As is is befitting a show contemplating loss and nostalgic regret, “Remember Me” plays quite knowingly and powerfully over our own memories of that which we have left behind. In our case, memories of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s first season: A year that, while comparatively speaking not all that distant from us all things considered, given recent events feels like a whole lifetime away.
Most obviously, of course, this manifests in The Traveller returning to play a pivotal role in the episode’s resolution, bringing with him all the provocative concepts of thought-form magick, reminding us there was once a time when Star Trek: The Next Generation would not be so quick to run away from such things. But it’s not just “Where No One Has Gone Before” that is invoked, but also “11001001”, though the re-use of most of that episode’s iconic effects shots, most notably the Enterprise approaching and mooring inside Spacedock. It’s bittersweet that these, two of the most vividly iconic, haunting and defining visual landscapes of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s inaugural year, would be the ones to be revisited now. I already feel a pang of nostalgic sadness and yearning for the feelings I associate with those images, even though the part of me that recently wrote a whole book on the historical era they’re from remembers how even then the show had its slew of bungled opportunities and bad decisions. And even though I know what’s just around the corner.
“Remember Me”’s central themes about people and memories tending to fade with age if we’re not careful and letting people know you appreciate them while you have the chance are fairly obvious. Textually overt, even, what with the fact the whole warp dimension was conjured up out of Beverly’s thoughts as she was going through those particular emotions, as multiple characters take care to point out for us. And yet there’s real synchromystic power and resonance in doing this story now, at ground zero in the aftermath of the Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s traumatic exorcism of its past self. You may think it odd that a show currently in the process of trying to essentially reboot itself would suddenly become so backwards-thinking, what with how much “Remember Me” seems to be desperately trying to grasp at the spectre of the dearly-departed first season. But I actually think it’s entirely to be expected, and welcomed, for that matter: The strength of memory is what it can remind us about our own past lives, both positive and negative. Ideally, we should want to learn not to repeat the mistakes of our past while trying to reconnect with things we might have known back then, but have since forgotten.
Put that way, “Remember Me” is also a re-evaluation of “The Battle”, and maybe even “The Neutral Zone”: The past cannot truly remain the past, because it is always with us guiding our actions in the ever-unfolding present.
And even just in this episode we can already see signs Star Trek: The Next Generation is coming into a newer, healthier and more defined identity. This is another strong Beverly Crusher episode that overtly plays to her new role as science officer and research investigator (you’ll see no more Pulaski-esque doggedly defiant caregiver stuff a la “Who Watches the Watchers?” “The Enemy” or “The High Ground” here), and comes out of her unique positionality as a character to boot. Her dramatic pathos comes not from Wesley, Jack or Picard (though they do become important later on in the story, at least Wesley and the captain), but from her own feelings at meeting an old mentor we’ve never heard of before, but who clearly exists in the backstory of Beverly and Beverly alone.
(Even more examples of how great this outing is, and how needed it is, can be found when you discover that Gates McFadden did all her own stunts for this episode. Remember, she is a trained stuntwoman, stage combat instructor and choreographer, after all. She was also probably pregnant at the time.)
And her finesse with the scientific method is put to the test like never before, literally having to deduce the true meaning of the universe and how it connects to her own innermost being. There’s that wonderfully hammy line “There’s nothing wrong with me…So there must be something wrong with the universe!” which makes zero sense out of context, but, when taken as part of the climax it was written for sums up the major thrust of the story rather well. I’d probably label it one of my favourite quotes from the show if I didn’t know too many people who would actually use a phrase like this unironically. And this reveals yet another area in which Star Trek: The Next Generation is taking careful and firm steps forward: When Beverly sees The Traveller, she asks him if he’s to thank for bringing her back. He says no with a smile, and she goes over to hug Wesley. The Traveller speaks the literal truth: He’s not the one fully responsible…But neither is Wesley.
Beverly and Beverly alone brought herself back, because she made a choice to internalize a different reality. The Traveller himself said she would have to in the observation lounge, and that all they could do was give her the tools necessary to make that choice. Wesley, despite the implications the narrative seems to be leaving that this is another Whiz Kid story, actually does very little. In fact, he’s the one who causes the whole mess in the first place, in a bout of crazed, obsessive egocentrism reminiscent of “Evolution”. But “Evolution” was where Michael Piller finally marked Wesley, and now we see the show hasn’t forgotten that, in spite of the various to-dos in episodes like “Ménage à Troi”, “Family” and “Final Mission”. Indeed, it’s that selfsame obsession that indicates that it’s Wesley, not Beverly, who needs to learn the moral of the week: Despite being the one stranded in a universe of failing memory, Beverly is aware from the beginning of the fleeting nature of our relationships with one another. This is, in fact, why the warp reality works the way it does. It’s Wesley whose self-absorbed fixation on his work estranges him from his mother and casts her into a dimension where friendship and human kinship are meaningless.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is done playing around and humouring Wesley’s vices now, as is made perfectly clear in this story’s opening moments. Critically, even Geordi isn’t taking any of his shit anymore. The self-professed Boy Genius has, at long last, finally worn out his welcome.
I know “Remember Me” has a particularly poor reception amongst fans and critics. I’m not quite sure why, though: Yeah, it’s light on action, deals with mystical stuff Trekkies tend to hate and it is a bit too clunky and heavy-handed in its symbolism at times, but the show has done far, far worse and it’s such a sweet, touching little story I find it hard not to like it. Curiously, Rick Berman doesn’t like it because he felt it was “confusing” to the audience because it was “misleading” them. I have no idea how he could have come to that conclusion-“Remember Me” couldn’t have spelled itself out *more* straightforwardly and literally had it just been the actors sitting around the bridge set narrating the story to us out of character. Apparently, Rick Berman has also inherited from Gene Roddenberry a mind-boggling tone-deafness when it comes to certain issues.
(One other funny anecdote about “Remember Me” that directly relates to my own life: This story’s writer was outgoing producer Lee Sheldon, who apparently taught at the university where I did graduate work for a time while I was studying there. I never got a chance to meet him though. I remember one of my colleagues chatting with me in the elevator one day saying ‘Hey, did you hear that Lee Sheldon joined the English department? He wrote ‘Remember Me’. Fucking terrible episode, but it would be neat to meet him”.)
But what sticks with me the most about “Remember Me” is its persistence of memory, as ethereal and yet as vivid as my own memories of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s early days. As often as I rewatch this show, those moments that I treasure the most deeply from it are the ones I’ve let dissipate, though not fully disperse, such that they continue to haunt my mindscapes as the ghostly signifiers that have always inspired me. It’s not always the material, measurable, quantifiable reality of the past that remains with us to guide us on our path, but the framework of emotion and thought it left us with. When we choose to remember that, particularly in a poetic age where such things actually become our language, those things we cherish and wish to preserve about the past such that they can lead us to the future we desire become much clearer.