WARNING: The following post contains spoiler infomation about this week's TNG episode, "Future Imperfect", so if you don't want to be spoiled...
...then duck while you still can.
Letdown city. This show had a lot of promise, but wasted much of it. I'll go into detail, after my usual synopsis. (And for those of you planning to jump ahead, the synop is 57 lines long this time.) Anyway:
Riker's birthday party is interrupted when he has to lead an away team down to Alfa Onias 3. He, Worf, and Geordi find nothing of consequence, but a sudden gas buildup knocks Riker out before beam-up. He revives in sickbay, where a strangely altered Bev tells him that sixteen years have passed, and he is now CAPTAIN of the Enterprise. (Apparently, he picked up a disease on the planet which only recently became active, and caused the memory loss, which may or may not be permanent.)
Riker encounters one surprise after another. First, on the bridge, he sees Geordi, VISORless; Worf, now a full Commander, sitting at Ops; Data, in red, as first officer; and a Ferengi helmsman. Suddenly, a Romulan Warbird uncloaks-- Riker instinctively orders red alert, then rescinds it after Data tells him that this ship, the Deseus, was expected. It hails them--revealing on board ADMIRAL Picard with his aide, Deanna Troi.
Before long, they beam on board, and tell Will that his amnesia couldn't have happened at a worse time--a treaty with the Romulans is imminent, and due to his past actions, Will's the chief spokesman. Will insists he cannot continue the negotiations, but Picard tells him that, ready or not, he's needed. Deanna takes Will to his quarters, where he finds another surprise--a teenage son named Jean-Luc. (He finds out from Deanna that Jean-Luc's mother was killed 2 years ago in a shuttle accident, and was ship's counselor after Deanna left.) He doesn't remember Jean-Luc at all, but he soon starts to warm to the boy.
The Romulan ambassador beams on board--and Riker is not at all pleased to discover it's Commander Tomalak, an old enemy. Still, everyone else trusts him, and Riker's main fear--that they're revealing the location of Outpost 23-- is discounted, as the outpost hasn't been strategically important for years.
Then, Bev calls--Jean-Luc's been injured. After seeing him in sickbay, Riker leaves with him, and they talk about losing old memories and building new ones. Riker resolves to always be there for Jean-Luc, the way his father wasn't there for him. In his quarters, however, when he manages to call up a picture of his wife, he sees that it was _Minuet_--and he suddenly becomes very grim.
On the bridge, he catches everyone in inconsistencies. Geordi couldn't possibly be as incompetent as he's been; Worf can't explain his scar; Data can't zip through calculations, and then uses a contraction. He demands that the charade end--and Tomalak nods, the "Enterprise" vanishes, and Riker finds himself in a Romulan holodeck.
Tomalak claims that their neural scanners helped them make such a good mock-up, but is astonished to discover that Minuet, whom Riker harbors such strong feelings for, was only a holodeck creation herself. He demands the location of Outpost 23, and throws Riker in a cell with Ethan, a boy who "Jean-Luc" was modeled after.
Riker and Ethan (who claims to have been taken from a nearby research station on a planet Riker thought was deserted) join forces, and manage to escape from their cell. Ethan leads Riker to a forgotten storeroom, but there slips himself when he says that only "Ambassador" Tomalak can activate the Romulan communications. Riker deduces that this scene is fake as well, and refuses to play the game any more. The Romulans dissolve, and Ethan tells him that he was left there by his mother when his planet was invaded so that he'd be safe from his enemies. The neural scanners let him enact anything he wants, and he took Riker because he wanted to see someone real. Riker, touched, takes Ethan (now revealed as a vaguely insectlike alien named Barash) with him when he leaves.
Okay, now. On with the commentary:
This episode invites two obvious comparisons--one with "Yesterday's Enterprise" as an alternate-universe/sets-and-costumes-redressing story, and one with the TOS novel _Time Trap_, where Kirk wakes up 100 years later and finds that the Federation and the Klingons are now at peace. This show has more in common with the former than the latter. This is NOT a good thing.
First, some rather sweeping gripes. First of all, it's almost established FACT that the biggest cop-out ending of all is "it was all an illusion". It gives one leeway to do anything--'cos after all, it's not REAL, right? Now, the illusion gambit can be enjoyable when used properly--but here, it wasn't used right at all. Big disappointment.
Second, there was an astonishing lack of insight about Jean-Luc/Ethan/Barash, and I think bringing him up (thus suggesting we may see him again? No thanks) was a mistake. We have no indication as to the REAL reason he did what he did; since he showed very little compunction about placing Riker in false scenarios earlier, why should we/Riker believe he's telling the truth now? I certainly wouldn't have, and wouldn't have brought him on board without a little proof of good faith. Bad, bad move--and it unfortunately made JL/E/B one of the least-motivated characters in Trek history, I think.
Now, for some thoughts on the redressing. Some were quite interesting and well done--for example, the rank insignia was now a set of horizontal bars across the communicator insignia rather than the old pips-on-the-shoulder routine, and it looked nice. However, I thought that, with a few exceptions, they didn't do a good job showing how much time had "passed". For example:
--It looked to me like they didn't do much more with Bev and Deanna than change hairstyles. Deanna had a tinge of grey in her hair, but little more--and I would guess there'd be more than that in aging from (as a rough guess) 30 to 45. And Bev had virtually no indications of all of the sixteen-year-gap.
--Worf also looked virtually unchanged. Come on--it's been sixteen years, and the only evidence is a SCAR?
--More importantly, I find it EXTREMELY implausible that nearly everyone would have stayed on board--and so close to their earlier ranks, too. Worf's promotion up to full Commander is fine, but I find it hard to believe that GEORDI's only gone up one grade in sixteen years, considering how quickly he shot up over the last three. Data's fine--he may not think he's ready for command yet. But I really don't think they'd all still be together--regardless of how much they love the ship, that's a long time to be on one mission.
Okay...some other thoughts.
It's tough to say much about characterization for a show like this, because one can always say "well, Ethan just didn't get the characters exactly right". However, I don't buy that. Riker told "Tomalak" that every detail of the Enterprise was recreated PERFECTLY, including the people (at least up until the end, assumedly)--and if there were problems I spotted, he should have, too. That said, here goes.
Some of the characters weren't bad. I liked Picard as an Admiral--and Stewart happens to look good in a white beard, too. Come to think of it, I guess all the Enterprise regulars were "normal". In other words, they weren't thrilling, but they were consistent--and that was the point. (One thing, though--Bev tells Riker that she'll leave some of the explanations to "the Admiral"--not to Jean-Luc. That seems awfully distant for someone who's been dear friends with Picard for, by this time, decades.) Riker was pretty good, too, I thought, particularly at the beginning, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The one objection I had was to Tomalak, and that one, unfortunately, I really think I *can* say that it was Ethan's fault. He was drawing these people out of Riker's mind, and Riker's limited contact with Tomalak may have affected how accurate the reproduction was.
Now, the show wasn't all bad. The window-dressing was for the most part pretty interesting, and the "future" parts of the show definitely had me intrigued. Most of the scenes with Riker and "Jean-Luc" (NOT "Ethan" or Barash) were reasonably good, and there were some nice references back to earlier shows (for example, the trombone's reappearance, and "Jean-Luc" injuring himself in a game of Parrises Squares--gee, did the writers of this one just watch "11001001" or what?). In addition, I liked the very beginning of the show, with Riker's birthday party, quite a bit. (There were some classic lines in it, but I'll save them for you or my .sig.)
One other thing which I DID like--despite the fact that they went with the illusion ending, they at least didn't make it an actual Romulan illusion, which they seemed to be telegraphing a mile away. That would have smelled even MORE like _Time Trap_, and I wouldn't have enjoyed it a bit. This much was a mild surprise.
However, it really didn't live up to its promise. I think that the production team decided that they wanted to do another "Yesterday's Enterprise", and so tried something like this. This isn't it, folks.
So, to sum up: Nice window-dressing, and a fairly decent first half--but it fails miserably at the end, unfortunately taking much of the show down with it. The numbers read:
Plot: 4. The entire plot, basically, was Riker taking time to notice the inconsistencies. Bo-ring.
Plot Handling: 5. Adequate for what they had to work with, I suppose, but a better director could have done so much more...
Characterization: 7. A fairly good Riker, and a competent everyone else, but not so good on Ethan.
Technical: 10. Nice window-dressing, and a lovely close-up of the transporter beam trying to latch onto Riker and failing.
TOTAL: 6.5. Could've been worse, but could have stood MUCH improvement. Nothing to write home about.
Picard and Wes are trapped on a desert planet, and Wes can only save Picard by mastering the spice melange...no, wait, that can't be right...:-)
Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
"Some things improve with age--maybe your trumpet playing will be one of them."
--D. Troi, at Riker's birthday party.
Copyright 1990, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...