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Star Trek Just Showed How TNG’s Worst Episode Could Have Been One of Its Best


“Shades of Gray” is one of the low points in Star Trek: The Next Generation. With “Caves,” Lower Decks avoids those mistakes to make us love the crew even more.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains spoilers.

Okay, leaving aside the super-racist episode “Code of Honor,” we’re all agreed that “Shades of Gray” is the low point of Star Trek: The Next Generation, right? Sure, there’s still “Masks” and “Rascals” and I get why people don’t like “Sub Rosa” (I said what I said), but “Shades of Gray” is hardly an episode. Riker gets an alien infection, Dr. Pulaski sticks a doo-hickey on his head, and then he… rewatches highlights from the first two seasons. And that’s because “Shades of Gray” is that most dreaded product of 1980s syndicated television: a clip show.

Fortunately, clip shows have become a relic of the pop culture past rendered unnecessary in our always-on digital age. But Lower Decks never forgets, so it’s no surprise that the series would do its own version of a clip show. And while it may be a low bar to clear, there’s no denying that Lower Decks does the clip show much, much better.

In the Lower Decks episode “Caves,” the Cerritos B-team gets reunited for their first mission together since getting promoted to Lieutenants Junior Grade, only to find themselves trapped in a cave. As the quartet searches for a way to battle encroaching carnivorous moss and escape the cave, they each reveal past cave-based adventures they had with other Cerritos crew people.

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