Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Retrospect"

***

Air date: 2/25/1998
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Lisa Klink
Story by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman
Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I often find my own patience tested by someone like Mr. Kovin. Of course, I generally respond with a devastating quip rather than a left hook." — Doc to Seven

Nutshell: The plot is a tad convenient at times, but the effect is quite good. Seven continues to be the capable center of the season.

It's so nice to see the Voyager writers, in what is clearly the best season of this series yet, unlock the potential of their characters—or, more specifically, their newest character, Seven of Nine.

I don't necessarily want to go on record saying that Seven of Nine is the best thing that has ever happened to Voyager, but I definitely think the character has been very good for the writing staff. Ever since her controversial introduction to the cast, the effective use of Seven has proven wrong the premature fears of skeptics (myself included). The writers seem to have so much control when writing her, and the shows always seem like they have direction when they pick up a story that explores the character's puzzling dilemmas. These days, my only skepticism is that all the other characters are sitting idly in the background because this one's getting so much spotlight attention.

This week's Seven story, "Retrospect," finally begins to analyze the character's emotions, something I've been long awaiting. It accomplishes this with a fairly standard plot device that benefits from an interesting twist: namely the fact that, for once, the Voyager crew is on the wrong side of a judgment call. Their intentions are good in rallying around Seven in her apparent hour of need, but they make some mistakes which leads to some ugly results.

Perhaps some background would be in order. Still inside Hirogen-traveled space, Voyager comes across a prosperous commerce world featuring This Week's Friendly Aliens (not to be confused with This Week's Evil Aliens). Voyager negotiates with a trader named Kovin (Michael Horton), a somewhat hot-headed and annoying man who deals in powerful weapons that would prove particularly useful in the dangerous areas that Voyager is traveling. Janeway has hammered out a barter deal, but the deal is complicated when Seven loses her cool and assaults Kovin in engineering, breaking his nose.

Naturally, there's more to this than what meets the eye. Seven is on-edge, tense, unusually emotional (in a Seven kind of way). When Doc tries to run scans she grows uneasy and claustrophobic. Doc attributes her uneasiness to memories that have been mysteriously blocked out. When he helps her bring these memories to the surface, she realizes that she was attacked by Kovin when analyzing his weapons stock on the planet surface. Apparently, he shot her with a phaser, confined her to a medical table, extracted Borg nanoprobes from her arm, and then used them to test on another subject—a clear violation of her rights of an individual, not to mention a theft of dangerous technology.

Well, ultimately, the whole point of "Retrospect" is that none of what Seven remembers actually happened. There was indeed an accident: Kovin's phaser had overloaded, stunning Seven—but that was all, according to Kovin's story. Seven must have imagined the rest. (Exactly how she inadvertently concocted the Kovin-specific flashbacks with such alarming detail based merely on "previously witnessing individuals being assimilated back when she was a Borg" is beyond me. I don't claim to be a psychologist.) The episode doesn't let us in on the truth until near the end of the story. In the meantime, there are some lengthy investigations into Kovin's affairs, as the Voyager crew tries to confirm Seven's story.

One question under scrutiny in this episode is just how "impartial" Janeway truly is when a member of her "family" is at stake. Tuvok is by definition impartial, but as "Retrospect" continues, it seems evident that Voyager's search for evidence seems to continue as long as it seems even the slightest bit possible that Kovin is guilty. As the plot would have it (which sometimes proves a little on the contrived side), every clue the investigation uncovers can be read two ways. Is Kovin a liar trying to cover up dangerous experiments? Or is he the innocent subject of people who are very protective of themselves when it comes to their individual rights?

Michael Horton as Kovin has more fire than most guest stars playing aliens, and for this role it's appropriate. Kovin vehemently professes his innocence from the outset, and he's completely appalled that Janeway believes he could've attacked one of her crew members. It's interesting to note that if Kovin had really been guilty, he probably would've been portrayed by the guest actor as a guilty-seeming persona. Here that's obviously not the case.

However, of more interest is the regular cast. Once again, the performances are what truly carries this show. Of honorable mention this week is Robert Picardo as Doc, who is supplied with the interesting role of helping—even prodding—Seven to acknowledge her feelings. He explains to her why it would be "healthy" to feel anger and resentment, and the more he talks, the more Seven understands. A pivotal moment in the story comes when Doc tells her, "When Kovin gets what he deserves, you're going to feel much better." But now knowing that Kovin was, in fact, innocent, Doc's course of action seems to me like traveling in dangerous territory, which I suspect is the story's point.

Kate Mulgrew is typically good as simply "the captain," trying to take control of the messy situation as it unfolds. And Jeri Ryan, who was wonderful in "Prey" last week, again proves adept at conveying confused emotion in a new and interesting way. Some of this material seemed a bit on the familiar side, particularly when Seven finally found her buried emotions beginning to surface. Lines like "I believe I am feeling anger" seem like they came straight out of Data's experience in Generations, but I think "Retrospect" handled this situation much more effectively and subtly overall, rather than going over the top into comic anarchy like Generations did. Besides, this had to happen eventually given the fact that Seven is inherently human, and I'm glad the writers were restrained and plausible in handling it—it made the sentiment much stronger.

Subsequently, when the investigation falls apart (but not before driving Kovin to a panic), Doc realizes he made a serious mistake in his prejudgment, which only leaves Seven more confused. Evidence suggests that Kovin was telling the truth, but by this time Seven has become so emotionally involved in the matter that she doesn't want Kovin to be innocent. She just wants to feel better when Kovin is finally punished. Seven's irrational emotional reaction makes sense because, like she said herself, resentment is not objective or structured. Now she's learning the hard way.

Salvador's direction over the scene in sickbay where Doc has to inform Seven of Kovin's innocence uses an effective subtext: It places Janeway, Doc, and Tuvok all on one side of the room looking across at Seven, who suddenly realizes she is alone. Janeway says that no one is abandoning her, but it certainly must not feel that way to Seven. The visual placement gives the moment a nice touch.

Not quite everything with "Retrospect," however, comes off quite as naturally as it could have. Some of the story's concluding passages are a bit overwrought. As the possible evidence mounts against Kovin, he becomes frustrated and trapped—which I can understand. But that he becomes so desperate that he panics and flees his own world in a ship didn't strike me as completely believable; it struck me more as a convenient turn in the plot used to lead the episode to its culmination in disaster. Likewise, when Voyager tries to contact Kovin and explain how they were wrong, he opens fire on them, disbelieving their promises that they now know the truth. He's killed when his weapons overload and blow up his own ship. Speaking in plot terms, it's awfully extreme.

However, when looking at the outcome of this series of events, it makes sense in the big picture, especially considering that this episode's payoff is about the emotional aftermath that the Voyager crew must deal with. There's some good stuff in here, including Janeway realizing that rallying around a member of the Voyager family can cloud objectivity—something we've all seen Janeway do but seldom acknowledge afterward.

Meanwhile, Seven realizing that she is feeling remorse in this "single being's" death is framed in a nice context. On the surface you can just barely tell she's being affected by her feelings—and "barely" is a perfectly fascinating level of change. The ending also seems to draw an interesting connection between Doc and Seven. Both are relatively new to reacting to emotions. Doc claims to be an "expert" at times, but he knows he really isn't, and in the final scene he goes before the captain and asks to be "reset" to his original program, missing the whole point of why people learn from their mistakes. Keeping in terms with the maternal figure that she has represented through much of this season, Janeway explains the point to him. It's an obvious point, admittedly, but in terms of who Doc is, it's also a sincere one.

I just hope the writers continue to challenge themselves with logical character evolution. "Retrospect" is a good example of the potential, especially considering all the untapped humanity still within Seven. If there's one thing that Seven cannot exhibit, it's a static personality. I hope that if Voyager continues for another two or three seasons I can look back and see that Seven has changed and grown immensely. An episode like "Retrospect" definitely proves that such an evolution is possible within the context of the stories. Let's just hope the writers take the subsequent steps.

Rating-wise, I'm electing to go with three stars; like with DS9 this week, that's on a particularly high end of the three-star range. Quite good, but not quite enough to be standout.

In any case, whether you agree or disagree with me, you can consider me a member of the Seven of Nine fan club. Her character has sparked a lot of compelling stories this season. But I still want to see some of the other characters doing interesting things.

Next week: Poor relations with the Hirogen reach their breaking point with some deadly holodeck games.

Previous episode: Prey
Next episode: The Killing Game

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22 comments on this review

EP - Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - 4:14am (USA Central)
I actually found the ending preposterous for different reasons. In the last episode "Prey," Janeway, the ultimate moralist, was willing the sacrifice the safety of the entire Voyager crew just to protect a member of Species 8472, and confines Seven of Nine to the cargo bay for her dissent.
In this episode, Janeway essentially says, "Oops, my bad," for her part in causing the death of an innocent man who was ready to sell her better weapons so that Voyager could survive the Delta quadrant. Then Voyager warps away and the end credits roll.
As an aside, the brain-dead writer who concocted the idea of the holographic Doctor being able to modify his own program without obtaining authorization or even formally informing the Captain of his actions needs to return his plot-development diploma to the garbage bin he found it in.
Ryan - Sun, Aug 29, 2010 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on Seven as a character, but I think the answer is simple. Conflict. She brings conflict. Have often do we see any substantive conflict between regular characters?

Seven is a true challenge, and not just to Janeway. As with TNG you sometimes wonder if they're pumping Prozac into the air ducts in Voyager, any deviation from the day-in day-out deep mutual respect we see between the regulars is usually a minor blip on the radar.

Seven genuinely pissed people off, breaks rules that have consequences. She takes us back to the dramatic tension in Season 1, the potential of which was frittered away shorthly thereafter.
Kieran - Mon, Sep 20, 2010 - 7:52am (USA Central)
This was a good episode but it left a bad taste in my mouth. The Doctor essentially drove an innocent man to his death and all he gets is a "we all make mistakes" from Janeway.
Paul - Sun, Jun 5, 2011 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
Good to see that time ship. AGAIN.
Nic - Thu, Jul 21, 2011 - 8:58am (USA Central)
Am I the only one who still thinks Kovin might have been guilty? They weren't able to prove his guilt, but that doesn't necessarily make him innocent. Maybe he did it, maybe he didn't. But Seven truly BELIEVED he did, so the emotional consequences are the same.

I am greatly disturbed by how often on television a story of violation/rape turns out to be false, either through lies or deleusions. Of course it happens in real life, but very rarely.
Destructor - Sun, Aug 7, 2011 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
But Star Trek has had a variety of rape analogies where the perpetrator has been guilty, so it's not awful to have one that deals with false memory, particularly as it relates to childhood abuse- that is to say, Seven HAS been raped, by the Borg and, possibly, again by Kovin. I also was in two minds about his guilt, which makes his death (hardly Voyager's direct responsibility, they did try to tell him to stop) slightly more palatable.
Justin - Sun, Apr 1, 2012 - 3:30pm (USA Central)
It was a review either during season 2 or 3 where Jammer made an offhand comment about how horrible the UPN Voyager previews were. The preview for this episode when it originally aired was perhaps the worst of all. I remember it like it was yesterday. It focused on 3 words said by Seven of Nine: "He violated me."

Quite the attention grabber isn't it? What made matters worse is that a few days before the episode aired I heard a radio promo which took those words to ridiculous extreme. Complete with reverb and echo:

"He violated...violated...he violated...HE VIOLATED ME," followed by that cheesy promo guy voice, "Next time on STAAAR TREK - Voyager."

Get it? This was UPN's way of grabbing ratings by saying "hey everyone, you know that hot voluptuous blonde we have on Voyager now? Well she gets RAPED in the next episode! So be sure to tune in 'kay?"

Needless to say, I was appalled. After watching the episode I was glad to see that it was a very good story AND a worthy topic (dealing with how false accusations can ruin peoples lives - something you rarely see on TV). I was also relieved to see that there was nothing sexual about the episode at all, especially rape. But then I was even more upset about how they tried to "hook" people into watching with their disgustingly suggestive promos.

It was then that I realized that Voyager's biggest problem was not the writers or the actors - it was UPN. One of the reasons TNG was so successful and DS9 was so well conceived and richly textured is because they were syndicated shows, untethered by network executives and their peurile attempts at attracting an audience. "Enterprise" suffered from the same problems. It might have gotten its full 7-year run had it been syndicated.
stargazer - Mon, Oct 29, 2012 - 4:28pm (USA Central)
@Paul

Yes, Kovin is evidently sitting in what appears to be the 29th century time ship Aeon. LOL

Obviously not a big budget for this episode, so they had to resort to recycling.

SamB - Wed, Jan 23, 2013 - 6:50am (USA Central)
I find it interesting how many viewers, Jammer included, read the episode as definitng that Kovin was innocent. It was my understanding that all the evidence they found *against* him was eventually disproved, but there was similarly nothing that proved he didn't do it.

Of course, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and that should always hold, particularly in the Star Trek universe, I feel. But I really liked how the episode left open that grain of doubt - that perhaps Seven had been right after all.
Lt. Yarko - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 1:31am (USA Central)
I, too, was a bit annoyed that it seemed that everyone had decided he was innocent simply because they couldn't build an airtight case against him. That was weird. And did the guy really have to blow himself up? That was what he did, after all. It's not like THEY killed him. His actions made sense only if the guy was out of his mind. How could they blame themselves for that? It was a weird ending for sure.
Nancy - Wed, Jul 31, 2013 - 3:37am (USA Central)
I still believe he could've been guilty. The guy freaking out and becoming deperate enough to kill suggest guilt to me. It does seem that everyone else believes he's innocent, though, and even Seven must doubt herself because she now feels "remorse" and "guilt" although she never renounces the memories.

I didn't like Janeway's admonishing glare at Seven after the guy blew himself up. She had done nothing wrong. If she were having false memories, it was a genuine mistake. If the memories were real and he was guilty, the message is apparently "Don't accuse people of assault even if you're sure they're guilty because they might get upset and accidentally blow themselves up." It makes me uncomfortable because it reminds me of how date rapes are often handled: "you'll destroy his life if you accuse him.... Are you SURE it was REALLY rape? You were drinking after all....isn't it possible you just imagined telling him no and the sex got rough so you panicked..." Etc etc.

The episode surprised me, made me think, and made me appreciate Seven more.... All good things. The way Janeway acted.... Not a good thing. Overall a strong episode.
DK - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 9:48pm (USA Central)
This is the first time in a long time that I have been proud of a television show for having courage. ALWAYS it is stressed on tv to NEVER doubt a female victims's account of an attack. Thank God a show had courage to face down the majority traditional mandate and show that it is possible for women to be wrong in those circumstances and that we shouldn't be so quick to judge those accused simply because a female claims an attack. Predictably the trained herd of sheep are quick to cast fear doubt and worry over the subject of the show but I am proud.
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 7:43am (USA Central)
I must admit I find this one quite disturbing.

What is the message supposed to be? That we should doubt rape victims?

A bit of clarity might have helped, it all seemed rather jumbled. The supposed criminal killed himself, even when Voyager admitted they could be wrong.
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 8:21am (USA Central)
It's not that I don't accept that false accusations can happen, but I think they are a tiny minority of rape cases, and I'm unsure why Voyager would want to jump on the "false rape" bandwagon.

I think that that particular cause does not need any help from science fiction, and that it kind of flies against Trek trying to give us moral messages about our time on behalf of oppressed or weaker groups (for example, the diversity on the TOS bridge). What's next, an episode in favour of fathers' rights against the terrible mothers who gain custody of their children?
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 8:27am (USA Central)
Now, if some say, the message is false accusations, it could have been far better done.

As some others have commented above, blowing yourself up because you've been accused of something, especially when your accusers are rescinding themselves, is hardly a logical course of action, as Tuvok would say.

And to repeat others above, the failure of an airtight case does not prove innocence.

Which is why I would say this is a failed and confused idea, and which would seem to have some unsavoury consequences if taken to its "logical" conclusion.
Tuff - Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - 1:40am (USA Central)
It's such a relief to see folks aghast at the perspectives on rape found in this story. I saw this theme right as it started to develop and hoped that it didn't turn out like it did. Star Trek always seems to shine some light on human nature or runs some social experiment, but this was one of the ones that made me uncomfortable. I hope the writer doesn't think that this is some kind of norm.
Kempt - Sat, Oct 5, 2013 - 8:33pm (USA Central)
As an ex-Scientologist I'll go ahead and call this the DIANETICS episode of Voyager.

When a doctor decides to just "program in" psychotherapy abilities without any proper training the resulting false memories end up being destructive to careers, justice, and ultimately life.
Nick - Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - 8:19am (USA Central)
This episode left open many doors to interpretation. The doctor was allowed to expand his program, this results in ambiguity regarding his new methods. The memories he recovers from Seven are not proven to be false, but they aren't proven to be accurate either.

Seven's recollections are also not correlated with the evidence beyond circumstantial -- but the door is left open for different interpretations.

The way Kovin reacts, running away on his spaceship and even attacking Voyager reeks of guilt. This is a weapons dealer after all, a shady and morally dubious business if ever there was one.

Putting aside the exterior story elements, this episode effectively expanded upon Seven and the Doctor in interesting ways. They both learned about ambiguity, dealing with seemingly conflicting facts, and how to rationalize irrational events - ie. Kovin's seemingly irrational flight from justice. -- being human means accepting that one cannot control nor rationalize every action in the universe, especially when accounting for a strict adherence to logic.
Caine - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 3:11am (USA Central)
To me, deciding to do an episode about the consequences of wrongly accusing someone - and having our main cast be the accusers - is a gutsy move. I, for one, applaud it!

Unfortunately I think the execution of the plot was handled horribly clumsilly!
The story and the actions of most of the characters completely lost all credibility to me, when the Voayager crew turned on a plate. When they discovered that their one solid piece of evidence against Kovin wasn't valid after all, they went directly from "let's try to stay objective and find solid evidence against Kovin to prove his guilt before we accuse him" to "tis piece of evidence didn't point towards Kovin's guilt, so 7 of 9 was wrong and imagined it all". What?! That doesn't make any sense!

The disappointed/angry stare that Janeway gave 7 of 9 after Kovin blew himself up didn't make any sense either. What's she mad at her for? What did 7 of 9 do wrong?

Furthermore I found the conversation between Doc and Janeway at the end to be unbelievable. After 3 and a half years, Doc hasn't learned enough about "the human condition" to see that mistakes happen and it's important to learn from your mistakes? Sure, he was - understandably - emotionally affected by his mistake ... but to the point of committing personality suicide? Really? Really?!

I do, however, believe that Kovin's behaviour was understandable - i.e. him panicking and trying to escape by all means, not listening to Janeway's assurences that "it was our mistake". As he said early on, in his culture, getting accused is the same as being convicted. In his eyes, he has been convicted of a horrible crime (whether he committed it or not is not really the point here) and frantically tries to escape, no matter what.

An episode with a good premise but horrible excution on some pivotal points. I'd give it 1,5-2 stars.

Jack - Wed, Jan 8, 2014 - 4:23pm (USA Central)
I could never much stand the Doctor, but form here forward I just despised him. This episode came to my mind even in much later episodes.
Kevin - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 3:44am (USA Central)
As often as Jammer talks about this being a lightweight season, I've found that several of the episodes have shocked me with their darkness. These are some difficult issues being experimented with, and although Voyager isn't always the best Trek franchise, this season in particular has brought out some of the darkest Trek I've ever seen. Episodes like Retrospect, Nemesis, and Mortal Coil are among the most pronounced, but even Random Thoughts brought out a side of Trek that we've rarely seen done well. DS9 was gritty and gray, but these cross the line into bleak and depressing. I feel worse for having watched them. But in a good way.

On a side note, it's interesting that Voyager is finally starting to act like a ship lost all by itself. Seeing Voyager trading for better weapons is very un-Star Fleet, but much more realistic given their circumstances, as was the unauthorized use of the comm array a few episodes back. Normal Trek might have used it once, but Janeway forced her way in repeatedly. Feels like the show is finally finding its groove - just hope it keeps it up!
Chris P - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 3:59pm (USA Central)
I'm not so sure the theme was false rape accusations in general. This episode aired as people began to come out of the hysteria of the 80s and 90s where it became widely accepted that repressed memories were real memories. The episode does what Star Trek does best: it brings to light a real world issue. Careers in childcare, medicine, and other fields were ruined and communities turned against good people merely based on the "memories" of "trauma" dredged up in "victims". Google the topic for more information. There were despicable things done to people by "therapists" seeking to make a name for themselves. Star Trek was a good vehicle to bring the skepticism about repressed traumatic memories to the public conscience.

To send a more effective message they should have provided a solid answer about Kovin's innocence/guilt and should not have promoted the episode as "Adult Seven gets violated". To do the issue justice they would have had to use a child as the victim and I doubt they wanted to deal with the splashback that would have provided. Instead they used Seven, a blond bombshell, and the message gets confused somewhere between the repressed memory issue and false rape allegations.

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