June 13 2024

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Retro Review: Retrospect

6 min read
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Seven experiences flashbacks of being assaulted by an ally from whom Janeway wants to buy weapons.

Plot Summary: During Voyager’s successful negotiations to purchase weapons from the Entharan trader Kovin, Seven of Nine goes to Sickbay for a routine checkup and has an intense recollection of having been assaulted. Under psychiatric treatment by the Doctor, she recalls that Kovin violated her, using equipment to take nanoprobes from her arm to build a weapon which he then tested on a humanoid subject. The bellicose Kovin insists that Seven was injured during a weapons demonstration and he only touched her to help heal her injured arm. Distrustful of Seven’s repressed memories, Tuvok launches an investigation and finds evidence of active Borg nanoprobes in Kovin’s laboratory. Believing that his reputation and career will be ruined from having charges brought against him, Kovin flees to a spaceship, which Janeway pursues. But Tuvok remains unconvinced of Kovin’s guilt and suggests simulating a rifle blast on Seven’s arm to see whether the nanoprobes could have been activated by the weapons injury that Kovin described, rather than by the experiments that Seven saw in her flashbacks. Because the experiment demonstrates that the nanoprobes could have been activated by accident, Janeway hails Kovin to tell him that she wishes to clear his name. But, believing that Voyager is trying to lure him into a trap, Kovin fires on the ship, overloads his own weapons, and dies in an explosion. Janeway and the Doctor both express their devastation that an innocent man lost his life, making the Doctor wish to reset his parameters so he won’t try to practice psychiatry again. Meanwhile, Seven concludes that remorse is as distressing as anger.

Analysis: “Retrospect” is my least favorite episode not merely of Voyager, but of Star Trek, even more so than “Turnabout Intruder” and the reboot movies. It’s the point where Voyager jumped the shark for me; sure, they did some good episodes afterward, but I never loved the show again. It’s so offensive that I feel I should put a trigger warning on my plot summary, since the producers were too irresponsible to put one on the episode itself. Seven experiences a brutal assault, then is told that she’s confused, she can’t be trusted, she’s made Janeway and the Doctor bring false charges, she’s responsible for destroying a man’s life. For weeks we’ve been listening to Janeway and the Doctor tell Seven that, if she wishes to be accepted by humans, she must become more compliant, more ingratiating, more accepting of what other people tell her, and here we see exactly what happens when a woman is told to shut up and become what someone else wants her to be. We share directly as viewers in her experience, for we witness her flashbacks. The episode succeeds solely in one way, which is why it should come with a trigger warning: it forces an audience to share the anguish and horror of the victim of an assault as she is first forced to recall the details and face her abuser, then told that she’s wrong and the abuser’s life is more important than her own. If you’ve ever had trouble understanding why it’s so agonizing for women to listen to pundits defending the Brock Turners of the world, put yourself in Seven’s place in “Retrospect.”

And since this is perhaps the only time in all of Voyager when Tuvok does not use a mind-meld to share and sort the buried memories of someone involved in a crime, we never see anything to contradict that gut-punching anguish. This is not a case in which, as with Tom Paris in “Ex Post Facto”, we can’t be sure which aspects of a violent act are real and which have been implanted in a human mind by aliens. We get technobabble hypotheses about what might have happened, but vague verbal speculation about Borg physiology doesn’t diminish the horror of the violation we see onscreen. The Doctor guesses that Seven is hallucinating based on her Borg memories, but Seven’s hallucinations in “The Raven” (which we also share and see as she does) look quite different, so we have no reason to believe the Doctor is correct. Seven’s memories are very specific – she sees a woman helping Kovin assault her and an Entharan assimilated with her nanoprobes – yet the worst security officer in the history of Starfleet doesn’t try to find those people and we never learn where Seven might have seen them other than with Kovin. Tuvok remains certain that repressed memories are unreliable, apparently unless they’re his own repressed memories of serving on Sulu’s ship or Suder’s of committing violence. Thus, although The Doctor and Tuvok prove that Kovin’s story could be true, they never prove that it is true. Still their findings are probably enough to get the charges dropped, so if Kovin chooses to keep running away and gets himself killed, it’s a shame, but it is not Seven’s fault. After all, we generally expect innocent men to defend themselves, not to flee from trial.

But try telling that to Janeway, who doesn’t even press for a holographic reconstruction of what happened to Seven, since everyone involved agrees that — excuse me while I scream — IT WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE TO RECONSTRUCT THE INJURY TO SEVEN’S ARM. That’s right: Janeway agrees to try to ascertain whether or not Seven was violated by ordering her to be violated again. I’ve tried to figure out why I went from loving Janeway so much in Voyager‘s first couple of seasons to loathing her in this one, and I don’t need to look any further than her insensitivity here, all while she’s claiming she just wants to help Seven understand the truth. If Janeway had ever been a proper fanatic about obeying non-interference laws, I’d buy that in the end she felt guilty for screwing up Entharan justice just to try to stay friends with the Entharans and buy fancy new weapons, but I despise her teary, judgmental countenance over the death of a bellicose arms trader who may still be guilty of attacking Seven. Janeway not only rejects Seven’s sense of violation but expects Seven to reject it as well. One week Seven is ordered to become an individual whether she wants to or not; the next she’s being taught not to trust her own memories when they’re uncomfortable for the people who are her parental figures as well as her senior officers. Even if Janeway is persuaded that Seven’s memories are wrong, she could still validate Seven’s experiences, investigate what’s affecting her memory, order the Doctor to look for the underlying trauma that Seven is apparently reliving.

In Seven’s own mind, she has been attacked and betrayed; she has no proof of her memory being faulty, no strategy to cope with her traumatic Borg memories in the future. She only has the word of people she trusts that something outside her control has caused the death of an innocent man. The Doctor tells Seven that justice will help with her anger, but every victim knows that there’s no punishment or revenge that completely diminishes the sense of violation that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder for years afterward. Janeway blathers endlessly about compassion, yet all her concern is for the Doctor, whom she feels must be consoled for his holographic ethical dilemma. The captain who’s more worried about escaped nanoprobes than her own crewmember’s trauma is content in the end to wound Seven all over again, invalidating the younger woman’s feelings and experiences, preferring to mourn the life of a stranger who has caused her great suffering. If Seven is ever harassed by a member of Voyager’s crew, will she feel protected and empowered to speak up, or will she obey Janeway’s repeated dictums that she must think of the good of the community before she opens her mouth and causes trouble? In our own era, the number of cases in which a woman has falsely accused someone of assault based on regression therapy is miniscule compared to the number of cases in which rapists have gone free because of testimony that their accusers couldn’t be trusted even when there was physical evidence of the crime. This episode comes down firmly on the side of punishing the victim.

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