WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for VOY's "Faces" -- so turn your face away if you wish to avoid being spoiled.
In brief: Some decent moments, but mostly pretty nondescript.
Brief summary: Aliens abduct an away team and proceed to split B'Elanna Torres into two people -- one entirely human, and one entirely Klingon.
"Voyager" as a series is starting to frustrate me a bit. There is a *lot* of potential in the situation as set up in the show's beginning, both in the Fed/Maquis interactions and in the desperate situation they all face. But instead of taking that opportunity and running with it, really letting us see the characters revealed as they face obstacles, we're getting holodeck shows ("Heroes and Demons"), possession shows ("Cathexis"), and now split-in-two shows with "Faces", none of which have done much more than get through the hour (hopefully with dignity intact). I don't quite know why this is happening, but I know that it's a disappointment.
"Faces" was intended primarily as a character-building show for B'Elanna, I'm sure, and I think that's a good idea. However, it undercut its own worth in a lot of places, either with serious lapses in performance or in plain old story logic. Fortunately, things did improve as the story went along -- at least to a point.
I suppose part of my problem with "Faces" is the usual DNA-is-magic assumption that went into the "let's split her in two!" idea this time. Frankly, the concept wasn't good when it *started* to be used in a Trek context, and it has decidedly not improved with age. This time, it seemed a bit better than usual in terms of creating the Klingon B'Elanna (who I'll call "B'Elanna-K" from now on), and in the realization that neither half could survive alone -- but not when we were then asked to believe that the "normal" B'Elanna would suddenly change into a purely human one ("B'Elanna-H"), and *not* when we were asked to consider the behavioral changes. (It didn't help that B'Elanna-K seemed rather badly acted by Roxann Biggs-Dawson until the halfway point of the show, either.)
In fact, the behavior issue calls up stereotypes that in other contexts would be highly inflammatory. Trek has all too often dealt with one- note species; but in most of the species we see on a regular basis, there's been a reasonable attempt given to show *some* diversity and *some* depth as you examine various individuals. In general, we've been more or less led to believe that the cultural behaviors we've seen are just that -- culturally favored. Now, though, we're told that no, Klingon aggressiveness is *genetic*, and that they're going to act that way no matter what can be done.
This strikes me as akin to the following argument: My officemate is white, and his wife is black. Let's take their daughter. Now, let's perform the same treatment on her that was performed on B'Elanna, and split her into two people -- one white, one black. According to the logic of this episode, the two will behave in completely different ways.
Doesn't seem like such a convincing argument now, does it? (And before you argue that the analogy's invalid because I'm only taking different races -- remember, B'Elanna's entire existence says that humans and Klingons can interbreed, making their differences a lot closer to those between races than to those between species as we know them.)
Even without taking it that far, the entire premise is hinging on Klingons being inherently dumb, violent and savage, and on humans (or at least human females) being inherently smart, cowardly and cringing. I don't care for that.
Enough about the "message" the show is communicating, though. Splitting B'Elanna in two did lead to a few good moments, particularly B'Elanna-H talking to Paris about her childhood and blaming her Klingon appearance for her father's abandonment of the family. The conversation between both halves of B'Elanna was also pretty reasonable, though I'm glad B'Elanna-H at least had the insight to _note_ that their situation was ridiculous. :-) On that level, then, we managed to get a bit more into B'Elanna's character, and that's a good thing. (It would have been more convincing if we'd seen real signs of her two halves "fighting" each other in past shows, though.)
However, as in several recent shows, we're asked to accept a lot of implausibilities in order to reach the character payoff. This time, it's things like this:
Apparently, Voyager is in no hurry to get home. They can drop people off at planets and leave them their for days while the ship does something else, apparently for no reason. If this planet were somehow important, that'd be one thing; but so far as we know, it's just there. More importantly, we're asked to believe that in a situation like this, there would be no contingency plans set up like check-in messages at regular intervals, so that those on the ship could know quickly if something had gone wrong. Given that Janeway et al. did show the foresight to set up a contingency plan to protect the second away team, you'd think someone would have thought of it the first time around.
We're also meant to believe things like casually sending the second-in- command of the ship on what is essentially a suicide mission, Tuvok knowing Vidiian garb well enough to recreate it without a hitch (though I suppose this is plausible if their visit to the ship in "Phage" was ever recorded), *and* that B'Elanna-H can log in to the Vidiian security net and understand it in a matter of seconds. The second is no big deal, but the first and third are -- and while I might be able to believe one or the other if the story is otherwise excellent, having both at once more or less rules that possibility out. Sigh.
There were some other nice moments of atmosphere in "Faces" that are worth checking out, however. Durst's calm acceptance of his fate is somewhat disturbingly interesting, and I liked the irony of his telling Paris, "they're the ones with the guns, remember?" when Paris had told him the same thing earlier. Stronger still, though, was Sulan (the Vidiian geneticist) showing up with Durst's face shortly afterwards. That, I have to say, was successfully eerie -- gave me the willies after I thought about it, in fact. I also liked the quick thinking Chakotay showed when making excuses for his presence -- until he claimed "[his] face was just grafted", it hadn't occurred to me that Vidiians *can't* rely on sight recognition for each other. Finally, while the closing moments of their escape were on the whole successful, the closing shot of Sulan looking shocked and totally lost to himself was very powerful.
Those points, along with what was successful about B'Elanna's plight, are enough to bring "Faces" up into marginally successful territory. On the whole, though, things need to start picking up some speed -- and I think the staff needs to start taking *risks* here. They did in "Prime Factors" and in "State of Flux", and it's no coincidence that those two shows are among the series' best so far.
So, a couple of small short takes:
-- I seem to recall Kim saying that the "quantum microfissures" (irk) in the Vidiian force-fields closed in a matter of split-seconds. Why, then, did they take so bloody long to beam Chakotay through them?
-- As I said, I liked Sulan assuming Durst's face, and it being the final goad to get B'Elanna-K to escape. It's a pity, though, that this regular character couldn't be allowed to actually *kill* anyone -- frankly, that struck me as a situation where B'Elanna-K would have snapped Sulan's neck like a twig and been done with it.
That should do it. So...
- Writing: Some interesting character payoff, but a very bumpy road to get there.
- Directing: Nice eerieness here and there; things bogged down in the lab scenes, but were okay otherwise.
- Acting: Biggs-Dawson was fine as a human, and half-fine as a Klingon. Everyone else didn't have much to do.
OVERALL: Hmm. Let's go with a 5.
NEXT WEEK: Some of Neelix's past comes back to stalk him.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "They're the ones with the guns, remember?" Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.