It’s time for the episode that co-writer Bryan Fuller calls “fucked up and tone deaf”.
(Content warning: rape.)
I was going to open this post by remarking that, in “Retrospect”‘s defence, it wasn’t intentionally written as a treatise on how women shouldn’t be believed when they accuse men of assault.
I was going to put it in its intended context of the McMartin preschool trial and the fad for therapists to uncover “repressed memories” of assaults which never happened. And I was going to point out that, despite that intent, it was telling that writers Lisa Klink and Bryan Fuller also compared it to a very special episode about date rape. I was going to point out all the ways this story fails as a procedural, how it’s framed as a “he said/she said” situation where the accused is exonerated on the basis of flimsy evidence and the witnesses are never traced — that Detective Tuvok, usually the first to mind meld with any accused miscreant, is acting more like a small town cop reluctantly investigating the local football hero, but not too hard because we all know that boy has a bright future ahead of him.
That was my plan. I had a whole rant lined up, and a lot of bitter jokes.
Then I listened to this episode of Treksperts Briefing Room, where Fuller and Klink discuss “Retrospect”. And they do indeed talk about the Satanic Panic, and misguided or unethical therapists creating false memories in vulnerable patients.
But then, quite early on, Fuller says — and I’m going by my handwritten notes, I haven’t made a transcript — that when Jeri Taylor was in the writers room, there was a lot of high-minded discussion of allegory, and how do we make this a Star Trek story, and all of that.
And when she and Klink — the only women involved at this level — were absent, it was, “These bitches who lie about being sexually assaulted or inappropriately touched.”
Here’s a bit I did transcribe:
“[There were] executive producers, in particular, who would talk about these women needing comeuppance for their lies.”
Fuller talks about there being two competing agendas at play: the earnest desire to write a story about false memories, the complexity of trauma, and accusations that cannot be proven; and the misogynistic desire to invalidate women’s accusations, and indeed, push the idea that to believe a woman’s claims is at best foolish and at worst dangerous.
Fuller did most of the talking; Klink merely notes that she is unsurprised to learn any of this. Fuller discusses his discomfort at being included in the misogynistic conversations. (No one asks if he spoke out, but I wouldn’t blame him for keeping mum — he was a young gay man working on an overtly homophobic franchise, and very early in his career. And it was 1997. I’ve been quite negative about Fuller in these blog posts as I braced for “Retrospect”, so I just want to make it clear that I’ve totally changed my position on him and completely understand why he kept quiet.)
Fuller also makes a point that never would have occurred to me: this episode was being made roughly around the same time Terry Farrell was attempting to renegotiate her contract to let her step back from DS9, and she’s on the record as saying that a big part of the reason she wanted to reduce her involvement was Rick Berman’s sexual harassment. Fuller goes so far as to suggest that Kovin, the alien accused of attacking Seven and stealing her nanoprobes (but we all know what this is really about) was an asshole in the same way as Berman was an asshole, as if to soften the audience up for any rumours that might fly.
So, no. There’s not really any benefit of the doubt to be had here. It turns out that the story behind “Retrospect” is even uglier than what wound up on screen.
Most depressingly, the misogynistic agenda has worked on far too many fans. The comments at Keith R. A. DeCandido’s recap for Tor are often frustrating, but far worse are some of the rape myths being peddled over in the comments of Jammer’s popular review.
I often have to push back against the myth that Trekkies are any more progressive or enlightened than any other group of humans. Unfortunately, bigots turn up everywhere, and under Rick Berman’s leadership, they were actively welcomed in.
There is one single good bit in this episode
It’s when B’Elanna, resident expert on engineering punch-ups, steps in to correct Kovin’s account of Seven’s attack. She seems positively proud, which, fair.
This episode is vile. It’s not only the worst episode of Voyager, I’d file it away with “Turnabout Intruder” and “Cogenitor” as the worst episodes of Star Trek, full stop. No nanoprobes out of five. Skip it and call it self-care.