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Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

Memorial is the second Voyager script to originate as a pitch from writer James Swallow. Swallow had also pitched the idea that was developed into the story One towards the end of the fourth season. He had covered Star Trek as an industry journalist, and would later launch a career writing tie-in fiction for the franchise. Swallow remembers what it was like to sell his second idea:

A couple of years later, when I sold the script for Memorial, that was far more amusing. It was a Friday night, and I had all my friends around playing games. The phone rang, and it was around eleven o’clock at night, and I thought, “Who’s calling me at this time of night?” And I went into the room, and I was like, “Who the hell is this?” on the phone – and the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Please hold for Brannon Braga.” And I was like, “What?!?”

My buddies followed me into the room and they were like, “Hey Jim, where’s the beer?” I just handed them a six-pack and went “Do not come back into this room! Take the beer and go!” And I’d had a little bit to drink that evening already, but I sobered up very quickly and got on the phone. “Hey Brannon, how’s it going?” We were on the phone for an hour or so, we had a story conference about how he wanted to see the story evolve, and we talked a lot about that.

Afterwards, I told the other guys, “You’re never gonna believe what just happened to me!” And that was the second episode. And in a way, I felt like selling a second story was more important, almost, than selling the first one.

To be fair, it makes sense that Memorial would attract the attention of Brannon Braga. As writer and showrunner, Braga has always had an interest in the way that memories inform a sense of self. This is reflected in both his more abstract mind-bending work like Frame of Mind and Projections, but even as background material in more bombastic adventures like The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

“So, you’re sure I’m not the one having a nervous breakdown this week?”

The basic plot of Memorial finds the crew of Voyager experiencing memories of horrific events. The script makes it very clear quite early in the process that these are real memories. They are not delusions, or projections, or warnings, or prophecy. “These are real memories,” the EMH states, “not mere dreams or hallucinations.” On another series, this would seem like a fairly blunt statement of the stakes to the audience watching at home. However, in the context of Voyager, it is instead an expression of thematic intent.

Indeed, Janeway acknowledges that this sort of event is very much par for the course on Voyager, that it fits within their frame of reference. “Maybe you were abducted, manipulated into fighting,” Janeway suggests to Chakotay. “Our memories have been tampered with before.” It seems to have happened so frequently that Janeway remembers even beyond the rigid episodic framework of Voyager, that these events are such an essential part of the show’s fabric that mentioning them does not violate the series’ long-standing rejection of continuity.

“Maybe you were abducted, manipulated into fighting. Our memories have been tampered with before. Not that I’m pointing fingers. Chakotay.”

Discussing the episode with Cinefantastique, Brannon Braga reflected on what drew him to the basic idea:

I thought that show had a good concept: the idea that the crew begins to experience Vietnam-style flashbacks. It’s about more than post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s about memorials, and the controversial nature of memorials. Although I think in the end the story was a bit predictable, it was very well-directed and especially well-acted. I thought it was a good Star Trek morality tale.

Memorial is not just archetypal Star Trek, it is archetypal Voyager.

A monumental loss.

The episode is undoubtedly heavily influenced by Vietnam, even beyond Braga’s citation of the conflict as a point of reference. The first flashbacks are triggered by Tom Paris watching television, recalling the observation that Vietnam was the first war that was fought on television. The massacre of an entire community by a superior military force recalls horror stories about violence against civilians in Vietnam, including the My Lai massacre. Even the scenes of characters reading the memorial, touching its tall stone walls, evokes the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

There are deeper connections, of course. Reflecting its place in American cultural history, Vietnam was arguably a major part of the ambiance of the Star Trek franchise, dating back to early scripts like A Taste of Armageddon or A Private Little War. Veteran franchise director Winrich Kolbe had even served in Vietnam himself, and he would experiences to bear when directing The Siege of AR-558. Even on Voyager, the jungle warfare in Nemesis seemed intentionally designed to evoke Vietnam.

Dust to dust.

The Vietnam War was undoubtedly a cultural trauma, one with which the United States was still wrestling even into the eighties and nineties. The late eighties, in particular, saw a large number of revisionist takes on the conflict. Oliver Stone constructed a trilogy of films documenting his own perception of the conflict, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven and Earth. Even beyond those, audiences revisited the conflict in Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill and Casualties of War.

This desire to come to terms with the legacy of the conflict was reflected in nineties television series. The X-Files was very much a show that explored the legacy of seventies traumas like Watergate and Vietnam on contemporary audiences, with supporting character Walter Skinner defined as a veteran of the conflict and the show dealing directly with its legacy in episodes like Unrequited. During the eighties and nineties, the public increasingly confronted the psychological trauma of the conflicts on veterans. Suicide rates were high among these soldiers.

A mess in the… mess hall.

However, it feels like Memorial is about more than just Vietnam. The episode is touching on a broader issue about memory and horror, in particular about how societies memorialise traumas that have slipped from living memory. One of the big reveals in Memorial is that the conflict that the characters remember happened outside of anybody’s living memory. When Tuvok finds the victims that Kim recalls murdering, he reports, “They died over three hundred years ago.”

In many ways, then, Memorial feels like a companion piece to Remember. In that third season episode, Torres found herself receiving receiving memories of events through which she never lived. They would eventually be revealed as the memories of an elderly alien who had witnessed the mass murder of an ethnic minority, and who was afraid that she would die without getting the opportunity to pass on that truth to the next generation. As such, Remember and Memorial are both explicitly stories about the Holocaust.

“I had the most wonderful dream. I dreamed that I got some character development.”

During the nineties, the Holocaust was slipping out of living memory. Many of those who had experienced the horrors and the trauma first-hand had passed away. At the turn of the millennium, the biggest debate about the legacy of the Holocaust was how best to preserve its memory:

The chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said the act of remembrance was “to remember proactively in order to guarantee that we will never forget”. On the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, he said: “The survivors are calling out to us from the depths of their hearts ‘please keep the memory alive’.

“And we must respond emphatically and adequately to their call through action. The action of education in order that we all can recall the horrors of the past so that together we can create the destiny of peace for our future.”

This is not an academic discussion to be clear. The memory of the Holocaust has far-reaching implications. The White House has actively used its platform to downplay the systemic murder of Europe’s Jewish population. There are reports that antisemitic violence is on the increase in France, and that it may also be increasing in Germany.

“Don’t fire in here, Tuvok. It’ll be too easy to mess.”

It is a cliché to suggest that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but there is also some truth in that idea. Preserving the memory of the Holocaust, and fostering a sense of collective social responsibility, is the best way to minimise the risk of something that horrific and that barbarous ever happening again. As painful as it might be to confront the past, as much revulsion and discomfort as individuals might face when acknowledging these events, it is important to remember.

During the nineties and into the new millennium, there were conscious efforts made to record the memories of those who lived through this trauma. Director Steven Spielberg oversaw the collection of more than 53,000 testimonies from survivors for the Visual History Archive. Museums like the Imperial War Museum attempt to craft “immersive” experiences for those in attendance. Attempts have been made to translate survivors’ accounts into virtual reality recordings that students can experience first hand.

Reliving history.

It is one thing to academic process such information. It is another to emotionally engage with it. “Words alone cannot convey the suffering,” reads the inscription on the monument. “Words alone cannot prevent what happened here from happening again. Beyond words lies experience. Beyond experience lies truth. Make this truth your own.” When Neelix objects to the plan to disable the transmitter, Chakotay responds, “The monument will still be here.” Neelix correctly points out, “But that doesn’t really tell the story.”

After all, Janeway’s journey to the planet was motivated by her emotional response to the images projected by the transmitter. “If this massacre really happened, someone is to blame,” Janeway tells Tuvok of her decision to press her investigation forward. “I want to be certain that it wasn’t us.” Tucok replies, “With all due respect, your judgment may be clouded by feelings of guilt about an incident that never occurred. The danger to our crew here and now is indisputable.” Tuvok is being logical, but there is truth in Janeway’s emotional response.

Remembrance Day.

Indeed, Janeway’s decision to leave the monument transmitting is explained in personal and emotive terms. “I stood by once before and did nothing,” she protests, referencing the memories that were broadcast. “Not again.” Those two words allude to the spectre of the Holocaust, evoking the promise “never again.” Of course, both the audience and Janeway know that she never actually “stood by”, because those events took place centuries before she was born. That does not make them any less real, and does not diminish the integrity of her response to them.

The transmitter in Memorial allows people to relive the atrocity. It preserves the memory, passing it down from one generation to another without distortion or manipulation. Neelix and Chakotay can remember names and places, timings and feelings. The memory of the horror remains vital. It is a living and immersive experience, something that transcends mere documentation or testimony. It offers the ultimate empathic experience, forcing people to live through these horrors rather than allowing history to insulate them.

Empathy means seeing yourself in others’ situations.

As Amelia Klein points out in Memory-Work, the act of memorialising the Holocaust is markedly different than remember it:

Interviews with the third generation revealed that they are beginning to re-conceptualise the meaning of Holocaust remembrance. The third generation’s temporal distance from the Holocaust and access to information, such as that encapsulated in a video testimony enables them to make novel decisions about their role in remembering. Viewers are not merely passive recipients but active participants who think about the ways they want to remember the past. Holocaust remembrance practice is not only about following the injunction ‘Remember, Never Forget’ or the dictum ‘Keep the memory alive’ (as expounded by the JHMRC archive or individual survivors or the Melbourne Jewish community) but rather it also depends on how individuals choose to engage with and incorporate the memory of the Holocaust into their own lives.

There is a challenge in trying to keep the memory of something alive, even beyond the death of the last person who remembers it.

Greener pastures.

In keeping with Voyager‘s recurring questioning of the nature of reality, Memorial makes a point to blur the line between memory and reality. If a characters remembers something, does that make it real? Paris and Torres mull over that question during the episode. “I helped murder eighty two innocent people,” Paris confesses. Torres replies, “You don’t know that.” Paris counters, “I know what I remember.” Torres responds, “The Doctor says your memories could have been altered.” Paris insists, “I was there!” If the memory is real, does it become reality?

One of the more interesting aspects of Memorial is the decision to put the crew in the position of the oppressor, to have them witness this atrocity not as victims but as perpetrators. It is a genuinely provocative narrative choice, one designed to make the characters and the audience feel slightly uncomfortable, to see these characters rendered complicit in a horrific atrocity. Even when Neelix is panicking and trying to protect Naomi, he is doing so believing himself to be a soldier who has taken part in the massacre.

The past cannot be buried.

This broaches the awkward topic of who memorials are actually for, of the purpose that they serve. They obviously commemorate the victims of these atrocities, but it could be argued that they serve a broader civic function. In Constructions of Death, Mourning, and Memory, Lilian H. Zirpolo argues that shame is a massive part of the social function of these monuments:

Public expressions and representations of shame — seen in recent slavery and lynching memorials — derive from consensual agreement to shift from the pleasure of looking to the pain of self-conscious, self-critical knowledge. As Tomkins noted, shame “generates the torment of self-consciousness.” Importantly, however, and contra Freud, shame does not require the negation of looking; indeed, seeing and being seen are key components of shaming and being ashamed. Further, while shame generated self-analysis, it is inherently social and thus has moral and civic possibilities. Again, as Tomkins argued, “the nature of the experience of shame guarantees a perpetual sensitivity to any violation of the dignity of man.” Likewise, as Elisbeth Probyn contends, “shame is intensely productive politically and conceptually in advancing a project of everyday ethics.

The Holocaust should not only be remembered as a horrific experience for the Jewish population of Europe, but a source of shame for all those complicit in it. The Germans who allowed the Nazi Party to ascend to power. The foreign powers that did not investigate or interfere. The small nations that refused to provide shelter and protection to the Jewish refugees who reached their shores. Shame is important. Remembering that shame is important.

Grave danger.

Memorial hits on this civic function repeatedly. Janeway acknowledges that the monument stands as a tribute to those who were killed in the massacre, but she also argued for a more proactive function of the memorial. This device is not just about the past, it is about the future. “By being forced to relive those events, half the crew’s been traumatised,” Chakotay muses of the events. Janeway responds that such immersion and complicity was necessary, “Maybe that was the point. I certainly won’t forget what happened here.” 

In the heated debate over what to do with the monument, Kim protests, “Did they have the right to force us to relive all that?” Neelix is more even-handed, perhaps reflecting his own experiences as the survivor of a horrific conflict, as suggested by episodes like Jetrel or Mortal Coil. Of the memorial, Neelix explains, “They wanted others to know what it was like, in the hopes that nothing like it would happen again.” There is a clear sense that forcing people to confront their guilt and their complicity serves a valid social function.

Home front.

This gets to the controversial and uncomfortable aspects of Memorial, which are largely shunted to the episode’s final act. As much as there is something generic about Memorial, its structure is distinctly in keeping with the aesthetic of Voyager. While it is possible to imagine Memorial as an episode of the other Star Trek series, in each instance the emphasis shifts slightly. One can imagine the moral dilemma that plays out over the final act of Memorial would be extended across most of the runtime of the episode, had it been written for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Nevertheless, a lot hangs over the closing moments of Memorial, most notably in Janeway’s decision to restore the memorial and to allow it to continue broadcasting its depiction of death and destruction out into the cosmos. This is a controversial decision, for a number of reasons. Most obviously, these memories might be seen as a violation of innocent passers-by, horrific imagery fed directly into their minds without their consent. There would be no debate or discussion if the beacon were transmitting spam or advertising, like the automated system in The Arsenal of Freedom.

Operating remotely.

Even allowing for the civic utility of broadcasting these images, the episode has some sympathy for those unwitting recipients of the imagery. “Why should anyone have to experience an atrocity they didn’t commit?” Chakotay demands, and he has a point. Why should people continue to pay for a crime that they did not commit, why should they be forced to acknowledge horrors in which they did not participate. Separated from these traumas by time and geography, why must people be confronted by acts of brutality and barbarity in countries like Germany or Rwanda or Cambodia?

This is not an academic question. It is a living and breathing debate in contemporary culture, even within American culture. White Americans can be reluctant to confront the horrors of slavery, insisting that they exist in a different time and a different culture, insisting, “I’ve never personally owned a slave; why should I be held responsible for things that happened so long ago?” In Germany, far right politicians reject this culture of shame, arguing, “Germans are the only people who plant a monument of shame in the capital.” Zvi Rex observed, “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”

Drinking it all in.

There is something traumatic in confronting these atrocities, particularly as a privileged class – and in using the experiences of the soldiers carrying out the massacre, Memorial is very much about how the privileged class confronts atrocity. It is similar to debates about teaching slavery in schools, acknowledging that it involves confronting children with harrowing imagery and horrifying brutality. As LaGarrett King argues:

“Can you teach slavery without it being psychologically violent to the children? The answer is no, violence will occur and is expected,” he said. “The key is the recognition of white supremacy and [of] the humanity of black people that helps aid in the complexity of the subject.”

The pain and shame of these lessons is not an unfortunate side effect. It is the entire point of the lesson. People should feel disgusted by what the privileged can do to the powerless, even if they have never actively participated in something as brutal. Ideally, lessons like this serve as a warning that might prevent them from ever repeating the mistakes of others. Neelix offers the perfect response to Chakotay, “That’s how you learn not to make the same mistake.”

Letting it rest.

This is the harsh truth of Memorial, its central thesis having aged remarkably well in the years since it was originally broadcast. A lot of Voyager feels rooted in the nineties, which makes a great deal of sense, but its preoccupation with history and memory has aged remarkably well. Deep Space Nine seemed to predict the ambiguity and uncertainty of the “War on Terror”, while Voyager‘s engagement with the idea of history speaks to the uncomfortable realities of the “post-truth” era.

Of course, there is a tendency to place greater emphasis on the current moment, to ignore the fact that episodes like Remember, Distant Origin, Living Witness and Memorial spoke as much to their own moment as to any subsequent political mood. After all, the culture wars of the nineties included heated debates about how best to teach concepts like slavery and evolution to children when even adults were uncomfortable acknowledging them. Racial anxieties informed a lot of the nineties, particularly the Los Angeles riots that informed so much of Voyager. Genocides occurred in Rwanda and Bosnia.

Never forget.

Nevertheless, episodes like Remember, Distant Origin, Living Witness and Memorial have taken on additional resonance in an era where the popular memory seems more distorted than ever, where the President of the United States promises to “make America great again” by evoking a time before feminism or civil rights or where the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development refers to slaves forcibly brought to the United States as “immigrants” or where the President of the United States suggests a moral equivalence between white supremacists and those protesting them.

Memorial argues that an act of what might be termed “psychological violence” is justified if it reminds people of historical horrors, that an individual’s comfort must be secondary to an acknowledgement of historical injustice. Memorial takes a genuinely bold and provocative stance, effortlessly accomplishing the sort of ambiguity towards which Tuvix aspired. Is Janeway’s decision to leave the memorial transmitting to passing aliens the right thing to do, even if the episode suggests that it might be a less traumatic experience once repairs completed? Debatably. But it’s a compelling and engaging debate.

Somehow, this is still less creepy than his relationship with Kes.

Indeed, simmering beneath the surface of Memorial is something much more pointed and contentious than a metaphor for recent history like Vietnam or even the more explicit invocation of the Holocaust. Star Trek has often used Starfleet and the Federation as a convenient stand-in for the United States, projecting an idealised vision of American exceptionalism into the far future; the “final frontier” is really just Kennedy’s “new frontier”, the ships are all prefixed with “USS”, and enemies like the Romulans and Klingons have long been modelled explicitly on enemies of the United States.

In dealing with questions of memory and history, Voyager has arguably solidified this connection. This is true in a literal sense; episodes like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and 11:59 have taken the show back to something approximating the modern day. However, it is also true in a more abstract sense, with One Small Step confirming the links between NASA and Starfleet. More than that, anxieties about the relationship between history and the present in stories like Distant Origin or Living Witness tap into particular American anxieties.

A corny message.

The United States is a nation with an awkward relationship to its own history. In fact, Next Generation regular LeVar Burton has been part of that conversation, and explored how difficult (but important) it can be for the United States to talk about historical injustices like slavery:

As we’ve explored here tonight, it’s not an easy conversation for Americans to have. It’s really difficult under the best of circumstances.

I love that one of the things that we seem to be discovering is that there really doesn’t need to be any formal structure. If we create the safe space, then we’re able to have the conversation. Whether that safe space is a museum or a slave cabin or in an auditorium. As long as we create that safe space and respect the humanity of all the participants, we’re going to be OK.

But slavery is the original sin that America has never atoned for and has never recovered from. And until we are really able to roll up our sleeves and talk about those things that are difficult to talk about, we will forever be bound by the ghosts of our past.

I recently came back from my very first trip to Israel. I spent a couple of weeks there and was really, profoundly impacted by that reality. Alex used to say all the time, “History is written by the winners.” When it comes to this conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, in many respects it’s really a conflict over control of the narrative, of the story.

History is a living thing; it is always and continually evolving. Unless you’re willing to come participate in the examination and exploration of that story, unless you’re willing to come and be present in that story, then you will be left out.

Slavery is just one example, perhaps the most relevant at this cultural moment owing to factors like the treatment of African American citizens and the resurgence of white supremacy in the United States. It is important to remember that.

Heaven Preserver Us.

However, there are other historical injustices that inform American identity, such as the genocide of the Native Americans. On arriving in the new world, the European settlers embarked upon a campaign of forced relocation of the North American continent’s original inhabitants. On contact with these new arrivals, these indigenous populations collapsed. Those native populations that survived contact with the immigrants were rounded up and placed in reservations, their land claimed by the settlers who would come to think of themselves as “American.”

To a certain extent, these anxieties simmer through the larger Star Trek franchise, which makes a great deal of sense. The franchise is rooted in the idea of the “final frontier”, conjuring up ideas of space as an extension of the vast American frontier claimed and tamed by the settlers. Star Trek has been described as “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and Voyager eagerly embraced this “Wild West” aesthetic as early as Caretaker. Michael Piller’s handling of the character of Chakotay in episodes like The Cloud and Tattoo reinforces this fascination with the American frontier.

Jingle all the way.

At the same time, the Star Trek franchise has been relatively mindful of the implications of this idea. The franchise has made a number of ill-judged decisions with regard to indigenous populations, especially with the Kazon in episodes like State of Flux, Initiations and Alliances. However, the emphasis on the Prime Directive in series like The Next Generation and Voyager suggests (in theory) a desire not to repeat or perpetuate the mistakes of the past, to imagine a new frontier that exists separate from that original sin. Naturally, the execution tends to leave a lot to be desired.

The franchise has grappled directly with the idea of this original sin on a number of occasions, most obviously in the early characterisation of the Maquis in The Next Generation and Voyager. There is a reason why Chakotay is both the franchise’s most prominent Maquis member and its most prominent Native American character. Journey’s End literalised this anxiety in the clumsiest manner possible, with Picard and the Enterprise assigned to oversee the forced relocation of settlers along the Cardassian border, settlers explicitly characterised as Native American.

A combative discourse.

Memorial revisits this idea of the original sin on the final frontier. While there are obvious parallels with Vietnam and the Holocaust, what little the audience sees of the events suggests a closer parallel with the forced relocation of the Native Americans. Unlike Vietnam, the conflict is not defined as a war. Unlike the Holocaust, there is no suggestion that the end objective of the operation was mass extermination. Instead, Memorial suggests that the soldiers are simply attempting a forced relocation of a group of people that do not want to move.

The official mission objective was to “evacuate” the inhabitants of “a remote colony”, although the background details suggest a more complicated dynamic. The “colonists” are defined as “the Nakan”, suggesting a separate ethnic identity to the soldiers who are “evacuating” them. Neelix describes the settlers as “the Nakan” to the Voyager crew, but Kim also uses the label in the briefing with Saavdra. Even if the soldiers and the colonists belong to the same species, as the make-up suggests, it is clear that the colonists have been “othered.”

A stimulating discussion.

The plan is move these colonists by force. “Once we’ve secured the village, take the colonists there,” Saavdra orders. “Get them aboard. Do your best to reassure them. Make them understand that this is a temporary relocation. That they’re going to be back there in a few weeks.” It is unclear whether this is the truth of the matter, or simply the official party line. Nevertheless, the fact that Saavdra later vapourises the bodies to cover up the massacre suggests that his superiors had not ordered mass murder.

As such, there is a potency to seeing the Voyager cast living through this horror, given the clear line that can be drawn between the philosophy of “manifest destiny” and the “final frontier.” Even the episode’s chronology seems to line up with this interpretation of events. The atrocities depicted in the episode took place more than three hundred years before Voyager visited the monument. This would line up roughly with early ethnic cleansing on the North American continent; the eviction of the Powhatan from Jamestown, the Tuscaroras Wars North Carolina, the spread of smallpox among indigenous populations.

Neelix’s lunch menus had finally gone too far.

Of course, Janeway and her crew were not complicit in such violence, just as audience members watching Memorial were not directly complicit in either slavery or the ethnic cleansing of the continent. However, these traumas leave deep and lingering scars, and inform the present. These past atrocities are reminders of what people are capable of, and the horrors upon which the certain aspects of the modern world have been built. Star Trek is itself an idealised and romanticised reimagining of this frontier myth, and so it makes sense for Memorial to insist that such violence cannot be forgotten or erased.

Memorial is a story about the legacy of violence and the importance of memory and shame. It is a story about the need to remember historical injustices, even those from which the modern world seems removed. It is a story about how such guilt can be unpleasant and horrific, but also how it is necessary. In a fictional and utopian future, the horrors of the past must not be buried. The same is true even in a present that feels removed from such utopian idealism.

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8 Responses

  1. Not in any way relevant to the episode, but since this is a Star Trek review, it’s as good a place as any to post this: I must thank you profusely for the reviews of Vonda McIntyre’s Star Trek novelizations a few years ago. I would never have heard of them otherwise, but I remembered your glowing reviews when I saw them in a bookstore the other week. You’re correct: those are some of the best movie novelizations I’ve ever read.

    • Thanks Chris. McIntyre’s novelisations of the trilogy are great reads, and one of the better examples of what tie-in fiction can do, which is to serve as another perspective on a core franchise, to examine it from another angle with another voice. I think there limits to that approach, but McIntyre’s work does a really good job at offering a esoteric take on an iconic part of Star Trek lore. (It’s delightfully esoteric, to the point I still remember the jarring and pointed “everyone from the Wrath of Khan is still dead” introduction to her novelisation of The Voyage Home, which had honestly never occurred to me.)

  2. There’s no shame in being a white male American. We declare to all the pussified foreigners, “No guilt! No reparations!”

    • “No empathy, no compassion, no history, no education, no awareness, no humanity.”

      Who said there was shame in being a white male American? However, isn’t part of your masculine identity in taking responsibility and protecting those who need protection and assistance?

  3. Interesting that you mention dozens of other Star Trek episodes in this review, but no mention on how this is the dark and twisted version of TNG’s Inner Light. Instead of a memorial imprinting memories about the best of a civilization, we get a memorial that imprints the worst. Was what the Kataan did to Picard even ethical, despite them already being dead? We see here that forcing people to relive grim events can be incredibly harmful and a gross violation of the mind. We can never know if this memorial or the Kataan memorial was an accurate interpretation of history or just propaganda.

    As mentioned in an earlier comment, Unit 731 is still being held over Japan. But at what point is constantly bring up these crimes of dead men causing more harm than good? We still see resent of Japan by North Korea and China despite all the time that has gone by. These memorials prolong grudges and make forgiveness all the harder. But erasing history is seen as unforgiveable as well. Is there a right answer here?

    • Well, I mean, the same is true of the Holocaust.

      It should be mentioned until toxic nationalism has gone away. And, looking at the world, it should definitely continue to be mentioned now. Just like the Holocaust, slavery, and the genocide of the Native Americans. Because if you don’t constantly mention these things, it seems like people either forget or don’t care. I mean, I’d like to think that people are smart enough to remember and compassionate enough to care, but history suggests that view is naive and overly optimistic. (In Japan’s case, look at the insufficient apologies over the comfort women, to pick one example. In the United States case… look at Trump.)

      In this case, given that neither civilisation survived, it doesn’t really matter whether it actually happened. And Janeway can’t prove that it didn’t. And, even if it didn’t, the crew know for a fact that these things do happen in the galaxy – see Remember. There’s a value in reminding people of the abstract historical horrors of colonialism. After all, the beacon is as much about warning other societies of the danger of such policies as it is about remembering this specific atrocity.

  4. I’m curious if anyone else thinks it’s interesting that Voyager almost entirely avoided using phasers to vaporize victims. I recently watched the entire series and this was one of only two episodes where I noticed a phaser being used to actually disintegrate something. In this case, it was the dead bodies of the massacred civilians, and in the case of Concerning Flight from Season 4, it was an inanimate object. As far as I can tell, a phaser is never used to vaporize a living being in all of Voyager. This seems like it had to have been an intentional decision on the part of the writers/producers. It’s even more striking when watching Discovery, where background characters are disintegrated with gleeful abandon in several episodes.

    It seems like the disintegrating effect of phasers was typically used as a convenience, whether as a relatively easy special effect in the Original Series, or a way of sanitizing violence in the Next Generation, or a method of covert assassination in Deep Space Nine. It took me a while of watching Voyager before I realized that it just didn’t seem to happen. In Living Witness, evil!Janeway brutally murders an alien leader, and his body is left intact, falling dead for all of his people to see. Even here in Memorial, the characters are forced to live with the corpses before someone tries to dispose of them. Was this ever discussed as one of the unique qualities of the show?

    • Honestly, it never occurred to me. But reading it, it suddenly all clicks into place.

      Chris, I may need to steal this (with proper accreditation), if I ever write a book on Voyager.

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