In the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of Voyager, Seven is disturbed by an incident with a trader, only to later realize all was not as it seemed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of rape and sexual assault, consent, nonconsensual medical procedures, and rape culture.
I can sit here and recognize what an accomplishment this episode is. The script is, largely, one of the better things in this whole show, a deeply complicated and uncomfortable examination of Seven of Nine’s memories and her emotions. The fact that this whole episode is also about the Voyager crew making a huge mistake is a big deal. It is not easy to write your protagonists as flawed, especially if their flaws and confirmation bias led to the death of someone who was innocent.
And the performances, y’all. In particular, I’m just blown away by how Mulgrew and Ryan are killing it over and over again on this show. It’s a thing of beauty, and I feel honored to get to watch them act opposite one another. Yes, the writing helps, but these two actresses consistently steal the show on Voyager, you know?
I don’t have a problem admitting this, just like I don’t have a problem saying that this episode left me feeling raw, frustrated, and massively, massively uncomfortable. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the story in “Retrospect” is meant to comment on false accusations in the real world, and the metaphors for rape and sexual assault are present in numerous aspects of the script. I know I’m biased, but I also don’t believe that I read too much into this. Seven is violated by Kovin – a word she uses, mind you – after unearthing her memories with the Doctor. She accuses Kovin of this violation, and the show cycles through some very familiar things: disbelief. Challenging of stories. Denials. As a rape victim, it was hard to watch, but it wasn’t as upsetting as it could have been. Why?
Because I believed that this episode would head towards a redemptive ending. The Doctor became Seven’s ally, fighting for her right to accuse Kovin, supporting her in her confusion as she struggled to deal with the emotions she was suddenly discovering. I cheered when Janeway said she would risk her negotiations with the Entharans in order to support Seven. I felt that I could find solace in knowing that even as the crew investigated Seven’s accusations, as they tried to corroborate them, they still cared about her.
And yet, at the end of this episode, the Doctor’s empathy and support is a mistake. Janeway’s support is a mistake. It’s all a mistake, and even worse? We’re never given a reason or explanation for Seven’s memory. It is simply immaterial and irrelevant to the story. That’s not to suggest that human memory is perfect or that people don’t misremember things or that false accusations don’t exist.
As brilliant as “Retrospect” is at times, my perspective clouds me. I know that. I know that I saw that scene where the Voyager crew sat around and openly discussed Seven’s accusations and poked holes in it as violence. I couldn’t help it, especially since my gay friends in college did the exact same thing right after I told them about my rape. (Only they did it in front of my face while I still sat there, and I’m no longer friends with those people anymore.) When the Doctor told Seven of Nine that she was no longer a victim, I wanted to fold myself into nothing and disappear. I’m sure there are many victims out there who have been told that exact thing, by their friends, their families, or the perpetrators themselves. And yes, I understood the context as it was used here, but it still hurt.
And that’s the thing about “Retrospect.” At times, the episode feels painfully unaware of the real-world implications of what it says. Again, it is not that these things do not happen. But when we live in a culture that frequently disbelievers victims, that requires them to relive their trauma in a performative display to satisfy others, that obsesses so much with corroboration that it discourages people from reporting in the first place… it’s hard to watch this episode and not see all these things. It’s nearly impossible for me not to feel very personally about this episode.
It’s complicated. Haunting. And that’s how this kind of assault exists in my brain. It’s a ghost, a spirit of an act or two that hides in the shadows, only to present itself at inopportune times, to remind me that I can never escape it. In the end, I felt empathy for Seven because she’s never given closure. Ever. We have no idea what memory she was recalling. We did not see Kovin’s assault on her at the start of the show – which we all saw! – addressed in a satisfying way. She is the means with which other people explored an issue, and they made her a battering ram to decry false reporting, but they did so at the expense of those who report and aren’t listened to. Are torn apart. Are destroyed.
And it’s real hard to ignore that when talking about “Retrospect.”
The video for “Retrospect” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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