Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Unforgettable"

*1/2

Air date: 4/22/1998
Written by Greg Elliot & Michael Perricone
Directed by Andrew J. Robinson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If you don't get it, then I can't explain it to you." — Harry (perhaps adopting the policy of the episode's writers?)

Nutshell: A badly plotted example of Trek romance by the numbers. Zzzzz...

I don't usually complain about stories being boring; I'm usually willing to ride a slow episode out and look for the subtleties and the larger themes and meanings of a story.

But "unforgettable," which is also the title for this week's Voyager offering, is about the last word I would ever use to describe this installment. Words that I would use, on the other hand, include "dull," "boring," and "bland." This is Trek romance at its most obvious and mundane, and it shows just how much more energy and fun there was this week in DS9's "His Way" (even though I couldn't fully recommend that episode either).

You know an episode is in trouble when you start calling out the lines in advance. Example: There's a scene in the mess hall where Chakotay tells Kellin (Virginia Madsen, playing a rather hollow love interest) that he doesn't completely trust her because he can't remember being in love with her. She stands up and turns away, looking out the window. Chakotay gets up, walks over to her and says, "I'm sorry." I groaned. It was so typical, so expected, and so unimaginative. In reality, it's a pivotal moment in the episode concerning Chakotay's relationship with Kellin, but it's such a worn-out moment that it falls flat on its face. There's more than one scene like that in "Unforgettable."

This episode—perhaps the Voyager equivalent of DS9's "Meridian" from a few years back—feels as if it were written by a computer program. This hypothetical computer program would select from other Trek episodes and other films and TV shows, insert new names into the script, build a rudimentary plot framework for the romance, and then compile these various elements of dialog and interaction into a series of events. The result is cold and detached.

I didn't buy the relationship between Chakotay and Kellin for a minute. I didn't feel like I was watching two people with any sort of emotional connection; I felt like I was watching two actors who were paid to go through the motions. Again, cold and detached.

There's no dramatic tension here; it's just a plodding story that doesn't have the slightest idea why Chakotay is taken in by this woman. That concept itself may be fine; at the end of the episode Neelix offers the notion that love can't really be explained or predicted (read: this week's obvious reflection upon this week's events). But the big problem with the story is that it has Chakotay approach Kellin with a calculated indifference—only to have him suddenly fall in love so that he can later be crushed by the story's inevitable "tragedy"—an effect which itself has no impact because of the "nothing here really matters" nature of the plot.

I simply didn't buy it—or care. I was watching events transpire that I knew were happening because they were following a calculated, pre-planned formula. (Lesson of the week: Romances don't work when they come off as calculated and pre-planned.) There was nothing intriguing about the relationship that developed between the two characters, because it was just a means to the plot's ends.

And that brings us to the plot. Or, more specifically, the "sci-fi twist on the romance angle." The gimmick is that Kellin is from a race of people who emit some sort of pheromone that causes whomever they meet to forget them within a day or so. This device maybe could've worked in theory if there were anything interesting done with it, but I have a serious problem with how the premise allows for so much incredible plot confusion and stupidity. Half the time the episode doesn't seem to play by its own rules; it changes the rules whenever it's convenient.

Kellin's entire society is based upon a "covert existence." They don't leave home, they don't allow visitors, and when one of their people attempts to flee society, they send in fugitive experts called "tracers" to find them and bring them back. (Don't ask me why a race devoted to isolation would develop space travel, or why their citizens have access to spaceships, because I don't have an answer.) Kellin is a tracer who found a "runaway" hidden on Voyager. While looking for this runaway in conjunction with the Voyager crew, she and Chakotay apparently had some sort of relationship. (The events surrounding their first meeting are told with bits and pieces of flashback thrown in—a narrative device which isn't used consistently and merely ends up being awkward.) After she left, Chakotay's memories of her faded away. But now she has returned, because she has changed her mind about her society and wants to rekindle the relationship. In the process of seeking asylum from the Voyager crew (who are unaware they had even met her before) she kills another tracer in a space battle.

Now, given the nature of the plot, Kellin strikes me as one of the most obliviously hypocritical Trek characters I can remember. (And the writers didn't even intend her to be a hypocrite; it's just a side effect of poor plotting.) Just when did Kellin—a tracer who hunts down other runaways—suddenly realize that she didn't want to be a part of the system anymore? Was it before or after she turned in the runaway that she caught with the help of Chakotay and the Voyager crew? The story doesn't even begin to acknowledge this question. If she has been struggling with this dilemma for some time—as I hope she would've in order to come to this course of action—then it seems pretty hypocritical and self-serving that she would hunt tirelessly for another runaway and turn him in. The fact that she blows up another tracer in the process of going against something that she herself was just days ago strikes me as a notable issue worth tackling. But it isn't even considered as an afterthought here. That strikes me as sloppy thinking, as if someone said, "Well, we need to blow something up this week, so let's have a battle between two cloaked ships."

Then, of course, after Chakotay and Kellin have fallen in love, there's the inevitable moment when another tracer named Curneth (Michael Canavan) appears on Voyager to take Kellin back. The way the plot details surrounding this matter are handed borders on the absurd. Curneth shoots her with a "memory eraser" or some gizmo, which wipes her memory of all things from outside her culture. Curneth is promptly thrown into the brig for no other reason, apparently, then to be later released. (It appears that Voyager's policy for the imprisonment of aliens is that you can arbitrarily lock people up for enforcing their own laws on their own people, but can let them go when a romantic situation has subsequently been resolved. Now there's an interesting interpretation of the Prime Directive.)

Meanwhile, Chakotay tries to convince the memory-wiped Kellin that they had fallen in love and that she still has the choice to leave her society if she wants to. Naturally, he fails in this endeavor. Why? Because the Star Trek Standard Romance Law [TM] states that guest characters involved in such romances must be gone by the end of the episode. "Unforgettable" is no exception. The end of the episode is one of those "unfortunate" examples of an individual succumbing to her society's norms. It wasn't a terrible idea, but it was a familiar one—basically ripped off from the "brainwashing" idea at the end of TNG's "The Outcast." On the other hand, the plot is sketchy about who Kellin as a person really is—it certainly doesn't say much about her if a few memories about Chakotay are all that determined whether or not she believed in her own culture.

I think I can see where they were going with some of this (as poorly executed as it was), but the complicated plot tries to build to some sort of emotional payoff that simply doesn't exist. It's a tiresome exercise with so many half-realized elements (alien intrigue, simplistic romance, fighting authority, analyzing love, pondering the virtue of uncommon attitudes, cloaked space battles, etc.) that the whole episode never comes together to be anything more than a sum of disjointed parts. And in the process it's simply dull pointlessness. I didn't find this society interesting because the story was too preoccupied with derivative romance to make sense of it all, and I didn't find the romance believable because there were too many crazy, ill-conceived plot pieces regarding the nature of this society.

You've got to hand it to the Voyager writers though: They've ingeniously come up with a plot that has a convenient, intentional, built-in reset feature. You want the reset button? You've got the reset button. It would've gone without saying that this episode wouldn't have any real consequences, but the fact that Chakotay (and the rest of the crew) will forget everything that happened (aside from a few thoughts that Chakotay scrawls down on a piece of paper), is so indicative of this series' policy of stand-alone episodic inconsequence that I couldn't help but be amused. Since none of this really happened and Chakotay's emotional stake in the matter will be wiped away within a few days, who really cares if it happened at all?

I sure don't.

Next week: Voyager is labeled a historic curse. And someone actually remembers?

Previous episode: The Omega Directive
Next episode: Living Witness

Season Index

26 comments on this review

mlk - Sun, Jan 13, 2008 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
Gotta love how Chakotay was so upset about the guy who wiped her memory but when she did the same thing it was great
Stefan - Tue, Mar 18, 2008 - 3:52pm (USA Central)
This episode is full of hypocrisy. When they captured the first "runaway" it was a great accomplishment, but when Kellin is caught it's supposed to be a tragedy. Kellin caught many of her world's citizens for daring to leave (like what Communist countries do), but then feels perfectly justified in leaving.

It would have been nice if the multiple acts of hypocrisy were confronted in the episode. That's why I would give this episode a 1.5.
impronen - Fri, Aug 22, 2008 - 10:27am (USA Central)
The only good thing about this episode was the conversation between Chakotay and Tuvok about what-was-her-name-agains future duties. Protect Neelix from the spontaneous outrage of others? Hilarious.
EP - Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - 10:22pm (USA Central)
For me, this episode marked the beginning of the end of Chakotay as an interesting character. That Robert Beltran would begin to publicly snipe at the creative staff for running his character into the ground is a perfect example of a feedback loop that would ultimately result in the virtual disappearance of Chakotay in Voyager's later seasons.
Heck, even Neelix got a decent send-off in season 7.
Banjo - Wed, Aug 26, 2009 - 11:31am (USA Central)
I'm glad to see "hypocrisy" being thrown around a lot in both the review and comments, because that's the thing that stood out most in this episode.

Putting aside Kellin's own "change of heart" and doing what she captured others for doing (there's lots of "redeemed" assassins, bounty hunters, rebels, criminals, etc. in fiction), my bigger problem was with Chakotay and Voyager: C & K were celebrating MIND WIPING the last guy with drinks last time she was there?! It just doesn't strike me as something Chakotay (never mind the other crew) would be HAPPY about (even if they felt it was necessary, which it wasn't).

Also, could Chakotay have been SLOWER on the draw when the tracer zapped his lover's mind? He waited until he was actually FIRING before even warning him? If he really cared about Kellin, he'd have stunned (or vaporized!) the guy the minute he appeared (he knew why he was there).

Not to mention, why give the guy his weapon back and let him put a VIRUS in your computer (?!) before letting him go? Bad enough to just let him go and take Kellin, but let him wipe your records and how to detect these guys if they show up again too?!

Also, I kept waiting for a twist to the script (Kellin's story seemed SO unlikely - "Nobody remembers us, we wipe your computers, our ships are cloaked" etc. - I thought there had to be one), but no. Everything (illogical) that she said was apparently true; those poorly done flashbacks were the proof.

I agree with the comment that Tuvok's chat with Chakotay about security for Neelix was the one good moment. Everything else was dull and badly written.

I came away feeling sorry for Beltran that Chakotay got this nonsense written for him.

Michael - Sat, Jun 19, 2010 - 10:24am (USA Central)
So, Harry "Forgettable" Kim AGAIN succeeds in not being able to transport the wounded pilot of the enemy vessel on to Voyager, so Acushla Moya takes Paris and Tuvok - that's three of the highest ranking officers onboard after Janeway - over to said vessel, which is in danger of exploding at any moment to try to save that one individual.

A very promising and logical start. Can't wait for the remaining forty minutes of the episode...

*sigh*
Jay - Sun, Jan 16, 2011 - 6:49pm (USA Central)
A biological pheromone that affects tricorders?...please.
Jay - Sun, Sep 18, 2011 - 10:26am (USA Central)
As mentioned by many others, the hypocrisy on display here is epic.

Speaking of on display, in how many episodes has that image of Saturn's rungs from the Voyager mission been displayed on the monitor in astrophysics? Maybe its a homage to the namesake...
Nic - Fri, Sep 30, 2011 - 9:59am (USA Central)
I actually liked this episode -- until the final act. The final act destroys everything by making the characters too stupid. Kellin should have guessed that a Tracer might have gotten aboard during the battle. And as mentioned above, Chakotay had more than enough time to jump in front of Kelling to protect her from the weapon, or stun him before he fired. And EVEN THEN, they could have immediately sent the Tracer home empty-handed before Kellin had the chance to forget everything. It was all designed to make this episode as self-contained as possible - which kind of defeats the point of the story in the first place.

It's all the more disappointing because I actually thought that the premise of aliens who can't be remembered was interesting, as were the questions raised about the relationship between love and memory. Is that all love is? Or are the feelings still there when the memories are gone? (This was explored beautifully in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

All in all, it was still better than "Meridian" - Andrew Robinson's directing was pretty good, and I'm convinced it could have been a great episodde with a better script and actors.
Nathan - Sun, Nov 6, 2011 - 1:46am (USA Central)
I thought it was decent, but I couldn't buy the gimmick at all. And, oh yes, the hypocrisy.
Victor - Mon, Dec 5, 2011 - 6:04pm (USA Central)
You'd think they'd have 2 weeks of jacked up log entries if a virus deleted all records of her being there. Does the virus forge in the Voyager crew's own words an alibi for what else they could've been doing instead of dealing with Kellin?

Justin - Wed, Apr 25, 2012 - 9:15pm (USA Central)
Jammer, I don't know about you, but if Virginia Madsen showed up on MY ship and said she'd fallen in love with me I think I'd return her affections just like Chakotay did. Sometimes a couple just clicks. Also, I don't quite get why you thought Beltran and Madsen's performances were dull and uninspired. I think it was just the opposite - they were excellent and they had good chemistry. I'll admit that the story was rather pedestrian, but I really liked the idea of a race of people that cannot be remembered by outsiders who encounter them to be very compelling. The writers could have done better with an idea like that. I see this episode as a well executed missed opportunity.
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 10:12am (USA Central)
Interesting that one of the comments above gives the other characters their names but ridicules the only indigenous character by mocking his language (and not for the first time).

Wonder why?

As for the episode itself, yes, rather unfortunate.
Michael - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 11:08am (USA Central)
@T'Paul:
I guess that comment was directed at me, so let me answer you. I mock the "indigenous" (*snicker*) Acoushla Moya because I'm a dye-in-the-wool, rabid, racist, right-wing, neocon who is only sorry that them there Injuns still survive even on reservations.

Happy now?

*rolls eyes*

Frivolities aside, it's not Acoushla Moya that I mock, but the writers' idiocy. I find it nothing short of ludicrous that four centuries from now there will be people who will still believe in "spirits" or "divine" "guides." I mean, if Voyager was rocking a 7asidic Jew with his black fur hat and sideburns who was shown chanting some facocta Carlebach incantations every other episode, would you be laughing your ass off and mock it in disbelief?!

Acoushla Moya was included in Voyager to demonstrate humanity and/or scriptwriters as "progressive." Hey, we've got a real-ass true-to-life Native American here who (1) made it to the second highest position on a starship, and (2) is in touch with his buffalo side! We're so enlightened, and Voyager is enlightened, and the human race of the 24th century will be oh-so enlightened. Sheesh...

My own vision (and fervent hope) for the 24th century? Religions gone, superstitions gone, nations and nationalities gone, and all humanity united in the quest to improve itself. I don't think there will be Native Americans or native anything, nor will such things matter in the least.

Of course, what will probably happen is that we'll have a bloody world war a century or so from now instead, brought about most likely by the Religion of Peace(TM). That though is a whole other story.
T'Paul - Sun, Sep 29, 2013 - 5:01pm (USA Central)
I'm not a religious person myself, but I think if people are inspired or guided by their beliefs or their beliefs about their ancestors I'm all for it...

Without those things what do we become? Some sort of Borg collective where we all uniformly strive for perfection dismissing culture as irrelevant?

I'll phrase the following carefully, so as not to be misunderstood. It seems that you are Jewish, Michael (I think I read that in a previous post of yours) and the mere fact that you've mentioned it tends to suggest that it means something to you, even if only enough to mention it.

Everything we do is in some way influenced by our past... the language we speak, the way we debate in a forum like this, our humour. Knowing this helps us understand ourselves and each other better, and having a variety of cultures means we can have access to different ways to approaching problems that might just help us solve them. Losing these things means that we could lose these potential solutions: As the Vulcans say, infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Michael - Wed, Oct 2, 2013 - 2:17am (USA Central)
@T'Paul:
Let me open with a side-note. People being "nspired or guided by their beliefs or their beliefs about their ancestors" has been causing the world immeasurable harm for thousands of years.

The point I made -- and successfully so, I reckon -- is that Acoushla Moya's presence on Voyager and, indeed, very existence as part of the 24th-century humankind are both extremely improbable. The inclusion of that trait on the show is indicative of two things only: (1) The writers' desire to make a jaded political statement, and (2) the writers' laziness and lack of imagination.

As far as me, I'm ethnically Jewish, yes. "Religiously," I'm an anti-theist. The only reason I even describe myself as the former -- when asked -- is that such nonsense still seems to matter in many quarters. In the other post you allude to, there was probably some mention of anti-Semitism or such, which is the only reason I'd have spontaneously brought it up.

As for culture and its value, yes, a culture may be a curiosity in many ways. But it can also be a massive impediment, as current events in the world aptly demonstrate. "[I]nfinite diversity in infinite combinations" only functions if cultures are compatible with one another, which they are sometimes not.

At any rate, this is beyond the pale. Bottom line: The writers should have endeavored to contrive Acoushla Moya's character's depth by something more imaginative than having him twiddle buffalo testicles in his hands as he goes off on one of his hallucinations, sorry, "spiritual quests."
Nick - Tue, Oct 29, 2013 - 7:39pm (USA Central)
@Michael

I take it you're not a fan of the 'prime directive'? (Janeway isn't either most of the time, now that I think about it) ;)

The whole point of the federation is to 'seek out new life and new civilizations' yada yada yada... but not change them, nor conquer them, but to study them, learn from them, celebrate diversity, increase the culmination of knowledge of the universe ect... Humans of the 24th century, as depicted by the Federation live an almost monk like existence, relying only on their well honed abilities to get the job done, without expecting remuneration in return. They are almost entirely altruistic. A key part of the ethos in the federation is tolerance and non-interference.

In anthropological terms, ethnocentrism is shunned, while cultural relativism is embraced. The Federation (and especially the crew of Voyager) are essentially a bunch of cultural anthropologists on expedition.

Of course, complexities arise as individual members periodically succumb to their base instincts, emotions, or other psychosis for the purpose of creating 'drama'. Religion is just one such hook.
Michael - Thu, Oct 31, 2013 - 11:06am (USA Central)
@Nick:
Au contraire, I have nothing against the Prime Directive in principle, so long as it doesn't lead to absurdities, such as preclude even self-defense for fear of unduly harming "the other." I can't remember the exact episodes or incidents that illustrate that point, but there were a few.

And I'm all for dispassionate study of other cultures, and am against any kind of forceful change, conquest, or even interference. Nor do I have a problem with cultural relativism in that respect. I do maintain, however, that where cultures are incompatible (such as e.g. in the case of the Borg), we rightly do and should revert to maintaining and preserving -- possibly even promoting -- our own. The world is a witness to that type of conflict today, just as it was 70-odd years ago.

As far as Acoushla Moya and his buffalo nuts, I ain't buyin' it. Why a Native American and not an evangelical Christian or even some Hare Krishna? It's sheer laziness coupled with cheap sociopolitical agenda.
DLPB - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 8:23pm (USA Central)
The writers of Trek just make anything happen, don't they?

A guy can release a virus into a foreign computer system that meticulously deletes the correct data. He can do this while in custody. A pheromone can wipe long term memories (and is contrary to what we know of biology at this point, let alone in 24th century).

Trek writing is lazy. Only a few episodes ever have real logic. A writer has a story he wants to write and he just bends all logic to make that happen. The number of logical and scientific errors are overwhelming.
ES - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 11:13pm (USA Central)
Voyager writing was always garbage. Why do you think Ron Moore left after one month?

"Writers of Trek" isn't a singular group of people.
Grumpy - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 11:44am (USA Central)
I think Moore left Voyager because, as he explained, he had a hard time dealing with Braga being his boss after they had worked so closely as partners.
ES - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 2:29pm (USA Central)
That is way, way off Grumpy. He left because there was no cohesion on Voyager. No one was working together. Instead, everyone was doing their own thing and competing. The atmosphere sucked, and so did the writers.
ES - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 2:36pm (USA Central)
From Ron Moore: " I was surrounded by people that were unhappy working there, and didn’t like their own show, and weren’t pleased with the people they were working with. It’s a bad thing to work through. "

" He will say, "I
have very hurt feelings about Brannon. What happened between he and I is just
between he and I. It was a breakdown of trust. I would have quit any show where
I was not allowed to participate in the process like that. I wasn’t allowed to
participate in the process, and I wasn’t part of the show. I felt like I was
freelancing my own show. That was the feeling I had. I wasn’t involved in it
enough. Part of me said, ‘So what? You’ve got a baby. You are making a lot of
money. Shut up, enjoy it; go home early; go in late; relax. You’ve had a long
ten years; take a break.’ But I couldn’t. It just ate at me. It was an
integrity issue. I took a lot of pride in the work. The work matters to me. I
took a lot of pride in what I did on TNG and DS9 and the movies. I just
couldn’t work that way."
"

" What I found on VOYAGER was suddenly it wasn’t about the work
anymore. It wasn’t about making the best show that we possibly could; it was
about all these other extraneous issues. It was about the politics of the show,
and the strange sort of competition of egos within the writing staff and the
producing staff and the management of the show. ‘Competition’ is probably a
misleading term. The politics of the show were such that the egos of the people
in charge of the series were threatened by the people who worked for them. To
be blunt, [writers] Bryan Fuller and Mike Taylor were treated very shabbily,
and it pissed me off. They took a lot of crap, and the only reason it was done
was to keep the guys on the top of the pyramid feeling good about themselves.
It also had the effect of keeping the writing staff from working in concert as
a group. The DS9 staff by contrast was very tight. "

"The environment was chaotic
and fraught with other issues that just didn’t have anything to do with the
work. It just became another job. That’s never what I had experienced, and it
was very disappointing. We’re talking just about the work environment. That’s
aside from all the reasons that I left." "

From: s2.zetaboards.com/SisterTrek/topic/703395/1/
Grumpy - Tue, Mar 11, 2014 - 12:16pm (USA Central)
Well, obviously Moore and Braga needed something to disagree about. My point is that it was the work environment, not a dispute over the creative direction of the show, which is how I read your comment. You said the *writing* was garbage, an opinion Moore doesn't share in these quotes (whether he thought so or not). I will concede, however, that the treatment of the writers is reflected in the quality of the writing.
Paul M. - Tue, Mar 11, 2014 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
Grumpy, it *was* a dispute over the creative direction in addition to the work environment thing. There's this enormous RMD interview floating around that is very candid about all these things.
Ric - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 11:44pm (USA Central)
Holy Trek, I almost slept during this one.

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