Star Trek: Voyager (Season 3, Episode 6)
Forced relocation. Ethnic and cultural genocide. Historical cover-ups.
There’s a lot of super dark and horrific ideas lurking around the edges of “Remember.” What initially starts as a tale of steamy, young passion unfolds into a nightmare of atrocities in which B’Elanna Torres finds herself ensconced, in one of Star Trek: Voyager‘s most unsettling, prescient, and underrated episodes.
“Remember” is effective because of the way its themes sneak up on us and how its initial sexiness performs a bit of misdirection about what kind of story it’s going to be. Trek‘s track record with depicting romance and sex is very uneven, but this episode is pleasantly surprising in that it presents some nicely done hot action that foregrounds a very dark, larger story.
On its surface, the plot recalls some previous storylines, namely the telepathic passengers on the ship that can beam thoughts/scenarios into others’ minds (The Next Generation’s “Violations”). Fortunately, “Remember” tells a unique story that stands on its own. In this episode the seemingly friendly Enarans are being ferried home aboard Voyager. They have the ability to transfer memories, experiences, and even talents (temporarily) to people.
In the cold open, Torres is sleeping in her not-Voyager quarters when she hears a rapping at her window. She races to let a young hot Enaran stud in and they… get down to business. SEX business. It’s a dream, and Torres finds herself being woken up by a concerned Chakotay since she’s 20 minutes late for her shift. She confides in him about these crazy hot vivid dreams she’s having.
(It would be nice if Torres had a female friend to talk about this to; Chakotay is her closest friend on the ship sure, but it’s triply weird considering that a) he’s a dude, b) her commanding officer, and c) someone that she has a latent attraction to – a plot point that was introduced once and never mentioned again. But anyway.)
The dreams continue, and it quickly becomes apparent to Torres that she’s living through an actual storyline rather than simply random thoughts. In her dreams, she’s a bright young student with a high ranking father Jareth (character actor Bruce Davison, playing yet another slimy weasel). She’s having a torrid but forbidden love affair with a young man named Dathan. Her dad gives her a stern talking to about not associating with such a lithe and handsome ruffian. It’s pretty standard romance stuff, seemingly. After he leaves, said ruffian pops out of Torres’ closet and they start going at it, only for him to suddenly appear horrifically burnt all over his body. Not hot.
Torres continues to go about her waking business, but ends up collapsing in Engineering with another chapter of her dream/visions. This time she and her graduating class are accepting awards from her father, who makes references to not giving in to people who who wish to hold back their technological progress, vis a vis interstellar travel. Afterwards her secret boyfriend waits for her in the shadows where no one can see him. He wishes he could embrace her, and she suggests that he show her what he wants to do to her… telepathically. He moves in behind her (as Enarans do when engaging telepathically)… and does.
It’s honestly pretty hot and done competently, which we rarely get in Star Trek. On its surface, it may seem like empty salaciousness, but from a story perspective the steaminess helps to quickly provide some emotional stakes to the foregrounding story and efficiently establish the strong, passionate connection between the two young lovers. It’s a highly emotional episode that’s all over the map feelings-wise, and the dangerous excitement of young love (with some Romeo and Juliet vibes) foreshadows something much darker.
Torres awakens in sickbay, where the Doctor confirms that she’s experiencing implanted memories via telepathy, not dreams. He gives her a doohickey that will suppress any further memories from being forcibly uploaded to her brain. They talk to the Enaran leader Jor Brel, who dissuades them from the notion that these are specific memories from someone and tries to claim they’re simply stray fragments from everyone that Torres’ brain is reassembling into a narrative. He seems sincere and apologetic for the trouble, but it’s obviously bullshit.
Back in her quarters, despite the risk of damage to her brain, Torres can’t resist her curiosity, pulls off the doohickey, and is overcome with another vision. The tenor of the story starts to shift, as Torres talks with her father about the resettlement of the so-called “Regressives.” Turns out these were the people her dad was not-so-kindly talking about in his speech, and her young BF Dathan? Regressive, of course. Torres is having doubts about resettling these people, but her father reassures her it’s for their own good. Apparently they don’t like to use modern technology or engage in the same diligent sanitation polite society does, so the government is placing them somewhere that they will be better off in.
Oof. The script is smart and subtle, but the ideas behind them tell an ugly story that has been unfortunately repeated many times with indigenous peoples all over the world and throughout history. Jareth’s claims about the Regressives being unclean is hauntingly accurate to the language used by fascists and totalitarians to describe hated ethnic minorities and justify their extermination. Interestingly, the glimpses of Regressives that we get in the episode do not depict them as looking any different than the rest of the Enarans. They dress a little hippy-ish, but that’s about it.
Torres finds herself assisting her father in processing the lines of Regressives headed off to their new colony, one of whom is very anxious about where they’re going. Dathan’s name is called, but he’s not there. Her father wonders if she warned him, and she realizes he put his name on the resettlement list to get rid of him. Suddenly, a panicked Regressive bursts through and accidentally hits Torres in the face.
She wakes up, and now realizes who has been feeding her these memories – an old woman, Jora, from the beginning of the episode who has a facial scar right where Torres got hit (it’s a smart plot detail that the script doesn’t call any attention to, trusting us to make the connection). Torres rushes to Jora’s quarters, where she is laying on the ground, near death. She wants to give Torres the rest of the memories because as an outsider, she won’t deny the truth of what happened.
More memories. Now at home again, Torres is sitting in her room when Dathan taps at her window. He’s sweaty and panicked this time, telling her that him and a group of his people are leaving tonight to avoid resettlement. He begs Torres to come with him, and tells her how none of his fellow Regressives who were resettled have never been heard from again. Thousands of them have been removed already and there are rumors the transports don’t go anywhere – they just vaporize the passengers.
Her father knocks on the door and Dathan hides in her closet. He seems to know about these rumors and tries to dissuade his daughter from them. Do you really think your family and friends could do something so horrible? Fake news. He then undermines her relationship with Dathan by lying about him. Torres breaks down, believing what her dad is feeding her, and signals that her boyfriend is hiding in the closet. Dawson does some great acting in the episode, especially in this scene as she communicates her shifting loyalty without any words.
Jareth takes him into custody, and next thing we know, it’s public execution time. Dathan and some other Regressives are strung up in the town square as Jareth stirs the crown into a frothy rage (the black leather tunic he’s been wearing in the episode suddenly becomes thematically significant as he calls for the murder of these marginalized people). Torres is unable to meet Dathan’s gaze, but as he is burned alive, she begins to chant triumphantly for their deaths. It’s horrific.
The coda to the story is a much quieter kind of horriffic, as Torres (now in a black tunic herself) later tutors some young children. One of them is curious about the now-gone Regressives. Supposedly they couldn’t take care of themselves because of their backwards ways, fighting amongst themselves and spreading disease until they all died. She teaches the kids never to be stubborn or backward like they were.
As an American, it’s a story that hits hard. Ethnic genocide is an ugly ingredient in the recipe of our nation, and unfortunately something that we just seem to keep going back for seconds, thirds, fourths… The awful atrocities committed against Native Americans, Black Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants – rounding them up for any number of shitty reasons we can come up with for the purposes of getting rid of them and/or punishing them for existing. It’s a story still being written today as we’re dealing with the aftermath of four years of intolerable cruelty and a sickening march towards fascism. Filthy, unclean, violent. Not bringing their best. Different words, but it’s always the same story.
Torres wakes up. She now has the entire story and Jora is dead, having used the last of her strength to tell it. Torres storms down to the mess hall where the Enaran going away party is and angrily accuses them all of covering up their atrocities (and killing Jora to accomplish it). Jor Brel once again denies it all. One of the smartest things about the episode is that it doesn’t give us any indication that he’s purposefully covering it up, and the actor doesn’t betray any nefarious leanings. He most certainly is obscuring the truth, either purposefully or indirectly, but there aren’t any definitive answers. Only questions. As much info and experience as Torres has gotten, it’s still only a sliver of the entire picture – one we’ll never know.
Similarly, the Doctor can’t find any evidence of foul play in Jora’s death. Janeway, while sympathetic to what Torres has experienced, states that they don’t have the authority or ability to hold the Enarans responsible for any atrocities they may have committed, plus it’s time for Voyager to get moving. Without any recourse Torres feels frustrated and helpless, but Janeway slyly suggests she maybe talk to the Enarans that are still packing up their stuff…
Torres finds her Enaran friend Jessen, whom she alienated with her accusations of genocide. However, after an emotional plea, she convinces Jessen to at least investigate and ask some questions. She uses her telepathic abilities to absorb Torres’ memories passed from Jora, and Jessen finds herself in her bedroom at night where she hears a tapping on the window. Dathan enters and they passionately kiss…
Star Trek – and science fiction in general – is often at its most powerful when it’s shining a light on social and historical issues. As the oft-quoted adage tells us, history not learned from is history repeated. The memorable and haunting thing about “Remember” is that it provides an interpersonal, character-based framework to examine a very large and horrifying issue. Our puny human brains aren’t really built for numbers – statistics about atrocities tell some of the tale, but it’s the personal stakes that really flesh out the story in terms we can understand. In comprehending history and fiction, the cardinal rule applies: what is most paramount is who all this stuff is happening to.
The heart of the story is of an old woman filled with regret – over her acceptance of fascism, celebrating murder, and betrayal of her lover. The pain of it is so strong that she sacrifices her life to tell that story to another in the hopes that it could possibly prevent it from happening again. We’ve seen other heroic characters in Trek that have sacrificed their lives for the potential of understanding and connection. Jora’s complicity with the atrocities of her era can’t be completely brushed aside because of a final noble gesture, but we all share some measure of responsibility when we remain silent in the face of real life horror happening around us. It’s an incredibly painful and complicated issue that this episode tackles seamlessly and with appropriately raw emotion. As Torres learns, remembering is a curse as well as a duty we all have.
- Chakotay’s face when Torres is describing her sex dream to him. I can’t.