A culture with a deliberate yet unspoken policy of denial about a historical genocide? Sounds pretty alien to me!
“Remember” is a damn fine piece of Star Trek. And if I sound surprised, it’s not that I don’t expect Voyager to produce a few gems — I just didn’t remember this episode being one of them. Like Tuvok, B’Elanna Torres is one of the characters I find myself appreciating more on this rewatch — but this is also a good story, plain and simple.
Repressed memories are a recurring theme in Voyager — it’s just a few weeks since “Flashback” — but the take here is different. The repression isn’t psychological, but cultural and historical. If anything, that only complicates the situation.
A generation earlier, the Enaran government wiped out an oppressed minority; now, the younger Enarans are barely aware the Regressives ever existed — and, if they are, they’re taught the Regressives destroyed themselves. An elderly woman who played a very small part in the genocide deals with her guilt by passing the memories onto B’Elanna in the form of dreams.
The memory cheats
First, let’s all agree that any discussion of my memories, and the faultiness thereof, is not intended to be a pun.
Secondly, I’m going to confess that I misremembered a lot about this ep — I had a dim recollection that it was cheesy and shallow. And, yes, it’s Star Trek and it’s a 45-minute self-contained story, so both of these things are true to an extent — but it’s also really well-executed.
For one thing, we get a deeper dive into Enaran culture than Voyager usually bothers with. We learn about their technology, their food, their predilection for hygiene. The revelation of their telepathic powers gives us one of Star Trek‘s most explicit conversations about consent, ever, and reveals that they are all for it.
We’re predisposed to like them, so there’s a real sense of betrayal as B’Elanna’s dreams advance in “plot” and reveal the genocide in their recent past — and, worse, the refusal of the leaders to acknowledge it.
Of course, “these friendly aliens are hiding a terrible secret” is one of your standard Star Trek plots — but what I particularly enjoy about “Remember” is that very little happens by accident. Characters are making choices and following through with the consequences — even, eventually, Korenna, the woman whose memories B’Elanna has been reliving.
And “Remember” manages to have a conversation about the Prime Directive without actually mentioning it: as much as Janeway agrees with B’Elanna that the Enarans are morally wrong, there’s nothing they can reasonably do to change an alien society. Which is fair! That sort of change has to come from within — and that’s what we get in the end, with Jessen overcoming her knee-jerk disbelief and experiencing Korenna’s memories herself.
It’s the sort of cautious optimism that episodes like “The Chute” forgot, and I welcome it.
Of course, humanity has a few genocides in its past as well
One of the things I like about “Remember” is that the genocide of the Regressives wasn’t conducted by space-fascists, but by the same sort of nice, friendly people as the Enarans visiting Voyager. The rhetoric which allows it isn’t being delivered in hateful speeches, but in quiet, loving conversations between father and daughter. It makes it all the more shocking when Korenna joins the chanting mob after her lover’s execution, and makes it much harder to pretend that this isn’t an allegory for American history.
I mean, the script does not go so far as to draw comparisons between the forced relocation of the Regressives and the treatment of Native Americans, but the parallels are there. (I’m going to criticise Robert Beltran’s acting heavily in seasons to come, but here’s some genuine praise: there is a look on his face as Chakotay listens to B’Elanna’s account of the Enaran’s crimes which makes me think he was recognising the similarity.)
I’m a little torn on whether the lack of overt comparison is a weakness. On the one hand, it would have been very on the nose. On the other hand, well, from everything I’ve read about conditions on Native American reservations now, failing to draw that line feels a little cowardly. I’m genuinely not sure if the episode would have been improved, and I also think it’s unreasonable to judge a 1996 script by the standards of 2020.
(Not that that’s ever stopped me before.)
Let’s talk about consent, bay-bee
It’s very cool that the Enarans are all about consensual telepathy, and frankly, certain Vulcans could stand to give the concept a go. But then there’s a bit of an elephant in the room: that Korenna’s contact with B’Elanna isn’t consensual, and with just a small tweak of the script, this could have a new variation on the whole Telepathic Rape idea that TNG kept inflicting on Troi. Korenna’s story starts out as a hot sex dream, after all.
This is why it’s important — to me, at least — that B’Elanna starts out enjoying these dreams, and rearranging her life to spend more time sleeping. The initial contact was non-consensual, and that’s a problem, but B’Elanna opts in. Again: this story is driven by people’s choices.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Korenna’s choice was ethically dubious, and I don’t think it would be handled this way today. But, as far as sexy intrusions and implanted memories go in Star Trek, this isn’t the worst case.
(At one point, I wondered why this wasn’t a Kes story — you’d think she’d be a more logical choice for telepathic confessions, right? But setting aside the fact that this episode is a showcase for Roxane Dawson and the intensity of her acting, I don’t think Kes would be as receptive to these overtures as B’Elanna.)
Was there anything I didn’t love?
Aside from the issues I’ve just outlined above, my criticisms are on the level of nitpicks: I don’t love the costuming, and I think they missed an opportunity to put Dawson in Enaran make-up. The Voyager crew’s civilian outfits are all fairly terrible — Janeway and Tuvok look like they wandered into a party wearing pyjamas — and unflattering.
And I’m also like, why do the Regressives refer to themselves as such? What is their motivation for rejecting modern technology? The Regressives themselves felt quite flat compared with the mainstream Enarans, possibly because the one we spend most time with — Korenna’s secret boyfriend — is a bit dead behind the eyes.
But my biggest problem with the episode is the bit where B’Elanna starts telling Chakotay about her sex dreams. I realise that this is a universe where it’s considered appropriate to tell your colleagues that you’re getting off on reading your grandmother’s sex diaries, but it’s just so far outside the realm of acceptable workplace behaviour now — and also, because I’m a prude, beyond anything I’d share with my friends — that it’s uncomfortable.
- Harry has a flirtation with an Enaran girl, and also vouches for B’Elanna to his GF, and he’s just all around a great guy
- The lack of B-plot really let us sink deep into this story, and I appreciate that
- Everyone in the ensemble got a moment or two, and it all felt very organic and natural to the story
- Is this the first time we’ve seen Chakotay’s office? It’s weird how people on this ship work in semi-darkness — but I’m quite sure the set is just a redress of the captain’s ready room, so the low lighting was probably to make that less obvious
You know my “could this story only have been told on Voyager?” metric? This is a story which could have been told on any Trek, but I feel like centring B’Elanna makes it far less exploitative than if, say, it was about Deanna or T’Pol. Four space theremins out of five.