This review contains spoilers.
4.8 Future Imperfect
The Enterprise is conducting a survey along the neutral zone, when they detect odd readings from a nearby planet. Riker’s birthday party is interrupted so that he, Worf and Geordi can beam to the surface to check it out. Because nothing says “send 50% of our bridge crew to investigate” like strange readings. Unfortunately the strange readings involve weird gases and they quickly beam everyone back to the surface.
Suddenly, Riker wakes up in sickbay. Beverly Crusher welcomes him back to consciousness and reveals that it’s 16 years in the future. He’s the Captain of the Enterprise and when he was on the surface of the planet he picked up a virus which, after recently becoming active, has wiped out 16 years of his memories. Including his tromboning abilities.
As he acclimatises to a weird new future where everyone has slightly different hair and perfect skin (except Worf, who’s been completely messed up after 16 years of losing every fistfight he gets into) he’s surprised to see Picard and Troi arrive on a Romulan vessel. They reveal that he’s supposed to help negotiate the final part of a peace treaty with the Romulans, so he’d better sort himself out, but he’s too distracted by Picard’s new goatee to take it all in.
Also, the guy doing the negotiating is none other than Ambassador Tomalak, who fought the Enterprise when he was still a lowly Romulan Commander, still wet behind the toga. Riker protests that this is completely insane, but Picard and Troi are insistent, and you know it’s serious because Troi’s wearing an actual uniform for a change.
So anyway, did we mention Riker’s got a son now? No? Well, neither did they until this point in the episode. You think that would be fairly important information to impart to him. So yeah, Riker goes and meets his boy, Jean-Luc (he has indeed named his SON after his old boss. Apple polishers of the world, up your game!) and they reacquaint themselves. Sadly, Jean-Luc’s mother is dead, but when Riker finally calls up some home videos of her his demeanour changes.
Riker heads to the bridge and immediately interrogates La Forge about the ship’s engine trouble. He’s incredulous that Geordi’s taking so long to fix them. He also asks Worf how he got his scars, but Worf can’t tell him. He accuses Data of recklessly using contractions, and then he tells Picard to fermez his goat-mouthed bouche. The image of his late wife was Minuet, a woman he met on the holodeck in the season one episode 11001001, so this is clearly all fake. He demands that the charade be ended.
The charade is duly ended, and Riker stands face to face with Commander Tomalak, who admits that they were trying to use the fake negotiations to get security information out of Riker. He then introduces Riker to the real Jean-Luc, a boy named Ethan whose image they copied. When they’re left alone, Ethan helps Riker escape but when he accidentally refers to Ambassador Tomalak, Riker realises he’s fallen for the same trick twice.
Ethan finally reveals the actual truth: he’s an alien whose entire race has died, and he’s being kept alive by machines that create a reality based on his will. He captured Riker because he just wanted someone real to look after him. He is so very lonely, you see. Riker offers to transport him to the Enterprise so that he start a new life there where he can have safety and friendship, and Ethan agrees, revealing his true form: an insectoid child called Barash. “You’ll always be Jean-Luc to me,” says Riker, implying that the two will continue to be friends. But the last thing Riker needs is a kid cramping his style, so naturally he’s never seen again.
TNG WTF: Perhaps the craziest thing about Riker waking up in the future is that EVERYONE IS STILL THERE. Okay, Picard and Troi are gone and Data’s got a new uniform, but in sixteen years Worf and Data have been hanging around the bridge while an aging Crusher runs sickbay? I know Riker’s content to sit under the glass ceiling that is Jean-Luc Picard, but does he really not bat an eyelid at the fact that no-one else has been promoted off the Enterprise. How long ARE tours of duty in Starfleet anyway!?
TNG LOL: This is the second time an episode has used Data’s inability to speak with contractions as evidence for something being seriously wrong. It’s a good job they don’t leap on that every time he does it because once you start listening, he really does forget to use them a lot.
To Boldly Go: Conducting a security survey of the Onias sector near the neutral zone. Because a recently-drawn border is the perfect place to go exploring, right?
Mistakes and Minutiae: The modified communicator badgets in this episode are great because they double as rank insignias, with one, two, three or four bars behind the Starfleet Insignia. Keeps people in their place, if nothing else.
Time Until Meeting: 13:24. Interesting to note that there are no meetings in the fake future until Picard turns up. Some things never change.
Captain’s Log: Maybe I’m just a sucker for potential futures (even if it’s not actually one) but I’ve always loved this episode. It’s a bit like All Good Things in that it gives us a chance to see how things might turn out for the crew, even if it’s all a fantasy in this case. But there are some nice details (like the futuristic communicators) and the writers wisely set aside some time for Riker to bond with his “son”, which would’ve been easy to gloss over but is, after all, the whole point of the fantasy.
To be fair, I think they stretched it a bit far by having an illusion-within-an-illusion (Frame Of Mind – another Riker-driven episode – does the same thing to greater effect) but then the look of Barash (when he finally reveals his true face) is such a weird combination of horrifying and/or hilarious that I sort of understand why they might want to keep that held off as long as possible.
Anyway, as an episode it’s still full of bits I enjoyed and it makes good use of continuity by using both Tomalak and Minuet (though I suspect the impact of both of those guest appearances will be lost on anyone who isn’t extra-familiar with the series). Like Worf-centric episodes, ones centred around Riker tend to be particularly strong and this one’s no exception.
Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Reunion, here.
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