Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Future Imperfect”

“Future Imperfect”
Written by J. Larry Carroll & David Bennett Carren
Directed by Les Landau
Season 4, Episode 8
Production episode 40274-182
Original air date: November 12, 1990
Stardate: 44286.5

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is patrolling near the Romulan Neutral Zone, but things are quiet enough so that Riker can have a birthday party. As Picard and Data are about to head to the party, Gleason informs them that Alpha Onias III is giving off subspace readings. Concern about Romulan incursion on the planet leads to Picard interrupting the party so Riker can send an away team down.

The first officer beams down with Worf and La Forge. They detect volcanic activity and buildup of toxic gases, while magnetic interference makes tricorder, communications, and transporter all balky. Picard advises Riker to beam back, and he does, but the transporter chief has trouble getting a lock on them — right when the cavern the three of them are in starts to get flooded with gas. Riker passes out from inhaling methane —

— and wakes up in sickbay sixteen years later. He’s now captain of the Enterprise. Crusher’s hair is in a bun, Worf has a scar, La Forge has regular eyes, Data is first officer, and Picard has been promoted to admiral (and grown a beard), with Troi as his aide. According to Crusher, he contracted a virus on Alpha Onias III that lay dormant in his brain for years — until ten days earlier when he was feverish and delirious. This virus wipes memories from the moment of infection — possibly permanently.

However, familiar associations can sometimes restore memory, so Crusher takes Riker to a turbolift, and thence to his quarters — but Riker belays the order and instead wants to go to the bridge. The computer hiccups and asks for another instruction; Riker repeats the instruction, and the ‘lift goes to the bridge. Worf now serves at ops, and there’s a Ferengi at conn. None of it is familiar to Riker.

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A Romulan warbird decloaks — Captain Riker calls for red alert, to the confusion of the rest of the bridge crew, as they were expecting the Decius. On board is Admiral Picard, with Troi at his side. They beam aboard and explain that the Enterprise is to escort a Romulan ambassador to the final negotiation session for a treaty with the Romulan Empire. Said treaty is the result of four years of work that began when Riker and the Enterprise saved a Romulan ship. Riker isn’t particularly sanguine about resuming command or about negotiating a treaty with a sixteen-year gap in his head, but Picard insists that he’ll be fine. Troi escorts Riker to his quarters — to find a young man playing trombone and greeting him with a hearty, “Hi, Dad!”

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Riker is rather devastated to learn that he has a son — and said son, who’s named Jean-Luc, is equally devastated to realize that his father doesn’t remember him at all. Troi explains that Jean-Luc’s mother, Min, died in a shuttle accident two years earlier.

Picard calls Riker to the transporter room before he has a chance to look over his service record, as the Romulan ambassador is ready to beam aboard. Said ambassador turns out to be Tomalak, which puts Riker on edge, given their past history at Galorndon Core and Nelvana III. So is the fact that the treaty will be signed at Outpost 23, which Riker remembers as a major strategic outpost. Picard, however, insists that his information is out of date, as that outpost hasn’t had significant strategic importance in years.

Crusher summons Riker to sickbay — Jean-Luc injured himself playing Parrises Squares. Riker escorts him back to their quarters, and he expresses a concern to the boy that he’s worried about how he’ll perform as a Dad given his own father’s rather poor performance in that regard.

When they get back to the cabin, Riker asks the computer for visual records of his family — then asks for the family record of “Riker, Mrs. William T.” (because apparently, the late 24th century is also the late 19th), but the computer futzes. Jean-Luc comes in and makes the request with a specific stardate —

— and Riker sees Jean-Luc’s birthday party, being celebrated by the two of them, and Jean-Luc’s mother: Minuet.

Furious, Riker goes to the bridge. He points out that La Forge still hasn’t nailed down the computer malfunction after 30 hours, which he doesn’t believe is possible for the talented engineer. He then asks Worf where he got his scar, and he can’t provide any specifics beyond, “In combat.” Then Riker turns to Data, and asks him for an ETA at one warp speed — then at another, and another, and Data can’t keep up, and uses a contraction when he attempts to explain. Picard, Troi, and Tomalak come onto the bridge, and Riker tells Picard to shut up, and says they need to end the charade.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

Tomalak smiles and says, “As you wish, Commander Riker.” The bridge and the crew disappear, revealing a holodeck on a base located on Alpha Onias III. Tomalak explains that they were able to use a neural scanner to help create a perfect scenario, and he wonders how Riker saw through it. The computer lag was a problem — it happened whenever he deviated from the intended path. But the real problem was Minuet, who was just a holodeck fantasy. Tomalak finds that impossible to credit, as Riker’s memories of her are incredibly vivid.

The Romulans are after the location of Outpost 23. Riker wants to know why they didn’t just use the neural scanner to get that information, but the scanners are calibrated for Romulan brains, and there were gaps. Riker, in turn, finds that impossible to credit, as he saw no gaps in the scenario.

Tomalak takes Riker to a prison cell, where he’s thrown in with a human child — Tomalak says he was the visual template for “Jean-Luc Riker.” He says his name is Ethan, and he and his parents were taken by Romulans off a nearby outpost. He’d found a hiding place, but when he left it to find food and water, they captured him. When Tomalak returns to question him, Riker and Ethan escape to his hiding place with rather ridiculous ease.

Riker goes through possible escape options, including using the Romulans’ communications systems — but they’re voice-activated, Ethan explains, and only Ambassador Tomalak’s voice will do it.

Again, Riker sees through the deception, as Tomalak is only referred to as an ambassador in a holodeck fantasy that “Ethan” shouldn’t have had access to the information from.

Finally, the truth is revealed. The boy is named Barash, and even his human form is an illusion. He was left on Alpha Onias III by his mother after their homeworld was invaded. She sacrificed her own life in order to keep Barash safe, and left the neural scanners to give him whatever he wanted. But he was lonely, so he kidnapped Riker, and gave him everything he wanted in the hopes that he’d stay with Barash.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

Riker beams back to the Enterprise with Barash, saying he doesn’t have to be alone anymore, and also that, to him, the boy will always be “Jean-Luc.”

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Crusher tries to explain medically what the virus did to his brain, and Riker just impatiently interrupts her with a frustrated, “Doctor!”

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: In the fake future, Troi took a position at Starfleet Command offered by Admiral Picard that she couldn’t refuse. “Min Riker” took over as ship’s counselor.

If I Only Had a Brain…: In the fake future, Data is first officer, the third time we’ve seen him in that role (“A Matter of Honor” and “Peak Performance” being the others), but the first time we see him in a red uniform. (He’ll next wear one in “Chain of Command, Part II.”) His use of a contraction is a hint to Riker that something is amiss, although Barash missed a bet by simply having Data say that he learned how to use them in the past sixteen years.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf has a scar in the fake future, and his voice is also heavier and his movements slower. In truth, Michael Dorn made the most effort in making himself act older. (Though Brent Spiner gets a bye, as Data doesn’t age and so is therefore exactly the same.)

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Adding neural scanners to a holodeck = magic, apparently. Riker also has a fishing program that he’s fond of on Curtis Creek (it’s unclear whether or not this is the creek in Baltimore, or a made-up Curtis Creek).

Also, Riker’s memories of Minuet from “11001001” are so vivid that the neural scanner can’t tell that she’s fake. The Bynars do really good work…

I Believe I Said That: “I said shut up! As in close your mouth and stop talking!”

Riker, finally getting to say to Picard what you just know he’s always fantasized saying to him.

Welcome Aboard: Andreas Katsulas makes his third appearance as Tomalak, although a) it’s not really him, just an illusion of him, and b) it’s the only one of Katsulas’s four appearances in which he doesn’t just appear as a big giant head on the Enterprise viewscreen, but instead interacts with other folks. (Katsulas said in an interview that he preferred being a menacing figure on the viewscreen to the personal interactions of this episode.) Chris Demetral — later to go on to fame and fortune as Jeremy Tupper on Dream On and the title character in the underrated The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne — plays Barash in human form (Dana Tjulander takes on the uncredited role of Barash in his natural, insectoid form). Carolyn McCormick gets guest-star billing for standing next to Jonathan Frakes, and smiling and waving at the camera for four and a half seconds, in a most bizarre return as Minuet from “11001001.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

Todd Merrill reprises Gleason from “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II,” delivering his only dialogue with all the passion of a block of wood, April Grace appears for the second week in a row as Transporter Chief Hubbell, and Patti Yasutake makes her first appearance as the recurring character of Nurse Alyssa Ogawa (though she isn’t named here, and indeed only appears in the fake future).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

Worf. Picard. They're cops. (Coming this Christmas.)

Trivial Matters: Barash is never again seen or mentioned onscreen, despite Riker’s words at the episode’s end. However, William Leisner’s novel Losing the Peace features Barash in a supporting role and explains what he did with himself following the episode. Amusingly, LtP takes place in 2381, fourteen years after “Future Imperfect,” or almost as far ahead as the fake future in the episode. By the time of that novel, Riker is a captain (of the U.S.S. Titan), is married (to Troi), and has a kid (a daughter named Natasha, born in the Titan novel Over a Torrent Sea by Christopher L. Bennett). In Leisner’s novel, Picard turns down a promotion to admiral, citing the words spoken to him by Captain James T. Kirk in the Nexus about never letting them take you off the bridge of the Enterprise.

The fake future has a Ferengi in Starfleet — on Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi Nog will enlist in Starfleet, eventually becoming a junior-grade lieutenant by the series’ end.

Riker plays “Misty” by Errol Garner on the trombone, and screws up a high note on it each time he plays it.

Minuet becomes a ship’s counselor in the fake future — one of Carolyn McCormick’s longest-running roles has been as NYPD psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Olivet on the various Law & Order shows.

The Romulan ship is named Decius, the same name as one of the centurions we met in “Balance of Terror,” the episode that introduced the Romulans on the original series.

Make it So: “You’re incapable of that level of incompetence.” This episode has its moments, certainly, and there are some nice touches, and a good look at the character of William T. Riker. But it doesn’t entirely cohere.

First let’s get my biggest problem out of the way. Star Trek: The Next Generation takes place in an egalitarian future, one in which women and men are equals. Yet we’re supposed to believe that the form of address of a married woman as “Mrs. [name of husband]” — which had already begun to fall out of favor in 1990 when this episode aired — would still be in use in the 2300s? We’re supposed to believe that a form of address that indicates that a married woman becomes the property of her husband would still be in use in the utopian Federation?

Of course, it was only done so that Riker would be able to ask the computer for pictures without actually using his wife’s name — except Riker had been given her name of “Min” earlier by Troi. Why didn’t he just ask for the family records of “Counselor Min Riker”? Y’know, give her an identity as something other than Riker’s wife?

Not enough effort is made to age the characters sixteen years. Gates McFadden just gets her hair put in a bun, and she acts exactly the same. Marina Sirtis actually does look older, but she also acts exactly the same. LeVar Burton, bizarrely, looks younger without his VISOR (even with the token gray shoved onto his temples). Michael Dorn doesn’t look at all older, either, though he makes an effort to act older. Sir Patrick Stewart also relies solely upon a different tonsorial choice (longer hair and a beard) to do his aging for him. Andreas Katsulas and Brent Spiner look exactly the same as Tomalak and Data, but those are characters who either age very slowly or don’t age at all. (We won’t even get into how inaccurate the predictions of how these folks would age were, since most of the actors looked nothing like this in 2006…)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com of Future Imperfect

Having said all that, the episode is mostly harmless. It’s a good showcase for Jonathan Frakes, certainly, and it shows a fine understanding of Will Riker’s character. For all that he protests when Barash tells him that the neural scanners gave him what he wanted, they truly did: he gets to be a captain and stay on the Enterprise, he has a wife and kid (the death of his wife is a contrivance to keep him from the Minuet reveal, but that one works because of Barash’s backstory — you can understand why someone who lost his mother wouldn’t want to have a fantasy in which he had a living mother), most of his nearest and dearest are still on board, and there’s about to be peace with the Romulans. It really is an ideal future for Riker, even factoring in the death of his wife. Indeed, even that tragedy gives him the chance to be a better single father than Kyle Riker. (Admittedly, a low bar to clear, as we saw in “The Icarus Factor.”)

Still, the episode didn’t do enough with the premise. Carroll and Carren apparently sold the story on the simple pitch of “Riker wakes up 15 years in the future and is captain and has a son,” but it feels underdeveloped.

 

Warp factor rating: 5


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Lunacon 2012 this weekend in Rye Brook, New York, along with fellow Trek scribes Robert Greenberger and Glenn Hauman. If you’re around, come by and say hi! (My schedule’s here.)

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