Friday, September 4, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Shades of Gray"

The second season of TNG suffered from the Writers Guild of America strike of 1988. We can never known the exact cost of trimming the season’s episode order from the usual 26 down to 22. While the show’s sophomore effort was much stronger than its inaugural season, there were still some low points. The missing quartet might have had a potential dud or three in it.

But the measurable loss was in the weak book ending. The season premiere’The Child” was a rewritten script from the never produced Star Trek: Phase II show from the ’70’s. The script had all the expected flaws of shifting situations and dialogue away from the originally intended characters. “Shades of Gray,” the season finale, was an original script, but thanks to a shortened schedule and budget problems, turned out far worse.

I cannot call ‘Shades of Gray” the worst episode of the series. It is fairer to say it is the most pointless. It is a clip show. Trek can be repetitive enough without deliberately doing so.

The plot is very simple. Riker is poisoned by a plant or animal or some such while on an away mission. He gets bitten by a living vine is about the best way I can describe it. As his condition deteriorates, Pulaski discovers memories effect the poison’s spread through his body. She prompts the comatose Riker to reminisce in order to beat back the poison. Happy memories cause it to spread, sad memories make it recede.

The memories are exclusively clips from past episodes. Therein lies the problem. The idea behind this episode is not a bad one. If done right, it could have been an exploration of Riker’s past. We could have seen the events of his past that shaped him if we could have seen key moments in his past. Obviously, that would have involved hiring actors who could have played a younger Riker in flashbacks, but that would have defeated the purpose of trimming the budget.

So the idea is cheapened. It would have been much better to see his and Troi’s first meeting, which as apparently more hot and heavy than anything seen on the show. If Riker needs to experience happy memories, it seems like he would pick those instead. Ditto for bad memories. How could Tasha Yar’s death be more upsetting to him than losing his mother as a child? It is too absurd to even consider.

I was not moved by any of it, even the new scenes with Troi tearfully holding Riker’s hand as heclinged to life. I do not that in both the season premiereand finale, Troi was put through theemotional ringer of losing someone she loved. But it still did not resonate. Worse yet, Pulaski was the hero of the story. Bah. At least we will never see her again. I think she should have suffered a bloody on screen death Riding off comfortably into the sunset is too good for her.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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