Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 11/12/1990
Written by J. Larry Carroll & David Bennett Carren
Directed by Les Landau
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
An away mission goes bad, and Riker finds himself waking up 16 years after the last thing he can remember — which was that mission. An aged Crusher tells him that he contracted a virus on that mission which, after lying in wait for years, put him into a coma and wiped all memories dating back to the original incident. (Sort of like Memento, except just once instead of every few minutes.)
"Future Imperfect" paints an interesting "what if" premise. Riker awakens to a changed world. Not so changed, mind you, that he can't quickly (perhaps too quickly, and taking it awfully well) be brought back up to speed. He's now captain of the Enterprise, he had a wife (now dead), and he has a young son, named — perhaps too ham-handedly — Jean-Luc (Chris Demetral). And Riker is scheduled to complete treaty negotiations between the Romulans and the Federation. Like tomorrow.
In a show like this — where a reset is inevitable and it's really hard to buy into the emotional arc of the story — the truth is in the details, and I liked a lot of the details. The Enterprise sets have been modified just enough to seem like the future in a fanboy sort of way. Geordi no longer has the visor. A bearded Picard, now an admiral, is on hand for the negotiations. The ambassador in the Romulan negotiations is onetime enemy Tomalak, which puts a visceral chill into Riker.
And there are strange things going on here. The computer keeps lagging when Riker asks for personal information about himself. Is any of this real? That question is answered with a nice touch of continuity when video of Riker's wife reveals that she was ... Minuet. My favorite part of the episode is when Riker, having destroyed the illusion of the ruse, goes on a rampage to prove it — demanding that Data make elaborate calculations and telling Picard: "Shut up! As in close your mouth and stop talking!" It's all a holodeck simulation by Tomalak trying to trick him into revealing classified information. (Although, how sad is it that Riker's most intimate recent connection with a woman, at least according to the mind-scanners, was with a hologram and took place in a matter of a few hours? Like I said: plot details, not emotional arc.)
But wait; the story even has a twist upon the twist. The Romulan prison is an illusion too, concocted by an alien boy who was playing the part of Riker's son. He's actually an orphan with no company but all this equipment that can make pretend stuff. Of course, I'm always amazed at how perfectly pretend stuff can be created based on a person's memories. "Future Imperfect" is an engaging illusion show with some nice hypothetical scenes, but it has a howler of a closing line: "To me you'll always be Jean-Luc."