In the sixteenth episode of the third season of Voyager, I have no idea how to talk about this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of consent and rape. While there isn’t rape in this episode, since this is all about consent surrounding sex, I figured it would be best to warn for rape just in case.
Good lord, what the fuck was this episode? I’m exhausted, which is both good – because the suspense was believable and real – and upsetting, though I admit that’s entirely because of the way that this episode courts the line of consent so dangerously.
And yet, it’s perhaps the definitive example thus far of Star Trek’s writers, over all the series, addressing consent directly and responsibly. That didn’t necessarily make this easy to watch, but y’all, I appreciate it. A lot. I got the sense that the writers realized they had this concept at their disposal – pon farr – and they had two Vulcans who would inevitably have to deal with it at some point on the show. For the most part, it’s done well. It’s disturbing but not to the point that I felt like the show was disrespecting B’Elanna or Vorik. We were able to sympathize with what they were going through, and the show also doesn’t ignore that both of them do some pretty fucked up shit while under the influence of the pon farr.
I expected that most of this episode would cover Vorik, and that was interesting enough, but the decision to fold B’Elanna into this is… well, sometimes, it’s brilliant, and sometimes, it’s perplexing. Both characters deal with pon farr while separated from the means that could help them pass through it. In Vorik’s case, he can’t heed the pull he feels towards his home because Voyager is stranded. B’Elanna is trapped underground because of the team’s run-in with the Sakari. (MORE ON THAT, BECAUSE WHAT A GREAT FUCKING TWIST.)
So how does the team come up with ways to help them? The Doctor is INCREDIBLE here, and I really want to praise both Picardo’s performance and Lisa Klink’s script. The pon farr is a notoriously secretive phenomenon, and yet, the Doctor feels it is imperative that he help his patient. He’s stuck between respecting what Vorik wants while protecting others, so it becomes increasingly hard to deal with Vorik’s embarrassment. And look, Star Trek generally exists in a place where cultural norms aren’t judged harshly, but I loved that the Doctor was given a chance to point out how illogical it was that the Vulcans were so secretive about sex. YES, DOCTOR, PLEASE INSULT THE PURITANICAL NORMS AROUND SEX IN THE UNITED STATES. DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN. That was totally what that moment was, right???
Yet the beauty of the Doctor’s therapy is that in the end, he discards his own ideas about sex and mental heath and develops a program that inherently respects what Vorik is going through. I’m glad that my holodeck suggestion was in line with what happened because it seemed like a possibility. Granted, it doesn’t seem to work (given the ending), but I still respect the Doctor for what he did.
And then there’s B’Elanna. I’ll start with why this made me uncomfortable: this seemed like a deeply frightening and traumatic experience, and at the very end of the episode, the show hints that this is the start of B’Elanna/Tom being an actual thing. I have no problem with the pairing, but the means to introduce that pairing is really fucking weird. I almost wish that scene had been in another episode so that B’Elanna could at least have a moment to heal, you know? Let her reflect on what happened and deal with her feelings!
Still, there’s an important lesson about consent here: it can be revoked at any time. Despite that Tom had long expressed interest in B’Elanna, he was allowed to revoke his consent at a later time. THIS IS SO GREAT. Plus, her consent was dubious. Does it count when she’s affected by a chemical balance? In Tom’s eyes, despite that he’s attracted, despite that he wants to have sex with her badly, he saw her as being unable to truly give him consent. He didn’t say those words, but he said a different phrase: he’d be taking advantage of her. That’s a dynamic that is often not explored in conversations about consent, and this episode put it front-and-center. B’Elanna was not herself, and Tom would have been doing a terrible thing to indulge her seduction.
In that sense, I was thankful that Vorik showed up at the end to fight B’Elanna because holy shit, I absolutely did not like the idea of Tom and her having sex. You know what that scene felt like? Those ridiculous hypothetical situations that dudes come up with to try to trick people in arguments. Like, “Well, what if the whole world is gonna die if you don’t let me say this particular slur?” Because that’s what this gets close to. “Is dubious consent okay if it saves people’s lives?” Uhhhhh… no? I feel tricked. TRICKED.
Still, this episode deserves a lot of praise for bringing us so close to something terrible and having someone say, “No, this is not okay.” I also want to praise it for THE SAKARI. Oh my god, an entire culture that were victims of the Borg, so they moved everyone underground and devised as many methods as possible in order to camouflage themselves so that no one could ever find them. THE SHEER WORLDBUILDING POTENTIAL ALONE IS INCREDIBLE, and what little we see is so satisfying. The costuming, the make-up, the paranoia, the constant disappearing… yes. YES.
And it figures that this episode, which I watched on August 12th, would be the last thing I’d see before I left home for a month. GREAT. GREAT. Just so you know, this seems like a cliffhanger that lasted a few days for me. NOPE. ALMOST FIVE FUCKING WEEKS.
The video for “Blood Fever” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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