In the fourteenth episode of the sixth season of Voyager, this is supremely messed up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of warfare, state violence, PTSD, and genocide/massacres.
This might just be the most intense episode of Voyager, and for that, I commend the show for taking this topic seriously. Even for the viewer, this is one of the most taxing experiences in the series, and it’s almost like it acts as a memorial itself.
It’s a bewildering experience, made all the more confusing because of how gut-wrenching and deplorable the acts we see depicted are. How could the characters we’d come to know and love over the course of this show do such unspeakable, unforgivable things?
That’s the central mystery within “Memorial,” which tracks the sudden appearance of PTSD in Tom, Harry, Neelix, and Chakotay, all stemming from a military massacre that apparently happened with the team was on an away mission to secure supplies. The timeline provided to us – fifteen days on the mission – also contributes to the confusion. How is it that these people were conscripted into the military of a species they’d never met and convinced to help them with a forced relocation? How is it that in such a short span of time, they’d end up massacring a group of unarmed civilians?
My initial guesses centered around this impossibility, so I assumed that none of this was real: there was no massacre, and these crewmen certainly were not there. The effects of the PTSD were real, though, and I was incredibly impressed with the depth and variety of how the actors displayed this disorder. It doesn’t manifest the same for everyone, nor does it look similar based on the root cause. My own PTSD can manifest as a panic or anxiety attack, but more often than not, I experience a complete shutdown or I dissociate. Each of these characters responds differently, and y’all, that meant the world to me to see that!
So what caused this? Why were these memories so vivid, so real, and so convincing that the members of the grew faced genuine threat of being overwhelmed by their PTSD? I’m gonna jump right to the end because I believe there’s more to discuss here once I get to the point. The very idea of a memorial for an act of state violence that forces a person to relive that violence as if they were there is a compelling (if immensely fucked up) thing. But it’s complicated, isn’t it?
Let me start here: the show’s depiction of the massacre was believable because it highlighted what can happen when people are just following orders. I swear there is an entire thesis to be made of those scenes. We could talk about how those soldiers were trained to de-escalate and manage conflicts, and yet? They still panicked. Even if the armed citizens did shoot first, the solders should have known better than to simply let loose on people running away. (Oh, lord, the modern implications of this… THIS IS TOO MUCH, Y’ALL.) That panic snowballed into mass murder as the soldiers continued to fire on unarmed people. And if that wasn’t enough, the commander ordered the literal erasure of the victims and the massacre itself because… well, because people just wouldn’t understand. It’s a monstrous moment, evidence of the man’s guilt and his complete dismissal of like… ANY SENSE OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. That commander knew he was wrong, knew he’d probably lose his livelihood for it, and instead chose to hide it all. Other people willingly covered it up with him. Look, you don’t have to look far within our own history to find a sad collection of similar incidents. There are so many, and some happened within the last ten years!
That sort of complicity matters immensely to the story and is most likely why someone built that memorial in the first place. They wanted people to understand that if they are neutral or quiet in situations like that, they are absolutely part of the problem. On a poetic level, I appreciate it. However… see, here’s the thing. I feel real weird about forcing people to have PTSD. I get that not everyone develops the same response to traumatic events – Chakotay’s reaction is nowhere near as bad as the others – but that feels immensely uncomfortable to me in a way that the show doesn’t address. These people will have these memories forever, which made me realize another unintended consequence that’s not addressed at all: what if someone who already has PTSD or who survived a massacre comes into contact with that memorial? Then, the affects of that tower don’t seem worth it to me. Re-traumatization is a real thing, y’all! It’s why I worry about depictions of trauma in fiction. There’s a thin line between providing an educational or illuminating experience and then just exploiting it. Granted, this was not fiction within the context of the show, but my point is that this memorial is designed without other survivors in mind. It is entirely for the privileged and the ignorant, and it contains no mechanisms to protect anyone else. That seems like an oversight, right?
Anyway, I was glad that Janeway agreed to keep the memorial running, but with a warning buoy in orbit. I’ll just say it now: that buoy is a trigger warning. IT TOTALLY IS, YOU CAN’T CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. At least that could filter out the experience, you know?
The video for “Memorial” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– In the very near future, these are going away. Please visit my new site that will act as a portal for all announcements. If you’d rather not have to rely on checking a website regularly, sign up for my newsletter instead! This will cover all news for Mark Reads, Mark Watches, and Mark’s fiction career.