"Shades of Gray" was one of the weakest episodes ofTNG
's first two seasons and proved a particularly flat finale for season 2. It's hard to believe that, in only two seasons, the writers had come up so dry that they cobbled together a kind of greatest-hits show, in which much of the episode consisted of filler from earlier programs. The nominal plot involves Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who is scratched by a thorn on an unfamiliar planet while doing a geological survey. The thorn injects him with microbes that begin to infiltrate his nervous system, and it's up to Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) to figure out how to stop the organism from killing Riker. She discovers that stimulating Riker's memory with electricity has an effect, but happy memories strengthen the invading organism--so she must find a way to provoke Riker's worst memories to negate the organism's hold.
Frakes spends much of the episode flat on his back, simulating sleep, while director Rob Bowman cuts to a collection of clips from earlier episodes. The positive memories all have to do with his prowess with women, as he cuts a swath through the known universe. The negative vibes come from clips of the death of Tasha Yar and the few episodes in which Riker was the crew member in the most jeopardy. Mostly the clips serve as a survey of the various facial-hair fashions Frakes sported in the first two seasons. --Marshall Fine