Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Shades of Gray

Airdate: July 17, 1989
47 of 176 produced
47 of 176 aired


On a planetary survey, Commander Riker gets infected by the most insidious virus of all - the clipshow bug. In order to treat it, we must be subjected to a smattering of Riker's "memories," all of which happen to coincide neatly with previously filmed episodes, and none of which tell us anything new. Can he, and indeed can the show itself, survive this debacle?

"Do you think we can erase the memory of this episode from him?"
"Deanna, all the brain-bleach in my medical arsenal couldn't do that."


Matthew: Ah, the clipshow. There may have been a time when a clipshow was a welcome event - summarizing storylines for an audience in an era before the VCR, the DVR, or instant streaming. But this is not such a show. This episode is a "budget saver" composed of about 22 minutes of "new" material, and 22 minutes of clips. About 16 minutes in past the setup, the clips begin, and we get a tiny scene at each of the act breaks, with a little denouement. So the question is, how good is this framing story? The answer: not very. The Enterprise crew is surveying a planet. OK. Riker gets bitten by some sort of parasitic vine. All right. When he means to beam up to the ship for treatment, we find that the biofilters can't screen the microscopic parasites out - well, what the hell good are they then? This is the sort of "malfunction tension" that drives most serious fans crazy - a malfunction which is a convenient (and lazy) source of "drama." Convenience and laziness are the key markers of the original portions of this script. Dialogue is stilted and expository in the extreme. 

Kevin: I was seriously tempted to, rather than craft an original review, just post snippets of my reviews from the episodes comprising the clip show. But that would have been as much fun to read as this was to watch, and I don't want to do that to our readers. But yeah, it feels like this plot was scribbled on a cocktail napkin and handed it to the director. I understand the writer's strike was a kidney punch to the season, but honestly, go out on Peak Peformance. I'd rather have a 21 episode season ending on a high note than one more episode of that's complete crap.

Matthew: The logic by which the pathogen proceeds is tolerable - bad emotions hinder progress through the nervous system, good emotions hasten it. In the service of a better story, this might even be interesting. Had new clips been filmed, it could have been an interesting biographical show for Riker, on a par with "Tapestry" for Picard. It might have been nice to see Riker falling in love with Troi, or their parting, his first starship, ANYTHING. They could have even shaved his beard, given that it was the finale of the season and he was still relatively svelte. They could have gone very pared down, as some previous low budget TOS shows such as "Spectre of the Gun" or "The Empath" had. But apparently, it was not only money but time that was being saved on the season, shortening shooting from 7 days to 3. So we're stuck with this drek.

Kevin: New scenes set in the episode would have rocked, actually. You could have even kept the bottle show and set the scenes on the Enterprise. I would have also accepted dream sequence type stuff. Show a clip of the previous show then interject Riker and someone else on the empty bridge of the Enterprise and they could talk about feelings and stuff. Hell, it could have been fun to shift focus, and make it a Troi episode. Plenty of dramas have been written set in a hospital waiting room, watching people have a slow meltdown. I'm gonna stop now, cause there's about a billion plots that could have improved this episode, particularly to the extent that they are in fact plots and would therefore add plot to this episode. 

Matthew: Just for giggles, here's a mostly complete list of the major clips in the "clipshow" portion of things.

As we can see, most of the clips are Riker-centric. Some, however, defy easy description. Had Riker watched Star Trek II and found it particularly harrowing? How could Riker have seen the destruction of the Batris, given that he was in transport at the time? Why in all the fighting scenes did the fight with his own father not come up? Or his fight with Worf on the holodeck, for that matter? He was encased like a fly in amber during "Arsenel of Freedom," but we see none of that.

Kevin: I like how Riker's memory remembers seeing him in the third person and events he did not actually witness. You know what would have been a cheap-ass way to make this infinitely better? Find all the clips of stuff cut for time from these episodes and use them. You could even pass any production deficiencies as the fog of memory. It would have kept me from checking out every five minutes because I knew there was nothing new to see.

Matthew: The coda of the show gives us another new scene, with a groggy Riker joking about his promotion to Captain, and Data lamely objecting that he cannot be promoted to Admiral, despite Picard's retort. Yawn. They could have at least given us a Troi/Riker kiss or something. This turns out to be a pretty lame exit episode for Dr. Pulaski - she gets loads to do, to be sure, but it is in the service of a lame clipshow plot. Oh, well. We hardly knew ye, Kate. 

Kevin: Maybe Doctor Pulaski went back to the Repulse where the script writing is better. The thing that really stings about the finale is that even the joke is recycled. Chekov, in a much more charming scene, promotes himself in a hospital room in Voyage Home. Boo, writing staff. Boo. 


Matthew: With dialogue and situations this bad, it would take a Herculean effort to save this stinker. No one is up to the task. Frakes and Sirtis have relatively convincing chemistry, as usual. Mulduar and Meany share a mildly funny scene regarding her hatred of transporters. That's about it, though, for highlights.

Kevin: Agreed. Even Data and Geordi's banter about fossils couldn't transcend the writing.

Matthew: Given the constraints of the story, even most of these clips fail to showcase the fine acting that two seasons have produced thus far. Most are fights, some are makeout sessions, with a few odds and ends thrown in. I'd say the best scene is between Riker and Guinan in Ten Forward. 

Kevin: Troi's genuine concern is about the only non-excruciating thing in this episode. Actually this episode could have gotten a two point bump if Riker woke up and was all "Reviewing my life over the past two years in the last twenty minutes has made me realize how much you mean to me, Deanna. Let's get back together."

Production Values

Matthew: Planet Soundstage looked quite similar to "Arsenel of Freedom," perhaps why that episode failed to get a clip. The moving vine was OK, but the claw looked ridiculous. We get two new sickbay gadgets - a rotating twirly gyroscope scanner, and the projecting TV antenna skull stimulator. They looked OK. We got a so-so Okudagram marking the pathogen's progress in Riker's body, but it was nothing to write home about.

Kevin: I remember the needle thing freaking me out as a kid, but probably cause I had seen Hellraiser at about that time. Now that would have been an awesome crossover episode. 


Matthew: Loyal readers, I hope this wasn't in doubt. This is a 1. It's not even a spectacular "Code of Honor"-style failure, given that no one really tried to make this any good.  The new story, what we got, was hackneyed and forgettable. The dialogue was atrocious. The acting was subpar. The production values were subpar as well. If this episode doesn't sink to the bottom decile of all Trek, then nothing will. I don't think it's the absolute worst as some do, since it lacked ambition completely. It's an embarrassment, to be sure, but not an utter flameout. It doesn't destroy any characters or continuity. It's just sort of a waste of time. I'll close with co-writer Maurice Hurley's summation: "Piece of shit. It was supposed to be a bottle show. Terrible, just terrible, and a way to save some money. I was on the way out the door."

Kevin: This is a 1 for me, too, for a total of 2, and really, that's an insult to other episodes we gave a 2. Like I said above, this episode shouldn't exist. I'm currently compiling the charts for the forthcoming recap post, and if you pretend this episode doesn't exist, the season average is almost .2 of a point higher. Code of Honor and Angel One are almost fun to hate. If a show never has a misstep, what would we gleefully criticize? We have to have nits to pick. This is just the absence of anything, and it commits for me the gravest sin of any visual media, it is boring.

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