Faces is the first really B’Elanna-centric episode of Voyager and it’s based on a really interesting and clever premise to explore her character – her being split into two people, one human and one Klingon.
After a teaser scene showing us a fully-Klingon B’Elanna strapped to a table in a weird lab, we’re taken back to Voyager. They’re on their way to planet Avery III, where the away team of B’Elanna, Tom and a guy named Durst has gone missing.
Back in the lab on Avery III, Torres questions her captor, a Vidiian surgeon named Sulan.
He shows her her face and she recoils. Her voice has become thicker, lower and she speaks uneasily but demands to know what he’s done to her. He explains he separated the human genes from her because he believes Klingons will be resistant to the Phage (the disease that’s killing the Vidiians, in case you’re a Voyager noob). He’s infected her with it to test it.
For the next scene, in my notes I have, “OMG Durst is still alive!”. I thought for sure the third guy we’d never heard of would be dead pretty early on but he shows up with Paris, being led to a room with bunks in it. They try to plan an escape but a Talaxian on the next bunk makes fun of them. When Paris asks if he knows where B’Elanna is, the Talaxian replies she was probably taken to the organ processing department.
Sulan returns to the lab to find B’Elanna in extreme pain. He says some Vidiians die from the pain of the phage but Klingon B’Elanna is as tough as they come, responding: “It’s going to take more than an infection to kill me.”
I love the Vidiians, but it makes me uncomfortable to see B’Elanna restrained in this damsel-in-distress-y kind of way, with her creepy captor starting to seem like he’s also sexually attracted to her. At the end of this scene he compliments her form and it’s just so…evil and slimy.
In the next scene a Vidiian brings in a fully human B’Elanna to the bunk room. She wakes up Tom and she is not doing well.
Her vulnerability causes her to confide in Tom and she tells him about being ashamed of being Klingon as a child. He’s caring and reassuring and it might be the first hint we get of the potential for a future Tom/B’Elanna relationship.
The next morning the Vidiians come to take Paris and co. to the tunnels for work but human B’Elanna is overwhelmingly frightened, to the point where she can barely move. The guards take her back to the room, where she plans to try to find a way to rejig the computers to contact Voyager.
Back in the lab, B’Elanna decides she might be able to use Sulan’s attraction for her against him.
B’Elanna: I’ve been thinking about what you said. It’s because of you that I am Klingon and I do like this feeling. In a strange way I suppose I am grateful. Did you know that Klingon females are renowned in the Alpha Quadrant not only for their physical prowess but for their voracious sexual appetites as well? Why not let your creation out of her harness. Study her in action.
Sulan: I wish it were possible, B’Elanna, but I’m afraid I can’t risk releasing you just yet.
He strokes her face and says he hopes he can one day cure his people so his appearance won’t be so abhorrent to her.
Later the Vidiians come to the barracks and take Durst away. Human B’Elanna is totally freaks out and literally hides in the corner, where Paris has to comfort her.
The next Sulan/B’Elanna scene is straight out of a horror movie, it’s that creepy. Sulan comes back in to show her something: he’s had Durst killed and his face grafted on to try to make her feel more comfortable.
I actually love that since they went down this road, they pushed it to that extreme. It’s shocking in a good way.
And the anger she experiences seeing this helps her finally break free from her restraints. She starts choking Sulan against the wall and then escapes.
I kind of skipped over what the folks on Voyager have been doing this whole time. They arrived at Avery III to be foiled by a force field. Now, having figured out a way to get in, the Doctor disguises Chakotay as a Vidiian for an undercover rescue mission.
In the work tunnels later, human B’Elanna confides in Tom again:
Torres: Tom, I’ve been thinking. When they did this thing to me, I think it changed more than just the way I look. […] You don’t understand. I’ve been in worse situations but I’ve never felt like that before. Never. I mean, my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I didn’t even try to help you.
Paris: B’Elanna, I’m no doctor, but I have to believe that what ever they did to you has seriously depleted your strength. There’s nothing you could have done.
Torres: No, that’s not it. I think that when they extracted my Klingon DNA, they turned me into some kind of a coward.
It’s an interesting part because we’re not entirely sure whether she’s right – whether changing her DNA made her weaker and Klingon B’Elanna stronger, or whether she had always though of herself as those two halves and all those internalized thoughts manifested when she was split.
A Vidiian guard takes her back to the barracks and another catches her trying to mess with the computers. Klingon B’Elanna busts in and rescues her in the nick of time.
When she sees the Klingon version of herself, human B’Elanna literally faints. Klingon B’Elanna carries her back into the tunnels.
When she wakes the two act out B’Elanna’s previously internal struggle.
Human B’Elanna: That’s the way you respond every situation, isn’t it? If it doesn’t work, hit it. If it’s in your way, knock it down. No wonder I got kicked out of the Academy.
Klingon B’Elanna: For which you should be eternally grateful.
Human B’Elanna: Well, I’m not! Your temper has gotten me into trouble more times that I can. Listen to me. Listen to us. This is ridiculous. Do you realise we’re each fighting with our self.
They eventually decide they need each other to escape and they make their way back to the lab to try to use that computer console. Unfortunately, Sulan finds them and threatens to kill Human B’Elanna if they don’t stop trying to escape.
Meanwhile, Chakotay in disguise has grabbed Paris. They run into the lab, but Sulan aims his weapon at Human B’Elanna. Klingon B’Elanna jumps in front at the last minute, taking the hit just before Voyager beams them out.
In the transporter room, Klingon B’Elanna dies in Human B’Elanna’s lap, but happily since she died an honourable death.
In Sickbay, the Doctor finds he has to reintegrate her Klingon DNA for Human B’Elanna to survive. Crying, she tells Chakotay she feels more at peace but also incomplete.
Chakotay: I’d have to say that you two made quite a team down there.
Torres: I know. I came to admire a lot of things about her. Her strength, her bravery. I guess I just have to accept the fact that I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting with her.
Overall, I think this was a hugely effective way to depict B’Elanna’s internal character struggle – by making it external. When I initially watched it I questioned whether we were supposed to believe Klingon B’Elanna’s dedication to honour was actually in her DNA. But re-watching I think it’s open to interpretation. As I said earlier, you could argue B’Elanna had those beliefs about her Klingon side and human side and those just came out.
Klingon B’Elanna being held in the lab – especially with the sexual angle with Sulan – is creepy and uncomfortable. But in the end maybe that makes the ultimate triumph all the more powerful.
Basically, B’Elanna’s whole identity is reaffirmed as valuable in its complexity. And that’s pretty great.
In a 1994 interview in Dreamwatch magazine, Dawson stated:
It was a balance that I chose very much, and I did not feel she [B’Elanna’s human side] was too weak. What I wanted to do was make each of them incomplete, so that we would be reminded of the fact that they needed each other in order to survive.
Also, this was two sides of B’Elanna coming into being for the first time – obviously, they were not comfortable in their own skins. I tried to add more strength to the human as the episode went on, something that the Klingon side ends up recognizing. I also wanted to make them both wrong in a way, so it was clear that neither could survive as they existed, without each other. And that was an interesting challenge.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass…I think? Do you count two sides of B’Elanna talking to each other?