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™ 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?
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