Star Trek’s Feminist Statement: Believe Women
Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before
*spoiler alert for TNG Season 4 Epsiode 3, “Remember Me”*
(I mean, it’s 20 years old, but if you haven’t seen it yet, far be it from me to be the one to ruin it for you.)
Star Trek is no stranger to making radical statements — this is the show that had the first black woman as a regular cast member, that featured the first interracial kiss, that puts a woman on the bridge crew whose skill set is literally empathy. But there is something really special going on in the TNG episode “Remember Me.” I was re-watching it recently, and the episode’s overt feminism practically knocked me over.
“Remember Me” opens with Beverly Crusher welcoming her friend and mentor onto the ship, and their melancholy conversation about the loneliness of aging. Then he disappears. Not only can no one find him, but no one even remembers him coming on board. They even search Starfleet’s database and find no record of his existence. This keeps happening — people are disappearing from the Enterprise, and no one remembers them except Beverly. She keeps pointing out the disappearances and demanding answers, but the crew can’t find anything wrong. Still, people keep disappearing — first random people, then major characters. Eventually, the whole crew has disappeared and Beverly is alone, trying to solve the mystery and bring back her vanished shipmates. Eventually she realizes that she is trapped in a contracting warp bubble, and she jumps through an exit opened by Wesley back into the correct dimension.
What surprised me the most about the episode was how long it took for anyone to question Beverly's reliability.
She says someone is missing, but no one remembers him coming onto the ship, and they can’t find any record of him ever being born. And yet they mobilize all resources to find him and the other missing people only Beverly remembers. They sideline their mission and change course more than once based on her unconfirmed claim that something is wrong. It is only 20 minutes into the episode that Picard gently and hesitantly suggests that maybe the problem could be her memory.
And even after Picard has asked Beverly to see the counselor because he thinks she may be having memory issues, he still trusts her. She asks him to turn the ship around even though she has no evidence to present but her own memory — which is contradicted by everyone else’s memory as well as all the physical evidence. And still, he responds:
“Your word has always been good enough for me.”
The plot line of the episode is not tied to anything in the history of Beverly’s character. Nor does it depend on her being a doctor or a woman. In theory, any of the major characters could have been the star of this episode. But it is not at all a coincidence that it is Beverly — a woman, a healer, a mother, and Picard’s occasional love interest — who lives out this story.
“Remember Me” is a parable about believing women’s stories.
Beverly occupies a position familiar to all women — she points out something obvious and no one sees it but her. It is almost a Cassandra story.
Almost, because Beverly is believed. Her story is presumed to be true, and her colleagues and friends mobilize all their resources to solve a problem they can’t see, because they trust her judgment and her perception. The Enterprise crew — and Picard in particular — present a glorious lesson in how to be an ally.
And along with the fact Beverly is believed, what she is believed about is incredibly important. Trying to convince Picard that people are missing, she describes the bridge crew in tender, complimentary detail. She says:
“They’ve been the living, breathing heart of this crew for six years. They deserve more than to be shrugged aside, pinched out of existence like that. They all do. They deserve so much more.”
And when Picard himself finally disappears and she is alone, she promises:
“I won’t forget. I won’t forget any of you.”
From the beginning, she is loudly and unapologetically demanding action be taken for missing friends, literally fighting their disappearance and erasure from memory. Beverly is speaking for the voiceless and the disappeared, promising to #SayTheirNames.
And never, from the beginning of the episode to the very end, does Beverly entertain the possibility that it’s all in her head. She refuses to gaslight herself or give in to the despair of being the only one who sees the truth.
After Picard’s disappearance, when she is alone on the ship, she tells the computer:
“We will start with the assumption that I am not crazy.”
Pause for a second to consider how utterly radical that assumption is. Let’s all proceed on the assumption that women are neither crazy nor lying, shall we?
As the warp bubble and Beverly’s world contracts, the computer starts answering all her questions by saying the information she seeks is not available. So she dismisses it: “I’m not talking to you.” The tools of the patriarchy have abandoned her, so she tosses them aside and instead relies on her own mind to solve her problems.
(The contracting bubble is a powerful metaphor as well — having your perceptions disbelieved makes the world close in.)
And in the end, Beverly is vindicated. It turns out a freak accident transported her to an alternate reality, and the rest of the crew is frantically working to retrieve her. On the other side, Beverly’s crewmates never stop looking for her. They never stop believing her, and they don’t blame her for bringing the disaster on herself or failing to avail herself of various possible solutions.
They rescue her by creating a stable gateway between the realities — largely accomplished by Wesley’s quasi-mystical “phasing” abilities. But it is key that there are two realities, not that Beverly’s world is fake.
Beverley’s lived experience is real, and in order to create a gateway, Wesley has to open himself to the possibility that his is not the only reality.
And that’s really important. Wesley reaches out to his mother not only with numbers and science, but with trust and belief in her.
And in the end, Beverly literally takes a leap of faith through the gateway — believing in her own powers of deduction, her own sanity, and the support of her colleagues and family.
“Remember Me” is a masterful piece of television, but it’s more than that. It’s a utopian vision of allyship and a model for how to respond to the lived experiences of women demanding solutions to a problem their male colleagues don’t even perceive.
We should follow Star Trek’s road map. Because today, twenty years after “Remember Me,” believing women is still a radical act.