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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Memorial"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Memorial. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: Genuine Star Trek
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 10, 2000
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      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
      low-key attitude.

      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
      Voyager.)

      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
      poignant.

      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
      *and* telling.

      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
      highest-rated show.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 2000 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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