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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)



Pulaski scans Riker's leg

"Something stuck me in the leg."

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

Transporter Chief O'Brien delays, getting 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 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 with her tricorder. Riker 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 suddenly gives out.

Act One[]

Riker's leg scan

"The infection is spreading."

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 he is doing exactly that, as 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, which will kill him soon if Pulaski cannot eliminate the infection.

Surata IV thorn

"That must be what we're looking for."

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. However, La Forge tells him that he knows exactly where Riker was standing when he was injured. Data, using his android reflexes, prevents his Human friend from being hurt. They find a thorned vine in the swamp using parasites 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 cuts off the thorn, the vine writhes in (futile) resistance. The officers call O'Brien for a beam-out and the thorn sample is delivered to sickbay while Data reports on the predatory nature of the vines to the captain. Data hopes that his hypothesis is in error for Commander Riker's sake. Picard grimly notes that unfortunately for the commander, Data's hypotheses rarely are.

Act Two[]

Picard visiting Riker in sickbay

"I just hope they don't find out that I'm faking it."
"I wish you were faking it."

Pulaski is hard at work in her office 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. Riker tells the captain that he is surprised these kinds of things do not happen more often, as they are exploring the unknown. Picard reminds Riker that the unknown can either be benign or malevolent. Later, as Counselor Deanna Troi watches Riker in sickbay unseen, he tries to cheer up the medical technicians with stories of his grandfather getting bitten by a rattlesnake. 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.

Large neural stimulator

"Hang on, Will."

In order to prolong Riker's life, Pulaski puts him into a neural stimulator, in the hope of fully keeping his neurons active and resisting the virus. This causes Riker to dream of his past adventures aboard the Enterprise.

Act Three[]

At first, Riker's dreams are of reasonably neutral occasions, such as his first meeting with Data in the holodeck and his attempt to help Wesley with meeting Salia. He also remembers saying goodbye to Deanna when he considered the USS Aries promotion. Soon, his dreams become more pleasurable, perhaps even erotic, including meeting the cheerful young Edo women on Rubicun III, or the matriarch Beata on Angel I, the attractive Bringloidi woman Brenna Odell, and the computer-generated holodeck woman Minuet.

However, while pleasing to Riker's mind, the passionate dreams actually worsen Riker's condition, with the organism's growth rate doubled.

Act Four[]

It is apparent that the organisms are sensitive to the nature of the dreams Riker is having. Pulaski hypothesizes that they are sensitive to brain endorphins, with positive endorphins attracting them. Pulaski and Troi therefore agree to try to make the machine evoke negative dreams instead. Riker then experiences dreams of the death of Lieutenant Natasha Yar and the apparent death of Troi's child Ian. Sure enough, this has the desired effect, as the negative endorphins drive the bacterio-virus growth down, but these endorphins are not strong enough.

Pulaski tries again, using the machine to evoke dreams of raw, primitive feelings of fear and survival. Riker then dreams of his tense experience aboard the Pagh, then fighting the parasite-infested Admiral Quinn. The growth rate now decreases significantly, but still not enough. Pulaski can focus her beam even tighter, but Riker is now very weak. Troi says they have no choice but to proceed.

Act Five[]

With Riker's vital signs very weak, Pulaski tries yet again. Riker is now dreaming more quickly through memories of pain, of T'Jon's attack on him, then being attacked by the Ferengi on Delphi Ardu IV and being enveloped by the tar creature Armus. The organism's growth rate is now very low, but still too high. His blood pressure dropping, Pulaski calls for the tricordrazine.

Riker awakes

"You wouldn't believe the dreams I was having."

Riker now remembers tense situations, like setting the Enterprise auto-destruct sequence, saving the Klingons from the Talarian freighter that was about to explode. The organism's growth rate continues to decrease, but it needs to decrease even more. He relives his memories again at a much quicker pace, but also his encountering the neural parasite's mother creature, Data repairing the ship which was about to explode, the killing of one of the inhabitants of Solais V, the destruction of the SS Tsiolkovsky and the USS Lantree. Finally, the treatment resulting in the negative emotions releasing brain chemicals that eradicate the parasite once and for all cause Riker's vital signs to head back to normal.

Riker recovers to his well-adjusted, humorous self. Pulaski, wanting to make sure Riker's memory has not been affected, asks him who he is, and, seeing Picard walk in, he wittingly says he is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise. Picard in turn refers to Data as "Admiral", saying that the two of them were worried about him. Data obviously doesn't get it, by telling Picard that he does not believe the captain has the authority to promote him to the rank of admiral.

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

"They're waiting on me hand and foot. I just… I hope they don't find out that I'm faking it."
"I wish you were faking it."

- Riker, talking to Picard while he lies on a biobed in sickbay

"If you drop a hammer on your foot, it's hardly useful to get mad at the hammer."

- Riker, explaining to Picard his lack of anger on his current situation

"Deanna, facing death is the ultimate test of character. I don't want to die but if I have to do, I'd like to do it with a little pride."

- Riker

"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

"She's dead."

- Beverly Crusher (her only dialogue in the whole episode)

Background information[]

Production history[]

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 budget overruns earlier in the season. 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, p. 182)
  • 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, 2nd ed., p. 94) Stilwell recalled, "I spent eighty hours that week scanning through the episodes, finding clips so the producers could pick which ones to plug in." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 115) As a joke, he wanted the installment to be called "Riker's Brain". Stillwell almost persuaded the other production staffers to call it that prior to the episode being named "Shades of Gray", which Stillwell also devised. He called it that "because I decided it was a really bizarre episode that wasn't black or white; it was just shades of gray." (Information from Larry Nemecek) For his efforts, Stilwell was credited as "Researcher" for this episode. (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 115)
  • As originally scripted, the entire forest was supposed to come to life and attack Geordi and Data when they attempt to extract a thorn from one of the vines. This was cut from the finished episode, presumably for budget reasons. [2]
  • Only three sets were used for the episode – the surface of Surata IV, sickbay, and the transporter room.

Cast and characters[]



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.


"a little"; "a lot"; admiral; amplitude; analysis; android; Angel I; animal life; area; "as a matter of fact"; "as you wish"; "at issue": attention; authority; auto-destruct sequence; autonomic nervous system; away team; bacteria; Batris; battle; biofilter; blood pressure; body; Bourbon Street Barn; brain; calf; case: chance; choice; Class of '78; "come on"; companion; composition; computer-generated image; coordinates; crash; creature; day; death; Delphi Ardu IV; Deneb IV; destruction; door; dose; dozen; dreaming; effect; electrical impulse; emergency; emotion; endorphin; engineering section; erotic; evaluation; evidence; exobiology; eye; faking it; feeling; Felicium; Ferengi; foot; fossil; fossilization; friendship; geological sweep/geological survey; "get out of my hair"; gift; "go on": graveyard; guest quarters; hammer; "hang on"; heart; "hello"; "here goes"; holographic image; hour; Human; humor; hypothesis; "I do not know"; imzadi; "in any event"; "in case of"; "in error"; "in order to"; "in the way": infection; infiltration pattern; injury; instinct; interpretative cortex; irregular heartbeat; job; joke; K-complex; kilometer; Klingon; Klingonese; knocking; language; Lantree, USS; leader; leg; lesson; life sign; lifeform; line; loyalty; machine; malice; medical test; medical tricorder; memory; memory loss; metabolism; microbe; microorganism; Milky Way Galaxy; millennia; milligram; minute; mister; morning; mouth; nerve damage; nervous system; neural activity; neural impulse; neural parasites planet; neural stimulation; neuron; night; number one; numbness; oath; "of course"; "on my way"; order; Ornara; Pagh, IKS; pain; patient; pedestal; percent; person; personnel file; phaser energy; Pinocchio; "Pop Goes the Weasel"; practice; prejudice; pride; probability mechanics; prognosis; promotion; pulse; puzzle; question; rank; rate of growth; rattlesnake; reason; record; reflex; relationship; REM state; resentment; respiration; Riker's great-grandfather; rhizomatous; "right away"; "right now"; risk; Rubicun III; sadness; sample; sciatic nerve; scratch; second; security; seizure; sense of humor; shuttle; shuttle crew; Shuttlecraft 13; side effect; smell; Solais V; soul; spinal column; "stand by"; star; stimulation; Surata IV; Surata IV microbe; Surata IV predatory vine; survey team; survival; survivor; symbiotic relationship; test of character; "thank you": "that's all"; theory; thing; thorn; touch; tour; transporter; transporter chief; transporter lock; transporter room three; tricorder; tricordrazine; Tsiolkovsky, SS; understatement; universe; Vagra II; vertex wave; virus; visitor; vital signs; vitamin; "waiting on me hand and foot"; warm-blooded being; warmth; warrior; word; worship; "you bet"

Other references[]

External links[]

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