Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Faces”

“Faces”
Written by Jonathan Glassner and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 1, Episode 13
Production episode 114
Original air date: May 8, 1995
Stardate: 48784.2

Captain’s log. (Note: since the character of B’Elanna Torres spends this entire episode as two people, one human, one Klingon, the Klingon iteration will be referred to as “B’Elanna” and the human one will be referred to as “Torres.”)

A Vidiian scientist named Sulan wakes up his newest patient: B’Elanna, who is now a full Klingon. Sulan has extracted her Klingon DNA, converted it to energy and then back to matter as a fully formed person. He believes Klingons might be able to resist the phage that has been ravaging the Vidiians for so long, and that B’Elanna may hold the key to the cure.

Voyager is exploring a star system, having left Paris, Torres, and Durst behind to check out a planet. But Kim has lost contact with them. They return to the planet and scan, but don’t find them. Tuvok also notes that the caverns have a different formation than they did when they left the away there, but there’s no sign of tectonic activity.

Chakotay, Tuvok, and Kim beam down and they soon realize that the many of the “caverns” are actually force fields, very much like those used by the Vidiians. However, they’ve modulated their fields since the last time Voyager encountered them in “Phage,” and phasers can no longer disrupt them. They’re then ambushed by two Vidiians, and Chakotay calls for a beam-out.

Paris and Durst are slave labor for the Vidiians. A Talaxian tells them that the Vidiians are too physically weak to do it, so they kidnap others and work them until they drop, then harvest their organs when they die. Said Talaxian is the last person left from his ship, and he laughs derisively at Durst and Paris’s talk of trying to figure out the guards’ patterns so they can escape.

They assume that Torres was sent for organ harvesting, so they’re surprised when Torres is thrown into the cell with them—but without her ridges! Not only did Sulan extract a Klingon from her DNA, but he left her human.

The Vidiians take Durst away, ostensibly to contact Voyager. Paris tries to go in his place and gets punched for his trouble. When the conflict ensues, Torres is paralyzed by fear.

B’Elanna continually tugs at her bonds, hoping to weaken them enough to escape. She also tries to inveigle herself to Sulan, but she’s not very convincing. Sulan, in turn, tries to put her at ease by grafting Durst’s face onto his. This fails rather spectacularly, and eventually B’Elanna manages to break out of her bonds and escape.

Voyager detects minute weaknesses in the force fields. Not enough to walk through, but Kim and Tuvok think they can get a transporter beam through. Chakotay volunteers to be disguised as a Vidiian and be beamed in.

Torres collapses in the mine, and is brought back to her cell. When she’s alone, she tries to work the computer, but then is caught by the guards—who are then taken down by B’Elanna. Torres faints at the sight of her Klingon self.

B’Elanna carries Torres outside and kills a rodent and cooks it for them to eat. When Torres wakes up she says she’s not hungry, and the pair argue a lot. Torres says that she started to get into the computer system when the guards showed, and she thinks that, with time, she can lower the force field. B’Elanna takes them to Sulan’s lab—the last place they’ll look—and stands guard while Torres works the computer.

A disguised Chakotay arrives at the cell when Paris and the Talaxian are there and is able to get away with Paris, who is worried that Torres and Durst were both taken to organ harvesting and are probably dead. However, Chakotay has a tricorder and heads to Sulan’s lab. (Chakotay bluffs his way past the supervisor by saying he just got a new face.)

They arrive to find Sulan himself also arriving, holding a weapon on B’Elanna and Torres. Sulan won’t hurt B’Elanna—he still needs her to help cure the phage—but he threatens Torres. B’Elanna jumps in front of a blast meant for Torres, who has managed to lower the force field. Chakotay and Paris calls for a beam-out to Voyager, leaving a devastated Sulan behind.

B’Elanna dies in transporter room. The EMH reveals that Torres will die soon if he doesn’t reinfuse the Klingon DNA into her, which disappoints Torres, as she was finally at peace, and she won’t be again once she’s put back together, as it were. Chakotay finds himself unable to offer any words of wisdom, and just stares at her meaningfully before walking out.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Kim hits on the idea of using transponders to enhance their lifesigns through the cave system. The analogy he uses is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, and when he overexplains it, Janeway interrupts and says, “Bread crumbs. Got it.”

Screenshot: CBS

Half and half. We get Torres’s backstory: raised on a colony on Kessik IV at a time when Federation-Klingon relations weren’t at their best. Her father walked out on her and her mother when she was five, and she assumed that he did so because she had forehead ridges, so she spent her childhood trying to hide them.

Forever an ensign. Kim gets to do all the technobabble this episode, from the breadcrumbs to the force fields to the transporter.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. When he surgically modifies Chakotay to look like a Vidiian, the EMH responds to compliments on his work by saying that you should see him lance a boil, which wins the non sequitur award for the week.

Everyone comes to Neelix’s. Neelix tries to make dishes from people’s homeworlds, but when he makes plomeek soup for Tuvok, he adds some spices to it, as he finds the original recipe rather bland. Tuvok patiently explains that it won’t remind anyone of home if he alters it. It’s also clear that Tuvok doesn’t think very highly of plomeek soup à la Neelix.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. At one point, B’Elanna tries to convince Sulan to let her out of her restraints by waxing rhapsodic about Klingon women’s sexual prowess. This doesn’t work, and probably at least partly leads to Durst’s death, since Sulan knows that B’Elanna finds him repulsive, but figures if he grafts a friend’s face onto his head, she’ll be more inclined toward him.

Do it.

“Listen to me. Listen to us. This is ridiculous! Do you realize that we’re each fighting with ourself?”

–Torres to B’Elanna summing up the episode’s theme.

Welcome aboard. Brian Markinson is back as Durst, and also plays Sulan. Markinson actually auditioned for the role of Sulan, and then they decided to also cast him as Durst and put him in another episode to add some pathos to the proceedings.

Rob LaBelle plays the Talaxian prisoner; he’ll return twice more, in “False Profits” as Kafar and as a different Talaxian in “Homestead.” Barton Tinapp plays the Vidiian guard.

Trivial matters: Torres mentions that she was a child at a time when relations between the Federation and Klingon Empire weren’t great. This tracks with what we saw in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” where relations were poor enough in the 2340s that a war broke out in an alternate timeline where the Enterprise-C didn’t sacrifice itself to save Klingon lives at Narendra III.

Klingons’ biological redundancies that make them resistant to disease and injury (and therefore attractive to the Vidiians) was established in TNG’s “Ethics.”

This is the only Trek credit for Jonathan Glassner, who’s probably best known as the co-developer of Stargate SG-1 and the 1990s version of The Outer Limits.

Plomeek soup was established as a Vulcan delicacy in “Amok Time” on the original series.

Durst is the first member of the Voyager crew to die since “Caretaker.” Despite that, his death is barely acknowledged.

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Those Vidiian leeches can yank the beating heart out of you in a heartbeat!” This is almost an interesting redo of the original series episode “The Enemy Within,” but while the clichéd premise holds a certain promise, the execution fails on several levels.

For starters, for all that they tried not to redshirt Durst, they didn’t quite pull it off. At least having him be in “Cathexis” helps make him slightly more recognizable and it’s a bit more meaningful when he dies, but Sulan doesn’t use Durst’s face long enough for it to matter much to B’Elanna. And his actual death is barely acknowledged. When B’Elanna says to Torres that, if the latter can deactivate the force field, Voyager can beam them out, and also Paris, she doesn’t mention Durst. Now B’Elanna knows full well that Durst is dead—but Torres doesn’t, and Torres doesn’t even question why she left Durst out. At this point in the narrative, Paris is no more or less an important person to Torres than Durst is—hell, less so, given that their personal interactions to date have mostly been Torres calling Paris a pig in the holodeck-re-created Chez Sandrine. But Durst isn’t in the opening credits, so he doesn’t really matter that much.

This is an even bigger factor than it would be on another show because this is a ship that’s trapped far from home with no crew replacements. They already lost Seska, and now Durst. Nobody is coming to replace them, and that’s the sort of resource allocation issue that the show should have been dealing with much more aggressively.

Scripter Kenneth Biller fought to not have Torres restored to her halfbreed self in the episode itself. He said in an interview in Cinefantastique that he had to fight for that, because he knew she’d be all better by next episode, but there was no need for it in this one. And my first thought is, why is that a fait accompli? Why does she have to be restored? Why do they have to pull the same they’ll-die-without-being-reintegrated medical excuse that “The Enemy Within” pulled? Why not have Torres actually stay human and have to deal with the consequences of losing that part of herself?

In addition, the setup itself was so standard and predictable, and there was a real opportunity to do something fun with it. Why not have everyone be surprised that Torres’s temper comes from her human half and her intellectualism from her Klingon side? It wouldn’t have changed the overall plot dynamics, since it’s the Klingon physiology that Sulan’s interested in, and it would’ve been a nice twist on the notion.

Roxann Dawson puts in half a great performance here, as she plays Torres as much more subdued and anxiety-ridden, but still obviously the same person. Unfortunately, her B’Elanna is pretty terrible, mostly done in by overenunciating everything. It’s a common issue for actors who have to wear prosthetic teeth (see also Aron Eisenberg, Michael Dorn, Mary Chieffo), but Dawson takes it to an extreme that makes it impossible to take her character seriously.

And then we have the utter ineffectiveness of the Voyager crew. We start with Chakotay showing up to rescue Paris and leaving the Talaxian behind. Why the hell didn’t they take him with them? The guy helped the away team out, giving water to Torres and covering for her inability to work, and in gratitude they leave him behind to be slave labor and have his organs harvested. Nice. (If nothing else, he served on a ship, so maybe he could be useful, given that, again, Voyager is down two people.)

On top of that, Janeway is completely undermined by her own lack of action here. Her exact words in “Phage” were that “any aggressive actions against this ship or its crew will be met by the deadliest force.” Yet in this episode, the Vidiians take extremely aggressive action against the crew—kidnapping and enslaving three of them, maiming one, murdering another—and it is met with absolutely no force whatsoever. They just snatch the away team back and go on their merry way, leaving behind a planet full of kidnapped slaves.

Our theoretical heroes have failed on two levels here. They fail as people dedicated to upholding Federation ideals by not rescuing the Vidiians’ other victims, and they fail as a group of people defending themselves in hostile territory. To threaten deadly force if something happens and then not actually go through with the deadly force when it does happen makes you a toothless tiger, and there’s no reason for anyone to think of Voyager as anything but pushovers. The Vidiians literally get away with murder here.

Winrich Kolbe’s direction is as excellent as ever, and the episode’s look is appropriately dark and moody. But the script takes a hoary premise that nonetheless could have been used for good character development, and fails at it. “The Enemy Within” worked because Kirk came to a realization about himself, about how much he needs his baser instincts in order to function as a strong commander. But Torres doesn’t learn anything except that she’d be happier if she wasn’t half-Klingon, which is weaker sauce. The tragedy of her being at peace for the first time and having to lose it is something, at least, and Dawson plays that part well, but it feels like not enough.

Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges everyone to support the Bad Ass Moms Kickstarter. The next anthology from Crazy 8 Press. It’s a nifty anthology about, well, bad ass moms, and if it makes its first stretch goal, it’ll also include a story by Keith about a woman in New York City who is both a mother and a hunter of supernatural creatures. Other contributors include Mary Fan (who also edited the anthology), Star Trek fiction writers Derek Tyler Attico, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Paul Kupperberg, and Aaron Rosenberg, as well as Danielle Ackley-McPhail, T. Erik Bakutis, Russ Colchamiro, Paige Daniels, Kathleen O. David, Heather Hutsell, Kris Katzen, Karissa Laurel, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, TJ Perkins, Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg, Joanna Schnurman, Hildy Silverman, and Denise Sutton. Click here and please consider supporting it!

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