Star Trek: Voyager: Faces   Rewatch 
February 16, 2017 3:45 AM - Season 1, Episode 14 - Subscribe

B'Elanna is quite beside herself when, after being captured on an away mission, she has unsettling encounters with a couple of surprisingly familiar faces.

Time for Memory Alpha to face the music:

- Neither Ken Biller nor Executive Producer Jeri Taylor were enthusiastic about the initial plot concept. Biller opined, "The original idea was very melodramatic and hokey." Taylor admitted, "I was not even in favor of buying this idea originally. I thought it was a tired idea, and it was too on the nose for B'Elanna." Accounting for the writing staff's decision to purchase the idea, Producer Brannon Braga remarked, "Usually, when a show does the evil twin, it's on its last legs and they're desperate. We figured, 'Hey, why not get it out of the way right now?'" However, the story line was still of problematic credibility. "I always felt that splitting her was a mistake," Braga recalled, "like making Data human. Why do it? Why see it? Why resolve any of her feelings?" Michael Piller noted, "This was a story that a lot of people had trouble with, and it was almost abandoned at one point in time [...] but it seemed that the half-human, half-Klingon conflict between B'Elanna as a woman divided would be really interesting to see."

- Ken Biller decided to involve the Vidiians in the plot, due to their technology. He recalled, "It suddenly occurred to me that Brannon had created these aliens in 'Phage' who, we have already established, have this incredibly sophisticated medical technology and have been searching for a cure to this disease [....] I hit upon what I thought was a very organic way of doing something that might otherwise be really hokey." Biller further explained, "I realized that the Klingons have these systems that allow them to fight off disease and injury much more effectively than other races, and they're so virile. Maybe they would be resistant to this thing. If I were this scientist with this incredible technology and I encountered a species I'd never seen before and it seemed that there was some promise she might hold the secret to a cure to this disease, I would do exactly what [Sulan] did."

- The episode concept allowed Ken Biller to meet his agenda of accentuating horror-like elements in the series, especially in the scene wherein Sulan shows Torres that he has grafted Durst's face onto his own, a scene that Biller described as "a sick moment of inspiration." He explained, "Brannon and I are both interested in some horror elements. 'Faces' was a classic horror movie moment – a guy stepping into the light with a grotesque disfiguration. It was made even more grotesque by the fact that he thought he was making himself more beautiful. We aren't going out of our way to be dark or to do horror episodes. If it hadn't fit organically into the story they wouldn't have let me do it. But it did fit one of the themes which was appearance and self-image. Our main character is dealing with her altered appearance and that was reflected in the villain of the piece who was clearly uncomfortable with his own appearance."

- Actress Roxann Dawson found this episode extremely challenging. "I think I was shaking the first time I read the script," she remembered, while the installment's production was in full-swing. "I was wondering if it was something I could even do." Dawson dealt with the separation of her character's personality not only in her own mind but also with copies of the episode's script. The actress explained, "I had two scripts–one labeled 'The Klingon' and the other labeled 'The Human'. I went through each script, treated both as two totally separate people and made sure that each persona really lacked something important. The Human lacked strength and courage and the Klingon lacked the reasoning and coolheadedness of the human–traits which definitely heightened the battle between them. I also wanted to make sure that the Klingon side was heard because she's really the bad sibling, who nobody wants to talk about and who always ends up locked away in the closet. Dawson also said of the installment, "I used it to teach me a lot about who B'Elanna was. It was a chance for me to learn these different sides of her and to really delineate them."

- With hindsight, Roxann Dawson felt that her performance in this episode would have differed, if the episode had been later in the series. In the interim between the second and third seasons of Voyager, Dawson commented, "I certainly would play that part differently today. B'Elanna is a different person to me now than she was then."

- Winrich Kolbe enjoyed working with Dawson on "Faces" but found her inquisitiveness somewhat challenging. "That was the first time I really worked with Roxann Dawson [....] She wants to know everything. So, I really had to do my homework," said Kolbe. "It worked out quite well. We enjoyed ourselves and she did a hell of a job on that one."

- Because Sulan transfers Durst's face onto his own, actor Brian Markinson was used to play both roles.

- This episode had some production problems. Winrich Kolbe commented, "I wanted to do more in the cave scene with the two B'Elannas, but it became an issue of production costs and how much split-screen stuff we could do. I would have liked [the production] to seem bigger. At times it looked like there were four prisoners and two guards instead of a whole complex of people [...] and, of course, we had to go back to those caves we always use."

- While Winrich Kolbe and other members of the production crew were studying a video playback of one scene, a bemused Nana Visitor, wearing civilian clothes, wandered onto the set by mistake. "Oh, my god," she laughed, "this is the Voyager set. No wonder I hardly recognized any of these crew people." After observing the goings-on for a few minutes, Visitor excused herself and went in search of the Deep Space Nine set she was actually meant to be on.

- The concept of this story had been previously explored in a non-canon story. Nearly twenty years earlier, the anthology The New Voyages had a story titled "Ni Var", wherein Spock is divided—by an alien machine—into his Human and Vulcan halves.


"Did you know that Klingon females are renowned in the Alpha Quadrant not only for their physical prowess but also for their voracious sexual appetite as well? Why not let your creation out of her harness? Study her in action?"

- Klingon B'Elanna Torres, to the Vidiian scientist Sulan


"Listen to me. Listen to us. This is ridiculous. Do you realize that we're each fighting with our self?"

- Human Torres, to her Klingon counterpart


"It's OK, Tom. They're the ones with the guns, remember?"

- Peter Durst, to Tom Paris shortly before his death


Poster's Log: Considering Dawson's own retrospective assessment of her performance, and in terms of B'Elanna's characterization, this story could have waited for season 2. It's good that it didn't come any earlier. I feel like we know the Torres character just enough to make this episode stick—just enough for it not to feel too blatantly like a "getting to know your new crew" episode. (And indeed, this is one of VOY Season 1's strengths: it's so ensemble-y that it rarely feels that way, with the arguable exceptions of the next two episodes. Too bad half of Season 4 feels like The Seven of Nine and Friends Show.) But delaying this episode might have prevented the unfortunate performance choice, in Full-Klingon B'Elanna's early scenes, of. Speaking. More. Haltingly. Than even. Shatner. In fact, under other circumstances, one might have imagined it was a deliberate Shatner reference.

Poster's Log, Supplemental: Bernd Schneider of "Ex Astris Scientia" (a site mainly known for its hyperdetailed Trek-textual analysis) does reviews of every Trek episode and, while I don't always agree with him, I do think he's onto something when he points out that the episode's treatment of race is kind of not good (albeit, I would add, in a very typically sci-fi way), and could possibly not sit too well with biracial viewers in particular.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total)
 
This was a fun kind of episode that is par for the course with Star Trek. Some pseudo-scientific thing happens that forces one of our crew members to face (heh) their own humanity head on. Check. Despite the strange speech patterns - did her Klingon mouthpiece cause problems? - I thought that Roxanne Dawson did a great job with both facets of the character.

It might be interesting to contrast this episode with Tuvix later, where the reverse basically happens.

Seeing Durst's face on the Vidiian was shocking and unexpected. But it actually worked and fit with what we know of the species.
posted by 2ht at 4:59 AM on February 16


Despite the strange speech patterns - did her Klingon mouthpiece cause problems?

I thought this was intentional. That she wasn't use to talking with so much teeth and also because she had just undergone a crazy medical procedure.
posted by INFJ at 8:07 AM on February 16


I really liked this episode, but before I get into the reasons why I did, a couple of things to get out of the way. First, WRT Brannon Braga's statement of "Usually, when a show does the evil twin, it's on its last legs and they're desperate"--ha ha ha, no, dude. TOS had "The Enemy Within", the fourth episode of the series (and of the entire franchise, which produced over seven hundred), and TNG had "Datalore", likewise a first season episode; DS9 had the Intendant, a character who recurred throughout the entire series. I have a wee problem with how the "evil twin" was implemented in this case, since it breaks the premise of what I still think are the best villains of the series; if the Vidiians can pull off something like this, why don't they just run a bunch of clone organ farms and not get a reputation as cross-species organ snatchers? I understand that this specific process might not be amenable to doing so--with the last-act revelation that B'Elanna literally needs her Klingon DNA (which is the only part of the story itself that I wasn't crazy about; I would rather have seen her come to the conclusion that she wanted it back), it seems likely that any organs thus produced wouldn't have been viable for very long anyway--but just straight-up cloning shouldn't have been much of a much for a culture that can separate out one hybrid person into their component species in a matter of hours.

That having been said, I liked it for what it was, which was both another very effective use of the Vidiians and also an examination of B'Elanna's upbringing, which the show will continue to go into in future B'Elanna-centric episodes. We get to see just how brutally utilitarian the Vidiian culture has become--working its captives near to death, then harvesting their organs, if they haven't done so already--and Sulan's "putting his best face forward" (sorry/not sorry) is indeed shocking, but also kind of pathetic. I mean, when I was younger and dateless, I used to entertain the fantasy that I'd get some if I looked like this or that celebrity, but dude. (Also, kudos to Brian Markinson for pulling off the dual role; the Vidiian makeup was an effective mask, but I still had no idea that he was Sulan all along until I read the credits. That's some Jeffrey Combs-level shit right there.) Also kind of fun to see Chakotay get the treatment. Also of note was the Talaxian prisoner (the first other member of Neelix's species that we meet), who is well along the road to completely losing his shit. (Kind of disappointed that Voyager didn't do something WRT setting him and the others free, although I don't necessarily blame Janeway for maybe not wanting to take on a bunch of Vidiian ships, given how they seem to maybe have the edge on Federation tech in some ways.

And I think that Roxann Dawson did just fine in the two roles; Human-B'Elanna was obviously reeling from the shock and dismay of finally getting what she'd thought she always wanted, but it not really turning out as she'd dreamed, and Klingon-B'Elanna is very much in line with other Klingon portrayals in the franchise. (I tend to think that the way that she's talking, with the careful enunciation, is due to the tooth prosthetics that they wear; there's a bit of that with the Ferengi, as well. Other Klingons--Worf, Gowron, etc.--don't necessarily have that, either because the actors are more used to the prosthetics or that they've had theirs adjusted to be less intrusive.) It scans to me like someone who is being very careful about what they say, and maybe being a bit sarcastic about it, because they're, to paraphrase the old joke about stress, suppressing the urge to choke the living shit out of some asshole who desperately deserves it in their opinion.

This gets into the racial aspect of the episode, and I'm going to try to tread carefully here. The justification for K-B being more aggro, assertive, and generally growly is that Klingons are in fact a different species from humans and therefore may have striking differences not only in their appearance but in their psychology... but that gets into some dangerous territory that has been used in a lot of speculative fiction to justify some really awful, regressive tropes. (See, for example, Goreans.) Where it might work without being really offensive is that K-B may feel that it's OK for her to be all aggro and stuff because she's gone full-Klingon and may as well embrace it, if part of her not doing so before was her feeling that she wasn't Klingon enough to get away with it; she may be just acting out the stereotypes that she's internalized. There are some other things that could justify it--her relationship with her mother, the kids in her neighborhood being racist (sorry, Gene, but 24th-century humans aren't beyond that)--but that stuff is addressed in future episodes. (The Ex Astris Scientia article describes these stereotypes as "a cultural aspect that she could only have acquired by living in the Klingon Empire, which she didn't", as if, you know, people don't learn about other cultures and sometimes consciously or unconsciously adopt aspects of those cultures without ever setting foot in them, although, as we'll later find out, B'Elanna and her mother (who is another potential source, being a very Klingon sort of Klingon) did in fact live on Qo'noS for a while.) At any rate, I did enjoy K-B and H-B's scenes together; one of the reasons why I wished that it hadn't been biologically necessary for H-B to reintegrate her Klingon genes, but that she'd chosen to, was that K-B literally embraced her as she was dying. (Please note: I'm not biracial myself and may simply be talking out of my ass here.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:26 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'd like to have seen it as an investigation of what a non-warrior Klingon would be like.
i.e. the Klingon half should have been not necessarily angrier or fighter but far far more passionate.

Like, show them working through an engineering problem and the human side has more inspiration, more approaching the problem from different angles whilst the Klingon has the focus and passion to just keep on going and going at the problem till it's done.

We've talked about it before, but Klingon's in Star Trek still have a real problem in that you just can't imagine a Klingon society working, like, at all.
You need farmers (or hunters I suppose) and scientists and miners and accountants and so on. (we've seen a few lawyers, but that's still an adversarial relationship).
This would have been a good opportunity to address that.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 9:30 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I didn't like this one initially, and I actually liked it less on re-watching it, which is a first -- mostly I've been more impressed on coming back to Voyager. There is some good stuff in here, and I'd count Dawson's performances as part of that; the Vidiians are creepy, and the special effects and makeup work is great at driving that home.

But. The central premise of the episode -- Torres twice over, but also halved -- directly undermines the need of the Vidiians to be 'the Vidiians,' rather than just Generic Aliens That Clone People. That they have the capability to make perfect full-bodied clones quickly and safely -- and that they have the capability to tweak DNA directly, rather than merely some really good and efficient organ-transplant techniques -- both opens to questioning why on earth they need captives in the first place (rather than just DNA samples) and also the plausibility of the phage itself. And that moves them from being creepy-but-interesting aliens who steal organs out of need to creepy-but-actually-just-creepy aliens who steal organs because of...why, exactly, are they taking so many risks stealing organs if they can just clone off more organs? It's an episode that doesn't think through either how the Vidiians work, or what the implications of changing how they work mean to the Vidiians, and seems largely uninterested in actually saying anything about the Vidiians at all.

Turning to Torres, I think the production notes about how they had started off with this as an 'evil twin episode' speaks to a lot about what I find problematic with this. The thing that makes an evil twin episode compelling -- looking at TOS and DS9's mirror universe episodes, or TNG's Alternate Transporter Riker (who ended up joining the Maquis in DS9), they're an opportunity to tease out what is and isn't essential about a character and how they, as people, have shaped by the circumstances of their lives. Evil Spock is still logical; Alternate Sisko is still an impassioned fighter for what he believes is right; Alternate Riker still loves the trombone. None of those characterizations would be possible without an alternate timeline/universe/transporter accident, except as a literary device (there are certainly plenty of stories about 'would my life be different if_____?,' but within the scope of 'physically having two different actual flesh-and-blood beings your options are more limited).

Whereas, having Torres grapple with her Klingon-half and her Human-half did not require physically splitting her into two bodies. It's not a perfect parallel, but Worf had plenty of plots about growing up as a Klingon in human society; Dax had plenty of plots about her sense of self, and what made her 'her'. And in non-Star Trek worlds, biracial people do exist and have written about their experiences; and while being biracial isn't the the same thing as being bi-species, I think this episodes falls into a lot of tropes in older fiction that portrays it as being essentially the same thing -- that certain races have innate characteristics. And while species aren't races, it gets into some problematic ground to create fiction that echoes older tropes -- does the trope-echoing take precedence in how the story is received? It's not awful, here, but it's not great either. I'd also make the argument that this episode is not particularly interested in examining that distinction, and, frankly, isn't even that interested in examining the implications of half the questions it raises -- it feels like they wanted to do a horror episode and an evil twin episode and jumped down from that to Torres's background as an added hook, rather than building up from Torres-as-a-character.

At a very basic level, this entire plot hinging on Torres splitting in two feels unnecessary to me -- why does it exist? Why do we need to split Torres in two? Splitting Torres into two halves of herself ends up functioning not as a commentary on Torres, but on the nature of human-ness and Klingon-ness, while Torres talking about her life -- something she could have done in one body! at any time! -- feels like Torres talking about Torres. At that point, why not just have a Torres episode where she stays in one body? The stuff it has to say about 'what it means to be a human versus a Klingon' just...isn't very well done, I think. It neither articulates a clear line about what being human or being klingon means, nor does it articulate a belief that there isn't a clear line -- it's half genetic-essentialist, half-not, and whether upbringing, genes, or free choice matter is not really clear. The Two Torres's have identical memories, yet behave drastically differently: so the message is that genes define us. But Torres-as-human is fearful, but humans aren't universally fearful? Klingon Torres is forceful Because Klingons? Showing them (her) overcoming those genetic predispositions, though, is saying that we're not the sum of our genes but -- we also just had the rest of the episode showing how we're substantially the sum of our genes. It's muddled, particularly because Klingon Torres is stereotypical and Human Torres isn't: because Star Trek has stereotyped Klingons, and hasn't stereotyped humans. It would have been interesting to have Klingon Torres and Human Torres be substantially the same rather than portraying them as contrasts.

Having one Torres die is dumb, and magically fixing Torres genes at the end is also dumb, and it feels driven by a need to neatly wrap up the episode without having to address what you do with two different Torres's that are functionally two different living people. That the one can't live without the DNA of the other was also, frankly, a bit trite, and also felt like they wanted to just not deal with the implications of the premise they were establishing. It's not even a great character moment ('surprise! you need this DNA to live. You have no choices to make.'), nor particularly interesting as a science hypothetical.

Despite the nominal hook of this episode being 'Two Torres's!,' I feel like it would have been more interesting if, say, the Vidiians had simply suppressed her human genes -- I mean, why the heck would you go through the trouble of cloning an entire other body with the DNA you don't want (and if it's just really easy to clone people, circle back to: why are you stealing organs rather than just cloning them)? Having only one Torres -- one Torres who would have to grapple with losing a part of herself -- would also mean the ending is both more plausible (well -- 'more.' : 'let me just turn over those DNA blockers using science') -- and also less cliched.

Conversely, having two Torres's on the crew permanently would have been a bold choice; if they'd actually committed to Clone Torres that would have been fascinating. Wrapping everything neatly up and resetting the status quo is a recurring and vexing issue with Voyager, and it's annoying not so much for the resetting itself as because -- as shown here -- they keep skirting around some interesting ideas and then not really engaging with them for the sake of continuity and the status quo ante. TNG, which didn't exactly undergo drastic change, and TOS likewise, at least both rarely put their characters in positions that would warrant change. But Voyager, by contrast, feels already -- in seasone one! -- like it's cloning and killing off and reinventing characters left and right, only to course-correct by the episode's end.
posted by cjelli at 9:48 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Having one Torres die is dumb, and magically fixing Torres genes at the end is also dumb, and it feels driven by a need to neatly wrap up the episode without having to address what you do with two different Torres's that are functionally two different living people. That the one can't live without the DNA of the other was also, frankly, a bit trite, and also felt like they wanted to just not deal with the implications of the premise they were establishing. It's not even a great character moment ('surprise! you need this DNA to live. You have no choices to make.'), nor particularly interesting as a science hypothetical.

I would have honestly preferred that, or even if it was just Torres' choice to accept the Klingon DNA again. She can still wrestle with her heritage - a time honored genre tradition*, but I'd at least like more acknowledgement that she wouldn't really be her without her Klingon side, rather than disappointment that she has to deal with the whole Klingon thing again.

That entire setup to the episode leading to that last scene - the way that Klingon B'Ellana is more differentiated from standard B'Ellana than human B'Ellana, the fact that Klingon B'Ellana is killed and discarded, the way that human B'Ellana is given more of a chance for insight into her feelings about that than Klingon B'Ellana - all of this is setting up human B'Ellana as somehow more B'Ellana than Klingon B'Ellana. Especially with this evil twin plot comparison. Neither of them is evil, and neither of them is more B'Ellana than the other.

While I don't doubt there are biracial people who would prefer to wish that they were monoracial, and think of themselves as mostly one ethnicity while their other half is this burden they have to wrestle with . . . it's also profoundly sad and broken. And I don't really know if I trust this writing staff to realize how weird and wrong that is.

Also, ways that Paris is the worst, part 500:
B'Ellana: I've gotten my childhood wish to fundamentally change who I am, but it was done without my consent and is turning out to be horrifying
Tom: Well, it sounds like you got your wish!

Harry, you can do so much better.

*You know what would be awesome? A biracial or bi-species character who actually kind of likes that they are the product of two different worlds. Maybe it was hard to fit completely sometimes, but they also feel like they have access to more and different insights than they would if they were monoracial. I'm not expecting one from Voyager, but maybe somewhere in the future - because there are real biracial people out there who are okay with it. Just one biracially coded character that isn't mired in tragedy and angst would be cool.

that's it I am going home and rolling up the happiest half elven motherfucker you have ever seen
posted by dinty_moore at 2:18 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


B'Ellana: I've gotten my childhood wish to fundamentally change who I am, but it was done without my consent and is turning out to be horrifying
Tom: Well, it sounds like you got your wish!


B'Ellana, within less than two seasons: I WANT YOU INSIDE ME
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:42 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I did like at the beginning the fact that human B'Ellana was like 'WTF is this panicking nonsense?' and I wish it was better addressed in the end scene by human B'Ellana. Because in the first half, it did seem like they were setting up a pretty standard 'two halves of a person need each other' show, which would have been a lot better. But the conclusion veered away from that, and I feel like the writers lost track of what they were saying?

B'Ellana, within less than two seasons: I WANT YOU INSIDE ME

:( :( :( B'Ellana, you also can do better.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:46 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Particle of the Week: Skipped in favor of Lego Genetics.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Both magnesite and Vulcan Plomeek Soup make appearances in Star Trek Online.
Equipment Tally: Down one Durst. We hardly knew ye.

Notes:
* Neelix bugging Tuvok continues apace.

I think they were hoping the pair would be funnier - straight man and comedy guy and all that. Never worked for me. It mostly came off as Neelix being extra annoying. I also couldn't help but wonder what he did to ruin peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

* Nothing about what the Vidiians were doing made sense.

Being able to split B'Ellana the way they did renders the whole phage thing ridiculous, as has been previously discussed.

I was willing to give this a pass because it was clear they were going for a horror movie vibe, and I did feel like the thing with Durst's face was effective. I also thought Sulan was a decently realized mad scientist figure. So... points for that aspect of the story having the right atmosphere and good performances.

That said...

* The B'Ellana thing renders the episode impossible for me to enjoy.

So, I'm biracial - half white, half Middle Eastern (and obviously so) - and the way Star Trek approaches race, and especially people like me, is basically too insulting for me to get past. I feel like going into my own feelings about it in a ton of detail would probably be too derail-y, but... yeah. It's bad.

The discussion that's happened here already has been pretty great though, and that's heartening. I wanted to cite the following in particular:

While I don't doubt there are biracial people who would prefer to wish that they were monoracial, and think of themselves as mostly one ethnicity while their other half is this burden they have to wrestle with . . . it's also profoundly sad and broken. And I don't really know if I trust this writing staff to realize how weird and wrong that is.

I most certainly do not trust them with that sort of thing. It's a bad area for Trek generally, (see also: Spock), and Voyager is the series that brought us Magical Native American Chakotay by way of a guy pretending to be one in real life.

The stuff it has to say about 'what it means to be a human versus a Klingon' just...isn't very well done, I think. It neither articulates a clear line about what being human or being klingon means, nor does it articulate a belief that there isn't a clear line -- it's half genetic-essentialist, half-not, and whether upbringing, genes, or free choice matter is not really clear.

Trek has always had a strong element of genetic/race essentialism baked in. I think that's partly due to the era it hails from, and mostly due to a lack of diversity in the writing room. Regardless, they act like the whole Planet of the Hats routine that happens in the Trek universe really *is* rooted in genetics.

So... yeah. Apart from Sulan stealing Durst's face, I basically hated everything about this episode. Still worth it to hear what everyone has to say though.
posted by mordax at 7:22 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I feel like going into my own feelings about it in a ton of detail would probably be too derail

I would be interested to hear about your feelings re: Star Trek and biracialness.
I don't think it would be deraily, but equally I don't think you need to perform for our amusement.
Mark me down as an interested audience should you wish to discuss it further.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:43 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Actually other thought on planets of hats that I had this morning (which was a very long time ago now).

I was imagining some normal Klingons at home on Qo'noS talking about humans. And all these Klingons are just normal folks going about their daily business. They come home from a long day at the Klingon office, maybe walk the Targ and then pop off to the pub for a cheeky half of blood wine before bedtime.

At the pub, the other neighbourhood Klingons are laughing and drinking and talking of their relatively glorious middle management triumphs when one says that his brothers coming back home after visiting the federation (or whatever). They get to talking about humans. About how it's strange that they all wear the same jumpsuits all the time. Sure different colours, but always that one thing. And they're all weirdly obsessed with exploring and so on and so on.
Just to sort of underline the fact that we only ever see the Klingons who venture off-world. We only ever see Klingon Warriors! So their perception of Humans should be equally skewed because they only ever see or hear about Starfleet. In fact, it's a whole universe of spacefarers of each civilisation meeting and judging the WHOLE species by what their most adventurous subsection are like. Maybe there's even a borg planet where it's all lovely and they focus on assimilating the curtains with the wallpaper or something?

It's something Star Trek never really talks about because of course, a planet of hats is a planet of hats.
All Klingons are Bold Warriors. All Vulcans are scientists and thinkers.

This episode might be when they really codified that your hat is a genetic trait, though, and I agree that's a mistake.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:03 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I would be interested to hear about your feelings re: Star Trek and biracialness.
I don't think it would be deraily, but equally I don't think you need to perform for our amusement.
Mark me down as an interested audience should you wish to discuss it further.


Seconded.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:33 AM on February 17


I'm fascinated, in a train-wreck way, by the characterization of Tom Paris, lone wolf ex-con who don't need nobody but himself. Last episode, he complained about how doctors don't give out lollypops anymore. Here, he asks Neelix to prepare PBJ and not, say, steak. If it was handled more delicately, these traits could be a fascinating portrayal of a complex masculinity. Instead, he's just kind of a wiener.

It does seem like an interesting character revelation that Tom spends so much of this episode attempting to be comforting and nurturing. First by keeping Durst from panicking by focusing on escape, then on helping Torres cope with her situation. But, oh boy, does he ever suck at nurturing.

I also appreciate the discussion about racial traits and Star Trek, even though I don't have much to add.
posted by Banknote of the year at 10:19 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how I feel about this episode overall. There was a mix of some pretty good stuff with quite a bit of things that didn't work well at all, with the best things looking even better on rewatch, but the worst things either looking worse or seeming even more questionable, at best.

The good things first. The episode was a pretty solid ensemble piece in a lot of ways, with Chakotay, Tuvok, Harry, and even Paris all getting some nice moments, and of course B'Elanna and Durst/Sulan get even more. Tuvok and Chakotay actually come across as more than usually competent this episode, evidently, some of their failings in the past few shows must have sat heavily on them so they upped their games this time around. With Tuvok repeatedly getting to stress securityesque concerns and Chakotay showing some good initiative on addressing the problems. Harry too actually gets to show some extra competence, even if the "bread crumbs" moment was a little too cute for my liking, not only by coming up with a necessary idea, but by just looking ready for action in some of the cave scenes. It gives a better feeling of the crews abilities overall, even if Janeway seemed perhaps a little weaker than might be expected, the Doctor's dialogue being rather lame, Kes given filler, and Neelix's brief moment annoying. Can't win 'em all I guess, but at least there was some reasonable actions taken on behalf of the security and recovery of the crew, a step up from some other episodes.

Even there though the budget does them no favors, for as reasonable as Tuvok's threat assessment once Vidiians were suspected as being involved and Chakotay's plans for action might seem, even initially suspecting seismic activity might be responsible for shifting a tunnel seems silly and only sending three members of the bridge crew down to investigate, and not a full security force after spotting Vidiian activity would be a mistake if one didn't want to account for show restraints on budget. In a similar vein, the actions of the Vidiian security teams were even worse.

Other than Sulan's actions, nothing the rest of the Vidiians did made much sense and it played even worse for the most part, with some really bad movement blocking and action choreography lessening the feel of their threat to the crew. The ridiculous conversation human B'Elanna and Paris had right in front of the Vidiian guards was already mentioned, but the weird sarcastic line about a meal and a hot shower for human B'Elanna and the weak fight scenes also broke some of the spell of the moment. Their purpose and lack of communication with each other was just weird. Janeway was worried about them contacting other ships in the area, but they didn't even seem to contact the other Vidiians in the cave complex after spotting Chakotay's away team at the force field. No big thing I guess, but all of that added together just added a feeling of shoddiness to some of the action that could have been avoided.

As to the B'Elanna split, there were a few nice touches involved with it, but as a whole it wasn't a good idea to approach from the angle they chose for my money. There are a number of things that stick out as being particularly troublesome in overall effect, even as I can see how they might be explained in a different manner were one more sympathetic.

One of the conceptual problems overall is that you really shouldn't try to shift allegorical, metaphorical, or symbolic meaning once its been more or less established as holding a different value previously. In TOS, Klingons and Vulcans acted as something likes opposing poles for the central human characters to address. The Vulcan side pure reason, the Klingon side pure emotion, more or less. That more concrete allegorical structure made the racial issues less pressing as they weren't to be read as being really analogous to human races. The later movies and TNG put a twist in that and really started to push harder on race as race and not psychological allegory in some episodes, making some of those "essential" characteristics of Trek races both more notable and at the same time often harder to defend.

Trying to map that essentialization onto human races simply doesn't work and can be downright disturbing to even contemplate. TNG got away with a lot of it by having TOS act as something of a buffer, and by largely minimizing the race/color issue in favor, unfortunately, of race as ethnic identity, which didn't always come across well, particularly in regards to the seeming Jewish analogues they chose. TNG avoided some of the color issues by having Geordie act as something of a counter to Worf, so Worf didn't read as "just" black or as "the" black analog character since Geordie was there as a balance to his role.

Here though that becomes more of a problem, with B'Elanna, and later Tuvok, being at least potentially read in terms of race along color lines, where each shows some emotional instability outside expected norms. With Tuvok this is primarily in the episode where we see his childhood as one who rebels against Vulcan logic over young love, but even in longer term effect the feel of the show is that human is the normative standing for race, and that human in show terms tends to read white.

With B'Elanna this is particularly troubling in this episode where the effect of the split is to show her human side reminiscing about the past, where she wished to be purely human, while her Klingon side mostly expresses thanks at being "freed" from human weakness. There could have been something interesting in the Klingon anger at being trapped by humanity or whiteness should one read it as roughly equivalent, but they seemed more to be interested in snuffing that out for B'Elanna's human side to gain some appreciation of diversity as long as that diversity ends up enriching human norms. That is to say, in a manner of speaking, that being mixed race needn't be a drawback as long as one uses it as something like spice to a "normal" diet and the full meal.

It's B'Elanna's human side that expresses the feelings and makes the decisions about her heritage in a overall history of her life, with her Klingon half being seen as a impediment or, eventually, an accessory to that history. Even though her two halves would share the same experiences and memories, and therefore, one might expect, each have the same claim to past feelings, her human half gets to enunciate those emotions more forcefully as the "real" ones her other half was affecting. One could, in theory, have made her human side the more angry at the perceived betrayal by her father for being human weakness, denying her equally "true" Klingon side, feeling in that way more of a betrayal for sharing those human traits. Or one could also have still maintained her Klingon side would see it as racism, while her human side was wrongly sympathetic and come to see the light given each half was equally real.

More reasonably than that perhaps they could have, due to that shared inextricable history both have been angry since that was in fact the case, but each explore their anger in different terms before coming to agreement over the fact it is in fact all part of the same, rather than even being able to be split at all, thus just suggesting more of texture of the emotional complexity of anger and pain. They seemed to want to do one of those two latter possibilities, but the way they set up the story didn't allow for it to work by giving her human side more emotional prominence and her Klingon side the "action". The the way they chose dramatize the split limited the readings of it in unfortunate ways by my perspective.

So too does this episode harm B'Elanna's and Tom's later relationship. By showing Paris bonding with B'Elanna's human side, it suggests their relationship gets its start by her vulnerability in this moment, that in absence of her Klingon half, they relate more as "she truly is" in a way, which is normally blocked to some extent by her Klingon half. That may not have been the intent, but it seems to be how it worked out in effect anyway. Paris accepts her Klingon side, but it isn't clear that the show ever fully integrates those two halves into a whole, given how much of the show focuses on the split and B'Elanna's troubled history with her Klingon heritage.

There isn't much to suggest that the idea of "halves" is itself a real problem that only makes sense from a racially divided construct of social perspective. While there is certainly some value and meaning to be derived from exploring a split heritage and how that might effect a person who grows up in between those two worlds, the show's preference for the human/white half seems strongly marked as human has always been the strong default preference for the various series I've seen, with Voyager being no exception and perhaps even a stronger force for that view than TNG. It's not dissimilar to the issue of the Federation versus the Maquis in that sense, where Federation values are the dominant and largely "correct" ones that others need to grow to respect. It also informs so many of the tropes they use without seeming ideological purpose, but which still can be understood as ideological once the initial stage has been set to open up that point of view as in this episode. Tom's idealized" Irish village that becomes so popular is just one of many examples of default whiteness being strongly linked to Federation perspective in this sense.

Paris's role in this is also a little difficult. Starting out with the already mentioned example of him saying "You finally got what you wanted.", where the word "finally" moves it from being a noninflected observation that could carry some irony to a more pointed saying that feels a little coarse and lacking in awareness.

And, as usual, Tom talking B'Elanna through much of the early stages of her split is one of those all too frequent examples of the white guy explaining "reality" to a minority. His explanations themselves weren't all bad, nor was Paris unsympathetic in giving them, but the writers, by going that route, reinforce a bad concept badly. This isn't helped during the scenes where B'Elanna is talking to herself and the human half gets the more explainy talk, once again with the human/white being the default. Of course one could watch the episode and not hold it up to such explicit racial examination, more in the tradition of TOS, but the boundary here is pushed so hard, ignoring the racial component doesn't seem entirely satisfactory to me no matter what the animating intentions may have been.

That's a lot of words already, but let em just give one more note of praise for Markinson as Durst/Sulan and mention again how much the show really needs more crew members like Durst to show up regularly to create a greater overall effect. This is something I'm sure the new Trek will do much better with as TV has changed dramatically since Voyager aired, so instead let me just add one note about how shows also need to get beyond type and archetype casting to give actors like Markinson more chances to prove themselves and enrich the experience of the feel of shows.

Markinson has no "look" he's fairly generic in Hollywood terms, so he doesn't read offhand as tough, evil, good, handsome, sympathetic or not by usual standards, which is something that is, in my view, a big plus and should be used more frequently to break out of the realm of cliche and convention shows get trapped into. Having characters who aren't strongly defined by their look and who don't readily associate themselves with past conventions can free those characters to behave in ways apart from convention since neither the writers nor the audience has or develops the same sets of expectations going in. So much of popular media is based on that sort of convention fulfillment and twists that it acts as its own limit on what can happen. Even plot twists, such as in Game of Thrones, become as predictable in their reversals as the normal conventions are in being upheld, so the momentary excitement fades until new and bigger "twists" are found. Freeing writers and the audience from some of those conventions would be the much more satisfying and possibly more "real" seeming way to expand the options for a show. We need more Markinsons!
posted by gusottertrout at 2:47 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


the show's preference for the human/white half seems strongly marked as human has always been the strong default preference for the various series I've seen, with Voyager being no exception and perhaps even a stronger force for that view than TNG.

Here, at least, there's reason for optimism with Discovery, which not only has a very diverse lead cast, but from where I'm sitting looks like it could involve Klingons about as heavily as DS9 did Bajorans. (Based on your comment, I really think you want to see DS9, gusottertrout! I think I can say with confidence that it is where Trek most fully lived up to its IDIC ideals.)

Tom's idealized" Irish village that becomes so popular is just one of many examples of default whiteness being strongly linked to Federation perspective in this sense.

Guhhhhh. Yep. And I think part of what bugged me about that series of episodes is that they came so late in the show's run. It's like, "you're STILL not willing to take some risks, show? Even if they would validate the lip service your franchise's premise pays to inclusiveness and open-mindedness?" They really should've had Tuvok make a bitter remark about "finite diversity in finite combinations."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:32 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I intend to watch DS9 sometime soon, I've just been too busy recently to bring myself to take on the task since another long series to binge seems like it might be a bit more than I should take on at the moment. I'm a little disappointed I missed the chance to watch it with everyone else, but reading the comments as I go will still be fun. Maybe I'll have to pick some fights with things others said just to see if I can get any responses on the old posts.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:10 AM on February 20


I'm a little disappointed I missed the chance to watch it with everyone else, but reading the comments as I go will still be fun. Maybe I'll have to pick some fights with things others said just to see if I can get any responses on the old posts.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm still slowly making my way through DS9 (just hit the beginning of season 7), while reading and sporadically leaving comments on old posts, too. People do sometimes favorite/respond, since Recent Activity makes it pretty easy to notice.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:47 AM on February 20


« Older Podcast: Welcome to Night Vale...   |  Podcast: Chapo Trap House: Epi... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments