Back when I was doing my poll of sexist Star Trek episodes, flatandsassy nominated one that wasn’t on the list, “Retrospect”, which she called “aka that time that Voyager had a whole episode about how bad things happen if you listen when women say they’ve been violated.”
I didn’t even remember it, which means I probably hadn’t watched it since it first aired. But I re-watched the other day and I have to say I’m with flatandsassy: it’s super offensive.
Basically: Voyager is negotiating with an annoying, egotistical weapons dealer named Kovin. They have to install the new equipment, so Janeway says Seven should be assigned to that. After all, “she’s been behaving herself lately.”
Seven is less than keen, saying she thinks Kovin is “inefficient” but Chakotay tells her she needs to earn back Janeway’s trust. But in Engineering, things don’t go well. Kovin is condescending and pushy toward Seven, and when he grabs her arm, she hits him.
In Sickbay there’s a cool moment where B’Elanna sticks up for Seven to Janeway.
Kovin: It was unprovoked. She came at me like an animal!
Torres: Oh, I wouldn’t put it like that. I was at another console about ten metres away. I heard Kovin raise his voice and when I looked around I saw that he was holding her arm.
Kovin: I barely touched her! A gentle gesture to move her out of my way so I could get to the console, then she turned on me, attacked me!
But Janeway still isn’t impressed. She calls Seven to her ready room to tell her she needs to learn the difference between having impulses and acting on them.
All this is leading up to us discovering that something might have happened to Seven. In the next scene The Doctor examines her. First she flinches when his scanner nears her ocular implant. Then she has a full-on panic attack when confined in the bio bed.
Doc is concerned and suggests he help use his new therapeutic subroutines to help her recover whatever repressed memories are causing the anxiety.
In the cargo bay, The Doctor works with her to remember what she was remembering when she panicked during the exam. We see the images she remembers in great detail, including a violent assault:
Kovin, he, he performed a surgical procedure on me. He extracted Borg technology from my body. He…violated me.
Coupled with how we saw Seven respond in Sickbay (Jeri Ryan’s acting in this episode is excellent, as usual), it’s clear we’re supposed to consider this as equivalent to rape.
The senior officers meet and both Janeway and Tuvok are initially skeptical. Janeway wants to know how much of her story can be corroborated and Tuvok reminds everyone she’s “experienced hallucinatory images before”. But The Doctor advocates for her and Janeway assures him she’ll take the allegations seriously.
Both Janeway and Tuvok question Kovin separately. Kovin is bitter about the accusations, and also afraid that his business and reputation will be ruined.
Meanwhile, The Doctor is trying to help Seven cope with her feelings. She’s not aware of whether she’s feeling any, but The Doctor helps her get in touch with her anger.
Kovin attacked you, violated your rights as an individual. It’s important that you recognise that so you can understand any hostility or resentment you might be feeling.
A bit later, he accompanies Janeway, Tuvok, Kovin and the Magistrate down to Kovin’s weapons lab, which doesn’t look anything like Seven’s memories. Nevertheless, The Doctor feels he’s found some evidence to support her story.
Kovin flips out when the Magistrate says there’s enough evidence to detain him. He activates a transporter to his ship in orbit and high-tails it out of there. I feel like it’s a bit of an extreme reaction by Kovin, and slightly hard to believe.
Voyager takes off in pursuit, with the away team back on board. As they follow, Janeway and Tuvok re-analyze The Doctor’s evidence and can’t find anything that really implicates Kovin.
When Seven and The Doctor are confronted with the fact that, Janeway guesses, Seven was actually misremembering times she witnessed other people being assimilated, he begins to regret his behaviour. But Seven is so invested in what he’s told her that she refuses to let it go even when he totally throws her under the bus.
Doctor: Everything led me to believe that you were a victim. Your extreme response to Kovin in engineering, your irrational fear when I was examining you. Something prompted that behaviour and I believed it was a repressed memory of your ordeal with Kovin.
Seven: That is what it was.
Doctor: But if I’m to be impartial, I have to acknowledge that your neurology is still something of a mystery to me. I can’t be certain what triggered those memories, and we can’t ignore the fact that this evidence supports Kovin’s story, and not yours.
Seven: You were the one who helped me to understand what happened and now you’re denying it.
Seven is understandably upset and feels betrayed. It would’ve been really nice for The Doctor to admit the room for error before he coached her earlier.
They catch up to Kovin’s ship and Janeway tries to hail him to tell him they’ve made a mistake. He says he doesn’t believe them and fires at Voyager but Janeway refuses to return fire. But just as he’s about to nearly destroy them, his weapons overload and his ship is destroyed. Janeway gives Seven a stern look, because she probably doesn’t feel terrible enough.
Now all the characters realize how much of a mistake it was to support Seven when she (and we) believed she’d been violated.
The Doctor condescendingly explains to Seven that her preoccupation with Kovin’s death is remorse and will take time to subside. Then The Doctor reports to Janeway and offers to delete the algorithims that have made him expand his programming.
Janeway: I won’t turn back the clock because of one mistake, no matter how serious, and no matter how you might feel[…]We all rallied around Seven, Doctor, myself included. I wanted her to know she was part of this family, that we would support her, fight for her no matter what. We let our good intentions blind us. We all bear responsibility for Kovin’s death, and we all have to live with it, but to delete that burden would be the last thing any of us should do.
What the hell kind of lesson is that?
The writers/producers of this episode send a terrible message that reinforces a misconception that many women lie (or misremember) about being assaulted. The fact is that false reporting is really rare. The fact that people think it doesn’t mean extra pressure and scrutiny (massive trigger warning for that link) is put on rape victims, to the point that some may not report at all for fear of being disbelieved.
I’m not saying Kovin should’ve been punished when he didn’t do anything. What I think the writers should’ve done was one of the followin: a) written that Kovin had done something wrong; b) at least not blamed the outcome on Seven, whose feelings and images were very real to her; or c) scrapped the episode entirely.
As Michelle said in her excellent and devastating review at Trek Today:
Seven ends up like a kid who gets molested by a neighbor and is told by her mother that it never happened. Her abuser’s life is given more value than her own. Once again, in her great charge to “compassion,” Janeway trampled all over a crewmember who genuinely needed her guidance.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. B’Elanna talks to Janeway in Sickbay after Seven punches Kovin. Then Janeway talks to Seven about her behaviour.