STTNG – Violations (Review)

Whatever Violations was trying to achieve, it failed at it. I mean, I guess, since it’s sort of hard to know what the point was. But that doesn’t keep it from being interesting.

Keiko O’Brien, in her only ever episode without Miles, is having her memory probed by some aliens on board who do that. They style themselves as "memory historians," and since Keiko’s a Japanese character, the Official Star Trek Rules of Cultural Stereotypes require that her memory involve something super Japanese. In this case, it’s helping her grandmother paint Japanese calligraphy. Everyone else declines the offer to have their memories dragged, and given how lame Keiko’s was, who can really blame them? The point of the scene becomes evident when, just before the teaser ends and we roll opening titles, the camera fixates on one of the aliens and the music turns ominous. Apparently he’ll be our bad guy this week.

Turns out our bad guy ("Jev") is the son of one of the others ("Tarmin"), and Dad is also the best in the biz at memory dredging, and he never lets his son forget it. Tarmin embarasses Jev at dinner, and Jev leaves. Troi follows, and they bond briefly in the turbolift about overbearing parents, and then Troi gets out. She goes back to her quarters and starts having what at first feel like flashbacks. There are dropped poker chips. Someone is touching her hair tenderly. It’s Riker. She says they can’t – they’ve promised not to while they’re serving on the same ship. So Riker starts forcing himself on her. She says all the stock rape scene things: "no!" and "you’re hurting me!" And then it’s half-Riker-half-Jev. And eventually it’s just Jev.

And then she’s in a coma.

Dr. Crusher is stumped – there’s no reason for her to be in a coma. Riker seems to know what’s what. Somehow. The first person he goes to question is Jev, and he’s kind of a dick about it. Jev acts strangely defensive, which can’t have helped allay Riker’s suspicions.

Riker goes back to his quarters and also starts to experience the dream-like flashbacks. In his case, he’s evacuating Main Engineering after a core breach – which observant fans have reasoned must be during the events of The Drumhead. Unlike in that episode, though, he’s forced to leave someone behind in the containment area, and that crewman dies. Another crewman standing behind Riker accuses him of killing her. Then that crewman is half Jev. Then it’s just Jev. The Riker’s in a coma too.

Thankfully, they don’t to that thing where the crew stands around completely oblivious to the idea that there migth be a connection between the sudden outbreak of comas and the presences of telepathic aliens on board the ship. Picard, Crusher and Worf openly discuss the possiblity. As usual, Worf makes a suggestion that they’ll end up having to take later – that they keep the Ullians completely separated from the rest of the crew – only to be rebuked.

It takes Crusher falling into one of those memory-induced comas to get them there. She’s actually making progress tracking down the cause, when suddenly it’s 20 years ago and she’s in a morgue with Picard (who has hair!) looking at the body of her husband Jack. Jack opens his eyes, and then he’s Jev, and then she’s in a coma too.

The Ullians are now fully cooperative and Jev volunteers to probe Troi’s mind. In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s so he can monkey with her memories and frame Tarmin instead. Now just stop for a moment to marvel at the fact that it never occurs to anyone that something like that might happen? Granted, no one has any idea that Jev is essentially mind-raping people, but neither are they sure that the Ullians aren’t causing the comas deliberately for some hidden purpose.

No matter – Geordi and Data are on the case. While all this is going on, they’re busy crosschecking all the registered facts and are shocked into shame to discover that Jev is the 18th pale descendant of some old queen or other. Has the world changed or have they changed? What the find, of course, is a lot of comas coinciding with the visits of these memory historians, and that some of those comas happened when only Jev was on a planet.

Jev, having framed his father, goes to have another rape at Troi, this one for real. Thanks to Data and Geordi’s detective work, though, Worf arrives to stop it just in the nick of time with a pimp slap. Not after Deanna gets in a good punch and a kick, but Worf stepping through the door and immediately taking Jev out with a precisely-executed martial arts maneuver is the highlight of the episode. A nine-year-old tough who peddles drugs indeed.

And then all of a sudden it’s season two again, and we tack on a final scene where Tarmin basically says "this episode has been a metaphor for rape," followed by "nothing like this has happened on our planet for 300 years. God we’re such terrible, awful people to have a violent crime rate that high." And Picard then follows with "even though we humans have a much higher crime rate, I’m going to be smug and superior anyway and act like you’ll catch up to us someday."

And that’s sort of the problem with this whole episode in a nutshell. It seems to want to say something deep and disturbing about rape, but all it can really muster is something along the lines of "rape is bad," and everyone’s presumably already turned to that page. Then, rather than let the metaphor lie, it makes it explicit in the final couple of scenes, where Jev first shows up to rape Troi for real, and then they talk about "this form of rape" – meaning tampering with people’s memories and inducing comas – without mentioning the physical one that was just attempted, just so you get the point that the nightmare flashbacks were a metaphor for rape! Ka-kram! goes the exploding head. And having done that, they slip back into season 1-2 mode of peddling ethics porn to the effect that human society has evolved beyond rape. Now, we know for certain that this is not true, because A Matter of Perspective made that quite clear. That was the one where Star Trek pulled of a not-particularly-convincing Rashomon with Riker in the role of the thief – meaning that in one of the sequences (the bride’s) he was accused of attempting to rape someone, and Picard didn’t leap out of his chair and shout "nope! There hasn’t been a rape by a human in centuries!" – as, you know, he would have done if … well, you get the point. Not to mention, Troi, in her flashbacks, doesn’t act like someone shocked by the very existence of rape. She responds just how people in the rape-plagued present do.

I really hate episodes like this. The point of the whole "we humans used to rape too, but now we don’t" is meant to make the viewer feel special and evolved for being opposed to rape. In other words, to make viewers feel all superior for attaining the bare minimum necessary to be a good person. "Hey! ME TOO! I’m against rape TOO! Clearly I belong in the 24th century and not crummy ol’ 1991!" It’s shit like this that caused millennials.

So, not a good episode, then. It’s nevertheless a very interesting one to watch, in part because of all the flaws. For example, there are plenty of signs that this was originally written as a standard whodunnit. There’s all kinds of misdirection. The trouble is, by showing us Jev in everyone’s flashbacks, not to mention that scene before the credits of Jev just sitting there looking evil, all the misdirection is pointless. It feels like a really bad edit – where they started with a mystery story and decided instead to go for amping up the creep factor. But to what end? Even more interesting is that we haven’t actually forgotten that A Matter of Perspective never actually resolved the matter of whether Riker had behaved himself appropriately around Mrs. Apgar. It cleared him of the murder he was charged with, but we the audience were left with some lingering, and disturbing, questions about everything else. All three flashbacks start with real incidents. Just how far into Troi’s flashback do we get before Jev starts rewriting things? Looked at objectively, of course Riker didn’t actually try to rape Troi. She would’ve reported that, and we know that Jev gets his kicks from mind rape (and physical rape too, apparently), so probably everything involving actual rape during the mindrape was stuff he stuck in there. Nevertheless, it had to have started with an enounter where Riker was pushing boundaries, right? Finally, there are a number of times when we step outside of standard Trek, and that’s both interesting and appreciated. Keiko being the only one who wants her memory probed, for instance. Everyone else takes an emphatic pass. It’s like they know they’re in a horror film. For another, that Jev is just an honest-to-God villain. There’s no last-minute revelation that makes him sympathetic, and there’s no cosmic dimension to his crimes. He’s just your average creep.

For an episode that’s ostensibly about the tricks our minds can play on us, everything is strangely direct. A thing that’s a metaphor for rape involves a literal rape, and then later there’s a physical literal rape (attempt), and then they tell you that the metaphor isn’t really a metaphor, it’s a kind of rape. We know the villain from the first scene in what’s otherwise played like a whodunnit. And the bad guy is really bad.

One thing I didn’t really understand is what Inad is doing in this story. There are actually Three Ullians on board – Jev and Tamind, and a sweet old lady named Inad. She barely appears in the episode, barely even says anything, but everything she says is kind, cooperative and helpful. In each scene where she appears with the two male Ullians, you find yourself humming "one of these things is not like others, one of these things does not belong…" My only guess is that it’s to reinforce the "rape is bad" message by reminding everyone that perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. That’s interestingly a bit dated now, as awareness of female sexual predators has raised considerably in the intervening years. Then again, I might be totally misreading what the intention behind her was. I honestly just don’t know – she seems out of place.

It’s hard to know how to rate this one. It’s a failure from the objective point of view, but it fails in such interesting ways. How ’bout …

Overall Rating C+

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