Voyager rewatch 4.20 – “Vis à Vis”

In which Tom Paris becomes a whole new man.

It’s probably a poor reflection on Tom’s character that I couldn’t remember which “Tom is bored with his life and relationships and hijinks ensue” episode this is.

Then I started watching and realised: it’s the rapey one.

Here’s the premise: Tom is neglecting his duties and his girlfriend when a fresh distraction appears in the form of a charming dude named Steth, a test pilot whose experimental ship’s drive needs repairs. They become buddies, and it’s all going great, right up until (a) Tom breaks up with B’Elanna; and (b) Steth swaps bodies with Tom.

I cannot believe that the bad guy does bad things! this is an outrage!

Here’s my problem. Steth’s serial body thievery is treated as a violation, and rightfully so.

But you know what isn’t given a second thought? Steth using Tom’s body to get back together with B’Elanna, sleep with her, and then put his hands on her in an argument.

It’s not the first time rape by deception comes up in Trek, nor is it the first time it’s treated as a minor event not worthy of comment. The “Lorca”/Cornwell encounter in Discovery marks the first time such an incident is received with rage, and even then, the rape aspect is subtextual.

And, okay. “Retrospect” is just three episodes behind us. “Star Trek writers had a seriously messed up understanding of consent, sexual assault and rape” is not news. But it’s an ugly incident which takes a bland nothing of an episode and makes it worse.

There’s an irony in how Tom’s arc unfolds here

We open with Tom sort of passive-aggressively fighting his “fate” of a stable life and career. He’s missing shifts in sickbay, late to the bridge, and not spending time with B’Elanna. But a couple of days in Steth’s body is enough to fill him with renewed enthusiasm for the status quo.

(“Renewed enthusiasm for the status quo” — title of Voyager‘s sex tape.)

The thing is that we never get to the cause of Tom’s ennui. We can theorise — he has a history of self-sabotage, he has no experience with a successful long-term relationship, sometimes failure feels safer than success, and the illusion of masculinity represented by a holographic muscle car is easier than the challenge of actually fronting up and being an adult. But it would be nice if the script had spent less time on assaulting women and more time digging into the putative main character.

Did this episode need the misogyny? (Spoilers the answer is no)

It’s not just B’Elanna. Steth also attempts to gaslight Seven and use his position to threaten hers. And then he takes Janeway’s body.

But Steth is the bad guy. It’s Tom Paris, acting of his own accord, fully in control of his body, who accuses B’Elanna of histrionics when she mildly suggests that maybe it would be nice to spend some time with her boyfriend once in a while.

And we’re not meant to agree with him … or are we? It’s strange how B’Elanna is sidelined in this story — true, Roxane Dawson’s pregnancy was advanced enough to make filming a challenge, but since she managed to film a make-out in a Camaro, surely she could have been part of Operation Fix Steth’s Ship. I mean, she’s an engineer, it’s an engineering problem…

(It’s strange overall how Tom seems to be the only person who is knowledgeable about this theoretical method of instantaneous interstellar travel — but everyone gets a turn holding the idiot ball in this episode.)

I’ve said in the past that I like the Paris/Torres relationship because B’Elanna isn’t diminished by it — and that’s true, in her episodes. But when the story focuses on Tom, she’s transformed into a nagging girlfriend who just doesn’t know what it’s like, being male, middle class and white.

Chicks, amiright?

Other observations

  • I was going to highlight Steth’s strangling of Janeway in my list of assaults against women, but then I realised … that’s Janeway in Tom’s body. She got body swapped, and her first reaction is to choke herself out. I love her so much, guys.
  • This is a bad episode, but it has some great performances. The guy playing “Steth” also has to play Tom, and he doesn’t quite nail it, but he acquits himself well.
  • Fun fact: this was the first episode to air after I gained semi-regular internet access and was able to download recaps and see discussions! Meaning that it’s also the first episode where I learned there was a nascent movement of fat-shaming Robert Duncan McNeill by his female “fans”, and it was only going to get worse.
  • (Those mechanics overalls are not flattering, though.)

In conclusion

This is a bad episode. It’s not the WORST episode, but it’s also not good. Normally I’d say something like “skip unless you’re a big fan of [whichever character]”, but here I’m going to say, skip ESPECIALLY if you’re a fan of Tom Paris. One coaxial warp drive out of five.

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