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Star Trek: Voyager – Retrospect (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager is a very nineties show. Sometimes that is endearing. Sometimes it is not.

Retrospect is an episode that made a great deal more sense in the context of the nineties. It was still troublesome and reactionary, structuring its central allegory in a way that was deeply problematic. However, Retrospect made a certain amount of sense when considered in light of the McMartin Preschool scandal and the satanic panic driven by regression hypnosis in the early part of the decade. Retrospect is very clearly an attempt to turn that talking point into a twenty-fourth century allegory about witch hunts and persecution.

Assimilate this…

However, there are a number of poor choices made over the course of the episode. The most obvious is build the episode around the character of Seven of Nine. There are any number of reasons why this would be written as a Seven of Nine episode, given that she is the breakout character of the fourth season. However, episodes like The Gift and The Raven have made a conscious effort to portray Seven of Nine as an abuse surviving living with genuine trauma. To put her at the centre of an episode about false allegations of abuse feels ill-judged.

Similarly, the emphasis on the subject of these accusations and his ruined life feels more than a little tone-deaf, even in the context the nineties satanic panic. Retrospect is not an episode about Seven of Nine processing abuse or even coping with distorted memories. It is ultimately the story about how the falsified accusations of abuse (from a character who is a verified abuse victim) can serve to destroy the lives of innocent men. Indeed, the emphasis on the EMH as a proxy for Seven of Nine downplays her own agency in this plot.

Memory Beta.

These aspects are troubling even in the context of an episode about the dangers of using hypnotherapy as the basis of these charges. However, the scandal has slipped from public consciousness in the years since Retrospect was initially broadcast. When the audience hears about women false accusations against men, it evokes the long-standing myth that men are frequent victims of falsified reports about sexual assault that ruin lives. This was creepy and uncomfortable subtext was obvious at time of broadcast, but has only become more pronounced in the years since.

Retrospect would have been a very clumsy and ill-judged allegory in the context of the mid-to-late-nineties. Decades removed from that original context, it seems almost reprehensible.

Blinding flash of the obvious.

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What Will Be This Decade’s Underappreciated Masterpiece?

It seems to happen at least once a decade: the critic consensus emerging immediately after the release of a film turns out to be wrong, swayed by the tides of retrospect and history. Initial reviews of The Shining criticised it for being slow – today we regard its pace as being one of its many virtues. It wasn’t greeted with triumphant applause, but a resounding ‘meh’. Blade Runner was dismissed as a wannabe sci-fi epic, now we consider it to be one of the high watermarks of the genre – a masterpiece. The Wizard of Oz equally divided critics between those who considered the movie to be a game changer, and those who thought it was just light and fluffy entertainment. You could make the case that Fight Club debuted to a hugely divided critical opinion, but that belies that fact that the acknowledgement of the movie as a modern classic is grudging at best. So is there a film from the last ten years that is likely to feature a similar historical revision, considered a retrospective masterpiece?

Harrison Ford knew how to "persuade" critics...

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