In the eighth episode of the fourth season of The Next Generation, I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
My brain hurts THIS EPISODE IS SO UNFAIR.
The primary tension of this episode comes from the inherent impossibility of the premise: How the hell can an episodic show like The Next Generation suddenly give us an episode that brings the show SIXTEEN YEARS INTO THE FUTURE? Even if the means by which this happened – a retrovirus laid dormant in him until it wiped out his memory a decade and a half later – allow for the show to continue unimpeded, it was still a bold and risky move. By it’s very nature, we have to wait for the other shoe to drop. How the hell are the writers going to end this? Is there another reason for this happening? Is it even real? And as the show further commits to this future timeline, we have to start wondering what the ending of this is going to be.
And throughout it all, we’re treated to a persistently surreal and upsetting narrative. I say upsetting in spite of the fact that many of the things revealed throughout “Future Imperfect” are actually pretty good. Riker is now the captain of the Enterprise; Geordi got implants to cure his blindness; the Federation has been negotiating an alliance with the Romulans, all with Riker’s expertise; and ADMIRAL Picard is now on a Romulan warship with Deanna Troi by his side.
OH, AND RIKER HAS A SON.
(What’s with this show and surprise sons lately?)
After “Remember Me,” I was already too fucked up, and then this show goes and gives me “Future Imperfect.” GODDAMN YOU.
While I certainly spent a great of time wondering where the hell this episode would go, there was a conflict independent of that. With sixteen years of his memory gone, Riker had to learn how to live in a world he did not understand. Despite that he had so much experience on a starship, this future – while seemingly perfect – was full of things he did not understand. There’s that scene early on where he panics upon seeing the Romulan warbird, only to find out that Picard and Deanna are onboard. We see this pattern over and over again, and it demonstrates how Riker’s instinct doesn’t work in this world anymore.
Well, to a point, and I’ll get to that in a second. Riker has to rethink the world and the way he relates to it. In the middle parts of “Future Imperfect,” he’s the same thorny person we’ve seen throughout the series, but that seems not to be the same guy he’s grown to be. When we witness him roughhousing with his son, it’s a far gentler Riker than we got in the early seasons of the show. He’s definitely a more patient leader, too, so when he starts lashing out at everyone? It clashes with their expectations of him. It certainly is rewarding to see him change before our eyes, to watch him treat Jean-Luc with kindness and gentleness.
And yet, I knew something was wrong.
In the video, you’ll see the exact moment when I vocalize my discomfort with “Future Imperfect.” I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with this glimpse of the future aside from one thing: the tone. There was a distinctly sappy and saccharine aspect that was pervasive throughout the episode, despite that there was a demonstrable conflict. Why? Why did everything feel so off? I worried that some bias of my own made me think this was the case, as if people didn’t deserve happy stories or something.
Y’all, watching this entire thing unravel still makes my brain melt. I recognized Min, but couldn’t recall where she’d come from, so it wasn’t until Riker started angrily questioning many of the details of this world that I was able to pick up on things my own mind probably noticed along the way. And look, if this whole episode had been a pseudo-holodeck trap set up by Tomalak, I would have been happy with all of this. But the writers go for the double twist ending and reveal that Ethan – Riker’s “son” – is behind everything. And in an instance, this episode becomes INCREDIBLY FUCKING SAD. This being – who I’ll assume is a kid – was alone for an untold number of years, with simulation technology and their own active imagination to keep them company. That’s it. So it crafted a scenario that would allow it to feel affection, specifically the parental kind, for the first time in ages.
THAT IS SO SAD, Y’ALL. So I get why Riker’s reaction to Barash is not of anger, but of compassion. No one deserves to live their life so utterly alone, so Riker invites Barash onboard the Enterprise, hopefully so that they can find somewhere new to build their own life, ideally one that’s not so solitary. It was a satisfying ending for me because it didn’t invalidate the growth that we saw in Riker; it merely changed the context. Riker gave love and kindness to someone who had not known it in a very long time, and that’s pretty damn cool.
The video for “Future Imperfect” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon!!! MANY SURPRISES ARE IN STORE FOR YOU IF YOU SUPPORT ME.
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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