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Future Imperfect

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 19, 2008 - 9:20 PM GMT

See Also: 'Future Imperfect' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While patrolling near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Enterprise picks up energy readings on an obscure planet. Riker leads an away team, but methane gas forces them to abort the mission and disrupts the crew's transport back to the ship. When Riker awakens, he learns that 16 years have passed. Crusher tells him that he was infected on the mission with a retrovirus, which has now destroyed all memories formed after the moment he was infected. She and Troi tell Riker that he has been captain of the Enterprise for nine years and has a son. Admiral Picard comes aboard to tell Riker that despite his memory loss, the Federation needs him to conclude peace negotiations with the Romulans, who are now allies. While studying his own service record, Riker realizes that his wife "Min" is Minuet - a woman he created on the holodeck. He confronts first the crew, who are unable to answer his questions, then "Ambassador" Tomalak, who admits that Riker was taken captive during the away team mission and manipulated to force him to reveal the location of the secret Outpost 23. Of all the humans, only the boy is real - also a captive. he tells Riker. While the two humans are escaping, the boy mistakenly refers to Tomalak as an ambassador, which makes Riker realize that the boy is deceiving him. When challenged, the boy admits that the Romulans were never on the planet. The entire deception has been staged to keep Riker's attention, since the boy - in truth, a non-humanoid named Barash - is a lonely orphan protected only by the holographic scanners that created the false scenarios for Riker. Riker invites the boy to beam aboard the Enterprise with him.

Analysis: I've already confessed to my shameless crush on William T. Riker, so it should surprise no one when I admit that while I think "Future Imperfect" is a pretty bad episode, I really love it anyway. The only thing holding it together is the audience's expectations of Riker's behavior - we have to like him, and we have to believe that he's at the core and calm, happy, emotionally open, fiercely loyal person, or the entire false-future scenario comes across as preposterous.

I mean, the guy beams down to a mysterious planet, collapses in the midst of a beamout, wakes up and is told that he's lost 16 years of his life to a virus that Crusher never tries to explain adequately (nor does she try to explain why she, Worf, and LaForge have all remained on the Enterprise without a promotion, let alone what happened to Wesley or anything that might make her more convincing). He's the captain of a ship that he never has an opportunity to tour and look over. All of Riker's close associates from the Enterprise are right nearby - Picard is the admiral sent to oversee his current mission, Troi is conveniently at his side - and he has a son out of nowhere by a woman who's dead. Most people would immediately demand some time off to regroup.

But not Riker. If Picard needs him to conclude a crucial mission, then that's what Riker will try to do, even if he has his doubts about the mission's merits. If Troi says he needs to bond with a child calling him "Dad," then Riker will do his best to open up to the boy. He's wary, but he's not initially suspicious, even when the ship's computer starts giving him the runaround. It isn't until he has clear evidence of a deception that he asks LaForge why it's taking so damn long to fix the computer, or asks Data the sorts of questions that could have revealed the ruse right from the beginning. If it were any other character, I'd be saying he or she was stupid - really, if they'd written Troi this gullible, I'd find it infuriating. Yet since it's Riker, it works, because this is fundamentally who he is and how he operates; we've seen it again and again in "Hide and Q," "A Matter of Honor," "The Icarus Factor," "The Best of Both Worlds," even the terrible "Shades of Grey."

The sets and the makeup aren't at all impressive - I'd expect much bigger changes in the ship, and more signs of aging in the crew than a couple of streaks of gray hair - but like I said, "Future Imperfect" is not a great episode, just an appealing one. When Riker finally catches on, he remains true to himself even as he's getting angry. "Shut up! As in, close your mouth and stop talking!" he snaps at Picard, reacting as though he can't bear to hear lies coming out of the mouth of the captain, even though he knows full well at this point that this isn't the captain at all. He isn't just angry at having been deceived, but at having his memories and feelings used against him; he isn't nearly as irked about the use of the already-fictional Minuet in the deception as he is at Data when the android can't do calculations.

I find it amusing that he isn't embarrassed about Minuet, either, even though it's like having an intimate fantasy exposed. The compensation is how sorry he seems when he learns that he and Troi aren't together in the future. I suppose a boy missing his real mother might not betray her by creating a fictional replacement, and I don't know if the neural scanners have the sophistication to recreate a plausible adult relationship, but when Riker asks of his son, "Who's his mother?" he sure looks like he's hoping Troi will say, "I am."

In the end, when Riker realizes that the boy must be part of the deception, and then the source of the deception, he proves that he is the sort of parental figure he admitted earlier in the episode that he wasn't sure he could be. He doesn't lose his temper with the child the way he did with the false Picard and Tomalak; he just wants to know what's going on, and why, and what role this sad boy plays in it. If this were Data or Worf of LaForge or even Crusher, I'd expect more wariness before reaching out and inviting the alien to the ship. For Riker, it makes perfect sense for him to reach out his hand and welcome the strange boy aboard.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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