodes and cobbled together a quick clip show finale shortly before all the writers left.

Whenever I wrote about the recent writers strike, I thought of Shades of Gray, and feared that a current favorite show's finale would suffer a similar fate...
Nic - Fri, Mar 20, 2009 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
This episode was written to save time and money as a result of the writers' strike of 1988. It was shot in only three days, while most take at least a week. Director Rob Bowman commented, "It was Paramount saying, 'We gave you more money for "Elementary Dear Data" and the Borg show. Now do us a favor and give us a three-day show.' So that's what you do. It's an accepted part of the medium."
This episode is thought to be one of the weakest ever made. Maurice Hurley, who co-wrote the episode, commented, "Piece of shit. It was supposed to be a bottle show. Terrible, just terrible, and a way to save some money. I was on the way out the door."

The only thing that makes this episode that makes it better than Voyager's "Threshold" is the fact that they were forced to produce it. "Threshold", on the other hand, was entirely the writers' fault.
Patrick - Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
This episode is weak, but by no means the worst episode of the series. That ignominious title should go to season 7's "Genesis". "Genesis" is absolute moronic garbage that I can't believe got past a writer's retreat spit-balling session. The premise is idiotic, and the plot stemming from it is pedantic. It's Star Trek Voyager-level bad.

"Shades of Grey" come about because of the '88 writer's strike. But compared to "Genesis", it's a cake-walk to sit through ("Data, something's got meeeeeee!")
xaaos - Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - 8:08am (USA Central)
This is the 1st TNG episode I used the fast-forward button, and when I read this review I laughed out loud finding out that the reviewer did the same thing. Horrible episode, a bad zip of older scenes and the moments between Troi and Pulaski seemed like taking centuries. A waste of time...

On to the 3rd season! :) I love Star Trek!
Anna - Sat, Jan 12, 2013 - 6:10am (USA Central)
The sole reason I don't put this in the same category as most of Trek's other bad episodes is because the writers' strike messed up a few things (the strike was happening right as this episode was written, IIRC). And honestly, the parts prior to the clip show portion (which only took up half the episode at most) wasn't so bad. It's been a while since I've watched this episode, however.
William B - Tue, Apr 2, 2013 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
Certainly, there was always going to be a ceiling of quality this wasn't going to break. About the only show which consistently made watchable to good clip shows is The Simpsons, and that mostly worked because The Simpsons' internal rules were always pliable to begin with, as a comedy. ST:TNG is a drama in which, at least in principle, there are high stakes. The episode here has an especially funny break between what is happening in the primary frame of the episode -- that Riker's life is on the line -- and the purpose of the episode, which is to repackage old clips of the show, which is about as low-impact and low-importance as the show can get. That said, the basic idea of having Pulaski stimulate parts of Riker's brain to (re)produce memories is actually kind of clever, and I like the basic idea that Riker's emotional state eventually affects the organism. The only problem is that it's hard enough to find a good set of clips, all from Riker's POV, this early in the series; adding the additional constraint that they be grouped together by emotion pretty much breaks the show. "Riker sexytimes" doesn't sound like it'd be impossible to do, but apparently there was only one sexy Riker scene that wasn't terrible -- that's Riker/Minuet -- and the only other options are the Edo fleshfest, Beata of Angel One and Headstrong Irish Daughter from "Up the Long Ladder".

There are still some good clips in the episode -- the Riker/Guinan flirting, the (not great, but decent) Riker/Troi farewell in "The Icarus Factor," the fight with the second officer on the Pagh (though I would have preferred a number of other scenes from "A Matter of Honour"), the dance with Minuet, and the introduction to Data -- the last of which is not really a great scene, but is one that makes sense to be important to Riker and is decent. In addition to these, I like Riker's stoic reaction to his life being on the line and his scene with Troi talking about this. There are some good things here.

Unfortunately, the clips actually get worse as the episode gets on, and the meshing between the clips and the Enterprise material gets worse and worse. I like how this episode follows Riker/Troi tearful goodbye scene, ending with words like "Are you sad?" "Yes." "So am I!" with Troi saying something to the effect of, "He's relaxed...he has feelings of warmth and friendship." OK, that is not the emotion communicated in that scene, is it?

I do like how this episode demonstrates how huge the quality differential between s1 and s2 is. It follows up the Riker/Guinan flirting in "The Dauphin" (a great comic scene) and then the Riker/Troi tearful goodbye in "The Icarus Factor" (not great, but serviceable) with the Edo fleshfest from "Justice" -- as quick a demonstration of how far the show came in one year as is possible. The Riker/Min scene -- which is quite good -- is sandwiched between the Edo scene and the "Angel One" and the "Up the Long Ladder" sex scenes, which also demonstrates how variable the series is in terms of its eroticism. (To be fair, while the "Up the Long Ladder" scene is not good, it is nowhere near as bad as the "Angel One" scene, which in turn is IMHO nowhere near as goofy as the Edo skinfest.)

Somewhere in the 1/2 to 1 star range from me.
William B - Wed, Apr 3, 2013 - 8:23am (USA Central)
And now, for fun, I will compare my ratings of s2 (which I just finished rewatching) with Jammer's -- I will list only my ratings where they differ. In parentheses is the difference between mine and Jammer's.

Elementary, Dear Data 3.5 (+0.5)
Loud as a Whisper 3 (+1)
Unnatural Selection 2.5 (+0.5)
The Dauphin 1.5 (-1)
The Icarus Factor 2 (-1)
The Emissary 3.5 (+1)
Shades of Grey 0.5 (+0.5)

Well, that sure was insightful.

On the season as a whole, I think that it's underrated. The season still has some bad shows, but they are mostly of the forgettable variety -- nothing in "Manhunt" strikes me as bad, it's just totally devoid of interest, for example. I don't really count "Shades of Grey" against the season, given the writers' strike and the necessity of working around it. And there were strong shows for most characters -- Picard with "The Measure of a Man," "Contagion," "Time Squared," the subplot in "Samaritan Snare," and a general strong commanding presence, Riker with "A Matter of Honour" and "Peak Performance," with strong supporting work in "The Measure of a Man," Data with "E,DD," "The Measure of a Man," "Pen Pals," and the subplots of "The Outrageous Okona" and "Peak Performance," Worf in "The Emissary," Troi in "Loud as a Whisper" (to me anyway), and Wesley in the B-plot in "Samaritan Snare" with Picard. Pulaski's only headline show was "Unnatural Selection," which I think is not as bad as people usually credit it with, but isn't a great starring vehicle; still, she's a good presence throughout the season. I think Geordi was fairly ill-served here -- as he frankly is every year -- but the promotion to chief engineer gives the character a better niche within the show, and he gets some good material throughout and especially in "Elementary, Dear Data." The season introduces Guinan, gives the first use of the Romulans as an effective Cold War-style foe in "Contagion," introduces the Borg, deepens Klingon culture in "A Matter of Honour," moves the Ferengi into largely comic threat territory which can *still* be mined for dramatic tension in "Peak Performance," moves Wesley away from wunderkid and into a role more believable (if not entirely well realized), and Riker grows a beard and a sense of humour. This is where TNG starts really *being* TNG.

While it's hardly that strong a recommendation, I do think it's notable that most of the bad episodes are *really* bad and disconnected from everything, and thus highly skippable. If I wanted to rewatch s2 tomorrow, I would essentially skip all of "Okona" except the Data subplot, "The Royale," "Up the Long Ladder," "Manhunt" and "Shades of Grey" and I would not feel I've lost anything at all. The worst episodes remaining -- say, "The Child," "The Dauphin," "The Icarus Factor" -- are important enough for character to be worth watching, but aren't really all that bottom-of-the-barrel; the material which *works* in this season is not particularly infected by the rot that remains in the weak episodes. It's easy enough for me to dismiss these 'skippable' eps as hiccups of a show finding its footing, which don't really have any impact beyond the episodes themselves, with the possible exception of "Manhunt" which does affect later Lwaxana episodes, albeit slightly.
J - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 8:01pm (USA Central)
There are some interesting comments from the writers about this episode on Memory Alpha. Basically, they knew it was crap, and the only reason for it's existence was that they needed a low budget episode to make up for Elementary, Dear Data and the Borg extra costs. It's unfortunate that they chose the season finale to be this episode, however.
Rikko - Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
I'm with everyone when they say "Shades of Gray" is a bad episode, but I don't think it's the worst ever. The fact that's the season finale is far worse than the episode itself.

Things must have been a real disaster back then, or else they'd have changed places with "Peak Performance".

Now, time to look at the whole season: Overall, I think it was a bad season. But, you have to remember that S1 was terrible, instead. So, this is an improvement!

Now, what makes S2 better than the first season is a mix of a couple of great episodes and more subtle progress.

Great episodes: "A Matter of Honor", "The Measure of a Man", "Time Squared", "Q Who". And both "Peak Performance" and "The Emissary" deserve a special mention, imo. I already talked about these eps in their respective pages.

And when I say subtle progress I mean better acting: everyone is much more relaxed, lines are starting to come out naturally; and characterization is becoming more stable.

We are just about to see the show taking new heights next season, and no small part of S3 success was thanks to the solid foundation S2 left before.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 9:34am (USA Central)
Maybe I am a complete weirdo, but I love this episode. I can't claim it is high quality, but in my book, if something is watchable, then it is good. Whenever this episode airs in repeats, I find myself drawn in. The 2 big pluses to this episode are the Riker/Troi sort of romance and the music, which is remarkable in this episode. Truth be told, the soundtrack to this episode is arguably a top 5 of the series.

I also have stated many times season 2 is my second favourite season and I have nostalgia love of season 2, so I like clips from them.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 9:44am (USA Central)
*Nostalgia love of season 1.
SkepticalMI - Sat, Oct 5, 2013 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
So your patient has a bizarre infection in his leg that you have no idea how to treat, but which you suspect will infiltrate the brain within a few hours. Why wasn't amputation an option? Especially since bionic legs are practically unnoticeable in the 24th century, as Rom proved later. Then again, that 2 second thought I had while watching it was probably more thought then was needed for this episode. It wasn't a horrible 20 minute episode, but once the flashbacks started, sigh...

(Actually, I seem to recall liking the episode when I was a kid. Maybe it was because I started TNG in the 2nd season, and so all the 1st season clips were news to me. Or maybe because I was just a kid).

In any case, I bear no malice towards the writers, director, or even the producers who ordered it. It had to be done, so be it. Time to move on.

As for the 2nd season as a whole, the improvement over season 1 was so dramatic that I can't really put this season in the same category. By my count, a full 50% of the episodes were at least good episodes, compared to less than 25% in the first season. Yes, only half good is hardly the sign of a wonderful franchise, but it's enough to be engaging.

It also had the first sustained length of quality episodes. Starting from Matter of Honor and going through Q Who, Jammer rated 7 of the 9 episodes as 3 stars or greater (personally, I'd nix Icarus Factor from that list, but 6 of 9 is still good). That's a pretty good run, not just for season 2 but for the series in general.

Part of it is that the characters became more clearly defined into the roles they would play for the rest of the season. Picard was the humanist diplomat, not a short tempered Frenchman. Riker was the good humored non-conventionalist, not the Kirk clone. Data was the mirror to reflect on what being human means, not just the weird robot. Troi was... well, still Troi. But whatever. Plots started to get smarter, and more importantly ended in a rational matter. No more character's acting like idiots like Datalore or plots randomly lurching along like Home Soil. Instead of bad episodes that frustrated and angered me with their stupidity (Angel One, Justice, and the like), the bad episodes were basically just boring (Unnatural Selection, the Dauphin, etc). While improvements still need to be made, I quite enjoy the season for what it is.
Dave in NC - Wed, May 21, 2014 - 11:14am (USA Central)
The absolute bottom of the Trek barrel. (Riker has no painful or happy memories other than what occurred on the Enterprise? Please.)

The only way I'd watch this episode again is if they had a "musical soundtrack only" option on a DVD.

Kahryl - Wed, May 21, 2014 - 12:35pm (USA Central)
No clip show deserves more than zero stars. It is straight-up fraudulent because the hour "episode" doesn't actually have an hour of material.

Needing to save money is no excuse. You don't need a big budget to film 45 minutes. My favorite Star Trek episode of all time is "Remember Me", and the majority of that was Beverly Crusher wandering around an empty ship ranting at the computer.

Need to save even more money? How about that episode (don't know the name) where 3 members of the crew were stuck in a single room on the holodeck with one dying of a gunshot room? That episode sucked. But at least they put in an effort and gave us new material. And it probably cost them almost nothing.
dgalvan - Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
I think a clip show like this comes off as worse now that we binge watch the show on dvd or netflix. At the time it was shown, it had been up to 2 years since many of those clips had previously been seen, so it may have been a more enjoyable experience for viewers who were reminded of previous episodes they hadn't had a chance to see for a while.

And the framing for the clips is not as bad as all that. About 20-25 minutes of setup outside the clips, and some decent dialog between Picard and Riker about the how most lifeforms attack out of instinct to survive instead of malice, etc.

Not the best of course, but zero stars? nah.
todayshorse - Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - 7:01am (USA Central)
And so to the end of season 2 on the re-run of the entire TNG series im watching currently. I have a distant memory of having seen this years ago, but feared the worst, even warning 'she-who-must-be-obeyed' - who has watched the re-runs with me and is becoming quite an avid 'TNG' and-everything-else-trek fan, that this is probably TNG's worst episode. True to form, its awful.

Even she picked out most of the first few 'clips' originating episodes which suprised me, but i had to use the fast forward button on the Tivo to get to the end. If Picard had asked the Doctor one more time 'what can i do'? or 'What do you want me to do?'.......

TNG is to me, 'STAR TREK' and its such a shame, i can watch any episode over and over, and have done over the years, i always enjoy it but this.....well. I understand about the strike and saving money etc, but no one participating in it seems even bothered. Even Riker couldnt care less that he might die. With Troi almost hysterical and the Doctor constantly shaking her head at her computer screen thing, its one ill avoid in the future like it just doesnt exist!

One thing i did note was how different Data had become since the clip shown on the episode where Riker calls him 'Pinocchio' in the holo-forest to how he is now at the end of season 2.
Robert - Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - 8:13am (USA Central)
"One thing i did note was how different Data had become since the clip shown on the episode where Riker calls him 'Pinocchio' in the holo-forest to how he is now at the end of season 2. "

There is a reason why Data/Worf are fan favorites, and their character development is a huge part of that. The actors just did so much with their roles (going from "Pinocchio" and "sit in the corner and scowl" to what they eventually became).

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