Monday, August 1, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Future Imperfect

The Next Generation, Season 4
Airdate: November 12, 1990
81 of 176 produced
81 of 176 aired


After his birthday party in Ten Forward is interrupted by a call from the bridge to form an away team, Riker finds himself waking up in sickbay. But the world goes topsy-turvy when Doctor Crusher refers to Riker as "Captain," and he finds both himself and the world around him having undergone 16 years worth of changes. Can the story of his lost time possibly be true?

Riker wakes up in a strange bed. Not again!

Matthew: I really liked the teaser for this episode. You can see why the producers stopped the writers of this episode after the first sentence of their pitch. Beginning with Riker's birthday party, we get a fun scene showing his relationships to the rest of the crew. But then, we get the twist of the month when, after the away mission, Riker wakes up as Captain of the Enterprise, being told by Dr. Crusher that he has just forgotten the last 16 years. Exciting! The question for reviewing the episode becomes - how well is this promise delivered upon?

Kevin: I particularly enjoyed him playing the trombone and not perfectly. It both references a previous statement on his interest, and it's nice to see someone have an interest at which they are not a virtuoso. It really bothers me when a characters professed lifelong interest and area of semi-pro expertise changes every week to fit the episode (see: Chakotay). It's also bothers me when everyone is a prodigy at their hobby. It makes it more credible that it's a hobby if he's competent but not perfect.

Matthew: In a way, an "alternate future" story like this presents a real challenge for a writing team. Do you spend a lot of time developing characters in interesting ways prohibited by episodic storytelling, or do you spend the time resolving the central plot question - how did this happen? In the end, I kind of wish they had done more of the former. The scenes with "Jean-Luc" were really good, and stronger parallels between that relationship and Riker's relationship with his own father could have really shown us growth in Riker's character. The same goes for his relationship with Troi. We really could have seen some growth - he could have realized how much he really wanted her, and then professed his love for real-Troi later. Oh, well.

Kevin: There is the one mention of Riker's father in the turbolift ride, which is a nice nod to continuity, but it could have been worked in as a theme. As it stands, I was largely okay with the amount of exploration we got. If they had any more, I think they would have had to jettison the plot-within-a-plot element and have one level of fantasy before the reveal. Though, given the somewhat underdevelopment that Romulan plot got, it would have been for the best. The Minuet scene is another great example of how continuity can be honored without requiring a PhD in Star Trek to casually watch an episode. I don't think I had seen 11001001 when I first saw this, but I was still able to follow along. The woman wasn't real, he just said so. There. Plot device explained. The Troi stuff was great too. I actually would have liked them to take it farther. Have fake-Troi say she left because she couldn't handle the will they/won't they. Fake Troi could have even made overtures to restarting a relationship, tempting Riker to stay in the fantasy, but again, there might not have been room for that.

Matthew: The mystery element of this plot is fun. Of course, we the viewer know this can't be true. It would be an incredibly impressive twist if it were - and I mean in-credible literally. So we get toyed with by various red herrings. Why are certain things just a bit off? Is it the Romulans? I absolutely LOVE the use of Minuet as Riker's tip-off. His scene telling faux-Picard to "Shut up! As in close your mouth and stop talking" is both tense and hilarious. Then we get the questionable Romulan outpost story, which gives us a chance to see Tomalak again. Whatever the disappointments of the plot as a story, these scenes are undeniably fun. Geordi sans VISOR, the Ferengi ensign, Admiral Picard, the ship with racing stripes, Parrises Squares, it's all just really fun stuff.

Kevin: One of my favorite lines is Riker to Geordi, "You are incapable of that level of incompetence." It's actually a very sweet compliment. Like Crusher's fantasy world in Remember Me, we still get these lovely comments on their real relationships. I was not a big fan of the Romulan half of the episode. Tomalak himself was great, sure, but the plot just doesn't have the time to develop, and it never feels real, so it never has tension. Like I said, maybe it would have been better to have only one fantasy layer the whole way through.

Matthew: So as a sci-fi plot, we get a somewhat well-worn, but still entertaining "what if you had a fantasy machine?" story. Barash was a sympathetic character, but I would have liked this aspect of the story to have had a stronger edge. Perhaps Barash could have asked Riker to flip some switch that would alter his brain so that he had no idea he was living in a simulation. Could Riker fulfill this request? Instead, we get a vaguely unsatsifying (and dangling) ending, in which Riker liberates Barash from his captivity. What about the enemies that had killed Barash's family? Where does Barash go? Does Riker ever see him again? Does he join Starfleet? WHAT?

Kevin: It would have been nice if Barash's people could have been worked into later Romulan plots. We have Redemption and Unification coming in the next season and a half, and a line or two about the Romulan conquest of his people would have been neat.


Matthew: This is a very Frakes-heavy episode, no doubt about it. He again displays his capability of carrying an episode. We identify with his disorientation and his anger, but we also get drawn into his emotional struggles and growth in his new surroundings. Frakes' scenes with his "son," played by Chris Demetral, were really good. He really radiated warmth and paternal love. Some of their scenes were genuinely touching, especially given the character's context with his own dad.

Kevin: Agreed. In both the "Jean-Luc" and "Ethan" scenes, Riker does a good job showing concern. I think Demetral did a good job generally. Child actors are always a bit hit or miss, but particularly in his Jean-Luc scenes, he played as credible teenager in the middle of a crisis trying to handle everything as best he can.

Matthew: Apparently Andreas Katsulas was not pleased with his performance as Tomalak, claiming that the character's physicality eluded him, after previously only appearing as a face on a screen. Frankly, this sounds like humble actor BS. He was great!

Kevin: I can kind of see his point generally, as being a menacing larger than life character has a certain appeal, one that appearing as a whole person deflates a little, but yeah, Andreas Katsulas was a really good actor. He was definitely in the class that could deliver the sci-fi dialogue with energy and gravity. I'm sure I've directed our readers to Babylon 5 to see him as G'Kar more than once, but you totally should. Some heavy handedness of the scripts aside, he's a joy to watch.

Matthew: As far as extras go, we are introduced to Patty Yasutake as an unnamed Nurse Ogawa. I'm so glad they brought her back after her turn here. She has such a warm and "real" presence in the role. The extra on the bridge delivered the shit out of that line about radiation anomalies. He was not asked back, however, joining the likes of Leland T. Lynch in bit part oblivion.

Kevin: More than any other series, TNG really does a good job of bringing back guest actors (unless your name rhymes with Schmuzie Schmlakson), like Ensigns Raeger or Allenby at the helm, or Ogawa in sickbay. She's one of my favorite "lower deck" characters, not just in the episode Lower Decks. Particularly in episodes like "Suspicions," her friendship with Dr. Crusher shines through, and it's really sweet and helps propel an episode.

Production Values

Matthew: There are all kinds of nice touches in the set design, as many or perhaps more than "Yesterday's Enterprise." The alternate props for the ready room, showing Riker's ownership of the space. The racing stripes, new status displays, and the uniform rank insignia were also nice. It looks as though junior grades are indicated with silver instead of gold bars - perhaps a bit confusing on quick glance. The admiral's uniform was nice, but I wish his combadge insignia had either had five stripes or an altogether different design. 

Kevin: I did like Picard's uniform, but the goatee was a poor choice. It almost telegraphs how wrong things are. He should have stroked it menacingly. I loved the racing stripe details. Also Geordi without his VISOR was neat. I like when they find ways to let actors out of makeup or props in a way that serves the story. You can't but imagine it was fun for the actor.

Matthew: The "age" makeup was no where near as impressive as some in the TOS or TNG. Everyone just had a little gray streak, which seemed unrealistic. The pulled back hair (with chopstick) on Crusher did effectively age her character, though. At last, we get to see Troi in uniform! She wears it well.

Kevin: Yeah, the skunk stripes were doing no one any favors. I thought Troi looked closest to credibly aged; her hair was just not working for me. I kind of loved the insanity of Crusher's hair. Like, does she wake up an hour early to make that happen? It's definitely an impact look. I also liked that they gave Jean-Luc the Younger an actual Parrises Squares uniform like Tasha and Worf's. It was a nice touch.

Matthew: The set designs were nice, especially those on the "Romulan Base." Their holodeck was really cool looking. There were all kinds of Romulan language signs which looked really neat. The base used the round corridor from Star Trek V. The hidden tunnels looked realistic. The matte integrated with the "Planet Hell" stage was at leats average, and maybe a bit better than average. Barash in his alien getup was pretty cliche (very X-Files), but not bad.

Kevin: Just once, when they meet a grey, almond eyed, wispy fingered alien, I want someone to go "Holy shit! That was you guys!" or something, just to hang a lantern on how obvious it is. I liked the implied size of the Romulan base, and I agree the holodeck was cool. I thought the transition work in the first scene to the holodeck looked a little off, but that's a small complaint. 


Matthew: The acting and the production values were both solidly above average here. I am always entertained by this episode. So why do I hesitate to give it a 4? As stated in my comments on Writing, it seems to lack ambition in some critical areas. But in the end, I just can't deny its entertainment value. It seems a cut above the sort of mildly entertaining, average "3" episode. So I give it a grudging 4.

Kevin: I was genuinely entertained by the episode, but I am still going to go with the 3. The Riker-as-father plot doesn't get the space to breathe, and the Romulan invasion plot doesn't get enough development to truly threatening or tense. This is still by no means a "bad" episode, I just don't think it quite rises to a 4. That makes for a total 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment