Late-Nite TNG: “Remember Me”

Yes, I know it’s not late-night anymore. But I watched the episode last night, so sue me. Anyway, in my continued explorations of Batman and the DC Comics world at large, I have come across a trend called “Women in Refrigerators,” which as you might guess relates to some pretty sickening treatment of female characters in superhero comics. Most disturbingly, some of the comics I had intended to include in my Batman Comics Canon are accessories to this misogynist genre trope.

More on that to follow, but by 7 o’clock last night I was so depressed reading about how frequently this trend occurs that I needed to expose myself to something on the other end of the feminist spectrum. Where, oh where do I turn? To science fiction, of course. To its great credit, sci-fi has long been one of the leading genres to feature women not just as token representatives of their gender, but as normal, complicated, fully-actualized people. And which TV show was a pioneer even within science fiction?

I selected the fourth-season episode called “Remember Me” mostly because I hadn’t watched any of Season 4 recently and I couldn’t remember the plot of this particular episode off the top of my head. One of the nice things about TNG is that it’s not a serialized show, so you can skip around to find an episode you haven’t seen in a while.

Anyway, the plot runs as follows: Dr. Beverly Crusher is accidentally trapped in a static warp bubble during one of her son Wesley’s experiments with the warp drive in Main Engineering. Strangely, Dr. Crusher’s existence inside the warp bubble creates an alternate reality based on her thought patterns at the moment of the accident, which happened to revolve around the gradual loss of friends and coworkers we all experience as we get older. In this alternate reality, the crew and passengers of the Enterprise begin disappearing at an alarming rate, until eventually she is the only crew member on a starship capable of comfortably transporting over a thousand people. Even more bizarre is that as people vanish, none of the remaining crew members (or the ship’s computer) remember that they ever existed at all.

Naturally, this leads to Captain Picard and the other crew members being skeptical of Dr. Crusher’s claims that the crew is disappearing, but instead of dismissing her as a crazy lady and packing her off to the proverbial loony bin, her crewmates take her seriously and attempt to help her investigate the phenomenon. Captain Picard is on her side right up until he finally disappears, too, having previously stated: “Beverly, your word has always been good enough for me.”

Dr. Beverly Crusher, last woman standing in an alternate reality.

It would have been soooo easy for this episode to devolve into a gaggle of mostly male Starfleet officers wringing their hands and declaring “Dr. Crusher’s gone batty! Whatever can we do to fix her poor, confused little mind?” But, in stalwart Star Trek fashion, the writers took the high road. After everybody has vanished, Dr. Crusher kicks her brain into high gear, asking pointed questions of the ship’s computer to deduce exactly what is going on. The two clues that allow her to figure it all out reveal themselves when she inquires 1) what is the mission statement of the Enterprise (to explore the galaxy) and whether she is qualified to accomplish that mission all alone (no), and 2) what is the nature of the universe, to which the computer responds, “The universe is a spherical region approximately 705 meters in diameter.”

The first clue allows her to confirm that she is not losing her mind, and the second narrows down the problem to an all-too-measurable extent: the universe is collapsing around her, progressively erasing everyone on the ship (presumably she is immune to these effects because it was her mind that created this reality in the first place).

Don’t go towards the light… Wait wait no! Do go towards it! Hurry up, your universe is collapsing!!

Over the course of the episode, Dr. Crusher experiences all the emotions we might expect of someone in her situation: confusion, stress, frustration, fear. And, like any reasonable individual, she does briefly consider the possibility that she might be going crazy. But for the most part she remains calm, rational, and professional, as evidenced by her quick thinking and sound deductive reasoning as the show nears its conclusion. And let’s not forget that her alternate reality was precipitated by her consideration of a fear that everyone must face at some point in life: that we will eventually lose the people we love.

While all of this is going on inside the warp bubble, the crew on the real (or rather, original) Enterprise are able to figure out what happened to Beverly, and for her part, she correctly assumes that the odd “atmospheric disturbances” she has witnessed were her crewmates’ attempts to retrieve her from this alternate dimension. She leaps through the gateway back into her original reality just as the warp bubble finally collapses, and all is returned to normal on the Enterprise.

It’s a credit to this television show and Star Trek as a whole that we can select an episode more or less at random and it will present its female characters in such a positive, well-rounded manner. This episode also passes the Bechdel test with flying colors as Dr. Crusher consults Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor, about her mental stability (or the possible lack thereof). Just off the cuff, I would expect most other TNG episodes to pass the test as well.

Overall, this was a great episode — I had forgotten most of the important plot points, and it serendipitously satisfied my goal of engaging with some good feminist fiction. I’m thinking this “Late-Nite TNG” thing might have to become a continuing mission (pun intended), as I tend to get the urge to watch some Trek quite frequently. Anyway, until next time,