Voyager rewatch 1.14 – “Faces”

B’Elanna finally gets a moment in the sun. Only in a cave underground.

“Faces” has a silly premise straight out of TOS: that a person can be split into two separate individuals representing aspects of their heritage or personalities.

In 1966, it was the transporter that split Kirk into his “good” and “evil” sides, and he learned an important lesson about how it’s, ummmmm, his inner rapist that makes him an effective leader. Thanks, 1966.

In 1995, it’s the Vidiians using advanced medical technology to separate B’Elanna’s Klingon DNA from the rest. How does this leave us with two complete, functional individuals instead of an angry Klingon blob and a meek human blob? Let’s file that away with whatever science magic L’Rell did to turn Voq into Ash Tyler.

Suspend your disbelief, concentrate on the characterisation, and at least this time there’s no sexual assault.

Wait. No, there’s a creepy doctor who gets handsy with his new Klingon patient. Thanks, Star Trek.

Fear and self-loathing with B’Elanna Torres

In “Caretaker”, B’Elanna blames “the Klingon half of me” for her quick, violent temper, as if humans never have to deal with anger or susceptibility to violence.

As it turns out, her Klingon half is fairly calculating, whereas human!B’Elanna is a mixture of fear and frustrated, self-directed anger.

Weirdly, the script doesn’t seem to notice this, and instead we get odd moments like Klingon!B’Elanna lecturing Dr Creepyface about honour. Is this something she cares about now that she’s fully Klingon? Or is she just messing with his head?

There’s an interesting story here, about nature versus nurture, and how much Klingon culture is driven by biology. Worf was a big fan of making sweeping declarations of what Klingons do or are, but he was raised by humans, and basically learned about the ideal of Klingonhood secondhand, only to be repeatedly disappointed by the reality.

“Faces” misses an opportunity to start deconstructing some of those ideas. Klingon!B’Elanna is super into being Klingon, with all the physical prowess that entails, while human!B’Elanna struggles to cope with her relative weakness and the unfamiliar sensation of physical fear.

This isn’t bad, but it gets into a “Klingon brawn” versus “human brains” dichotomy. The unfortunate implications of the Klingon B’Elanna being more violent and less intelligent than her human self are made even worse by the fact that she’s basically in brownface. Writer Kenneth Biller is on the record as saying he was inspired by his biracial adopted brother, which is as good an argument as any for greater diversity in writers rooms.

Matters aren’t helped by Roxann Dawson’s performance. As the human B’Elanna, she’s wonderful — remarkably different from the character we see regularly, overcoming her initial terror and dealing with really complicated emotions.

As the Klingon B’Elanna … well, it’s a good physical performance, but her line readings for the first half of the episode are really terrible — stilted and off-kilter in a way that makes me wonder if she was hampered by her false teeth. She improves dramatically once she starts interacting with her human self, which is also when the script gets better.

Much as “Faces” is very flawed, it’s an important episode for B’Elanna, raising themes that will be revisited over the years. Voyager has so often resorted to the easy option this season that it’s a welcome surprise when the episode doesn’t end with B’Elanna back to normal and all her issues resolved. This is just one step on a journey that will take years, and I appreciate that.

There were also some characters who aren’t B’Elanna Torres

Tom Paris

At some point in my Disco reviews, I described Tom as a loaf of amiable white bread. Not only do I stand by that, but he is never whiter than when he responds to B’Elanna’s account of hiding her identity in childhood … with an anecdote about embarrassing haircuts.

It’s almost endearing, but it’s also … actually, Pixie said it better than me.

Suffice to say, he tried.

Durst

Lieutenant Durst was introduced last week, maybe so we’d be mildly surprised when he died horribly this week.

How horribly? Dr McCreeper steals his face in a misguided attempt to make himself attractive to Klingon!B’Elanna.

Is it weird that I only like body horror in Star Trek?

I was going to make a joke about Vidiian medical ethics, but these are the guys who were introduced with non-consensual live organ donation, we are way past that point now.

Everyone else

Tuvok and Neelix share a scene in which Neelix’s desire to prepare Vulcan comfort food wars with his inability to follow a recipe. It’s entirely inconsequential, and, honestly? Charming.

Everyone else is just trucking along, doing plot-related stuff. Chakotay gets to dress up as a Vidiian, which is truly gross and also a bit clever, and his wordless support for B’Elanna in the end is great.

But this is B’Elanna’s story — we don’t have or even need a B plot. It’s a shame that the episode isn’t better, but it’s a key step in the journey of an interesting and complicated character.

In conclusion

Would I recommend “Faces” to a newbie? It’s not essential, but if you enjoy B’Elanna, and don’t ask too many questions about the science, there are worse ways to spend 44 minutes. Three out of five detached faces.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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