Star Trek: The Next Generation – Future Imperfect [4.8]

After an Away Team mission gone badly, Riker wakes up sixteen years in the future to find he is now the Captain of the Enterprise, and with his memories of the intervening years gone.  He also discovers her is a widower and has a young son.  Riker eventually figures out that this future is a fantasy, apparently created by Romulans in order to gain secret information from him.  Riker then discovers that this too is a fantasy, created by a very lonely alien boy in command of a powerful Holodeck, who is looking for company.  Riker convinces the boy that he can leave with him, and that he no longer needs to be alone.

Written J. Larry Carroll and David Carren. Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: ReunionNext Episode: Final Mission

Comments:
I’ve never seen Future Imperfect before, or at least not the whole thing.  But even knowing the episode’s denouement, I was looking forward to checking it out, and seeing Star Trek’s take on the classic plot device which TV Tropes refers to as a “Faked Rip Van Winkle” – where a character is tricked into believing that they have lost months or years of their life, usually so some bad guy can ferret out secret information from him.  It was used in more than one Mission:  Impossible episode, and I’ve also seen it Battle of the Planets and later in Stargate SG-1 – now it’s Star Trek’s turn!

And they do a pretty good job.  The “future” production design and performances are all pretty clever (even if most of the characters don’t really look 16 years older).  Most interesting of all is Patrick Stewart’s Picard, in his new role as Admiral and sporting his longer hair and beard.  Jonathan Frakes’ Riker is a solid anchor for the story, with some suitable responses of confusion and uncertainty over everything, especially the discovery of his “son”.  That said, the episode could have gone further exploring how it would impact Riker to discover that he eventually found the ability to have time for both career and family.  The choice between the two has been the essential question for the character’ over the series, and so more should have been made of it.

This is at least the series’ second example (counting The Survivors, though there may be more, I can’t remember) of a story in which a serious danger is built up only to have it turn out to be something actually quite different, and nowhere nearly so menacing.  On one hand, that double twist is what keeps the episode from being completely predictable, but on the other hand, I’d have welcomed the return of Tomalak and the Romulan threat in such a direct way.  But on the other other hand, the underhanded and devious Romulan plotline that we ended up getting over the fourth season was  better and less predictable, so it’s probably all for the best.

So all in all, it’s a fine episode with no major problems.  It makes very clever use of returning character Minuet (although it’s disconcerting to discover that Riker’s passion for her is still so “real” in his mind).  But it does not achieve the greatness of many of the stories from this season so far.  So it ends up being more memorable for it’s gimmick (kind of like Remember Me) than it’s actual drama.

Shout Out to the Past:
• Tomalak re-appears, once again played by the great Andreas Katsulas, putting a face on the Romulan threat.  He appeared previously in The Enemy and The Defector, and will show up one more time.  This episode is his only appearance as more than a face on the screen.  Riker makes a brief reference to the events of The Defector.

• Carolyn McCormick also reappears, very briefly, as a fake version of Minuet, from 11001001.  The events of that episode are briefly mentioned here.

11001001 also featured Riker’s interest in the trombone – which I don’t think has appeared since.

Guest Cast
• Chris Demetral, who plays Ethan / Jean-Luc Riker, appeared in a few episodes of Lois and Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman, was a regular on Dream On, and played Jules Verne in a series I have never heard of called The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne.  He also played Christopher Ewing (Bobby’s son) in a Dallas reunion movie (Dallas:  J.R. Returns).

• Patti Yasutake makes her first appearance as Nurse Alyssa Ogawa – she will go on to appear in 15 more episodes of the series as in Star Trek: First Contact.

Observations:
• It’s Riker’s birthday!  I don’t think we’ve had a birthday on the show before, have we?

• That Science Officer on the bridge at the start is pretty weak at his delivery of his one line.

• Wesley does not appear in this episode – convenient and sort of necessary since he would be harder to pull off as “aged”

•It seems like they should have been able to detect these potentially dangerous gasses, and then take some precautions before beaming down.

• It’s the second time the series has had to employ “old age” make up – though it’s not as extreme as in Unnatural Selection.

• Nurse Ogowo only appears in the fake future segments, but presumably she must already be part of the real Enterprise crew, or she wouldn’t have been pulled from Riker’s mind for the fantasy version.

•  A lot of nice touches with the future concept:  Geordi’s implants.  A Ferengi officer.  Data as First Officer.  Commbadge looks different.

• Troi wears a standard Starfleet uniform for the first time (barring that odd thing she wore in Encounter at Farpoint).

• It’s a little absurd that Riker would have to fulfill these negotiations, but I guess things like this are acceptable considering the falsehood of the situation

• Riker instantly assumes that he was married to Jean-Luc’s mother.  I appreciate that.

• There is brief reference to Kyle Riker, though not by name.

• Some good stuff from Riker to his son:  “I’ll have to take your word for that because I don’t remember any of it. Your first step, your first tooth, nothing. And I want to remember. I guess there’s only one thing we can do. We’ve got to build some new memories.”  All the better since apparently this scene was added at the last minute because the show was coming up short.  Although as a parent, I have to say I don’t really remember my children’s first teeth.

• Riker’s change of tune when he sees Minuet is quite effective.

• I like the upset Riker  yelling, “You’re incapable of that level of incompetence, Mr. La Forge.”

• Ethan punches a Romulan, which seems absurd, but then we eventually find out that it is.

• Ever so briefly, the simulation continues to go on for an instant after Riker leaves the Bridge.  But maybe that’s how these advanced super-holodecks role.

• Alien Baresh is not quite convincing, though there is a game attempt to make him alien

• In 16 years, Riker actually will be a Captain, and married to a ship’s counselor!

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
Well, this is an episode that flat-out would not have worked in the scenario of Riker being promoted to Captain following the Borg attack.  I mean, you could have still had Riker doing the faked Rip van Winkle, but the impact of it would have been lost.  Alternatively, you could do it with Shelby, but it wouldn’t have had any of the impact, not this quickly into her time on the series.  So I guess in this alternate universe, you’d have to have rewritten the episode and moved it into the place of one of those clunkers from Season Seven.  In its place we could have had a Shelby-centric story, I guess.

Dialogue High Point
My favorite line is ultimately Riker telling faux-Picard off:

I said, shut up. As in close your mouth and stop talking.

Previous Episode: ReunionNext Episode: Final Mission


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