Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, July 17, 2017

ST:TNG Season Two, Episode Twenty-Two "Shades of Gray"

ST:TNG Season Two, Episode Twenty-Two "Shades of Gray"
Production Order: 48
Air Order: 48
Stardate: 42976.1
Original Air Date: July 17, 1989

I would just like to say, look at this amazing in-studio outdoor set. All of the sets
have been like this on TNG. They're a far cry from the ones on TOS. 

So we start out down on some planet, and Geordi comes through the underbrush, spotting Riker sitting dejectedly by a stream.
"What's up?" asks Geordi.
"Got scratched," says Riker.
He shows Geordi the wound, and when Geordi makes a "that's a bad one" noise, Riker looks away in embarrassment.
Geordi calls O'Brien for a beam-out, and Riker protests, because "it's just a scratch."

Oh, sorry -

"Rules are rules," says Geordi, sort of ignoring the fact that Commander Riker is his superior officer. Safety first! "This is an alien planet, and we have no idea what scratched you. You're injured, you go back."
"Can't beam him up," O'Brien calls back. "He's got some kind of alien something-or-other in his system now, and the biofilters don't like that. It alerted Dr Pulaski."
A few minutes later, Pulaski shows up, and O'Brien shows her on the biofilter where the microbes are listed.
"Man, that's like the "check engine" light of health hazards," complains Pulaski. "It doesn't tell me anything."
O'Brien offers to bypass the filter and beam him up anyway, but she decides to err on the side of caution and beam down to look at it. She climbs hesitantly onto the pad.
"I hope these are the right coordinates," he quips.
She starts, but then he tells her that he's joking.
"Dick move," she snaps.
That is a dick move. Knock it off, O'Brien.

She beams down and scans Riker's leg. He tells her they were doing a geological survey and a thing jabbed him in the leg. Geordi says they've been looking for it, but no dice. Pulaski says she'll beam Riker back to the E. I hoped they beamed him straight to sick bay.
We don't see the beaming part, but go straight to sick bay anyway, where two non-comm medical assistants help Riker onto a biobed.
"My leg just went dead," he tells Pulaski.

Dramatic music! Opening credits break!

Picard's Log, 42976.1: " Recap of opening."

Picard goes to sick bay, and Pulaski explains that whatever stung Riker is not a bacteria or a virus, but has components of both, and it isn't possible for her to remove the microbes surgically, as they've wrapped themselves around his nerves at the molecular level.
"That's why the biofilter couldn't screen them out," Riker puts in.
"No nerve damage," she adds,"but it's affecting his nervous system anyway."
"My leg's still asleep," he translates.
"So it'll eventually spread to his brain, and he could die," she says bluntly.
Picard asks how he can help. Pulaski requests a sample of the thing that stung him. Picard comms Geordi and Data, asking them to beam down to get that sample.

Data and Geordi enter the transporter room, arguing. Data says it isn't necessary for Geordi to go, as it puts him at risk as well, but Geordi argues that only he knows where Riker got stung.
They both beam down to the site.
Data takes some scans and says there are animal remains all over the area. Geordi takes an interest in a vine he hadn't noticed before, even though it hasn't done anything different, and he walked past it a dozen times earlier.
"I think it's dead," says Data.
"Naw," says Geordi. "I can see with my VISOR that it isn't."
The vine jumps at Geordi, and Data catches it.
They notice a big-ass thorn on the back and phaser it off, much to the vine's chagrin.

They beam back up and are met in the transporter room by Picard. Geordi rushes the thorn off to sick bay while Data tells Picard about the vine.
"Looks like it kills warm-blooded animals, maybe as part of a bigger chain, but we have no idea what else might be involved there. Kinda hope I'm wrong about this predatory vine thing."
"Yeah, but you rarely are," frowns Picard.

Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Picard goes to Pulaski's office to check on her progress.
"I can kill it, but not without killing Riker, too."
She's pretty stumped.

I'm gonna stop real quick here to make a note: writing about this kind of thing is tedious as hell. They're trying to ramp up the drama by making this not necessarily real time, but dragging it out to something similar, and I'm stuck here trying to convey it to you in a way that doesn't make me sound bored, even though I kind of am. We pretty much know that Riker is not going to die, and that eventually Pulaski will find some way to cure him, because there aren't a lot of times when they do something permanent to a character in an ongoing show. So instead they slog through the episode, never quite finding the cure, while the patient gets worse and worse, then at some point, they will find a cure, or fix the problem, and then that person will be on the mend again. It leads to a lot of me wanting to write "they spend the next twenty minutes of screen time trying different things to fix the problem. Nothing works, but then something does." The action is not necessarily boring, but writing about it is.
There are really only two things that might prevent the return to status quo here. First off is Yar. When Tasha got struck down by Armus, you expected her to either get up or be fixed by Dr Crusher. Crusher's announcement that she was dead probably fell into the realm of, "they won't make that stick"... until the credits rolled, and she was not in the next episode. Yar's death made it a possibility that a main character could die in the middle of everything, and actually freaking die. The second possibility is that this is a season finale. If they're going to do something permanent, it's going to be in the finale episodes, so they can take some time to come back to the new status quo.
Spoilers: eventually they cure it, and Riker lives. But you're not here to read this kind of sentence over and over again each week, so let's go back to that oh-so-exciting working-on-a-solution sequence, shall we?

Picard goes out to visit Riker, who is testing the reflexes in his hand as though they were not working correctly. Then he hides the action by stacking his hand behind his head. To lighten the mood, he makes jokes.
"Hope they don't find out I'm faking!"
They discuss how "exploring the unknown" comes with these kinds of situations, and how you can't resent your own death or the circumstances because most things in the universe will react badly out of fear or instinct rather than malice.

Later, Riker chats amiably with the medical technician while the guy scans him. He tells the technician (who has no lines) that Rikers are tough, and tells him a story of his his great-grandfather was once bitten by a rattlesnake.
"After three days of intense pain, the rattlesnake died."
The tech chuckles and walks away. Troi, who was listening from the doorway, comes in to talk to him. She remarks that he's funny, and he replies that as first officer, he has to set an example, and facing death with a sense of humor appears to be his way of doing that.
"I haven't given up yet," he says cheerfully.
Then his eyes roll back in his head, and he passes out. All of the little yellow triangles on the medical wall slide to the other end of the spectrum and turn red and make tiny klaxon sounds. Pulaski comes running and says that the infection has reached his spinal cord and is interfering with his autonomic nervous system. She hypos him.
Dramatic music! No commercial break this time!

CMO's Log, 42976.3: "Once the infection hits Riker's brain, it'll kill him off, in like, an hour. The only way I can think of to keep him alive is to set him up in this thing that stimulates his brain."

They wheel over this machine that looks like hypodermic needles that form a halo around Riker's head. Or like the crown-thing on the head of the machine-man from "Metropolis." (Have you seen that movie? You should. It's fucking amazing.)

Anyway, my biggest problem with this needle-stimulating-machine-thingy is that the needle-things go in several inches. That's a lot. All I can think of is that they're skewering his brain like kebabs. Or like, when you have one potato or one avocado pit, and you want to make more, so you skewer them and hang them over cups of water or whatever.

This is your brain. This is your brain as kebab meat.
Any questions?

Pulaski presses some buttons on the side of the machine, and I'm wondering about the one with the Starfleet insignia. In case of accidental death, press button. Machine will resurrect dead character."

Anxious music plays. Pulaski fiddles with the machine while looking into the binocular part, and we zoom in on Riker...

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls (and those of you who are yet to make up your minds)...
welcome to Star Trek's first, last, and only...
...motherfucking clip show.
The first clip we see is of the craptacular episode "The Last Outpost". But it's just footage of him wandering the volatile surface of the planet, calling out his crewmates' names. I guess this was supposed to be a visual for the tumultuous state of Riker's mind and health?
Whatever. Like anyone gives a shit.
I can just hear the 1989 audience when the screen switches over to this footage: "A clip show? Are you fucking kidding me? This was supposed to be a new episode!"
And it technically was. They could call it a new episode because new footage had been shot for it. But at least 50% of this episode is a conglomeration of reruns.

The camera zooms back out to the "present" where Pulaski tells Troi that she's stimulated his brain, but things are kind of erratic. A tearful Troi tells Riker to hang on.

Dramatic music because Riker is in danger! Tempered by frustrated screaming from the audience because what the hell is this shit? Commercial break, wherein most viewers probably changed the channel, because why would they sit through the rest of this crap?!

When we come back, Pulaski is adjusting the machine to make things more stable. She spouts off some medical-science jargon that no one understands, and then Troi says, "He's dreaming."
We zoom in on him. You know what that means.
Gotta start from the beginning, I guess: Riker goes to the holodeck to fetch Data in the first episode. "Encounter at Farpoint". I noticed something here that has nothing to do with anything, but is slightly off-putting: they hadn't painted Brent Spiner's lips gold for the first episode (or at least this scene) so they're... mouth-colored. It's weird.

We segue into the scene from "The Dauphin" where Wes has asked Riker for advice on flirting, so Riker flirts with Guinan. It's a pretty good scene, which is nice, considering they started out with a POS like "The Last Outpost."

We then move straight to the scene from "The Icarus Factor", where Troi and Riker say goodbye, as he is accepting another position on another ship. Interesting that, as he lies dying, Riker does not actually think of his father.

We zoom out again, so empathic Troi can recap for Pulaski that Riker is thinking of warmth and friendship.
Yay, is this going to be a whole episode of Riker hanging out with his friends? It's like the terrible fanfiction you write for a beloved original character, where that person has a fun day at the park, and then goes home. How nice for them. And how boring or the audience.
Oh, what's up next?
The episode with the half-naked people,  "Justice". Lots of flesh. How nice for Riker.

Mmmm, helloooo, Minuet! ("11001001")

Troi sighs. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend is having erotic thoughts that probably do not include her. What a fun time for her!
More Minuet, then the part of Angel One where he boffs the leader of the planet.

Oh, can't forget Breanna O'Dell! It's literally Will Riker's Greatest Hits! ("Up the Long Ladder")

"The organism has responded - it's doubled!" says Pulaski in alarm.
Of course it has. Riker has offered the organism free soft-core porn. Who wouldn't show up for that?
"All we've done is make things worse!" says a distraught Troi.

Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Pulaski guesses that the organism's growth is in response to what kinds of memories Riker is dreaming about, and she comes up with some weird explanation as to how that's medically possible, blah, blah, blah. Basically. the show has decided to group clips together, and claiming that the underlying emotion from the clips is what is allowing the organism to grow or not grow is how they're going to go about explain it away.
We went through some friendship clips (surprisingly, no Picard, geordi, Pulaski or Worf in those), and we've run out of Sexy Times clips, so what collection is next?
Sassy Riker?
Poker Games?
Awkward Boners, guest-starring Lwaxana Troi?
Nope, we're gonna pull out the big guns and go straight for death. First Yar.

"Skin of Evil"

Then Ian, remember Troi's kid? Yeah, he was only around for part of an episode, and Riker was there when he died.

"The Child"

But now we're out of deaths that Riker would give a shit about, so we go back to sick bay. Troi says that Riker is feeling sad, and Pulaski replies that negative emotions appear to inhibit the growth of the organism. She says she will stimulate his brain to think of worse shit.
For instance, Riker serves aboard a Klingon ship, and beats the shit out of the second officer.

"A Matter of Honor"

Oh, and yay! Here's Riker fighting with the creepy bug-infested admiral from "Conspiracy."

Pulaski says that the growth rate has dropped even more, but he's still real weak. A frustrated Troi says that Riker is feeling "primal, survival emotions."
"Those emotions must produce endorphins that are poisonous to the organism," guesses Pulaski.
"Can't you crank up the juice?" demands Troi. "Make his emotions more intense?"
Is that medically possible? Sounds like crap.
"I can try," says Pulaski.

Dramatic Music! Commercial break!

CMO's Log, supplemental: "Dude is weak. More recaps."

The druggo T'Jon grabs Riker and threatens to electrocute him in "Symbiosis."

The Last Outpost again, this time with those fuck-awful Ferengi.

And now that black blob Armus drags Riker into a living oil slick ("Skin of Evil").

More time spent where Pulaski rattles off some medical stuff, and a tearful Troi asks her to go further in her treatment, and really, once you've seen one of these clips of them in sick bay at this point, you've seen them all. Pulaski does medical stuff. Troi cries and holds Riker's hand. We zoom in on Riker, and go into a clip.

Riker and Picard set the auto-destruct on "11001001".

An away team rescues some Klingons from an exploding ship ("Heart of Glory").

More hand-wringing and medical jargon.

Now a montage of heads exploding, things blowing up, Riker setting self-destruct. Also, oddly, footage of a ship exploding from "Wrath of Khan", which... Riker was not in. I guess they just needed more exploding ships?

And now the chart says no more infections, and the red triangles move to the middle of the chart and turn yellow, then white. Pulaski scans Riker, then calls Picard.
"We're all good now!"
All smiley faces. Soothing music.
Hooray, we made it through a shitty clip show!
Picard and Data come down, and Pulaski says she wants to run some tests, to see if there is any memory loss. She wants to make sure he still knows who he is.
Riker glances at Picard and replies. "Of course I do! I'm Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Enterprise!"
Amused, Picard replies, "Glad to hear it. The admiral and I-" he gestures at Data "- were worried about you."
Data pauses. "Sir, I do not think you have the authority to promote me to admiral."
Everyone smiles and laughs, because they also made it through this shitty clip show.

I... I can't even with this shit. A clip show, y'all... a fucking clip show. As a series finale, of all things! How the hell am I supposed to review that? I can't. I mean, I guess I can rate the new material, which accounts for about 50% of the episode (interesting plant story, devolves into shots of Pulaski doing medical stuff, and Troi sniffling: meh. And an infection which is warded off by negative, primal, survival feelings? Wouldn't that be counter-intuitive to the plant? How does it get a meal - ever - if the animals it poisons go into survival mode, fight off the poison, and walk away?). But the other half is snippets of things we've already watched and reviewed. And part of the deviousness of this episode is that you don't even get to the clips until twenty or so minutes in, so you think you're watching a regular ol' episode. Then, BAM! And they start out with freaking Last Outpost of all things.

Okay, so let's get into this crap, shall we? (What, you thought I didn't do my homework for this one? Ha! I'm the biggest Hermione you'll ever meet. I do homework on everything.) Clip shows started out with the best of intentions, way back in the day when theaters would show serials, and they would play clips in a "last time on such-and-such" format, so you could see what you might have missed. There wasn't really any such thing as reruns at that point, and if you saw episode three, and were now watching five, then you needed to know what went down in four. It started in 1936, and continues to this day when you tune in for part two of a two-parter, or when you're watching a show with a story arc. These are not considered to be terrible so much as informational.
Then, in 1947, the makers of the Three Stooges got... "creative." They took old footage from old Stooges shorts, reshot some new footage, spliced it together, and sold it as new, because they could charge more for new stuff than for old stuff. Now, I know what you're thinking: that's the very definition of "The Menagerie," and didn't you lurve that one? Yes, and yes. BUUUUT, "The Menagerie" utilized previously unseen footage (making it essentially entirely new), and was then released not to make more money, but to save more money. This makes it more similar to those aforementioned serials, like Robinson Crusoe, which had filming problems due to weather, and which was forced to put together a few more clip shows in order to save money. (Not to be left out, animation studios made plenty of clip shows as well.)

The modern clip show on television generally brings groans. You're promised a new episode, only to find that your show has shot a few minutes of new footage, then beefed it up with old footage. And the new footage often sucks, just people sitting around in a room somewhere, reminiscing about "old times." Frequently, if the show likes it's audience, it'll save these until the very end of the shows run, and package it as a bonus show, played before the series finale or something. If a show hates its audience, it will play the clip show in the middle of the run, simply because they've run out of cash. For instance, ALF had a clip show in the middle of its first season. (Yes, part of my homework was to read up on how others had handled reviewing clip shows. Both Phil of ALF and Casey of Perfect Strangers opted to go sideways with their reviews, because fuck clip shows. Phil mentions an interesting comparison between clip shows and Greatest Hits albums, but this episode is not the greatest hits of anything.)

Then you get the clever clogs shows who use clip shows in a meta way... to make fun of clip shows. Clerks: the Animated Series used the second episode EVER to do a clip show that consisted of clips pulled from the first episode, and actually earlier in the second episode itself for their flashbacks. You have no idea how much I want to find and watch those episodes now. Dan Harmon, who created the sitcom "Community" and the animated series "Rick and Morty" used the clip show format, but stocked those clip moments with brand-new footage.

Of course, this was not what happened here. What happened with "Shades of Gray" was two-pronged. Firstly, that Writer's Guild Strike that keeps plaguing this series struck again, this time by way of a lack of scripts that were ready to go. Normally, they would have a small pile of scripts to choose from, but here, they had none. Secondly, a lot of the budget from this season went to two episodes in particular: "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Q Who," which both featured special effects, more elaborate costumes, and extra sets. They still owed the studio one more episode, but had no money or script.
"Do a clip show," said Paramount.
I like to imagine Star Trek replying back with, "Go fuck yourself. We don't do clip shows."
Paramount: "You only have money to do a three-day shoot, instead six."
Star Trek: "Fine. We'll do a bottle show."
Paramount: "Nope, no money. Clip or nothing. Oh, actually, also make that clip show a bottle."
Star Trek: "Come on, man. We don't do clips. We thrive on cheap budgets. That's when we're at our most creative."
Paramount: "Bottle and clip. Get on it."
Star Trek: "It's gonna suck!"
Paramount: "Bottle and clip!"
And so they did get on it. And it did suck. It was the lowest-rated episode EVAR. the audience hated it, the writers hated it. Maurice Hurley called it a "piece of shit." Peter Lauritson said it was "probably the worst we ever did." (Think about that. There has been some CRAP on this show, and Lauritson described this one as "the worst.") Ronald D Moore called it "an embarrassment." David Livingston: "It's very cheesy, and the fans didn't like it."
In fact, the fans and the makers both agreeing that clip shows in general, and this one in particular, suck sweaty donkey balls, meant that Star Trek has not done another clip show since. In DS9, they added clips to the series finale, but it was not a full show. Also in DS9, we will come across the clever "Trials and Tribble-ations" which melds new and old footage a la "The Menagerie," but that was also not a full clip show. there have not been more full clips for a reason. In season four, Paramount approached the writers again and asked for another clip show. Citing the abysmal failure of "Shades of Gray," the writers offered to do another bottle. The result was "The Drumhead." which is a fucking great episode. In fact, every time the writers were faced with a too-small budget, they did a bottle. The results were usually good. Lesson learned: if you tell the staff there is too little budget, they will get creative and give you something decent. If you force them to make crap, they will produce crap.
So there it is. One clip show ever, because they suck.

Fun Facts:

- Anybody tuning in to watch this episode only gets 24 new minutes of material, out of about 44 minutes. And it isn't really anything interesting to add to Riker's character, just "this one time, Riker got real sick from being stung by a plant."
- The medical technician who scanned Riker and laughed at his snake joke was also seen in season two, episode one's "The Child." He was played by an unknown actor, but ended up in the Star Trek Customizable Card Game, which suggested that his name was Daneeka.

- Today is the 28th anniversary of this crap episode.
- Eric A Stillwell, the production assistant, was tasked with finding the clips to use for the show. He jokingly proposed calling it "Riker's Brain," and had almost convinced several staffers to use it. Instead, he named it "Shades of Gray" because "it wasn't black or white, just gray."
- In the original script, the forest set was supposed to come alive and attack Data and Geordi, but you can guess why that went away.
- Because this is the final episode of this season, it is the last time we see Dr Pulaski.
- Worf and Wes only appear in this episode via clips.
- Oddly, because of said clips, this episode contained pretty much every main character on the show up until this point, including both doctors, Guinan, and O'Brien.
- Minus the clips, this episode is in the running for the smallest cast with nine. There are episodes of DS9 and ENT which feature small casts as well, but nobody beats TAS' "The Slaver Weapon" with three.

- This is also the last time these uniforms are used, with the piping at the pants hem and around the shoulders. We get new uniforms next season. (Okay, technically, they are seen in a flashback on a later episode, but this is the last time we see them before we get season three uniforms.)
- Only three sets were used in this episode - sick bay, the transporter room, and the planet's surface.
- Seventeen episodes provided the clips for this episode.

Red deaths: 0
To date: 2
Gold deaths: 0
Blue deaths: 0
Unnamed color crew deaths: 18
Obnoxious Wes moments: 0
Legitimate Wes moments when he should have told someone to go fuck themselves: 0
To date:1
Sassy Geordi moments: 0
To date: 7
Sassy Wes Moments: 0
To date: 1
Sassy Worf Moment: 0
To date: 7
Sassy Riker Moments: 0
To date: 7
Sassy Picard Moments: 0
To date: 14
Sassy NPC Moments: 0
To date: 13
Sassy Data Moments: 0
To date: 7
Sassy O'Brien Moments: 0
To date: 3
Sassy Pulaski Moments: 0
To date: 5
Sassy Troi Moments: 0
To date: 1
Sassy Guest Star Moments: 0
To date: 5
Number of times that it is mentioned that Data is an android: 1
To date: 25
Number of times that Troi reacts to someone else's feelings: 5
To date: 30
Number of times that Geordi "looks at something" with his VISOR: 1
To date: 3
Number of times when Data gives too much info and has to be told to shut up: 0
To date: 14

LIlly Belle


  1. Aren't you using the remastered versions? I'm surprised that they kept the ST2 stuff in there.

    Yeah, this episode sucks, but, on some level, for some fucking reason, I think it might be a fun project to create an extended edition of this episode with more/longer clips. Of course, I don't have the DVD sets, so...

    1. I'm using whatever Netflix uses. It's possible that they removed it for the remastered versions. I was looking for it, but they slipped it into the fast-paced re-mix at the end, so it was tough to tell. I thought I spied it, though.

  2. I do think it'd have been morbidly funny if they had killed Riker at the beginning and then the rest of the episode was people reminiscing about him with clips.