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Retro Review: Violations

Posted by Michelle - 04/09/09 at 02:09 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 05 Episode: 12 (s05e12)

Original US airdate: 02/03/1992

When a race of telepathic aliens comes on board, Troi, Riker, and Crusher fall into inexplicable comas after having their memories probed and distorted.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is transporting a group of telepathic Ullians, who probe the memories of individuals to compile historical records of their species. Some members of the crew are uncomfortable with the idea of having their recollections probed by strangers, including Picard, and the leader Tarmin’s son Jev reminds his father that they are not permitted to seek out memories without permission. Troi is less resistant than some to the idea of sharing memories and concerned when Jev becomes upset at his father’s revelation that Jev can’t always “read” his subjects. But after leaving a meeting with Jev, Troi has a distorted recollection of a romantic encounter with Riker, who in her memory becomes abusive, then turns into Jev. Troi is later discovered in a coma that baffles Crusher, who suggests to Riker that perhaps the Ullians are carrying a pathogen. Jev resists Riker’s suggestion that the Ullians could be responsible for the coma, and shortly afterward, Riker too falls unconscious after remembering an engineering disaster in which Jev inexplicably appears. Crusher finds that Riker and Troi share a similar abnormality in the thalamus – the area of the brain that controls memory – and tells Picard that she believes the Ullians might be responsible, but she cannot carry out tests on the Ullians because she falls into a coma after a nightmare vision of Picard turning into Jev. LaForge and Data research other incidents of coma among species visited by the Ullians and find several cases on othre planets. Meanwhile, Troi regains consciousness, but can remember nothing on her own, and when she allows Jev to probe her memory of the night her coma began, she sees Riker turn into Tarmin. Jev promises that his father will be prosecuted for this crime, but when he goes to say goodbye to Troi, he cannot resist entering her mind again and this time she realizes that he, not Tarmin, has been invading their thoughts. He assaults her physically, but Worf and Data arrive, having learned from Laforge that Jev was the only Ullian present on every planet where people fell into comas after contact with his species. Tarmin promises Picard to seek treatment for Jev, who assures him that violence can lie dormant in humans, too.

Analysis: How do you write an episode about rape without dealing with the horrible, messy realities of rape?

Answer: Badly. Very badly. Unforgivably badly – so much so that I’m having trouble being articulate about all the ways “Violations” disgusts me and makes me feel violated as a viewer.

It is astounding to me that this teleplay was written by two women. I can only hope that means that neither of them has any personal experience of sexual abuse, and that all their friends and associates have been equally fortunate. One doesn’t need a psych degree or experience counseling survivors to be repulsed by this episode, particularly its pat, pathetic ending – one of Trek’s worst, with the possible exception of Voyager‘s “Retrospect,” another rape analogy in which it is suggested that a woman’s integrity, memories, and experiences are less important than protecting the rights of her assailant. In the case of “Violations,” perhaps in the interest of even-handedness, a man is abused as well, but it’s a markedly different experience for Riker, who falls prey to panic and guilt over a command crisis. Troi’s and Crusher’s fantasy-nightmares both have erotic elements and both are presented as a sort of voyeuristic fetish involving guilt-ridden women.

Troi is supposed to be empathic, yet in this episode she not only lacks empathy – explainable in the presence of more powerful telepaths – but even the most superficial instincts about Jev, who becomes defensive at every available opportunity, from his father’s needling to Riker’s request for the Ullians to let the doctor make sure they’re not carrying an illness. We’re supposed to be diverted by Tarmin’s joke that he can be distracted by an attractive woman, but while the comment may be inappropriate to a professional whose assistance he seeks, Tarmin doesn’t act like a stalker and his wife doesn’t seem distressed over his wandering eye; he’s portrayed as a jovial, kindly old man, though he’s also the Ullian authority figure. If he was, in fact, the abuser, this might have been a marginally better episode; still exploitative, but a more serious study of abuse and how older people in positions of power can intimidate even their own adult children, their spouses, and their colleagues into overlooking the danger they pose. Instead he’s only guilty of being oblivious while his son, who’s secretive and creepy from the start, gets his jollies by inflicting himself on innocent people – when Picard asks why any Ullian would do such a thing, Jev quickly names pleasure as a likely motive.

But rape is about power, not pleasure. To his credit, Tarmin says that on his world, rape like the sort Jev has committed has been unknown for centuries – it’s acknowledged as a crime. Apparently, however, it’s a crime from which Picard expects his people to bounce back with no ill effects since they don’t remember the circumstances of the assaults, even though the Ullians are prepared to send healers to help the afflicted officers. The treatment we hear about is not that of Crusher, Riker and Troi; it’s the planned treatment for Jev. Tarmin is ready to consider that his son’s behavior may be an indictment not only of himself or their family, but the whole society, but Picard is perfectly happy to wave that possibility away. Oh, we all contain the seeds of violence! Anyone can be consumed by violence just like Jev! Being a serial rapist, apparently, is neither a psychological condition nor a sociopathic choice, but an instinct in each and every one of us!

There is an argument to be made that, with the presumption that Star Trek’s audience is mostly male, compromises were deemed acceptable to get a message across. I just watched Sixteen Candles while everyone was boo-hooing over John Hughes, in which the date rape of the prom queen is played for laughs. In a culture that treats violence toward women as forgivable, even normal, the fact that a man is condemned for violent impulses toward a woman he can’t have, and then toward everyone who becomes suspicious, should be given a certain amount of credit. But watching all the stereotypes about victims emphasized visually in “Violations” – Troi had a friendly conversation with the man who assaulted her, she put on lingerie, she was brushing her luxuriant tresses and thinking romantically about Riker when Jev was first able to penetrate her mind, she couldn’t positively identify her attacker, she was persuaded to name the wrong man – it’s impossible for me not to feel angry. In the end, Troi declares that she’s fine because she has fought off the physical attack, and everyone acts as if the physical attack therefore doesn’t count for anything, as if an attempted rape by someone who has already repeatedly abused the victim can be easily dismissed as long as rescue arrives in time. That implication, combined with Picard’s suggestion that it’s practically normal to fall victim to the impulse to violate someone else, overwhelms any positive message in the episode for me.

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