Sunday, October 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Memorial"

It is definitely strange to devote ¾ of an episode to a mystery when the title itself reveals the outcome, but that is what “Memorial” does. Nevertheless, it still offers a compelling story with rare exceptional performance by actors who are usually, how shall I say, phoning it in or hamming it up, depending on their opinion of VOY’s quality. The episode falls apart at the end, but it is because Janeway’s twisted moral sense and penchant for sadism overrules the better judgment of her senior staff. Is that not rare as a hen’s tooth on this show?

Chakotay, Tom, Harry, and Neelix return from a two week survey mission in which they were scouting for an energu resource. As they resume their normal routines, troubling memories brim to the surface. The four believe they were part of a military operation intended to relocate colonists from a war zone. During the relocation, someone--no one knows who--fired a weapon. In the ensuing panic, the military slaughtered all 83 colonists. Our four heroes believe they were recruited and participated in the massacre.

The rest of the crew is skeptical as they investigate by retracing the journey of the away team. As they come close to a certain planet the away team surveyed, forty other crewmembers, including Janeway, begin suffering from repressed memories. Was the entire crew kidnapped, brainwashed into military service, and participated in a civilian massacre?

If you read the title from the opening credits, you are already aware the answer is no. The crew finds an obelisk on one of the surveyed planets. The obelisk transmits memories of the massacre into the minds of those nearby so they feel as thought they were a part of it. The obelisk as far more vivid than a mere monument to the murdered or a museum to commemorate the massacre.

Everyone of the main crewmembers want to shut the obelisk down under the rationale whoever built it has no right to force innocent people to believe they committed such an atrocity. The physical monument will remain, but the memories will no longer be forced onto people. Neelix argues no. He thinks they do not have ther right to shut down the memory program. Yes, it is traumatic for people to suffer those memories, but that is how the memorial’s builders wanted it. Neelix would say this. He is from a race that were aggressors in a war and were subject to at least one WMD mass death with who knows how many civilian deaths by conventional warfare. I would like to think Neelix’s position is a nod to continuity, but knowing late season VOY, it is probably a fortunate accident.

Needless to say, no one on the senior staff is on Neelix’s side--except for Janeway. She decides that no only should the obelisk stay online, but they should repair some of the damage it has suffered after three hundred years of neglect. She agrees with Neelix they should honor the original intent of the memorial. She probably just enjoys invading innocent, unsuspecting people’s mind and torturing them with alien memories. Thinking she is part of a bloody massacre is good, too. Whatever her real motivation, the crew falls in line and repairs the obelisk to full function.

There is a lot of good potential in “Memorial” that ia blown to smithereens by the story structure. We spend all but the final moments of the episode dealing the mystery that is not really a mystery if you can read opening credits and building up the horrific massacre from the firsthand experience of the crew. It certainly paints a brutal picture, though I am inclined to think less is more. Not a lot of time is given over to the moral debate over what to do about the memorial. No one asks whether the invasion of unsuspecting minds is a crime in and of itself. Heck, no one even wonders if this is some sick joke. All we get is Janeway once again telling everyone her opinion on what to do is unquestionably the right thing to do, no matter how dumb it sounds.

For my money, her decision is dumb. No one should force memories of an atrocity on innocent people in produce guilt. The consequence were evident even in the episode. Neelix suffers a flashback in which he believes naomi is one of the civilians about to be killed. He grabs a phasor and is ready to kill everyone else to protect her. You cannot dismiss the possibility other wayward souls will not react in the same manner or worse. What good is a memorial if it gets more innocent people killed? The decision to risk it is another case of janeway making absurd decisions based on her warped morality. She does not even bother to think thoroughly through the issue.

So the lack of mystery and bad ending weigh “Memorial” down. The acting kicks up a notch from the norm. not evenly, mind you. Robert Duncan NcNiell believes the best way to express emotional trauma is by shouting your lines. But Ethan Phillips, Garrett Wang, and Robert Beltran do a fine job as memories of their “atrocities” resurface. I include Beltran. It is true his role has been noticeably diminished. When he is on screen, he is usually about as enthusiastic as driftwood. Maybe it is passive-aggression on his part, because he can still come alive. Certain episodes like this one must appeal to his sensibilities.

"Memorial” is definitely worth watching. If for no other reason, it is bright spot in a sequence of abysmal episodes. The problems with the episode keep it from being counted among VOY’s best. I do not think it is a coincidence it originally aired a month shy of the 32nd anniversary of the Mai Lai Massacre, either. Consider how one sided the moral debate over how to best remember the colonist massacre is, and you will figure out how preachy “Memorial” is.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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