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Shades of Gray (episode)

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"Shades of Gray"
TNG, Episode 2x22
Production number: 40272-148
First aired: 17 July 1989
47th of 176 produced in TNG
47th of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
154th of 728 released in all
Riker alien swamp
Teleplay By
Maurice Hurley and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler

Story By
Maurice Hurley

Directed By
Robert Bowman
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Commander Riker fights for his life in sickbay after he is infected by an alien parasite while on an away-mission. Dr. Pulaski soon discovers that the only way to save Riker's life is to force his mind to relive painful memories. (Season finale)


The USS Enterprise-D orbits an unexplored planet named Surata IV. An away team of Lieutenant Geordi La Forge and Commander Will Riker are on the surface in an alien swamp, teeming with strange lifeforms. La Forge finds Riker sitting on a log, injured. Something has bitten his leg. La Forge, not taking any chances with alien biology, calls for the transporter.

Transporter Chief O'Brien gets an alert signal from the biofilter in the transporter, as Riker's body has been infected with some type of unidentified microbes. Doctor Pulaski is summoned, as the chief medical officer must authorize any transportation of unfiltered biomaterial.

Pulaski preparing to transport

Dr. Pulaski prepares to use the transporter to beam down to the surface of Surata IV.

Pulaski reluctantly uses the transporter – a rare occasion for her – to beam down and verify if it is safe to bring Riker aboard. She materializes and inspects Riker's wound. He complains of no pain, but of a numbness near the bite. La Forge hasn't had any luck finding what might have infected the wound. Pulaski beams them directly to sickbay.

Two medical orderlies help Riker to the bed. He tries to shrug off their help, but when he takes a step his leg gives out.

Captain Picard records a log entry detailing Riker's predicament. He chides Riker for putting his foot where it didn't belong, but Riker maintains he is just trying to keep the doctors busy. Pulaski informs them that Riker's nervous system is being invaded by a microbe which combines elements of both a virus and a bacteria. She uses a medical scanner to illustrate the microbes bonding themselves to Riker's sciatic nerve and multiplying. They are not damaging his nerves, just preventing them from functioning – and they are progressing towards his brain.

La Forge phasers vine

La Forge uses his phaser to cut off one of the vine's thorns.

Meanwhile, Picard decides to send La Forge and Lt. Commander Data to the surface to locate the source of the infection. Data protests at risking La Forge for the mission, but, using his android reflexes, prevents his Human friend from being hurt. They find a parasitic thorn which uses all of the vines in the swamp to paralyze animal life. Data records significant fossil remains around the area of the vines, which, judging by their fast motion attacking La Forge, are predatory in nature.

When La Forge begins to cut off the stinger of one of the vine's thorns with his phaser, the entire swamp begins to move, and the vines close in on the away team. The officers call for emergency beamout just as more vines swing at them.

The thorn sample is delivered to sickbay, and Data reports on the predatory nature of the vines to the captain.

Pulaski is hard at work analyzing the samples and Riker's condition, but is unable to find what characteristic in Human nerves causes the microbes to thrive. Riker is continuing to grow more numb, but acts stoic when Picard expresses regret at Riker's condition. As Counselor Deanna Troi watches unseen, Riker even tries to cheer up the medical technicians with stories. Troi attempts to reach out to her imzadi, but Riker soon falls unconscious. Pulaski attempts to stabilize him, but estimates he will die within an hour.

Riker in sickbay, 2365

Riker being treated in sickbay.

As a last ditch attempt to save Riker's life, Pulaski puts him into a machine that will artificially stimulate his brain neurons, hopefully keeping them active and resisting the virus. This causes Riker to dream of his past adventures aboard the Enterprise.

Natasha Yar's death

Riker relives the death of Lt. Tasha Yar.

At first, Riker's dreams are of reasonably neutral occasions, such as his first meeting with Data (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint"). Soon, his dreams become more pleasurable, perhaps even erotic, including meeting the cheerful young Edo women on Rubicun III (TNG: "Justice"), the matriarch Beata on Angel I (TNG: "Angel One"), and the computer-generated holodeck woman Minuet (TNG: "11001001").

However, while pleasing to Riker's mind, the passionate dreams actually worsen Riker's condition, as the virus feeds on the positive endorphins his brain is creating. Pulaski and Troi therefore agree to try to make the machine evoke negative dreams instead. Riker then experiences such dreams as the death of Lieutenant Natasha Yar and the apparent death of Troi's child (TNG: "Skin of Evil", "The Child").

This has the desired effect, as the negative endorphins drive the bacterio-virus away, but these endorphins are not strong enough. As a last resort, Pulaski uses the machine to evoke dreams of raw, primitive feelings of fear and survival. Riker then begins dreaming of fighting the tar creature Armus (TNG: "Skin of Evil"), the parasite infested Admiral Gregory Quinn (TNG: "Conspiracy"), and the Klingon officer Klag on board the Bird of Prey Pagh (TNG: "A Matter Of Honor").

Seeing that the raw emotions work best, Pulaski intensifies the neural stimulation, causing Riker's primal dreams to come at a more rapid pace. This treatment finally eradicates the infection, and Riker recovers to his well-adjusted, humorous self.

Log Entries

Memorable Quotes

"I hope these are the right coordinates. Just kidding, Doctor. I know how much you love the transporter."
"About as much as I love comical transporter chiefs."

- Chief O'Brien and Dr. Pulaski

"Let's try something. Maybe it likes Humans more than androids."
"If you are correct, you are placing yourself in grave danger."
"Well, I'm counting on those great android..."
(A vine suddenly lashes out, but Data catches it.)
"...reflexes of yours."

- La Forge and Data

"For Commander Riker's sake, I hope my hypothesis is in error."
"Unfortunately Commander Data, your hypotheses rarely are."

- Data and Picard

"My great-grandfather was once bitten by a rattlesnake. After three days of intense pain, the snake died."

- Riker

"There may be some residual memory loss. I just want to be certain that you still know who you are."
"Of course I know who I am. I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise."
"I'm delighted that you're feeling better. . . Captain. The Admiral and I were worried about you."
"Captain, I do not believe you have the authority to promote me to the rank of Admiral."

- Dr. Pulaski, Riker, Picard, and Data

Background Information

Story and production

  • This episode is Star Trek's first clip show. This does not count TOS: "The Menagerie, Part I" and "The Menagerie, Part II", which were built only out of segments from TOS: "The Cage", which had never actually aired. Clips also briefly feature in Act 8 of the DS9 finale, "What You Leave Behind".
  • This episode was written to save time and money as a result of the writers' strike of 1988. It was shot in only three days, while most take at least a week. Director Rob Bowman commented, "It was Paramount saying, 'We gave you more money for "Elementary, Dear Data" and the Borg show. Now do us a favor and give us a three-day show.' So that's what you do. It's an accepted part of the medium." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • Production assistant Eric A. Stillwell was given the task of searching through tapes to come up with scenes representing Riker's memories. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
  • Only three sets were used for the episode – the surface of Surata IV, sickbay, and the transporter room.
  • As originally scripted, the entire forest was supposed to come to life and attack Geordi and Data when they attempt extract a thorn from one of the vines. This was cut from the finished episode, presumably for budget reasons.[1]
  • Several of the scenes from Riker's flashbacks contain cutaways of locations which are not in Riker's point of view. For example, when the away team evacuates the Klingon ship, Riker's "flashback" contains scenes from the bridge and the transporter room of a ship he was not on.

Cast and characters

  • This episode marks the final appearance of Diana Muldaur (Doctor Katherine Pulaski) on the series.
  • Besides clips from previous episodes, Michael Dorn (Worf) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) do not appear in this episode.
  • Despite its poor reception, this episode is the only episode of The Next Generation to feature virtually all major characters introduced thus far: Picard, Riker, Data, La Forge, Troi, Dr. Crusher, Worf, Wesley, Tasha Yar, Dr. Pulaski, O'Brien, and Guinan, albeit some in stock footage.
  • This is the only episode to feature both Gates McFadden (albeit in stock footage) and Diana Muldaur.
  • This episode is among the ones across all Trek series with the smallest cast with a total of nine. Other episodes include DS9: "Invasive Procedures" and ENT: "Shuttlepod One".



Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also starring

Special appearance by

Guest star

Uncredited co-stars


Flashback appearances

The following people appeared in footage used from previous episodes.


autonomic nervous system; bacteria; biofilter; brain; endorphin; exobiology; fossil; graveyard; imzadi; kilometer; medical tricorder; Milky Way Galaxy; nervous system; neurons; probability mechanics; rattlesnake; REM sleep; sciatic nerve; Surata IV; Surata IV predatory vine; Surata microbes; tricorder; tricordrazine; virus

External links

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Star Trek: The Next Generation
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