Saturday, June 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Faces"

If you believe I have been too harsh in my criticism of VOY, take heart. “Faces” is the best episode of the first season, and I give credit where credit is due. But I am also honest. Being the best episode of VOY’s first season is like being the smartest kid in remedial math. Faint praise is still praise, right? It is a Kenneth Biller script, too,. Kudos are in very limited supply when he pens the story.

“Faces” is largely a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hhyde allegory in which Torres has a conflict between her human and Klingon halves--literally. When she, Tom, and Durst are captured by Vidiians while surveying a planet, she is literally split into two beings when the head Vidiian surgeon suspects klingon DNA may be resistant to the Phage that is ravaging his planet. Torres’ Klingon and human halves retain nothing of the other. Klingon Torres is aggressive and has a raging temper with no patience to control her fiery emotions. Human Torres is rational, but terribly meek and prone to crippling bouts of fear. While Human Torres is glad to be rid of her Klingon half, she comes to realize she needs it in order to be the person she normally is. She reaches this conclusion in an interesting campfire discussion between her halves after they have temporarily escaped.

Roxann Dawson is a very pretty woman without her Klingon forehead ridges:Dawson does a fantastic job essentially playing three characters; Klingon Torres, human Torres, and Torres. Each has distinct characteristics. The way she plays the former two, you finally see how complex Torres is. She has not had much character development this season. Considering that she will be relegated to chief engineer’s techno babble throughout much of the series, we will not get to see dawson’s acting muscles stretched all that often. Get it while you can.

While we are on the subject of expanding characters, the Vidiians come across here as a much more sinister menace than the scavenging lepers they were in their first appearance. “Faces” has them imprisoning members of other delta Quadrant races to use as slave labor in order to power their laboratory. When the slaves can no longer work, they are killed for their organs. It is clear they have descended much further morally in carrying out actions they need to do in order to survive. They are frightening, no only for their horribly deformed appearance, but because humanity would most certainly resort to the same tactics if such a disease threatened to wipe us out. The barbarism is as unsettling as the prospect of the disease itself.

The Vidiian surgeon, Sulan, provides one of my favorite VOY moments. He has Klingon Torres strapped to an operating table so he can observe her reaction to the phage. Iit is clear he has an admiration for her strength that borders on sexual attraction. She senses it, too, and plays him in an effort to be released from her bonds. Sulan resists because of his grotesque appearance, but returns to her later--with durst’s face grafted onto his. Sulan surmises she will feel more comfortable with his new appearance. His rationale is so warped, yet earnest, it is an inspired moment.

You knew when I said Torres, Tom, and some guy named durst were kidnapped that he was not going to be long for this galaxy, right? If not, you have not watched much Trek.

Everyone manages to escape when the two halves of Torres drop the force field keeping Voyager from beaming the prisoners away. Sulan accidentally kills Klingon Torres as she takes a pgasor blast meant for her human half. The doctor can replicate her Klingon DNA, which she needs to survive, so there is the Magic Reset Button. But torres learns more about herself and why she is the way she is, so the end is not precisely status quo.

“Faces” has a major logical flaw. Namely, if the Vidiians have technology advanced enough to split people into two distinct beings, way can they not do that and have all the healthy organs they need? Certainly, doing so creates the moral dilemma of cloning a person solely to kill them for spare parts, but that is less of a moral issue than kidnapping, enslaving, and them murdering regular people for their organs. It is a logical flaw that is never addressed.

No matter. “Faces” has enough positive aspects to more than make up for this flaws. Had the show done more exploration of personal conflicts and developed villains to be as compelling as the Vidiians are here, VOY would be remembered far more fondly. “Faces” is the first four star VOY episode because it not only features all the elements I have talked about above, but adds a slam bang action sequence with the final rescue. Normally, VOY has a hard enough time doing any one of those elements correctly.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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