Nearly 25 years before 50 Shades of Grey became a movie, Star Trek brought us a TNG episode called “Shades of Gray.”
50 Shades of Grey has been called “its own form of torture” (USA Today), “painfully dull” (Newsday) and “punishment by boredom” (Rolling Stone).
“Shades of Gray” has been called “Worst. Finale. Ever.” (Jammer’s Reviews), “just an awful, awful episode” (Keith DeCandido), “god-awful” (AV Club), and “something probably no one will try to defend” (SF Debris).
Coincidence? Almost certainly. But I absolutely refuse to go see 50 Shades of Grey so “Shades of Gray” was the closest thing I could blog about.
If you haven’t seen “Shades of Gray,” consider yourself lucky. Basically Riker gets infected by microbes on a jungle planet, falls into a coma, and dreams entirely in memories of clips from previous shows.
Meanwhile, Pulaski tries to cure him while being super pessimistic about her ability to do so, and a semi-hysterical Troi holds his hand and feels his feels while he dreams about every woman he boned or wanted to bone over the last two seasons.
This is such a bad episode, guys. It’s such a bad episode. In fact, it’s hard to say which is worse: the simultaneously dull and unbelievable frame story, or the clips reminding us of some of the worst TNG episodes of all time.
First, the frame story, what little there is of it. The characterization is downright terrible and sets nearly every character back in their development. I mentioned the eye-roll-worthiness of Troi’s multiple weepy bedside scenes – one would’ve made sense, but we really could’ve used a bit more of the Season 6-7 Troi at this point, the one who can pull herself together for the greater good. As it is, her haranguing Pulaski, who is trying to work to save Will, is pretty irritating.
I wish I could say, “At least it was cool seeing Pulaski get a lot of time to do her job and do it well!” but it’s undermined by things like her questionable decision at the beginning to bring Riker back to the ship even though he doesn’t seem seriously injured at that point and she doesn’t know if the microbes in his body are contagious.
Well, she does get to operate the giant needles boring into Riker’s head. So I guess that’s something to hold onto.
Now, onto the clips.
When Riker first starts dreaming he experiences memories of friendship: meeting Data in the holodeck in “Encounter at Farpoint” and flirting with Guinan in front of Wesley from “The Dauphin.”
But next up, his dreams turn more “passionate” (Troi’s word) or “erotic” (Pulaski’s). And it’s here that we’re reminded of many of the worst TNG episodes ever, which also turn out to be some of the most sexist TNG episodes ever.
As Troi holds Riker’s hand and senses his arousal, he’s remembering encounters with the scantily-clad youth from “Justice,” as well as women like the straw feminist Mistress Beata from “Angel One”; Brenna, the crop-top sweater-wearing, heavily-stereotyped Irishwoman from “Up the Long Ladder“; and Minuet, his too-good-to-be-true holographic love interest from “11001001”.
Thankfully, this part doesn’t last forever. We’re taken back to the frame story, where Pulaski observes the passionate feelings seemed to be helping the microbes grow. She and Troi theorize that if Riker were to feel “negative emotions,” it would slow the microbes’ growth.
I’ve got two problems with this. First, it’s generally problematic for Pulaski and Troi to be agreeing that emotions like fear and anger are “negative.” This is a counsellor and a doctor, both of whom should understand that emotions other than happiness and passion can and do often serve productive functions. For example, in many of the clips we get to see Riker experiencing a fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations – clearly a response that is not “negative” but designed to increase our chances of survival.
Second, we have to sit through more clips of episodes we’d prefer not to think about. True, some of the episodes in this section, like “A Matter of Honor” are halfway decent. But then we have to relive Yar’s stupid, pointless, infuriating death in “Skin of Evil” and the death of Deanna Troi’s creepy offspring of alien sexual assault from “The Child.”
So Pulaski’s theory works and Riker kills off the microbes by feeling intensely “negative.” River wakes up and declares Troi and Pulaski “wouldn’t believe the dreams I was having.”
“Oh yes we would,” Troi laughs. Maybe it’s the fact that he almost died preventing this from being a suuuuuuper awkward moment. That, or bad writing.
The episode ends with (and itself feels like) a bad joke:
Pulaski: There may be some residual memory loss. I just want to be sure you still know who you are.
Riker: Of course I know who I am. I’m Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.
Picard: I’m delighted that you’re feeling better, Captain. The Admiral and I were worried about you.
Data: Captain, I do not believe you have the authority to promote me to the rank of Admiral.
Despite the cheesy comedy music cues, no one in the real audience laughs. The end.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. Troi and Pulaski talk, but only about Riker’s illness.