To say Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, isn’t high on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Season 2 finale, “Shades of Gray” is putting in mildly.
Before I get on with my analyses of some of the better episodes from The Next Generation, I would just like to get this off of my chest first. I want to talk about what is, in my opinion, the worst episode of the Star Trek franchise that I have seen thus far, and that is the Season 2 finale, Shades of Gray. Before I proceed, I will say this: I actually didn’t mind the first two seasons of The Next Generation. While the writing and stories often fell flat, I do like many of the characters, and enjoy seeing their rapport on screen. Now, let’s talk about Shades of Gray.
I do try my best to see the positives in every movie or TV show that I didn’t like. I will say this about Shades of Gray: the episode didn’t start off terribly. It seemed like it was going to be another mysterious infection story in the vein of The Naked Time or Operation: Annihilate!. I do quite like the character of Riker, and I enjoyed the quips that he made, first with the story of his great grandfather, and at the end, his feigning of delusion. The latter scene was a bit puerile, but I still got a kick out of seeing Data’s bewilderment when Picard, playing along with the joke, referred to him as ‘admiral’. Unfortunately, once Riker had passed out, everything quickly nosedived into what felt like a sad attempt from the writers to stretch the paper-thin plot into a 45-minute long episode.
My main revulsion towards Shades of Gray isn’t so much because they recycled footage from previous episodes in an overt attempt to save money, but because I felt there was just no thought put into the story. There wasn’t any rationale behind the flashbacks that were being shown other than the flimsy excuse that Riker was experiencing emotions of lust or sadness; none of the incidents had any significance or meaning beyond that. Moreover, the way that the memories played out didn’t make any logical sense. Since we’re supposed to be in Riker’s mind, why don’t we see things from his point of view? In the flashback to The Skin of Evil we were shown Riker disappearing into Armus’ black goo from the perspective of the other crew members rather than from his. Similarly, in the clip from Justice, we see the Edo counsel chamber from a point before Riker had even stepped foot into the room, making it impossible to be something from his own personal memory. Why weren’t there any flashbacks of Riker prior to joining The Enterprise? What about his past relationship with Troi? Why didn’t that surface when he was feeling lust? What about the loss of his mother and his fallout with his father? That seems like something that should have come up when he was feeling sadness. The story (if you could even call it that) just felt extremely lazy and poorly thought out. While I realise that filmmaking is an extremely challenging endeavour that shouldn’t be taken lightly, I do question the amount of effort that was actually put into this episode.
And because Shades of Gray reflected back on The Child, I would like to take a moment to discuss the Season 2 premiere. I don’t want to be overly-sensitive, but the key plot point of The Child really rubbed me the wrong way. A sentient life form entered into Troi and impregnated her, using her body for its own gains without any prior consent. I really disliked how the episode just brushed off this obvious violation of a person’s body, and depicted the entire experience as a purely positive and joyous one for the victim. The fact that none of the crew members (other than perhaps Worf) even raised the issue is exasperating for an intellectual and forward-thinking show like Star Trek, which was so far ahead of its time with regards to human rights, animal welfare, and artificial intelligence. The story was just a complete misfire for me; even though I’m supposed to sympathize with Troi when she lost her child, the only thing that was going through my mind during the scene was: “good riddance to that creepy demon kid”.
My least favourite episode of Star Trek thus far is The Dauphin. Now, if I have to make the choice between re-watching the Dauphin or Shades of Gray, I would watch the latter just because I can’t stand Wesley: seeing him on screen for me is the emotional equivalent of getting a splinter under my nail. However, I have to be honest: I believe that Shades of Gray is a worse episode than the Dauphin. The Dauphin at least tried to come up with an actual story (as dreadful and cringe-inducing as that story might be); Shades of Gray didn’t even try. The episode actually reminded me of a group project I had in highschool. We were given the task of creating a mock newspaper from the Medieval era, with every member of the group responsible for making one political cartoon.
Now, I have absolutely zero talent for drawing; it takes me hours to create just one, somewhat decent-looking panel. I had managed to complete just half of my cartoon when my group leader demanded that I hand it in to him (he was quite a keener and didn’t want to leave things off to the last minute like most normal people do). Finally, having had enough of his constant badgering, I pretty much went “F**k it”, and just scribbled something down for the remaining half of the cartoon. The result can probably be best compared to Two-Face: on one side you have pictures that, while not very good, were at least drawn and coloured with effort and care, whilst on the other side, you have a crude mess that’s clearly done last-minute with zero thought put into it. And that is, unfortunately, how I felt about Shades of Gray. It really seemed as if the people making the episode just gave up halfway through and decided to slap something together, because handing in something is at least better than nothing. And the result is the worst episode of Star Trek, possibly of any TV show, that I’ve had the misfortunes of sitting through.
Until next time,
– Willow Y.