Monday, June 18, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Encounters Horrors Internal And External In "Faces!"

The Good: Genuinely creepy, Excellent concept, Good metaphor, Decent acting
The Bad: Literal presentation of the metaphor is somewhat ridiculous/resolution
The Basics: When Torres is captured by the menacing Vidiians, she finds herself split into to people and in desperate need of rescue from an amorous scientist.

In the Star Trek franchise, characters are duplicated and split apart with alarming frequency, usually to make observations about identity and the nature of personalities. In Star Trek, early on a transporter accident split Captain Kirk into a good Kirk and a bad Kirk in "The Enemy Within." On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data had an android twin brother who was emotive and manipulative named lore (introduced in "Datalore," here!). Even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine split apart the joined Trill character Dax in "Invasive Procedures" (reviewed here!). As the first season of Star Trek: Voyager neared its climax, the writers decided to use this well-established plot idea to make the half-human, half-Klingon chief engineer B'Elanna Torres into two distinct characters in "Faces."

A Klingon woman wakes up imprisoned by the Vidiians knowing that she is a prisoner. Her jailer, Dr. Sulan, soon makes an appearance and his beastly plan is quickly revealed; Klingon DNA seems resistant to the debilitating disease known as the Phage, so Sulan's creation of an all-Klingon B'Elanna Torres allows him to study how the disease reacts to her. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Vidiian prison planet, Tom Paris, an all-human Torres and another crewman wait to be organ farms for the diseased Vidiians imprisoning them. It's up to the two Torres's and the rest of the crew to rescue the prisoners before they are all killed.

Established earlier in the season in "Phage," (reviewed here!) the Vidiians remain one of the most terrifying enemies in the Star Trek franchise and a real coup in Star Trek: Voyager. This enemy is a race whose entire population is ravaged by a disease that is so thoroughly destroying their people that most Vidiians are amalgamations of harvested organs and body parts. Imagine a whole race of creatures that are essentially Frankenstein monsters assembled in bits and pieces from scavenged organs (including skin) from every alien they encounter. These are not nice creatures, though in "Phage" there were moments where their debilitating disease made them sympathetic.

In "Faces," they are all enemy. From the rape of personality of Torres through being split into two distinct individuals to the death of crewman Durst (c'mon, when there are captives and some of them are not regulars, it's not much of a surprise), the Vidiians are characterized here as villainous and desperate. Sulan's gruesome use of poor Durst is beyond creepy; it's disgusting and frightening, truly monstrous, making him an exceptionally good villain.

Paris's attempts to keep the terrified human Torres together and protected is a wonderful character trait that makes the episode more than simply an introspective look at Torres. Paris, a reformed criminal, reasserts that he is reformed and a member of the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager in a way that is illustrated nicely.

The main problem is with the character of Torres or rather the execution of the concept of what happens to Torres. Star Trek plays with the idea of splitting people in two. Here we have a character who is a hybrid who is literally split in half. The idea works up until two points. The first is the personality, the second is in the resolution. Human Torres is weak, scared and pretty pathetic. Klingon Torres is strong, angry and instinctive. This idea minimizes the ability for either half to be taken seriously. Human women are not weak, bland personas who hide in the shadows. If Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation had any point as a character representative of the Klingons, it was that he was not a brute or thoughtless. The writers of "Faces" try to simplify the complexities of personality and make the dueling instincts within Torres into two distinct personalities. It's hard to suspend the disbelief for.

Moreover, the resolution - which I will not go into too much depth on - hinges on the idea that Torres must be put back together. This allows Star Trek: Voyager to continue after this episode with no real consequences, as if nothing - not even the make-up - had changed and it's somewhat insulting. Indeed, the idea that simply recombining DNA would restore the personality that had been fractured seems weak.

Which takes us back to what works so well about the character in this episode. B'Elanna Torres jumped out of the gate as one of the more interesting characters on Star Trek: Voyager. Cast in the mold of K'Ehleyr from Star Trek The Next Generation's "The Emissary" (reviewed here!), Torres is a half-human, half Klingon woman who disdains all things Klingon. Split into two complete people allows Torres to literally confront the dueling aspects of her personality and the character study that results is quite impressive. Despite the plot mechanics of it all, the character aspects that dominate "Faces" are wonderful.

A great deal of credit must be given to actress Roxann Biggs-Dawson, who plays Torres. She wonderfully creates the two Torres's with completely different voices, body language and affects. She wonderfully creates two very different, viable characters who are also distinct from the Torres we've seen for the prior episodes.

Also notable is character actor Brian Markinson. Markinson plays both Lt. Durst and Dr. Sulan. That he is playing both characters is a surprise to anyone watching the episode, so convincing is his performance and the make-up he is in as Dr. Sulan.

"Faces" is a wonderful episode of Star Trek: Voyager that is great for anyone who likes a good science fiction horror story or just a decent character study. It holds up very well over multiple viewings and it is entertaining as well as insightful when viewed from a metaphorical standpoint. This episode is remarkably accessible to those who are not fans of science fiction or Star Trek: Voyager, as everything that one needs to know is encapsulated in the episode.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!

For other works with Brian Markinson, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Charlie Wilson’s War
Chasing Freedom
Primary Colors
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “In The Cards”
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Homeward”


Check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing of other episodes and movies in the franchise!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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