Voyager rewatch 3.16 – “Blood Fever”

When this first came out, my brother was about nine or ten, and I — thoroughly spoiled by recaps — really annoyed him by telling our parents it wasn’t suitable for him.

He is now a grown man with a wife and children, but I would nevertheless appreciate it if he does not read this post.

I sort of had a false start watching this week’s episode — I watched the premier’s press conference first, at which he announced my city would be going into something akin to a New Zealand style lockdown, and after that, I was overcome with ennui, and took to my bed to read Dev1at3 by Jay Kristoff. (Which I enjoyed very much, and, having now read the whole trilogy, note it covered very similar themes to Star Trek: Picard, but … better.)

I finally got around to watching “Blood Fever” on Tuesday, with a Discord full of Trekkie friends cheering me on. Their discussion over the next 18 hours was really interesting, and rather than attempt to regurgitate it, I’ve gotten permission to quote:

notjanebond:

Ah, Blood Fever, my problematic fav! I know there is so much wrong with it but it resonated with me so hard when I was 17 and had a hopeless crush on a guy who kinda looked like Tom Paris.

I was like “I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT SHE IS GOING THROUGH”

Because being a teenager is kind of like going through pon farr for 10 years straight

lizbee (me!):

Okay. I’m watching “Blood Fever” on my lunch break, and, like, HOW IS VORIK STILL ALLOWED TO WORK IN ENGINEERING???

ussjellyfish:

Really, really terrible HR practices?

lizbee:

“It was the ’90s and we didn’t know better?”

I feel like this episode would be improved if it was allowed to straight up say that Vorik is planning to spend the next week jerking off

ussjellyfish:

“meditation”

self tantra?

notjanebond:

I think the appeal of this episode is that B’Elanna, who keeps a lot of herself hidden to others and is always wrestling to keep herself under control, gets to be thirsty af in a way that isn’t really seen in Star Trek. I think this is what was so amazing to 17 year old me.

ussjellyfish:

I liked that she got to really want sex and he was so nice about it?

It was very comforting as a teenager

notjanebond:

It was interesting how consent was addressed, because back in the 90s, the idea of consent being super important wasn’t really talked about. At first he’s denying her because he knows she is unable to consent in the state she is in, which I found to be very ahead of it’s time for a tv plot … but then it threw all that away with “I guess I have to or else she will die”. And then it pivoted to “she’s going to fight this other dude and then not need the sex”, which felt like a cop out. I dunno. I have a lot of feelings about this episode.

Lion_owl 🦁🦉:

I mean, better that she resolved it through a punch up than through dubiously consented-to sex

But I absolutely agree

I always really appreciated that Tom was like “no, you aren’t yourself, I’m not doing this”

notjanebond

Yes! Not something I saw much of on tv at the time

And that’s my feelings in a nutshell: “Blood Fever” does some really good things with consent, fumbles in other aspects, and Vorik is THE WORST.

(Some of the problems are, of course, built into the concept and date back to 1967 and the, uhhhhh, interesting construction of Vulcan sexuality back in the day. “Fuck or die” is a classic trope, but even now, the consent issues it raises can be challenging.)

I could stand to go without hearing about Klingon sexuality ever again

References to the high libido and aggressive sexuality of Klingon women are so often … objectifying and gross. Even in Discovery, although at least there, Lorca turns out to be a villain and a creep, so it makes sense. There’s always a lot of male gaze involved, in the writing if not the filming.

So I’m torn about B’Elanna in “Blood Fever”. Notjanebond is right — it was rare to see such a bald depiction of female desire in media in the ’90s, and it’s not that common now. And, yeah, Pon Farr is an amazing metaphor for adolescence and, you know, hormones.

On the other hand, this is an episode where B’Elanna’s sexual needs are a problem for men to solve. It’s not Kes — you know, a medical professional! — who joins the rescue team, it’s Chakotay and Tuvok. Male authority figures.

And I love those guys, don’t get me wrong, and everyone is deeply respectful of Team Pon Farr, but there’s just a vibe I don’t love.

Seriously, how is Vorik still working for B’Elanna after this?

I get that a lot of his behaviour in this episode is compulsive, and out of his control — although that is a classic incel excuse for his classic incel behaviour. I’m not saying he needs to spend the next 70 years scrubbing the replicators with a toothbrush, or face any punitive action for attempting to rape B’Elanna.

(I hate that the script has put me in a position to type that sentence.)

But … why is he not being transferred to another division? At least for a few years? Surely his skills could be used elsewhere! (I mean, Voyager really ought to look at cross-training everyone, but once again no one reads my notes.)

Was it time for Bob Blackman to retire?

Let’s talk about costumes and costume designers.

Bob Blackman joined Star Trek for season 3 of TNG, and stayed through to the end of Enterprise. He is, by all accounts, a decent guy, and he did some outstanding work for Trek.

But … look. The Voyager (and early DS9) costumes aren’t just ugly, they’re unflattering.  They make people look dumpy and thick around the waist. On screen, they look cheap — and that’s not just a consequence of watching ’90s TV on a modern HD television! I visited a museum display of Star Trek props and costumes in my teens, and I was shocked at how much nicer Kate Mulgrew’s uniform looked in person.

And then you get things like these rock climbing outfits in “Blood Fever”, which are flattering to exactly one person: Roxann Dawson. The men all look like they’ve been squeezed into weird, shiny sausage casings. It’s not just that Blackman was designing purely for the male gaze, it’s that we have this group of attractive actors, and they all look absolutely terrible.

Was Blackman stretched too thin? Burnt out? I don’t know. But his work here — and in a lot of Voyager, and also DS9 — is just bad.

Other observations

  • No Harry Kim in this episode! Was Garrett Wang on holiday, or were the powers that be already wondering if the series really needed him?
  • Barely any Kes, either.
  • I could not help but notice that, while B’Elanna’s cleavage was drenched in sweat, her underarms seemed perfectly dry. My congratulations to her deodorant, and also the male gaze.
  • I’m so sick of talking about the male gaze. Let’s move on.
  • OH YEAH, THE BORG. I completely forgot to talk about the whole “subterranean aliens whose ancestors narrowly survived a Borg attack” subplot, but it was solidly good, and the final scene was suitably ominous.

In conclusion

Look, this is messy as heck, but it’s pretty essential — and when it’s good, it’s … not bad! Sooooo three dead Borgs out of five. (Four if you’re a Paris/Torres shipper.)

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