Voyager 1.13: Faces

Subtitle: Two B’Elannas are better than one anyone else

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Summary: On yet another shuttle mission gone wrong, three Voyagers are kidnapped by the organ-harvesting Vidiians
Grade: A, I love this episode

This is the first in a string of episodes that explain why B’Elanna Torres is my favourite Star Trek character. While this episode uses a crazy sci-fi plot gimmick – plague-ridden morally-questionable aliens split our mixed-race engineer into two separate single-race people – to create the opportunity, the story is all about B’Elanna: the two sides of her personality, their strengths and weaknesses, how they interact and intersect, with each other and with others, how they set her free, how they hold her back and how they create this amazing complex character that I relate so strongly to.

Klingon B’Elanna tells her captor “I know I’m the first Klingon you’ve ever seen, so I’ll tell you that Klingons find honour as warriors on the battlefield, not as guinea pigs in a laboratory.” and then later tells her human counterpart “You showed true courage. It makes my death an honourable one.”

This is hardly the first time we hear about Klingon honour in Star Trek. It’s notable that at least some part of B’Elanna is connected to that part of her inherited culture. B’Elanna is not comfortable with her Klingon identity, that was clear before this episode (in the pilot even). Here we start to learn why: she grew up isolated from other Klingons, with only her mother to guide her. She tells Paris:

“I grew up on a colony on Kessik Four. My mother and I were the only Klingons there, and that was a time when relations between the Homeworld and the Federation weren’t too cordial. Nobody ever said anything, but we were different and I didn’t like that feeling. Then my father left when I was five years old. One day he was there and the next he wasn’t. I cried myself to sleep every night for months. Of course I never told anybody. And then I finally decided that he’d left because I look like a Klingon. And so I tried to look human.”

Basically everything you need to know in order to understand B’Elanna Torres is in this episode:

  • B’Elanna suffers from anxiety; this is not the only episode to show or address it proving it never really goes away, she simply learns how to manage it.
  • She has severe abandonment issues that stem from her father leaving when she was a young child. This explains both her fear of and desire for intimacy, as well as the temper she wears as armor.
  • She grew up lonely. Isolated from Klingons and unable to bond with Humans, neither culture accepted her, which lead to issues of identity.
  • Because of her unresolved childhood, B’Elanna is perpetually lost, and perpetually reinventing herself. She is desperate to belong, and worries there is nowhere she does belong.
  • She is not at peace with the two sides of her ancestry, she is afraid of both her angry Klingon side and her vulnerable Human side and she is equally afraid to accept that they are one and the same, that the only disparity that exists between her halves is of her own creation because in fact she is whole.
  • She wishes she could be merely human. It would be, or at least it appears that it would be, a simpler life. This particular idea is later echoed by Seven of Nine, and has also been brought up by Vulcans, Romulans, Bajorans, Cardassians — much of the Star Trek galaxy seems to think humans have it easier than the rest of them.
  • B’Elanna holds her emotions very close to the surface and they can appear superficial.
  • She is a problem solver. A fixer. Focusing on a science or engineering question calms her down. Metaphysical, philosophical and psychological problems are harder, but any quandary helps.

“Faces” is also the first episode to hint at a relationship between Torres and Paris. Tom is cast as an oblivious white man – a role he’s played the whole season, though it’s not clear by design or because he was written by oblivious white men. In any case his attempt to empathize with B’Elanna is naive at best, but he does try, and he never makes fun of her vulnerability. And contrasting Tom in this episode with ones in the later seasons and stages of their relationship shows a lot of growth on his part, which is admirable.

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