Faces is another story that might have had more impact later in Voyager’s run. This story spotlights B’Elanna Torres, illustrating in time-tested sci-fi fashion the different sides of her personality, and I’m not sure we know Torres well enough yet for this analysis to really hit home. More to the point, I don’t know if Roxann Dawson has been given enough material yet to know her character to the degree needed to truly nail this episode.
I think she rocks it anyway, and her dual performance is one of the main reasons to slot Faces into the good category. The story is reminiscent of The Enemy Within, that original series episode that saw Kirk split into his honorable and monstrous halves. In this one, the Vidiians return, still seeking a cure for the phage, and they use their magical powers… er, I mean, advanced medical technology to divide Torres into two separate people, one human and one Klingon.
Why have they done this? The Vidiians have never met a Klingon before, and they have surmised that Klingon genomes may contain phage-resistant properties. With no pure Klingons available, they kidnap Torres (and Paris and some guy named Durst that we met last episode) while they are on an away mission to explore a planet. They extract Torres’ Klingon DNA and grow a whole new Torres, one that is full-on Klingon, and infect her with the phage. And they lock up the now-fully-human other Torres with her shipmates.
We spend the next 40 minutes or so contrasting the two B’Elannas, and Dawson does a remarkable job of distinguishing them. Klingon Torres is angry, of course, and rages at Sulan, the Vidiian scientist who has her held captive. Human Torres, on the other hand, is relieved – we learn about her childhood in a Federation colony on Kessik Four, where she and her mother were the only Klingons, and how she used to hide her forehead ridges and wish she could just be human. And we learn that her father left them when she was a kid, and that she has blamed herself and her half-Klingon appearance for this since then.
This is the first moment of vulnerability we have seen from Torres, and the implication is that her Klingon half has kept her going, but also has kept her emotionally distant. The human Torres cowers from the guards when they come to the cell and take Durst away, while the Klingon Torres breaks her bonds and escapes. This is just after one of the darkest things I’ve seen in Star Trek. When Durst was taken away, it was pretty well understood that he’d be killed and harvested for organs. But what I didn’t expect was Sulan to peel off Durst’s face and wear it as his own. This is so creepy that it comes close to stepping over the line for me, and I’m shivering thinking about it again.
Of course Torres’s shipmates don’t know what has happened, only that their away team needs rescuing. So Chakotay volunteers to be surgically altered into a Vidiian. (They are horribly disfigured, with what looks like rotting flesh, so it’s quite the transformation.) But within the Vidiian compound, the Klingon Torres finds her human counterpart and rescues her. This sparks the first conversation between the two of them, and it’s basic, but it gets the point across: both human and Klingon Torres see the other as a liability, but they need each other’s strengths. Human Torres can disable the forcefield around the compound, while Klingon Torres can fight off the guards long enough for her to do so.
The ending is interesting. Not the plot, that goes about how you’d expect: Chakotay rescues Paris, the human Torres drops the forcefield and everyone beams back to Voyager. But the Klingon Torres actually dies jumping in front of Sulan’s gun to protect her human half, and Torres holds her own hand as she watches herself pass away. I figured the Trek team might complete the homage to The Enemy Within and use the transporter to join the two halves of Torres back together, but no. The human Torres is left, with no obvious reason to return to her former self.
But of course, the script gives us a reason – Torres’s cells cannot survive without the Klingon DNA that has been extracted from them. This feels weak, but it makes the metaphorical point well enough. The two sides of B’Elanna Torres need each other, no matter how at odds they can be. Torres even says she feels incomplete without the Klingon parts of her personality. So the Doctor promises to regraft the DNA in place, and of course Torres will be back to the way we know her at the start of the next episode. But I liked that we ended without that, closing instead on a fully human Torres realizing that her Klingon side is a necessary part of her.
Truthfully, these are the kind of surface-level observations about a half-Klingon character that the writers could scratch together from note cards, but given how little we actually know about Torres at this point, Faces does a pretty good job with its premise. Roxann Dawson is magnetic, the Vidiians become Voyager’s most interesting returning villain (which, given the competition, wasn’t too hard, but still), and the ending is surprising. I’ll call that a win. This would have been a better season four episode, but it’s a good season one episode anyway.
I cannot emphasize enough how creepy seeing Sulan wearing Durst’s face is. The same actor – Brian Markinson – was cast to play both parts, and the makeup effect was bone-chilling. This was the first “kids shouldn’t watch Voyager” moment for me, and it was a doozy. (But… Faces. Get it?)
Dawson was given two different versions of the script, one for her human character and one for her Klingon one, to emphasize the split between them. It seemed to work – the scenes with the two of them split-screened together work impressively well, Dawson playing two very different people. (And the Trek team cast a photo double named Joy Kilpatrick with a strong resemblance to Dawson, for scenes that did not require both Torreses speaking.)
Hey, we meet another Talaxian, Neelix’s race. This one is held captive by the Vidiians and helps our crew out.
There is apparently an action figure of the fully Klingon Torres, but not one of the fully human one.
Tomorrow, Jetrel. Onward!