Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Classics: Voyager 1:13 - Faces

Overall Rating: 6.5

The first Torres character piece chose the wrong message to send about her personality - a message I find hard to swallow.  On the other hand, good on them for actually doing a character episode.

Plot Synopsis:

A description of this somewhat convoluted story may be found at Memory Alpha's episode page.

The Skinny:

This was a "good try," as they say, at a meaningful character study. The problem, ultimately, is that it fails to study the integrated B'Elanna Torres at all, instead inventing out of whole cloth a pair of new characters - a Klingon and human who never existed and cannot possibly exist.  This concept is a very old psychological fad based on an extended form of Freud's divided mind.  The notion that all of us are composed of separable and distinct voices in our minds has been roundly rejected by modern cognitive/behavioral psychology.  Our brains, even the brains of men (which are better able to compartmentalize their lives) are far too integrated to be described as the combination of two or more distinct embattled personalities at war for dominance in our minds.  Freud's Ego, Superego, and Id are generally seen by psychologists today as useful METAPHORS for the competition between the rational mind, the instinctual drives of our animal selves and our morals and ethics, but not as three different people in one brain (what's more, I doubt Freud would have preferred his work to be interpreted in that light).  I won't go too far along in discrediting the notion that B'Elanna's Klingon genome and Human genome would really explain distinct pieces of her personality that could be uniquely identified and separated just by splitting the genes - that's not how personality really works, but it's an old conceit of sci-fi that this could be done when it is useful to storytelling.  But their psychology needs an update.

The biggest problem with this episode for me, apart from Roxanne Dawson's HORRRRRRRIBLE performance as B'Elanna (the Klingon half), is the conclusion.  Fans expressed anger at the conclusion because Voyager's crew was only concerned with their own and made no attempt to rescue the other prisoners of this cruel experimental lab/work camp and that Chakotay seemed unsympathetic to the Klingon B'Elanna at the time of her death, but that's an ancillary WTF for me.  My beef is that the writers, while attempting to be fair to both halves of the Torres character model and show that both had virtues, failed to make either one of them recognizable as B'Elanna Torres, the complete person.  Are we really suggesting that all Klingons run around desperate for a fight at all times, uneasy unless in combat, constantly pissed off, constantly using sex as a weapon, and not terribly bright in a crunch?  Are we REALLY saying that the only reason Torres can be a relatively strong female character is that she has Klingon blood?  The human Torres might be smart, but she's a freakin' wuss...WHY?!  Why write her to be that pathetic without her Klingon half?

This, to me, sends a rather disturbing message - Torres comes away correctly realizing that she is not herself without both halves...but the only reason she gets to that point is that her medical doctor tells her she will literally die without the Klingon half.  She might admire the Klingon's bravery and determination, but she laments that now she'll never be at peace with herself and looks on the verge of crying when taken for the surgery that will restore her half-Klingon visage.  That's...just not right.  Torres isn't who she is because she's half Klingon.  Our genes do go some of the way toward explaining our personality TENDENCIES, but far more important to determining who we are is our EXPERIENTIAL memory.  The human and Klingon parts of Torres both still remember everything - the human version might have less adrenaline and the Klingon version almost certainly has less estrogen, but they're both still Torres.  More finesse was needed here...they needed to treat both halves as if they were still basically Torres, and highlight differences only to capture the unique challenge of being half Klingon.

It gets even more disturbing to me when Kenneth Biller says that the reason the idea in Faces appealed to him was that he had a relative who was biracial and wanted to explore the unique challenges faced by mixed-race people.  WHOA!!  Are we actually making the argument in this episode that the black half of a person is violent and uncontrolled and less intelligent, while the white half is shy and timid and meek?  OK, maybe that's not their intent, but you can't get around reading this as a claim that the different RACES have different ABILITIES...you liberal Trek fans should be deeply offended by this the way that we Conservatives are.  Even liberal academics claim that the challenges of biracial life come from societal influences (how such people are viewed).

But a better message could easily have been sent and here's how.

Let's Go With It!

It's simple, really.  While the two versions of Torres were working together, they should have come to realize how SIMILAR they were, not how different.  Maybe they start out showing differences, but come to the final realization that they are, in fact, the same person at core (minus some biological differences that impact behavior).  Wouldn't it have been more uplifting if Torres had actively embraced her mix-race heritage and staked a true claim to her inner strength, both as a human AND as a Klingon, before being put back into one body?

It wasn't a bad effort, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced DS9 writers would have done it better.

Writing: 8.0

As I noted above, the script is actually written rather well and you have to commend them for putting considerable thought into who this woman actually was.  The plot had a couple of holes around the action sequences, but was otherwise pretty tight as well.  The end just needed a different tone.

Acting: 6.5

I would give Roxy some credit for choosing two radically different styles for the two halves of her personality if it weren't for the fact that her Klingon side was played with this incredibly irritating tenor of mental retardation (I...Will..Say...One...Word...Every...Two...Minutes...Kaplagh!!) and needlessly hyped up aggression.  Evidently, to Roxanne, Klingon = big, dumb, and violent.  How pathetic.  I won't hammer the acting too harshly, because Roxanne does get better in later scenes and the rest of the cast is fine.  But consider my "notes" officially rendered.

Message: 5.0

See above for my rationale, but this one has to get dinged a bit on the message front.

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