Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Future Imperfect"

***

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."

Previous episode: Reunion
Next episode: Final Mission

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21 comments on this review

Stef - Wed, Mar 5, 2008 - 5:48am (USA Central)
Data's Day: My favourite moment, is Data realising he is idly tapping his finger in a very human way as he becomes suspicious of T'Pel. That is a great scene, and all the better for not having it explained.

Legacy: She was hot wasn't she?

Clues: I really enjoyed this show, just didn't like Troi's "Alien takeover" voice.

Future Imperfect: There was something about Riker's confidence and stance as he tells Picard to SHUT UP , that I think is probably his best scene so far, he comes across very natural. It's a shame his waistline had to expand so much in later years.
stviateur - Wed, Jul 6, 2011 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
"Future Imperfect" started out good and got better as soon as tomalak made his appearance but became a huge disappointment when it all turned out to be an illusion by some kid alien...ugh! And why didn't Riker notice that anything was strange as soon as he woke and found that Dr. Crusher had served aboard the Enterprise for over 15 years! Not to mention other past crew members...who the heck stays aboard the same ship for that long without moving on and up? And then, after supposedly losing his memory of the last 15 years, he's allowed to stay in command?! Even I knew something was wrong at that point!
Jack - Fri, Jun 15, 2012 - 3:50pm (USA Central)
Sure was convenient to have a mirror on the console right above Riker in sickbay...
Jay - Mon, Jun 18, 2012 - 5:46pm (USA Central)
I thought it was funny that the Ferengi helmsman seems to have incomplete Ferengi makeup....seemed like a mask covered the actor's mouth. I suppose if the character had no lines, why attach the makeup to their lips...
Will - Thu, Oct 11, 2012 - 3:49pm (USA Central)
This episode was really good, until the ending. The funny thing is, the ending was soooo bad, it was hilarious xD

*changes into super-cheesy 50's-style alien*
"My name is Barush =3"
"TO ME YOU WILL ALWAYS BE JEAN LUC DURR"
xaaos - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 2:41pm (USA Central)
I laughed out loud when I saw a Ferengi as a Federation helmsman. Barush has a great sense of humor.
mike - Sat, Apr 13, 2013 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Tolerable episode, not great. Put yourself in Riker's place. Would you buy into this Rip Van Winkle story even one bit? No, of course not, so how can I? And who the hell is stationed on a ship for 15 years anyway?
bob - Sun, Jun 23, 2013 - 11:50pm (USA Central)
I love this episode for one reason, when riker finds out the truth and screws with data and then tells captain Picard to shut his mouth! Hilarious!
William B - Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - 1:42pm (USA Central)
The scene where Riker goes to the bridge and tells everyone to shut up is indeed a season highlight and well worth the price of admission.

On his birthday (universal symbol of aging), Troi asks Riker to make a wish on his birthday cake, and he jokes, "Music lessons!" Then he finds himself waking up in the future, older and in a scenario which we learn from Barash was meant to be a fantasy where Riker would be happy. In principle, the episode's premise would suggest that it's about aging and about things you wish for. In effect, though, while he tries, I don't think Riker really commits to this future enough for this seeming emotional core to work all that well. It is interesting to consider the choices made by Barash, assuming that he wanted Riker both to dote on his "son" and that he otherwise wanted to be happy: the crew is mostly there, but Riker gets to be captain of the Enterprise. Maybe the reason he carted Troi away is to avoid any questions of why Riker married someone else instead of Troi. There are two possible explanations I can think of for the Romulan/Tomalak plot in the Enterprise future: 1. Barash thought Riker would want there to be peace in the galaxy, and thought Tomalak being a good guy now was the best way to demonstrate this; 2. Barash was already planning for his scenario failing and had been planning the backdoor to the program wherein it's revealed that Tomalak is probing Riker for information already. Supporting the latter is the whole plot about revealing secret information about Sector whatever early on.

Since the future seems to be geared less toward being interesting (it's certainly much less creative and well-developed than, say, the "All Good Things" future), the question I guess becomes about Riker figuring out that it's not real. This episode is a bit like "Frame of Mind," isn't it, wherein there is an illusion version of the Enterprise crew and Riker has to figure out that it's not real. I wonder why that lends itself so well to Riker stories. Maybe this is a guy with trouble telling apart fantasy and reality? That Minuet is still the woman about whom he has the most passionate feelings, apparently, suggests that Riker probably does have those issues. Actually, that appearance of Minuet is one of the oddest and most interesting choices in the episode, and suggests that while Riker consciously knows she wasn't real and was just a fantasy woman designed specifically to keep him distracted, subconsciously she is his ideal. Maybe the thing about Riker is that he is someone with a lot of ambition and a lot of strong desires, but (as Troi asked him in BOBW), what does he *actually* want? He doesn't quite know. His ideal woman is imaginary: what is it in real life that he wants, romantically? I suppose here I feel like giving a shoutout to Riker/Troi -- from this point forward it's not entirely clear why they don't get together, since their reason for breaking up was Riker's meteoric career rise and Riker has decided that he'd rather stay on the Enterprise than be a captain (or at least that seems to be what he decided post-BOBW). Out-of-universe, the writers probably recognize that getting Riker and Troi together would make it harder for them to tell stories about them because they don't really know if they can write couples well. In-universe, I wonder if maybe Riker is too attached to his fantasy of the perfect woman -- represented by Minuet -- to "settle" for someone whom he loves deeply, but who is flawed and can be frustrating (and aristocratic, as he describes her in "The Loss"), and so he keeps searching for casual flings with beautiful women whom he can maintain fantasies about.

This is mostly speculation, though, because the episode doesn't have that much to say, though it is generally entertaining. There is something nicely Trekkian about the last few minutes (except for that terrible, hysterical final line), wherein Barash admits to living the life he's living because he's a war orphan and this is the only life he could have, and he asked Riker to join him in his fantasy because he was so lonely. He is treated not as a villain but as a scared kid who needs to be loved, and Riker's offer to him to get out of that life and to be with people is nice, though I'm not exactly clear what Riker's plan is here. Send Barash to live with Worf's parents, maybe? If we continue to make this about Riker, Riker himself had drawn a comparison between "Jean-Luc's mother's" death and his own mother's death, and so the idea of Barash hiding in a world of illusions because he had nothing else after his parents' death, and yet finding that world lonely and needing to leave it behind, maybe does describe Riker, abandoned by his mother through death and his father through indifference, and who is only on the Enterpise starting to figure out what he really wants out of life besides the notions of an awesome career and great sex, which he still places emphasis on but are maybe not the real things he actually wants. Maybe.

I did, by the way, find the "Romulan prison" section of the episode very dull, though that is probably because I knew how pointless it ultimately was. I probably would put the ep overall as a high 2.5 stars.
TH - Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - 12:18am (USA Central)
I always really liked this episode, but I always found it full of a couple of too glaring plot holes.

I am assuming that the alien's plan was to create an Enterprise future so real, he could forever be Riker's son. I assume his goal was NOT to have Riker figure out it was fake and live forever as a "prisoner" with Riker in the Romulan jail cell.

So on that assumption, I assume the alien chose Minuet as Riker's wife on the same basis that the "Romulans" chose her - because they thought she was a real person important in Riker's life.

If we assume that is the case, how come when Riker asks Troi about his wife, and Riker says he has no memory of her, Troi doesn't once correct him and say "you knew her before the accident, so you do know her" or "Do you remember Minuet?"

The plot would have unravelled much sooner.
Moonie - Tue, Nov 5, 2013 - 7:44am (USA Central)
To me, it's the resolution that made this episode tolerable. There were just too many holes and logical inconsistencies in the story, but the resolution saved it.

Will shouting "Shut up!" to Picard made me laugh out loud!
Jay - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 4:02pm (USA Central)
@ William B

It would seem that the "wife" HAD to be Minuet, since that was the key to Riker realizing that this reality was a farce.

I'm really enjoying your reviews within the reviews by the way!

Chris - Tue, Dec 24, 2013 - 11:07am (USA Central)
I'm not sure I agree with Beverly that losing 16 years pales in comparison to losing one's parents.
Baltar - Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - 1:12am (USA Central)
I always thought that Crusher's point was that while Riker is reeling from his understandably bizarre situation, he has (allegedly) lost only a fraction of his life, and he ostensibly has the foundation upon which he can relearn whatever he needs to. His son, by comparison, is young and finding his way, suddenly having to live with not just learning to cope with the loss of his mother, not even learning to cope with the loss of both parents, but effectively having lost both AND having to teach his father how to be a father, from scratch.

I thought it was a pretty good bit of emotional realism in the scenario, giving Riker something to focus on beyond his own bafflement-and, given how the scenario turns out, it's a good bit of manipulation on the kid's part.

I just rewatched this episode tonight; still engaging, even knowing what's coming...at least until that ending, which feels very much like a the writer had a poignant script going all the way through-right until that last page, which got composed on the bus ride to the studio to turn it in. Whoops. I think "howler" captured that nicely.
Rex Asden - Fri, May 9, 2014 - 6:00pm (USA Central)
Riker's issue is that, whenever there's an episode focusing (mostly) on him, everybody is trying to melt his brain or something like that. For example, Frame of Mind, in which he was abducted and his noggin probed (again). He does good as someone who loses his marbles, though. Then there was the episode where he is abducted by weird aliens -big shocker! *rolls eyes*- and used for bizarre medical experiments. Maybe it's that face of his when he doesn't know what is going on, or maybe it's just that people enjoy zapping him with mind-reading rays.
I don't think that this episode was too bad, considering some of the others that they've done.
$G - Thu, Jan 29, 2015 - 1:21am (USA Central)
I was enjoying this one for a bit. Riker's freakout is really well done, and I like watching characters feel out a scenario (Crusher did it just a few eps ago, too). The Minuet continuity was a really neat call back too. But I found that my interest really wavered during the Romulan prison section. It just felt so punch-less.

Then the ending, which - well... This might be the only Trek episode that guts itself entirely in the last 30 seconds. I *like* the idea of Barush, but that costume...

Just... WHAT IN THE WORLD.

Absolutely the silliest, most moment-killing reveal in any Trek I can remember. I was laughing well into the credits and my girlfriend just facepalmed until the music stopped. I honestly don't even know how I'd rate this episode - it's not even *bad*. It's pretty okay, actually, but I'll never be able to think of this episode without laughing at it no matter what other merits it might have.
$G - Thu, Jan 29, 2015 - 1:25am (USA Central)
Hang on, I take back what I said about Barush being the silliest, most moment-killing reveal in Trek.

That award goes to Enterprise's season 3 finale.

Second place ain't bad.
CPUFP - Sun, Feb 1, 2015 - 10:33am (USA Central)
I actually found Barush's real appearance quite endearing. My girlfriend and me were going "Aw, what a cute little alien boy, all alone on his planet", when we saw it. The way he holds his hands in an "X" has since entered our everyday behavior at home and never fails to elicit a laugh.

This was of course another case of "Main character makes a new friend, who is then never heard of again". Maybe Riker put him in the same desolate part of the ship where Worf had stored that boy from "The Bonding", after telling him that he would now be part of his family. Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote in his review of this episode on TOR.com that Barush's fate is further explored in one of the EU novels, where he moves to Earth to become head of the UFP's displaced persons office.

Anyway, the biggest virtue of this episode for me is how much it tells us about Riker. Barush's technology can create what Riker would consider a perfect (for him) future, and it's interesting to see what this includes.

In "The Best of Both Worlds 1", Picard had made Riker aware of his options: staying first officer on Starfleet's flagship, or taking command of his own ship on the outskirts of the Federation. As we see in Barush's creation, Riker wants both. He can move upwards in his career (which is what everyone expects of him and which was his main drive during the beginning of the series) and become captain, without having to leave all the things he likes about his current life: the Enterprise and his colleagues (who are his only friends and surrogate family). He moves out of Picard's shadow and out of the on-again/off-again relationship with Troi when they both leave for Starfleet Command, but still maintains a friendship with them. The Klingon-Federation relations are getting tighter, with at least one more Klingon serving on the Enterprise (who lasciviously roams the ship's corridor, thereby covering both Riker's interests in Klingon culture and hot chicks). He starts a family and has a son who can continue his legacy, but his wife dies, leaving him free to return to his old dating behavior.

The most interesting thing for me was the role of Minuet, though. This is Riker's ideal woman, the woman for whom he still holds the warmest feelings, and which he sees as most fitting to start a family with. What do we know about her from her previous appearance in season 1's "11001001"? We know that the Binars had just refitted the holodeck and had created the Minuet character to divert Riker and Picard while they were using the ship for other tasks, so it's understandable that she was quite the sensation in comparison to other holodeck programs. But that's hardly enough to make her a candidate for "ideal woman". What is it that made her so unforgettable for Riker? For starters, she had the right looks (Riker had her look changed a few times before settling with what he liked). She liked the same kind of jazz music as him. She showed interest in what he had to say. She flirted with him. And that's about it. Riker's idea of the perfect woman is a pretty girl who finds him attractive and likes what he likes. Oh, and wait: She also flirted with Picard. Let's not go too far into what this means for Riker's idea of a perfect mate...

In the end, the whole episode paints a rather sad picture of Riker, who usually serves as TNG's quasi-Kirk, an adventurous, lady-killing, charismatic leader. In Barush's materialization of Riker's wishes and dreams, he appears as deeply insecure and afraid of life-changing decisions. In both love and work, he wants to have his cake and eat it too: stay in his comfortable place on the Enterprise and rise to captain, start a family and still be a bachelor. And the saddest thing is that the TNG character with the most active (and most promiscuous) sex life cannot commit to a real person, but is still hooked to a holodeck creation with whom he spent one afternoon three years ago, and whose character was defined by the variables "pretty, likes jazz, flirts with Riker".

Riker has a lot of good episodes under his belt, but I always felt that he did not get that much of a character arc when compared to Data, Worf or even Wesley Crusher. But this episode certainly gives us the deepest insight into his mind and shows how much of a tragic figure lies under his usual sunny-boy demeanor.
William B - Mon, Feb 2, 2015 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
I mean, it's hard to fully justify that last minute of the episode, both with Barash's appearance and "To me, you'll always be Jean-Luc." But while it's definitely goofy, I think that the weird, gawky, weird-looking but also weirdly adorable Barash that we see at the end is actually appropriate.

CPUFP reminded me why I like this episode, and I think I'm going to expand further (on what CPUFP says, and also on what I said way back when). Notably, I don’t think this episode was carefully planned out as too deep an exposé of Riker’s subconscious, but I think it permits such readings surprisingly well. Barash is a child abandoned by its parents, alone in the world, and creates a fantasy for Riker to live out. Notably, though, his fantasy includes...Barash creating a fantasy version of *himself* who is the kind of kid that he *expects* will be lovable, which means making himself appear pleasing and a carbon copy of the father figure he wants to impress/entrap. He plays trombone too! I think the episode makes explicit the comparison between “Jean-Luc Riker” and Will’s predicaments; Will lost his mother when he was young, and the father-son mini-family is something like what Will’s childhood could have been like had his father been a real parent. That Barash creates the scenario to entrap Will is undeniable, and so leaving a mother out for himself is a sensible choice, but I also wonder if Barash simply omitted a mother figure (or girlfriend figure) for Riker is because neither Barash nor Riker can actually imagine what having a mother is like. Will doesn’t really know what having a good father is like, but he at least has a few good memories with his father, and Barash is giving Will the opportunity to make right his father’s mistakes. I think, relatedly, Minuet as absent, far-away lover both suggests that Will lives in a fantasy land, and also suggests that he has no real idea how to have a relationship, besides his on-again-off-again thing with Deanna, which he…also, I think, doesn’t really know how to pursue at this stage.

Seeing Barash as a kind of analogue of Will makes a lot of sense to me. By the time of season four, Riker is more subtle about it, certainly than Barash. But I think it’s notable that Will does have that side of him, of, like Barash, trying to earn love and respect and friendship by presenting what he thinks other people want of him and then living out a fantasy role. In season seven, for instance, we have Riker acknowledging that Lavelle’s slick ingratiating behaviours annoy Riker because they remind him of himself at a younger age; we learn in “The Pegasus” the disastrous consequence of Will wanting very badly to impress a substitute father figure early in his career. His flirtatious behaviour at times actually seems quite sad to me, because I think Will very often is not so much flirting out of horndog lust but out of a compulsive desire to be liked and be viewed as attractive. I think this kind of explains why Will is sometimes put in the position of someone who is heavily objectified and whose body gets used and discarded, like in “The Host,” “First Contact” and (ick) “Angel One.”

But anyway, even though the scenario which Barash creates for Will is the ultimate dream, Will actually doesn’t buy it. I think this shows a lot of promise: at his core, Riker is able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and feels uncomfortable with a scenario that gives him too much of what he wants. Some of this may just be Will’s restlessness and discomfort in a scenario in which he has the possibility to be happy. That Riker can console Barash at the end and love him for his weird, goofy, ugly, silly looking self actually shows some hope, too, of Riker loving himself for who he is.

This makes this an interesting episode to follow up on “The Best of Both Worlds,” I think. In “TBOBW,” Riker had to face and overcome his fears of being in the big chair. On a fundamental level, I don’t think Riker is afraid of command itself post-“TBOBW,” and I’m not even sure he was afraid of command per se before then. Rather, I think what Riker really wants is what Picard, Troi, and the rest of the crew offer him: approval and from a man/father-figure he admires (Picard), love, compassion and comfort from a woman he loves (Troi), and friendship and security from a group of friends he likes and cares about (Worf, Data, Geordi, Beverly, Wesley). What is holding Riker on the Enterprise is not fear of what the Big Chair will entail, but a desire not to lose the sense of family that he has on the ship which is the first functional family he’s ever had. That’s why the scenario given to him that can attract Riker has to be one in which his family remains mostly intact, but with Riker having displaced Picard in the father role, even swapped with him (since his kid is Jean-Luc, after all). From this point on, Riker’s aspirations are not so much to have his own command, but to have command of the Enterprise specifically. But even then, he really also doesn’t want to lose Picard as the first functional mentor/father figure he’s had, who is not negligent/absentee (ala Kyle Riker) or a criminal (ala Pressman), and he can’t decide what kind of role he wants to slot Troi into. It’s still a tiny bit fake, like Barash’s version on the Enterprise: Picard really can’t be a substitute father, and Troi can’t be a substitute matronly mother and a potential wife/lover at once. That said, I think his time on the Enterprise is actually really healthy for him. In “BOBW,” Deanna asked him what it is, exactly, that he wants. I think that Riker gradually comes to realize that he doesn’t actually want command for the sake of command or casual sex for the sake of casual sex, but sort of longs for meaning in his work and emotional intimacy in his relationships, even as he has some trouble figuring out how to apply that. On some level, the Will Riker from “Encounter at Farpoint” (and especially the young Riker we hear described in “The Pegasus”) was ambitious less because he was passionate about Starfleet and Federation values, though I think he was/is, and more because he needed to win and succeed to prove himself and win approval and love. I think that the one at the series’ end has a somewhat clearer picture of what he wants, though it’s still a work in progress. It’s not quite a full arc, because I don’t think the series delves deep enough into what it is that Riker does want even as it does puncture some of Riker’s illusions, sort of. (That’s part of why I think of “Frame of Mind” as not just a great episode but a great Riker episode in particular, because I think the effort of shattering illusions and breaking from external authority, like the staff of a maybe-fake mental hospital, is something that’s hard for Riker, who kind of bounces between loving and hating authority/father figures rather than being able to keep his wits around them.)
Luke - Sat, Jun 27, 2015 - 11:32pm (USA Central)
"Future Imperfect" is a fluff episode, but an enjoyable piece of fluff. I don't quite know what else to say except that it was a pleasant little diversion.

As for Barash's "actual" appearance at the end of the episode - I kind of liked it. At least he actually looks alien. His species isn't identical in appearance to humans or identical to humans except with something glued to the forehead. Yeah, it looks corny, but so what?

What really stands out for me in this episode, however, is the use of Minute as Riker's imaginary wife. I'm literally stunned that Season Four made so many attempts to work in references and concepts from the first two seasons. I did not notice that until this re-watch. We've had the Borg, Lore, the Traveler, Yar's backstory, K'Ehleyr and now Minute make reappearances. For the most part, they've all been good as well. I'm going to give "Future Imperfect" a +1 bonus to my score for using a Season One character so well.

7/10
Catweazle - Fri, Jul 17, 2015 - 5:53pm (USA Central)
"Hi dad" his son casually says, looking up from his trombone, after Riker had been lying in sick bay in a coma for ten days.

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