May 28, 2020
Star Trek: Voyager "Unforgettable"
If you’ve been following my recent Voyager recaps, you may have noticed I’ve been trying to spread the snark around a bit. So far, I’ve recapped a Neelix episode, a Tom Paris episode, a Janeway episode, and a Harry Kim episode, and now it’s time for a Chakotay episode, because I’m pretty sure these five characters together account for about 98% of all terrible Voyager episodes. (Also, this show’s compulsive need to regularly give each character in the ensemble their own “episode” feels particularly lame and antiquated these days, but that’s a critique for another time.)
Chakotay seemed like a promising character early in the show’s run; not only was he Star Trek’s first prominent Native American character, but he was also captain of a ship of anti-Federation resistance fighters that got pulled into the Delta Quadrant along with Voyager, which had the potential to make us question where his true loyalties lie. Unfortunately, the writers seemed to have no idea what to do with the character after the first couple of seasons, leading to Robert Beltran becoming openly critical of his role on the show in interviews, and all but begging to be let go so he could find ways to make better use of his talents.
But as the following episode shows, even when given the chance to showcase his abilities, Beltran didn’t really have much to offer, and making matters worse is “Unforgettable” also squanders a rare guest appearance by a big name actress (and future Oscar nominee).
We open on the bridge, and Harry giving a status report to Chakotay that’s so longwinded that Chakotay finally says, “In a nutshell, Harry!” Could this be more of that famously unsubtle Voyager foreshadowing at work? So Harry cuts to the chase and says there’s some technobabble problem that will require him to work “closer” with Seven of Nine and “realign his sensors” with hers. Chakotay walks away, but the juvenile double entendre is far too much for Tom to resist and he cracks wise about it, and this part is just here to remind us that this is the season where Harry was crushing on Seven of Nine in an ongoing plot thread that of course went nowhere.
Suddenly, Voyager shudders as Tuvok detects “proton surges” near the ship, even though there’s nothing on the viewscreen. Janeway calls down to Astrometrics to tell Seven to scan the area, and she’s somehow able to determine that two cloaked ships are firing on each other and Voyager is currently caught in the middle.
One of the cloaked ships blows up, and the crew witnesses an explosion on the viewscreen. They get hailed by the surviving ship, and hear a woman’s voice say, “Chakotay, please, I need your help!” I’ve been suffering dreadful insomnia for days, and I’ve heard hanging out with you works wonders!
And then we go to credits, because that’s the teaser, but hey, at least for once the teaser is actually a tease.
Back from credits, Chakotay responds to the woman, but she can’t hear his reply. Her ship is seriously damaged, and Harry can’t get a transporter fix on her (there turns out to be a plot-related reason for this, and it’s not just Kim being his usual useless self). Chakotay’s probably thinking that the woman’s voice sounds pretty hot and he needs to get a look at her ASAP, so he leads an away party to her ship.
Once they beam over to the darkened, half-destroyed ship, Chakotay comes across a woman trapped underneath rubble, but only her boot is exposed. It’s like a bizarre homage to the Wicked Witch of the East or something. Chakotay is able to pry her out of the rubble in the nick of time before something big and heavy comes crashing down on her.
Chakotay finally sees the woman, who turns out to be special guest star Virginia Madsen, and she whispers that she knew he’d come. But Chakotay is mystified. “Do I know you?”
They beam back to Sickbay, where the Doctor is trying to scan her, but his “readings won’t stay in the database”. The woman starts to wake up, and we see she’s another one-off Delta Quadrant race, whose defining characteristics are elf-like ears and RenFaire-like casual wear, and possibly contacts to make her eyes look brighter.
She looks up at Janeway and Chakotay and the Doctor, and recognizes all of them. She immediately asks Janeway for “asylum”. Janeway wants an explanation for how she knows Chakotay, but the woman is too overcome with fear and emotion to talk.
The Doctor says she needs to rest, and the woman asks Chakotay to stay with her, and he’s like awww hell yeah. Once they’re alone, she’s able to explain the situation: She and Chakotay met before, but he doesn’t remember her because “the memories of my people can’t be held in the minds of other races.” Whenever they encounter members of alien races, they only exist in their memories for a day, and then the memories fade.
She says this is the result of a “pheromone” which blocks long term memories, and—stay with me now—also prevents them from getting a transporter lock on her, or scanning her with a tricorder. Yes, it’s a pheromone that somehow affects technology, but I’m not going to dwell on this because it’s far from the dumbest aspect of the episode.
She says she recently spent two weeks on Voyager, working closely with Chakotay, despite the fact that he has no memory of this. He demands to know more and starts firing a bunch of rapid-fire questions at her, and she knows it’s just like him wanting “everything in a nutshell”. Oh yeah, that’s so like Chakotay! Well, as of six minutes ago and the cold open of this episode.
This is one of those moments that makes me wonder if the Voyager writers ever watched their own show. Chakotay, the same character who’s always droning on about spirit animals and vision quests, is suddenly all business and wanting to get down to brass tacks?
Finally, the woman reveals she came back because… she’s in love with Chakotay. Oh, did I forget to mention that this isn’t just a terrible episode—it’s also a terrible romance episode? About the best thing I can say about any Star Trek “romance” episode is… well, at least it’s not a “comedy” episode.
In the briefing room, Chakotay is explaining to the rest of the crew that she comes from a planet called “Ramura”, and they’re not too keen on people trying to leave their world. In fact, she herself was once a “tracer”, as in some sort of bounty hunter who helped track down others who tried to escape their society. She followed a runaway to Voyager a month ago, and spent some time interacting with the crew, even though nobody remembers her.
A couple of them chime in with the obvious question: wouldn’t there be some recorded evidence of her being on the ship? Nope, because she also planted a “computer virus” that wiped out all traces of her presence. And somehow, this “virus” was extremely targeted to delete references to the woman and nothing else. (And yes, I’m still calling her “the woman”, because they haven’t bothered to give Virginia Madsen’s character a name yet.) Chakotay sends everybody off on various errands to try to prove or disprove her claims. And you’re probably guessing there’s going to be a big shocking twist later where we learn the woman is lying or not telling the complete truth, but no, sorry. Her entire preposterous story turns out to be 100% sincere and accurate.
Down in Astrometrics, she lets them look at navigational logs from her ship, which show that she traveled alongside Voyager for two weeks. Seven and Tuvok are skeptical, and the woman smiles and says that’s what “she always liked about you two.” Yes, that’s what she “always liked” about them, in the whole two weeks she knew them.
Chakotay enters and invites her to join him for a meal in the mess hall and she accepts, saying she was “quite fond of Neelix’s food” the last time she was here. Okay, that’s a total red flag there. You might as well just toss her in the brig right now.
Once they’re gone, it’s time for this week’s installment of “teaching Seven what it means to be human” as she wonders why Chakotay’s face got “flushed” when he saw his new friend. Tuvok simply says he’d rather not “engage in speculation,” and shuts down the whole pointless discussion. That’s what I always liked about him.
Down in the mess hall, Chakotay and Mystery Woman get lunch trays from Neelix, and the woman already knows exactly which foods Chakotay likes and doesn’t like. And just in case you were wondering how Chakotay feels about pudding, according to her he hates it, and thinks it’s “slimy”.
Chakotay wants to know more about the runaway they tracked down, but all Mystery Woman wants to talk about is how they fell in love. And this is apparently a big bombshell for Chakotay, as he learns that not only did she fall in love with him, but he also fell in love with her.
Mystery Woman explains how she used a personal cloaking device to hide out on Voyager for two days before she was discovered by Chakotay, and the episode flashes back to this happening. In the flashback, Chakotay finds her down in the cargo bay and holds a phaser on her. He calls in reinforcements and she puts down her weapon.
Back in the present, she says she was attracted to him “right away” but had to focus on her work. She says she explained her mission to Janeway, who then ordered Chakotay and Tuvok to help Mystery Woman track down her runaway. Okay, does this really sound like something Janeway or Chakotay would happily join in on? So, we’ve got a stowaway aboard who’s trying to escape your possibly oppressive society? Cool, we’ll help you catch him!
Chakotay presses her for more details, but Mystery Woman would much rather talk about the feelings they had/have for each other. Chakotay is weirded out by the situation, and says that as far as he’s concerned, that relationship never happened. So Mystery Woman goes and sulks by a window, until Chakotay walks over and asks if there’s anything he can do for her. So she smiles and delivers the exceptional line, “Can I have your pudding?” I’d say this was another juvenile double entendre, but that’s probably giving the writers too much credit.
The ship shudders again, sending her into his arms. She knows immediately that the other tracers have found her. Then Janeway contacts them, asking for “Chakotay and Kellin” to come to the bridge. Chakotay and who?
Yes, Virginia Madsen’s character is named “Kellin”, and this is the first time we’re hearing the name, well over twenty minutes into the episode. When I watched this initially, I assumed her lack of a name was an intentional choice, like maybe Kellin doesn’t bother to tell people her name because they’ll only forget her anyway. But now it appears they just plain forgot to write and/or film the scene where she introduces herself.
They report to the bridge and learn cloaked ships are firing on Voyager. They’re doing heavy damage to the ship, so Kellin says she can make some modifications to allow Voyager to pick up the cloaked ships on its sensors. While she does this, Janeway quietly tells Chakotay that it’s time to decide if they’re going to give up Kellin or fire back at those ships. To nobody’s surprise, Chakotay replies, “Fire.”
They’re able to get a lock on the Ramuran ships and disable their weapons, and the two vessels leave the area. Kellin warns that the tracers won’t give up that easily, so she and Chakotay head down to Astrometrics to make her cloak-defeating technology permanent.
On the way there, Kellin says no runaway has ever gotten away before and she’s scared, and Chakotay reassures her with “There’s always a first time.” She calls him a “kind person”, and again says that’s why she came back.
So, to reiterate: Kellin, who up until recently was not just a fervent supporter of her society’s seemingly repressive rules where nobody ever gets to leave, but was also helping to stop other refugees from escaping as well, has now done a total about-face and is willing to give up her entire life on her homeworld and possibly face punishment and imprisonment… because she fell in love with Chakotay. Which is silly enough, but it’s explained in such an offhand way that unless you’re paying close attention (and really, why would you be?), you’d think she’s totally doing this on a whim.
Kellin then drops a hint about their “last night together”. In response, Chakotay just kind of blandly looks her over.
That night, Chakotay heads to the mess hall to get some tea to help him sleep. Neelix says he doesn’t mean to pry, but then proceeds to pry as he asks about what’s going on between Chakotay and Kellin. Chakotay explains that they supposedly fell in love, but he can’t remember anything about it. But he’s still suspicious of her story because “it doesn’t sound like me!” Neelix counters that maybe he’s just afraid of his “own feelings”. Chakotay takes this to heart, and this is about all the explanation we get for why he suddenly comes around to accepting Kellin’s farfetched story.
Chakotay goes to his quarters, and guess who shows up at his door? Kellin wants to know if he still doubts everything she’s been telling him. In response, he woodenly stares off into space. Well, he does that a lot, actually. Staring woodenly is kind of Chakotay’s thing.
She says she was sure they could rekindle their romance, but now she’s not so certain, and maybe she’ll just go back to Ramura after all. She wants to know if he has feelings for her or not, and if he doesn’t, she’ll leave.
This seems highly manipulative to me, but regardless, Chakotay says, “Fire.” Oh, wait, that was the other scene. He says, “Don’t go.” And then the scene fades out, and I was sure we were going to fade back into the two of them in bed. Then I remembered I’m watching the super-square and family-friendly Voyager, and sure enough, we return to the two of them sitting on his couch and eating ice cream.
Kellin again worries about the tracers that are after her, and again says that no tracer has ever failed. He reassures her, again, and she puts a hand on his arm, and now he’s very curious about their “last night together”.
This leads to another flashback, where the two cooked up a scheme to corner the runaway in the transporter room and use a “magneton sweep” to disable his personal cloaking device.
Back in the present, Kellin talks about using a “neurolytic emitter” on the guy, which is apparently a device they use to zap runaways and erase memories of the outside world.
Did you catch that? The Ramurans have a device that can remove memories. So it’s no longer just a case of them emanating a “pheromone” that wipes out memories—they have technology that can do that, too. Okay, I guess it’s not a stretch that a society that can erase memories in other races figured out a way to do it to their own kind, but why did they need the biological explanation in the first place? They could have easily had Kellin say she used her Men in Black memory wiping wand on everyone before she left, per the strict rules of her Remuran bosses.
Kellin recalls how they celebrated capturing the runaway in Chakotay’s quarters, complete with champagne. Let me see if I have this straight: Chakotay returned a refugee to a probably oppressive society and immediately thought to himself, Time to break out the bubbly!? Regardless, Kellin says she made a move on him and started telling him how much she cared for him, which she proceeds to do again now. He remains expressionless until she finally kisses him, and he kisses her back.
Cut to sometime later, as Chakotay strolls through a corridor with Tuvok and the two discuss what Kellin’s “function” will be if she stays on Voyager. Chakotay points out she was a security operative with training in weapons and various fighting techniques, and Tuvok suggests she could help Neelix in the mess hall.
Chakotay stops in the corridor to accuse Tuvok of actually making a joke just now. He denies it, simply saying that her skills could come in handy helping Neelix defend himself from the “wrath of the crew”. And I’ll admit this is a vaguely amusing scene, but it’s tough to appreciate it when the rest of the episode is such a crashing bore. And boy, Chakotay sure does seem pretty jovial and upbeat all of a sudden, doesn’t he? I wonder what happened last night that caused this change in his demeanor.
Down in Astrometrics, Kellin is working with Seven and Kim to find a way to defend themselves from the Ramuran tracers. Kellin says her people’s weapons are “proton-based particle beams”, which “can penetrate any shield even if the modulations are changed,” and no one has ever figured out a defense. Wait, these aliens have weapons that can penetrate anybody’s shields? You’d think the Voyager crew would be very interested in this technology. I mean, just for starters, it seems like it would make it a cakewalk to defeat the Borg. Instead, they just try to come up with ways to defend against it.
In fact, Harry Kim’s already figured out a possible defense. Then he says he’s heard from Chakotay that Kellin might be joining Tuvok’s security team, and gives her some advice on picking a squad. Kellin leaves, and Seven wonders why Kellin became “flushed” at the mention of Chakotay’s name. What the hell, Seven? Why is this woman so obsessed with who gets “flushed” and when? But at long last, she’s finally figured out that Kellin and Chakotay are “engaged in a courtship ritual”. Harry then awkwardly tries to explain why people want to get to know each other better before they become “intimate”. Seven fails to grasp the relevance of all this, and Harry just gets more and more flustered, so she walks away, and no, there’s no point to this.
Kellin then enters her quarters and sees a smashed vase, and immediately runs to Chakotay to tell him that a tracer must be aboard the ship. He thinks she’s just being paranoid, but she knows the vase was a deliberate signal. And then all the suspense fizzles out instantly as a Ramuran named “Curneth” uncloaks in front of them.
Chakotay is extremely slow to react, giving Curneth plenty of time to pull out a device and fire an energy beam at Kellin. And this must be that neurolytic emitter we’ve heard so much about, because she’s already beginning to forget everything.
Chakotay rushes Kellin to Sickbay, but there’s nothing the Doctor can do to reverse the effect. She begs Chakotay to make sure she always remembers what happened between them, and then she passes out. Chakotay then goes to the brig, where Curneth informs him no one’s ever tried to reverse the emitter before. Chakotay says, yet again, that he’ll be “the first”.
Curneth refuses to tell him anything, so Chakotay lowers the force-field and grabs him by the collar and attempts a rather weak attempt at roughing him up. Chakotay then tries the art of persuasion, suggesting that their persistent runaway problem might indicate a larger issue with their society. Which is fine, but it really seems like this is a conversation he should have had with Kellin the first time she came aboard to apprehend her runaway.
Chakotay goes to see Kellin in her quarters, and we get the inevitable moment where she asks him, “Do I know you?” Whoa, it’s just like what he said to her at the start of the episode! It’s like a callback and stuff.
It would appear Kellin has completely forgotten how she got here. Following her earlier request, Chakotay explains everything to her, telling her about how they fell in love. Her response is that Chakotay is “certainly attractive”, but she finds his story hard to believe. And now you know why things took a hard left turn and the memory wiping went from being the result of pheromones to a device; it’s so that the ending of the episode can be an “ironic” reflection of the beginning.
Cut to a transporter room as Chakotay sees off Curneth and Kellin as they prepare to beam out. And then Curneth openly admits to Chakotay that he planted another computer virus that will erase all traces of them being here. And Chakotay just stands there, instead of immediately ordering somebody else, anybody else on the crew to try to counteract or eliminate the virus.
Kellin again calls him a “kind person” and adds, “I won’t forget that.” Oh, the irony. They step onto the transporter pad, and Chakotay almost manages a smile as he says, “Energize.”
The next scene is Chakotay in the mess hall making a personal log. But it seems he’s finally figured out how to beat the Ramurans’ memory wiping pheromones: he’s writing down his personal log, in longhand, on paper. So this race has been around for how many millennia, and nobody ever thought of just writing down a description of them? When Kellin was in Sickbay begging Chakotay not to let her forget, why didn’t he just hand her a pen and paper?
Neelix comes over to get a better look at Chakotay’s “strange writing implements”. Also, he asks Chakotay if he’s sorry things didn’t work out with Kellin. And whoops, there go all of his memories of her. You just had to go and interrupt him before he could get them all down on paper, didn’t you?
But I guess Chakotay is actually in no hurry to write down his fading memories, because he spends some time talking about how he and Kellin fell in love twice, and he was sure they could fall in love again. Neelix says this only proves that love is a mystery, and no one knows why it happens, and if you could predict it then it would lose its power, blah blah blah. The end.
So yeah, just another monumentally stupid concept for a Voyager script that can’t possibly come up with enough Handwavium to explain away all its mile-wide plot holes. Are we really to believe that nobody on Voyager would notice that two weeks’ worth of time was totally unaccounted for in the ship’s logs? Or in their minds? Wouldn’t anybody notice they were suddenly two weeks farther along on their journey back to the Alpha Quadrant with no explanation for how they got there?
And really, how could the entire ship forget about Kellin’s visit? I can buy Chakotay, Janeway, Neelix, et al, forgetting her; they had direct contact with her “pheromones”. But what about lower ranking crewmen who had no personal interaction with Kellin, and maybe heard about her secondhand? Why would their memories disappear? Wouldn’t this lead to a disconnect where those on the lower decks would eventually figure out that the entire senior staff of Voyager had experienced a massive case of amnesia?
And why in the name of all that’s holy would Chakotay and the rest of the crew be totally cool with an alien race implanting a virus in the ship’s computer to wipe out weeks’ worth of logs, sensor data, surveillance videos, shift assignments, what have you? Sure, maybe the virus is extremely targeted to somehow only erase references to the Ramurans, but are we really supposed to believe everybody on the crew would be fine with this? What about, for instance, all that data on proton-based beams that can penetrate all shields? They’re cool with losing that info?
Honestly, I could excuse a stupid concept like this if it led to an entertaining episode, but it’s only here to give us the typical paint-by-numbers Star Trek romance plot we’ve seen far too many times before. The concept of a species who can’t be remembered is an intriguing one, and if they had just stuck to building a story around that idea instead of forcing in a cliched love story, they might possibly have come up with something interesting.
But what’s funny is they only had to make a few small tweaks to the premise for it all to make sense. Imagine if the episode had instead opened with Voyager searching for Chakotay, who was on a solo mission on a shuttle but disappeared without a trace. His shuttle reappears two weeks later, but Chakotay has no memory of what happened to him. Shortly thereafter, Kellin shows up telling the tale of how she and Chakotay fell in love on her planet, instead of on Voyager. The episode could have unfolded almost exactly the same way from there, without the need to add dumb computer viruses and ethical lapses on the part of the crew to explain away all the ginormous plot holes. It still wouldn’t have been a good episode, mind you, but at least it would have been significantly less stupid.
I wish I had something positive to say about Virginia Madsen’s performance, but she really does nothing of note here. Kellin doesn’t appear to have any sort of inner monologue, and there’s no subtext to anything she says. I think this was a deliberate choice, to make sure the audience wouldn’t immediately assume she was lying about her ridiculous story, thus allowing the episode to get on with the romance, but the end result is a dull, flat character and a complete waste of Madsen’s talents.
This episode was directed by Andrew Robinson, who played Garak on Deep Space Nine, so I guess another Trek actor-turned-director drew the short straw that week. I can’t cast too many aspersions on Robinson’s directorial skills here, because this script is so idiotic and boring that he was probably screwed no matter what he did.
Later on, Robert Beltran cited this as his favorite episode ever of Voyager. Which I don’t doubt; it was entirely focused on him and he got to make out with Virginia Madsen, so why not? In all sincerity, this probably was some of his best work on the series, but that’s a low bar to clear.
Oh, and the final irony? Earlier this year when I started looking for more bad Voyager episodes to recap, I pulled out my old DVD set to check this one out, assuming I had never seen it before. But then I noticed I had seen the other three episodes on the same disc, and there’s no reason I would have skipped this one. And then about halfway through the episode, it hit me that I had already seen it years ago and didn’t remember it. So there you have it: I totally forgot that I had watched “Unforgettable”. That about says it all.
Next up: More mediocrity, I’m guessing.