Voyager rewatch 6.03 – “Barge of the Dead”

In which B’Elanna’s culture is not a costume; also, she is reluctantly willing to accept that it is in fact her culture.

“Barge of the Dead” is a funny old episode.

I mean. It’s episode 3 of a new season. That means it’s time to check in on B’Elanna. Last time we did this, she was having a bad day involving Malon freighters, garbage monsters and anger management problems. Before that, she was severely depressed and engaging in self-harm via holodeck.

This time, she’s having a bad day (check) that involves the Klingon afterlife and the possible death of her estranged mother.

“Barge of the Dead” is a good episode, but I am having trouble placing it in the B’Elanna canon. I like the choice to pivot from mental health to family drama, but I’m also going, “So a year ago, all of B’Elanna’s friends and loved ones are concerned that she’s self-harming, and now they’re just gonna let her have a medically induced near death experience?”

B’Elanna’s stories, from season one to the end of the series, tend to cohere with one another. It’s not intentional (this is Voyager we’re talking about), but it’s effective. “Barge…” stands out.

That might be because it’s a story Ronald D. Moore developed for DS9. But this definitely doesn’t feel like a Worf story with the names changed. The conflicts — B’Elanna’s relationship with her mother and with Klingon culture — feel organic. I think it simply needed some intentional connective threads to previous B’Elanna stories. And that was never going to happen on Star Trek: Voyager.

B’Elanna’s nightmares involve Neelix throwing a party and the Doctor and Seven singing

Girl, same.

But as much as B’Elanna’s pre-death nightmare is entirely in-character, for me this episode doesn’t come to life until we reach the titular Barge. Like, guys, I’m here for the elaborate set and sound design. Even on a large modern TV, that thing looks great.

(Unlike, it must be said, Roxann Dawson’s wig, whose lace front is visible in some scenes.)

Okay, let’s talk about B’Elanna’s mother

See, what’s interesting to me about Miral is that, for all B’Elanna complains about her, she doesn’t seem like the stereotypical Klingon. She carries a knife, but doesn’t seem to be a warrior first and foremost. I mean, she married a human man and lived on a colony where she and her daughter were the only Klingons. This makes her an outlier compared with most Klingons, and yet she clearly takes her faith and culture very seriously.

Is this an immigrant story? It makes a lot of sense in that light, and suggests that B’Elanna is a third culture kid written entirely by white people. Which, uhhhh, tracks.

But I actually have a crack theory

I mean, maybe not a crack theory as such, but the sort of fan theory that would make me roll my eyes if I saw it on Reddit:

Miral is a daughter of the House of Mo’Kai.

They’re first mentioned in “The Killing Game”, but fleshed out in season 1 of Discovery, where we learn they are a matriarchal house more interested in spycraft and secrets than overt warriorosity. By the end of the season, they — along with the whole Empire — are led by Chancellor L’Rell, who is introduced as a radicalised and fanatical cultist.

There’s no evidence here. Just an idea, on my part, that this is the sort of house which might produce a daughter who leaves her home to marry a human, while maintaining an intense faith in the culture of her birth. (I mean, she tries to send B’Elanna to Klingon convent school.)

Is Tom Paris actually essential to B’Elanna’s life?

I’ve previously had fond feelings for the Paris/Torres ship, but the more I watch Voyager, the less I’m convinced they have the foundation for a sustainable relationship. Chill hookups, absolutely.  Friendship, sure. Marriage and children? Uhhhhhhhhhhh. Even in her dreams, it’s Harry who B’Elanna wants to hang out with, and Neelix who wants to hang out with her. Tom is around. Now and then.

Other observations

  • Thoughts and prayers for the Janeway/Torres shippers, as that relationship is framed as explicitly maternal
  • Like, B’Elanna hallucinates her mother in a Starfleet uniform
  • Guys
  • B’Elanna’s curls are extremely cute, and also more Klingon than her previous hairstyles. Are we to assume that she has been straightening her hair for the past six seasons? Or that she’s suddenly got a perm?
  • Either way, that wig is bad

In conclusion

This is one of those episodes where the shortness of my post is in no way a reflection of how much I liked it. Solid B’Elanna story, would watch her suffer again. Three bits of Klingon spaceship out of five.

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