This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.
Remember is an allegorical piece of social commentary that is as firmly rooted in the nineties as the prison politics that underpinned The Chute. As the name implies, Remember is a story fascinated with the idea of memory and legacy. In particular, it reflects the idea of cultural memory as construct that is shared from person to person and passed down from generation to generation. Touching on themes of Holocaust denial, Remember is a very potent piece of science-fiction allegory, one that treats cultural memory as something to be cultivated and maintained.
Remember is a good illustration of what the production team is trying to do as Star Trek: Voyager enters its third season. After a disastrous (and exhausting) sophomore year, it seems like the writing staff have opted against trying to give the show its own unique voice. Instead, the plan seems to be to craft the most archetypal approach to the franchise imaginable. From this point onwards, it becomes increasingly rare for the show to do episodes unique to its setting and premise, instead telling stories that would work with most iterations of the franchise.
This approach has its limitations, of course. By the time that the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise rolls around, even the most die-hard fans have had their fill of broadly-drawn mass-produced factory-setting Star Trek. While this approach could be argued to be a waste of an interesting premise and the betrayal of the show’s original promise, Remember makes a convincing argument that an archetypal Star Trek allegory can still work on its own terms. Remember is a powerful and effective piece of commentary in the classic Star Trek tradition.
If Remember feels like an archetypal Star Trek story that could just as easily have been told using any other cast and setting, that is because the episode was originally conceived as an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to Cinefantastique, the writing staff disagreed as to whether transposing the basic plot to Voyager helped or hindered the storytelling:
“That episode was actually a Next Generation story that Brannon [Braga] and I came up with a long, long time ago, and it was going to be a Troi story,” said Joe Menosky. “Lisa [Klink] took it over and reworked it and made it a VOYAGER episode. I think, ironically enough, that it was better as a Voyager than it would have been as a TNG, and I think better as a Torres story than it would have been as a Troi story. Because in some ways, not having a ‘sensitive’ character and to be and to be thrown into this situation is a little more effective.”
Noted Klink, “[Roxann] was amazing in this episode. I think that all of our actors are very good, but in this particular instance, this one performance stands out in my mind from the whole season as just being remarkable.” Braga would have rather seen the episode done on TNG, feeling Schindler’s List and subsequent awareness of the holocaust took the edge off its story of genocide.
On a basic plotting level, it would seem that Remember would have worked better as a Troi episode; it would certainly explain how a touch-telepathic species could influence Torres’ dreams as opposed to those of any other species. There are other Next Generation tells buried within the episode, most notably the whole “ferrying foreign dignitaries” element, which was a staple of Next Generation episodes like Man of the People, Violations and Liaisons.
This is certainly a fair criticism, and it is one that could just as easily be labelled at surrounding episodes like The Chute, Warlord, Alter Ego or Rise. One of the more enduring criticisms of Voyager is to dismiss it as “Next Gen Lite”, a more cost-effective (albeit pale) imitation of a series that already had seven years on the air. This criticism would carry over to the first two seasons of Enterprise, which began to feel like a photocopy of a photocopy. The definition and character faded through the iterations. Dawn was a duller Darmok. Vanishing Point was a weaker Remember Me.
It is easy to exaggerate these claims and argue that this lack of creativity trapped the franchise in a death spiral, a nine-year cycle of imitation and repetition that saw the franchise’s audience erode and its future collapse. The truth is undoubtedly more complicated than that, with the decision to broadcast Voyager as a network (rather than a syndicated) show effectively tying the franchise’s fate to that of UPN. Even if Voyager had been phenomenal and beloved, it seems likely that the franchise would still have decline due to the mechanics of the industry.
That said, this familiarity and routine did exhaust the fanbase. Audiences who had adored The Next Generation found themselves agnostic towards Voyager and Enterprise, shows that often recycled formulas and plots without the charming ensemble to anchor them. While the decline of the franchise was largely rooted in poor business decisions, it is impossible to deny that a corresponding creative decline took place over the run of Voyager, as the franchise became increasingly set in its way and refused to evolve with the times around it.
This decision to file the serial numbers off Voyager and pitch it as the most generic form of Star Trek is easy to criticise at a conceptual level, particularly with the benefit of hindsight. However, it makes a great deal of sense in context. The second season of Voyager had tried to experiment with the show’s format and storytelling, with results that might charitably be described as disastrous. If Tattoo and Alliances and Investigations offered a glimpse of unique Voyager storytelling, it was perfectly reasonable to opt for a safer Star Trek model.
More than that, these larger discussions about the creative decline and collapse of Voyager tend to gloss over the fact that many of these formulaic episodes are actually quite good. While The Chute and The Swarm certainly have their flaws, they are functional pieces of television that hold together much better than something like Threshold or Twisted. While the show’s conservative approach to narrative meant that these episodes lacked any real sense of novelty or excitement, they tended to be professionally produced.
Remember is a case in point. It is a strong defense of the “Voyager as the most Star-Trek-y Star Trek show” aesthetic. It has a solid central plot, a good central performance, a genuine curiousity about the universe, and a strong central moral running through it. If a viewer were looking for the statistical mean of Star Trek as a franchise, rooted in popular culture’s understanding of the franchise, Remember would fit the bill perfectly. It works very well in those terms, well enough that it isn’t an issue how seven more years of this storytelling will hurt the franchise.
Remember fits quite comfortably with the theme of memory and history that runs through the third season of Voyager, a central theme that feels entirely appropriate for the thirtieth anniversary of a pop cultural juggernaut. Flashback had codified these themes, making a point to explore the franchise’s history through memory rather than literal time travel. The loos of the EMH’s memory in The Swarm was a more personal exploration of the theme. Even the return of the Ferengi in False Profits touched on the idea of the franchise’s internal memory.
As pop culture seems to move towards long-running franchises and established intellectual properties, these themes of nostalgia and memory will become more important. It is interesting to see Voyager touching on these themes in the mid-nineties, in an era before Sony offered three different cinematic takes on Spider-Man within sixteen years and before Warner Brothers offered three live-action cinematic continuities for Batman within twenty years. If anything, this recurring fascination with memory feels positively ahead of the curve.
Although it is widely accepted that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did a much better job of tying into the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary with Trials and Tribble-ations. Certainly, it could be argued that Deep Space Nine engaged with the history and philosophy of Star Trek in a more tangible way over its seven-season run. However, there is something interesting in how Voyager embraces the very idea of memory. For example, the recurring trend that begins with False Profits of Delta Quadrant societies mythologising Voyager by building narratives around it.
If nostalgia is to be the default language of popular culture (as Jurassic World and Independence Day: Resurgence would suggest), then it is worth engaging with the idea of memory and narrative on a fundamental level. Although the central metaphor of Remember has a much deeper relevance to the real world, there are elements of self-commentary buried in the episode itself. Before even engaging with the content of memory, Torres grapples with their form and function. The Enarans touch on the idea of memory.
According to Remember, memory is not something unique to an individual. It is something that can be shared and passed down. The Enarans are able to pass their memories from one person to another, to “share [their] experiences through a telepathic link.” This is a nice metaphor for the passing of knowledge from one person (or one generation) to another. This takes multiple forms; Brel uses his gift to teach Janeway to play an instrument, while Mirell uses her gift to share her culture’s history with Torres.
Remember equates memories with stories, with storytelling. Just like in Flashback, the point is made that memory is not an absolute concept. It can be distorted and suppressed. Quite pointedly, Torres observes that her dreams essentially form a serialised (rather than purely episodic) narrative. “There’s more going on than just a love affair,” she tells Chakotay. “I’m having a relationship with this man, but my father doesn’t approve, so we have to sneak around. It’s like each new dream advances the story.” Chakotay acknowledges, “It sounds like a holonovel.”
This is interesting that Torres should draw attention to this fact. The dreams are structured to build upon one another, a collection of episodes from Jora Mirell’s memory that are very clearly gathering momentum towards a horrifying climax. Unlike the memory intrusions in episodes like Violations, the scenes are not contained of themselves. Unlike the dark secret in Dark Page, this is not imagery obliquely hinting at a horrific revelation. The dreams are very clearly a single unified story that progresses in a clear and linear fashion, a single story in multiple instalments.
It feels like quite a pointed observation to make during this stretch of Voyager. Following a disastrous attempt to craft a long-form story around the Kazon during the second season, Voyager retreated from the very idea of serialisation in favour of more rigid episodic storytelling that put everything back in the box at the end of the episode. The third season of Voyager would abandon all of Michael Piller’s ambitious attempts to push the Star Trek franchise into the twenty-first century, opting for a more old-fashioned conservative approach.
The teleplay to Remember was written by Lisa Klink. Klink had joined the Voyager writing staff in the second season, but had previously worked as an intern on Deep Space Nine. In fact, Klink had got the job at Voyager on the recommendation of Ira Steven Behr, who had bought the story for Hippocratic Oath from Klink. As such, Klink had come from a show toying with serialisation to a show that had abandoned such experiments. It is no wonder that Remember closes with a scene that effectively replays the opening scene. Everything goes back to the way it was. Everything is reset.
There is something almost subversive about Remember, a show that seems to suggest that serialisation is nothing but a half-forgotten and buried memory for Voyager. In fact, most criticisms of the episodic nature of the show’s storytelling tend to gloss over its second season experiments with the storytelling style. However, even as Klink teases this idea, she slips in her own sly continuity nods beneath the radar. In particular, the episode features a small thinly-veiled allusion to Persistence of Vision, which is perhaps the most acknowledgement that show ever received.
Sleeping in, Torres wakes up to find Chakotay standing over her. When Torres confesses that she was having a sensuous dream, Chakotay idly ponders, “I don’t suppose you’ve been dreaming about anyone in particular?” Torres responds, “Nobody you know.” Given that the last time the audience explored Torres’ dreams she was fantasising about Chakotay, it is a nice subtle callback. Of course, the show would ignore that little dream. Jeri Taylor was more interested in teasing Janeway and Chakotay while setting up Torres and Paris.
Of course, while Remember touches upon the institutional memory of the larger Star Trek franchise, it also hits on broader themes of cultural memory. In particular, Remember is quite unambiguously framed as a Holocaust metaphor, to the point that it’s not surprising Brannon Braga suggested that the episode’s thunder had been somewhat undercut by the release (and success) of Schindler’s List. Torres’ dreams effectively play out as a cautionary tale about the banality of evil and the dangers of forgetting (or actively concealing) the past.
The Star Trek franchise was undeniably rooted in the Second World War, both as a piece of popular American culture that originated in the sixties and as a television show shaped and defined by creative voices who had lived through (and fought in) that particular war. The franchise returned to that conflict time and time again, spanning from The City on the Edge of Forever to Storm Front, Part II. Deep Space Nine was set in the aftermath (and later a reenactment of) the Second World War… in space!
Voyager was produced was produced half a century following the end of the Second World War.This was reflected in the scripting of Jetrel, an episode that was an obvious commentary on the dropping of the atomic bomb. The nineties was very engaged with the legacy of that conflict; 1998 would see both Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line compete for the Best Picture Oscar. The passing of five decades since the Shoah had led to discussions about preserving the memory of the atrocity for later generations.
That theme of memory and continuity runs through nineties pop culture in ways beyond the proliferation of films like Life is Beautiful and Jakob the Liar that deal directly with the memory of past horrors. To pick one massively successful example of a property dealing obliquely with Holocaust memory, The X-Files was frequently couched in imagery associated with the Holocaust (emaciated bodies, train cars, experimentation) and Chris Carter cites coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the horror as a major influence on the thematic development of the show.
Preserving the memory of the Holocaust became a priority during the nineties. The collection and curation of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale began in 1988; Laurence L. Langer would compile some of those into The Ruins of Memory in 1991. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993. Stephen Spielberg recorded survivor testimony in 1994, launching a video archive to preserve these accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust. There was a sense that memory had to be preserved.
There were pragmatic reasons for this desire to preserve the record of these atrocities. The number of Holocaust survivors was dwindling. The event was slipping from living memory, as many of the people who lived through the horror were passing away in turn. As Mary Dejevsky points out, there was also a worry that true scale of the crime might be obscured as it grew ever distant:
The descendants of Europe’s Jews, especially those now living in Israel, feel that the post-war settlement has not been completely accepted, let alone superseded; nor do they feel that the lessons of that experience have been fully learned. So long as there remain those who question the existence of the state of Israel; so long as there remain those who challenge the truth of the Nazis’ systematic attempt to destroy Europe’s Jews for no other reason than their Jewishness, they will strive to keep the memory alive – as memory, not only as history.
Nor are they wrong to do so. As courts down the ages have recognised, there is no substitute for eye-witnesses – living, breathing people who can tell it in their own words and answer questions from the curious, the sceptical and the appalled. Yet those witnesses, like the Second World War veterans at the Cenotaph, are fewer and fewer.
The Holocaust left an incredible scar. As recently as 2015, nearly three quarters of Jewish people believe that “remembering the Holocaust” is an essential part of their Jewish identity. It is an event that ran the risk of being transformed and mythologised once those who experienced it first-hand were no longer around to offer their own grounded accounts of the event.
There were other factors that made the memory of the Holocaust so vitally important during the last decade of the twentieth century. Most notably, Holocaust denial became increasingly common. Holocaust denier (and former KKK grand wizard) David Dukes had been elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989, at the same time operating a Nazi publishing company Americana Books. David Irving had always been sympathetic to the Nazis, but became a full-blown Holocaust denier following the Ernst Zundel trial in the late eighties.
When Deborah Lipstadt published Denying the Holocaust in the early nineties, she exposed the seedy roots of Holocaust denial that had gained ground in the decades since the atrocities had taken place. In one of the most high-profile libel suits of decade, David Irving sued Lipstadt for libel. Irving commenced his case in 1996, around the same time that Remember went into development. He would lose that case in 2000. The case is to be adapted into a film, suggesting even the debate over memory is itself to be mythologised.
Remember is clearly about the Holocaust, to the point that many of the stereotypes that Jareth employs against the persecuted minority evoke the accusations leveled at European Jews in the lead-up to the Shoah. He complains about their filthy ghettos, warning his daughter, “Do you realise they won’t even use radioseptics to sterilise their homes or their hands before they eat? It’s a miracle they haven’t started a plague by now.” He adds, “We’ve been tolerant for a very long time, but I think by now even they realise that they’d be better off living somewhere else.”
Despite the limited space available, Klink’s teleplay does an excellent job establishing tone and mood. The flashbacks in Remember do not begin as a Holocaust story, but are gradually revealed as such. There are lots of little unsettling details that gradually add up over the course of the episode. From the guards at the awards ceremony instructing certain minorities to “have identification ready” to Jareth’s nationalist talk about “an era of expansion and colonisation” that lies ahead. These create a subtly mounting sense of dread and familiarity.
Winrich Kolbe’s direction reinforces the allegorical nature of the story; Remember is saturated with mirror imagery, as if to remind the audience that this is not just some abstract alien story. In her dreams, Torres seems to spend a lot of time looking in her mirror. During her final conversation with Mirell, faces are obscured by a glass table. Even the opening shot of Torres lying down and facing up is juxtaposed with the shot of Dathan’s head dropping and looking down; the shots are framed to mirror one another, the faces positioned to reflect each other.
Given that Remember touches on issues of memory and narrative as they reflect the Holocaust, it makes sense that Torres is comforted with denials and obfuscation when she tries to tell her story. The Enarans never directly accuse her of lying, but instead evade and obscure. They are polite and respectful, harder to dismiss than stock racist caricatures. Even Janeway concedes “the Enarans haven’t shown any hint of subterfuge, any hidden agenda. They’ve been nothing but straight forward and honest.”
The Enarans employ the tactics of Holocaust deniers. They are careful not to make claims that can easily be dismissed, instead relying on tangents and hypotheticals to distract from their attempts to rewrite history. They avoid direct confrontation, never directly accusing Torres of lying. Instead, she is simply misinterpreting the information or failing to understand how unreliable memory can be as a historical record. “Nothing really happened the way I remember it?” Torres asks. Brel responds, “It’s highly unlikely.”
Although Remember was explicitly inspired by (and consciously evokes) the particulars of the Holocaust, the use of allegory lends it a broader appeal. Both the sheer industrial scale of the Holocaust and the care taken to properly document the volume of suffering inflicted upon the victims of the Nazi regime have ensured that the Holocaust is the most widely-known (and widely-discussed) organised genocide in history. However, it is far from the only genocide ever committed, and certainly not the first one to face the challenges of memory and history.
In particular, the fact that Enaran establishment itself is an active participant in this cover-up and conspiracy evokes the controversy surrounding the Armenian genocide that occurred in Turkey in 1915. The Turkish government has repeatedly and consciously downplayed the scale of the atrocities, presenting them as a few aberrations rather than an official policy. The United States has never formally challenged this attempt to re-write history, most likely owing to pragmatic political concerns.
This is far from the only such example of an atrocity on that scale. When Pope Francis referred to the Armenian Genocide as “the first genocide of the twentieth century”, his statement garnered a lot of criticism for glossing over other twentieth-century horrors like the Namibian Genocide. The care taken to document and preserve the memory of the Holocaust serves as a reminder of how easily these atrocities are forgotten and brushed aside, glossed over as the memory of such injustice dies with the victims of such brutality.
This is not an academic argument. “It’s not just a matter of history,” Torres insists in Remember. She warns Janeway, “This could happen again if no one knows it happened before.” This is not a historical argument. The Rwandan Genocide had taken place only a few years before Remember was broadcast. Samantha Power, who serves as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, blames lack of response to early atrocities for United States inaction:
It is crucial in revisiting the story of how the United States responded to Rwanda to look at the lack of self-esteem, institutionally, that the Africa specialists had within the U.S. government. They had been so accustomed to not making the grade, in terms of their issues not being seen as a vital interest intrinsically, geographically.
The Burundi atrocities that had occurred in 1993 — maybe 50,000 people killed in Burundi — nobody ever made a documentary about why the U.S. never did anything about [that]. I think from their standpoint, they had no expectation once the killing started in Rwanda that either the response or the shame over a non-response would be any different. From their standpoint, it’s Africans dying, and that has not ranked in U.S. foreign policy-making.
It seems that those who forget history are doomed to not only relive it, but also to stand idly by and watch it happen again. In some respects, the moral of Remember is crushingly obvious in the way that many Star Trek metaphors are; “racism is bad” and “homophobia is bad” should not need to be repeatedly and bluntly stated. Sadly, they do. “Genocide must be remembered” seems like an obvious lesson in 1996, but it remains an important and essential one.
Remember is unapologetically archetypal Star Trek. It is also proof that that classic approach might still have a place.
- Basics, Part II
- The Chute
- The Swarm
- False Profits
- Sacred Ground
- Future’s End, Part I
- Future’s End, Part II
- The Q and the Grey
- Fair Trade
- Alter Ego
- Blood Fever
- Favourite Son
- Before and After
- Real Life
- Distant Origin
- Worst Case Scenario
- Scorpion, Part I