Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Illusions Of The Future: "Future Imperfect" Paints A Tense Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Good: Interesting plot, Excellent idea, Good acting
The Bad: Bland characterization and character interpretation.
The Basics: A fun episode where all of the characters are aged fifteen years, "Future Imperfect" puts Riker in the middle of a political thriller.

The most tired element of science fiction is rapidly becoming time travel stories. Especially for fans of the Star Trek franchise, the idea of moving about in time and the novelty of the mechanics of time travel truly are silly and become simplistic. Usually, that is because the time travel is going back into the past and some aspects of that are just plain overdone. In "Future Imperfect," Star Trek The Next Generation plays the tired old time travel cliche a different way; by going into the future.

"Future Imperfect" finds Commander Riker, Geordi and Worf on a mission when a strange gas overcomes them and they are knocked unconscious. Riker wakes up and it is fifteen years later. The catch? He and everyone else around him has aged and grown and developed. Aboard the modified Enterprise of the future, Captain Riker learns that he is a father and negotiating a final peace with the Romulans. Worf bears a scar, Troi has been assigned to help Ambassador Picard and Geordi now has real eyes. It seems that all those years ago, when the gas seeped into the cave, Riker contracted a rare virus that results in amnesia at some future point. Remembering nothing from after that moment, Riker is expected to negotiate with the Romulans, unless he is unable to overcome his prejudices about the Romulans . . .

Much of the episode focuses on Riker and his son, named Jean-Luc. Riker is confused by the strange place and time he finds himself in and even more shocked by his instant attachment to his son. The annoying thing about this Riker story is that it does not advance the character. In fact, it dwells on Riker's past, harkening back to "11001001" (reviewed here!) from Star Trek The Next Generation's first season. Even worse than that episode for the character of Riker, "Future Imperfect" makes Riker seem even more pathetic. In the earlier episode, Riker met a hologram named Minuet. In this episode, we learn he still thinks of her and his experiences with her were very real. Out of all of the women from Riker's past to resurrect, Minuet seems a strange choice.

Yet the plot is solid as Riker weighs the advice of his friends versus his experiences with the Romulans, it makes for a fun to watch episode. In fact, "Future Imperfect" does wonderful permutations on the future of the Star Trek universe; the only person unchanged seems to be Dr. Crusher. Among the changes in the universe: the Enterprise has a Ferengi navigator.

But the episode focuses on Riker and Jean-Luc and the child's place in the episode is often questioned. Riker wants to do the right thing (be a parent), but finds himself in the difficult position of not having the time to devote to his son, nor the memory of his past with the boy.

Jonathan Frakes gives a good performance, despite his character not truly advancing. Frakes does wonderfully playing Riker as confused and helpless in a very different way than he did in the recent "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II." That takes talent as in the season premiere he went through a wonderful array of emotions. Here his body language comes into play again, aptly indicating his moods and adding to the tenor of the episode.

Andreas Katsulas returns as Tomalak for the episode, reinvigorating the character with energy and cunning. It's always a pleasure to see this character and his return as the Romulan Commander is quite welcome.

"Future Imperfect" is not ideal for the non-Star Trek The Next Generation fan; it relies often on the turn of character. That is, like a turn of phrase that makes language interesting, here the episode is about little twists in the characters we've known for some years. Without knowing who the characters truly are, this episode is more confusing than the pleasant novelty it ought to be. Moreover, if one has not seen "11001001," the episode is extra confusing, especially in the critical moment of epiphany Riker has.

But for fans, this is a fun episode, even to rewatch. While the first viewing is easily a great distraction of spectacle, repeated viewings reveal the episode as a political thriller that works quite well. Either way, despite the twist at the end type story, it's easy to come back to this episode and enjoy it. And it does have nice costumes. That's worth mentioning.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode or DVD set reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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