Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989): S02E22 – Shades of Gray


“Shades of Gray” is the 22nd episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 48th episode overall. It was originally broadcast on 17 July 1989, in broadcast syndication.

It was the only clip show filmed during the series and was created due to a lack of funds left over from other episodes during the season.

Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) undergoes medical treatment by Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) for an alien infection and must relive numerous past events.

It was the final episode written by Maurice Hurley, who originated the idea and wrote the first draft of the script, with Hans Beimler and Richard Manning conducting re-writes. It was directed by Rob Bowman and the framework sequences were filmed over the course of three days. It was watched by 9.8 million viewers on the first broadcast, the highest ratings for the series since “Samaritan Snare” two months earlier. “Shades of Gray” is widely regarded as the worst episode of the series, with critics calling it “god-awful” and a “travesty”; even Hurley referred to it negatively.


During a geological survey on Surata IV, Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is struck by a thorn growing on a motile vine plant. The away team immediately beams back to the Enterprise, where Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) finds out that the thorn has released a deadly virus into Riker’s body. Within a matter of hours, the virus will reach Riker’s brain, killing him.

To try to save Riker’s life, Pulaski puts him into a machine that will artificially stimulate his brain neurons, keeping them active and resisting the virus. This causes Riker to dream of his past adventures aboard the Enterprise. Riker’s first dreams are of reasonably neutral occasions, such as his first meeting with Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner).

He soon moves on to more passionate and even erotic dreams, such as meeting the cheerful young Edo women on Rubicon III, the matriarch Beata (Karen Montgomery) on Angel One, or the computer-generated holodeck woman Minuet (Carolyn McCormick).

However, while pleasing to Riker’s mind, the passionate dreams only worsen Riker’s condition, as the virus feeds on the positive endorphins his brain is creating. Pulaski and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) therefore agree to try to make the machine evoke negative dreams instead. Thus Riker dreams of Lieutenant Tasha Yar’s (Denise Crosby) death, or the apparent death of Deanna Troi’s child (R. J. Williams).

This has the desired effect, as the negative endorphins drive the virus away, but the endorphins are not strong enough. As a last resort, Pulaski uses the machine to evoke dreams of raw, primitive feelings of fear and survival. Thus Riker dreams of fighting the tar creature Armus (Mart McChesney), the alien-controlled Admiral Gregory Quinn (Ward Costello), and the Klingon officer Klag (Brian Thompson) on board the warship Pagh.

Seeing that the raw emotions work best, Pulaski intensifies the dreams to come at a more rapid pace. This finally kills the virus and Riker recovers.

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Rob Bowman.
  • Writer(s): Maurice Hurley.
  • Release Date: 17 July 1989.
  • Running Time: 50 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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