It turns out I was right to hate this episode when I was a teenager, but for less sexist reasons.
If you’ve read my archives, you know I had some feelings about “Unity” when I was fifteen. Specifically:
Like. Here I am, fifteen-years-old, subliminating an unhealthy amount of feelings into my Janeway/Chakotay shipping, high off the ANGST and NEAR DEATH and ARM TOUCHING of “Coda” — and then along comes this dumb Borg slut, seducing
myJaneway’s man with her soft voice and pretty blonde hair. What a whore! What a bimbo!
Now, take those feelings, add a year of teenage angst and ramp the internalised misogyny up to eleven. That’s how I felt about “Unforgettable”.
I went on in my “Unity” post to say:
Further confessions: watching now, mumblety decades later, I find that I still have … issues with the way Riley’s femininity is presented. And I genuinely don’t know if they’re sincere, or if this is a lingering trace of my adolescent rage.
But part of my problem with Riley Frazier is that, in many ways, she’s presented as a love interest — and therefore feminine — first, and a character second.
And I think these hold for “Unforgettable” — except that now I know the writing is sexist, and while I retract every single mean thing I said about Virginia Madsen’s acting back in the day, I think this is a really terrible episode.
And not just because Chakotay cheats on Janeway when they’ve been practically married lately.
A beginning is a very delicate time
That heading isn’t really pertinent to anything, I just wanted to demonstrate that I have a greater familiarity with Virginia Madsen’s oeuvre than I did in the past.
“It’s an ill-fated love story”
So said director Andrew G. Robinson. I assume the “G” stands for “Garak”, for it is he, but that’s just a nice bit of trivia. What matters here is that everyone here thinks they’re telling a sweet love story where Chakotay falls in love with an alien he won’t remember, and no one notices she’s a terrible person (and so is Chakotay).
Kellin’s people are basically the Silence from Doctor Who, but sexier and less overtly creepy. After a few hours outside of their company, no alien can remember they exist. (Something something pheromones.) And, because biological determinism, their culture is so secretive that their technology is also undetectable, they deploy viruses which wipe computer records of their existence, and they do not allow citizens to leave.
All Tracers Are Bastards
The Tracers have the job of capturing would-be escapees, using technology to wipe their memory of the outside world and gaslight them into thinking they’d rather be home. This is Kellin’s job, and she infiltrates Voyager in search of an escapee. But she’s caught (which is embarrassing), and ends up persuading the crew — in the person of Chakotay — to … help her capture this dude who clearly does not want to go home?
But this is all flashback — as the episode opens, Kellin herself is trying to escape. She has thrown away her life and career because she is “in love” with Chakotay, and now the Tracers are pursuing her.
So there’s a massive disconnect here — that Kellin was once a Tracer, and Chakotay and his colleagues were totally on their side, but now the Tracers are the villains. And this is never, ever addressed.
We don’t even get a hint that Kellin’s experience on Voyager led her to reconsider her society’s rules — her sole reason for leaving is that she loves Chakotay, and she’s gambling that he’ll come to fall in love with her again.
This is why I considered her such a weak character when I was a teen — that she throws her life away for a man she knew for a few weeks. And honestly? In the cold, hard light of 2022, it seems even worse — she throws her life away for a man she knew for a few weeks, and doesn’t even stop to reconsider the ethics of that life. She’s not enough of a character to get an arc, however tragic. She’s a love interest-shaped object for Chakotay.
Another disconnect: the dialogue tells us that Kellin is forthright, assertive, maybe even aggressive. None of this is conveyed on screen — in fact, she’s passive-aggressive and manipulative. In my youth I blamed Virginia Madsen; at this stage, I blame the writing, directing and also the 1990s in general and Rick Berman specifically.
This was only the second time I’ve watched “Unforgettable”, and I had forgotten how it ended — and for a long time, I kept waiting for the twist that Kellin was playing everyone. I even had a rant prepared about how, once again, Voyager treats asylum seekers as inherently untrustworthy!
But no. This was just a bad episode which didn’t understand the story it was telling.
The B plot also isn’t great
Inasmuch as there’s a B plot at all, it’s about how Harry cannot work with Seven because he’s attracted to her, and by the end of the episode, he’s acting like she’s the one with the problem.
Now, you know I’m a big Harry fan, but this is a bad look. Once again, I can’t help but feel, it’s the Rick Berman of it all.
Obviously I take back everything I said about blonde bimbos in 1998, but kellin has bad hair
It’s not the colour. It’s the perm. It looks like an escapee from 1990.
HOWEVER, it also highlights that, in appearance and manner, Virginia Madsen was a shoe-in to play Kes’s mother (or an older Kes) and it is a real shame that never happened.
- The highlights of this episode are Tuvok (making jokes at Neelix’s expense) and Neelix (saying wise things about love, which actually makes sense given how long he was with Kes, he knows how improbable some relationships are)
- Roxann Dawson was on maternity leave, so no B’Elanna, but it’s weird that we have Tom rather than Harry or Seven stepping in as the Main Cast Engineer
- Chakotay wants everything “in a nutshell”, a trait which has never once come up before
- Janeway is barely in this episode, I assume because she’s replicated herself a gin and tonic and sat back to watch yet another Chakotay Romance Disaster
- seriously why does he keep dating fascists
This is a bad episode. It’s not as horrifying as “Retrospect” or as totally character-destroying as “Vis a Vis”, but it’s bad. One gaslighting machine out of five.