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TNG 2-22

TNG 2x22
"Shades of Gray"

Original airdate: 7/17/1989
Rewatch date: 9/30/2011

While on an alien planet, Riker is infected by a dangerous neurotoxin and is forced to relive many of his memories from the last two years.

Spoiler-free notes:

Ah, here we go, the infamous clip episode. As I understand it, the 1988 writer's strike, combined with major budgetary constraints (specifically because of the high budget for "Q Who") are to blame. If we have to have a clip show in order to have the Borg, I suppose it's worth it.

This episode doesn't waste any time getting to the point.

After all the crazy quarantine procedures we saw in "Unnatural Selection," they don't seem to take too many precautions knowingly bringing a mysterious microbe on board the ship.

That device that sticks needles into Riker's brain gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Having the clips all center on Riker is appropriate, given that the show seems to have focused more on him than any other main character. If I had to make a case for one character who is the closest to being the protagonist up to this point, I might choose Riker.

The clips from "Heart of Glory" show things that Riker wasn't present for, like Picard on the bridge or Yar in the transporter room. Also, if somebody watches this episode without having seen that one, it appears as though Riker was blown up on the Klingon vessel, with no explanation for how he survived.

Riker's joke, when they ask him if he knows who he is when he wakes up, is a little too similar to Chekov's joke under similar circumstances in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Even if this weren't a clip show, there is something really off about this episode. The acting seems unrehearsed and the narrative beats have no sense of proper timing. I'll give them credit for trying to dress up the clips in an inventive way, but even the way the disease is affected by Riker's state of mind feels all too convenient. While it's not exactly painful to watch, "Shades of Gray" is not Star Trek's finest hour.

Final Thoughts: Season 2

Best episodes: "A Matter of Honor," "The Measure of a Man," and "Q Who."

Worst episodes: "The Outrageous Okona," "Time Squared," and "Manhunt."

Though the production values are clearly higher and the writers are more confident in the second season, the show is surprisingly less even than the first run of episodes. There are a few brilliant episodes that set the bar very high, like "The Measure of a Man" and, of course, "Q Who," which far surpass anything the freshman season has to offer, but at the same time, there are some episodes that are embarrasingly bad, not the least of which is the season-ending clip show. There are some behind-the-scenes problems to account for this, including the writer's strike, but the unsteadiness also reflects a show that is still trying to find its way. If the first season is about separating TNG from TOS, the second season is about TNG filling the TOS void with a unique voice. The writers take more risks, play around a little more with multi-episodic storytelling, and are more willing to play with multiple tones within the same episode, but those risks don't always pay off. However, going into the third season, many of the growing pains will be in the past.

TNG 2x21
"Peak Performance"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
TNG 3x01
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