[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Memorial"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Memorial."
If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
Nutshell: Genuine Star Trek attitudes. A good premise and some interesting
messages presented, though sometimes a bit too obviously.
Plot description: Four members of the crew return from a two-week away
mission with repressed memories of participating in a violent massacre,
leading to an investigation as to where the massacre was committed and how
the away team was involved.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Memorial"
Airdate: 2/2/2000 (USA)
Teleplay by Robin Burger
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"Guilt can be a difficult but useful emotion." -- Seven"
While watching Voyager's "Memorial," it occurred to me that the message
behind the episode wasn't really *behind* the episode. It was right up
front, decidedly obvious, where there could be no chance to make a mistake
about it. It's not about subtlety. When the payoff arrives, characters argue
the moral lessons for the audience's benefit in search of the Greater
Meaning. It's the classic Star Trek approach: The science-fiction device is
a means to a lesson's end.
Now to go off on a tangent, an interesting comparison comes to mind. "Law &
Order," perhaps the most visible and accessible (and best) issue-oriented
show on the airwaves right now, is based on an approach that is in contrast
to the typical Trek approach. The characters fighting the battles on "Law &
Order" do so strictly in terms of their jobs. The morality takes its place
behind a routine pragmatism that sort of envelops the entire show in a
In fact, in my opinion, the weakest episode of "Law & Order" this season
("Sundown," if you care) suffered in part because its characters ventured
into a weirdly unnatural soapbox preaching that seemed to be coming from the
writers' mouths and not the characters.
But we're used to Star Trek using its characters as mouthpieces for social
commentary--even when the Greater Meaning is only thinly disguised as
inter-character dialog. Trek wears its morality on its sleeve. That's part
of what makes it what it is. As a result, Voyager can get away with the
way-up-front nature of dialog that characterizes episodes like "Memorial."
To be sure, I liked "Memorial," mostly because of one key moment that seemed
vividly powerful, but also because the episode is pretty solid throughout
(though not groundbreaking).
One aspect that stands out about "Memorial" is that it's a true ensemble
piece. Tuvok didn't have much in terms of crucial actions or dialog, but
virtually everyone else did--and that's reassuring. As an example of
utilizing the entire cast and utilizing them fairly well, this episode is
probably the best attempt yet this season. The Torres/Paris relationship in
particular seemed well-written, with a nice balance of affection and
routine. (Another idea I liked was Paris' quarters being filled with
furniture from the 1950s. We need more little character nuances like that on
The story's initial focus is on a Delta Flyer team consisting of Chakotay,
Paris, Kim, and Neelix, who have spent the past two weeks on a scout mission
cataloging planets. (This week's Harry Kim insight: Don't be near him when
the creature comforts go off-line. He's a bear.) They return to Voyager and
apparent business as usual, but then weird things starting happening in
their minds. They begin having post-war-like flashbacks and hallucinations.
Paris' reality is skewed and he somehow finds himself fighting a battle,
seemingly while inside a 1950s TV set (don't ask). Kim suffers from
claustrophobia and exhaustion. Neelix pulls a phaser in the galley when he
believes soldiers are descending upon Naomi Wildman (don't ask). In the
simplest of the examples, Chakotay has bad dreams.
All these flashbacks share the same elements, what appear to comprise a
battleground with people running and screaming and phasers firing. What
happened during the away mission? Were the away team's memories altered in
some way? Are there stars in outer space?
The more useful questions, of course, are why and how these latent memories
got into these characters' heads, why they've suddenly resurfaced, and
whether the remembered events actually happened. The memories depict a
violent showdown, which at first unfolds for the audience through numerous
quick isolated pieces. The chaos slowly becomes more clear, until the
characters' subconscious memories become fully conscious, at which point we
in the audience come to realize the gravity of the situation. The violent
showdown was nothing less than a massacre, where an armed military unit
wiped out an unarmed civilian group following a murky misunderstanding that
is wisely never made clear.
The mission was to relocate a civilian group as part of a larger military
operation. But something went wrong, someone opened fire, and once people
starting running, the situation took on a life of its own. Ultimately, all
82 civilians were dead at the hands of the military unit.
For the most part, Robin Burger's script and the direction under Allan
Kroeker works well. The way the story uncovers pieces of the puzzle through
skewed reality is effectively psychologically jarring. And there's something
about the actual depiction of the massacre that strikes me as believable; it
demonstrates how intentions can go very wrong, and how a volatile situation
can instantaneously seem to render individual responsibility irrelevant, at
a moment when it should be more relevant than anything.
The question for our Voyager crew members is whether they actually
participated in this massacre as they believe they have. Memory alteration
is not new in the Trek universe, so the possibility exists that none of what
happened was real.
The search for the truth is what encompasses the middle stages of the
episode, as Voyager retraces the Delta Flyer's mission, hoping to find the
actual site of the massacre. The search is more or less routine, but
competently executed. It takes a back seat to the effects these memories
have on our characters, who are riddled with guilt and psychological
torment. Some of the exposition on guilt works well, although some of it
isn't very fresh. As the ship nears the planet in question, more members of
the crew start experiencing the memories, which sets off alarms in those of
us with onboard plot computers, or even in those of us without.
Really, the major revelation that explains everything going on here is not
unexpected, especially given the title of the episode, which practically
serves as a dead giveaway. What's interesting, though, is that even once we
see where the story is going, the impact of the payoff isn't lessened. The
story is about the crew making right with what they believe they've
experienced, not about being a mystery for the audience to solve.
As such, I thought the moment when Janeway and Chakotay finally found the
monument was very powerful. It's a moment that clicks because it knows the
audience understands what's going on, and we see the moment of the crew's
discovery. Visually, it's impressive because we see this 300-year-old
monument standing on the location where our characters were so recently
participants in (and we the audience the witnesses to) the actual event. It
provides a good connection between the past and present in a weirdly
visually psychologically cinematic way--it's effectively unsettling and
And yet, maybe the story *doesn't* understand the effectiveness of that
moment as much as it initially seems to. We go to commercial break and come
back, at which point we have Janeway and Chakotay studying the monument
inscriptions in astrometrics, eventually cueing Janeway to say, "It's a
memorial." Well, duh. (Me to Janeway: Are you and your crew a bunch of
idiots, or do you just assume we in the audience are?) The old adage of
"show, don't tell" should apply here, but "Memorial" seems to prefer showing
But like I said, this is Trek, where lessons are worn on the sleeve, and
this final act is a decent example of that mindset. The question becomes
what to do with the memorial, a device that beams memories of the dark event
directly into the brains of passers-by, in the hopes that the event will be
fully understood and never repeated.
Most of the characters want to deactivate it. Why be forced to relive an
atrocity you weren't responsible for committing? Interestingly, Neelix
vehemently argues in favor of *not* deactivating it, saying that doing so
would be an affront to the honor of those who died. Using Neelix here is an
idea that rings true and remembers him as a more dimensional character than
the series often does; this is, after all, a guy who was in a war on his
home planet years ago.
Janeway agrees with Neelix, and her solution displays a Trekkian conscience
for a greater historical purpose, but I hesitate at the way her decision
here plays. Here we have all of Janeway's officers (except Neelix) arguing
*against* repairing the memorial, and Janeway steps in with one of her
patented What Janeway Says Goes decisions. It seems a bit too arbitrary. The
arguments are potentially interesting, but they seem prematurely laid to
rest. And Janeway's decision doesn't entirely sit right--nor do the rest of
the crew's arguments for deactivating it. Janeway comes off as the story's
arbitrarily mandated supreme moral compass. (The idea of putting a warning
beacon in orbit made a lot of sense, though.) The ending works to some
degree, but not completely.
As far as performances go, there's an abundance of yelling in
"Memorial"--maybe a bit too much. There's a fine line between acting and
overacting--between moments when we believe characters are under extreme
pressure and moments when we suspect actors are unleashing lines under a
pay-per-decibel contract. "Memorial" walks that line numerous times in the
course of the hour. There's no egregiously unconvincing overacting, but
there's also that stylized sense, like when Tom screams at B'Elanna or when
Harry freaks out in the conference room.
I liked this episode. It's in the tradition of classic Trek. But it also
makes me wonder: Might less have been more?
Next week: SEVEN VS. THE ROCK. Winner takes all. Viewers brace for impact.
Will you SURVIVE? Find out on "Voyager Smackdown!"
Trailer commentary: On a scale of 1 to 10, the "Tsunkatse" promo gets an 11
for over-the-top-ness. Oh well--it will undoubtedly be the season's
Copyright (c) 2000 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...